The Call of Lovecraft

H. P. LovecraftOn this day in 1561, Renaissance composer Jacopo Peri was born. Unlike most composers of that period, his work is still quite listenable. Here is his Tu Dormi, e ‘l Dolce Sonno:

Mathematician Thomas Simpson, inventor of the numerical integral solution the Simpson’s rule (shockingly simple), was born in 1710. Late Baroque composer Bernard de Bury was born in 1720. He wrote for the stage, but most of what you can find recorded these days is for the harpsichord. And the harpsichord is not exactly an expressive instrument. But this is all right, I suppose: Chaccone.

One of the founders of modern chemistry Jons Jacob Berzelius was born in 1779. People’s Poet, Edgar Guest was born in 1881. He was called “people’s poet” because, in all frankness, he’s fun to listen to and read.

Writer with one of the coolest names ever, Salvatore Quasimodo was born in 1901. Producer and songwriter Isaac Hayes was born in 1942. Here is the song he will always be remembered by:

We can dig it!

And the great Greek singer-songwriter Nikolas Asimos was born in 1949. Here he is doing “Varethika.” I have no idea what it means, but it is incredibly compelling:

Typical idiotic libertarian Ron Paul is 78. We can all thank God that Robert Plant is 65 and so we will never have to see him again. But here he is at the front of Led Zeppelin dong one of the greatest rock songs ever (mostly because of Jimmy Page):

The great singer-songwriter John Hiatt is 61. It is really hard to pick a single song of his because he’s written so many great ones. But here—Almost at random!—is “Master of Disaster” (although you could check him out with the super group Little Village):

Actor Joan Allen is 57. One half of Little Britain, David Walliams is 42. And actor Amy Adams is 39.

The day, however, belongs to the great writer H. P. Lovecraft who was born on this day in 1890. Although most people have never read him, he is hugely important—certainly as important as Edgar Allan Poe. His fiction is quite well summed up by Wikipedia as being guided by “the idea that life is incomprehensible to human minds and that the universe is fundamentally inimical to the interests of humankind.” Can you see why I admire him? This gets to my big disagreement with my spiritual thinking friends. I like their open-mindedness. But none of them seem to get the fundamental insight: we humans are Very Small Animals who are hopelessly parochial. We cannot understand the universe.

Another reason for my interest in Lovecraft is that he was so critical to the EC Comics that I grew up loving. Regardless, here is a nice short video about who the man was and a rather simplistic notion of why he’s important:

Happy birthday H. P. Lovecraft!

Stop & Frisk and Liberal Delusion

Michael BloombergI haven’t written much about “stop and frisk” because it is so clearly unconstitutional and I’ve gotten so used to clearly unconstitutional laws being upheld by our courts. But I was very pleased when Judge Shira Scheindlin wrote her opinion finding that the program was unconstitutional. How it took 11 years to get to this point, I’m not sure. But this is a good thing.

Of course, the decision brought Ray Kelly and Michael Bloomberg out of their intellectual sewers to complain about the ruling. Both men have rolled out their propaganda machines and are ready for war. Bloomberg mostly makes his typical fascist arguments. It isn’t racial profiling if young black men do commit more crimes! He would have us believe that he is an “independent,” but notice that he is one of those amazing creatures who turned from Democrat into Republican even as the Democratic Party became more conservative and the Republican Party went sprinting for the “fascists enter here” sign.

Both men are rather good at lying with statistics. For example, Bloomberg used a statistic that showed that at least 6% of all stops were unjustified to claim that only 6% were unjustified. Scheindlin’s ruling explicitly stated that the number was likely far higher than this. But even if the number is valid, what does that mean? Is it okay for the government to outlaw Adventures of Huckleberry Finn on the grounds that it is only a small percentage of the number of books published? That one really gets to the heart of where Bloomberg and people like him are coming from.

By far the worst statement is one by Kelly that sounds really good, “In the last 11 years, 11 full years of the Bloomberg administration, there were 7,363 fewer murders in New York City than there were in the preceding 11 years. Now, if history is any guide, those lives saved are largely the lives of young men of color.” Except that the actual data look very different:

New York City Crime Time Series

The “stop and frisk” program started in 2003. Admittedly, violent crime has gone down a bit since then. But it is nothing like the decrease in crime before the program started. It looks like the drop in crime is part of a longer trend that is due to something other than the “stop and frisk” program.

To a large extent, I think that Kelly feels he is just doing his job and that includes defending this program. Bloomberg is the far bigger villain here. For one thing, he’s more hyperbolic. And I get the impression that this isn’t even about the program. He’s at the end of his career and at this point New Yorkers are finally having buyer’s remorse. Let’s face it: he’s been a bad thing for New York. Liberals get confused by politicians like Bloomberg and Christie because they make nice on social issues. But the social issues really do take care of themselves. You either get onboard the gay rights train or it will run you over. It says nothing of these mean that they are somewhat okay on the issue. The economic and criminal justice issues are the killers and on those issues, these men are as conservative as a Texas pig farmer.

So it isn’t surprising that regardless of how nice conservative politicians sound, when in power, they will aggressively push the most vile of policies. Why it has taken the people of New York three terms to learn this I cannot say.

Centrism on Filibuster is Extremism

Richard A. ArenbergIn Politico this morning, Richard A. Arenberg wrote an incredibly ignorant, but Serious sounding centrist defense of minority obstruction, Save the filibuster! As I’ve been predicting, the Republican minority in the Senate is refusing to confirm any of the existing DC Federal Circuit Court vacancies. And so Harry Reid is again talking about the so called nuclear option. There is a lot of false equivalence implicit in Arenberg’s argument. His claim is that what the Republicans are doing is terrible but it would be even more terrible if Reid did something about it.

Let’s think about that. I’m sure that Arenberg thinks he is taking the center position, but he is not. He is completely siding with the Republicans on this one. He tut-tuts the Republicans but does not want to do anything to stop them from doing what he claims to be against. And in his mind, there seems to be no amount of misbehavior on the part of Republicans that would justify doing anything. But I suppose that is to be expected; that’s what the professional centrists do.

He counters the argument that a very small percentage of the population can stop any legislation. This is in reference to a claim by Common Cause that only 11% of the population would be necessary to filibuster a bill. Arenberg says that we could look at it from the other side and note that only 17% of the population could be a minority. There are two things wrong with argument. First, the fact that the Senate is a ridiculously undemocratic institution is not an argument for making it even more undemocratic. Second, the Republicans really will destroy the filibuster the moment they get the chance. I don’t see how all the centrists miss this point.

But the core of his argument is that the founding fathers wanted to guard against the “tyranny of the majority.” That’s true, but that has nothing to do with the way the Senate was set up. It was set up that way as a compromise to the smaller states. And even then the disparities were nowhere near as bad as they are today. Now we have states like Wyoming that have total populations that are one-tenth that of reasonable sized cities. California is 66 times the size of Wyoming! And even at the time, the founding fathers were none too keen on how undemocratic the Senate was. And they specifically did not require super-majority support for normal legislation as they did for things like treaties.

Matt Yglesias pointed out that Arenberg completely misunderstands the notion of minority protections. The filibuster is not about minority rights because, as we often see, the Senate minority uses the filibuster to stop minority rights:

Which is to say that making it harder to pass laws simply makes it harder to pass laws. It has nothing in particular to do with majoritarianism or minority interests or anything else. It’s a status quo measure. To the extent that you think the status quo is great, then maybe you love a 60 vote threshold. Maybe you think it should be raised to 65 or 75 or 95… Making it hard to change laws systematically preserves the advantages of whatever groups are advantaged by the status quo.

At this point, I don’t see how anyone can be against filibuster reform for rational reasons. If you really are against democracy—as many conservatives are—then you might support the filibuster. But for people like Arenberg, it is just about being in the perceived center and assuming that however things are is how they ought to be. And that’s just madness: apologetics for the most extreme excesses of the modern Republican Party.