Commence Conformity Protocol

Infiniti Q50In many ways, after almost 50 years in this universe, I am still insecure. But I’m fine with who I am. I don’t feel that I have to fake my opinions or tastes. That doesn’t mean that I think they are objectively right. But I am confident in myself and I trust in my opinions. If you really think that my musical taste sucks, it is probably an indication that you are insecure about your own musical taste. Regardless, everyone should get to this point in life. And actually, my closest friends are the same way, even though we rarely agree about much of anything in terms of art. (We tend to agree on politics, which is quite a lot more important.)

One thing I really hate is the use of people’s insecurities in commercials. A great example of this is the new Infiniti Q50 “conformity” ad. It shows a line of humans being created with their business suits and all that stuff. The announcer says, “Commence conformity protocol.” And then one guy is slipped a key to the Infiniti Q50, and he escapes. Freedom is just one purchase away!

The thing is that the commercial is not targeted at kids. The Infiniti Q50 is a $40,000 car. They are going after business people who probably think of themselves as secret rebels. It reminds me of those bumper stickers I used to see that said, “Why Be Normal?” I always thought, “Why not be normal?” All my life, I’ve tried to be normal. I’ve thought I was normal. For someone like me, being weird is not something you choose to do because you want to give the squares a fright. That’s childish bullshit.

So for all those people out there who think that they are “passing” and that deep down they’re really creative rebels, I have some news for you. If you’re passing, it’s because the “conformity protocol” worked really well on you. There’s a reason why society calls people like you “suits”: it’s the most memorable thing about you. You have two options if you want to change that. You could stop being a suit and try to do something good with your life, even if it is only on weekends. Or you could buy this totally rad car that only creative, individualistic rebels drive. It’s your choice:

King on Meet the Press

M.L.K.Over at the website for Up with Steve Kornacki, MSNBC put up a number of videos featuring Martin Luther King Jr. The following video with him on Meet the Press is amazing. In many ways, this bit of television is exactly what we would see today. King gets a number of probing and even offensive questions. We never see that from the press when they interview powerful people, but it is still quite common when anyone who questions the status quo is interviewed. What’s impressive is how calm and well spoken King is. When Lawrence E. Spivak asks, “Former president Truman is an old friend of the negro, I believe. Isn’t this an indication that the sit-in strikes are doing the negro race more harm than good?” My natural reaction would be to pull out a baseball bat and see just how many teeth I could knock out with one swing. But King—almost 20 years years younger than I am now am—is much more controlled and brilliantly responds, “Following his past record, it seems to me that Mr. Truman wouldn’t have faced such a situation because there wouldn’t have been a segregated store in the beginning if he were running it.” Watch, please:

In the second clip, you can better see what whites hated about King. And here I’m not talking about just the explicitly racist whites. This is what is generally forgotten with King the Legend that exists in the modern mind. Here is a man that is not going to bought off. He continues to push his cause. Listening to conservatives, King would be totally happy today because the government isn’t explicitly targeting blacks. Of course, that’s ridiculous. After all, what are these new voter ID laws but poll taxes by another name? Even still, King was not exclusively or even primarily interested in government racism. And as I’ve argued, all this discussion of racism being over and racism against whites being the real problem is the Son of the Bride of Jim Crow.

In the following segment, May Craig gets to go after King with what I think of as schoolgirl arguments, “It’s always wrong to break the law!” Such arguments are hard to counter, given that the person making them understands ethics about as well as a child. But King does a good job. But the best is saved for last. Frank Van Der Linden comes to the rescue of bigots everywhere by asking if King isn’t disqualified to talk about anything given that he’s a known Marxist. Then he follows up with his fears of miscegenation. Can’t have them negroes marrying our white women! It is a thing to behold:

In the third segment, King gets to address the miscegenation argument. He answers the question well, but it is clear that he thinks the whole issue is nonsense. But it must have been embarrassing for Van Der Linden, who only died back in 2011, to watch himself forever immortalized as the bigot he most certainly was.

Most of the this segment involves Spivak arguing that King and his movement should just be dong things differently. “Wouldn’t you be on stronger ground…” he says repeatedly. But notice what nonsense this is. This is the kind of apologetics that we get on the surveillance issue with Jeffrey Toobin. Sure, we agree with you, but couldn’t you just do less? It ends with another question from the clearest racist on the panel, Van Der Linden. He asks King how many white people are members of his church. Somehow, in Van Der Linden’s mind, it is King’s responsibility to force whites to join his congregation. Maybe I’m wrong to call Van Der Linden a racist, although I certain think he was. But he provided King with his best answers as he did with this question. Check it out:

I think that this interview does a better job of demonstrating who King was than any speech. You can see most clearly his incredible intelligence, knowledge, and resolve. It is a tough interview—one that few modern politicians would be able to withstand. And King is triumphant at every moment and generally. It is a beautiful thing to see and a testament to his greatness.


There is one humorous moment in the interview. May Craig asks if King has heard of Harlem restaurants that refuse to serve whites. Although I have little doubt that this is racist disinformation, King easily bats the issue aside. He says that of course it would be an injustice. As of course it would. But I have little doubt there was no fact beneath the question.

A Bit of Stephen Fry

Stephen FryOn this day in 1552, the great Mannerist painter Lavinia Fontana was born. Romantic composer Theodore Dubois was born in 1837. Here is the first part of his Piano Concerto No. 2:

Writer and caricaturist Max Beerbohm was born in 1872. Hal Smith was born in 1916. He is best known for playing the town drunk Otis Campbell on The Andy Griffith Show.The great Canadian painter Alex Colville was born in 1920 and died only last month. Activist and writer Howard Zinn was born in 1922. Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was born in 1929.

Politician Max Cleland is 71 today. Homophobic climate change denying fucktard Orson Scott Card is 62. Similarly inclined Mike Huckabee is 58. Actor Steve Guttenberg is 55. Comedian Dana Gould is 49. Here is his take on the Star Wars franchise:

Actor Marlee Matlin is 48. And comedian Dave Chappelle is 40. Here he is on Michael Jackson molestation scandal:

The day, however, belongs to one of my favorite comedians Stephen Fry who is 56 today. He is also (and this pisses me off more than I can say) an excellent novelist. But mostly, I know him from his act with the also brilliant Hugh Laurie. Here is their great psychiatrists sketch:

Happy birthday Stephen Fry!

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The Great GOP Healthcare Idea: Nothing

HealthcareFor a long time, I’ve been arguing that the Republican Party has painted itself into a corner with regard to Obamacare. The linchpin of the law is the individual mandate and it is what was put forth by the Heritage Foundation and enacted in Romneycare. It was the great conservative healthcare idea that would save us from the dreaded single payer health insurance that liberals wanted. Now that conservatives have defined their very own healthcare plan as a Stalinist plot to rid America of freedom, they really don’t have anything to offer.

Ezra Klein wrote an excellent article last week on the history of this, Newt Gingrich Explains How the GOP’s Obamacare Tactics Backfired. He noted that when the Democrats proposed conservative healthcare reform, the Republicans could have gone before the TV cameras and laughed and said, “At long last, they agree that the conservative policy is the best!” Instead, they redefined the political center so that their once conservative plan was an extreme left wing conspiracy.

So where does that leave the Republican Party? Aaron Carroll at The Incidental Economist wrote a series of articles that answer exactly this question. The first one is aptly named, Backed Into a Corner. It is about the conservative fascination with the healthcare systems in Switzerland and Singapore. This all comes out of ignorance of these systems and the conservatives’ desperate desire to find some system—Any system!—that works and is more conservative than Obamacare. He wrote:

That’s how you get conservatives advocating for “SwissCare,” while ignoring that Switzerland has an individual mandate, more regulations, price fixing, and lower caps on out of pocket spending.

That’s how you get conservatives advocating for Singapore’s health care system without any real understanding of it. Singapore’s system has massive subsidies for nursing homes, rehabilitation care, and home-based care. It requires mandatory savings—36% of wages spread over various accounts. The government also provides a basic level of care that’s heavily, heavily subsidized. And here’s the kicker—it relies on tons of government intervention in the market to keep costs down. They use centrally planned and fixed budgets, they control the acquisition of new technology, they regulate the number of students and physicians, they use purchasing power to buy drugs more cheaply, they have an employer mandate for foreign workers,and they have a national EHR. They’re also not the most open society in the world.

Here’s the thing. I bet you could find lots of liberal wonks, and lots of Democrats, who would be fine with much of the above. You want Swisscare? Great. You want Singapore? OK. The problem is that’s not what’s offered. It’s Swisscare, but without a mandate. Guess what? That’s doesn’t work—that’s why Swisscare has a mandate! They suggest Singapore, but without the mandatory savings, public hospitals, and government management. That doesn’t work—that’s why Singapore has those aspects.

But it gets more bizarre. Just two days later, Carroll was back with the news that, “Singapore announced that however much government is involved, it’s not nearly enough.” And then he listed all the ways that Singapore is making their system more like Obamacare, even with all the other socialist aspects of their system that we do not have.

So what are the conservatives to do? Well, it isn’t like anything has really changed. It’s just the supposed conservative wonks who keep looking to other countries for systems that might work and be conservative. But let’s not forget that even among these people, we know from experience that if the Democrats went along with a new plan, these supposed policy thinkers would turn against these ideas. So Avik Roy can enjoy his reputation as a Reasonable Republican and be booked on All In, but anyone who is paying attention knows that he and those like him are at best apologists for whatever crazy idea the Republicans are currently focused on.

The week before last, I went after Lanhee Chen who claimed at Republicans had all kinds of great ideas for healthcare reform. Of course, none of his ideas would address the healthcare crisis in this county. In fact, they were mostly just a laundry list of conservative wishes that have only minor relationship to healthcare. Then, just 5 days later, Karl Rove wrote his big OpEd in the Wall Street Journal that listed the same exact policies, Republicans Do Have Ideas for Health Care. It had the offensive subtitle, “But liberals don’t like to admit it because the GOP would put patients, not government, in charge.”

Aaron Carroll again went to work and destroyed Rove’s list point by point, Karl Rove’s Health Care “Ideas.” The truth is that some of the ideas would actually make the problem worse. But whether or not the ideas work is beside the point. The point for Rove, Chen, Roy, and the whole Republican establishment is to counter the widely held opinion that the Republican Party just doesn’t care. But the truth is that if you push even these establishment types (Not to mention the extremists!) you will soon learn that they think we don’t need to worry about the uninsured because they can just go to the emergency room.

The modern conservative movement puts liberals in a very difficult position. We can’t just let their baseless claims go unchecked. But by attacking them, we provide the movement with a certain level of legitimacy. And it is wholly unearned. With healthcare, the situation outside of politics is clear: there is a big problem and something must be done. But Republicans don’t want to do anything. So what should be their strategy? Clearly: obstruct and claim that they have great ideas that the opposition won’t listen to. This is exactly what the Republican Party is doing. I think that demonstrates that they don’t want different policies from the Democrats; they want no policies.

Big Tech Companies Won’t Bring Innovation

Mac PC WarPaul Krugman foolishly waded into the Apple-Microsoft wars this morning, On The Symmetry Between Microsoft And Apple. He really is pretty clueless about this stuff. Normally, I wouldn’t have even read it, but he started by noting, “There is… a remarkable symmetry between Microsoft’s strategy in its heyday and Apple’s strategy today.” So I read it thinking that he was going to discuss how both companies have tried to cling to power more than provide their customers with fun and useful products.

Alas no. All he was really talking about is how market dominance has affected them. But that doesn’t make sense. Microsoft truly had market dominance; Apple has had, at best, market leadership. When it comes to smart phones and tablets, there have always been competitors with substantial market presence. What’s more, Krugman seems to think that Microsoft’s dominance was due to IT professionals. That’s not true at all. What gave Microsoft its edge was that there were programs that people really wanted to use and they only ran on Microsoft. That’s why DOS continued for years after it should have been long gone.

I don’t see that Apple products provide anything that you just can’t get on Android. Now that most definitely does not mean that Android is better than Apple (or iOS). But it does mean that Apple—unlike Microsoft in the 1980s—has to compete on its offerings. It can’t skate by with a so-so product because Apple Maps is just infinitely better than what you get with Google Maps on the Android. Of course, one of the best changes between the 1980s and now is that everything is available everywhere now.

You might notice that in this discussion, Microsoft isn’t really a player now. I expect that in the future, Apple won’t be much of a player too. After all, how long will people continue to buy expensive devices from Apple when they can get cheaper ones from Samsung and other companies? That’s not to say that Apple will go away. Microsoft hasn’t gone away. But it doesn’t much matter in terms of what’s going on in the industry. And the same thing is most likely to happen to Apple.

Now is the time when the Apple defenders coming roaring back. As one commenter to Krugman’s article put it, “[Apple] also has a history of secrecy—there’s a good chance that its next killer app will surface soon.” That is simply pathological. Since when do we turn to major corporate behemoths for great innovation? Since when did we ever turn to Apple? Such comments are just the ravings of Apple fanatics who will be engaged in the same apologetics long after we’ve moved on from laser keyboards to a thought interface. As I’ve pointed out many times, Apple isn’t an innovative company; they are an excellent packager of other people’s ideas. And that’s great! But revolutionary it ain’t.

The comments on the article were typical of this kind of stuff. You would think people would try not to be such walking and talking cliches. Many of the comments were, “I wouldn’t say that Apple’s products were better in the 1980s.” Really?! The original Mac OS wasn’t better than DOS 3? Give me a break! Not to be outdone, the Mac idolaters came back with, “If you used a Mac you would never need any help from IT experts.” Yes, because Apple products are perfect. I’m duly impressed by both companies. Apple showed what great things you could do with some (other people’s) cutting edge ideas and set hardware. Microsoft showed that you could support an almost infinite variety of hardware and make a usable system. But at this point, both systems are equally complicated. People on both sides of this war seem to be stuck in the late 1980s.

Of course, no Mac-PC war would be complete without, “Now I use Linux and I’m happy as clam!” All I have to say to these people is, “Go back in the water.” I don’t say that because I dislike Linux. I use it all the time. But for most people, using Linux is not an option.

Regardless of all this, I doubt that the next big innovation in technology is going to come from Apple or Microsoft or Google. I also doubt it will be anything like what we’ve seen. It amazes me that every new high tech orgasm is over what are minor variations on existing technologies. But don’t listen to me. I felt that way about blogs. And I was right! But that didn’t stop them from being very important.