Rocky and Bullwinkle

Rocky and BullwinkleAs you may know, I am a huge fan of The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show. It is one of my primary comedic influences and probably explains the very high level of silliness in my writing. Of course, the show was very silly. But like most great comedy that we enjoy as children, I didn’t get a lot of the jokes because they were over my head. I think this is how we get trained to find the absurd non sequitur funny. So much of the life of a child is trying to react appropriately to things we don’t understand.

This is why intellectuals annoy me when they talk about humor. Most jokes are funny because they work on many levels. But it isn’t the case that any one way of experiencing a joke is correct. Consider one of my favorite jokes. Question: how many surrealists does it take to screw in a light bulb? Answer: fish. On one level, the joke is funny because surrealism doesn’t make much rational sense and fish are a common element in surrealist art. The answer “Bowler” might be more pointedly intellectual since it would also be a snarky comment on Rene Magritte. But if a young child heard the joke, he would likely think it funny simply because it made no sense. In this way, substituting “fish” with “bowler” would cut down on its appeal.

Other than silliness and puns, Bullwinkle is great social satire. This, of course, also went over my head when I was a kid. And what is especially great about it is that it doesn’t telegraph how you are supposed to feel about it. The show is at base a product of the cold war. But you can see it taking the whole conflict seriously or not. I choose to see it as making light of the period. This goes along with my general belief that 99% of the people everywhere just want to be left alone to live their lives. All the problems are created by 1% of the people. And that doesn’t mean that all of the people who make up that 1% are bad. But they are people who are prone to confrontation—regardless of the reason. It doesn’t matter whether they are Genghis Khan or Barack Obama.

So what we see in the show is a bunch of people who are leading the world focused on this very pleasant flying squirrel and a moose who is stupid even by moose standards. The whole spying endeavor is just a game. And indeed it is. Whenever old information about our spying programs are declassified, we see just how ridiculous it is. It is as though the governments think they must have spying programs but they have little idea of what the whole point is. And, of course, that leads to our wonderful foreign policy of staging coups of democratically elected governments. Of course, in the world of Rocky and Bullwinkle, it is only the Soviets who are actively evil; the Americans are just incompetent. (The Soviets are incompetent too. Hell, everyone is incompetent where a flying squirrel is the smartest guy in the room.)

I bring this all up because I just watched the following documentary about the Making of The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show. It isn’t great, but it has a lot of information that I didn’t know. And you get to see many of the people who made the show. If you are a fan, you will like it. And if you aren’t a fan, well, all I can say is I don’t see how you can have the good taste to be visiting Frankly Curious and not like the show. Regardless, if you don’t like the show, I can’t think of a reason you would want to watch this documentary. In fact, I don’t know why you’ve read this far! But for the rest of you: enjoy!

No. 17 on Nixon’s Enemies List

Daniel SchorrOn this day in 12, the crazy emperor Caligula was born. The French Classical composer Jean Paul Egide Martini was born in 1741. Here is his Plaisir d’Amour, which sounds a lot like The Magic Flute to me:

German physicist Hermann von Helmholtz was born in 1821. Italian composer Amilcare Ponchielli was born in 1834. Here is his Capriccio for Oboe, which sounds almost impressionistic:

Educator Maria Montessori was born in 1870. Actor Fredric March was born in 1897. Broadcaster Arthur Godfrey was born in 1903.

Broadway lyricist Alan Jay Lerner was born in 1918. Actor G. D. Spradlin was born in 1920. Comedian Buddy Hackett was born in 1924. And actor James Coburn was born in 1928.

Two great musicians are 68 today. The first is Van Morrison. I had wanted to put up “Have I Told You Lately” but he insists that it isn’t a religious song and that annoys me. So here he is doing “Days Like This”:

The second great musician is Itzhak Perlman. Here he is performing Tchaikovsky’s showy Valse Scherzo:

Actor Richard Gere is 64. I have nothing against the man, but his being in a movie is often enough to make me not watch it. The hilarious Julie Brown is 55. Here she is doing what is now a golden oldie, “The Homecoming Queen’s Got a Gun”:

If you will stay with me for a moment, Julie Brown has a fine YouTube channel. And she clearly has a problem with Victoria Jackson, which is especially cool because Victoria Jackson is a horrible person. Here is Victoria Jackson Reacts to the Election!

And actor Chris Tucker is 41.

The day, however, belongs to the journalist Daniel Schorr who was born on this day in 1916. He was a very important television journalist when they still had them. (Just kidding! When they still had a lot of them. How about that?) He is famous, for example, for releasing the Pike Committee report on illegal CIA and FBI activities in 1976. He was also number 17 on Richard Nixon’s enemies list!

But I mostly know Schorr from his editorials on NPR during the first years of the century when I was having my liberal awakening. What I liked about him was that while he was clearly and proudly liberal, he was not especially partisan. He was one of those old time New Deal Democrats who calmly watched as the whole center of gravity of American politics moved ever to the right—even if the people didn’t. Here is an example of this, his 15 December 2000 editorial in the Christian Science Monitor about the Supreme Court’s decision in Bush Vs. Gore:

In developing countries such as Pakistan, Chile, and Sierra Leone, a transfer of power is often accomplished by military coup. In our country, it is done by judicial coup.

Admitting to something short of cool dispassion, I marvel at the way the gang of five, led by arch-conservative Antonin Scalia, tried to camouflage their 5-to-4 operation behind a nominal 7-to-2 agreement that there was a problem with the Florida recount. That seemed to leave open the chance of fixing the system. Their fix was in, all right, but a different fix. It suppressed the recount for good.

Any one of these five could have returned the contest to limbo. But none did. Decades of conservative support of states’ rights, by overturning federal statutes from affirmative action to federal review of criminal cases, went out the window in an arrogation of authority to judge voting in Florida.

The tactics were adroit. First, the junta on Saturday halted the vote count. That enabled them to say on Tuesday that there was no more time left for vote-counting.

One thing about Tony Scalia is that he levels with you. Not every justice would say, as he did Saturday, that issuing the voting stay suggested Bush had “a substantial probability of success.” Not every justice would own up to partisanship by saying the recounted votes “threaten irreparable harm to petitioner”—Governor Bush—”and to the country.”

Justice Stevens, for the embattled minority of himself, Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and David Souter, said on Saturday that halting the vote recount “will inevitably cast a cloud on the legitimacy of the election.” Tuesday he said we may never know who was the winner of the presidential race, but “the identity of the loser is perfectly clear. It is the nation’s confidence in the judge as an impartial guardian of the rule of law.” …

That legitimacy has been endangered by the court’s intervention into the white-hot controversy over the presidency that opened the court to suspicion of partisanship. Before this issue arose there were suggestions of partisanship. Mr. Bush referred to Scalia and Clarence Thomas as models for the kind of justices he would name. Chief Justice Rehnquist and Justice O’Connor reportedly said they would like to retire under Bush to ensure being succeeded by conservatives. But now, these five have had a banner day. They have selected a president.

(For the record, I suspect that Sandra Day O’Connor regrets stepping down as she did. Two things helped that along. She stepped down and then Rehnquist died. That put more of Bush on the court than she likely hoped for. Second, she was replaced with Samuel Alito, a judge she smacked down when he was on the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. In addition, since leaving the court, she has made a number of telling comments. The most notable was her “dissent” on the Citizens United case. But isn’t this all exactly what we expect from conservatives? When they have power, they are full tilt evil. When out of power, they suddenly come to their senses. I think it has to do with the authoritarian mindset and its desire to always follow orders. Anyway, she’s fucked the country good!)

Happy birthday Daniel Schorr!

Prognosticator Steve Kornacki

Steve KornackiWhy do we love Steve Kornacki? Because he doesn’t believe his own bullshit. Sure, he’s pleased that he said that Eliot Spitzer might not cruise to an easy victory over Scott Stringer for New York City comptroller, and that looks to be at least partly correct. But he was quick to point out how he is more often wrong. Most pundits and commentators accept the acclaim for being right but never admit their failures. No one pays attention to when I’m right or wrong. But when I make predictions, I do it for other reasons—to make some point about a situation, and sometimes just to be a crank. And I think that is true of most others when they make predictions. But I’m really glad that Kornacki took the opportunity of being right about this to highlight the fact that what’s important about him—and the reason we listen to him—is not his prognostication skills.

And for the record, it isn’t at all clear that Spitzer won’t cruise to an easy victory. According to a New York Times/Siena College poll that came out on Friday, Spitzer has a 15 percentage point advantage against Stringer. I don’t especially care. I like Spitzer and I know next to nothing about Stringer. It would certainly be nice to see Spitzer back in elected office because I think he has done a good job. But if he doesn’t win, I’m sure there will be lots of other chances for him to serve the public.

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Obama Wimps Out, Does the Right Thing

Obama CopeGood news on Syria. Really! Obama is backing out. For some time, he has claimed that legally he can do whatever the hell he wants. When he was a candidate, however, Obama had a very different opinion. Note how that works. It isn’t that Obama got into office and finally had a chance to read the Constitution and its interpretations, and figured out, “Oh, I was wrong!” As people are fond of bring up all the time he was a constitutional law professor. So it is just that once he got the power he changed his mind. Power corrupts even boy scouts like Obama.

But this Syria bombing campaign seems to be different than the Libyan bombing. In Libyan, Obama didn’t get Congressional approval because, as we all know, Obama can kill anyone he likes without asking permission. (This is different from, say, minting a trillion dollar coin to save our economy from radical Republicans; that would actually make things better, so Obama can’t do it.) Now Obama claims that we really need to have a “debate” about the bombing.

This is good news, but it still annoys me. After all, if the situation is Syria is so clear as Secretary Kerry has said, what is there to debate? But of course, there is a whole lot to debate. It is just that Kerry is showing himself to be a much greater jackass than we had ever thought. I’m sure this part of the administration’s plan. Kerry was supposed to out in public braying like a donkey in heat to see if it would turn the country back to those halcyon days of 1990 and 2003. Quick! Who does this remind you of:

This decision by Obama puts him in a much better place. First, it extends the amount of time before he has to bomb. In that time, maybe cooler heads will prevail or maybe the nation will lose interest. Maybe John Kerry will shut the fuck up? Second, Congress may pull a Parliament and vote not to give authorization. And third, even if they do give him authorization, he gets more political cover. None of this will change the fact that it is an illegal act of war. But who cares about such things? Certainly not American presidents who can commit any war crimes they like without having to worry about being held accountable.

Any day that we don’t attack is another day that we aren’t killing people in Syria. Given that the Syrian government is likely to react to an attack by killing more people, this is unquestionably good. As I noted last night, Obama is being very weak in this whole thing. But if he’s going to be weak, this is the way to do it. Better a weakling than a weak bully.

Update (31 August 2013 8:11 pm)

Samuel Knight has done an excellent job running the Political Animal blog today. He’s been writing about Syria a lot. He is highly (but reasonably) cynical about the administration, Obama to Ask Congress for Permission to Bomb Syria—Let the Repulsive Horse Trading Begin. We exchanged email where I said that I hoped he was wrong but that if it weren’t, it would be the perfect storm of clusterfucks: domestic and international. He responded that he hoped he was wrong too. But hope only takes you so far.

The New York Times just published an article that pulls me in two directions, President Pulls Lawmakers Into Box He Made. On the one hand, the subtext seems to be that Obama just really doesn’t want to bomb Syria. On the other hand, he was arguing that he wanted to get Congress’ approval in case he later needed to attack Iran. In addition to this, it seems that all of the people surrounding Obama are keen to attack Syria. This is pretty bad if the only one in the White House with any reluctance about this is Obama himself. That is, of course, assuming that the whole “leaked” story isn’t just bullshit.

Cory Booker and the New Democrat Failure

Cory BookerIt is the weekend, so barring war, I’m going to try to get some of my backlog posted. And right now, that brings me back to Thursday when Chris Hayes had his big interview with Cory Booker on All In. As you may know, I’m not a fan of the major. He is New Democrat all the way. He’s fine on social issues, but on economic issues, he’s terrible, and he is firmly in the pocket of Wall Street. You may remember the dust up during last year’s election when he defended Bain Capital on Meet the Press. That’s who Booker is and Democrats continue to delude themselves when they think electing someone like him will result in any change. Booker and Obama and all the New Democrats are just smarter, more competent Republicans. I want more from my elected officials, and barring that, I at least want the choice to vote for an economic liberal.

But here’s the thing: in addition to everything else, Booker is a coward. At worst, he is leading in his Senate campaign by 16 percentage points. Other polls show him leading by far more than that. But as you will see in the interview below, the man cannot answer a straight question that goes outside of his talking points. And Hayes’ questions are not at all rough. It is a very friendly interview:

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As we liberals move into the future, we have to recognize that people like Booker really are a big problem. It looks like that Republican Party is determined to destroy itself. If that happens, the Democratic Party will rightly divide itself on the economic issues. And that will put Booker and friends in the New Republican Party. And once again, that will make the party one of ideology over practical solutions. Because this love of Wall Street, big banks, and the rich is not based on all the great things they do for society. It is based on affinity bias. Booker’s friends are bankers just like all the New Democrats. And that’s just fine: people should be allowed to be evil in their own ways. I can work with people like Booker as the opposition—but not as a member of my (liberal) party. On the single most important issue that we face as a people, he wants to make things worse.