Odds and Ends Vol 7

Odds and EndsIs it just me or am I writing longer articles recently? I can’t help it. For the last couple of days, I’ve been so angry about the state of this nation. It all started this weekend when I took a big plunge into my long thought about book-length essay, “How to Cross a Street.” The truth is that I have no idea what it is about except in the vaguest of terms. It is about the one thing that I think matters: community. But our cultural trend is disastrous. And my personal history is none too great either. And that’s the part that makes me mad. If I can’t help to create community in my little part of the world, what hope is there generally? But from a writing standpoint, it’s all good. An honest look at one’s failings can work very well. Or so I tell myself. Because no one else is here.

  1. Paul Krugman recently wrote, Empty Boxes of Political Economy. In it, he points out that more or less sensible economics are coming entirely from the Democrats and all the charlatans and cranks are Republicans. That’s correct. And I would put it even stronger than he does. But there is something that I think he is missing. He noted:
    In practice, left-wing cranks have never played a significant role in US politics, while right-wing cranks always have. Still, back in the days of George HW Bush—and even, to some extent, in the days of Bush the lesser—there were politicians in the lower left box.

    Sigh. Can he really be so naive? When Republicans are in the White House, they are Keynesians. They believe in stimulus and monetary policy. They aren’t worried about debt, because mostly debt is never that big a deal. It’s only when a Democrat is in the White House that suddenly the Republicans forget everything they learned in Econ 101.

    Look at Greg Mankiw — by all accounts a great economist who is conservative. Under Bush Jr, he was all for stimulus. Under Obama, he came up with some complicated ideas as to why stimulus wouldn’t work. And then, as the 2012 election was approaching (he was Mitt Romney’s economic adviser), suddenly he was walking back his anti-stimulus rhetoric to prepare for more Keynesian stimulus once Romney was president. It’s a game that all politicians play. But it is one that only conservative economists play.

    Krugman knows that, but obviously can’t say it. Earlier, he wrote, “There are liberal professional economists; there are conservative professional economists; and there are professional conservative economists (aka right-wing hacks).” I think that “conservative professional economists” have shown themselves to be largely right-wing hacks as well.

  2. German President Joachim Gauck has announced that he will boycott the Olympic games in Sochi over Russia’s human rights abuses and it’s “gay propaganda” law. The position of president in Germany does not have much power, but it is an important stand. Chancellor Angela Merkel is still the one with all the power. Although I have major problems with her, I think her position that going to the games and highlighting the Russian abuses is a defensible one. Still, I think it is the wrong one. To a very large extent, I think that the Olympics are a crock. We aren’t one big happy world. There are currently at least 12 major wars being fought and at least another 29 smaller ones.

    Look: I’m not against the games as games. I don’t, for example, think that international chess tournaments should be stopped. But the Olympics has this whole “we are the world” symbolism going on. It seems to be a way for big countries like the United States to sit back and feel good about themselves while the drone killing of civilians continues on. So I say fuck the Olympics regardless. But Gauck is right to boycott the Sochi games over the gay rights issue. This is Russia after all—not Saudi Arabia.

  3. This is an interesting optical illusion. These square flat surfaces of these two blocks are exactly the same color. They don’t appear that way because our brains still think of the bottom block as being white, but poorly lit, whereas the top block is black, but well lit. You can see this by covering up the seam. But even when you do this, it will take your brain some time to get used to it. The lesson here is that we don’t see colors in an absolute sense. We are forever making calculations about light and angles. This is how a lot of optical illusions work. Anyway, this one is fun:
    Optical Illusion Blocks

Until next time my friends!

Big Mama Thornton Ain’t No Hound Dog

Big Mama ThorntonFive years ago today, Bernard Madoff was finally arrested for his decades of fraud. So remember: when you rip off people, make sure that they are poor! Of course, ol’ Madoff had already had 70 really good years of life. This is far more than most people get. So he has to spend the rest of his life in prison. Big deal. Not a very big punishment as far as I’m concerned. If someone gave a baby the option, which do you think it would take? First option: you can have a great life of wealth and influence where people bow before you and treat you like royalty and then during the last couple of years of your life, you will not be thought well of and you will be in jail. Second option: you will work your whole life and no one will really appreciate it and then you will retire where you’ll live a sad, lonely, and poor life. I think Madoff did very well for himself!

On this day in 1856, the Russian revolutionary Georgi Plekhanov was born. Although he was a huge figure in the Russian Revolution, he did not like the Bolsheviks. He was a Marxist and a social-democrat. After the revolution, he left for Finland where he died of tuberculosis. Even though he was an opponent of the Soviet system, Lenin and his successors held him up as a hero. You know, the way Republicans hold up Martin Luther King as a hero today. Nothing like a great man you hated after he is dead.

The great physicist Max Born was born in 1882. He is one of a group of people who developed quantum mechanics. He worked closely with Heisenberg on the matrix formulation of the theory. In fact, generally speaking, Born has kind of been left out of the credit for this work, even though Heisenberg was very clear about his contributions.

The great modernist composer Elliott Carter was born in 1908. He is absolutely one of my favorite of the recent composers. He was also an amazing theorist. Here is the “Allegro Scorrevole” from his Symphonia: Sum fluxae pretium spei from very late in his career (although he lived to be 103):

Other birthdays: polymath Francesco Algarotti (1712); father of the Bill of Rights George Mason (1725); physicist David Brewster (1781); poet Alfred de Musset (1810); brewer John Labatt (1838); astronomer Annie Jump Cannon (1863); actor Jean-Louis Trintignant (83); singer Rita Moreno (82); pianist McCoy Tyner (75); singer-songwriter David Gates (73); singer Brenda Lee (69); actor Teri Garr (66); and cartoonist Peter Bagge (56).

The day, however, belongs to blues writer and singer Big Mama Thornton who was born on this day in 1926. Her music is just a lot of fun and we could all use a lot more of that. Here she is doing her version of “Hound Dog”:

Happy birthday Big Mama Thornton!

More on Politics First Religion Second

Republican JesusLast night I discussed Ross Douthat’s commitment to his conservative ideology over his commitment to Christianity and the Catholic Church. And look, I know that I’ve been writing a lot about Pope Francis these days. But it’s important stuff. In a nation that is 80% Christian, it highlights not only our hypocrisy (not that interesting), it highlight the paucity of theological thought on the part of a people who claim that religion is very important to them.

As others have noted, Pope Francis is not the first Pope to talk about the immorality of our economic system. He’s just the first one who the media has paid attention to. Remember the last on, Pope Benedict, who everyone thought was just a mean old curmudgeon? In is encyclical Caritas in Veritate he wrote:

Here budgetary policies, with cuts in social spending often made under pressure from international financial institutions, can leave citizens powerless in the face of old and new risks; such powerlessness is increased by the lack of effective protection on the part of workers’ associations. Through the combination of social and economic change, trade union organizations experience greater difficulty in carrying out their task of representing the interests of workers, partly because Governments, for reasons of economic utility, often limit the freedom or the negotiating capacity of labour unions. Hence traditional networks of solidarity have more and more obstacles to overcome. The repeated calls issued within the Church’s social doctrine, beginning with Rerum Novarum[60], for the promotion of workers’ associations that can defend their rights must therefore be honoured today even more than in the past, as a prompt and far-sighted response to the urgent need for new forms of cooperation at the international level, as well as the local level.

Oh my God, and I do mean that God—that Catholic God who made Pope Benedict infallible! The (infallible) man is talking about the importance of labor unions! Where was Stuart Varney when we needed him?!

But let’s be perfectly honest with no exaggeration: Stuart Varney is an idiot who no one with any sense takes seriously. Ross Douthat, however, is taken seriously. He’s one of the non-ranting conservatives who holds up his Catholic faith as a badge of honor. He even wrote a whole book about how we needed to get back to traditional religion, Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics. But as Michael Sean Winters, a writer for the National Catholic Reporter wrote in his devastating review of Bad Religion:

My problem with Douthat’s book is not that his opinions differ from my own. My problem is that he does not seem to have any idea what he is talking about. In the West, there has been no universally accepted authoritative voice on orthodoxy since the Reformation. “What am I to do when many persons allege different interpretations, each one of whom swears to have the Spirit?” asked Erasmus in 1524. But Douthat does not see the larger picture that he aims to explain, and his treatment of his subject is so pitifully mistaken in things large and small that what we are left with is a meandering, self-serving screed. The book has the same reliance on private judgment that anyone who was really concerned with heresy would recognize as part of the problem, not part of the solution.

Ouch! But it goes right along with my argument that Ross Douthat should not be considered a Catholic thinker. Garry Wills he is not. He is first and foremost a conservative and then he uses his religion to justify that. Douthat’s big gripe is that religions are liberalizing to appeal to modern people. He is against such “accomodationism.” Winters calls him out on that issue:

Of course, not all accommodationisms are equal in Douthat’s rendering. He may not like the “prosperity gospel” as preached by Pastor Joel Osteen, but he has many nice things to say about the accommodation to laissez-faire capitalism that American Catholic conservatives have been championing. He labels Michael Novak’s works a “breakthrough” and approvingly quotes this passage:

It is wrong to imagine that the spirit of competition is foreign to the gospels, and that, in particular, competition for money is humankind’s most mortal spiritual danger. Under God, a wealthy nation faces an especially harsh judgment, but that judgment will not be aimed so much at the existence of wealth as at the character of the uses made of it. On Judgment Day, the rich may find it especially hard to get through the eye of the needle, but this will not be because they had money but because their use of it will be subjected to an accounting on different ledgers from those scrutinized by the Internal Revenue Service. The rich have reason to tremble. If their wealth has been productive for others, though, the world has reason to be merciful to them even if God’s standards are higher.

If that is not accomodationism, I do not know what is. Collapsing Catholicism into capitalism is as much of an “accommodation” as collapsing it into the counterculture. Novak is so eager to pour the Scottish Enlightenment into the Gospels that he fails to note that it is a spirit of gratuitousness, not competition, that must characterize a Christian culture.

What I’m getting at here is not that Ross Douthat or any of the other conservatives who claim to be Christians are horrible people. And I’m not saying that a righteous Christian cannot be a conservative. But if you are a Christian, your religious should come first. But for most Christians I talk to, their politics come first and they use their religion to justify their politics—mostly with regard to reproductive and same sex marriage rights. And this to me means they are pretenders.

I like to think of myself as an interfaith atheist. I love the best that religion is and I take great joy in talking to peoples of all faiths about their beliefs and what they think of the great questions of life. But I have no tolerance for dogma. We are living through a dark ages of religion. More people than ever claim to have faith and all that, but it means less than it ever did. For most people, God is just the trump card, “I’m right because God says I’m right.” That’s all Ross Douthat does, although admittedly, he does it with much skill and obfuscation.

I may be an atheist, but I do have a creed: inclusion, equality, empathy, compassion. And my politics follow from it. I do not follow the teachings of the power elite and then justify them by cherry picking from a three-quarter million word tome. But I too can point to literature to justify my creed. Here is one by Emma Lazarus that you will perhaps recognize:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand that
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

That is a real welcome, not a theoretical one. That is a sincere desire for equality, not nice words hiding the granite that separates them from us. That is real empathy because I and mine have struggled too. And that is real compassion and not the tidy platitude that all are equal in America. My creed may be wrong, but it is my creed. Ross Douthat’s creed is that of the American Enterprise Institute covered over with platitudes about peace and good will toward men.

America’s Vague Caste System

America's Caste SystemNormally, I would be writing my birthday post now. In fact, normally, I would have already written it, but I just had to say something about the YouTube “conversation” I had, Racist Conservative Youth Complains About Racism. The truth is that the birthday posts take hours to write. I would really enjoy doing them if I didn’t feel under such time constraints. And this has been a bad morning. All night last night I dreamed that I was working at this gas station that I once worked at for about six months. It was not a pleasant experience. The way economics works in the real world is not the way it works in economic models. And it sure the hell isn’t the way that it works in the minds of conservatives.

At that time, I wanted to get a grunt job. I was working on my first novel then. My thinking was: get a minimum wage job—just enough to get by on—and I’d be free to do my real work in my spare time. Well, that didn’t work out exactly that way. Mostly, the job was exhausting from an emotional standpoint. The customers could be trying and I was often faced with situations where there was no “correct” way to act. But that wasn’t the biggest problem. What made the job almost debilitating was how management treated me and everyone else who worked there.

I thought it would be more like, “We don’t pay you much, but we don’t expect much of you either.” That wasn’t true at all. Instead, it was, “We are taking food right out of the mouths of our children to pay you, so you had better be busy all the time!” What’s more, if anything went wrong, it was always our fault. Management made snap judgments based upon no evidence. It must be the wage slave’s fault, otherwise, he’d have a good job. At that time, I made $9 per hour ($18,000 per year) and my immediate supervisor made something in excess of $50,000 per year.

Finally, I had had enough and I traded in my $9 per hour job for a $65,000 per year one at a start-up. And the wonderful thing about that change was that management treated me with respect and dignity. And the work was different, but certainly not harder and far less stressful. That’s when I realized that the more an employer pays you, the nicer they are to you. It’s a class thing. As a computer programmer, I was part of the educated class and thus I demanded to be treated with dignity. But the same person working in a gas station is just lowlife scum.

And indeed, there were some lowlifes who worked there. One woman had stolen $700, which was caught on video. Oh, didn’t I mention the video cameras? There were 26 of them, almost all of which were trained on the employees. The employers’ greatest concern was their employees, not their customers. But most of the employees were incredibly dedicated to the business. For example, they worked double shifts at a moments’ notice. They showed far more loyalty to the employer than the employer showed to them. But these older employees were not treated any better than the new hires that tried to steal from the company. Well, no different except that they were paid about one dollar more per hour.

In our culture, how an employee is treated and how he is paid is dependent upon what class he belongs to. For example, Scooter Libby is not only a convicted felon, he is also a traitor to this country. But he never spent a day in prison. He was disbarred, but he has likely gotten his license back by now, or at least is in the process. Not that he has to work. In 2004, his net worth was estimated to be $15 million. And if he had to work, there would have been people around to give him a “job” that would have paid the bills.

On the other hand, some poor kid who got nicked for selling cannabis will have a hard time finding any legitimate work after getting out of that prison that Libby never went into. It’s very simple: there are the right kind of people who may make “minor” mistakes by harming national security for political gain but really aren’t bad (e.g. Scooter Libby) and there are the wrong kind of people who may make “major” mistakes by ingesting prohibited vegetable substances (that is: drugs) and are really bad (e.g. basically any poor kid).

Inequality in America is about a lot more than money. I have no doubt that Bernard Madoff would have received a slap on the wrist if it weren’t for the fact that he defrauded other rich people—other of the “right” kind of people. As for the “wrong” kind of people: they just don’t matter. That’s one of the reasons that conservatives don’t care about getting them health insurance. The sooner they die, the better.

Welcome to the American Caste System. Where do you fit in?

Racist Conservative Youth Complains About Racism

Amy KremerIt’s a sad old world. In general, I don’t comment on YouTube videos, except to reply to comments on my own videos. But there was a video I commented on recently, Tea Party Leader Destroyed. The “leader” in question was our friend Amy Kremer, who you may remember prompted me to create the video, Tea Party Idiot.

Anyway, so I commented on this video that was a more recent vintage of Amy Kremer:

I’ve been watching her for years, and I’d thought she would get better. But she’s as ignorant and flustered as ever. In general, Republicans are more racist than Democrats, but Kremer doesn’t strike me as any more racist than other Republicans. She clearly hates Obama with no real reason, though. Mostly, she just thinks there was a time when America was something it never was. Unless you mean overwhelmingly white. If she’s the best that [the] Tea Party has to offer, they are in trouble.

Someone named idiotfinder911 replied to me. Putting 911 in the name perhaps says everything you need to know. Nonetheless:

Frank, if you had the ability to put aside your racist liberal ways, and see people for who they truly are and represent, you will see that this women is a good person. You would also understand why Obama is BAD for America. Ill equate people like you who are in LOVE with Obama and liberalism to a women who is CONSTANTLY beaten up by her husband, but at the end of the day says “he loves me, which is why I stay”. You are completely BLIND! End of discussion.

I shouldn’t have responded. For one thing, this sounds like an angry teenager. And indeed, he seems to be a fan of professional wrestling. Nonetheless, I tried, as usual, to engage the crazy conservative because good things do sometimes come out of it:

Read my writing. I’m not in love in Obama. In fact, I am writing a book about how the New Democratic movement destroyed both the Dems and Reps. But it is ironic that I am “wrong” because I can’t see Kremer is good but you are “right” because you can see that Obama is BAD. Regardless, I don’t claim that Kremer is anything but a true believer. She is stupid and ignorant, but I don’t doubt she is trying to do what she thinks is right. She is, as the saying goes, a useful fool. She pushes policies that [are] ultimately bad for people like herself.

So I get the next response which is, shall we say, telling:

If you were accurately judge who was the idiots/stupid people here, Kremer would have been the LAST one you called out. Id first call out the “race card” player, the host. Then the black guy, then the fake journalist who claims he came up with the term “leading from behind”. Then I can see you calling out Kremer.

You see, the difference between me and you, conservative and liberal, is that I ACCURATELY assess EVERYTHING. If I do something immoral, I recognize that, whereas you don’t have that ability. This is why medical doctors have classified liberalism as a mental disorder. Which is why I sympathize with you and people like you. You cant help it.

Note the not so subtle racism in his first paragraph. So what we have here is a white guy with racial resentment. He’s one of those 60% of Republicans who think that the biggest racism problem in America is against whites. And if you look at the videos he likes, you will see some real charmers like, Top 60 Ghetto Black Names and Teacher sues because racist black kids.

But it was the second paragraph that was too much. It reminds me of this insurance agent I once had who claimed that all knowledge was divided into two categories: things he absolutely knew and things he did not know. In other words: once he had figured something out, it was set in stone; it could never be changed. Even in that conversation, he made factual statements that were wrong, but I guess he was just going to have to live with them for the rest of his life. Similarly with idiotfinder911, he accurately assesses everything. Wow! What perfection in a man! What an Adonis he must be!

So I called an end to it:

Give it a rest. No one accurately assesses everything. You are either delusional or just stupid. Either way, the conversation is over. You have nothing to offer.

I think you can see, I’m just tired. I shouldn’t even have responded. The guy is just ranting. There is no engagement going on. But his final response was the best yet:

Sorry Franky. You lose again. I made valid points vs. your finger pointing. People like you not only have nothing to provide this conversation, but you also have nothing to provide this world but problems.

I’ll admit that I lost; I lost a lot of time talking to this guy. If idiotfinder911 wants to find idiots, he ought to start with a mirror. But I’m really struck by his claim that he made valid points. He made no points at all. The only thing he said that even came close to a point was his listing of who ware the biggest idiots on the video. And in that case, there were no justifications except for his clear racism. But I will remind you once again: his thinking is that of 60% of the Republican party. That’s 30% of the country who are largely guided by their belief that blacks are getting over on them.

If you think that fascism can’t take hold in the United States, you are delusional. All we need is a bad economy and too many people not voting. People like idiotfinder911 have nothing to add to the conversation, they are just an evil minority that will destroy this nation if they get the chance. Please people: vote.

Update (28 November 2015 11:50 pm)

Apparently, Idiotfinder911 did a Google search of his moniker and found this article. Except, Google lists the version that is on our old Nucleus CMS, which no longer allows comments. So he commented on whatever article was recently up, Give Thanks for Thanksgiving — You Might Not Have It Much Longer. It’s classic Idiotfinder911: ranting and raving, claiming that no one addresses his “arguments” — which consist primarily of calling other people names because, you know, conservative gooooddd, liberal baaaddd:

Frank, you cant help yourself but to somehow tie in “conservatives” into this story, can you? I seen that you wrote an article about me some time ago, but as a typical helpless liberal, you tried to smear me without providing the full story. Anytime you want to debate me on liberal vs conservative or racial issues, let me know. I will say you have already put your foot in your liberal mouth by calling me a white racist [I never called him a white racist. -FM] while not even knowing what my race is… Would you refer to me as an Uncle Tom if I am black?? [Clearly, Idiotfinder911 has never read Uncle Tom’s Cabin. -FM] Just like a good little liberal, you randomly call people racist who don’t see things the way you do. That in itself is WORSE than racism. Bring it unless you are a coward. Which from your previous story about me, you totally are.

James and Elizabeth gave him much more of what he deserves. I find such people exhausting. The interesting thing is that there are thousands of Idiotfinder911s out there. It isn’t surprising that they think all liberals are the same, given that they are walking, talking cliches. To call them conservatives is an unwarranted criticism of the movement.