Fourth Time: Reality TV Is Not Real

Duck DynastyOkay, this is the fourth time. Three times before, I have written about “reality” television. And as regular readers know: I hate it and will not willingly watch it. But before we get to all that, let’s address the elephant in the room.

Phil Robertson said some hateful, but extremely typical, Christian things about our gay friends and family members. Just like I wrote about in The Sad Reality of Duck Dynasty, I don’t believe anything these people do or say. In that article, I was reacting to Phil Robertson’s complaints that the “editors” of the show were making it sound like the family were more foul mouthed than they are. Also, he was unhappy about the “editors” cutting out parts of their prayers. As I pointed out, Phil clearly understood the situation. He couldn’t complain about the producers (who were telling the editors what to do), because he’s surrounded by the producers. So he couldn’t reasonably complain about them without doing something like, you know, ending the show. So I have little doubt that Phil’s anti-gay comments to GQ were known about ahead of time by the producers of the show. Phil will be back on as soon as possible and it will all be great for the ratings.

So who, in the end, gives a quarter of a shit about what Phil Robertson thinks about anything? Unfortunately, many millions of people. It doesn’t matter that when the Writers’ Guild of America went on strike, all (All!) the reality shows had to be put on hold. It doesn’t matter that by this time, even a child can see the cliches that riddle “reality” television. Or any of the many scandals that prove just how unreal the whole genre is. People want to believe. And with Duck Dynasty, the wish to believe is on a whole higher level. Because these are “authentic” people who have good “Christian” beliefs. And they’re rich! American Christians really want to believe all that can go together.

By the time the real scandals start to break, the show will be on the decline anyway. I’m sure there’s some infidelity going on. Let’s face it: what keeps most men faithful is the lack of women who want them. And in this family, I wouldn’t even be surprised to see some Brian Earl Schwanke kind of pedophilia. But mostly, as I’ve noted before: this is just a very rich family that inherited the business and the money from daddy. And that’s why I was so interested to see CultOfDusty’s video, Duck Dynasty Is Fake! In it, he provides photos of all the family members before the show. And what do you know? No long beards! They just look like the rich white assholes they are.

Take a moment to think about that. Really, this is important. The beards? The camouflage clothing? That is make-up and costume design. If the make-up union or the costume designers union went on strike, Duck Dynasty would have to stop production. They are in costume! So look, like I said, I don’t give a quarter of a shit about these rich assholes and their weekly business advertisements. But if any of you out there think that they are any different than the Romney family, you’re totally wrong. Growing the long beards and dressing like hicks was part of their business strategy. And if you are a Christian who believes in this “family as commodity,” then you are lost to God and humanity.

But watch this video because it is fucking brilliant:

Are There Libertarian Atheists?

MoineLast night, I got into a small argument with a guy (I think) who goes by the handle moine on Twitter. It was regarding two articles that I’d written: The Atheist Libertarian Connection and Libertarianism Incompatible With Atheism. So he took to something called TwitLonger to explain. But before I get to that, I want to point out a couple of things that I find really annoying!

I really don’t know if I’m talking about a guy or a gal, because when I went to his (used as the neuter from here on) website’s About page, there was no actual information except that he is “retired and grumpy and in need of a nap.” Which is great! I like that style of writing. But everywhere I go on blogs, I run into these too-clever “about pages” that don’t so much as provide a name. I blame it on Digby (Heather Parton), who for years was thought to be a man. I also don’t appreciate the lack of a photo. That is, by the way, one of Jakob Nielsen’s top ten things wrong with blogs. And I see it everywhere. A number of famous bloggers are very cagey about this. But fine, knowing a name would be a start.

Regardless, Moine thinks that I am wrong to think that there is a connection between libertarianism and atheism. He thinks that it is just that some atheist just happen to be libertarian, just like some atheists are into knitting. Well, it depends upon the kinds of atheists you are talking about. I’m an atheist the same way that Terry Eagleton is a Christian. We disagree with everyone and everyone, in turn, hates us. So if we are going to push the atheist envelope wide enough (and I think we should), there are huge numbers of atheists in this country. And they most certainly do not have a tendency toward libertarianism.

But if you look at the public atheists, they roughly fall into two camps: humanists and anarchists (libertarians). I think there are actually more humanists. But the libertarian crowd is very big and it is very much linked. For one thing: Ayn Rand. She was an anarchist who was an atheist and very much linked the two. She is still hugely popular. Go look on Amazon; even great novels of her time sell for 1¢ (The Grapes of Wrath!), but Atlas Shrugged might as well have been released earlier this month. You will not find the book cheap, even though it is, even on the basis of a story, absolutely dreadful. People read it as “philosophy.” These are people who don’t know what philosophy is, but never mind.

The other connection between atheism and libertarianism is a certain way of thinking. I call this group the “first principles” people. They think that they can prove in a deductive (or mostly deductive) way that libertarianism is “natural.” And this feeds into Social Darwinian thinking which feeds into Darwinian thinking which, for idiot atheists, proves that atheism is correct. For more, see: Clueless Atheists.

But above all, I just see it. I hear a lot of libertarian junk thinking coming out of the mouths of atheists. Often, they don’t even know it is libertarianism. The utter ignorance of atheists about just about everything is only eclipsed by the utter ignorance of American Christians. And remember: I used to be a libertarian. I worked for the party. I wrote about it at length for years. I read everything Ayn Rand ever wrote. I know those people. I know how they think. (But don’t be mistaken; most libertarians are not atheists; I could go on about the kooky ways that libertarian Christians justify that mind-blowing cognitive dissonance.)

That’s all I have to say on the matter right now. The truth is, I don’t disagree with Moine about anything but this one point. And his blog is interesting, although he doesn’t write enough to get me too excited. But it is worth checking out if you are interested in issues of faith and atheism.

Pas La Vie en Rose

Edith PiafI’m feeling a bit better today. And trends are all that really matter, you know? I mean, there is no such thing as absolute happiness; there is just relative happiness. And relative to the last couple of days, I’m flying high. And by that, I mean I don’t want to crawl under the bed. And that means, writing today’s birthday post is a lot more fun. Of course, the winner today (That’s her on the left; ain’t she cute?) is a singer of sad songs who had a sad life. But she is also one of my very favorite singers. So there’s that.

On this day in 1852, the great experimental physicist Albert Abraham Michelson was born. He was very important in the first modern light speed measurements. But he is best known for the Michelson–Morley experiment. Before that experiment, it was thought that light waves must move on a kind of structure, the way that waves move in water. No water, no waves. And this structure was thought to be the “ether.” Given that the earth is moving around the sun, and the sun around the galaxy, and the galaxy around the universe, the ether couldn’t be constantly static with regard to us. So if you sent out a light ray one direction, it ought to be at least slightly different in speed to one you sent out the other way. They showed this wasn’t the case. Eventually, Einstein would explain why. Anyway, the experiment was undoubtedly the most important one of the 19th century if not of the entire modern era.

The French writer Jean Genet was born in 1910. I’ve read a fair amount about him, but I don’t recall ever reading anything by him. I only bring him up here because of David Bowie’s song, “The Jean Genie,” which is a pun on his name. The song is not about him, however. I suspect Bowie knows as little as (or less than) I do of the man. Still, it’s a good excuse to listen to the song:

Other birthdays: Spanish playwright Manuel Breton de los Herreros (1796); women’s rights advocate Mary Livermore (1820); historian and founder of Black History Month, Carter Woodson (1875); inventor of an early fax-like machine Rudolf Hell (1901); blues (and so much more) musician Professor Longhair (1918); musical film songwriter Robert Sherman (1925); British actor James Booth (1927); actor Cicely Tyson (80); singer-songwriter Phil Ochs (1940); actor Tim Reid (69); actor Jennifer Beals (50); and everything that is wrong with modern magic in one person, Criss Angel (46).

The day, however and by a mile, belongs to Edith Piaf who was born on this day in 1915. I always think of her as a French Billie Holiday, both as an artist and as a person. It just goes to show that it is better to be French. Anyway, Piaf has a beautiful voice and has probably sung every French song you’ve ever heard that was sung by a woman. Although she only lived to be 47, her output was prodigious. Here she is the year before she died of liver cancer, singing one of her many hits, “Milord.” Wikipedia says that the song “recounts the feelings of a lower-class ‘girl of the port’ (perhaps a prostitute) who develops a crush on an elegantly attired apparent upper-class British traveller (or ‘milord’), whom she has seen walking the streets of the town several times (with a beautiful young woman on his arm), but who has not even noticed her. The singer feels that she is nothing more than a ‘shadow of the street.'” She perfectly captures the joy and sadness of young love. There is at least two minutes of standing ovation at the end of this video clip:

Happy birthday Edith Piaf!

Winning Elections With Bad Economics

Paul KrugmanYesterday, Paul Krugman wrote something that allows me to discuss a long held theory of mine. He was writing about how the United Kingdom’s economy is finally starting to improve, The Three Stooges Do Westminster. This is in reference to a Three Stooges routine where Moe asks Curly why he is banging his head against the wall and Curly replies, “Because it feels so good when I stop!” Krugman’s argument is that the Cameron government for the last two years have imposed harsh austerity and now that they’ve pulled back, the economy is doing better. But rather than think that economies simply mend themselves if allowed, they think like Curly: their modest growth was due to the austerity (head banging).

Then Krugman gets to something that has greatly concerned me for years:

Politically, this may well work. We’ve long known from US evidence that elections depend on the recent growth rate, not longer-term performance; in fact, an “optimal control” strategy if a president wants to win reelection is to push the economy into a pointless slump during his first two years, then engineer a fast recovery going into the next election. Cameron may have lucked into pursuing effectively the same strategy.

He is no doubt right. But the most important point is that this happens in the United States all the time and it works to the advantage of conservatives.

Here is the mechanism. Conservative economic policies are bad—or at least they have been for the last 30 years. Presidents have their greatest power in the first two years of their administrations. So they get to enact their bad economic policies early on. These are usually squeezing the poor (taking money away from them that they would spend) and gifting the rich (giving them tax cuts that they mostly will not spend). Thus, for the first two years we get Curly banging his head against the wall. But over time, the economy heals. So by the time that the Republican is up for re-election, the economy is finally starting to improve as it adjusts to the new bad conservative economic policies.

It is the opposite for liberals (or moderates as the case has been for the last 30 years). They actually have good economic policy ideas. In general, things get better when they enter office. But by the time they come around to re-election, the economy is stagnant or at least not improving as much as it adjusts to the new good liberal economic policies. Under Obama, it didn’t even take that long. It’s all complicated by other factors, but the overall framework is correct.

So our system benefits presidents who have bad economic policy ideas. Think about that. What can we do about it? Well, for one thing, we could have a better informed public. But it’s hard. I work very hard in my personal relationships to get people to stop fretting over little things (eg welfare fraud) and start focusing on big things (eg corporate fraud). But they don’t want to, because it is easier to despise that stuff they hear about every night on the news than the systemic corruption that the wealthy benefit from every day and that costs all of us poor people far more. Because if corporate fraud (and much else) is with us always, it ain’t news.

Musical Dreck to Commie Propaganda

Soviet UnionI don’t know how other people dream. I figure it is like most of my dreams that are just some other reality—kind of a jumble of stories. But sometimes, my dreams become like puzzles. When I was in college, before a math or physics exam, my mind would be a chaotic stream of ideas. It was like my brain was a computer trying various permutations. These nights were not, to say the least, restful. But I suspect they were useful.

Last night, about in the middle of it, a song from the musical Camelot came into my mind, “What Do the Simple Folk Do?”[1] When I was a kid, I loved musicals. I still find it a bizarre though interesting art form. But many of the lyrics now just embarrass me. Or worse. In “What Do the Simple Folk Do?” the king and queen wonder why the poor are happy when they, the rich and powerful, are not. It has really charming lines like this:

What else do the simple folk do?
They must have a system or two
They obviously outshine us at turning tears to mirth
Have tricks a royal highness is minus from birth

I’ll admit, though, it’s a damned catchy tune:

So this song was going around in my head and my brain kept changing the lyrics. But not normal lyrics; more like the lyrics from one suffering from Tourette Syndrome. Nonetheless, I still managed to rhyme, although when I awoke at various times, I found that they were mostly slant rhymes, and not ones that I thought worked particularly well.

All of that was fine, but all morning, I’ve had “What Do the Simple Folk Do?” going through my head. I did not want that song going through my head. A solution to my problem came via Sam Knight, who tweeted, “I can confirm that the DC Health Exchange hotline at least hasn’t bungled the hold music. Very pleasant.” So I thought, “What would a conservative comment that the music was?” And then it hit me: “Soviet Union National Anthem.” And I found this great version by the Red Army Choir with both Russian and English lyrics:

It’s a beautiful tune and it totally wiped out “What Do the Simple Folk Do?” Am I allowed to note that the melody is a hell of a lot better than our National Anthem? It does have the advantage of having been written about 200 years later. It is also easier to sing and thus less prone to have some American Idol winner screech it out at every sporting event I am unfortunate enough to attend. Although I suspect they could ruin it too.

Enjoy comrade!

[1] When I was a kid, I actually saw Richard Burton recreate this role in a road show at the Curren Theater in San Francisco. The bored performance that you see in that video clip was maintained for the full two hours of the show. I don’t hold it against him. I think he was a truly depressed and self-loathing person. I also don’t think he was a great actor, but he could have been. If you ever get a chance, watch him in Dr Faustus. It was a vanity project for him, but still he couldn’t manage to put much into it. I would have loved to have had the opportunity to get drunk with him, though.