Libertarian Affirmative Action

Matt DiGeronimoThursday’s Majority Report was really good. It provided a great contrast. Seder had on the reclusive Digby for about an hour and that was fun. I’ve embedded the video below, so you can check it out if you are so inclined. But what is really interesting is what happened in the second hour. He had a debate with Matt DiGeronimo, who is a libertarian radio talk show host in Hawaii. I was just overwhelmed with the segment because DiGeronimo is yet another conservative affirmative action recipient. This guy is a professional. He gets paid to do his show. He’s aired on AM 760, the “Wall Street Business Network.” That doesn’t sound like a some fly-by-night operation with a bunch of volunteers to me.

As soon as his appearance was announced, I checked out his website, The Matt DiGeronimo Show. I’m always amazed at the websites people put together. What do they do, have their unemployed uncles put together websites for them? I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t even want to talk to potential clients about websites. The truth is that you can get something that is at least not embarrassing for $500. And if you want to have a blog, well, you’re gonna have to pony up at least a grand. His website? I could knock it out in a couple of hours, including images. A half hour without the images. It’s just a really ugly Word Press skin after all.

That doesn’t really matter. I’ve known a lot of people who do good work who have horrible websites. But DiGeronimo is the “Managing Director of Hawaii’s largest and most prominent Mergers & Acquisitions company, ‘Smith Floyd Hawaii’.” So you would think he would be willing to pony up a bit of cash for his website. You would think he would deal with a lot of other people who understand that having a website that looks like it crawled out of 1995, is a bad thing. But whatever. The website did not bode well for the man.

The conversation he had with Sam Seder started right out the gate with an absurd discussion of the difference between a gay person coming out of the closet and German grunts during World War II being afraid to speak out against the Nazi regime. But he didn’t put it that way. He said, “Nazi grunts.” What he was trying say is the same thing Tolstoy said (although not in English), “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” He was trying to argue that a lot (I would argue most) of the German people didn’t like what the Nazis were doing at all, but they were afraid to say anything. And as with gay people coming out of the closet, if all the good Germans had spoken up, they could have won. But they didn’t, because it’s hard when you assume you are alone. I could tell that was what he meant to say.

But he never did. He talked in circles and ended up sounding like a Nazi apologist. Eventually, Sam Seder took pity on him and they moved onto the whether Christians are under attack. Well, there’s something you should know about the “Managing Director of Hawaii’s largest blah blah blah”: he’s also a Christian. But he’s apparently a non-judgmental one. He thinks he shouldn’t say anything against homosexuality, because it’s God’s place to make them burn in hell, not his. But he did have a problem with people who have a problem with a Ten Commandments monument on government property. Again: vague and confused about what he thinks and why.

They went on to talk about the minimum wage which I thought would be a slam dunk. It’s a classic: “I am against the minimum wage because it hurts workers since businesses won’t hire people if they have to pay more.” But that isn’t really the argument he makes. He says, more or less, “A $15 minimum wage would hurt people because they would just go to work at Burger King instead of maybe taking a job at IBM for $3 where they could gain skills.” I swear, that’s what he said. His thinking is totally a mess. He really hasn’t thought about any of this stuff other than perhaps reading Reason Magazine from time to time. And the big bad leftist Sam Seder clearly understands the libertarian arguments better than DiGeronimo does.

It’s interest to contrast with Digby. Seder mentioned that if Digby were a conservative, some foundation would by now have set something up for her to get millions of dollars per year to do what she does. Instead, she is dependent upon reader donations. And here is the other side of that. Matt DiGeronimo is a mushy-headed libertarian who can’t think his way out of a folded paper towel. Yet he is paid to host an hour-long radio show every weekday. It boggles my mind.

Having been a libertarian, I know I can outdo these people. If all I wanted to do was to make money, I’d start a libertarian blog and start arguing everything from that perspective. I even own the URL FlamingRhetoric.com. So it wouldn’t be hard and before long some of the gobs of conservative money would come rolling in. Unfortunately for my bank account, even when I was a libertarian, I thought the system would work better for everyone—I wasn’t an apologist for the rich. So explicitly selling my soul isn’t what I do. But this fool with a radio show doesn’t even understand the basics. Perhaps some day I will set myself a task to write the best libertarian argument for the minimum wage. It isn’t hard. Libertarianism is a ridiculously simple (and simplistic) ideology. Of course, I’d also write the counter argument, because the libertarian argument against the minimum wage is (as always) fine in theory, terrible in practice.

But it really bugs me that the left has all the good ideas, all the best writers, and none of the money. It’s December and every reasonable sized blog has been begging the whole month for donations. You don’t see that on Red State or the other conservative blogs. It’s part of what’s wrong with this nation. Relatively stupid and ignorant conservatives get huge piles of cash to come up with ideas that support the power elite, and another group of relatively stupid and ignorant conservatives gets huge piles of money to market those “ideas.” It isn’t that there aren’t rich liberals, but when it comes to economic ideas, they too are mostly conservative. As for me, I’m happy if a couple of people buy something from Amazon through this site every month.

The world ain’t fair, but at least we liberals know what we believe and why.

Play-By-Play Chess Action!

Viswanathan AnandI hope you can forgive me for talking a little bit about chess here. The following video is from the 1994 Blitz Chess World Championship semi-final between Ilya Smirin vs Viswanathan Anand. Smirin is an Israeli Grandmaster, although I don’t think he had quite attained that title at the time of this match. Anand was the first Indian Grandmaster ever—a title he got at the age of 19. He was also the undisputed World Champion from 2007 to 2013. Currently, Smirin is ranked 86th in the world and Anand is ranked 9th. In other words, these are guys who would destroy me if they were playing against me blind with a queen handicap and forced to take high doses of morphine.

Ilya SmirinThere are a couple of interesting things in this match. First, it is presented just like a sporting event. And just like while watching a football game, for example, the commentators are largely buffoons. They make a number of mistakes. They can be forgiven; it does, after all, go by very fast. But it is clear that they miss the thrust of what is going on a number of times. For example, at one point, a commentator says, “Anand’s sacrificing his rook!” He catches himself, immediately, however; he quickly adds, “Of course, Smirin could then take his queen.” In other words: it wasn’t a sacrifice, I just screwed up.

The other interesting thing is that on his fourth move, Anand takes almost two minutes (1:43) to move. This is at the beginning of game where he has only a total of five minutes time for the whole game. And when he finally moves, it is not impressive. All that time? What looks to have happened is that Smirin made an unusual fourth move and it threw Anand off his game. And indeed, for much of the following game, Smirin has the advantage. But clearly, Anand is the better player and move by move he claws his way back and gets the advantage until it is overwhelming. The finally position is this:

Smirin-Anand 1994

The game ends in a draw. But this is only because all Anand needs is a draw to move onto the finals, which he also won. Anand’s position is overwhelming. If it were not blitz chess, there is no question that Anand would win (actually, Smirin would resign at this point). Anand is up by a bishop and a pawn. And Smirin can’t even take the lone pawn on the left. If he does, Smirin loses a rook. If he threatens the pawn with his rook, Anand can protect it with his bishop. This isn’t even to mention the fact that the king can take out the white pawns. One of Anand’s pawns will get through and become a queen. And these are just the things that I see. By the end Smirin is thrilled to take a draw.

But check out this video. Even if you don’t understand chess, I think you will find it exciting. Regardless, it’s interesting to see how worked up people can become about a game. We are so used to seeing it in football and basketball, it doesn’t affect us. But here you see it for the strange human behavior that it is.

Masaccio at the Vanishing Point

The Expulsion - MasaccioOn this day in 1890, the great geneticist Hermann Joseph Muller was born. He got the Nobel Prize for his work on the effects of radiation on biological systems and their genetics. But his most important work may have been his activism to promote the long-term negative effects of radiation, especially as a result of the nuclear testing that was going on like gangbusters at that time.

Paul Winchell was born in 1922. He was one of the greatest ventriloquists of all time. In the puppet and ventriloquist community, he is legend. In the 1950s and 1960s, he was huge on television. But he is probably best known today as the voice of Tigger in the Winnie-the-Pooh movies. As you will see in the video below, the puppet doesn’t just talk, it moves its arms around and does all kinds of stuff. He is using another puppeteer, which was unheard of then. Winchell was also a mechanical genius. He invented and the first artificial heart. Really! Anyway, here are two charming and funny bits with his two primary puppets, Jerry Mahoney and Knucklehead Smiff:

Talk show host Phil Donahue is 78 today. He was important. He really did change the way that talk shows were produced. Of course, I haven’t really seen anything nearly as good since then. I love the following video clip from when Donahue went on The Factor with Bill O’Reilly. It isn’t the words that are spoken. The styles contrast so perfectly. Donahue is calm and thoughtful with a power that makes you think, “That’s how Thomas Paine must have been!” And O’Reilly is absolutely unhinged—clearly controlled by his inner rage. This isn’t to say that O’Reilly is stupid; he’s clearly a smart guy. But his rage really does take him out of contention for being anyone you would ever listen to. But the video also shows something you don’t often see from Bill O’Reilly: fear. He’s afraid of Donahue. And he should be! Donahue is a far greater man than O’Reilly is in his grandest dreams.

The great guitarist Frank Zappa was born in 1940. He has always been an under appreciated guitarist. And I’ll be honest: when I was younger, I didn’t really get it. Now I listen to him and I am blown away. To some extent, it is that he was too revolutionary. He goes way beyond rock fundamentals. I remember reading a quote from Eddie Van Halen (who is without question a great guitarist) saying that he rarely played anything outside the blues scale. And it is amazing how far that can take you. But Zappa really did go far outside that. Maybe it is more correct to call him a jazz guitarist, but really, he was a rock guy. Here he is doing “The Torture Never Stops” (the guitar playing starts around the 5:00 mark):

Other birthdays: German composer Hermann Raupach (1728); the most overrated person in the formation of this country Paul Revere (1734); the great French painter Thomas Couture (1815); composer Lorenzo Perosi (1872); evolutionary theorist Sewall Wright (1889); cartoonist John Severin (1921); actor Jane Fonda (76); guitarist Albert Lee (70); actor Samuel L Jackson (65); and comedian Andy Dick (48).

The day, however, belongs to the great Italian painter of the Italian Renaissance, Masaccio who was born on this day in 1401. In many ways, he was a first painter of the period. He truly was revolutionary—one of the first painters anywhere to use the vanishing point. If you know any of his work, it is probably his fresco, The Expulsion (see above), which shows Adam and Eve being banished from Eden. It is interesting in that until the 1980s, there were fig leaves covering their genitalia. But those were a later addition, so when the fresco was cleaned, they were removed. I find it fascinating how sexual mores change over time. People have this tendency to always think that the way things are is the way they have always been. Or that things just get more and more permissive. But that isn’t the way things work at all, and we would all be better off if we would just get over it. Regardless, Masaccio had a great influence on pretty much all painters that came after him. I don’t think it is an over-statement to say that without him, there would have been no Antonello da Messina or even probably Leonardo da Vinci. And he only lived to be 26 years old. It isn’t known how he died.

Here is his Holy Trinity where you can really see his use of the vanishing point:

Holy Trinity - Masaccio

Happy birthday Masaccio!

Why My Father Watches Fox News

Fox Not NewsI think I have figured out why my father watches Fox News. Now, my father, like all of us, has his racial prejudices and I have seen them evolve over time. He’s certainly a better man than he once was, not that he was ever some racist asshole who thought that blacks (or whatever) were bringing down the society. But there is no doubt that he grew up during a different time when white men were supreme. And he has not read White Like Me and doesn’t fully appreciate just how privileged he is. And so, like a lot of white men, he was skeptical about the civil rights movement when it affected him. Clearly, he believed that people should be allowed to vote and all that. But things like “busing” bothered him and he still has a general attitude that racial inequality has been “fixed.”

It is perhaps important to note that my father is not exactly white. By California standards, sure; he’s been part of the racial ruling class—part of the group that effectively has no race. But when we traveled through the south, it became very clear that my father was not white. And given that my mother was quite white, there were quite a lot of stares at the interracial couple with their mulatto kids. In fact, there was much worse than stares, but it really doesn’t matter here.

I’ve noticed over the past few years that my father has gotten more and more unhappy with Fox News. I take some credit for that. But he’s come to see that they very often don’t tell him the whole story. And very much to his credit, he’s noticed that on their panels of “experts,” very often no one disagrees. That to him seems fishy because if everyone agrees, why are they discussing it. It’s like, “Motherhood: good or bad? We’ll be discussing that tonight on Big Talk.”

On the other side, he seems pretty happy watching MSNBC—surprisingly, especially Al Sharpton. But if the subject of racial matters comes up, he gets very uncomfortable. Talk of blatant acts of racism—voter fraud and things like that—he’s on board. In fact, he’s often more upset than I am. But he does not like to be told that there is still systemic racism in our society. It upsets his whole vision of the nation as being fundamentally okay. And that’s where he’ll change the channel.

Back over on Fox News, he’s pretty much given up on watching the explicit opinion shows like The Factor. But he’s comfortable with Bret Baier and he was upset when Shepard Smith went on to his new floating post. He’s happy watching these shows even though he clearly knows that they are lying to him to at least to a certain extent and that they are deliberately withholding news from him.

I believe the reason he continues to watch Fox News—and by extension the reason a lot of people do—is that it doesn’t upset their world view—ever. Regardless of what rubbish is reported on Fox News, it will never report anything that might say that there is anything wrong with the utopian worldview of those older generations. They might report about welfare fraud, but they would never report about an economic system that keeps people in poverty that might push some of them to commit welfare fraud. They might report on Bernie Madoff, but they will never report on the systemic fraud on Wall Street. They might report on some government waste, but they would never report on how the government’s primary function is to take money away from the poor and give it to the rich. These absolutely true facts about the nation that we live in are upsetting to all of us. But to the old, to even acknowledge them would require a total rethink of the life they’ve lived. That’s hard, hard medicine. And Fox News more than any other news network doesn’t do that.

Even more disturbing, is the overall narrative that Fox News provides. It isn’t explicit, at least most of the time. That narrative says that the problems that plague our country are the result of those people: the young, the minorities, the terrorists, the intellectuals and their sneaky ideas. Fox News never slips up and betrays that “us against them” and “good versus evil” narrative. The viewers are constantly told that in this world, none of the problems out there are their fault. If everyone were like them, everything would be perfect. The nation is going to hell because a surf bum is getting food stamps, not because corporations are getting billions of dollars to make aircraft that don’t work.

Fox News is a pacifier—Barney & Friends for the old.

Afterword

I want to be clear: other than how they vote against their own interests, the average Fox News viewer is not to blame for most of our society’s ills. But the whole point of Fox News is to keep the viewer focused away from where the problems truly lie: the power elite.