Charm, Magic, and Kevin King

Kevin KingI wasn’t going to write any more today. I’m tired. Really tired. The holidays wear me out. What’s more, it is new year’s eve and I hate new years eve. I feel like I, as a radical pedestrian, am not allowed to leave the house tonight. I left earlier to pick up some food for dinner. And in that brief time out, someone tried to run me over. It’s no big deal. People are always trying to run me over. I don’t take it personally. I don’t think they know the kind of books I write. I don’t think they know that I am a radical pedestrian who would not only take away their cars, if they complained I would deprive them of life, libertry, and the pursuit of happiness. In that order.

Anyway, stuck at home, I went over to YouTube to check out how many people have viewed my video Tea Party Idiot Rant – Up with Chris Hayes, which is pushing 10,000 views which is a whole lot for a guy who is normally happy with a single thousand. But it offered me some close-up magic to watch, so I clicked. It was a guy doing a close-up linking ring kind of trick and I found it really annoying. But there was a link to The Close Up Magic of Kevin King. Now, I had never even heard of Kevin King but it looked like he did card work, and that’s pretty much the only thing I’m really interested in, so I clicked over.

And glad I was! In addition to everything else, he’s really funny. What’s more, and this cannot be over-stated, he’s charming. I’ve always had this problem with Michael Close. Close is brilliant. He understands all the problems with magic and he does a great job of getting around those and performing magic that is truly entertaining. But here’s the problem: I don’t like Michael Close. I have this feeling that if I ever met him, he would be a total dick. Oh! That’s right: I once corresponded with him. And although it was very pleasant, the man exuded “People don’t appreciate me as much I appreciate me.” And on stage, he isn’t charming. Almost anyone else would be more successful performing his beautifully crafted magic. So that’s what I got from Kevin King.

But before I introduce you to him, we need to talk about another magician: Derek Dingle. Whereas Michael Close is great at taking other people’s ideas and turning them into entertaining routines, Dingle was a true innovator. But he was also, most clearly, a miserable bastard, and I don’t say that just because he was British. Dingle performed with the same level of excitement as the cashier at the gas station: he was putting in his time. That doesn’t mean he wasn’t great and funny as hell. Unlike Michael Close, I would love to have had the opportunity to get drunk with Derek Dingle. (BTW: that appears to be his real name. It sounds like a porn actors name. I’m just saying.) Anyway, watch as he does, one of his simpler tricks, the Fabulous Jumping Card Trick. Watch it, not just because it’s a lot of fun, but because it’s important to what I’m going to say later:

I actually do a couple of Dingle’s card tricks. And by that, I mean that I can do them, I never do them for anyone. The reason is that his personality is so woven into the tricks that it never quite works to do them as myself. And that brings me to Kevin King. In the following video, I think that I see him do at least three Derek Dingle routines: the coin routine, the triumph, and something along the lines of the Fabulous Jumping Card Trick (although the method is different). What I find remarkable is that he makes it all his own. And as I said, he’s charming as hell. You want to spend time with him.

It turns out that Kevin King also does lectures at business conferences about Verbal Perception Manipulation. Basically, he talks to a group and says nothing that makes any sense. There is supposed to be a point to it, “The secret to business success is to communicate clearly.” I, however, have found that this is exactly the opposite of the truth. American business is mostly a bunch of nonsense. So many times, I have seen people get important jobs because they can talk gibberish and convince management that they know what they are talking about when they don’t know a thing. So King’s routine clearly amuses the management types who go to these conferences. But I doubt they learn anything more than they do from his magic shows. And that’s just fine. King is able to make a living. And American business does what all businesses do when they are riding the wave of an empire in decline: through graft and connections and sometimes by buying companies that make money the old fashioned way of producing products that people want to buy. You know, products like Kevin King’s performances.

Henri Matisse

Henri MatisseThis is the last birthday post of the year. But it is not the last birthday post. For one thing, I’m not sure what I would do without my birthday posts. Yes, I complain about them all the time. Yet they give my life a certainty that I just don’t get anywhere else. It’s like the old stories of Winchester Mystery House, that the owner, Sarah Winchester, thought she would die if she stopped building it. Except in my case, if I knew I would die if I stopped writing these things, I wouldn’t even be writing this one. That’s not because I especially want to die. It’s just that I don’t much care. And since not writing this series will not go along with losing the responsibility of continued existence, I might as well keep writing. A man has to work, you know.

The second reason this isn’t my last birthday post is that it hasn’t been a year. This series started just by chance on 26 February 2013, with Fats Domino at 85. It wasn’t much of a post: just the mention of his birthday and a video of him doing “Blueberry Hill.” The next day, I did Irwin Shaw, because it was his 100th birthday. That was a hard one, because John Steinbeck was born that same day 11 years earlier. Both authors have been enormously important to me. Over the year, based in part on reader comments, I’ve changed the format of the series. At one time I just listed people, going into depth when I felt like it. Now I pick a few people to talk about in a bit of depth and then dump the rest of them into my “other birthdays” paragraph.

I do think that on the 26th of February, I will change things. But I suspect that I will give it about as much thought as I gave the series when I started it. Anyway, onward. Today’s a big day, which is unfortunate, because I’m exhausted.

On this day in 1714, the mathematician Arima Yoriyuki was born. I don’t know much about him except that at the age of 51, he was able to find a rational number that approximated π to 29 digits. I have no idea how he did it. But it reminds of what I used to force my physics students to do. I gave them strings and rulers and and made them measure (as best they could) the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter. Now that’s very simple. Everyone knows that c = 2πr. But until they did it, they really didn’t understand what π was. It was just some number.

John Denver was born in 1943. What most people don’t know about him is that he was a big proponent of civilians in space. In fact, he was supposed to go up on the space shuttle. But he was prevented, because the government wanted a school teacher to go up instead. So Christa McAuliffe went and she died. But after that Denver still seemed to be kind of angry that he had been bumped. So I wasn’t surprised when 12 years later, he crashed into the Pacific Ocean and died. He was living on borrowed time. Not a great musician, but he had his moments and he was a great live performer. His extreme vibrato offends me to this day. But he did an excellent job of picking other people’s music to do. That included especially John Prine, but it extended to his own people like John Martin Sommers who wrote “Thank God I’m a Country Boy” and Mike Taylor who co-wrote “Rocky Mountain High” with him. And like many artists, he really did get better as his popularity waned. Anyway, here he is doing “Rocky Mountain High” live:

Ben Kingsley is 70 today. He is absolutely one of my favorite actors. He was the only thing that made Iron Man 3 even slightly watchable. And I’d love to provide you with a nice video clip of Kingsley doing his thing. But with an actor like him, how can you pick a single thing? So I’ll provide you with the trailer of a really good movie that you probably haven’t seen, Turtle Diary (typically not available on DVD):

Other birthdays: German expressionist painter Max Pechstein (1881); songwriter Jule Styne (1905); actor Anthony Hopkins (76); guitarist Andy Summers (71); and gymnast Gabby Douglas (18).

The day, however, belongs to the great painter Henri Matisse who was born in 1869. Unlike many painters, Matisse was truly creative. That isn’t to put other painters down. Think of Vincent van Gogh: he had a vision—a single vision. And he repeated it again and again in different contexts. And we need that. But Matisse was constantly changing. I know that a lot of people think this isn’t so. They think of Red Room and that is what Matisse is for them. Well, if that is all Matisse were to me, he’d hardly make the “other birthdays” list. He’s hard to pin down stylistically. Some of his stuff seems downright neoclassical to me. Other seems to verge on the primitivism. Regardless, it is more expansive and compelling than anything by Picasso.

The following is one of his last paintings, Annelies, White Tulips and Anemones. He painted it while in poor health and that perhaps explains its simplicity. But I think it works, especially the way the colors work together:

Annelies - Henri Matisse

Happy birthday Henri Matisse!

Hopeless GOP Campaign to Stop “Fools”

Sarah PalinMatt Taibbi has written an interesting article over at his post at Rolling Stone, On Christmas, Republicans Quietly Declare War on Themselves. As usual with Taibbi, it’s a fun read so I highly recommend that you take a gander. But I think he is basically wrong.

His thesis is that the Republican Party spent the Bush years treating the electorate as though they were a bunch of fools, so it should be no surprise that their party is now nominating a bunch of fools. In a comparison that perhaps only Taibbi could come up with, he says that the Bush years were the political equivalent of Married With Children, “an ongoing self-parody routine where couch-potato America tuned in week after week to cheer on the nitwit hero as he and his brood took on a world of self-serious snobs and their silly ‘civilized’ conventions (like, say, international law).” You know: political junk food that you know will make you fat and impotent, but oh don’t it taste good!

George W. BushI agree with him on one point: John McCain’s pick of Sarah Palin—”one of the few potential candidates in the Republican Party rolls even dumber than George Bush”—was entirely Steve Schmidt running the Karl Rove playbook. And since I’m on the subject: liberals like Schmidt a lot more than they should. He came off looking pretty good in Game Change. But that’s like saying that Othello came off looking good in his play. Yeah, Iago is the true villain in that play, but Othello is still the one who strangled Desdemona. Schmidt is the one who thought so little of the American people and of the country generally that got Sarah Palin nominated to be vice-president of this country. Schmidt should be living in a cave somewhere if not in a grave after his quite rational decision to kill himself. That is, after all, what Othello did.

But here’s the thing. There is nothing new about conservative politicians saying wacky things. The Todd Akins and Richard Mourdocks have been around in the conservative movement forever. These are the people who President Eisenhower was discussing when he wrote:

Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes that you can do these things. Among them are a few Texas oil millionaires, and an occasional politician or businessman from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid.

Of course, Ike was wrong when he said their number was negligible. Then, as now, they represent 20% of the nation and 40% of the Grand Old Party. And they were out there in the 1950s talking about how God wanted black people to be poor. They were talking about how Jews controlled the world. They were talking about how water fluoridation was a communist plot. This was all done when Karl Rove was a little boy.

Karl RoveNow, there is little doubt that young Rove looked at all this nonsense and thought, “A large segment of the American public is made up of complete idiots!” He didn’t create it. He just used it. The problem is that using it gets harder and harder. Not even half of the Republican Party is made up of these “nuts” (Karl Rove’s term). So the rest of the Republicans and pretty much all of the Democrats have to be deceived into thinking that Republican candidates aren’t part of the Crazy 40. But that’s really hard in a world that is so interconnected. Within second of Richard Mourdock saying that pregnancies resulting from rape are “something that God intended to happen” people know about it on Mount Everest.

So now, the Republicans and the national Chamber of Commerce are hooking up to spend $50 million this year to stop “fools” from running for office. This will not work. For one thing, since 40% of Republicans (the Crazy 40) are these very fools, that means that roughly 40% of the people who run for the Republican nomination will also be fools. Most of it just comes down to abortion absolutism. If you don’t think that rape gives a woman the right to abort a pregnancy, you are going to run into rhetoric about how God intended it and how you ought to turn lemons into lemonade.

This is why the smart Republicans are doing the only thing that just might work: voter suppression. If only the Crazy 40 vote, it doesn’t matter what fools the Republicans nominate. And just like the non-crazy 60% of the GOP, the Crazy 40 will also do the bidding of the super rich. And that’s all that matters.

Why Conservatives Think Government Doesn’t Create Jobs

John Maynard KeynesI think that it is important to understand what conservatives mean when they say certain things that make absolutely no sense. The big example of this is, “The government can’t create jobs.” This sounds like nonsense on the face of it. For one thing, it is usually said by some politician and you can’t help but respond, “The government created your job!” But that’s not what conservatives mean when they say that the government can’t create jobs. But don’t misunderstand: they are still wrong. It is just that there is a certain amount of sense in what they are saying.

When Senator Idiot says that the government can’t create jobs, he means that the money that is used for his job comes from taxing people. If that money didn’t go to the government, the tax payers would spend the money and thus create one or more jobs in the private sector. Thus, the government creates a job only by removing a private sector job. This is not a totally stupid idea. There is something to it and under certain circumstances it is even true.

The problem is that, like most conservative economic thinking, it is simplistic. Consider our current economic system where we are very far from full employment. Money is just sitting around not being used. Companies are sitting on piles of cash rather than investing and hiring because demand is so low. In this situation, we could fire Senator Idiot and put the money we pay him back into the private sector by reducing taxes.

In a booming economy, the result would be another job in the private sector for Senator Idiot or someone like him. But in a weak economy like the one we now have, the result would be even more money in the private sector, where it would just sit around doing nothing. So currently, and really, for about the last 13 years, government spending really does create jobs. When government spending does not create jobs is almost never. But there are times. Remember at the end of the Clinton presidency? Remember how Clinton was reducing spending? That was the correct thing to do, because the private economy was buzzing. Personally, I think that if a Republican had been president, he would have continued to spend. But that’s a story for another time.

Even at full employment, when the private sector is booming and businesses are desperate to borrow money to invest and hire, it is fine for the government to take some of that money and hire. There is nothing necessarily better about a private sector job than a public sector job. It is just in this case, you can’t say that the government is creating a job, because the money being used to create that job would be used by the private sector to create a job. But that is very rarely the case.

Now most conservatives don’t even know this much. They are just repeating a talking point. So when you talk to them, you will probably need to educate them as to why conservatives claim that the government doesn’t create jobs. And that’s actually helpful because it gives you some common ground on which to start your discussion, “Yes, the government doesn’t create jobs when the economy is at full employment.” From there, you can talk about all the money that is just sitting around doing nothing in a depressed economy. You can talk about how business owners don’t hire when they don’t have many customers. And before you know it, that conservative will be talking like a Keynesian.