Orcas In the Wild—Free!

Flying Orca

I just found this photo from Ms.OpRoar on Twitter. It led me to an amazing article in The Daily Mail, Look Out, He’s Behind You! Eight-Ton Orca Leaps 15ft Into the Air to Finally Capture Dolphin He Wanted for Dinner After Two-Hour Chase. Given the attack is on a dolphin, this must be a pod of transient whales; residents don’t prey on dolphins. But the main thing is that I had no idea that Orcas could jump that far out of the water. It’s an amazing counter example to the captive animals we keep at places like SeaWorld.

For more, see my article on the great documentary Blackflish. You really should see the documentary if you haven’t already. We need to get SeaWorld and the similar parks closed down. What we are doing to these animals is nothing short of torture. In the future, we will see this captivity for what it is: slavery. I am so disgusted. The least any of us can do is to boycott these parks.

Let me just quote one bit from my article:

There is a lot of emotional content in Blackfish. I jumped out of my seat a couple of times. But there is also a lot of information. For example, despite the claims of SeaWorld, Orca in the wild live to be about 50 on average. But they can live to be 90 years old. In captivity, they usually die by the age of 25. The film put me through the wringer, but I can’t recommend it more highly.

It is so beautiful and heartening to see these beautiful, intelligent creatures living free the way they were born to. I still feel sorry for that poor bottlenose dolphin, but at least it was allowed to live its life free, and not as a trained circus freak. I fear I am becoming radicalized. But how can you not when you see great pictures like this one that show how wild Ocras live. Click over to see a lot more.

More Evil English With Palate and Palette and Pallet

Palate and Palette and PalletWhat does your choice of restaurant say about your palate and your palette and your pallet? Is it important? Well, in speaking, it doesn’t matter at all. But if you don’t know the difference between these words, you may look ignorant in writing. And that’s a shame. Because all of these words are pronounced pretty much the same (I’m come back to that shortly). And they are all perfectly clear in context.

If you care about your palate, you may choose a restaurant where the food is most delicious. This is because “palate” means, “a person’s appreciation of taste and flavor, especially when sophisticated and discriminating.” But you might also choose a restaurant that does not serve pizza, which can burn the roof of your mouth. This is because “palate” also means, “the roof of the mouth.” Hot pizza has been known to badly burn the palate.

If you fancy yourself another Maurice Utrillo, you may choose a brightly colored restaurant, so that you can put a lot of different colors on your palette before you paint the restaurant as the sun falls below the horizon and many blues and reds surround the structure.

If you are a delivery man in a rush, you may choose a restaurant where the employees quickly process the goods you have delivered, so you can have your empty pallet back and get on with your next delivery.

The English language is a real pain. There is absolutely no reason to have these three spellings for four different things that all sounds pretty much the same. It is almost as if we had decided to have a language that is designed to make people feel stupid. At least they could have different pronunciations! And indeed, “palette” does have a very slightly different pronunciation. “Palette” has a slightly more distinct sub-accent on the second syllable. Or the main accept on the first is slightly less sharp.

“Palate” comes from Latin (13xx). “Palette” comes from the French (1622). And “pallet” also comes from the French (1558). So it really makes no sense at all. “Palate” isn’t so bad because it comes from a different language and is hundreds of years earlier. But the two French related words are from the same time. What a mess. No wonder Shaw was so upset!

But I do have a bit of help. “Palate” relates to eating. And if there is one thing that is easy to remember, it is that it is a bad idea to be late for dinner, because it will disappoint your palate. It helps that it is also the simplest and most reasonable spelling. Pa-late.

The second most reasonable spelling is “pallet.” Those are the things you stack. Or if you prefer: if a pal offers to help you stack pallets, let him. “Thanks pal for offering to help stack my pallets; I’m happy to let you!” Pal-let.

As for “palette”: that’s easy! Artists always want to put extra letters on the ends of words that don’t need them. Think: artiste. So that stupid thing painters use obviously needs an extra “e” on the end. But it can’t just be a single “e.” That would sound Spanish, “Pallete.” Pronounced, “Pa-zjet-a.” It has to stay French, so it’s got to have two “t” characters. That leaves us with “pallette.” Unfortunately, adding those two useless letters makes the word too long. So they removed one of the other unnecessary letters: the extra “l.” It’s silent, anyway. Problem solved! Pal-et-te.

If anyone wants to start a revolution, I’m ready. Until then, I’ll be using my palette to paint pallets whetting my appetite for the for the food my palate will enjoy afterward. (And yes: wet vs whet. What a pain English is!)

Too Bad Alan Turing Is Dead or He Would Really Appreciate That Pardon

Alan TurningThe Queen of England pardoned Alan Turing for his crime of being gay. That’s over 60 years after the state chemically castrated him for the crime and just 59 years after he killed himself as a result at the age of 41. Better late than never, you say? I don’t think so. I think that late is exactly the same as never. If you show up one minute late to stop an innocent man from being killed, you might as well have never shown up. Better later than never, is a phrase you can apply to lesser things. Sorry we wrongly locked you up for a couple of years. Here’s a hundred thousand dollars to try to make make up for it. That’s better later than never. Sorry we castrated and killed you. That’s not better later than never. That’s exactly the same as never.

In the video over at Crooks & Liars, sculptor Glyn Hughes rightly asks, “What about all the other gay men who were prosecuted? Don’t you think it rather says that if you’re useful to the state, the law doesn’t apply to you? We’ll let you off.” Indeed. How about one big apology? “We’re sorry that we allowed hatred and ignorance and bigotry to rule our laws in England for hundreds of years and so ruined the lives of countless gay and lesbian people?” That might actually mean something for the present. It might actually cause a few people to think, “What minorities are we oppressing right now that we will later have to apologize for?” I’m sure, some later queen will make an announcement that locking up all those drug addicts was wrong. Of course, it won’t matter then. They’ll be off to throwing people in prison for different stupid reasons.

As a society, we are always fond of being accepting of useful weirdos. I wrote about this recently, Unstable Weirdos and Business Success. A business consultant was trying to figure out how companies could keep the good (usable) parts of us weirdos and get rid of the bad (nonusable) parts of us. The fact is that you can’t. If there is a brilliant man who seems perfectly at home in his work environment, it is pure luck. Most of us don’t have that luck and so society misses out on all of the nice things we could add because it’s uncomfortable to have us awkward people around.

Of course, there are places for people like me: academia. But even it has its limits. And look at the way that conservatives think about academia: it’s that place where “dangerous” ideas come from. And even liberals want to turn it into nothing but a training ground for the brave new world of employment opportunities. In other words: the conservatives want the colleges to produce the same old cogs and the liberals want the colleges to produce new and improved cogs. But they are all cogs. And unfortunately for me, I am not a cog. And unfortunately for the society, many, many more brilliant people than I am are not cogs.

Of course, Turing wasn’t a difficult guy to work with. He just had this one small problem: he wasn’t sexually attracted to the “right” sex. It just shows how small minded people are about social deviance. Some day they may throw people in jail for not liking football. Unimaginable, you think? There was a time when some people drank and other people smoked cannabis. Yet almost a million people are arrested for cannabis every year in the Land of the Free. (Irony alert!) And the vast majority of those arrests were for simple possession. So if in a hundred years, I get a posthumous pardon after I died in jail for the crime of thinking that football is the most boring game ever invented, don’t be surprised. Well, be a little surprised. I think pretty highly of myself. But I’m no Alan Turing!

It’s Hard Out Here for Some Pimps

Hustle and FlowSo it was Christmas, and all day the same song was going through my head. “Santa Claus Is Coming to town”? “The Little Boy That Santa Claus Forgot”? “Santa Bring My Baby Back to Me”? No, nothing like like. It was “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp” from the movie, Hustle & Flow. You know, “It’s hard out here for a pimp; When you’re trying to get your money for the rent; With the Cadillac and gas money spent; Got a whole lotta niggers jumping ship.”

First, let’s take a moment to marvel at those lines. That’s four lines with three slant rhymes. I really do think that’s the most important songwriting trends over the last few decades. Full rhymes tend to make songs sound silly. One of my more recent songs rhymed “gas,” “dad,” and “match.” Soon we’ll all be writing in blank verse. (Interesting, the last song I wrote that I rather liked was in perfect iambic pentameter, even though I didn’t know it at the time, “Angela’s drilling a whole like of holes.”)

Anyway, here is “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp” from Hustle & Flow with Terrence Howard doing the lead vocals for the song:

I mentioned the fact that the song was going through my head to my nephew, because he was the only person at Chrsitmas who even knew the song. And he mentioned something that I didn’t know: the song was by the Memphis hip hop band Three 6 Mafia. They just used Howard’s voice. They used there own voices in their released version. I think it’s better:

I don’t know that much about hip hop, but as best as I can tell, it is an ironic art form. That’s not to say that the people making the music aren’t serious about the work. But they get the joke. Think of these lyrics the way a Phil Robertson might sing them: “It’s hard out here for a pimp; When you’re trying to get more money for your kicks; And all you did was talk some bigot shit; and a whole lot of sellers throwing fits.”

The problem, of course, if that the listeners—both of rap and of Duck Dynasty—think the shit is real. But least with the rap crowd, we get music people will be listening to decades from now. As soon as Duck Dynasty is over, no one will care about that rich family that pretends to be “authentic” on the TV box.

What’s worse: pimping out prostitutes or your own family while claiming what a good Christian you are? Give me an average pimp trying to make his rent any day.

Mormon Church Now Open to Some

Mormon ChurchA couple of weeks ago, I read in The Guardian, Mormon Church Addresses Past Racism. It is about how the leaders of the church explained why it forbade blacks from the clergy for 126 years until 1978. According to the document, “The church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavour or curse, or that it reflects actions in a premortal life; that mixed-race marriages are a sin; or that blacks or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else… Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form.” When I read that, I thought, “Good for them!”

But the thought didn’t stay long. For one thing, their explanation isn’t that great. It was all a kind of funny mix-up. You know, like an episode of Three’s Company where that wacky Brigham Young is influenced by the racial divide in the country. Some people say blacks are humans and others say they’re property. Who could say? It was just a silly historical oddity that the Mormons went along with segregation and slavery crowd!

Brigham YoungIt’s worse than that. Blacks might be able to be clergy now, but women can’t. In the 35 years since the church leaders had a revelation about blacks, God has revealed nothing about women. The ban on women in the clergy has been longer than the ban on blacks. When the Mormon leaders recently explained why the church had been so wrong about black Mormons for so long, BYU writer Margaret Blair Young called it a miracle. So I guess women like her will just have to keep waiting for another miracle that will affect them directly. I doubt seriously that I will be alive when that miracle occurs.

Of course, the active war on the gay community continues in the Mormon Church. As you’ve probably heard, the Utah high court found that the ban against same sex marriage was unconstitutional. The (mostly Mormon) conservatives in Utah have been going crazy. Understandably, the television news has been covering it. That included lots of yucky video of girls kissing girls and boys kissing boys. This caused the Mormon-owned Salt Lake City station KSL-TV to call a ban on showing such footage in their stories. After all, there are Mormons watching! What would they think?!

So 35 years after the Mormons were already extremely late on the whole Civil Rights bandwagon, they finally got around to blaming church father Brigham Young for that whole racist mix-up. I’m not impressed. Like most Churches, the Mormons use their holy writings to justify their continued intolerance. And I suppose that roughly five decades after even the most unreasonable person could justify such bigotry, the church’s mea culpa is welcome. But they have very, very far to go. And again, like most churches, they will constantly be behind the arc of history as it (hopefully) bends toward justice.

Wordy Sarah Vowell

Sarah VowellOn this day in 1571, the great Johannes Kepler was born. He is perhaps the greatest theoretical astronomer of all time. He’s the guy who made Copernicus’ idea work. It was fine to put the sun in the center of the solar system. But the truth was that it still didn’t work to predict the orbits of the planets. That’s because the planets don’t orbit in circles. Working with Tycho Brahe’s data, Kepler was able to show that the planets orbited in ellipses. And that made all the difference. Later, Newton figured out why that was and today we are able to send spacecraft to all the planets!

What a day for scientists! The great biologist Louis Pasteur was born in 1822. I’m sure you know about pasteurization: the process of heating and then cooling food to greatly limit the number of pathogens that are in it. You may well be alive today because of it. But Pasteur did much more than that. He discovered the principles of vaccination and microbial fermentation. He was a brilliant man, or as Michele Bachmann refers to him, “The Antichrist!”

The great actor and singer Marlene Dietrich was born in 1901. You could tell she was something special even in her early silent films. And that continued all through her career. I still mostly associate her with Touch of Evil. But there’s also this song:

Let me say something about not being grateful. This applies to a lot of actors who I actually like, but today, we’re going to talk about Gerard Depardieu. So he didn’t like paying taxes to the country that made him a star. Boo hoo! I hope he ends up in jail in Russia. I might be inclined to apologize for him if I thought he actually had any talent, but I’ve never seen the appeal of the man. He’s 65 today, so hopefully we will see him in no more films and will just die quietly in Russia.

Other birthdays: one of the most important aeronautical engineers ever, George Cayley (1773); actor Sydney Greenstreet (1879); one of my very favorite poets Charles Olson (1910); creepy sex researcher William Masters (1915); and useless journalist Cokie Roberts (70).

The day, however, belongs to the writer Sarah Vowell who is 44 today. She always has an interesting take on whatever she writes about. Basically, she writes history that is so personal that it reads more like personal essay. It is always fun to read. You should really listen to her live performance essay about “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” If you don’t know her work, it will give you a good idea of why she is on my long and ever lengthening list of crushes.

Happy birthday Sarah Vowell!

Our Economic Turn From Shared Sacrifice to Social Darwinism

Paul KrugmanYesterday, Paul Krugman wrote, Why Corporations Might Not Mind Moderate Depression. What he’s trying to get at in a deductive way is that there might be a level of unemployment that maximizes profits for companies. Under normally circumstances, companies would want a high customer demand. But that requires a lot of employees. And if the company requires a lot of employees, they will probably have to pay their employees more. But if demand is less because unemployment is high, they may be selling less, but this could be offset by the lower wages they pay.

He notes that since 2009, while wages have remained fairly stagnant, company profits have almost doubled. He admits that a lot of factors go into this and that it doesn’t show that there is such a depressed economy that maximizes company profits. But still, I don’t buy it. In general, direct labor costs for a company are low. For example, for your average GM car, only about 5% of the retail price went to wages for GM employees. Of course, there are a lot more wages: the salesmen and all the people who get paid to make the parts that GM buys. But you get the idea. For any given company, wages aren’t that big an issue.

But we’ll see. There is no doubt that there may in fact be some level of unemployment that does maximize profits for the corporate industry generally. There is also no doubt that the way the Federal Reserve operates, it pushes for exactly this kind of situation. This is why Ben Bernanke wasn’t that concerned when unemployment was at 8% and inflation was at 2%. That’s a very pro-business situation.

What bothers me more is that employers don’t have that much to gain by keeping employee wages at rock bottom. Investing in new technology and employee training is far more important if the employers want to make a lot of money. But we constantly hear them grumbling about labor costs. (But don’t be confused: lack of demand is the biggest complaint of business owners—now and pretty much forever.) So what’s with that? I think that’s a class thing. I’ve watched time and again as employers allow great employees to leave rather than trying to entice them to stay.

Employers don’t want to ever admit that they are part of the company. They want to think that they are the company. That’s what was behind all that screaming about, “I did build that.” It was all them: the owners. It wasn’t something they did inside a social structure that allowed communities with things like roads. And it sure wasn’t something they did with the help of their workforce. (Interestingly, employers claim that employers aren’t part of the building process because they were paid. This makes no sense, because the business owner was also paid for building the business. As with most “conservative” thinking, it is not deep.)

I think the biggest thing that is different between 1945-1975 and 1976-present, is that the post-war period made people think they were working together. By the late 70s, we had forgotten that we are all in this together and the era of “Greed Is Good” started. And that’s where we are today. I don’t know what we are going to do about it, either. If the attacks on 9/11 caused our leaders to think that tax cuts for the rich and welfare cuts for the poor was the way forward, I’m not sure there is any hope.

As always: the very least we can do is vote.

Elisha Cook and Henry Miller

Elisha Cook JrYou wouldn’t believe the day I’ve had. I’m exhausted and angry. I doubt I will write more today after this very late birthday post.

On this day in 1891, the great novelist Henry Miller was born. I’ve never especially liked his work, but he really did revolutionize the novel. Not that anyone really followed in his footsteps—maybe the Beats and Burroughs. I think a lot could be done with his approach to the novel without his various annoying habits and obsessions. I’ve often thought that this approach might work well for me. Anyway, he’s an important guy and well worth reading. His novels were apparently banned in the United States until 1961, although I really can’t tell you why. They seem tame even by the standards of the 1950s. But America has never been as free a nation as people have claimed. And that is especially true from about 1820 onward.

Other birthdays: English poet Thomas Gray (1716); science writer Mary Somerville (1780); inventor Charles Babbage (1791); American novelist E D E N Southworth (1819); Irish poet Dion Boucicault (1820); French playwright Rene Bazin (1853); French cityscape painter Maurice Utrillo (1883); novelist Jean Toomer (1894); Russian painter Anatoli Lvovich Kaplan (1902); comedian Steve Allen (1921); comedian Alan King (1927); music producer and possible murderer Phil Spector (74); and comedian Tony Rosato (59).

The day, however, belongs to one of my favorite character actors Elisha Cook Jr who was born on this day in 1903. I liked him most in Shane and House on Haunted Hill. He’s also great in The Big Sleep. He had a great and varied career. If you were going to be an actor, his is the kind of career you would want to have.

Happy birthday Elisha Cook Jr!

Conservative and Liberal Cover the Same Event; Guess Which One Lies?

Viswanathan AnandI just came upon a really good example of what is wrong with the right-wing media. Actually, it is the second one I saw today, but I left the other one because although it was a complete mess reported as a great conservative victory, it was too complicated to describe. This one is clear and simple. Newt Gingrich and Robert Reich were both on This Week With George Stephanopoulos. They were discussing the war on poverty and Reich was arguing that things worked well at the beginning but that it has been basically killed by the Republicans. Gingrich responded, “This is baloney… Every major city which is a center of poverty is run by Democrats. Every major city.”

Ilya SmirinAs far as the right-wing publication Down Trend was concerned, that was the end of the conversation, Gingrich Destroys Reich: “Every Major City Which Is a Center of Poverty Is Run by Democrats.” All the article added was, “Ouch!” (Italics in the original.) Of course, that wasn’t the end of the debate. For one thing, anyone who knows Robert Reich knows he is too much a fighter to let that stand. For another, what are we to believe? That Reich crawled away to lick his wounds? Even the lamest of debaters would have some counter argument.

You had to read The Raw Story or another liberal or mainstream publication to get the whole story. In Robert Reich Hammers Newt Gingrich After He Blames Democrats for Increasing Poverty, we get Reich’s response:

First of all, [former New York City Mayor] Michael Bloomberg is not a Democrat,” Reich shot back. “What’s happening in America is happening all over America. And it is happening in a way that has to do with the fact that wages, median wages, are going nowhere and rents are going up. And there’s absolutely no response in Washington or elsewhere.”

“Newt, I’m surprised you are not taking responsibility here,” he concluded.

Notice how the conservative publication presents the video, cutting it at exactly the point to make it look like Gingrich has made his great rebuttle—Ouch!

Now see how The Raw Story shows the segment to its end. It does give Reich the last word, but that’s just because of where things end. I don’t doubt that Gingrich has a response. But Reich has already shown him to be spewing lies. I suspect that we would get more of that if he continued:

This is a big part of what is wrong with American politics. The right is given “news” that is intentionally deceptive. There is no doubt that Brian Carey who wrote the Down Trend article knows that he’s deceiving. To him, it is just propaganda for the cause. There is a place for that. But it should not be presented as journalism. In this way, liberals are far more ethical. As a result, we get a citizenry who are especially ignorant on the right. That’s a recipe for disaster.

I really don’t know how these right-wing hacks live with themselves. My job is very easy. Most liberal policies really are the best in a practical sense. They are also generally popular (at least until the conservative PR campaigns begin). So I have no trouble calling out bad liberal policy. Liberalism is overflowing with good ideas, so we don’t have to push every idea that comes along the way that conservatives do. It must be really hard to be a conservative political analyst. I feel for them, but what they do is evil. And if our culture were working properly (and it is in as bad a shape as our politics), such people would be ostracized. And that would go a long way toward fixing the problem.

Happy Newton’s Day!

Isaac NewtonI’ll tell you a secret: it’s not Christmas. It’s Christmas Eve, and I am really pushing to get everything done for tomorrow (today) and maybe the day after (tomorrow). I love going out of town. But it is really hard to keep this blog going. At this point, it would probably help to have some alcohol. Instead, I’m ingesting caffeine. But there may be serious alcohol consumption in my future. Oh God, I don’t even want to writ these words…

On this day in 1728, the German classical composer Johann Adam Hiller was born. He was the inventor of the singspiel, which is basically an early form of the musical comedy. The following video is a very nice bit from his one act opera (or maybe singspiel) Die Muse. It was apparently written for soprano, oboe, and basso continuo (what we today would call a bass line and lead sheet). Here, the bass is played by a bassoon, and the harmony is played by a harpsichord. And that’s probably pretty much how it was originally performed. This version is done by what looks like three students and a teacher at the Calgary University Department of Music. It is lovely:

The great classical composer Joseph Boulogne was born on this day, most likely in 1745. He is known as the “black Mozart.” He was in the French army, where he was known for his fencing. But otherwise, he was more or less a court musician. The French Revolution, really screwed things up for him. First, it landed him in jail for a year and a half. And after that, he had a difficult time making ends meet. Regardless, he left us a huge amount of work and it is wonderful. Here is “Ballet No 1” from his opera, L’Amant Anonyme performed by the Tafelmusik Orchestra:

The actor Humphrey Bogart was born on this day in 1899. I hesitate to call him a “great actor” even though I know he is. He always reminds me of that line from the movie My Favorite Year, “I’m not an actor, I’m a movie star!” But there is no doubt that he’s one of the most authentic actors on screen ever. And he plays crazy great. I don’t think he’s ever been better than he is in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and (in a different kind of crazy) The Caine Mutiny. Of course, what I most love watching is Casablanca and The Maltese Falcon. I never get tired of those films and a big part of it is him.

Here he is in a heartbreaking scene in The Caine Mutiny, where Captain Queeg is asking his men for help. But they refuse it. I don’t actually think you will see better acting anywhere on screen:

The great jazz singer and bandleader Cab Calloway was born in 1907. I don’t have a lot to say about him except that I always enjoy him. Here he is doing one of his many on screen versions of “Minnie the Moocher,” which shows off his acting:

Other birthdays: engineer Claude Chappe (1763); Irish novelist Sydney, Lady Morgan (1776); physicist Ernst Ruska (1906); sculptor Louise Bourgeois (1911); Anwar Sadat (1918); the great Rod Serling (1924); film producer Ismail Merchant (1936); television producer Rick Berman (68); singer-songwriter Barbara Mandrell (65); actor Sissy Spacek (64); Antichrist Karl Rove (63); singer-songwriter Annie Lennox (59); and singer-songwriter Dido (42).

The day, however, belongs to Isaac Newton who was born on this day in 1642. I’ll assume that you don’t need to be told about him. He was one of the greatest scientists of all time. Of course, there is that thing about him inventing calculus at the same time as Leibniz. What I think is better to say is that, like Einstein and Maxwell, Newton was the right man for that time and place.

But let me say something about that apple. The story is surprisingly true. But the way people understand the story is all wrong. Newton’s insight was that the force that caused an apple to fall from a tree was the same as the force that caused the moon to orbit the earth. Even today, I find that a startling insight. If it were the same force, why doesn’t the moon careen into the earth? Well, it does. Kind of. The moon constantly has a motion that is parallel to the surface of the earth, and the gravitational force keeps pulling it into its elliptical orbit. Otherwise the moon would head in more or less a straight line away from the earth. Confused yet? Well, I’m doing my best! The truth is, it is more complicated than even that. But let’s leave it. If you really want to know, take a semester of calculus-based physics and then we’ll talk.

I really think the atheist community ought to start calling Christmas “Newton’s Day.” I don’t say this because Newton was that great, although he was. But the atheist community itself likes to drape itself in science. It’s actually one of the most annoying aspects of it. I mean, I love science. But I always get the feeling that atheists try to substitute science for religion. I think that’s a mistake. But then, I’m with Stephen Jay Gould: I believe in non-overlapping magisteria.

Here is Neil deGrasse Tyson on Newton, although his story is a bit fanciful:

Happy birthday Isaac Newton!

Pigeons and Politics

Arguing With Pigeons

I offer this image to help you on this holiday that I hope you are spending with disparate family and friends. My point is not what is says in this image. As far as I can tell, this was originally a poster from a libertarian perspective aimed as “statists.” Liberals think this applies to conservatives and conservatives think this applies to liberals. And do you know what? They’re both right. Sort of.

Here’s how it goes: most people are not that into politics. It’s a tribal thing. And so they don’t know what they’re talking about. Most of them never talk about politics, so it doesn’t matter. But I know when I talk to liberals, they often think the silliest of things. If I were a conservative, I would be all over them. (As a liberal, I am too—but very gently.) So if I were Josh Barro, I would think that most liberals were idiots who were immune to facts.

Most liberals just watch regular news, though. Thus, what most liberals believe is roughly correct, even if it is neither broad nor deep. The problem comes in with the conservative media echo chamber. It takes regular conservatives and turns them into extremely ill-informed conservatives. These ill-informed conservatives often get the impression that liberals are ignorant because they are hearing totally different news. As I noted before, in the conservative media echo chamber, Solyndra is still a big issue. So the problem is these conservatives think they know a lot and the misinformation they “know” makes them think that other people who don’t “know” the same stuff are ignorant.

If you are at a party with a thoughtful conservative, you should have no trouble having a good conversation where you might even learn and rethink some things. I don’t think anyone needs any help in such situations. If you are at a party with a Fox News fan, however, you need to stay off difficult topics. I have found that I can make progress with such conservatives by staying off issues that Fox News is pushing. So no talk of Duck Dynasty. No talk of Obamacare. No talk of the ethnicity of Santa Claus. But you might find some common ground on corporate welfare. Or the fact that public schools get different levels of funding based upon how rich the kids are. (Property taxes!) Or why we pay double what other countries do for healthcare—but be careful with that one.

I think politics is important. And I especially think it is important to talk to the other side. So try to find some common ground. And if that’s not possible—if they are just angry conservatives who hate just about everyone and everything—change the subject to sports. That Atlanta-San Francisco game Monday night was amazing!

The Night of the Meek

Night of the MeekIt’s Christmas Eve, my friends! And tomorrow would have been Rod Serling’s 89th birthday. And I think that everyone should spend a half-hour and watch the best Christmas television show of all time, the 11th episode of the second season of The Twilight Zone (47th overall), “The Night of the Meek.” It was unfortunately shot on video, so unlike most episode that were shot on film, the quality is bad. But it stars Art Carney and it presents the best idea of Christmas ever.

Forget about Linus’, “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.” This is the real deal. Let us all get past the notion that this is a religious holiday, because that makes it exclusive, even if you are a believer. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus does not say anything about belief. He actually provides us with a kind of fairy tale, “Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.” He says many other things about the justice that should exist in this unjust world. And that’s what ties us all together: that wish—that desire.

A word to the wise to all the children of the twentieth century, whether their concern be pediatrics or geriatrics, whether they crawl on hands and knees and wear diapers or walk with a cane and comb their beards. There’s a wondrous magic to Christmas, and there’s a special power reserved for little people. In short, there’s nothing mightier than the meek, and a merry Christmas to each and all.

Tonight let us all be Henry Corwin, as seen in this full episode video:

Afterword

Yes, I have written about this before: Bitterness and Sentimentality.

Update (24 December 2013 9:53 pm)

After watching this episode again, I had a few thoughts. First is that the episode was not especially kind to a very typical kind of “Christian charity.” I don’t see any grace in Sister Florence. And the whole, “If you wanna get fed, you’re gonna listen to a sermon” is no kindness. What’s more, when an honest to God miracle happens, all she can think of is criminality. That, I suppose, is understandable. But wouldn’t any decent person—certainly any person with Christian grace—handle the matter in a way other than running to the police?

My second thought is that this episode does go along with what we hear from conservative Christians: that Christmas shouldn’t be about commercialism. “The reason for the season,” and all that. But it doesn’t substitute it with any kind of religious dogma. There is none of that, “We should care about Christmas because it is a celebration of the birth of our savior.” (I’ll have more to say about that tomorrow!) It is a simple message that comes to us from Jesus, but can be found many other places: the meek (“gentle” in my favored New American Standard Bible) matter and are even powerful. I hope we can all agree on that.

And my third thought is that the episode was very pro-booze! Note how in the end, Mr Dundee and Officer Flaherty make friends by getting drunk. And Dundee seems like a human being for the first time. Of course, Henry Corwin doesn’t need to drink anymore. Because he had the wisdom to wish well.