MSNBC Creates False Equivalence for Itself

Melissa Harris-PerryThis is a good segment from The Young Turks, about another MSNBC “scandal.” What happened was that Melissa Harris-Perry had some comedians on her show and they made a joke about the Romney family. Immediately, there is a freak out in the right wing media. The comedian then apologized and Harris-Perry apologized again and again and again. What’s interesting is that there is literally nothing to this. And the fact that Harris-Perry feels the need to beat herself up publicly, just shows how successful the right has been at working the refs.

Jimmy Dore is great in this segment because he totally calls it: this is false equivalence. Now, whenever anyone on MSNBC says anything that ruffles a single feather on the right, those on the left are equating it with the really vile stuff that is said on the right. This isn’t an MSNBC problem; this is a liberal problem. For all of their awful behavior, at least the right wing is loyal to itself. The left wing throws its own people under the bus for the smallest of causes.

Where I disagree with Dore is that Harris-Perry wasn’t over-apologizing because she isn’t smart. She was over-apologizing to protect her job. Given that both Alec Baldwin and Martin Bashir were fired over minor things, there is no reason to believe that MSNBC wouldn’t have turned on her as well. And notice, these two guys were fired, but when Phil Robertson says the vilest of things about happy blacks before they were allowed to vote, nothing happens to him.

I have gotten used to the mainstream media bending to the whims of conservative outrage. But this is totally out of hand when the supposed liberal cable channel (that I no longer watch because of the firing of Bashir) allows itself to be worked the same way. Have you noticed that very little has been said about Sarah Palin’s outrage about Bashir and then her great defense of Phil Robertson’s free speech rights? Come on liberals. Grow a fucking backbone. We’re fighting this war of ideas on the conservatives’ terms. So even when we win, we lose.

Check out the segment; it is really good:

Quantity Over Quality

Isaac AsimovOn this day in 1822, the great physicist Rudolf Clausius was born. He basically put the Carnot cycle into the formulation that we now use. But more important he introduced the idea of entropy into thermodynamics. Entropy is kind of like the disorder of a system and it is the reason that systems are not reversible. Think of Humpty Dumpty: it takes a lot more energy to put him back together than you got from breaking him in the first place. Anyway, Clausius is extremely important to the field of thermodynamics and thermodynamics is a really cool (no pun intended) field of study.

The great Croatian painter Slava Raskaj was born in 1877. She is best known for her water colors, which are magnificent. In her early 20s, she began to suffer from depression. So, as they did in those days, they shipped her off to an “institution” where she caught tuberculosis and died shortly after her 29th birthday.

Lotus - Slava Raskaj

The great Russian filmmaker Dziga Vertov was born in 1896. When sound came into film, it almost destroyed the American film industry. All of the visual brilliance that came from people like D W Griffith was forgotten to make way for sound. It’s understandable, but sad. In other countries they didn’t make this mistake. I watched L’Atalante the other night, and although it is a sound picture, the visual story is not sacrificed for the sake of dialog. Vertov was very much part of that, but he didn’t even make narrative films. He was an experimenter, and his film Man with a Movie Camera is still a really interesting film to watch. It was a collaboration with his wife Elizaveta Svilova. Vertov went out and shot interesting things and Svilova tried to edit it into something that made some kind of sense. And it works. It was also hugely influential while American filmmakers were trying to figure out how to hide microphones in flower vases. Here is the whole thing:

The singer-songwriter Roger Miller was born in 1936. He wrote fun and funny song. I love this song:

And finally, someone I really don’t like: “journalist” Judith Miller. More than any other single media person, she sold the Iraq War. And we cannot say that she was deceived. Dick Cheney’s office would feed her information, she would report it, Dick Cheney would then go on the PBS Newshour and say, “It’s not just me who’s saying this; the New York Times reported the same thing!” And then, once she had destroyed all of her credibility, she went on to work for Fox News and other conservative media outlets and “think tanks.” So she was always a conservative, pushing a war that the conservatives wanted, and did it while claiming to be an “objective” journalist. Certainly, she is nowhere near as bad as Bush the Younger or Dick Cheney. But I think she is a traitor, both to her profession and to this country. Instead, I’m sure she’s living the good life, making lots of money, widely applauded in the conservative circles she now finds herself. I guess that’s the new American Dream: betray your country and then get paid huge amounts of money for it. Go team!

Other birthdays: composer Mily Balakirev (1837); sculptor Ernst Barlach (1870); a man who now looks like George Washington compared to what his party has become, Barry Goldwater (1909); and actor Cuba Gooding Jr (46).

The day, however, belongs to Isaac Asimov who was born on this day in 1920. He is mostly known as a science fiction writer. I don’t care for his science fiction. He also wrote books about just about anything you can think of. I’m not too fond of those either. But I do like that he was interested in a lot of different stuff. The problem with his work is that he went for quantity over quality and it showed. Or at least it showed whenever I read him. He wrote or edited over 500 books. I haven’t read more than ten of his books. But I could definitely see how he managed to write so many books: he didn’t put a lot of work into them. He also tended to write short books. Now, I’m all for that; I think there is far too much padding in most books today. But his popular science books were always just good enough, you know? Regardless, he was totally my kind of guy and he was very impressive. So…

Happy birthday Isaac Asimov!

2013 Review: Part 2

2013 ReviewHere we are with the second part of my six-part series on what the hell I was writing about last year. To some extent, it is getting boring, because I am most concerned about the same issues. Of course, I mix things up by talking about movies and music and science. But we continue to live in a shockingly unjust country. And every time I hear a conservative claim that America is the best country in the world I have a stifle a scream.

March 2013

I started March of last year being very annoyed by pundits pretending that Republicans actually mean what they say. A good example of this was, Adorable and Wrong Ezra Klein. Klein had gone to an off-the-record press conference with a Republican in the House. A reporter asked him if Obama putting Chained-CPI (basically cuts to Social Security) up for negotiation would make a difference. The politician said it definitely would because it would show that Obama was serious. Well the fact was that Obama had offered Chained-CPI over and over again. Klein claimed that the real problem was that Democrats and Republicans were talking past each other. That wasn’t it at all. As I noted at the time, as soon as the politician was set straight on the issue, he would come up with another reason why Obama wasn’t “serious” and thus not worth negotiating with. I see this stuff all the time. Reporters in Washington are so desperate to make the Republicans look halfway reasonable they end up just looking silly.

March also contained a couple of articles that got some attention. As I noted before, my birthday post about Lou Reed was quoted in the San Francisco Chronicle. The Daily Beast picked up my Zero Dark 30 parody video. Actually, that video ended up being far more popular in France than in America. Shocking, I know!

One article I was very pleased with was, Michelle Obama and Downton Abbey. It was about how people can watch shows like Downton Abbey and feel superior that they don’t have anti-gay prejudices like the people of that time did. But they are completely ignorant of their own prejudices. In the First Lady’s case, she has a husband who has admitted to committing drug felonies countless times, but somehow still supports locking people up for drugs. That was pretty much the beginning of my writing more about drug policy in this country. It’s a subject I would like to avoid, but I am so tired of liberals patting themselves on the back about their recently enlightened attitudes toward the LGBT community, while maintaining actually far worse prejudices against drug users.

March also brought perhaps the most important political science study that I heard all year. It turns out that Republican and Democratic politicians alike all assume that their constituencies are more conservative than they actually are. This is one of the reasons that I did not write that much about the gun control talk after the Sandy Hook massacre. Sure, the people wanted something done. But as the year progressed, it became more and more clear to me that we really don’t live in a democracy. It would be one thing if Republican politicians systematically thought their voters were more conservative than they were if the Democratic politicians thought their voters were more liberal. But that’s not it at all. What it actually means is that the true constituency of both parties is the super rich. They always get their way and the poor never get their way. Clinton may have ended welfare for the poor as we knew it. But welfare for the rich is bigger and easier than ever. Much of my writing was about the various ways that this was affecting our country and it is when I really started to argue that the Republicans had become so radical because the supposed liberal party—the Democrats—had become so conservative that there really was nowhere else for the Republicans to go.

And in the middle of March was the first of many articles about Debra Milke, the woman who had spent two decades on death row for the murder of her son, even though she clearly had nothing to do with it. She is now out on bail awaiting another trial, but I still don’t understand that given that the state actually has no evidence against her. The only evidence they had in the first place was a lying cop. Since he’s been exposed as a serial liar and much worse, I don’t see why the state is continuing except, as always, in a desperate attempt to save face.

Enjoy the entire: March 2013 Archive.

April 2013

By April, I was even complaining that Jonathan Chait was naive. Eric Cantor said he would “see about additional taxes” if Obama showed he was serious about cutting the budget. The thing is that Obama has savagely cut the budget already. This is one of the reasons our economy is doing so poorly. So all Cantor was saying was that he would not see about additional taxes. If by April of 2013, Cantor didn’t see Obama as being “serious” about the budget, he never would. And indeed that’s exactly what we saw. But it was telling that Chait fell for this. Chait is usually much better about this kind of stuff.

I wrote an interesting article about websites like Yahoo! Answers where the “best” answer is the one with the most votes. I had my own question, Were Women Allowed to Act in the Theater in the Shakespearean Era? It turned out that every answer given was filled with misinformation. And I detected more than a hint of racism in it too. The more you know about a subject, the more concern you have about “crowd sourcing.” It often gets the questions wrong and brings out the worst in people.

April also brought more coverage of Chained-CPI. It was all part of the Grand Bargain that Obama and “centrists” are so in love with. Thankfully, the issue eventually went away because there was no way that the Republicans would vote for anything that made the rich pay even a penny more in taxes. I always knew this, so most of my attacks were on the Democrats. I don’t know what they were thinking. We have a poor economy. And what do they want to do? They want to cut government spending, which will be bad for the economy. And they also want to raise taxes, which will be bad for the economy. So the Grand Bargain was bad policy. But it was also bad politics. Other than the professional centrists like Thomas Friedman and Barack Obama, no one was interested in such a lose-lose bargain.

There was also some news that we were going to get some national gun control legislation. It was so watered down as to be useless. And in the end even it couldn’t get through Congress. I had been predicting that for a while. I think gun control is a stupid issue for Democrats to focus on. It is not a winner. There are bigger fish to fry. Unfortunately, most of Democratic politicians don’t want to deal with those bigger fish, because doing so might offend their funding sources.

Christopher Knight is the actor who played the role of Peter Brady on The Brady Bunch. But in April, we met a hermit with the same name who lived alone for 27 years before he was arrested for petty theft. It is a fascinating story, which you should read if you missed it, North Pond Hermit. Of course April also had the Boston Marathon bombing. And Reinhart and Rogoff crashed and burned. And it was the 25th anniversary of Reagan signing the United Nations Convention Against Torture. I wrote a number of articles that month about torture. And I officially got rid of the nofollow tag in comments. And immigration flared up again.

My high level of cynicism about what Congress would do served me well the whole year. That really started in April. Most liberals have this very childish idea that the Republican Party will go along with legislation if it is popular enough. That’s not the way it works. And at this point, saying no to everything is about the only policy idea that they have. If they start agreeing with the Democrats on anything other than the names of post offices, they will lose their brand.

Enjoy the entire: April 2013 Archive.

Missing Scene From Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are DeadHamlet Will you play upon this pipe?

Guildenstern My lord, I cannot.

Hamlet I pray you.

Guildenstern Believe me, I cannot.

Hamlet I do beseech you.

Guildenstern I know no touch of it, my lord.

Hamlet ‘Tis as easy as lying: govern these ventages with your fingers and thumb, give it breath with your mouth, and it will discourse most eloquent music. Look you, these are the stops.

Guildenstern But these cannot I command to any utterance of harmony; I have not the skill.

Hamlet Why, look you now, how unworthy a thing you make of me! You would play upon me; you would seem to know my stops; you would pluck out the heart of my mystery; you would sound me from my lowest note to the top of my compass; and there is much music, excellent voice, in this little organ, yet cannot you make it speak. ‘Sblood, do you think I am easier to be played on than a pipe? Call me what instrument you will, though you can fret me, you cannot play upon me.

[Enter Polonius. Guildenstern turns to Rosencrantz.]

Guildenstern Can you believe that?

Rosencrantz Yeah. What an asshole!

Guildenstern Excellent good friend, my ass!