2013 Review: Part 3

2013 ReviewWell, this gets us halfway through the year and I now thoroughly regret having started this series. It is really hard to sum up a month’s worth of writing. One thing that has become clear to me is that I’m only interested in certain kinds of things when it comes to politics. I would be best paired with one or more people to do an overall look at the news. That’s kind of what The Reaction is supposed to be. But the truth is that it would take a full time editor to do that.

What’s also interesting is that most of the political stuff has a short lifetime. My writing about film and music seems interesting for a lot longer. This may cause me to change the way I cover politics. I know there is an ongoing complaint that my political coverage assumes too much knowledge. We’ll see if anything changes when I look back next year.

May 2013

May was a big month, because we published our 2000th Article. Of course, later in November, we published our 3000th article and didn’t even mention it. Regardless of what else you can say about Frankly Curious, we grind out content. And I read a lot of blogs, and in my not at all humble opinion, the quality of the content here is quite high. But that probably says more about the quality of the writing in the blogosphere than it does my skills.

I wrote a lot about immigration reform during this month. Just like gun control, I was pushing hard against this idea that something was going to happen. And it turned out to be exactly the same as with gun control. The proposed law was so watered down that I barely supported it and then it didn’t even get a vote because the Republicans are now building suburbs to Crazytown. It gets tiring. I know I’m a smart guy, but the people I read are at least as smart as I am. Yet again and again they make this mistake of thinking the world of politics is the way they think it ought to be, not the way that it is.

So I rarely wrote about Republicans on the immigration issue. What is there to say? Basically: they hate immigrants. If there is one thing that most defines the conservative movement in this country it is racism. So even though big business wants a bunch more low-paid workers, the racism trumps that for the GOP. That’s all I really know about the immigration issue when it comes to the Republicans and that’s really all there is to know. The only reasonable discussion of immigration on the right is about H1-B Visas and how businesses can get cheap labor. There is no discussion at all about what the issue means broadly. Conservatives are fine to have illegal immigration be our dirty little secret that keeps the gardens of the rich well tended for little money. So the issue for me is why liberals pretend that there is any kind of conversation going on with conservatives. There isn’t, but a lot of really smart liberals keep hoping.

As many of you know, one of my filial obligations is to go see action movies with my older brother. In May, I went to see the terrible Iron Man 3 with him. I mention it only because I managed to write three articles about it! The first was Physics in Iron Man 3. That was a fun one. I know that you aren’t supposed to hold action movies to the standards of science. But I thought what I did was very good. The second was Escapism in Iron Man 3. In it, I discuss how the movie works as escapism, even as it mocks the very people who use it as escapism. The third is Humor in Iron Man 3. Basically, it is a love letter to Ben Kingsley who is wonderful and funny in the film.

May, of course, was the month the “scandals” started. I humorously commented on the Benghazi “scandal” with Hillary Killed Foster and Stevens! As I noted from the beginning, there was nothing at all to the IRS “scandal.” It is still amazing to watch how the conservatives get the mainstream (and even liberal) media to play along with their fishing expeditions. There was, of course, a real scandal: the NSA and the Associated Press and all that. But no one was really interested in that, because the conservatives don’t care that America has become a police state. It’s what they want—at least for the “little” people.

Memorable Articles

Transubstantiation of Elvis
Cold War Politics in Hogan’s Heroes
“You Gotta Thank the Lord, Right?!”
Family Guy Rush Limbaugh Whitewash

Enjoy the entire: May 2013 Archive.

June 2013

I started June by laying out the basics of an article that I am working on in longer form, False Lessons of the New Democrats. Basically, I’m saying that the Democrats lost the presidency for 12 years because of bad economic luck and Clinton didn’t win the presidency because he was conservative. Any Democrat would have won. But by that time, it had become Democratic doctrine that the party needed to move to the right. And that’s still Democratic doctrine. The party always has to move to the right—at least on economic issues that the wealthy funders care about.

June was also when I got Josh Barro very mad at me. It was actually exciting because it showed that the website is making a bit of an impact. I wrote, Josh Barro Phenomenon. Now, the truth is, I’m rather fond of Barro. But in this case, he was doing his conservative apologetics—defending Chris Christie’s decision to kill the new Hudson River tunnel for mass transit. It was all based on the fact that it was too expensive and there was waste in the project. Well, that’s always the case. That argument can always be made. So Barro was just defending Christie with something reasonable when that wasn’t the real reason that Christie was killing the project.

Well, Barro was very offended and tweeted out how stupid I was. Whatever. It was clear he didn’t finish reading the article. My point was not that the tunnel should be built, but simply that Barro was acting as an apologist for extreme, partisan behavior on the part of Christie. Since that time, I have noticed that Barro has a kind of political crush on Chris Christie. Generally Barro makes a lot of sense, but he just talks gibberish when the issue of Christie comes up. This is something I write about a lot: there is nothing reasonable or moderate about Chris Christie. He is as conservative as they come. And he’s also an asshole. What a great combination! (See What Josh Barro Hasn’t Figured Out Yet for a full discussion of Barro’s confusion on such matters.)

June was also the month I went to a Democratic Party meeting. And I felt so at home that I will never go to another one. They don’t exactly make it easy to get involved. But I’ve figured out that I’m not really the type to help out in that way. I’m socially awkward. I’m at my best doing what I’m doing right now: sitting in front of a computer writing.

If May was the month of “scandals,” then June was the month of Edward Snowden. And oh did many liberals fail their final exams on liberal fundamentals. Sure, the conservatives hated him. But far too many liberals were skeptical or worse. Looking back on it now, how can anyone question that Snowden was anything but a hero. Without him, we never would have had that “conversation” that Obama was promising us. Our country’s treatment of people like Snowden just disgusts me. This is the kind of nonsense that made me think the Soviet Union was bad when I was a kid. People had to flee the USSR just because they told the truth. Well, that’s the USA today. Are we proud?

Memorable Articles

Why Reagan but Not Bush?
Drunk Driving Hysteria
Michael Bloomberg Wants to Destroy the Democratic Party
Supply Side Dogma
Unstable Weirdos and Business Success

Enjoy the entire: June 2013 Archive.

GOP Reformers Just Make Things Worse

Michael R. StrainEarlier today, Jonathan Chait wrote, Republican Reformers Stop Being Polite to Tea Party, Start Getting Real. Seeing that title, I jumped right in. I was prepared to savage any silly ideas that Chait had about Republican reformers and where they do or do not fit into the conservative movement. But that title was just about as inaccurate as it could be.

The article summarizes two articles in the most recent issue of National Affairs magazine. One by conservative hacks Michael Gerson and Peter Wehner. And another by AEI’s Michael Strain[1], who I will admit has shown himself in the past to not be a total idiot and nutjob. As Chait describes it, the “Prague Spring for the mainstream” conservative intelligentsia. And then he spends the rest of the article showing how it is nothing of the sort.

The problem is that being a conservative in any capacity is a really well-paying gig. No one is going to threaten his cushy job at AEI in the name of fixing the Republican Party. But even if one were so inclined, they would quickly figure something out that I’ve been talking about for years: the Democratic Party is the conservative party. So if these people really want to reform the Republican Party, they have to pretend that the Democratic Party is something that it is not. Chait puts it perfectly:

What they refuse to do is compare actually existing Obama policies to actually existing Republican policies. The reason for their refusal is obvious: It would force them to forfeit their claim to partisan loyalty by defending the Democratic agenda. After all, if they consider broad access to medical care a worthy goal, isn’t Obamacare—while perhaps suboptimal—better than nothing (which is the plan Republicans have repeatedly voted for)? If they favor fiscal stimulus to reduce unemployment, even if they quibble with the particular design of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, isn’t it a radical improvement over the Republican program of fiscal anti-stimulus?

He then goes on to note that it isn’t that Republicans don’t have actual policies that they are vigorously pushing. It is just that they are the most vile policies imaginable that no conservative apologist could countenance. This is the Wonderland that conservative intellectuals live in. If you talk to them (And I do!) about their policies, they will tell you about how they are good for the poor. This is where Paul Ryan gets all the hammock garbage. The reason that people are poor is that the government is giving them too much! But when you step out of Wonderland, it gets hard. Poor kids go to school hungry. Poor kids get worse educations. Poor kids die at a much higher rate than rich kids. Well, the conservative intellectuals don’t want that, so they stay locked up inside Wonderland where all children are equal and have a good shot at the American Dream.

What’s most important to me in all of this is that these would be reformers aren’t just spewing out their Wonderland message of the perfect conservative policy. They are also reinforcing the beliefs of the reactionaries that Obama and the Democrats are secret communists trying to destroy the nation. And these “Republican reform” articles (it’s a genre) are always peppered with these distortions about the Democrats that reinforce what the Tea Party crowd already believes.

A more fundamental problem is that if there really were such a thing as a reasonable Republican, he would not stay one for long. Think of Michael Strain. If he really believes in what he claims to believe in, he fits much better in the Democratic Party than the Republican Party. But if he became a Democrat, he might lose his job at the AEI. I’ve wondered the same thing about Norman Ornstein, who is also at AEI. But I put him in the same category as David Cay Johnston and Bruce Bartlett: people who align with Republican ideals but don’t seem to vote with the party anymore. But Strain is much younger without the enormous reputations of these three men. So he has to be careful.[2]

But I have some advice for him and others like him: stop trying to be reformers. You’re only making things worse.


Look at that picture of Strain above. He looks like a nice young man. He’s welcome in the big tent of the Democratic Party. I know that the two of us would be on opposite sides of the tent. But I’d welcome him. I doubt he’s much more conservative than Obama.

[1] Be careful. This is Michael R. Strain. It is not the Louisiana Republican Michael G. Strain.

[2] Generally, reform is for the older, so Strain is actually showing more bravery than most people in Washington.

Ever Since Marion Davies

Marion DaviesOn this day in 1880, Francis Browne was born. He was a Jesuit, like our current Pope. But he is best known for his photographs—especially for his photographs of the Titanic. He had received a ticket to take the ship from England to Ireland. During that leg of the trip, a rich couple befriended him and offered to pay his way to New York and back again if he would hang out with them. He sent a telegraph to his superior asking for permission. The replay was no, “GET OFF THAT SHIP – PROVINCIAL.” So he did and didn’t die. Maybe there is a God after all.

The writer J R R Tolkien was born in 1892. He was a good writer and I enjoyed his work well enough as a child. But good God, is the man ever overrated. And now, thanks to Peter Jackson and company, he’s more exposed than ever. And you know one of my big complaints about books: padding. Tolkien was the king of padding. And then, to make things worse, Jackson divides The Hobbit into three parts. I hate to break it to the great director, but that was Tolkien’s shortest and best novel. It wasn’t a trilogy! But there is this great John Rogers quote:

There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.

Victor Borge was born in 1909. What was he exactly? A musician? A comedian? I don’t know. He was a very good performer. Here he is describing the history of the piano. It is very funny:

The great film director Sergio Leone was born in 1929. Interestingly, he isn’t even listed on the front page birthdays of IMDB. Who is? Danica McKellar who I’ve never heard of. Dan Harmon who I’ve never heard of. Actors I rather like Dabney Coleman (82) and Robert Loggia (84). And of course, bigot with real anger issues Mel Gibson (58). I’ll admit, Gibson is a fine director. But Leone he isn’t. He isn’t even close. Here is the trailer from what I think is his most underrated film, A Fistful of Dynamite:

Other birthdays: Roman philosopher Cicero (106 BC); playwright Douglas William Jerrold (1803); actor ZaSu Pitts (1894); overwrought Ukrainian composer Boris Lyatoshinsky (1895); actor Anna May Wong (1905); the great music producer and arranger George Martin (88); singer-songwriter Stephen Stills (69); and musician who I thought was dead, John Paul Jones (68).

The day, however, belongs to Marion Davies who was born on this day in 1897. She was a fine comedic actor and would doubtless have become a great comedic actor and probably an actor everyone knows. Unfortunately for her, she was William Randolph Hearst’s lover and companion. And Hearst didn’t like seeing her be silly on screen, so with his many connections and gobs of money, he got her to star in historical dramas. She was pretty, there is no doubt of that. But that wasn’t who she was. You need to be careful who your benefactors are.

The only reason I even know who Davies was is because I’m a big Orson Welles fan. In Citizen Kane, Kane tries to make his talentless mistress into an opera star. This was certainly a dig at Hearst who tried to make Davies into something she was not. But it most certainly wasn’t an attack on Davies herself, who Welles defended time and again. Anyway, here she is in her final role—the kind of role should should always have been playing. It is Ever Since Eve (not available on video anywhere), and although it is sexist as hell, it is quite a fun movie.

Happy birthday Marion Davies!