Fellini and Many Others

Federico FelliniOn this day in 1732, Richard Henry Lee was born. I only know him because he has a big number in 1776. He is, apparently, the guy who got the Continental Congress to debate independence. But being a rich man from Virginia, we can only assume he was a big slave holder. Does that make him a bad man or should we put him in the context of his time and place? I don’t know. I can kind of see accepting slavery in a general sense. But slavery not based upon the vicissitudes of life and rather on race? At a time when it still must have been in living memory that it only existed at all for purely economic reasons and all the “racial superiority” nonsense was just made up to justify (Like always!) the unfair wealth of the ruling class? So I’m not inclined to forgive, but Wikipedia doesn’t even mention slavery.

Comedian George Burns was born in 1896. I would just lump him in with the other birthdays if I thought he had been funnier. There is no doubt that he was a great straight man to Gracie. But Groucho Marx he wasn’t. But oh did he try!

Colin Clive was born in 1900. He is the actor best know for the line, “It’s alive!” which he repeated over and over again as Dr. Frankenstein in Frankenstein. And then in Bride of Frankenstein he doesn’t get any good lines. What I think is most interesting about Clive is that he is known for being a falling down drunk. According to Wikipedia, often “he had to be held upright for over-the-shoulder shots.” But the man died at the age of 37 of tuberculosis. Isn’t it possible that like Charlie Parker, his drug use was due to the fact that he was not being properly treated for medical issues? Now I don’t say this an apology for the way these men lived their lives; people have the right to live their lives any damn way they choose. But I’ve noticed that Wikipedia has a tendency to contain death sections that go something like this, “He was an alcoholic throughout his live. He died when an airplane crashed into his house.” What does alcoholism have to do with tuberculosis?! Anyway, I love him those Frankenstein movies!

Farhad Mehrad was born in 1944. He was a hugely successful Iranian singer-songwriter. And mostly, I just wanted you to hear this:

David Lynch is 68 today. When I was younger, I loved his work. Now I look back on it and I’m not so sure. He is interesting, but most of the stuff is unwatchable. For example, when it was on television, I loved Twin Peaks. I went back recently and watched it and I was amazed at how much I hated it. I think that all art is indulgent to some degree. But I’m afraid Lynch takes it to another level. However… He always seems to be trying to do something and that’s more than you can say for most filmmakers who have reached the level he has. Here is a scene from Living in Oblivion that has always reminded me of Lynch, but Tom DiCillo insists that it was not an attack on Lynch, who he admires. Regardless, it is funny as hell:

Other birthdays: “Bones” from Star Trek, DeForest Kelley (1920); musician Slim Whitman (1923); actor Patricia Neal (1926); comedian Arte Johnson (85); comedian Bill Maher (58); and MindVox co-founder (and someone I actually know), Patrick K Kroupa is 45.

The day, however, belongs to Federico Fellini who was born on this day in 1920. My perception is that among film fans, Fellini has fallen out of favor. Or at least he has compared to, say, Ingmar Bergman. But I remember as a teenager going to see a double feature of And the Ship Sails On and Amarcord. And it was a revelation. I had never seen anything like that in my life! But then, as I tend to do, I went back and looked at his films in the 1950s like I Vitelloni, and I was very disappointed. It took me a long time to see those films in their historical context. He was, from the beginning, an innovative filmmaker. I will say this, however, I’m not a big fan of . To a large extent, I blame that on Stardust Memories and All That Jazz and other films that have so ripped it off. But if directors as great as Allen and Fosse and Truffaut have been inspired to steal from it in such blatant ways, I don’t think you really need to say any more about Fellini. I really want you to see this magical (Short!) clip from And the Ship Sails On. But I can’t embed it. Do click over. And check this scene from I Vitelloni (From 1953!) that is, in its way, no less magical:

Happy birthday Federico Fellini!

Man Swims With Dead Tiger Shark!

Fake!Have you ever seen the alien autopsy video? There’s very little actual video and whenever you got close it went out of focus? I have the same feeling about “daredevil” Shaun Harrington and his supposed close-call with a tiger shark. (See the video below.) The only time we see the shark under water, it is clearly tethered somehow. What’s more, it isn’t moving much and its mouth is hanging open. All told, it looks entirely fake and I’m afraid the shark is either dead or nearly so.

Another really interesting thing here is that there is a total of 40 seconds of video that is repeated over and over again. I would be really careful putting this on television; it seems like an obvious stunt to get some undeserved publicity. But the show’s host seems to fully accept Mr. Harrington at face value. I would think that the producers would have wanted to see more than 40 very edited seconds of video before they believed the story.

What I think the best case for what might have happened is that they caught a tiger shark. And not just any tiger shark. At less than 8 feet long, it was probably a fairly young shark. The idea was to drag the shark around by the line and make a cool looking video. At one point, they lost a bit of control and the shark did get a bit close to Harrington. The reason I say that is because after the “attack” the shark turns far more extremely than would be normal. After all this “play,” they managed to kill the shark, which is what we see at the beginning of the edited footage.

Or—and I’m afraid this is the more likely case—they just killed an adolescent tiger shark (Near Threatened) and then pulled it around on some line. What else could they do? “Man swims with dead tiger shark” would not get said man on television.

What is most perplexing about this is that I consider myself really naive about this kind of stuff. Yet this looked bad immediately. “What’s that line there?” And, “Why is that shark so still with its mouth hanging open?” Yet it has been about a week since the story first appeared (I couldn’t find anything earlier than the 14th, when it seemed to be everywhere including the Daily Mail), and there has been no reporting of it being an obvious hoax. In fact, it has even been reported on today.

I think I—proud coward that I am—might even be up to such a “stunt”:


Depending upon how this video came into existence, there is certainly the question in my mind of animal cruelty. As I’ve discussed before, sharks are not just “dumb fish.” What the gang did is at least disrespectful if not fully inhumane.

“Fix the Debt” or “Screw the Poor”?

Matt YglesiasJonathan Chait wrote an excellent article today, Deficit Scolds Are Holding the Unemployed Hostage. It is broadly about something I talk about a lot around here. The deficit scold industry may have it’s stated purpose—to reduce the long-term deficit—but what it actually accomplishes is to push all economic policy rightward by the use of endless false equivalence. But it isn’t an accident.

This works very simply because of the fact that the Democratic Party isn’t liberal on economic issues. So it turns out that what these rich-people groups want in terms of economic policy is the same thing that, for example, Obama wants. But they can’t admit that. They’ve got to pretend that they are right in between the parties. If only the two sides would compromise! Of course, the Democrats have done little else but compromise for the last 35 years.

Think of a very unfair parent. He has two kids. One of them stabbed the cat to death and the other left the refrigerator door ajar. Fifteen minute timeouts for them both! Except that the deficit scolds are worse than this. Imagine that one of the kids stabbed the cat to death and the other did exactly as he was told. Fifteen minute timeouts for them both! This is a huge benefit the deficit scolds are providing for the Republicans, because regardless of how badly they misbehave, they are never punished for it—at least not by the deficit scolds.

But here is the thing that you have to understand, and that Chait is not willing (publicly anyway) to talk about. The deficit scolds don’t care about the deficit. They really don’t. It is just an excuse for cutting entitlement programs and lowering taxes on the rich. I don’t normally go in for long quotes, but shortly after the last presidential election, Matt Yglesias wrote what I think of one of the best pieces of opinion journalism I’ve ever read. We were headed toward the “fiscal cliff.” If nothing was done by Congress, federal income taxes would go up on everyone who pays them. This is something that should have thrilled the deficit scolds. But it did not. Here he is discussing the top deficit scold group, The Fix The Debt Two-Step:

I had some frustrating dialogue with whoever runs the Fix The Debt twitter account last night, centered around my observation that it’s strange for a group allegedly all about the need for deficit reduction to have advocacy for lower tax rates as one of its core principles.
The first response I got was that Fix The Debt thinks a comprehensive solution needs to be bipartisan, and that revenue-positive rate-cutting tax reform is much more viable as a locus of bipartisan compromise than rate hikes. That’s absolutely true, but it’s simply false that a solution needs to be bipartisan. Unless congress passes a tax cut bill this month and the president signs it into law, tax rates will automatically rise precipitating a large cut in the budget deficit

So having zigged, the conversation then zags and we hear that this kind of rapid deficit-reduction would be economically harmful. What we really need is “smart” fiscal consolidation.

Thumbs up. Right on. But here’s where we shift out of breathtaking dishonesty terrain and into staggering hypocrisy terrain. This outfit, after all, is called Fix The Debt. Its messaging is all about the evils of the national debt. Its core thesis is that high levels of government borrowing are setting us up for a catastrophic economic collapse. Indeed, it was precisely on those grounds that these people spent all of 2009, 2010, and 2011 arguing that we shouldn’t let short-term labor market problems distract us from the urgent need for long-term deficit reduction. If you really believed any of that, there’s just no way you’d be out there with all this fiscal cliff scaremongering. What you’d say instead is that, yes, the fiscal cliff is bad. Yes, ideally congress would avoid it. But the fact remains that the fiscal cliff is a mechanism for the vital task of long-term debt reduction and the overwhelmingly most important thing is that congress not fear the cliff so much that they merely further delay action.

But Fix The Debt isn’t saying that because they’re not actually so dumb as to believe their own nonsense about the overwhelming importance of debt reduction.

What they believe in, instead, is the overwhelmingly importance of rate-cutting tax reform and reduced spending on retirement programs…

And then he goes into his brilliant analogy about Quakers who want to balance the budget by cutting defense.

You may wonder what “rate-cutting tax reform” is. Normally, this is where tax rates are decreased, but so are deductions so that the total amount brought in is the same. Much of the debt scold industry claims to want to do this so that the total brought in goes up. It doesn’t much matter. Let’s just go with the equalized case. What is the point of doing it? Well, you could do it because it is fairer. (I discuss this concept in depth in, Hidden Welfare for the Rich.) But that’s pretty minor. It is not the reason that billionaire Pete Peterson has spent oh so many millions trying to change the tax code. Tax deductions are far easier to get enacted than tax rate reductions. What’s more, it is especially easy for the rich to get those special loopholes. So it’s a great deal: swap the deductions for the rate decreases. In ten years, the deductions will all be back but the new low rates will still be there.

So everything that Fix the Debt and related groups are doing is designed to take money away from the poorer classes and give it to the rich. “Fix the Debt” would be more appropriately called, “Screw the Poor.” And by “poor,” I many almost everyone in this more and more unequal society.

MLK Day Is Not a Destination

Martin Luther King JrIt is Martin Luther King Day! It is the day we celebrate the mythic figure rather than the man. And that is how it should be because no country has ever celebrated an actual man. But at least King is a happy exception to Lord Acton’s observation, “Great men are almost always bad men.” King was that kind of man Acton had in mind when he equivocated. Still, given that we are celebrating the symbol and not the man (we celebrated his birthday when it actually occurred last Wednesday), I would prefer to call it, “Civil Rights Day.”

I know that’s kind of generic, but it does have a few advantages. One very big one is that while King was hugely important to the civil rights struggle, he was hardly alone. What’s more, the civil rights struggle continues. Just ask blacks in Virginia. As I’ve noted before, “Everyone now accepts that poll taxes were a real issue meant to stop poor blacks from voting. What are voter ID laws other than a poll tax by another name?”

But I have a not-so-pure reason for wanting to call today Civil Rights Day. Republicans really bug me when it comes to Martin Luther King. Because he has become a mythic figure just like George Washington, he is cuddly and can be embraced by everyone except people who are explicitly bigots. I would find it less annoying to argue about the continuing civil rights struggle (Republicans think it ended in 1965!) than to argue about how King would now support the Republican Party.

Last night, TMCB Patriot sent me to the following image made by some true believing Republican:

Black Republicans

As TMCB Patriot noted, MLK Was A Republican! Photo Montages Don’t Lie. I guess I can see how a Republican who said, “We believe in setting people free,” would think that. And all that disguised control in the form of charity! I can just imagine King saying those immortal words, “”Free to starve, free to starve! Thank God almighty we are free to starve!”

But this is the kind of nonsense we get from Republicans. They really are the postmodern party: reality is whatever we agree on. So if they say that Martin Luther King was a Republican long enough, he must have been. Just like in the 1960s they said (And some still do!) that he was a communist. But there is no evidence of either of those claims. Publicly, King stayed nonpartisan. Privately, he clearly tended Democratic.

What I find interesting is that Martin Luther King Sr was a Republican. At least he was until 1964. And then in the 1970s until his death in 1984, he was an outspoken Democrat. His political journey indicates what happened to the parties. The Democrats—especially in the South—had been a racist party. Similarly, the Republican Party used to be in favor of civil rights. But the Democrats evolved on the issue and the Republicans devolved on it. That’s why the image contains pictures of pre-Civil War icons.

Look at the whole message of the image: blacks vote Democratic out of habit or something. The use of the Elbert Guillory quote implies that blacks are either stupid or childish for voting Democratic. But note that the image reveals its own lie. Yes, blacks used to vote overwhelmingly Republican. And then they changed—because the parties changed. At least when the Democrats were a racist party, they didn’t run around whining that blacks were just voting Republican out of habit.

So happy Martin Luther King Day! And happy Civil Rights Day! But it is not a destination, just another step on an eternal journey.

Update (20 January 2014 11:35 am)

Ed Kilgore has a great King quote from a 1965 sermon:

About two years ago now, I stood with many of you who stood there in person and all of you who were there in spirit before the Lincoln Monument in Washington. As I came to the end of my speech there, I tried to tell the nation about a dream I had. I must confess to you this morning that since that sweltering August afternoon in 1963, my dream has often turned into a nightmare; I’ve seen it shattered. I saw it shattered one night on Highway 80 in Alabama when Mrs. Viola Liuzzo was shot down. I had a nightmare and saw my dream shattered one night in Marion, Alabama, when Jimmie Lee Jackson was shot down. I saw my dream shattered one night in Selma when Reverend Reeb was clubbed to the ground by a vicious racist and later died. And oh, I continue to see it shattered as I walk through the Harlems of our nation and see sometimes ten and fifteen Negroes trying to live in one or two rooms. I’ve been down to the Delta of Mississippi since then, and I’ve seen my dream shattered as I met hundreds of people who didn’t earn more than six or seven hundred dollars a [year]. I’ve seen my dream shattered as I’ve walked the streets of Chicago and seen Negroes, young men and women, with a sense of utter hopelessness because they can’t find any jobs. And they see life as a long and desolate corridor with no exit signs. And not only Negroes at this point. I’ve seen my dream shattered because I’ve been through Appalachia, and I’ve seen my white brothers along with Negroes living in poverty.