Russian Police Get Lucky

Get LuckyWill alerted me to the fact that the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs choir will be performing a “rousing rendition of Daft Punk’s ‘Get Lucky’ before Friday’s Opening Ceremony.” Don’t be fool by the name, the Ministry of Internal Affairs are cops. I’m sure that Will sent it to me because he thought it was funny. And of course it is. But I can’t help but think that it could be even more than just amusing.

Let’s start with the fact that Daft Funk is a great band. I don’t know what “house” music is. To me, it is just funky pop music. Add to it the brilliance of Pharrell Williams and Nile Rodgers and you really have something. It is a lively, fun song. And you know what cops think of “lively, fun” things: they think they are arrestable. I’m sorry, call me a bigot if you want. But I don’t think of cops as fun loving. People who never lose their inner child just do not become cops. I actually have data on this somewhere. So I think it’s hilarious to see a bunch of cops singing, “We’re up all night ’til the sun; We’re up all night to get some; We’re up all night for good fun; We’re up all night to get lucky!”

But you know police work in the modern Russian Republic. It mostly involves standing by watching as government incited gangs brutalize gay citizens. So it will take on a whole new meaning when the cops sing the lyrics, “We’ve come too far to give up who we are…” Maybe the cops are telling us about who they really are. But truthfully, I always assume that people who are really anti-gay are latent homosexuals. I mean really, why do they care? But I digress…

What I thought about is how they might change the lyrics to “Get Lucky” to be more in keeping with official anti-gay Russian policy. After all, Homem-Christo and Bangalter may not be gay, but their music largely is. So the lyrics could use some tweaking. Something like this:

Like the legend of the phoenix
All ends with beginnings
What keeps the planet spinning
The force of love (but purely the heterosexual kind between a woman and shirtless man on horseback) beginning

We’ve come too far to give up who we are (unless, of course, we are dirty homosexuals who are preying upon kids)
So let’s raise the bar and our cups to the stars (unless, of course, we are dirty homosexuals in which case it is best to hide indoors)

We’re up all night ’til the sun
Beating up each fag as they come
Bloodied gays are key for good fun
We’re up all night to get lucky

I’m sure it will be a hell of a performance, regardless of what lyrics they sing. The truth is that I won’t see it. I have absolutely no interest in the Olympics. Even despite all the politics (and the Olympics are nothing if not politics), all the competitors are so closely matched that the events are meaningless. It’s hard to get too excited about one athlete being a tenth of a percent better than another. Plus, getting excited in that way is against the law in many locations.

Update (7 February 2014 9:51 pm)

Quite by accident, I happened to see a bit of the Olympics. I really needed to make some cookies and it was on the television. Anyway, I got to watch some of the “teams” parade into the stadium. It is shocking that people claim that it isn’t a political event. It is almost nothing but politics. I was also treated to a small group of American athletes bring shaming to our country by chanting, “U-S-A!” I hate that nationalistic crap.

Lewis, Dickens, and Philips

Sinclair LewisOn this day in 1812, the great novelist Charles Dickens was born. I admire him as a writer. He was a master storyteller. Just the same, I think that I’ve only ever read A Tale of Two Cities and The Adventures of Oliver Twist. I look at David Copperfield and Bleak House and (Good God!) The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, and I just can’t bring myself to pick up the books. There is a difference between pacing and plodding. I have a theory. Every book ever written could be improved by being cut by 10%. The 19th century novels could generally be cut by 50%. Just saying.

The comedian Emo Philips is 58 today. I don’t have much to say about him. It is just an opportunity to present some of his act. He is one of the greats:

Other birthdays: philosopher Thomas More (1478); novelist Laura Ingalls Wilder (1867); mathematician G H Hardy (1877); great songwriter Eubie Blake (1887); saxophonist King Curtis (1934); actor Pete Postlethwaite (1946); actor James Spader (54); total fucktard Garth Brooks (52); comedian Chris Rock (49); and another fucktard Ashton Kutcher (36).

The day, however, belongs to the great American novelist Sinclair Lewis who was born on this day in 1885. Like most people, I know him from two novels: It Can’t Happen Here, about fascism coming to America in the form of a Huey Long or a Father Coughlin; and Elmer Gantry, a satirical novel about religion in the 1920s. The great thing about both novels is that they are as relevant today as ever. We have our fascist leaning politicians today, but they don’t offer economic populism, they offer social populism. And Elmer Gantry would require basically no changes to modernize it to today. Of course, Lewis is much more than just a political writer. He is arguably better than John Steinbeck in terms of creating vivid characters. There is perhaps no higher compliment I could pay.

Happy birthday Sinclair Lewis!

Madeleine Peyroux for a Rainy Day

Bare BonesGiven the glorious rain that California is finally getting, here is some music to go along with it: Madeleine Peyroux performing live at the Vitoria Jazz Festival in 2009. I can’t really express how much I love her work. The solos are also quite good in this video. I don’t know who any of them are. They didn’t play on the album cut, but they put in performances that are certainly as good. So regardless of the weather where you are, enjoy this fine performance of “Instead” off Peyroux’s album Bare Bones:

You Are Allowed to Beg the Question

Clarity!It has been a while since I’ve written anything about grammar. And on this wonderfully rainy day in the Bay Area, one could do worse than spend a little time enjoying our great language. For some time, I’ve wanted to discuss the phrase “beg the question.” My interest in the phrase is that it is one of the grammar rules that the grammar snobs love to complain about. And as usual, you shouldn’t listen to these pedants.

If you’ve ever been forced to take a class in “critical thinking” or if you were in the debate club (I’m so sorry for you!) or otherwise instructed in the great and noble art or rhetoric, you have run across the fallacy of “begging the question.” What it means in this context is that you are assuming the conclusion. An excellent example of this comes to us from James Welton in A Manual of Logic (Volume 2), “Opium induces sleep because it has a soporific quality.” In other words, “Opium induces sleep because of its sleep producing quality.” Or even more simply, “Opium induces sleep because it induces sleep.” (This is Ken Ham logic!)

But when people use the phrase, “begging the question,” they usually don’t mean this. Instead, they mean that it begs for the question to be asked. The pedants hate this. “That’s not what it means!” they shout. “When I was in the tenth grade, I took a speech course and they told me what it means, so you can’t use it like that!” Grammar snobs are some of the most slappable people in the world.

The truth is that “begging the question” started, as with most things having to do with logic, with Aristotle. But the Greek was mistranslated into Latin (petitio principii) and then the incorrect Latin was mistranslated again into English. Scott Gregory Schreiber says that Aristotle used two phrases meaning “asking the original point” and “assuming the initial point.”

This highlights the ridiculousness of claiming that the phrase must only be used for one stated purpose. How long are we going to continue to make this mistake?

Meanwhile, to the vast majority of English speakers, the phrase “beg the question” means to “beg that the question be ask.” What’s more, that is pretty close to literally what it means. If you asked someone who had never heard the phrase before, they would most likely assume that it means this. They would most certainly not come up with, “Assume the conclusion.” Now clearly, if you are in a rhetoric class, you need to use the standard pedant definition. But in writing, have at it. Let’s suppose you write, “This begs the question whether grammar pedants should be socially ostracized.” No one, not even the pedants, will be confused about what you meant.

And remember the first and last rule of writing: clarity is all.

Yay! New Jobs Report!

Kermit the FrogIt’s the first Friday of the month and that means it’s Labor Report Day! As Kermit the Frog would say, “Yay!” I like to think of myself as an optimist. And actually, compared to my friends, I am Pollyanna. So I was looking forward to today, hoping (as always) that despite all the evidence, we would break through some invisible barrier and the economy would start to grow jobs. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), that did not happen today.

The economy created 113,000 jobs. That’s not very good. According to Dean Baker, the economy needs to create 90,000 jobs per month to keep even. That means, we gained 23,000 jobs in January. Given that we need very roughly ten million jobs to get up to full employment, it would take us 36 years.

Okay, I’m being silly there. January was not a typical month. But the numbers do put the state of the economy in perspective. The economy is growing at a snail’s pace. The most jobs created in a month last year was February with 280,000 jobs. This is a net of 190,000 jobs. Even at that rate, we are not looking at full employment for almost four and a half years. So this all looks very bleak.

Some are trying to put a positive spin on the numbers. “It’s the bad weather!” they say. But luckily, we have Dean Baker around to pour cold water on that idea:

The weather will only have an impact on the data if this winter is notably worse than recent winters. I’m not a meteorologist, but that doesn’t seem so obviously the case to me. In other words, it’s not clear that the weather has had much impact on the data we have been seeing.

The big problem with the idea that this winter is so much worse than the last is that it assumes the nation is New York. The weather certainly has been bad in the northeast this year. But it isn’t that much worse than last year. What’s more, at the same time, the west has been dry and warm. As a first order approximation, I’m sure that the extra work in the west offset the reduction in the east.

Even more disappointing than the new jobs number this month is that last month’s net job loss was only revised up by 1,000 jobs—so we lost a net of roughly 14,000 jobs in December. But who knows? Next month, we may see a major increase in in the estimates of both December and January. And in the end, that’s what makes the jobs report so great. By the time the numbers are finalized, we are two months on and fretting or celebrating new ones. Yay!

Bill O’Reilly’s Cognitive Dissonance

Dana MilbankBill O’Reilly is the cognitive dissonance champion, and this recent kerfuffle with Dana Milbank is a perfect example. After O’Reilly’s shameful pre-Super Bowl interview with President Obama, Milbank wrote, Bill O’Reilly’s Obama Interview Showed a Nation Still Divided. He did what few are brave enough to do. He watched the interview more than once and generated some statistics. According to him, O’Reilly interrupted Obama 42 times. Even more telling, of the 2,500 words spoken in the interview, O’Reilly spoke almost 1,000 of them.

None of this should be surprising. It was clear that O’Reilly’s intention was not to interview the President but to “give it to him.” The interview was simply red meat for his old and conservative viewers. These are people who just know that Obama is secretly destroying the country. What I find interesting is that these are exactly the same people who are more or less okay with Bill Clinton now, even though they thought the exact same thing when Clinton was actually president. So no one should expect much from Bill O’Reilly or his audience.

Bill O'ReillyBut on Tuesday, O’Reilly went on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show to call Milbank a liar over and over again. What exactly was Milbank lying about? No one knows because O’Reilly didn’t say. I’m sure he can find minor things to complain about. Milbank said “O’Reilly spoke nearly 1,000” of the words. O’Reilly might have a problem with the word “nearly.” He may think some of his interruptions weren’t really interruptions. But if he had substantive points, I’m sure he would have mentioned them.

There are a couple of things that bug me about all of this. I’m not really bothered that O’Reilly would defend himself. That’s natural; I would do the same. But he did it in a totally inappropriate way. First, if you are going to say someone lied, you need to be specific. That wasn’t the only name calling either. O’Reilly said, “These far-left kooks, like this nut at the Washington Post, Milbank—but he’s a dishonest man.” Dana Milbank is a far-left kook? That’s news to me.

I go out of my way to not read Milbank because he is the prototypical Washington centrist. The same day that O’Reilly was screeching about what a liar he was, Milbank was misreporting the CBO economic analysis of Obamacare, Obamacare’s Scorekeepers Deliver a Game-Changer. He said, “Obamacare has been undermined by the very entity they had used to validate it.” That’s not at all true, but that’s the kind of thing that upper-class Washington centrist pundits write.

I’ve seen this kind of name calling many times before from O’Reilly. Whenever a liberal disagrees with him, they are “far-left liberals.” Despite the fact that O’Reilly claims to be a political independent, his idea of the Overton Window is Joe Lieberman on the left and Louie Gohmert on the right—if there is a right. There is no problem with finding some political views unacceptable. But the problem with O’Reilly’s “far-left liberals” moniker is that it isn’t true. What he’s actually saying is that he doesn’t like people who have liberal views. This is the same as people claiming that Obama is a socialist. If Obama is a socialist, what is the name for an actual socialist? As for Milbank being a “far-left liberal,” then what am I?

The other problem is O’Reilly’s oft claimed justification that he’s “an opinion guy.” That’s why its perfectly okay to get all kinds of facts wrong and never to admit it. Well, even though Dana Milbank doesn’t have a show on Fox News, he is nonetheless “an opinion guy.” This is why the Washington Post adds the words “Opinion Writer” after his name. Of course, this is no excuse for getting facts wrong. But in the column about O’Reilly, it does not seem that Milbank got the facts wrong. It would seem that the only time facts matter to O’Reilly is when someone else uses them against him. And then they only matter in as much as O’Reilly can dismiss them out of hand as lies without even mentioning which facts he’s talking about.

But humans are amazing animals. We can justify anything. And O’Reilly is certainly not a stupid man. He has more than enough brains to work out reasons why almost a year after it was debunked, he is still using the “IRS chief visited the White House 157 times” talking point. And that’s why he can think that he never misleads his audience whereas Dana Milbank is a far-left liberal kook who does nothing but lie.