Democrats’ 2014 Chances Not So Bad

Competitive 2014 Governor Races

The chart above is from a National Journal article, The 15 Governorships Most Likely to Flip. In it, Steven Shepard and Karyn Bruggeman rank each state by the likelihood of its switching from one party to the other. The top three states (Pennsylvania, Maine, and Florida) are all currently in Republican hands. But of the 15 governorships, 9 are Republicans. So unlike the United States Senate, where the Republicans have a big advantage because roughly twice as many Democrats are up for re-election as Republicans, when it comes to governor, the Democrats have a substantial advantage.

But if that isn’t enough good news for you, Curtis Gans wrote an article over at the Washington Monthly magazine, Midterm Signals and Noise. In it, he argues that many of the reasons that people think that the Republicans are going to do well in the 2014 elections are nothing but noise. I agree. One of the best examples of this is the supposed sixth-year curse. This is the observation that two-term presidents’ parties always lose big in the sixth-year elections. Sean Trende wrote about this last year, and he concluded that for Obama, 2010 already did most of the damage and there wasn’t much more that could be done in 2014.

Still, there are two issues about the upcoming elections that probably will be important. First, as I briefly mentioned above, the Senate landscape looks bad. The base Senate elections have 13 Republicans and 20 Democrats. But with the special elections and taking into account competitive races, it is even worse. The other issue is the tendency for Democratic leaning voters to not vote as much in off-presidential-election years. Both those issues are very much concerns.

There is nothing that can be done about the difficult Senate terrain, but the Democratic Party is making a special effort to make the voter demographics in 2014 look like they did in 2012. As I’ve argued for a long time, the key to Democratic success is always to get as many people voting as possible. If democracy works, we win because the people have a well established liberal bias.

Gans goes on to provide a lot of information about why we Democrats shouldn’t feel so gloomy about 2014. If you want to feel better, go and read the article. Personally, I don’t accept most of it. In the long run he’s right. But for 2014, I don’t think there is going to be any awakening. The fact remains that we have a media establishment that is determined to create balance, regardless of how far out on a ledge the Republicans get. The good news from my perspective is just that the Democratic Party is putting a lot of money into getting out the vote. If we could get Democratic turnout in off years to what it is in on years, not only would the Republican Party be forced to liberalize, so would the Democratic Party.

We All Deserve to Die

Sweeney ToddAll through the night, I had this going through my head, “We all deserve to die. Even you, Mrs. Lovett; even I.” If you don’t recognize it, it is the song “Epiphany” from Sweeney Todd. I watched the film for the first time a couple of days ago. It is a fine film: your typical “boy who kills people meets girl who uses the bodies to make pies” story. No, honestly, it is a beautiful and engaging film that is very much worth watching if you haven’t already.

But the fact that the song showed up in my dreams is important. It means one thing: Andrew Lloyd Webber did not write the music. Well, that’s going too far. Webber sometimes manages to put a single catchy tune in one of his plays. But the songs in Sweeney Todd were written by Stephen Sondheim and so there are quite a number of winners. But tuneful doesn’t mean sweet. We ain’t talking Sound of Music here:

The film is relentlessly dark. Johnny Depp spends the whole time scowling. Helena Bonham Carter gets the choice role as Nellie Lovett, purveyor of the “worst pies in London”:

She’s the ultimate woman: one who supports your interests, even if they involve the slitting of strangers’ throats.

The wonderful thing about Sweeney Todd is that it is so over-the-top that it is funny despite its subject matter. This is in contrast to Richard III and Othello that we are supposed to take as seriously, even though they are pretty much the same thing. But mostly, the whole thing is just an excuse for a lot of great songs. Sondheim has always been especially good at writing lyrics for unusual subjects. That dates back at least to West Side Story. As for the rest of the film, it is rather typical of Tim Burton. Everything is done straight but without forgetting how silly it all is.

Last night I made two meat pies. I wonder if the film inspired me. Probably not. There was just this transient who died near the house and he was starting to go bad…

The Renoir Patriarch

Pierre-Auguste RenoirOn this day in 1663, the English writer Pierre Antoine Motteux was born. He is most remembered today for his English translation of Don Quixote. It is generally regarded as terrible. When I first started studying the book, I wrote of this translation, “I originally thought that Peter Motteux’s translation dated from the Victorian period, because of its pomposity. In fact, it is the earliest translation that I looked at—dating back to 1712. Predating Jarvis by only three decades (When a decade meant something!), this translation seems like it comes from another world. I still find its writing style ‘sticky.'” My hero Samuel Putnam writes, “Peter Anthony Motteux was a tea merchant who dabbled in lterature, and it might have been better if he had confined himself to the China trade.” John Ormsby called it, “Worse than worthless.” Richard Ford called it “the very worst.” And Bertram Worlfe called it “the odious Motteux translation.” It has been, not surprisingly, the most popular in the United States until Putnam’s 1949 publication. Now, of course, really good translations seem to come out every couple of years.

Singer-songwriter George Harrison was born in 1943. Like all the members of The Beatles, he’s overrated. But I still like his stuff. Here he is doing one of his best, “My Sweet Lord”:

Doug Yule is 67 today. He was John Cale’s replacement in The Velvet Underground. He added a lot to the band. And Lou Reed was a total dick to him. I know, Lou Reed was a dick to everyone. But Reed was able to be a much bigger dick to Yule. Reed prevented Yule from being inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. That was actually the thing that really turned me against Reed. That was when Reed was 54, so I don’t think there is any excuse for it except, of course, that Reed is a dick. Here is “Who Loves the Sun” from Loaded with Yule on lead vocals:

Comedy writer Jack Handey is 65. I only know him from his Saturday Night Live bits “Deep Thoughts.” This is one of the best:

Other birthdays: actor Zeppo Marx (1901); playwright Mary Chase (1907); actor Jim Backus (1913); comedy writer Larry Gelbart (1928); film director Neil Jordan (64); musician John Doe (60); and comedian Carrot Top (49).

The day, however, belongs to the great impressionist Pierre-Auguste Renoir who was born on this day in 1841. A problem I have with a lot of the impressionists is that their work is too pat. Renoir combines incredible skill with a unique perspective. His ability to capture light was as great as Monet’s, but he took it much further. That is especially true in the latter part of his career when he took a turn toward classicism. This eventually led to his best work like Grandes Baigneuses:

Grandes Baigneuses - Renoir

Happy birthday Pierre-Auguste Renoir!

A Little Mississippi John Hurt

Mississippi John HurtFor some reason, I mentioned Mississippi John Hurt to a client who had never heard of him. So I went looking for a song to send him. Hurt was an interesting guy. He was a sharecropper in Mississippi, but his guitar playing and singing made him popular as a local act. This eventually led to some recordings for Okeh Records in the late 1920s. These didn’t take off, so Hurt went back to farming.

Many years later, an ethnomusicologist, Tom Hoskins, discovered Hurt’s music and decided to locate him based upon lyrics in his song “Avalon Blues.” In 1963, he did so. This led to Hurt performing at the 1963 Newport Folk Festival where he became a star on the folk scene. You can see why. His guitar work is fabulous. And so for the three years that remained for him, he performed widely and recorded three albums. It’s kind of a shame that he didn’t get to perform music his whole life. But at least he and the rest of the world got those last three years and the music that is left to us.

One of his original recording was “Frankie,” an early folk version of the pop song “Frankie and Johnny” about Frankie Baker’s murder of her lover Allen Britt. It’s worth checking out. There is also a fine version of “Spike Driver Blues.” But here is the folk standard “Lonesome Valley.” This is from Pete Seeger’s television show Rainbow Quest:

The Fed Isn’t Interested in Our World

Federal ReserveMatt Yglesias brought my attention to something really interesting yesterday, Ben Bernanke’s Biggest Mistake. It contains more information from the recent dump of FOMC transcripts. But this one paints the Fed in an especially bad light that is unfortunately not at all surprising.

It focuses on the 16 September 2008 meeting—just after Lehman Brothers went bankrupt. At that time, the Effective Fed Funds Rate was still at the relatively high 2%. Right now it is at 0.07%—effectively zero. So there is relatively little that the Fed can do to help the economy. But in September 2008, the Federal Reserve had a lot of power. They could have helped the economy by lowering interest rates. In fact, the markets were expecting them to do just that. Instead they did… nothing.

As Yglesias points out, this potentially had very negative effects on the economy:

When the stock market tumbled 4.71 percent the day after the meeting and kept falling through the week, the predominant interpretation came to be that policymakers had underestimated the harm done by allowing Lehman to fail, leading down the road to TARP and other bailouts. Another interpretation: They underestimated the harm done by ignoring clear and unequivocal evidence that the situation called for looser monetary policy. Markets were expecting a rate cut. The data pointed to a rate cut. But rates were not cut.

What the transcripts show is that the Fed board just wasn’t interested in what was happening to the economy generally. They were focused on what was happening to the banking industry. And that was important. But they didn’t seem to care at all about unemployment. September 2008 was the inflection point from the relatively low unemployment before the crisis to the high levels after it. But it didn’t matter because unemployment never really matters to the Fed.

Matt YglesiasThey had the data that indicted exactly what was happening. As Yglesias puts it, “In other words, inflation was down, the labor market was down, and the dollar was up.” So this isn’t even the usual case where the Fed is willing to do something about unemployment but only if it absolutely won’t cause inflation to tick up, which makes the power elite angry. In this case, they knew that inflation wasn’t a problem. And they did nothing, I think because it just didn’t matter to them.

Let’s look at it from the opposite perspective. If the Fed had information that inflation was about to explode, they wouldn’t have been complacent. They wouldn’t have figured that they could deal with it later when it actually happened. They would have understood that stopping inflation before it starts makes it easier to combat that waiting until it is a problem. They would have understand that allowing inflation to become a problem would cause unnecessary pain. But when it came to unemployment, it didn’t matter. In the month after they decided to not raise interest rates, unemployment went up 0.4 percentage points. Over a half million workers lost their jobs. And it allowed the whole economy to race into a recession that could have been slowed by a brisker response.

The issue, however, is not that proper action by the Fed would have improved the situation a great deal. The issue is that as we already know, the Fed is not focused on the regular economy. Their primary concern is for the power elite: Wall Street and the big banks. And in this case, even with plenty of data indicating that they should take action and lower interest rates, they ignored the concerns of the regular economy because they were so focused on the power elite.

Yglesias also provides a bit of Fed apologetics by noting that “it would be a stretch to say that FOMC members were indifferent to the basic economic situation.” I don’t think it is a stretch at all. They were concerned that the whole infrastructure of their world was falling apart. The fact that “their world” doesn’t include much of “our world” is a huge problem that we see from the Federal Reserve every day—crisis or no.

Why I Don’t Like The Big Bang Theory

The Big Bang TheoryOver at Wired, the Angry Nerd discusses why he doesn’t like the television series The Big Bang Theory. You can watch the video below. The problem is that he doesn’t really explain what his problem is, so I thought that I would.

Many people over the years have gushed to me about the show as if I would love it. Supposedly “smart” people would love the show because it is filled with “smart” characters who work in the high tech industry. The idea that I would like the show for this reason is very much like thinking your dog would like to watch Air Bud.

The biggest problem with the show is that the characters seem to be stuck at 13. Actual nerds grow up just like other people. As adults, we nerds may hold onto our interests, but we don’t have heated arguments about which super hero is the strongest. In my experience, none of us ever did. Those who did were generally sub-geniuses, who I’ve always tried to avoid.

The Angry Nerd makes one devastating observation about the show. Often the pop culture references are used as punchlines. So what is funny is not the line but rather the silly nerd and his excitement over some triviality. The show does not laugh with us, it laughs at us.

Many nerds never get into pop culture, regardless. To me, what defines a nerd is his total cluelessness regarding what is cool to most adolescents. So a nerd might be oriented toward science, but he’s just as likely to be oriented toward some form of art. But such adolescents stand out as awkward, not because they are more so than others, but because they are so passionate about their interests that it shows.

So The Big Bang Theory misses the defining characteristic of nerds by focusing on some of the most trivial stereotypes. The little I’ve seen of the show always reminds me of lunchtime discussions in high school rather than anything I ever saw in college and beyond. But none of this is to say that it is a bad show. It’s a situation comedy and as such I suppose it is as good as most. Which isn’t saying much. Which is what I’m saying.

Venezuelan Protests Get Usual US Media Treatment

Venezuela FlagI heard a bit of NPR’s On the Media over the weekend. In discussing Protests in Ukraine, Bob Garfield talked about Venezuela and how the reason Ukraine got so much more coverage was that it had good visuals in a way that Venezuela did not. He then went on to say how repressive the regime in Venezuela was and left it at that. While it is certainly true that the Venezuelan government is far from perfect, I thought it was shocking that a program dedicated to examining the media would push such a bit of propaganda. That is the US government line. And as a result, that is the line from the corporate media. But this is NPR media criticism?!

For those that haven’t been following, there have been anti-government protests in Venezuela the last two weeks. They have turned violent and a number of people have died. This has been reported in the United States as peaceful protesters and a repressive government reaction to them. Now, I’m not saying that the Venezuelan government is blameless in this. In particular, it seems that Bolivarian Intelligence Service (SEBIN) has been responsible for some of the deaths. But we know this because the government reported it (Spanish language) and has made arrests and is continuing to investigate the case.

What seems to be going on is that the same anti-government groups as always are protesting the government. Dan Beeton provides a good rundown of the history, Violent Protests in Venezuela Fit a Pattern. The most important part of this is that these are the same people who were responsible for the 2002 coup against Hugo Chavez. And these are the same people who claimed that Nicolas Maduro’s election victory last year was a fraud. Then they claimed that the municipal elections in December would show that the people really were behind them. After they lost those elections by 10 percentage points, they didn’t even try to claim fraud.

I think we see much the same kind of thing there as we do here with the conservative movement. They know that their policies (basically to sell off the oil industry to corporate giants) are unpopular. So they can’t depend upon democracy. Instead, they try to take power by other means. But it looks now like the anti-government forces are fracturing and fighting among themselves. There is some evidence that factional fighting is responsible for some of the deaths in this struggle.

The opposition could try to craft policies that appeal to a larger part of the electorate. But instead, their plan is to overthrow the government. And this isn’t just speculation. During these protests (just as in the past), opposition leaders have explicitly argued that the people have the right to overthrow their democratically elected government. Let’s be clear here: that behavior would get anyone in the United States arrested for treason. But when opposition leaders say that in Venezuela, they are suddenly heroes?! It’s outrageous.

I’m none too thrilled with the way that the Venezuelan government has responded to all of this. But given the actions of anti-democratic opposition forces in the country’s recent history, it is hard to blame the government for their current actions and, frankly, quite a bit more.


The best place to go for information about what’s going on in Venezuela right now is The Americas Blog. I’m not saying that they don’t have their own biases, but they at least look at the facts and put them into perspective. They are a whole lot more objective than the usual corporate media whose response is always that the Venezuelan government is wrong and needs to be overthrown.

Just Because Abe Vigoda’s Old

Abe VigodaOn this day in 1619, the great French painter Charles Le Brun was born. King Louis XIV considered him the greatest French painter of all time. But he might have been biased; he was Brun’s employer. But Brun did a lot of work outside his palace work. He produced an incredible amount of art in his 30 prominent years working for the court.

Winslow Homer was born in 1836. He is one of the greatest American painters ever, and perhaps the greatest seascape artist across all borders. Unfortunately, his work has been so copied that it is now hard to see it with fresh eyes. But it is worth trying. For example, I think this painting, The Gulf Stream is wonderful:

The Gulf Stream - Winslow Homer

Other birthdays: steam engine inventor Thomas Newcomen (1664); automata creator Jacques de Vaucanson (1709); music educator Charles Frederick Horn (1762); playwright George Moore (1852); film director Richard Thorpe (1896); actor John Vernon (1932); actor Barry Bostwick (69); actor Edward James Olmos (67); the most overrated “entrepreneur” in history Steve Jobs (1955); and the actor, who plays the most annoying Sex and the City character, Kristin Davis (49).

The day, however, belongs to the actor Abe Vigoda who is 93 today. We all know him primarily for the part of Fish on Barney Miller, which he was only on for three of its eight seasons. But he’s remarkable because he was so convincing as Fish that most of us thought that Vigoda must be at death’s door. But he was only 56 when he left the show. If you saw him in interviews into his 80s, he seemed younger than Fish ever did. So I fully admit: I gave the day to him because he’s lived so long. And because Barney Miller was one of the greatest television shows ever. And because Abe Vigoda is a fine actor. But mostly, because he’s 93 today. And I don’t think this is the last birthday he will celebrate.

Happy birthday Abe Vigoda!

Kant in 90 Minutes Is Enough

Kant in 90 MinutesAfter having a comment discussion with JMF about Kant, I realized that I was rather unclear about just what he had done. Kant is a lot like the blind men and the elephant: it’s a wall! It’s a snake! Kant wrote so much that it is hard to get your head around his totality. Being a mathematically inclined person, I’ve always been more interested in his approach to questions more than his answers. Answers are kind of a fools game anyway; we should all of us strive for better questions.

So last night I went to the library online and requested a couple of books, but I was able to download an audio copy of Kant in 90 Minutes. I didn’t expect much. These books are generally little more than mini-biography and this one was no exception. And I have to say, Kant was much more of a miserable bastard than I had expected. I especially didn’t like the way he treated his family. He reminded me of a number of intellectuals who I have known who place such a high value on knowledge that they completely lose sight of anything else. Throughout his adult life, he never visited with his siblings because they lacked “class.” Of course, I don’t understand how that would matter given that he seemed to think that of everyone.

Regardless, the author Paul Strathern does get into some of Kant’s philosophy. In fact, he spends time discussing something JMF brought up: the fact that Kant believed that it was always wrong to lie. It’s pretty clear that Strathern doesn’t think much of Kant as a moral philosopher, and takes the man to task on a couple of things in Critique of Practical Reason. As usual, Kant didn’t really have anything to say about moral philosophy, he just created a framework in which one might be created. As a practical matter, Kant didn’t agree with his own examples like the “never lie” idea.

What is much more interesting is Kant’s idea of metaphysics. He argued that since God was not something that we had actual experience of—since he was necessarily outside our reality—it made no sense to argue for or against his existence. That strikes me as a rather limited way of looking at the issue. For one thing, what are we to make of negative theology? But then, Kant is great largely in the way he argues against the validity of most things that are of interest to actual human beings.

His metaphysics is based on the independent existence of time and space. That is to say that they exist before anything else. So that time and space are on the same level with God, except that they are things we actual experience. That surprised me. Most of the last hundred years of physics has pushed back rather strongly on that idea. With general relativity 99 years ago, Einstein developed a theory that implies that objects create their own space. Kant argued that you could take away all the observable aspects of an object, but you could not take away the space that it occupies. That doesn’t seem to be true.

Similarly for time. It doesn’t exist without a universe to measure it. We tend to look at actions in the universe as a function of time. But it is probably more accurate to say that time is a function of actions in the universe. Regardless, what does it even mean to say that time existed before existence? It makes my brain hurt to think about. But regardless, our understanding of these fundamental qualities of the universe have changed a great deal since Kant.

So where does that leave Kant? I find ridiculous all the work by philosophers to prove that philosophy doesn’t exist or is invalid. Have people really stopped thinking about philosophy since Wittgenstein? Have they stopped thinking about mathematics since Godel? Of course they haven’t! And the idea is similarly ridiculous that Kant had to save metaphysics from Hume who showed that it was an invalid field thought. That’s especially true given that Kant “saves” metaphysics by redefining it.

In the end, I’m left with the same thing that I always thought: Kant is interesting because of his approach to knowledge, not the knowledge he ultimately brought to light. And that’s good enough. What’s more, I think the 90 minutes I spent reading about Kant is enough for now. I’m going to cancel those other books I requested.

Conservative Hypocrisy on “Future Generations”

Robert SamuelsonIt’s Monday, and that means Dean Baker is out with another article correcting the math of Very Serious Pundit Robert Samuelson. It is something I look forward to at the beginning of each week, and Baker rarely disappoints because Samuelson rarely knows what he’s talking about.

Go ahead and read the article if you are interested. What I want to discuss is a broader point. Samuelson is one of those typical pundits who is always talking about how we have to cut entitlements because we are leaving future generations with a huge bill because of the elderly living off the fat of the land with their $15,600 yearly stipends. But at the same time, Samuelson is a global warming denier. As I discussed before, there are three levels of global warming denial, and he is at the third level, “Humans are causing global warming, but there is nothing we can do about it!” It’s not as intellectually retarded as, “There is no global warming!” But it is every bit as dangerous. (Samuelson’s thinking has evolved slightly since 2006, but not by much.)

Baker notes the hypocrisy in this:

One of the main themes of his columns is that the old are stealing from the young with their Social Security and Medicare. However Samuelson apparently sees nothing wrong with handing our kids a wrecked planet so that we can increase employment by 0.007 percent for two years. [He is referring to employment that would come from building the Keystone XL Pipeline. -FM]

This is a really important point, because this doesn’t just apply to Samuelson. His thinking on the matter is standard among conservatives. And it makes absolutely no sense. First, the fact is that Social Security is not bankrupting us. Samuelson, like most conservatives, just hates Social Security and wants to see it destroyed. But even if it were a big financial problem, we could solve it at any time by simply raising taxes or cutting benefits. It has never been clear to me why we are supposed to get behind cutting benefits today in order to stop from cutting benefits in the future.

What’s really going on with conservatives is that they think if we don’t cut Social Security now, we may face a major funding shortfall in the future. Given that the elderly vote in large numbers, future politicians will not be able to cut the program for current retirees. So the only option will be to raise taxes—most likely focusing on the rich. When Samuelson discusses stealing from the young, what he actually means is stealing from the next generations’s rich. And given the abysmal level income mobility, that just means the kids of today’s rich.

While financial problems can be fixed quickly, global warming cannot. Samuelson is right that we don’t have practical ways to remediate carbon pollution. Once the atmosphere warms, we have to just wait for the extra carbon in the atmosphere to be removed by natural processes. But note the loony logic here, “We can’t do anything about pollutants in the environment, so let’s keep putting more pollutants in the environment!” The correct solution is to stop polluting and deal with the damage we’ve already done as best we can.

What Samuelson argues is what conservatives always argue: we should do everything we can to protect the rich from any pain. And anything done for the common good should only be done if it doesn’t cause the rich any pain. So cutting entitlements is a good thing because it will protect the rich from possible future tax increases. And cutting fossil fuel use is bad because it would cost the rich money today. Of course, Samuelson would never admit this. I’m sure in his mind, he does all of this for the common good. But you have to look at the results of his preferred policy, and it is always the same: help the rich, screw the poor.

Political Writers Turn Off House of Cards

House of CardsAh, television! Or at least television series. Over the years, I’ve been very into some popular series like Arrested Development and Deadwood. And I was very much a fan of Breaking Bad through the fourth season. But some shows never really click for me. The biggest example of this was The Sopranos. But I only saw the show intermittently. Still, I’m not a big fan of modern gangster narratives. For example, I’ve never much liked Goodfellas, even though I appreciate its craft. And maybe this is why I don’t care for House of Cards.

A couple of weeks ago, I watched the first episode of the series and wrote, Dark Cynicism in House of Cards. I thought it was interesting stylistically, but it all depended upon unbelievable characters and an entirely cynical view of the world. What bothers me this morning is why so many people I read are so interested in the show.

This morning, Ed Kilgore writes about it over at Political Animal, House of Cardboard. Like most people I’ve read, he complains that the second season is less believable than the first. That seems very strange to me because the show doesn’t even try to be realistic. Even the look of the show goes for an other worldly feel. It comes off looking more like David Cronenberg’s Existenz more than anything else.

This, I think, is the core reason that people have liked the show. They mistake it for something that is realistic when it is actually more along the lines of a fable—albeit, one with a perverse moral about ends justifying means, even when the ends themselves aren’t particularly good.

Kilgore complains about the second season plot line where Underwood works on entitlement reform. Last Week, Matt Yglesias complained about the same thing:

There’s a lot of implausible plot threads in this show, but the treatment of Social Security in Season 2 is politically insane. You have a Democratic administration working furiously to cut Social Security not in exchange for some big GOP concessions, but just to avoid a government shutdown. In the real world, there’s absolutely nothing politics-minded Democrats would rather see happen than have Republicans shut the government down in an effort to force the country to swallow Social Security cuts.

That does sound silly. But it is hardly less believable than the Speaker of the House murdering inconvenient people. I think this is a major problem for the series, though—at least for the political types who I read. They seem most interested in the series because it shows the behind-the-scenes machinations that really are representative of how laws get made. But if Underwood is good enough to kill people with out getting caught, he ought to understand the politics of Social Security. My guess is that the third season of House of Cards will be the last. Or at least, it will be the last for the political writers. When the third season comes out, I highly doubt that everyone will be writing about it.

Johnny Winter’s Mississippi Blues

Johnny WinterOn this day in 1685, George Frideric Handel was born. [Actually, that’s old calendar; his actually birthday was on 5 March 1685. -FM] As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become very bored with Baroque period music. I think that Classical period music is perfect because it has far more emotional depth than Baroque without hitting me over the head with it as much Romantic period music does. What we see is mostly a move from highly contrapuntal work of the Baroque period to an emphasis on harmonic structure in the Romantic period. I like all the counterpoint, but I want something more. Still, in the case of Handel, there is much that I still admire. Although I think that Bach is the more important composer, I enjoy listening to Handel more. Here is something great, “Ombra Mai Fu” from Serse:

Other birthdays: philosopher Richard Price (1723); public intellectual W E B Du Bois (1868); painter Kazimir Malevich (1878); philosopher Karl Jaspers (1883); film director Victor Fleming (1889); good hack film director Norman Taurog (1899); film director Claude Sautet (1924); actor Majel Barrett (1932); experimental filmmaker Paul Morrissey (76); actor Peter Fonda (74); humorist Tom Bodett (59); singer-songwriter Howard Jones (59); and actor Tamsin Greig (47).

The day, however, belongs to the great blues guitarist Johnny Winter who is 70 today. Despite the fact that his life is generally a mess, his music is always so finely crafted. I don’t know anyone who surpasses him in terms of his musical ideas. His lead playing is as good as anyone, including Hendrix. But what is most impressive is his rhythm playing. You see him doing both in this version of “Mississippi Blues”:

Happy birthday Johnny Winter!