Quincy Jones and Another 81-Year-Old

Quincy JonesTwo interesting people turn 81 today. I’ll get to that man of the day shortly, but I wanted to take a moment to talk about the man not of the day. That man is Michael Caine. There are two things that I really don’t like about him. First, he is an extremely overrated actor. I think he’s barely passable. He at best doesn’t harm a film by his presence. Yet he got an Academy Aware for Hannah and Her Sisters for a wholly forgettable performance. And then he got another for The Cider House Rules. This second film is particularly telling. Clearly he got it because it was the first film he had ever been in that he took enough effort to learn an accent. For a British actor, that’s amazing.

The second thing I don’t like about him is his politics. For decades, he’s been bitching and moaning about his income taxes. This is a man who owes everything he’s ever gotten to Stanley Baker giving him a part in Zulu. Otherwise, Caine would be working in a pub somewhere in a borough on London. He is entirely typical of entertainers who believe their own PR. I just wish he would get on with dying, because he isn’t doing anyone any good. I just hope the UK has a very high inheritance tax.

The man of the day, however, is Quincy Jones. Now, his politics are really great. But I wouldn’t care because Jones is a great artist. It’s kind of hard to talk about him, however, because he’s done so much. I think of him very much as I think of Henry Mancini. Basically, there is no greater compliment. He’s probably best known for producing Thriller, but we will say no more of it. He’s produced a lot of other great albums. And he’s a great film composer. And he’s a great jazz musician and composer. So let’s just go back to his first album, This Is How I Feel About Jazz. Here is “Evening in Paris,” which I think is particularly beautiful. That’s Herbie Mann on flute and Charlie Mingus on bass.

Happy 81st birthday Quincy Jones!

Skippy and the Tick

Skippy and the Tick

Just to close out this section of the day, on last night’s The Daily Show, Jon Stewart introduced a show that never made it to Nickelodeon, Skippy and the Tick. This came from a comment made by Bill O’Reilly who said of Jason Greenslate, “This guy is a parasite… He’s a rat.” To which Stewart responded:

Well, technically, you’re either a parasite or a rat. You can’t be both. A rat is a scavenger who could carry parasites. In fact, if you’ve ever watched the show Skippy and the Tick—it’s about a very fastidious mouse who lives with a very sloppy tick. He gets into some adventures. Nickelodeon never picked it up. The point is, it was a kid’s show for the plague carrying set. I thought it was gold! I still have the story boards.

It’s very funny, but the truth is that I would totally watch that show! It’s got that whole The Odd Couple meets Archy and Mehitabel meets the Black Death. What’s not to like? I even have an idea for a pilot episode called, “Skippy Gets a Blood Transfusion.” And I have a catchy theme song for it. The chords are:

G / / / | C / / / | G / D / | C / / / |

Here are the lyrics:

Skippy is a mouse
Floyd is his one tick!
You may call him a parasite
But Skippy stays thin as a stick!

Now if I can just pry the rights away from Jon Stewart, it will be smooth sailing!

Thanks to Andrea for altering the image for use on this page.

Should People Pursuing Risky Careers Be Forced to Starve?

Jason GreenslateLast September, the Huffington Post published an article, Jason Greenslate, Food Stamp Surfer, Responds To The Haters. Greenslate is the young man that Fox News used for weeks to vilify the food stamp program (SNAP). It’s an interesting article because the young man is clearly intelligent—more so than most people on Fox News, much less those who watch the propaganda mill. And he made two points. First, he noted that it is wrong to make him the poster child of food stamps. In reference to the House Republicans using him as an excuse for cutting the SNAP program, he said, “I don’t think that one person should be the decision for 47 million people.” Second, he noted that it isn’t true that he doesn’t work—in fact, he works more than 40 hours per week. “I’m just not making any money. I’m setting up a career for myself.”

That’s the crux of it. Conservatives have a problem with his choice of careers. Now I don’t think this is true, but they would say it is because it has a low probability of success. But isn’t this one of the constant refrains from the Republican Party, “People need to be rewarded for taking chances”? Greenslate will probably fail. And he will pay a stiff economic cost for it later in life. What’s wrong with that? I would think nothing is wrong with it from a conservative perspective.

But the Fox News crowd seems to think that if Greenslate is going to make this choice, he should be forced into extreme poverty. He should be forced to starve. The social costs of his choice should be borne only by him. But that’s madness. First, there is an extreme social cost that we all play by how our society over-rewards professional entertainers from musicians to sports figures to the ranters on Fox News. (See Frank and Cook’s Winner-Take-All Society for more on this.) Why is there no concern about this, but excessive concern that we are making sure that a young man who is determined to following his unlikely dream is at least given enough food?

What’s more important is that the Fox News crew have a big problem with Greenslate for an unmentioned reason: they think that social value is perfectly determined by your salary. This is the old Ayn Rand game that claims that markets are not only efficient, they are perfect. As Ha-Joon Chang pointed out in Bad Samaritans, by this theory, no one would ever plan for the future. It would make no sense to get an education, because that costs money when one could be working right now and making money.

What the Fox News argument comes down to is that they don’t like how Greenslate is investing in himself. But they aren’t willing to come out and say that. So they claim that he is just wasting time and money. But the exact same thing could be said about college students taking out loans to study engineering. It is just that the career path for someone with an engineering degree is a lot safer than that of someone with a totally rad band. But the funny thing is that Greenslate’s food stamps cost us far less than paying the interest on those student loans for four years.

I’ve been planning to write about Greenslate for months. I only got around to it because he came up last night on The Daily Show. The A segment of the show was probably the best thing I’ve ever seen Jon Stewart do. I don’t recall seeing him quite so obviously angry before. Recently, he got into a bit of an argument with Eric Bolling at Fox News over their deceptive campaign against food stamps. Bolling said, “Food stamps aren’t just used for food. A lot of clowns are withdrawing cash from the EBT cards then spending in on things like booze, weed, and lap dancers.” Stewart responded, “”What we were ridiculing was the way you exaggerate the scope of public assistance abuse through random, often unprovable anecdotes, hour-long specials…” I suspect Bolling will come back with something akin to, “So’s your old man!”

David Frum Summarizes Charles Murray

David FrumYou are a white man aged 30 without a college degree. Your grandfather returned from World War II, got a cheap mortgage courtesy of the GI bill, married his sweetheart and went to work in a factory job that paid him something like $50,000 in today’s money plus health benefits and pension. Your father started at that same factory in 1972. He was laid off in 1981, and has never had anything like as good a job ever since. He’s working now at a big-box store, making $40,000 a year, and waiting for his Medicare to kick in.

Now look at you. Yes, unemployment is high right now. But if you keep pounding the pavements, you’ll eventually find a job that pays $28,000 a year. That’s not poverty! Yet you seem to waste a lot of time playing video games, watching porn, and sleeping in. You aren’t married, and you don’t go to church. I blame Frances Fox Piven.

—David Frum
Is the White Working Class Coming Apart?

Dave Weigel’s Racist Apologetics

Dave WeigelI promise that this is the last time I’m going to write about David Weigel’s apologetics on behalf of Paul Ryan. Understand: I wouldn’t even care if Weigel were some conservative loon, but he’s an excellent reporter. And his defense of Paul Ryan’s racist comments are really worrying.

As you may recall, Wednesday morning, Paul Ryan ranted about the real poverty problem being the fact that inner city men just didn’t want to work. This isn’t even close and many of us called it at the time, Paul Ryan’s Racist Dog Whistle. As I discussed briefly, Weigel has been trying to whitewash Ryan’s comments.

But yesterday, he wrote another article, Paul Ryan and Charles Murray. During that same interview, Ryan mentioned Charles Murray, the racist writer who brought us such delights as The Bell Curve. Weigel defends Ryan’s comment:

Not being able to read Ryan’s mind, I assumed he was thinking of Murray for his Losing Ground/Coming Apart work, and not for Chapter 14 of his book about how some races just ain’t got what it takes.

When I heard what Ryan said, I didn’t think for a minute that Ryan was talking about The Bell Curve. I assumed that he was talking about Coming Apart. Ryan is a sophisticated politician. He knows that The Bell Curve is toxic. And so does Charles Murray. That’s why Murray’s been writing more palatable books since The Bell Curve. But the conclusions are the same: screw the poor! In Murray’s case, however, we have a history of his writing. Remember what the thesis of The Bell Curve is: minority groups are more likely to be poor because they are stupid; thus we should have no affirmative action.

Coming Apart is about the white middle class and arguing that the problems it is having are not due to policies that funnel wealth from poor to rich and allow for unions to be destroyed. No, it is the culture of the white middle class. But once again, let’s quote our friend Lee Atwater, “You’re getting so abstract now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is: blacks get hurt worse than whites.” So the point of Coming Apart, and for that matter Murray’s whole career, is to push policies that just so happen to result in blacks getting hurt worse than whites. What Murray is doing is only unclear to those who are determined not to see it.

Meanwhile, Dave Weigel wrote, “I’m not trying to apologize for Ryan as much as I’m explaining why he might have said this.” Notice the word “might.” Ryan might have mentioned Murray because the two of them are secretly related. Who knows? What we do know is that Paul Ryan is a sophisticated politician who is using racist dog whistles. He is also committed to policies that have the byproduct that “blacks get hurt worse than whites.” That is racism in modern America. And Weigel does the nation no favor by putting the best gloss possible on every racist thing Paul Ryan says.

Update (15 March 2014 11:31 am)

Given all the attention that this article is getting (Thanks for the retweets!) I want to note for those interested, I’ve written about Dave Weigel a lot: Dave Weigel Articles. Now, as always, he is essential reading and a great reporter. He just ought to stop apologizing for Paul Ryan.

Between Right and Wrong Is Half Wrong

Keith HumphreysKeith Humphreys is a healthcare policy expert and a liberal. And my did he step in it Wednesday while writing about economics, A Surprising Comparison of US and UK Economic Growth. He found that the economic growth in the two countries was roughly the same. And since we had a stimulus here in the US and they didn’t in the UK, it doesn’t matter what economic policies a government applies to a recession.

It gets worse. He went in for some good old fashioned false equivalence by noting that this “surprising” result would not sway people on either side. On the one side, “Most of the ‘slim government’ crowd will argue that Britain didn’t cut enough…” On the other side, “Most increased government spending supporters will see proof that the stimulus wasn’t big enough…” Oh how Very Serious Dr Humphreys was being!

I actually saw his article referenced in Washington Monthly (where it was cross-posted) on Wednesday, “At Ten Miles Square, Keith Humphreys compares US/UK economic growth rates and finds them similar despite ostensible opposed strategies.” I didn’t even click. I knew that was wrong. Not only has the UK had poor growth compared to the US, but it had a double dip recession! I should have been more curious.

It turned out that Humphreys was comparing the growth of the last quarter of 2013. This is kind of like saying that there were no casualties in the Iraq War last year. It’s a stunning bit of extrapolation. Luckily, Kevin Drum did what had to be done. At Mother Jones he wrote, The British Economy Is Not a Poster Child for Austerity. He didn’t write much. Mostly, he just provided this graph:


As I said, Keith Humphreys is a liberal. So he was quick to admit his error, Of Blogging, Errors and Boredom. He said that he hadn’t meant to make the argument that he ended up making. I understand that. A lot of times in the rush to get an article out (Any article!) you end up saying things that you didn’t intend.

Just the same, I hate the smug tone of the article. It was a facile effort to stand tall in the middle. “Look! I’m not like those ideologues on the edges!” One thing I’ve written about a lot is that the centrist position is no less ideological than the extremes. And Humphreys’ argument missed the most important point, which is that the Keynesian position is based upon actual data and science. The austerian position is based on faith and simply grabs any data and science that can be found to support that faith. That makes the “centrist” position half science and half faith. That’s nothing to feel smug about.