Odds and Ends Vol 11

Odds and EndsHowdy, friends and neighbors! I gotta tell you, I was not planning to do an Odds and Ends today, but we are more than overdo. You know who does a great Odds and Ends kind of thing? Our friend Infidel753. And we’re not just talking politics either, or even mostly. I get a lot of great stuff from him. By the way, I asked him about that 753 thing and he responded, “The 753 refers to 753 BC, which is the traditional (though likely apocryphal) date of the founding of Rome. I’m interested in Classical history, as I hope my occasional posts about it show.” So there you go. I probably should have known that, but as you all know, I have this thing about numbers, which probably blinded me to its historical significance. I think you can guess what number I would follow with that series: 7, 5, 3… Anyway, like a reasonable person, he just provides simple introductions to articles whereas I am forced (it is the way of my people) to yammer on and on. So on I yammer.

  1. For years, everyone rolled down the windows of their cars when it got hot, because the air conditioner was assumed to consume so much energy. But then, the air conditioners got more efficient, or at least we were all fooled by those Car Talk guys, and we learned that it actually used less energy because cars are so aerodynamic when the windows were rolled up. So I was very interested to read Joseph Stromberg over at Vox, who tells us, Why Rolling Down Your Cars’ Windows Is More Fuel Efficient Than Using AC. Now maybe this isn’t always true. If you have a super aerodynamic car and you are traveling down the road at 100 mph, then okay, maybe use the AC. But for normal people: use the windows. Plus: your dog will like it more, not to mention your Komodo Dragon. (Anyone know that film reference?)
  2. This next article is so old, it is from when Matt Yglesias was still at Slate. (Since then, he’s moved to Vox where his work is arguably even better.) This article tells us something I already knew, but which won’t change our vindictive society in the least, Big Data Says You Should Hire Criminals. Basically, ex-cons are more productive on average. No one knows why exactly. One theory is that ex-cons are just glad to have a job and so they try harder. I don’t doubt that’s part of it. But also a big part of it is that ex-cons are (to use a term from pool hustling) working under speed. If there are two candidates for a job that are identical in every way except that one of them has a felony drug possession charge, you know which one is going to get hired. So if two people are doing the same job and one of them is an ex-con, he’s undoubtedly more skilled, more intelligent, more everything, really. People (white people anyway) think that people who break the law, serve their time, and then its over. It isn’t. It is held against you for the rest of your life. We are a cruel and stupid people.
  3. Being a short man, I know that it sucks to be short. Women generally prefer tall men, even though in my experience sex is better when you are roughly the same height. (Just saying.) In the business world, you are ignored. If you try to be assertive, you are said to have a Napoleon complex. And by the way: two brief points about the Napoleon complex. First, Napoleon is not short; that myth was the result of a unit conversion error. (Damned imperial units!) Second, psychologists have studied this supposed complex and have found that it doesn’t really exist. One study “discovered that short men were less likely to lose their temper than men of average height.” But mostly, they don’t find any difference.

    Well, one thing about being short is very good: you live longer. A 50 year study of 8,000 men found that shorter men live longer—especially very short men—5’2″ and below. It is thought that we only have so many cells to create in our lifetimes and being short requires fewer.

  4. This is very interesting. Jason Jones of The Daily Show went to India to study democracy there, in a multi-part segment, India Jones and the Election of Doom. Now, despite all the recent bad coverage, India has a vibrant democracy—a hell of a lot better than ours. But in the segment, he hired a journalist to write a paid article in the Millennium Post, Poll shows US Number A-1 Star Jason Jones does best Indian Election Coverage. Well, it was taken down. When the editors found out, they wrote, Dear Readers. And then, Moutussi Acharya wrote an opinion piece, Jon Stewart, America’s Biggest News Douche. Clearly, the article comes out of annoyance about the Jason Jones piece. But it makes a number of valid points, including the contention that the show has to twist itself in knots in order to maintain its impartiality. I would also note that usually when going after liberals, the show just isn’t as funny. But that could well just be my perspective.
  5. If The Upshot is supposed to replace FiveThirtyEight at The New York Times, it has failed completely. Because The Upshot is far, far better than FiveThirtyEight ever was—and currently is, unless you are into sports, where it is probably great. Anyway, a week and a half ago, Michael Paulson wrote, Americans Claim to Attend Church Much More Than They Do. Well, that’s hardly a shock. According to the article, “Americans continue to report high levels of belief and participation—more than 90 percent of Americans say they believe in God or a universal spirit, and nearly 40 percent report weekly attendance at a worship service, numbers that have remained relatively unchanged for decades.” But it isn’t really about God. It is about this stupid American idea that being religious makes you a good person. Given how negative public Christianity is, I hardly think that’s true. But some researchers decided to check out how much people lie about their church attendance. They compared telephone surveys where people had to speak to other humans to online surveys where they didn’t. And they found that people reported a lot less church attendance when they weren’t trying to impress another human. Only 9% of white evangelical protestants (You know: the most hateful but also devout of the Christians.) admitted on the telephone to rarely or never going to church; online, the number almost doubled to 17%. Overall, 43% of Americans admitted that they rarely or ever went to church. The biggest disparity was among my fellow Catholics, who reported 15% on the phone and 33% online. But that’s to be expected; the great thing about being a Catholic is that getting forgiven is built right into the program!

    Speaking of Catholics, Brandon Ambrosino over at Vox published an article that didn’t surprise me, Catholics Are a Lot More Liberal Than Evangelicals. Part of this is the confessional. But I think a bigger part of it is that the Catholic Church doesn’t encourage people to read the Bible. All that Protestant garbage of finding God in that book of ancient folk tales only confuses people. And so they grab onto it in the most pathetic, simplistic, childish way. The Bible becomes literally true and inerrant. And what can they grab onto? Not the Holy Trinity, that’s one that professional theologians grapple with their whole lives. No, they grab onto homosexuality being a sin and women being subservient to men. No wonder the most explicitly protestant believers (the Evangelicals) are the most screwed up. I so wish there were an actual Christian God so that at some point, these people would be taken aside and told, “You know: you really blew it! You should have spent a lot more time on the Sermon on the Mount and a lot less on Leviticus. But you are forgiven, now go get your wings and harp…”

  6. You probably know Stuart Margolin as Angel on The Rockford Files and perhaps also that he is a big television director. But my friend Pow Wow reminded me that he is also a singer and songwriter. There isn’t much of him online. But here he is doing Chuck Berry’s great “Brown-Eyed Handsome Man”:

Well, that’s enough for now. I’m going to have to create a category for these posts. Right now I put them in politics, but that isn’t right. They are their own thing. Anyway, until next time!

Victoria Jackson is Charming but Wrong About a Communist in the White House

Victoria JacksonFor months, I’ve been wanting to write about Victoria Jackson. Now you all probably know her from Saturday Night Live where she usually played a dumb blond. And then she came out as a big Tea Party member and we all knew that it wasn’t an act. Media Matters wrote an excellent article on her political evolution, How Fringe Media Helped Turn a Conspiracy-Loving SNL Star Into a Politician. But despite it all, I really do think that she’s a very funny woman. Here is her own song, “There’s a Communist Living in the White House.” Pushing aside that it is totally ignorant, not only of the president but of what communism is, I think it is quite charming. Jackson is a good example of just how dangerous strongly held opinions, enormous ignorance, and moderate celebrity can be:

My favorite line is, “Doesn’t anyone read history?” Yeah, Victoria, some of us actually do read history. That’s why we know what is “communism” and what is just “some policy I don’t like.” The parts about how maybe she’s stupid and maybe she’s crazy are less charming, because they’re meant as insults not just to liberals but to her own family and friends. Some Christian she is!

I don’t mind that she mentions that only Glenn Beck understands her. I wish she didn’t follow it up with other people who are the only one who understands her. But okay: she’s silly and I like that. But Sean Hannity?! He’s just a partisan hack. Whatever the Republican Party believes, he repeats. If the Republican Party went communist, there’d be a communist in Sean Hannity’s chair.

But it is the middle section of the song that makes it so great. This is where she goes through the reasons that she knows there’s a communist in the White House, “Where do you want me to start?” That’s always a bad way to start an argument because it usually means, “I haven’t much thought about it.” But she’s able to go through all the great hate radio talking points:

  1. His grandparents were socialist. While she says this, behind her is an article about Frank Marshall Davis, who was said to be Obama’s mentor but wasn’t really. It’s also not the case that Davis was a communist, but in the 1940s and 1950s, pretty much any community organizer was labeled a communist at one time or another. I’ve never actually heard anything about the political leanings of his grandparents. His grandfather fought in World War II. His grandmother worked making bombers during the war. But this is entirely typical of conservatives. I still burn with anger at what conservatives were willing to say about war hero John Kerry just to win a political fight.
  2. His father was a communist. I think it is safe to say that his father was a socialist. Given that Obama barely knew him, I don’t see what difference this makes. And even if he had grown up with him, we generally don’t hold children accountable for their parents’ actions and beliefs.
  3. He had “Marxist” professors. This comes from part of Dreams of My Father. And the remark is about how he tried to be “cool.” Here is the whole paragraph:
    To avoid being mistaken for a sellout, I chose my friends carefully. The more politically active black students. The foreign students. The Chicanos. The Marxist professors and structural feminists and punk-rock performance poets. We smoked cigarettes and wore leather jackets. At night, in the dorms, we discussed neocolonialism, Franz Fanon, Eurocentrism, and patriarchy. When we ground out our cigarettes in the hallway carpet or set our stereos so loud that the walls began to shake, we were resisting bourgeois society’s stifling constraints. We weren’t indifferent or careless or insecure. We were alienated. But this strategy alone couldn’t provide the distance I wanted, from Joyce or my past. After all, there were thousands of so-called campus radicals, most of them white and tenured and happily tolerated. No, it remained necessary to prove which side you were on, to show your loyalty to the black masses, to strike out and name names.

    It’s not about politics; it’s about being young.

  4. He taught a course on Saul Alinsky. Alinsky was explicitly not a communist. But for some reason he is a boogeyman for conservatives, even while they submerge themselves in Rules for Radicals for help with their astroturfing efforts.
  5. His college records are sealed. That’s a common conspiracy theory, that even if it were true is simply racist and has nothing to do with him being a communist.
  6. Obama said “spread the wealth” (to the liar Joe the Plumber) which is a direct quote from the Communist Manifesto. Not to nitpick, but that book was written in German, so it can’t be a direct quote. The English translation not only doesn’t have that phrase, it has no similar phrase. What’s more, “spread the wealth” is not the same as “redistribute the wealth.” And as people like me have been saying all along, the redistribution that is going on is the same as is always going on: from the poor to the rich.
  7. He appointed Van Jones who is a “reported” communist. By this she means that when Jones was 24 he claimed to be a communist and probably knew as much about the term then as Jackson does now. He had long ago repudiated the statement.
  8. His preacher was Jeremiah Wright and he followed black liberation theology, which some conservatives call Marxist. Obama, in a typical act of cowardice, repudiated Wright. But really, what in the world do conservatives not call Marxist?
  9. He had the government take over the banks and the car industry. He didn’t.
  10. He was trying to “jam socialized medicine done our throats.” Yes, and he was so sneaky about it that it was done in the form of free market reforms that all conservatives were in favor of until Obama accepted it.
  11. He was for Cap and Trade. Again, it was another typical communist trick of using a free market approach to a social problem. It is strange that it is the very thing that John McCain ran against Obama on in 2008.

She ends with, “How much more proof do you need?” My answer to that would be, “Any!” But it shows why people claim that Obama is a communist and why the same people called Bill Clinton a communist. It’s the same reason that Bill O’Reilly calls any politician or pundit who disagrees with him “far left.” Because the conservative movement has moved so far to the right that they can’t see that ideas like Obamacare are conservative in an absolute sense. Cap and Trade is another free market conservative idea. These people have no idea what real leftist policies are. And as I often rant around here, “Why don’t we nationalize the banks, given that the conservatives are just going to say that we are doing that anyway?” Why don’t we have socialized medicine like they do in the United Kingdom, given that conservatives are just going to say that we are doing that anyway? Why don’t we provide a guaranteed income given that conservatives already claim we do?!

Victoria Jackson is silly and charming and funny. But her thinking on these matters is no less serious than most other conservatives and certainly no worse than the likes of Amy Kremer. If I had a ukulele, I’d perform a song about all the Tea Party members who have been elected to the House and the Senate. It would be called, “There’s a Bunch of Idiots in the Congress!”

Joe Miller Joke Book

Daffy Duck and Joe Miller Joke Book

I’ve been kind of down recently, literally feeling like Stanley Ipkiss (Jim Carrey) at the beginning of The Mask. And I thought, “I know! I’ll do what Stanley does: I’ll get some old cartoons to cheer me up!” So I requested a bunch from the library, including Looney Tunes Super Stars: Daffy Duck. Now I’ll be honest, I’m not a big Daffy Duck fan. My friend Andrea loves him because he’s so over-the-top in his greed for money and attention. I’m more of a Bugs Bunny kind of guy, because he doesn’t generally bother anyone. He’s just doing his thing and other people intrude on him. But it turns out that Daffy Duck is more sympathetic early on.

One of the examples of this is a 1942 cartoon, Daffy Dilly. In it, Daffy is a street salesman trying to pawn off his very tired gag items like hand buzzers and lapel flowers that squirt water. No one is interested. So he pulls out a book and says, “How about a Joe Miller joke book?!” You don’t have to know who Joe Miller was to get the joke. It is kind of the same as, “How about a Sinbad joke book?!” But the joke is actually a bit different than that and not so mean. (For the record, Sinbad has a bad rap; for the kind of work he does, no one is better; and Houseguest was a nice fun comedy.)

So who was Joe Miller? He was an English actor at the beginning of the 18th century. And he was known for playing comedic roles such as Trinculo in The Tempest and the grave-digger in Hamlet. After he died, a playwright by the name of John Mottley published a book called, Joe Miller’s Jests, or the Wit’s Vade-Mecum in 1739. It was hugely popular, although it apparently had only three jokes attributed to Joe Miller. The subtitle of the book was, “A collection of the most brilliant jests; the politest repartees; and most elegant bons mots [clever remarks], and most pleasant short stories in the English language.”

The first edition contained 247 jokes, including thigh slappers like, “A lady’s age happening to be questioned, she affirmed she was but forty, and called upon a gentleman that was in company for his opinion. ‘Cousin,’ said she, ‘Do you believe I am in the right, when I say I am but forty?’ ‘I ought not to dispute it, Madam,’ replied he, ‘For I have heard you say so these ten years.'” Actually, that’s not a bad joke. But it isn’t exactly fresh. Over the years, the book contained more and more jokes. Its popularity, however, was its own undoing. Since everyone had read it, everyone knew all the jokes. So before long, “Joe Miller” became shorthand for a tired and unfunny joke.

But Dickens presented the book in a brighter light, roughly one century after its publication, in A Christmas Carol (1843). As Scrooge prepares to send a large turkey to Bob Cratchit, he says to himself, “He shan’t know who sends it. It’s twice the size of Tiny Tim. Joe Miller never made such a joke as sending it to Bob’s will be!” And another century after that, Daffy Duck was on the streets of New York with some pretty tired items to sell. But as he says at the end, “It’s a living.”

Afterword

All of the DVDs have a disclaimer at the beginning of them that, while certainly necessary, are provided with more care than I would have expected:

Some of the cartoons you are about to see are products of their time. They may depict some of the ethnic and racial prejudices that were commonplace in American society. These depictions were wrong then and are wrong today. While the following does not represent the Warner Bros’ view of today’s society, some of these cartoons are being presented, as they were originally created, because to do otherwise would be the same as claiming these prejudices never existed.

I will note that a couple of things struck me as very bad, but not that many. The worst was where Daffy Duck agrees to be Elmer Fudd’s slave and does a whole Uncle Tom routine. But overall, I’ve seen far worse from the period. And frankly, Gone With the Wind is far worse than anything on any of these DVDs.

Depression, War, and Dorothea Lange

Dorothea LangeOn this day in 1895, the great photographer Dorothea Lange was born. She is generally known for her photographs of the Great Depression and World War II America. She is best known for her iconic photograph, Migrant Mother. As I wrote last year, the photo is great just based upon the aesthetics. “But there is also something about its primary subject—Florence Owens Thompson—who embodies both strength and pain that makes it particularly compelling. Add to that its social context and you have a classic. Thompson’s migrant farming family broke down in the pea-picker’s camp on Nipomo Mesa, where a couple of thousand other migrant workers had become stuck after a bad freeze had ruined the crop. The people there were starving and the publicity from the photo caused the government to step in and help the people.”

But it isn’t exactly reality. Originally, Thompson’s left hand was grasping the tent pole. Her thumb seemed to ruin the look of the photo, so Lange retouched the photo to remove it. Photographers are more like painters than we often know. It’s remarkable to me that Thompson was only 32 years old in this photo. Compare her face to Lange’s above, when she was forty.

Migrant Mother - Lange

This next photo breaks my heart. I don’t have a name for it, but it is of Japanese-American children in 1942. They are pledging allegiance as we all did as children. And then their families had their property taken from them and they were put into internment camps. One of our national shames:

Japanese Americans Children Pledging Allegiance 1942 - Lange

I wanted to end with a happy picture, but that isn’t really what Lange was all about. The following picture is really interesting. It is the storefront of an Asian Market. Wanto is an uncommon Japanese name. The picture tells a detailed story. Here is an immigrant who has been forced to sell (probably more or less gave away) his market. It was “Sold by White & Pollard.” And unlike that old “unauthentic” American Wanto, the new owner is a “true” American. The sign proudly proclaims, “I am an American,” as if Wanto was not. Remember the next time you hear Sarah Palin or some other conservative talking about the “real America,” this is what they’re talking about: white America—an America with minority groups know their place. Check out that old General Motors’ LaSalle, a most American car, sitting in front of the store—probably the new owner’s. The other two photo are poignant; this one just makes me angry:

I Am an American - Lange

Happy birthday Dorothea Lange!


To see more of her work, check out Inspiration Hut, World Famous—The Photography Portfolio of Dorothea Lange. For one thing, you will be able to see Thompson’s thumb. And for another, you will get to see a few kind of happy photos. Oh, and that’s Lange herself sitting on top of that car!

Try to Be Better on Memorial Day

Memorial DayIt is the way of my people. We are not barbecuers. We do not like the Monday holidays. But if it is for a good cause, we bear it. The labor struggle is a good cause. The civil rights struggle is a good cause. And today is Memorial Day, and remembering the men and women we sent to their deaths, is a good cause. I like to think of Memorial Day as a day of remembrance of all who have died pointlessly. And before people jump on me, war is a pointless activity. It doesn’t matter that there are times when good people are forced to fight wars. World War II was a righteous war because of the Nazis and others, but certainly it would have been better if the Nazis had not risen and forced the world into war.

Let’s think about the “Good War” for a moment. As many as 25 million soldiers died during it. Of those, 5 million died while in POW camps. As many as 55 million civilians died, roughly half of them from disease and famine. What a waste. I can’t help but think of us as two colonies of ants, because the individuals on either side are pretty much indistinguishable. The treatment of Jews and other “undesirables” by the Nazis was inhuman, but other than being more concentrated it was no different than what we did to the native peoples of America. The Japanese treatment of the Chinese was terrible, but did it really justify our systematic destruction of the Japanese civilian population? Did it justify dropping two atomic bombs on them?

Again and again, I come back to 95/5 principle: 95% of the population just wants to live their lives and have their Memorial Day barbecues (or in the case of my people, write maudlin essays about the tragedy of war); and 5% of the people want something else—I don’t even know what it is anymore. It’s mostly power, I suppose. But once these things are set in motion, there seems no way to stop it. Everyone has pitchforks and torches, and in the end no one is quite sure why.

Simpsons' Mob

Unlike Memorial Day that I rather like, I really dislike Veteran’s Day. The whole thing reminds me of the bumper sticker, “If You Like Your Freedom Thank a Vet.” Sadly, the military is necessary. But the last even remotely existential threat we faced was 75 years ago. And sure, we should thank those vets. But just as much, we should thank the vets of the Soviet Union—over 11 million of whom died to protect our freedom.

But if people want to see Memorial Day as a nationalist holiday, I’m against that. The last thing we need is to expand the holiday—to make it about even more dead soldiers. The sacrifice that these men and women gave is not “cool.” It is not something to be celebrated. It is something to be honored, because as a species, we are extremely flawed. Above all, it should be a day that we, as a species, ask forgiveness from those we’ve murdered in what were almost always fights over natural resources. Very much like this:

On this Memorial Day, let’s try to be better than the chimpanzees.