Halloween Haters

HalloweenHappy Halloween! As you may know, it is my favorite holiday. Unfortunately, I am sick this year and haven’t even left the house, much less did any preparations for it. But that doesn’t reduce my enthusiasm for it. Really, what is not to like? It is an entirely nighttime event, it involves candy, and people express their creativity. What’s more, the iconography of Halloween is superb. It’s lovely and fun.

I understand that there are people who don’t like the holiday: religious people who apparently have decided that it is satanic. This is shocking, because there is nothing satanic about Halloween. But the same people who have a problem with little girls dressing up as fairies have problems with the Harry Potter books. They are freaks who ought to be shunned.

What I find most interesting is that the people who want to push Christmas on everyone — those who get upset when a company decides to use “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” — are the very ones who want to push the idea of Christmas as being a religious holiday. So their complaints about putting Christmas on the same level as other holidays is all about their attempts to exclude society from non-Christians. It’s sad and wrong.

When it comes to Halloween, they are doing the same thing, but from the other side. They are again trying to thrust their religion into the holiday. No one today looks back on Halloween’s Celtic origins. It is just a silly holiday with an autumn color scheme. But if the Christians who have a problem with the holiday knew a little history, they might think differently. Although Halloween started as a pagan celebration, after the Christians came to Ireland, they quickly co-opted it for their own purposes. It is, after all, known as “All Saints’ Eve.” Those with a linguistic bent know that “hallow” is a saint or other holy person.

Suzanne Carlson at the Hartford Courant brought my attention to the situation in Connecticut, Religious Roots, Secular Festivities: Halloween Takes A Hit In Schools. Many schools there are getting rid of the holiday because of complaints. And it is the usual suspects:

Many evangelical and fundamentalist Christians see Halloween as an occult celebration, while Jewish law prohibiting celebration of “Gentile” holidays has led some Orthodox members of the faith to shun it as well. Jehovah’s Witnesses also forbid members from celebrating Halloween, but many faiths, such as Mormonism, Hinduism (which has its own fall holiday, Diwali), and Buddhism leave it up to individual members to decide whether they want to celebrate Halloween.

You know that your religion has jumped the shark when the Mormons are more liberal than you are. I have little doubt that the Scientologists are okay with Halloween too. I know that the Halloween Haters are miserable — hiding in their houses, afraid to do anything that might displease their father figure in the sky. I dare say they are even more miserable than I am with my cold, flu, or whatever the hell I have. But I hope you are all having a wonderful Halloween!

Here is a nice video with lots of clips from “B” (and some from “A”) horror films, created to go along with Bobby “Boris” Pickett’s classic, “Monster Mash”:

H/T: Digby

Corporate America’s Short-Term Profit Myopia

Amgen - Forget Tomorrow!This week, I was at the ASI Tech Expo 2014. It was a vile little event filled with companies pushing their products and their brands. While this is true of all conferences, most have other things that make it all worth while. This one did not. In fact, the “keynote” speech was by some guy at Lenovo who gave what was basically a shareholders speech. I really didn’t care about what was going on with their market share, and I didn’t appreciate some obvious “lying with statistics.” But there was one interesting thing at the conference: AMD had its talk canceled. Apparently, the company is going through layoffs, and the guy who was supposed to give the talk was laid off. Great PR guys!

Now I understand: AMD has been struggling. It recently announced a “restructuring” to make itself more “competitive.” This is business-speak for, “We’re going to fire a bunch of people who actually work for us; the stock market will reward us with an increased valuation because nothing gets them as excited as firing people; then the bonuses of our top managers will be much higher!” But regardless of what a company needs, what management always does is the same thing. The health of the company doesn’t matter; what matters is just how much money the CEO is making.

Michael Hiltzik wrote about this issue on the very day I was at the conference, Wall Street Talks, Companies Respond — by Axing Thousands of Jobs. He provided two recent examples of companies doing long-term harm to themselves in the name of impressing (or simply appeasing) the stock market. The first is the Amgen. The biotech company has been doing really well, but it isn’t good enough. “[H]hedge fund magnate Danel Loeb wants Amgen to engage in the kind of financial engineering that throws off cash to investors such as himself — a company breakup, stock buybacks, cost cutting.” But this short-term thinking is only good for the people on the stock market. It is potentially catastrophic for the company, “If the pipeline begins to go dry in a few years because the Seattle R&D staff is no more, Loeb and his fellow hedgers probably won’t care; they will have moved on.”

The second example is Time Warner, “There, the cost cutting appears to reflect an effort by CEO Jeff Bewkes to show he made the right decision in fending off an $80-billion takeover bid by Rupert Murdoch.” So people get fired to goose the stock so that Bewkes can claim victory. This is not responsible management:

The Time Warner layoffs include about 1,475 employees at Turner Broadcasting, which includes CNN. The company said the layoffs were designed to “prioritize investment in programming, monetization and innovation as near- and long-term drivers of growth,” whatever all that means.

But as far as CNN is concerned, it reflects a systematic hollowing out of what was once a vigorous news-gathering operation. Raise your hand if you think CNN does as creditable a job today as it did, say, 10 years ago. Anyone? About 1,000 positions will be gone, too, at Time Warner’s Burbank-based Warner Bros.

There, too, no one even pretends that the job cuts — or as Warner Bros. Entertainment CEO Kevin Tsujihara put it in a memo last month, “this situation” — are aimed at enhancing creativity or keeping the place from disappearing beneath the waves.

What this all strikes me as is these companies eating their seed corn. But the term doesn’t fully capture the insanity of the situation. First, people normally eat their seed corn because they are starving and wouldn’t live to the next harvest if they don’t eat their seed corn. This situation might apply to AMD, but it doesn’t apply to either Amgen or Time Warner. They are both just trying to take money out of the companies in the short-term with no thought to what it means to the companies in the long-term.

The bigger issue is that the companies are not deciding to put short-term profits above the long-term health of themselves. The issue is that the CEOs are a poor analogy for the companies they run. They are doing what is in their own best short- and long-term interests. This is the same thing that went on during the housing bubble of the aughts. The fed has not been willing to prosecute the people who ran the banks because the sub-prime mortgages weren’t in their interests. Why would they do it? Very simple: those running the banks had different interests than the banks themselves. It is like I’ve written about before: the rich show no impulse control. They want to be rewarded now now now! And they don’t care about the long-term, because they know they are set to life.

This is how a great economy is destroyed in just a couple of generations.

Republican Senate Will Mean No Judicial Appointments for Two Years

Obama CopeThis morning, Jonathan Chait explained, There’s Only One Thing at Stake in the Senate Race. It’s a good article. He started by explaining why it is that the Republicans are not going to start making deals. Right now, the problem is that the House Republicans will not make any deals with Obama. Any deal that they would make would be acceptable to the Senate — be it in Republican or Democratic control.

I think he was a too dismissive of the possibility of Obama caving on a Grand Bargain. If the Republicans offered Obama cuts to Social Security in exchange for just about anything, he would take it. The only reason this doesn’t terrify me is that the Republicans have a long history of being unwilling to offer any compromises at all. So just as it has been the last four years, what will save us for the next two years will be that the Republicans are unwilling to do anything. And that takes us back to Chait’s original point: it doesn’t matter what’s going on in the Senate.

Where Senate control matters is on the appointment of federal judges. It is very likely that a Republican controlled Senate will not approve a single judge in the following two years. And why is that? Because the Republicans have long ago given up any ideas about respecting norms. They will see having no judges appointed as being better than having a liberal (or more likely a moderate) judge appointed. And in as much as the media will even notice this, Mitch McConnell’s response is almost certain to be to point to the elimination of the filibuster on appointments and claim, “They started it!”

Mitch McConnellWhat bugs me about this is that during Obama’s first term, he was incredibly lackadaisical about about judicial and executive appointments. I know that Obama cares about his legacy, and there is no greater one than the judges that are put on the bench — especially in an era in which Republicans nominate almost nothing but ideologues. Obama seems to have always thought that he had plenty of time. And clearly he didn’t. Since the removal of the filibuster for these appointments, there has been a much bigger push by the administration. But it’s still been slow going, because the Republicans have done literally everything they can to slow progress.

Some people have claimed that Obama couldn’t have focused on judges early in his term because there was so much other stuff that he was doing. But the president has almost unlimited resources for hiring people. If it was an important issue for him, it would have gotten done. Part of the problem, I think, is that during the first four years, Obama still harbored the delusion that he was going to be a bipartisan president (whatever that might mean). And appointing lots of judges would have been seen as rubbing the Republicans’ noses in Obama’s power. Of course, the truth of the matter is that Obama can’t walk down the street without the Republicans feeling offended. Remember when Obama gave a speech about the importance of education to school children and the Republican freak out that ensued?

So the real question that we have to ask is, “How does control of the Senate allow the Republicans to harm Obama?” That’s it. They aren’t interested in anything else. And Chait is right, the one place where they will gain power is in rejecting Obama’s nominations. And that’s why I think they will not allow any for the next two years, if they get control of the Senate. And that is a very big deal.

Marie Laurencin

Marie LaurencinI really should know better than to leave the house. I feel very much like the Aztecs when Cortés came. You know that they weren’t defeated militarily. It is just that the Europeans, who lived in a world of filth and virus, brought unknown disease to the new continent. It is kind of hard to fight a war when 90% of your troops die of smallpox. Anyway, I just don’t get out much. So when I leave the house, I am under constant threat — especially from children, who I think we all know are evil, even if it isn’t there intention. Bottom line: I’m quite sick and without any medicine or even alcohol to help me through it.

On this day in 1883, the great cubist painter Marie Laurencin was born. But she was more than that. The self-portrait at the beginning of this article is almost neoclassical — plus it is multimedia, primarily charcoal. She started her studies doing porcelain painting. It was only later that she became involved in avant-garde. And the work that I most admire of hers is not cubist. In fact, she seems to have only done cubist work for a short period. For example, Jeune Femmes (“Young Women”) is from 1910:

Jeune Femmes

But by 1928, she was creating work that looked more like, Portrait of Mrs Aitato, which reminds me a bit of Modigliani:

Portrait of Mrs Aitato

It’s all lovely. I always think that people like Laurencin aren’t better known because they are women. Sexism in the art world seems to be especially bad. Or used to be. I don’t know anything about the art world today.

Happy birthday Marie Laurencin!