Magic News Site Review

Magic News

Back in October, I wrote an article based upon on old mentalism act The Piddingtons, Are Magic Secrets Always Ugly? It was based upon a Radio Lab story and the show brought on Penn Jillette to describe how the trick was done. Jillette explained that the secrets of magic tricks are always ugly. I countered that idea, and if you want to know more, click over and read the article. What I want to talk about here is the fact that a magic website, Magic News picked up on the article. All they did is provide the first two paragraphs of the article and then a link to the rest of it. I just noticed because a fair amount of traffic got pushed over to Frankly Curious. I’m always pleased to see that.

Sites like these are really useful. If you are interested in a subject that isn’t very popular, where do you go to find out what’s happening? Sure, you can go over to the website of The Society of American Magicians, but like all such sites, it is just interested in the things that it is doing. The same goes for The International Brotherhood of Magicians, which has a better website but is still just one big advertisement for the group. And the magazines like Genii are really no better.

Magic News is much more interesting. It isn’t really filled with magic “news” as such. But it does contain a lot of links to articles that relate to magic. For example, it printed a press release from the University of British Columbia, Pick a Card, Any Card: Researchers Show How Magicians Sway Decision-Making. Mostly, it is all good fun — including some really good, short videos. But the site doesn’t shy away from serious subjects. I was surprised to learn about, Syrian Street Magician Beheaded.

If there is one thing that makes me a little queasy about my fondness for magic it is how serious magicians take it. Ultimately, it isn’t any different from juggling. In general, it is really hard to do. It takes great skill and it shouldn’t be treated as though it is some big secret. As it is, the secret to every magic trick ever can be found in the Tarbell Course in Magic. I fancy myself so well informed that there is no magic trick that I don’t already know the secrets of or can’t figure out with a moment’s thought. But that doesn’t stop me from being amazed and entertained by a great performer.

Magic News has that same kind of attitude: magic is fun and not terribly serious. And the same people who produce Magic News also produce an online zine called, Magic Roadshow — which has been around for a decade. It is more like a regular magic magazine. It’s more oriented towards people who actually want to perform magic. I haven’t check it out that much, but it looks quite good. For example, in their April 2014 issue, an article starts, “What do you think of spelling tricks? NO!.. Don’t leave…” I can’t help but love people who are skeptical of spelling tricks.

So if you have any interest in magic, check out these sites. They are a lot of fun.


Magic News also brought my attention to the fact that over the weekend, two great magicians died. The first was Dean Dill, who was only 67. Here is a nice bit from The Tonight Show where he is doing pure slight of hand:

The second is Rene Lavand — who lived a good long 86 years. Here he is doing a really simple cup and ball routine. It is brilliant:

Other Things for Republicans to Rethink

Bill MaherNow that many Republicans have finally come forward to admit that okay, you were right Sarah Palin is a crazy person, they have to ask themselves what else might I have been completely wrong about all of these years…

I only have one question for Republicans. What took you so long? The rest of us have been watching this dog eat grass for seven years. But now that you know you can do this, what about writing a column called, “You betcha I was wrong about climate change”? Might feel good? Germany gets seventy-four percent of its electricity from renewables. They don’t live in the future. Turn left at Austria, they’re right there. Look ’em up in a history book, they’re always up to something.

Or what about giving up on the idea of sending twelve million Mexicans back to Mexico? There aren’t enough trains. Ask Germany. And as long as we’re in a rethinking mood, you might, you know what might be a good one? Middle East invasions, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria now, Iran all of these places that you want to send heroic snipers. Turns out they don’t like it. They’re not that into being sniped, and what about that great granddaddy of zombie lies: trickle down economics. Can’t we throw that one under the bus too? It’s never worked, and it never will.

—Bill Maher
Quoted in Politicus USA: Bill Maher Shreds Republicans For Finally Admitting That Sarah Palin Is a Crazy Person.

Who Do the Police Protect and Serve?

To Protect and ServeThe generic slogan of American police forces is, “To protect and serve.” It has long been a slogan that has annoyed me. And I’m not alone. Most liberals bristle at it. In particular, it is never clear just who it is that our police officers serve. When an officer shows up on the scene, he is less likely to help out than an average person. His presence usually fills those involved with a feeling that the officer will find some reason to start arresting people.

For example, suppose a fight breaks out at a party. The police are called. They will arrive long after the fight is over. Those involved in the fight will likely have left. But the officers might notice that illegal drugs are being used at the party. So the people at the party aren’t being protected. The people at the party aren’t being served. Liberals like me have always thought the slogan was nothing more than a sick joke. My friend Jim Hogshire always says, “I can’t imagine a situation in which I would feel safer with a cop around.” When I first heard him say that, I thought he was being hyperbolic. But over the years I’ve come to agree with him completely.

Last week I read a great article by Sam Mitriani at Alternet that greatly clarified my thinking, The True History of the Origins of Police — Protecting and Serving the Masters of Society. The mistake that we liberals make is to assume that the police slogan applies to us. But it doesn’t. The police are committed to protecting and serving the power elite. If they do from time to time manage to protect and serve us plebeians, it is just because the interests of the power elite temporarily overlap with ours. There is nothing more to that.

As Mitriani explained, in the 18th century, there were “elected constables and sheriffs” who were directly responsible to the people. (In the south, ever the shining light of modernity, they had slave patrols.) It wasn’t until after the Civil War that the modern police force came into being. And it certainly wasn’t for the purpose of protecting the masses from marauding gangs intent on raping and pillaging. No, it was to keep the working classes in their place — namely working 12 hours per day, seven days per week for slave wages. The American Dream!

Class conflict roiled late-19th century American cities like Chicago, which experienced major strikes and riots in 1867, 1877, 1886 and 1894. In each of these upheavals, the police attacked strikers with extreme violence. In the aftermath of these movements, the police increasingly presented themselves as a thin blue line protecting civilization, by which they meant bourgeois civilization, from the disorder of the working class. This ideology has been reproduced ever since — except that today, poor black and Latino people rather than immigrant workers are the main threat.

The thing in the article that most struck me, however, was the way that the law was applied. The idea of police neutrally was always a shame:

Throughout the 19th century in the North, the police mostly arrested people for the vaguely defined “crimes” of disorderly conduct and vagrancy, which meant that they could target anyone they saw as a threat to “order.” In the post-bellum South, they enforced white supremacy and largely arrested black people on trumped-up charges in order to feed them into convict labor systems.

But that wouldn’t happen today, right? Right?! Of course it would. One of the shocking things that I’ve learned over the years is that the police don’t have a very good idea of what the law actually is. They have this feeling that if they don’t like what you are doing, it must be against the law. And the truth is that local, state, and federal legislatures have really helped them out in this regard. Basically, anything that an officer claims is illegal is illegal.

This is the ultimate authoritarian cudgel: have a lot of laws on the books that are never used — except when you threaten the power elite or their representatives. And this is why I get really angry when people talk about how unions are violent and how they have ties to organized crime. The police have always been the ultimate weapon of the power elite to stop workers from unionizing. And they were very violent — involved in, among other things, the assassination of labor leaders. Yet in the modern imagination, it was the the unions and their representatives who were violent. Somehow workers are just violent by nature and all the good business owners are are lambs who want nothing but a peaceful and equitable settlement.

From the murder of Anna LoPizzo to the Columbine Mine massacre to the murder of Eric Garner — the police have always been around to protect and serve the interests of the power elite. That’s why the phrase “to protect and serve” has no object. Americans wouldn’t be too keen to know who and what the police are paid to protect and serve.

King v Burwell and the Rights of the Rich

Obamacare - GOP: I told you it would fail...The more I read about King v Burwell, the more it seems clear to be defeated. It is the most recent attempt to destroy Obamacare — this time by disallowing subsidies to people purchasing insurance on federal exchanges. The net result would be to harm middle class people in Republican led states. The idea is apparently to make people so angry at the arbitrary injustice that they would demand the law’s repeal. I’ve always thought it just as likely that the people would be angry at the Republicans who did this, and demand that the state level Republicans stop being so spiteful and take the free money from the federal government.

Aside from that, the case is just bad. It is based upon a single sentence in the 20,000 page healthcare bill. Consider an analogy. Suppose I made a statement:

I am against murder. Murder is wrong in all circumstances. I understand that people usually have justifications for the murders that they commit. But it is always wrong to be against murder. Because murder is wrong. Nothing more need be said. It is immoral to murder.

This is clearly a statement against murder. And that is the case, even though one of the sentences mistakenly read, “But it is always wrong to be against murder.” Clearly, that sentence is a mistake. It would most likely have been an editing error, combining “it is always wrong to murder” and “I am completely against murder.”

This is what the plaintiffs in King v Burwell are doing. Now some have countered that this one sentence changes what the bill means. The problem is that the sentence doesn’t exist in isolation. An enormous amount of the bill assumes just the opposite. It uses “state run exchanges” as a synonym for any exchange run by a state government or the federal government. In other words, the word “state” is used as a synonym for the government.

What this all means is that if a number of justices find for the plaintiffs, it’s going to look really bad. No one is going to find it shocking that many of the justices are nothing more than partisan hacks. But it will be another nail in the coffin of the Supreme Court’s good reputation.

What is more telling, however, is what it says of the conservative movement generally. Even if this challenge to Obamacare goes down in flames with a 0-9 finding, it will still be the case that a majority of the conservative movement thought and will continue to think that this was a reasonable challenge to the healthcare law. And that shows a shocking lack of belief in democracy. It doesn’t matter that the law was enacted using all of our democratic processes — in the full light of day. And it did that despite the organized and unethical efforts of the power elite. Yet they are willing to use absolutely any tactic to destroy the will of the people. And that includes harming their very own constituency.

We aren’t talking about zoning laws here. If the conservatives manage to prevail in this effort, it will result in untold disruption. As it is, many poor people who would now have health insurance don’t because of the spitefulness of state level Republicans. Some have died who wouldn’t have otherwise. If healthcare becomes unaffordable because of King v Burwell, they same thing will happen — and even more will die. And that’s a price that conservatives think is worth paying for winning a single battle in their fight against the president.

The conservative movement in this country is committed to their ideology. But that ideology is vacuous. It believes in “freedom” but doesn’t care at all for practical effects of its policies on freedom. Thus we get policies to increase the freedom of those who are already the most free, while it greatly reduces the freedom of the rest. It believes in “life” but doesn’t care at all for the practical effects its policies on life. So it pushes for laws that reduce the number of legal abortions, which manage to be more than offset by the number of illegal abortions.

Ask almost any conservative about healthcare and they will tell you that they want everyone to have access to healthcare. But the current healthcare law isn’t how they want to do it. So they are willing to deprive tens of millions of Americans of healthcare in the name of providing Americans access to healthcare. Because the practical consequences never matter. If Dick Cheney might have to pay an extra dollar for his next heart transplant, the conservatives are there to protect his freedom to low cost heart transplants. If that means that poor children die of unnecessary illnesses, nothing can be done. We can do anything we want to help the poor — as long as it doesn’t harm the power elite in the slightest. And that “slightest” includes even the potential for harm.

If you want to understand what is wrong with the conservative movement, you need look no further than King v Burwell. The poor and the middle class just don’t matter. If they could bring back droit du seigneur, they would. Because they know that the rich are just better. And they should be treated accordingly.

My Doppelganger Glenn Beck

Glenn Beck and Frank MoraesOn this day exactly 51 years ago, radio personality Glenn Beck was born. That just happens to be the exactly day that I was born. In most ways, I am not pleased about this. As I discussed yesterday, his attempt to co-opt the legacy of Thomas Paine was vile. Of course, he’s done the same thing with Martin Luther King Jr. Like a lot of modern conservatives, Beck thinks that he is the real radical. In a sense, he’s right. But the radicals of the past who he looks up to were working to help the weak. Beck is a radical in the name of helping the powerful.

I am impressed with Beck in that he is a searcher. Unfortunately, some time ago, he discovered The Truth™. And so all his searching goes into the service of discovering what he thinks is the truth. And it has sent him down the rabbit hole that is the world of conspiracy theories. The basis of everything for Beck is Cleon Skousen’s The 5,000 Year Leap.

But you have to give the man credit for combining his own bizarre collection of beliefs with a messianic sense. While my father’s girlfriend laid dying, she was glued to Beck’s television show. She had to be there every day — the same way as people in cults. She felt that Beck was transmitting secret truths to her. She died before seeing his downfall. But he’s still hugely successful on the internet. There are a lot of people like my dad’s girlfriend. They never tire of the oracle. I, of course, see him more like this:

Happy birthday Glenn Beck.