Fourth Series of Ballykissangel

Ballykissangel Fourth SeriesAs some of you may know, I’m a big fan of Ballykissangel — the BBC show about a little Irish village filled with curious people. From an American standpoint, it is an Irish Northern Exposure — but without a tenth the annoyances. But here’s something that is very interesting: the show was on for six series, but I’ve only ever watched the first three. The third series ends tragically, with the two main characters leaving the show. It would have been as if Joel and Maggie left Northern Exposure. But not completely, because Ballykissangel does a better job of creating a sense of community as opposed to a collection of oddballs.

Over the weekend, I watched the fourth series — all 12 50-minute episodes. And the producers do manage to reinvent the show and make it compelling without destroying what was good before. Unfortunately, they do it in such a way that they still manage to harm it. The first episode, “All Bar One,” does an excellent job of acknowledging the past. But it does it with an awful clunky plot, and a change of the character of Niamh. In the first three series, she was the female beta to Assumpta’s alpha. But Niamh was always a strong character and turning her into some kind of vaguely discontented would-be business woman just seemed bizarre.

I understand the need glamorize her, so I had no problem when Niamh was given a proper haircut and shot in a way to highlight her beauty. Just the same, she was paired with the more traditionally glamorous Victoria Smurfit, playing Orla, the New Age liberal sister of the priest. And the show never quite figures out what it wants to do with her. She seems to be there primarily to set up the end of season with a conflict between Niamh and her husband, Ambrose, as she falls in love with new community member Sean Dillon.

If all this sounds confusing, it shouldn’t come as a surprise. The series seems to be trying to do a lot of different things. The most obvious of these was to get rid of the Ambrose character. The actor who played him, Peter Hanly (who you probably remember as the very weak Prince Edward in Braveheart), may have wanted to leave the series. He certainly said he did. But it seems more likely the show was just trying to provide a relationship with some sexual tension to replace that between Father Clifford and Assumpta during the first three seasons.

But therein lies the problem. I didn’t notice any sexual tension until the last couple of episodes of the series. It seems more likely that a contract dispute took place between the producers and Peter Hanly. Maybe he didn’t like being sidelined in the series and they pushed him so they could do what they had long wanted. Regardless, the last couple of episodes seem to have been quickly rewritten to end that story line. Then claims were made that the whole thing had been brewing the whole series. Or maybe I just wasn’t paying attention. I’ve never found the Niamh and Ambrose relationship particularly engaging.

Interestingly, after being the dominant force during the first three series, creator Kieran Prendiville disappears completely from the fourth series. And as far as I can tell, that’s true of the fifth as well. He does seem to come back to finish off the sixth series, writing almost all of the episodes. But I can’t help but think that he is ultimately what gave the show its heart. The fourth season is certainly good, and the actors are fantastic, but much of it comes off as wooden and formulaic.


One episode of the fourth series was especially good, “Births, Deaths and Marriages.” It brings together the wonderful sense of community that most defines the show. And in this episode, Niamh completely takes on the role that Assumpta did as community leader. It is somewhat spoiled by her breaking down in a clumsy attempt to set up the series finale. But that is small.

See also: Confused High Jinks on Ballykissangel.

The Death of Antitrust

Robert ReichLast week’s settlement between the Justice Department and five giant banks reveals the appalling weakness of modern antitrust.

The banks had engaged in the biggest price-fixing conspiracy in modern history. Their self-described “cartel” used an exclusive electronic chat room and coded language to manipulate the $5.3 trillion-a-day currency exchange market. It was a “brazen display of collusion” that went on for years, said Attorney General Loretta Lynch.

But there will be no trial, no executive will go to jail, the banks can continue to gamble in the same currency markets, and the fines — although large — are a fraction of the banks’ potential gains and will be treated by the banks as costs of doing business.

America used to have antitrust laws that permanently stopped corporations from monopolizing markets, and often broke up the biggest culprits.

No longer…

—Robert Reich
Whatever Happened to Antitrust?

Bigots Demagogue California Drought

Welcome to California Now Go HomeLiving here in the future ghost state of California, I have a special fascination with water. But I’m hardly alone. It’s interesting to watch the local news and see people upset that it is not going to rain. People here are far past being concerned about their weekend plans. As our drought drags on, people see it as more and more of an existential threat. And while I’m pleased that people really are taking the situation seriously, fear is not the best of motivators. It tends to act as a cancer, and so it isn’t surprising that we are seeing people use the current crisis for some nefarious ends.

This last week, Kate Linthicum reported, Group says California Immigration Policies Contributed to Drought. It seems that a group called Californians for Population Stabilization (CAPS — get it?!) is demagoguing the issue real good. They’ve produced a series of commercials. In one, there is a whiny little boy who asks, “If Californians are having fewer children, why is it so crowded?” It continues on with the boy asking other questions including, “Why isn’t there enough water?” A man in voice-over explains, “Over 98% of California’s population growth is from immigration. Let’s slow immigration and save some of California for tomorrow.” Meanwhile, the little boy looks dejectedly into the camera.

What’s amazing about this commercial is that it could have run in the 1930s. Now the subtext is, “Let’s get the spicks!” But in the 1930s, it would have been, “Let’s get the Okies!” Linthicum reported that earlier this month, the group asked its Facebook followers to “like” the statement that “California’s drought could have been prevented with responsible immigration policies and limited population growth.” And that is, you know, totally crazy in addition to be bigoted and generally evil. Even if no humans lived in California, it would still be going through its worst drought on record. What’s more, only 10% of California water use is from urban use. So the CAPS claim is just as wrong as it could possibly be.

Michael Hiltzik provided some great data about water use in California. It turns out that per capita water use among urban residents is way down: from 232 gallons per day in 1995 to 178 in 2010. That doesn’t even include the current drought, so I assume that number is even lower today. But even more amazing is that California’s total water use — with a huge increase in population and agricultural productivity — has actually gone down in an absolute sense: from 35 billion gallons per day in 1990 to 31 billion in 2010. That actually shocks me; I wouldn’t have thought it possible.

Linthicum quoted one expert who noted that if Californians actually care about the drought, they should be campaigning against lawns, not immigrants. Hiltzik put it well:

More to the point, if you’re searching for profligate water users, immigrant communities, which are typically low-income, are the wrong place to look. Figures released last year by the State Water Resources Control Board showed that water use in upscale communities, where homes typically feature broad expanses of overwatered turf, outstripped that of urban low-income municipalities several times over.

But of course, CAPS is most definitely not interested in the drought. The group has been around since 1986. It’s like Matt Yglesias’s analogy about Quakers wanting to balance the budget with military cuts: CAPS is just using drought to push their real issue. And their issue is the same one that Californians have had for decades: I’ve got mine so stay away. It’s sad. But it has nothing to do with environmentalism.

Mythology and the Acceptance of Police Brutality

Police AbuseI’ve been thinking a lot about the mythology of American policing and how it allows our criminal justice system to stay so messed up. And over at Vox, Redditt Hudson wrote an article that touches on this issue, I’m a Black Ex-Cop, and This Is the Real Truth About Race and Policing. He worked for five years for the St Louis Police Department, and since then, he seems to work in criminal justice reform. So he’s not exactly your typical police officer. But still, he’s been in the field. And I think he has a good take on American policing. In particular, he seems to be able to distinguish between the reality and the myth of the police. And that is refreshing indeed.

Fundamentally, I think it is the mythology of policing that is so dangerous. It is what allows police to think that they live in a world that is especially dangerous. And that leads to officers like Michael Brelo to jump up on the hood of a car and fire 15 more shots — past the 122 already fired — at an unarmed couple in their car. And it is what leads to judges thinking the whole thing was a-okay. Because, you know, Brelo was “fearing for his life.” This isn’t a story of the real world: a civil servant doing a (at worst) modestly dangerous job. This is a story of Odysseus struggling to make his way in a world of the Sirens and Cyclops.

The standard line whenever a police officer does something unconscionable is, “While the vast majority of police officers are dedicated professionals, this officer blah, blah, blah…” Every time we talk about misbehavior of an officer, we are expected to preface it with this disclaimer. But Hudson’s accounting sounds far more reasonable. No, it isn’t the “vast majority” of police officers. It is instead:

On any given day, in any police department in the nation, 15 percent of officers will do the right thing no matter what is happening. Fifteen percent of officers will abuse their authority at every opportunity. The remaining 70 percent could go either way depending on whom they are working with.

Clearly, this isn’t based upon a study. It is just Hudson’s impression. But regardless what the number are, this is the makeup. There are a relatively small number of “good” and “bad” officers and then there are a whole bunch in the middle that go with the flow. This is why certain departments become hotbeds of racism and why a strong administrative effort to clean up a department really can work. But if you asked me, I would say that it is more like 5% of the officers who will always do the right thing. Let’s call them the Eagle Scouts. Clearly, the probability distribution of police officers abusing their power will be heavily tilted away from the Eagle Scouts — that is, there are more “bad” than “good” officers.

Another thing that Hudson noted is that racism against African Americans is not just something that white officers do. He sees the problem as being fundamentally one of abuse of authority. So the racism is systemic: it is acceptable to abuse black and brown people. So officers, regardless of what race they identify with, will abuse black and brown people because they know they can get away with that. They know they can’t go out and abuse students at Stanford.

How the mythology plays into this is in how it allows the officers in that big middle group to justify abusing their power — although it is probably a potent justification for the people who were attracted to police work because of the power. I’m sure that the officers who killed Freddie Gray thought that somehow what they were doing was justified because they have such dangerous jobs and because all the world is evil and all that other garbage that we allow them to go on thinking.

I remember something that Jim Hogshire said in his excellent book, You Are Going to Prison. He was talking about prison rape and how it was accepted by the prison authorities — part of the mechanism of control. He noted that if a warden wanted prison rape stopped today it would stop today. Well, that’s what I think about police brutality. The reason it continues on is because of us. We don’t want to give up our mythology of policing. Maybe it would help if we just got explicit about it, “While most police officers are demigods who exist in a dangerous but magical world…”

See also: Most Dangerous Jobs.

Morning Music: the Wisdom of Sly Stone

Stand! - Sly and the Family Stone“We’ve got to live together!” So said Sly Stone and if you can’t trust him, who can you trust? Rarely has there been such a brilliant musician. And I always go to musicians to learn the basic lessons of life. That line is from the song “Everyday People” off the Sly and the Family Stone album, Stand! — one of the greatest musical accomplishments of the last century.

So it is really very simple. There is the long hair who doesn’t like the short hair. There is the yellow one who won’t accept the black one. There is even the fat one who is trying to be the skinny one — even though she shouldn’t (she should just try to get a bit more exercise). All of that’s made up people! As the great man said, “We’ve got to live together!”

Actually, “Everyday People” is just the start of this. It is followed by “Dance to the Music” and then “I Want To Take You Higher.” There is much wisdom throughout.

Anniversary Post: PGA Tour Inc v Martin

Casey MartinOn this day in 2001, the case PGA Tour Inc v Martin was decided. This was when Casey Martin sued the PGA for the right to compete in their golf tournaments using a golf cart. According to the official rules, golfers must walk the course. But Martin was born with Klippel–Trénaunay syndrome, which made it difficult to walk. He sued under the Americans with Disabilities Act and won. I’m mixed on this issue. On the one hand, I’m glad for Martin and I think he should have been able to play using a golf cart. On the other hand, why in the hell is a silly sporting event making its way to the Supreme Court?

But speaking of silly, Scalia and Thomas dissented in this case. (I’m sure Alito would have too, had he been on the court at that time.) They argued Martin should have to walk because of… Kurt Vonnegut’s short story “Harrison Bergeron.” I’ve always (really: always) thought it was a stupid story. What I most remember from it is the ballet where the dancers are weighted down so as to equalize their abilities. The story satirizes attempts to mandate egalitarianism. The problem is that every conservative on the planet uses this childish short story as the ultimate slippery slope result of any and all attempts to create a more equal society.

I’ve always felt that Vonnegut was an overrated writer. I still admire him, but people think him far more clever than he ever was. And “Harrison Bergeron” is him at his worst and most facile. There is literally no point to the story. It is more or less Atlas Shrugged without the “happy” ending. The thinking that goes into the story is the same kind of sub-Nietzschean nonsense that Ayn Rand peddled. But what are we to think? That feeding poor children will lead to the elimination of talents? Had Vonnegut thought the whole thing through, he would have realized that such “egalitarian” laws would naturally make people seek out endeavors where they would not need to be handicapped. But of course, diving into the questions he raised was never his thing.

Vonnegut certainly must have hated the way his story was used, at the same time it reinforced his generally low appraisal of humanity. But it isn’t surprising that minds as simplistic as Scalia and Thomas (neither would need radio device to disrupt their thoughts if they lived in the world of “Harrison Bergeron”) would grab on to the most careless and simplistic of Vonnegut’s allegories. But at least seven of the justices sided with Casey Martin. Of course, today, it would only be five or maybe six.

Happy anniversary to PGA Tour Inc v Martin. In another ten years, it may well be overturned!

This Is Not a Math Joke

Math Joke - The Simpsons

This is a still from The Simpsons episode “Mathlete’s Feat.” This is what society thinks of people like me. Not that I’m complaining! I like that the episode makes fun of education fads. At least I think it does. It is hard to tell anymore. The Simpsons has been thoroughly infected by the Family Guy “anything for a joke” philosophy, so the episodes don’t hang together the way they once did. Still, it was nice to see a couple of shots taken at the idea that technology can serve as a substitute for good education. But even with that, it wasn’t a sharp attack — just silly people casting off one orthodoxy for another.

But this image struck me because of the “math joke.” The screen at first showed Homer apparently laughing at the joke. It lasted a long time, I assume to give the audience the chance to “get” the joke. Then it pulled back and we saw that actually Homer was laughing at the dog with a box on its head. Why exactly that is funny, I’m not sure. But roughly the same thing can be said for the math joke.

Of course, the purpose of such “jokes” is not to be funny but to be clever. But there is something very subgenius about the whole thing, if you ask me. The joke here is that the math symbols are supposed to read out, “I ate some pie.” But that doesn’t exactly pop out of it.

When I am confronted with such a thing, I just read it out literally. And frankly, I think that is all that ought to be necessary. But that doesn’t work at all here. I read it as, “Imaginary unit eight summation pi.” And from there I quickly managed “ate some pie.” But even that seemed stupid because I don’t recall ever using the phrase “sum whatever.” I might use “sum of whatever.” Okay: I am a super pedant. But I don’t necessarily have a problem with this. It is vaguely clever, the same way it was when we were kids spelling words with upside down calculators. (That is: not very.)

The question is what one is supposed to make of that square root of negative one. It is the imaginary unit: the most basic imaginary number — beloved by differential equations everywhere. And obviously, yes: the imaginary unit is always referred to as i. To be a pedant, that’s i and not I. But okay. What bothers me is exactly what would bother Bill Clinton: what the definition of is is. Note that “two cubed” and “sigma pi” are puns — they depend upon the sound of what they are. The “square root of negative one” is not i; it is represented by i.

But even if we grant that this is a joke, ultimately, it isn’t a math joke. It’s just a joke that only people with a little mathematical education will be able to get. A joke in the Greek language is not necessarily a “Greek joke.” A math joke is something that deals with, well, math. For example, here’s a joke that people loved in graduate school but always seemed pretty dumb to me:

A biologist, a chemist, and a statistician are out hunting. The biologist shoots at a deer and misses 5 feet to the left, the chemist takes a shot and misses 5 feet to the right, and the statistician yells, “We got ‘im!”

I think I take a certain personal affront to this “math joke” on The Simpsons because the real object of the joke is nerds themselves. This has always been my problem with the television show The Big Bang Theory. So what you have is a joke that is funny because there are these weird people out there who supposedly find it funny. And actually, there aren’t. “I ate some pie” is funny in the same way as this riddle I learned in the second grade. Question: what state is round on the edges and high in the middle? Answer: Ohio! It’s funny because… Actually, it wasn’t even funny in second grade.


This article was always meant to be lighthearted. Calling myself a pedant twice would be a clear giveaway to me. But as a writer/editor, I know that most people read very inaccurately. It makes my profession very hard because I know the things I struggle with the most are lost on 90 percent of the readers. But there is a serious side to this, and it is not that The Big Bang Theory sucks.

This article is fundamentally about the difference between math and its representation. There is a similar problem in physics where people mistake quantum mechanics for reality. It is a model of reality. It predicts reality really well — but not perfectly. And reality is not running equations to figure out what it ought to do when you drop a ball on the surface of the Earth.

Or look at the Rene Magritte painting, La Trahison des Images (“The Treachery of Images”):

The Treachery of Images

At the bottom of the painting, Magritte has written, Ceci n’est pas une pipe. (“This is not a pipe.”)

Many people think the painting is a joke. But Magritte was quite serious. It is not a pipe. It is a painting of a pipe. I really like Magritte’s work, but I’ve never been fond of this one because it is such making such an obvious point (even though it is not obvious to many people) in such a bunt way. But it does sum up his career. He said similar things in much more beautiful and subtle ways.

This may all sound very abstract (You know: like mathematics!) but it’s important because people confuse these things all the time. And it’s an ontological issue. Mathematicians design symbols so that they can communicate with each other. But the math is not the equations any more than Magritte’s painting is a pipe. And if you don’t understand that, you don’t understand math or much of anything important.

See also: Why I Don’t Like The Big Bang Theory.

The “Objective” Media Take on Bernie Sanders

Jonathan TopazThese weren’t your everyday Americans who came out to support Bernie Sanders on Tuesday.

The self-described democratic socialist kicked off his long-shot run for the White House in his adopted hometown of Burlington, a lakeside city full of characters who might not have passed the pre-selection process for Hillary Clinton’s tour of round tables.

And while Sanders, the state’s independent US Senator, may be way behind in national presidential polls, in Burlington, he’s a local hero.

In the afternoon, a “people’s assembly” of hundreds of Sanders supporters gathered in City Hall Park, where dreadlocked guitarists played in the morning and patrons browsed at the nearby Hempest, which advertises itself as the largest organic hemp product store in the world.

—Jonathan Topaz
It’s Not Your Everyday Americans at Bernie Sanders’ Kickoff Rally

Note: I get the impression that Topaz actually likes Sanders a lot. And at least he’s covering him. I think this style is just God mandated in the Village.

Conservatives Want a Return to King George III

Conservative Ideal: King George IIIIan Millhiser wrote a great take-down of Charles Murray’s new book, By The People: Rebuilding Liberty Without Permission with the blunt title, Jeb Bush’s Favorite Author Rejects Democracy, Says the Hyper-Rich Should Seize Power. It comes with a great big picture of King George III. Because that is, in effect, what Murray is arguing for. Basically: democracy isn’t going to bring about the great libertarian utopia that Murray wants. (That’s because it is an extremely unpopular ideology.) “Murray, in other words, would rather transfer much of our sovereign nation’s power to govern itself to a single privileged individual than continue to live under the government America’s voters have chosen.” Kind of frightening that this guy is considered one of the great American conservative thinkers.

Millhiser focused a lot of attention on Murray’s misuse of James Madison to make his case. According to Murray, Madison didn’t believe in the expansive interpretation of the Constitution. That’s a questionable statement. Any time people make arguments based upon what various founding fathers did or didn’t think, we are getting into very dangerous territory. For one thing, most of the founding fathers weren’t wonderful people. For another: they lived in a completely different time with radically different needs. But when it comes specifically to Madison, he was a pretty practical guy whose opinions changed over time.

What I’m struck with is that the supposedly learned Charles Murray seems stuck with the Constitution as it existed in 1788 — that’s 227 years ago for those of you following along at home. The Constitution was set up so that it could be changed over time. This is something that people like Murray always seem to forget. They also seem to mistake the Constitution for the Articles of Confederacy. The whole point of the Constitution was to make the United States a practical possibility. The Articles of Confederacy were unworkable. And much of the original Constitution has needed to be shed because it too was unworkable.

And that brings us to the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. That was basically what turned Charles Murray’s beloved “Constitution” in the modern Constitution — greatly expanding the federal government and limiting the rights of the states. That’s because, oh I don’t know, we had just fought the Civil War over the issue of what states seemed to think were their rights. Murray claims that all that is wrong with modern America stems from the 1937 decision finding Social Security constitutional, Helvering v Davis. But what he really wants is a repeal of the Fourteenth Amendment where the federal government is neutered.

Millhiser concluded pretty much what I did a couple of weeks ago, Charles Murray Finally Realizes He Isn’t Winning. He noted the general change in the conservative outlook on politics, “When President Ronald Reagan was in office, he spoke with the confidence of a man who believed that the American people were on his side.” Conservatives sure don’t think that anymore. And here is the great big conservative “thinker” whining about how democracy can’t possibly help them to attain their goals.

Ultimately, Murray is calling for the decimation of the law itself. Of course, he is quick to add that his approach would only be used against laws that are invalid. But invalid according to whom? That’s a question that Murray doesn’t seem to grapple with, but the answer is obvious enough: the billionaires who fund his little project. So he may think that doing this will lead us back to the One True Way of (his version) of James Madison. But it leads further back than that: to King George III. This is the conservative goal. But it has always been — from Edmund Burke to Charles Murray.

A Conservative’s Disingenuous Desperation

Peter WehnerAccording to Peter Wehner, the Democratic Party has moved far to the left while the Republicans have stayed pretty much where they were. The New York Times gave him a thousand words to make a shockingly disingenuous case for his claim, Have Democrats Pulled Too Far Left? But that title gives entirely the wrong impression, because it is not a question. Wehner is convinced of it. And by cherry picking issues and creatively starting the clock at the presidency of Bill Clinton, he sounds sorta reasonable. The problem is that his argument would only be convincing to readers of The Wall Street Journal editorial page — because they already believe such nonsense.

Wehner’s main argument is that the Democratic Party has moved back to being as liberal as it was before Clinton. This is supposed to be some terrible thing, because one of the things that all conservatives know is that the Democrats lost three presidential elections (1980, 1984, and 1988) because it was too liberal. As I’ve discussed to the point of exhaustion: this narrative is wrong. The Democrats lost those elections because the political science fundamentals were in the Republicans’ favor: the economy was bad in 1980 and then good in 1984 and 1988. What’s more, Clinton won in 1992 because the economy was bad, not because he was conservative and had a “Sister Souljah moment.”

But is the modern Democratic Party more liberal than it was under Bill Clinton? In some ways it is. But this isn’t because of some great lurch to the left. It is because times and evidence have changed. Wehner pointed out that the Democrats have turned against Bill Clinton’s “tough on crime” policies. Yep. That’s because they have been terrible for the nation. Also: Clinton has turned against them. Democrats have also turned against Bill Clinton’s end of welfare as we have known it. Again: that’s one that has long been shown to be a failure and only ever looked like it worked because we were in the middle of a stock bubble created economic boom. In addition, you can add Obama being more liberal on things like gay rights, where the entire country has moved left. Finally, Clinton did not make as big a deal of global warming as Obama does — I wonder why! But that’s the extent to which Obama is more liberal than Clinton.

Wehner also noted that Clinton lowered the capital gains rate and Obama raised it. Yes, but Clinton lowered it to 20% and Obama raised it to 20%. Nothing is said of the fact that Clinton raised the top federal income tax rate from 28% all the way up to 39.6%. Obama only allowed it to return from 35% back up to 39.6% — while allowing all the lower income tax brackets to stay lower than they were under Clinton. And then, Wehner noted that Obama created Obamacare. Fair enough. But Clinton tried to create the even more liberal Hillarycare — and failed. So how is it that Obama is more liberal than Clinton?

And then, as though Wehner can’t write so much as transmit his conservative id onto paper, he switched his discussion to the recent UK elections. According to him, the Labour Party lost because it “ran hard to the left.” Again, this is the kind of nonsense that is believed only by those who get their “news” from The Wall Street Journal editorial page. The Labour Party ran a decidedly centrist campaign, promising (very much like Democrats in the US) to be Conservative Lite. Wehner also mentioned that the election gave the Conservative Party its first outright majority since 1992. Yes, but with 36% of the vote — one of those oddities of supposedly democratic political systems.

As for how far to the right the Republicans have moved: he’s not even right on that account. He starts the clock at Clinton, so basically the big move right had already happened. But even still, as recently as 2008, the Republicans wanted to do something about global warming. As recently as 2006 they wanted to do something about immigration. On the issue of abortion, the Republicans have largely become absolutists, even while claiming that Obama’s position has somehow moved left. Republicans are now for giving more money to farmers and less food to poor children. Wehner’s entire argument is based on a very selective reading of history. It’s shocking that this guy has a job.

What comes across loud and clear in Wehner’s article, however, is his desperation. Anytime a conservative comes out in public trying to save liberals from themselves, you can be certain that it means that said conservative is very scared. And that is because conservatives long ago learned something that most liberals still don’t understand: you don’t need to win elections if you can move the political playing field far to your side. The fact that Wehner doesn’t get laughed out of polite society for claiming that Obama is a liberal firebrand shows just how successful the Republican Party has been at moving the playing field far to the right. The last thing he wants is for extremely moderate candidates like Hillary Clinton to take up any actual liberal — and popular — policy positions. So I’m glad to see him sweat. But I cannot say why The New York Times thinks it is appropriate to give such a disingenuous, nervous fool this very valuable exposure.


I wrote this yesterday morning. I didn’t think that Wehner’s article would cause so much of a stir, but at this point, it looks like everyone has written about it. The consensus is the same: Wehner is an idiot. But I thought Ed Kilgore had a good take on it, The Tired Old “Both Sides Getting More Extreme” Meme. He noted that since Wehner is a non-crazy Republican, he has to make these kinds of arguments to justify staying in the party.

Morning Music: The Supremes

The Supremes Produced and Arranged by Jimmy WebbIn 1972, the musical Pippin was produced on Broadway. It was Stephen Schwartz’s second hit in as many years, after Godspell, which ran for five straight years. When I was a kid, I loved Pippin. I saw it in 1979 at the SRJC Summer Repertory Theater. I’m not as sold on it now. “Corner of the Sky” struck me as near perfect then, but now it is almost unlistenable with its ponderous chorus. Still, many songs are quite good like “Magic to Do,” “No Time at All,” and “Spread a Little Sunshine.”

Another really strong song is, “I Guess I’ll Miss the Man.” What’s nice about it is that it is sweet while still maintaining a grasp on reality with its wry sense of humor. “Some men are heroes; Some men outshine the sun; Some men are simple, good men; This man wasn’t one.” The singer is far past the point of expecting perfection — or, it turns out, even one degree past adequacy.

I didn’t realize it, but the same year the musical appeared on Broadway, The Supremes released this song on their album, The Supremes Produced and Arranged by Jimmy Webb. In fact, they even had a minor hit with it. They manage to sap it of all its vitality and humor. But it’s still a pretty song — and highly attractive to men the world over!

Anniversary Post: Time Itself

Solar EclipseOn this day in 585 BC, time began. No, really! Sorta. I mean dating happened. You see, Thales of Miletus was one of the greatest of the Greek philosophers — born in 624 BC. He was also, in a sense, the first Greek philosopher. He tried to explain the world without mythology. This is at a time when the Jews were wandering around the desert trying not to worship golden calves. (Just kidding! That’s all mythology — the Jews never wandered the desert for forty years.) Because of his early thinking, he is widely considered the father of science. And think about it: there are many people today who find Thales’ ideas threatening.

In addition to his many other accomplishments, Thales is known for predicting the 28 May 585 BC solar eclipse that apparently caused the two sides in the Battle of Halys to call a truce. As a result of this, ancient events can be dated, because we know when this one thing happened. Of course, nothing is ever that clear. For one thing, we only know about this prediction from Herodotus, who wasn’t born until a century after the eclipse. What’s more, there are some historians who claim that we are misreading Herodotus and that he really meant a lunar eclipse and that the time was anywhere from a couple of years to a couple of decades earlier.

Ain’t that always the way with time! And dates. And science. But it sounds really cool, “This is the date time started!” And there are far worse ways of determining the truth than basing it upon the Coolness Factor (CF). Take for example: ancient dogmas. Does stoning to death adulterers sound cool? No it doesn’t. The CF strikes again!

Happy anniversary time!