Is Sgt Pepper’s Rubbish? No, but…

Keith RichardsIn preparation for the release of his first solo album in two decades, Keith Richards is saying controversial things. Rolling Stone reported, The Beatles’ “Sgt Pepper’s” Was “Rubbish.” The article is sadly lacking details. He did, however, say of the iconic album, “There’s not a lot of roots in that music. I think they got carried away.” He compares it to the Rolling Stones’ own Their Satanic Majesties Request. Obviously, the two albums are linked, and it isn’t at all hard to see Satanic Majesties as a parody of Sgt Pepper’s. But I think that Richards’ point is that neither album was really authentic.

I think that both albums are quite interesting with lots of good material. Satanic Majesties has the advantage of not being overplayed and mythologized. I’ve always found Sgt Pepper’s as being completely symbolized by the album cover: unnecessarily cluttered and often banal. Mostly, the album is filled with solid, but uninspired, McCartney tunes. “When I’m Sixty-Four” is a clever tune and I love the arrangement with that great clarinet. I’m not sure what it’s doing on the album, but it works. On the other hand, “She’s Leaving Home” makes me want to pull my hair out — it is the worst that McCartney does in terms of lyrics.

The Lennon material is equally mixed. “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” is a plodding tune with production that weighs it down even more: a waltz too stilted to dance to. “Good Morning Good Morning” is simply an affront to listeners. It’s mostly in 5/4 time, but it bounces around in a way that is unsettling but still uninteresting. And lyrically, it is even more trite than “She’s Leaving Home.” The two best songs on the album were probably actual collaborations between Lennon and McCartney. “A Day in the Life” is strong enough to overcome the production, and “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!” is one of those great songs that just begged for the George Martin treatment.

“With a Little Help from My Friends” is also a fine song. But Ringo Starr really is hopeless. And George Harrison’s “Within You Without You” is The Beatles at their most pretentious. And they would go on to refine that until they broke up, at which point they would do a pretty good job of it as solo acts. So overall, we aren’t talking about a great collection of songs. Certainly, we saw better before and after.

So why is Sgt Pepper’s considered such a great album. I suspect that it was the right album at the right time. And the production must have sounded very new at the time. Now it sounds dated — not that I expect many people to agree with me. But compare it to the production on Abbey Road — it isn’t even close. Better — and I think the high point of The Beatles — were the albums before: Rubber Soul and Revolver. None of this is to say that Sgt Pepper’s is a bad album. It works and it is historically important. But I would never use it to introduce someone to The Beatles.

But “rubbish”? I think Keith Richards is just being provocative. But he’s allowed. Because Let It Bleed was better than anything The Beatles ever did.

Bankruptcy Is a Moral Issue Only for the Little Guy

David DayenEvery lending contract in America has the potential for bankruptcy lurking in the background. Lenders — who as Trump said “aren’t babies” but “total killers” — are sophisticated enough to know about this option when they lend people money. In fact, they not only assume the risk of bankruptcy, but price it into the deal when they lend Donald Trump or anyone else money.

Morals do not enter into the equation. No lender thinks less of Donald Trump for using the bankruptcy process. They simply take their losses and move on.

In fact, only one group gets hit with this stigma. Only one group of people in America are denied this fully legal, fully rational, fully American opportunity to wipe the slate clean, and decried as deadbeats for even thinking about it: the homeowner of a primary residence, who by law cannot get mortgage debt discharged in bankruptcy.

—David Dayen
Going Bankrupt Like Trump Did Is for High Rollers, Not Homeowners

Republicans Pushing Far Right on Abortion

Anti-Choice ProtestersIn general, I don’t think that reproductive rights are that big a political issue. They seem to to represent a kind of binary choice for the middle of the political spectrum. As long as a candidate seems like she isn’t going to make abortion illegal outright — or even if she just doesn’t place too much emphasis on the issue — the voters are willing to give a pass. But at Thursday night’s debate when Scott Walker claimed that there should not even be an abortion exception for the life of the mother, he slipped over the line. And so did Rubio and Huckabee. And we know that Ted Cruz is right there with them. I don’t think any of these candidates have a real chance in a general election.

This is interesting, because a lot of pundits think that Marco Rubio would be a great general election candidate. He is “Latino” after all — not that you would know it from looking at him. But he certainly abolished all arguments that he is a moderate with his claim that there should be no rape or incest exceptions. To be clear: I find that position morally superior to the more usual, “We’ll let women have abortions if they didn’t enjoy the sex.” But for most people, no exceptions is toxic.

The problem in the presidential election seems to be the Planned Parenthood fake sting videos. I haven’t written much about this because it makes me so angry. But the whole thing is turning out to be something of a dud. For most people, it is just another case of conservatives going after Planned Parenthood. The only place it is really getting traction is with the hardcore anti-choicers. The videos didn’t change their minds. But they apparently think that if they keep showing the videos to each other and acting outraged, that it will have some effect.

The only effect it seems to be having is making the Republican presidential candidates pander to them in a big way. My biggest complaint while watching the first Republican presidential forum was the repeated use of the Planned Parenthood videos to pontificate about abortion policies they were all pushing long before. It’s annoying to listen to them totally mischaracterize the videos. But it is ultimately useless, except in putting them all on the record with their extreme opinions. So it would seem that it’s been a good thing for the Democrats.

In addition to all the screaming about abortion, all the candidates now want to defund Planned Parenthood. This is curious. Even the Republicans will admit that what Planned Parenthood is doing is not against the law. The arguments really have gone down to the point of complaining that the people working for the group talked about it too cavalierly and that it is “icky.” But these Republicans are not trying to make tissue donation illegal. Instead, they are going for defunding. It’s been widely reported that only 3% of what Planned Parenthood does is abortions. But more to the point: the federal government doesn’t fund any of those abortions. So why do the Republicans want to defund the rest?

None of this is very surprising. Jonathan Allen noted that the whole thing doesn’t look good, Republicans Took a Big Political Risk on Abortion in the Fox Debate. He wrote, “The fundamental problem for the GOP is that it is sprinting to the right on a major social issue that has tripped up its candidates over and over again.” But I’m not sure how they could avoid it. Being anti-choice is one of the most popular positions they have. Given that Scott Walker and Marco Rubio have come out as such pure anti-choicers, it is going to be hard for Jeb Bush to avoid it. And Ben Carson is on record as being just as extreme. In the end, the Republicans’ best chance may be to nominate Donald Trump.

Yes It’s the Internet, But We Can Tell You’re a Dog

On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dogOne day, I was walking past a faculty member’s office in graduate school, and I saw the iconic New Yorker cartoon, “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.” It was not long after I had put up my first website, but the cartoon had nothing to do with that. It was a reference to newgroups and AOL. The cartoon works on many levels, but it communicated a widely held belief — then and now — that you can be anyone online. I thought it was hilarious. But there is a problem with the cartoon.

The truth of the matter is that “nobody knows you’re a dog” is only something that neophytes believe. Once you’ve been on the internet, you come to realize: everyone knows who the dogs are. I’ve seen it in my own life as a blogger. I used to make silly comments on other blogs. I was often pedantic. In a general sense, I did a lot of things that screamed, “I’m new to this!” That’s not to say I’m perfect now. I offend people when I don’t mean to. I make jokes that fall flat. But I don’t think anyone mistakes me for someone who doesn’t know more or less what he’s doing. And that’s just as true of the stuff that I’ve written on this blog.

But when a commenter comes here and starts yelling at me, I quickly know what breed of dog they are. They think they are anonymous. But the truth is obvious. Because of what I write about, I’ve often gotten people claiming to be successful at business. They say this because of course I’ve never run a business because I’m a liberal with profound doubts about capitalism. And they think that they can claim to be successful businessmen (It is always men!) because they’ve made a fetish of capitalism. But if that were the case, what are they wasting time on my site? They obviously don’t come here because they like the content. They are just trolling because they are bored.

For the record, I assume conservative trolls are either high school boys who can’t attract a girlfriend or people on disability who spend most of their time in a state of outrage as a result of Fox News and hate radio. I also get college age boys who just can’t believe that I don’t see the deductive beauty of libertarianism. But the point is that I know who they are. I don’t just know they are dogs, I know the breed, I know the sex, and I very likely even know the kennel.

The reason I bring this up is because Scott Eric Kaufman posted a flame war he had with someone on a listserv, I Want to — but Can’t — Hate the Person Who Roped Me Into This Conversation. It all started with a neo-Confederate who was upset that someone wasn’t giving Robert E Lee respect. Kaufman wrote pretty much exactly what I would have, that Lee “fought treasonously in defense of slavery, end of story…” Thus began multiple exchanges between Kaufman and someone who he is too kind a person to expose. But it isn’t much of a conversation because the neo-Confederate mostly just spits bile and posts enormous emoticon images (really, check out the article).

But I was struck by the end, when the neo-Confederate wrote:

Anyway, gotta go now… big boy worky time, you wouldn’t understand.

The neo-Confederate repeated this kind of thing. Yet he knows that Kaufman works for Salon and thus does, in fact, work for a living. But here’s the thing: I’m certain that the neo-Confederate did not have “big boy worky time.” But I’m not getting at the fact that he is clearly just trying to save face and get out of the flame war he started. That’s obvious enough. I’m getting at this: he doesn’t work at all. He talked about his 85 year old mother (who can kick Kaufman’s “little sissy ass.”), so I figure he is in his late 50s or early 60s. He’s never really had full-time employment. He is either now living off his mother’s Social Security or is on disability — very likely for mental problems.

I don’t mean to put the guy down. In fact, like Kaufman, I feel very sorry for him. And I could be wrong about who he is. But one thing I am 100% certain of: he isn’t the regular working Joe who he claims to be. He’s too crazy. The best you can say about him is that he was drunk. And that either means that he was going to work drunk, or he was lying about going to work. Regardless, this little dogie is not fooling anyone.

Anniversary Post: End of the Gold Standard

GoldOn this day in 1971, President Richard Nixon ended the convertibility of US currency to gold, thus ending the last vestiges of the gold standard. The major move against the gold standard took place during the Great Depression, of course. But this move has given the Federal Reserve more power to fight recessions, although I personally feel that the Fed uses its power in far too conservative a way to fight inflation. But that’s what is so bizarre about the gold standard crowd: they are always freaking out about coming inflation. But other than during the 1970s, inflation has been far lower off the gold standard than it ever was on.

The truth is that gold prices are not at all stable. A couple of years ago, I wrote, Gold Is Not a Good Investment — at Least for 500 Years. It includes a graph that shows the overall volatility of gold’s value, and also that it’s value has done nothing but go down over time. But there is also the story of Musa I of Mali. In the early 14th century, he took a trip to the Middle East. He spent so much gold, that he destroyed its value, throwing the region into a decades long recession. There is nothing stable about gold.

Still, we continue to hear the gold bug nonsense. Now part of it I understand. There are people making lots of money selling gold to these easy marks. But the people pushing the ideas seem to really believe it. (Even Rand Paul and Glenn Beck who seem to make a lot of money off it as well.) And gold bugs have been saying the same thing for decades: economic collapse and hyperinflation! What they don’t seem to understand is that the rich are in control. The rich don’t want to allow inflation or economic collapse.

But it is easier to place all of their outrage on the backs of shadowy bureaucrats who want to destroy capitalism as we know it. These people are just silly. And there are a lot of them out there. I run into them all the time. Alex Jones and pretty much anyone who is into conspiracy theories will eventually get around to thinking that we must have the gold standard. All they do is give the rich even more power. They are the most useful of fools.