Mr Peabody & Sherman

Mr Peabody & ShermanWhen Mr Peabody & Sherman came out last year, I was torn. On the one hand, I am still a huge Jay Ward fan. And when I was a kid, The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show was my favorite thing on television, and “Peabody’s Improbable History” was my favorite part of it. But on the other hand, I now find “Peabody” the most annoying part of the show. What’s more, there was 2000’s The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle — a film I can’t criticize too much because the first half hour was so bad that I stopped watching it.

Mr Peabody & Sherman is not a bad film. But why do people claim that it “stayed true” to the original cartoon? It did not. For one thing, the film is sentimental and the shorts were most definitely not. The ending where Peabody finally says he loves Sherman made me want to vomit. Peabody himself comes off more like Snoopy as “Joe Cool” than the original Nobel Prize winning dog. But most of all, there were the puns. I can hardly blame the writers for coming up with really good puns as opposed to the horrible puns in the show. But Sherman doesn’t get the puns in the movie, whereas Sherman getting the puns is absolutely critical to the show.

There is a fundamental problem with turning something like “Peabody’s Improbable History” into a feature length film. The episodes are meant to be at least somewhat annoying. This is why Sherman’s understanding of the puns is so important. He acts as a surrogate for the audience. The puns are coming. The puns are bad. And we need an ally — someone who shares the groan with us. And remember: many “Peabody” episodes are nothing but setups for Peabody’s final pun. He didn’t build the WABAC machine to entertain Sherman, but just as an outlet for his nasty pun habit.

Another problem is that these films almost always get too involved with being action films. That’s fine. But why use such pure characters as Peabody and Sherman? Well, we know the reason. Hollywood wanted to use the brand and then apply its usual boring storytelling approach to it. In this case, the film would have been better off doing something along the lines Time Bandits, because at least it doesn’t take itself seriously enough to force a prolonged third act action sequence.

Ultimately, Mr Peabody & Sherman works on its own terms. But it manages to destroy everything that the original was. It was most definitely not “true” to the original. I’m not sure that a feature length film could be true to the original. But strangely, the live-action films Dudley Do-Right and George of the Jungle work surprisingly well. Maybe it is because they are by definition different. They don’t try to compete with the originals on their own terms. Because frankly, that’s impossible.


The Myth of Objective Journalism

Glenn GreenwaldThe worst aspect of these journalists’ demands for “neutrality” is the conceit that they are actually neutral, that they are themselves not activists. To be lectured about the need for journalistic neutrality by Politico of all places — the ultimate and most loyal servant of the DC political and corporate class — by itself illustrates what a rotten sham this claim is. I set out my argument about this at length in my 2013 exchange with Bill Keller and won’t repeat it all here; suffice to say, all journalism is deeply subjective and serves some group’s interests. All journalists constantly express opinions and present the world in accordance with their deeply subjective biases — and thus constantly serve one agenda or another — whether they honestly admit doing so or dishonestly pretend they don’t.

Ultimately, demands for “neutrality” and “objectivity” are little more than rules designed to shield those with the greatest power from meaningful challenge. As BuzzFeed’s Adam Serwer insightfully put it this morning, “‘Objective’ reporters were openly mocking Trump not that long ago, but Ramos has not reacted to Trump’s poll numbers with appropriate deference… Just a reminder that what is considered objective reporting is intimately tied to power or the perception of power.” Expressing opinions that are in accord with, and which serve the interests of, those who wield the greatest political and economic power is always acceptable for the journalists who most tightly embrace the pretense of “neutrality”; it’s only when an opinion constitutes dissent or when it’s expressed with too little reverence for the most powerful does it cross the line into “activism” and “bias.”

—Glenn Greenwald
Jorge Ramos Commits Journalism, Gets Immediately Attacked by Journalists

Draft Biden?! Give Me a Break!

Joe BidenI hate writing about the game aspect of politics. I don’t really care who is winning in the polls — at least not at this point. I don’t even much care who is running for office. The truth of the matter is that if the Democrats win the presidency next year, it will be a good thing — no matter who it is. And if the Republicans win, I think it will be a catastrophe. But at this point there really is nothing to talk about. And the fact that the mainstream press is obsessed with the “horse race” is just an indication that it can’t be bothered to care about actual policy.

But over the past week, I’ve been hearing a lot about Joe Biden. And it seems to have reached a peak. According to many, Joe Biden is going to jump in the race and beat Hillary Clinton. Or something. Yesterday, Bloomberg published, Biden More Competitive Than Clinton Against Leading Republicans: Poll. One poll means nothing. One poll at this point in the race shouldn’t even be reported. And one poll that compares one actual candidate with someone who is not running should send the reporter to a very central level of hell.

Has everyone forgotten how great Hillary Clinton’s approval ratings were when she wasn’t running for president? The mechanism here is so simple that even Washington reporters should be able to understand it. While someone is not a candidate, no one goes around bashing them. Reporters aren’t following them around and looking for any possible scandal. I assure if Hillary Clinton were having an affair with her videographer, we would know about it. But Joe Biden could be doing the same thing and we wouldn’t know, because no one is looking.

None of this is to say that Joe Biden isn’t secretly running for president. But I think the odds of him running without Clinton dropping out are between zero and a number slightly higher than zero. Even the Bloomberg article was subtitled, “A solid majority of Democrats still want Clinton to be their nominee.” So what is this all about? Well, I can tell you this: my father came to me today and told me he thought that Joe Biden was going to be the Democratic nominee. I knew where that was coming from, Krauthammer: A Biden-Warren Ticket Would Be Perfect For Democrats, Ensure 12 Years Of Liberal Rule. Because if there is one thing that Charles Krauthammer cares about, it is what is best for the Democratic Party.

And that’s what I think this is all about. This is the Republican Party machine pushing articles to lazy Washington reporters (a redundant phrase, I know) about how Clinton is going down. And it is possible if the Republicans got to choose the Democratic presidential nominee, Clinton would go down. Just the same, if the Democrats got to choose the Republican presidential nominee, Trump would win big. And what does any of this mean for the presidential primaries? Nothing.

There are a number of liberals who I read who seem to like the idea of Biden being the nominee. I like Biden. I like Clinton. I really like Sanders. And I’d vote for any of them running against any of the possible Republican nominees. But what exactly does Biden bring to the general election that Clinton does not? All I can think is that he isn’t plagued by fake scandals. But of course, if he did become the nominee, he too would be plagued by fake scandals. The draft-Biden campaign is really more like the draft-anyone-but-Clinton campaign. And we saw this with Romney in 2012. In that case it was Republicans doing it, but this time it is — Oh, wait! — Republicans doing it again.

Fed May Raise Rates Because They’re Cowards

Janet YellenI don’t understand the Federal Reserve. For at least the last year, economists everywhere have been wondering if the Fed is going to raise interest rates. You see, there are many people who are concerned about inflation. And they think that the Fed’s “easy money” policy is going to cause inflation. Now, most of these people are the kind who have been hiding double eagle gold coins under their floorboards ever since Obama was elected president. But the people at the Fed — who seem to be smart and reasonable people — go along with this kind of thing. And it makes no sense.

Let’s assume that inflation in the United States really got out of control and shot up to 5%. There are a couple of things about that. First, a 5% inflation rate for a year or two might actually be good for the economy. But if the people at the Fed didn’t accept this, they could bring that inflation down quite fast by raising interest rates. The only reason there is so much concern about inflation is that it might take a few months to get back down, and that money that the rich would be losing! Can’t have that. What we can, however, have is millions of extra people out of work, because they just don’t matter.

The Federal Reserve’s inflation target is 2%. That means that it should be around 2% — sometimes above and sometimes below. Wanna know what it has been for the first six months of this year: -0.1%, 0.0%, -0.1%, -0.2%, 0.0%, 0.1%, and 0.2%. So the inflation rate for the first half of 2015 is -0.02%. That is far below the Fed’s target. People should be screaming about the inflation rate being too low because it discourages purchases and keeps the dollar too strong against other currencies, thus making our exports less competitive. Some people are concerned about that. But mostly, the concern is that the we are going to turn into Zimbabwe with hyperinflation!

Mark Thoma — a great economist who is not prone to hyperbole — has an idea as to why the Fed might raise interest rates even though it is clearly the wrong thing to do, As Stocks Lurch, Fed Ponders Twist of the Dial. As I’ve said, I’d be very happy if inflation went up — even as high as 5%, although 3% to 4% would be better. But if inflation does go up — even to the supposed proper rate of 2% — the power elite of this country will scream and blame the Federal Reserve. On the other hand, if the Fed raises rates and millions of people lose their jobs, well, that isn’t necessarily the Fed’s fault. There are a lot of reasons that the economy fluctuates.

Do you get that? We may see the Federal Reserve raise interest rates. This will have the effect of putting many people out of work and lowering the wages of many more. And this will all be done because the people on the Federal Reserve are cowards. Of course, the Very Serious people — people like William Saletan — will applaud them and claim that they are being “brave.” That’s because there is nothing more brave to the power elite and their apologists than to make the weak suffer.

Morning Music: Dan Tyminski

Man of Constant SorrowAt this point it seemed that anyone you think might have been tempted to cover “Man of Constant Sorrow” has. Of course, you knew that after Judy Collins did it everyone would have to. What I think is strange is that it really wasn’t picked up by punk bands. (But just wait until tomorrow before correcting me!) The truth is that musically, punk and folk aren’t that far apart.

Which brings us to the version in O Brother, Where Art Thou? It was recorded by Dan Tyminski, Harley Allen, and Pat Enright, with Tyminski on lead vocals. But here Tyminski is with Alison Krauss and Union Station doing the song live:

In a sense, I think this version kind of destroys the song in the same way that Jean-François Paillard’s version destroyed Pachelbel’s Canon. It is so powerful that everyone will agree that it is the way that the song ought to be performed and people will stop trying to innovate. Of course, there will always be the iconoclasts who insist that Emry Arthur or Sarah Ogan Gunning had it right all along and the song will be plopped on the end of a disc. But to really please an audience, it’s going to have to have that three-part harmony and the prominent banjo. It will be just like that damned pizzicato counterpoint in “Pachelbel’s Canon.”

Anniversary Post: Slavery Abolition Act 1833

The Black Man's LamentOn this date the British Empire abolished slavery with the Slavery Abolition Act 1833. It was a long time in coming. In fact, slavery was illegal in Britain itself from 1772 onward. I’m mostly interested in it because of the effect of the abolitionist movement in Britain on the Revolutionary war.

I find it constantly amazing to look at the lies I was told growing up. I’m a good example of the “whistleblower mentality.” Studies show that whistleblowers tend to be the true believers who find that they’ve been lied to. Growing up, I believed all that garbage about the United States standing up for democracy and all the myths about people founding America for freedom and how we had to break with Britain because of a lack of representation. (That last one is a hoot!)

None of this is to say that there wasn’t a lot of noble idealism that built the United States. But there was a lot of vileness that built it too. I’m fine with that. I just don’t like to be lied to. And I think it makes the nation worse. It is what allows Chris Christie to run his television commercials claiming that the nuclear deal will give Iran nuclear weapons and to generally dehumanize other countries.

As Dylan Matthews wrote last month, the American slave population was not in favor of independence. They understood that they would be better off under British rule. He also quoted Simon Schama as saying that the Revolutionary War was “first and foremost, mobilized to protect slavery.” And the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 is a good symbol of that. It doesn’t mean that the Brits were great and we were horrible. But it does mean that slavery was far more important to our economy than it was to theirs. And so they stopped doing what everyone must have known was wrong.