Stewart, Carson, and That Special Connection

Trevor NoahI remember old people and the way they talked about Johnny Carson. He was special to them in a way he was not to me. I still really liked him. I especially remember a joke he told in 1976. (That’s right: at 12 years old, my parents let me stay up that late. Is there any wonder I turned out like this?) Jerry Brown was running for president. Carson told a joke that I will paraphrase, “Reporters asked Jerry Brown if he had a response to those who said he was just a hippy with his head in the clouds. Brown responded, ‘You give good karma out; you get good karma back in.'” That’s a solid joke. But it died. So Carson ad libbed, “How about: he said it while meditating on ten pounds of raw liver?” I died. Brilliant joke. So I liked Carson, but he was never for me what he was for people 30 years older.

But I understand now. With Jon Stewart leaving The Daily Show, I feel a profound sense of lose. At the end, I thought The Colbert Report was better. But it is Stewart that I miss — and not because Colbert has The Late Show. It’s good, and I watch it now and then, but it is nothing special. It’s weird, but we humans really do develop relationships with people we don’t know. But I’m kind of glad Stewart left, because I like the feeling. It’s great that he left at (or near to) his peak.

So how am I dealing with The Daily Show with Trevor Noah? Well, it’s great. It isn’t the same. It doesn’t feel like my show. But it has been great from the first episode. It has a great advantage over Larry Wilmore and The Nightly Show, in that it has an established format. But let’s face it: it also has better writers. I’m not sure about the future of The Nightly Show, because it still struggles. But The Daily Show should live on.

That was especially true last Thursday. As you have probably heard, Ben Carson made a comment about how all those people murdered recently in Oregon should have rushed the gunman. It’s a typical kind of libertarian purely theoretical argument. Yes: if all of them rushed the gunman, then only some of them would have died. It has all the real world usefulness of a Dungeon and Dragons scenario.

But then it turned out that Carson had previously admitted to being at a Popeyes fried chicken place when a gunman came in and pointed a gun at him. Carson — rather different from his tough guy stance today — just calmly told the gunman, “I believe that you want the guy behind the counter.” But Noah didn’t take the routine in the obvious direction — at least right away. It’s clear enough what a total jerk and hypocrite Ben Carson is.

Carson said something else that was odd. I’m sure it stuck out to everyone who heard it — it certainly did me. But only the gifted could turn that into comedic gold. Carson referred to the restaurant as, “Popeyes organization.” So Noah just ran with it, “Popeyes is a little known charity that gives out fried chicken in exchange for money. Learn how you can help at”

Well, I did what I always do: I went to the website. And sure enough, it exists. I looked it up and they bought it at 2:00 local time that day. There’s not much there, but it is well done — especially when you consider they only had a couple of hours to put it together. The high point is a quote from Ben Carson, MD, “This chicken is to die for! Not for me, certainly, but for someone else. I’d suggest the guy behind the counter.”

I think I’m too old to ever have quite the connection to Trevor Noah that I have to Jon Stewart. But the show is certainly in capable hands. And at this point, I am as committed to watching it every morning as I ever have been.

Data Journalists Don’t Know Anything About the Poor Anywhere

Annie LoweryLast year, I wrote an article that got quite a lot of attention thanks to a tweet by Max Blumenthal, News Bias Is a Choice to Lack Diversity. The article was about the implicit bias in the press because the reporters are all of the upper-middle and upper classes — cut off from the worlds of middle and lower class workers. I wrote, “This is why business reporters seem to only find news about the management side of business interesting. They don’t have any friends who are in labor unions.” The article got enough attention that Matt Yglesias read it and responded that reporters do known people in unions because most newspapers are unionized. Note the change from “are friends with” to “know.”

It’s a telling comment. I like Yglesias’ work very much. But he is blind to the interests of lower class workers who were so very well represented by unions in the decades before he was born. And he’s very much typical of a particular group of “data journalists” most symbolized by Vox. Again, I read Vox every day — they put out great work. But despite the publication’s claim that it is all about data, it is constrained as much by ideology as every other news outlet. It is just that their brand of soft neoliberalism is easily mistaken for the truth.

Matt YglesiasErik Loomis over at Lawyers, Guns & Money has been on this beat for a while. I first noticed it with an article earlier this month, What Does Dylan Matthews Think The Worst New York Times Article Published in the Last Decade Is? It turned out that it was article by Paul Theroux, The Hypocrisy of “Helping” the Poor. Basically, the Vox senior correspondent thought that it was wrong — Really wrong! — to complain about globalization hurting poor people in America when it was helping poor people in Bangladesh.

Matthews original complaint was just a tweet. Now, two articles have been published attacking the original article. Loomis has all the details, More on Paul Theroux, the Greatest Monster in Known History for Caring About American Workers. And he dives pretty deeply into the subject of the Washington data journalists’ ideological dysfunction. It is a mindless acceptance of globalization as a Good Thing™. We all know that, all things equal, more trade is a good thing. Thus, any given worker complaining about their troubles should just shut up.

This is almost literally true of Annie Lowery. A woman in Theroux’s article was complaining about how the Clinton Foundation did all this work in Africa, “Don’t they realize our people need help?” To which Lowery responded, “Not in the way that people in Zimbabwe do, lady. Not even close.” It’s a shocking display of class based disdain. As if a paraplegic can’t complain so long as there are quadriplegics in the world. And as Loomis points out, it shows that they approach the problem of poverty “from 30,000 feet.” They have no connections to these people, just as their analyse of Uber is all about them getting more convenience in their urbane lives and not about struggling low-middle class drivers.

Jeff Spross at The Week provided a far more expansive view of the issue, Us against them? Why Globalization Doesn’t Have to Pit American Workers Against the World’s Poor. Basically, he’s making a Dean Baker kind of argument: globalization hurts the poor in America because our government has made it that way; we can have globalization that works for everyone. But what I want to focus on is Spross’ criticism of the “American preference for ‘absolute’ poverty measures.”

The reason I bring it up is because of this great lecture by Richard Wilkinson, where he looks at economic inequality. Between countries, inequality doesn’t seem to have much effect on broadly defined health measures. But it has a clear and large effect within countries. Clearly, this is a study only of advanced economies, and Zimbabwe is seriously messed up. But the idea that poor people in Mississippi should just shut up because other people are doing worse outside the country 10,000 miles away misses the whole point.

My takeaway from this is just how callous we all are. I don’t believe that the Vox crowd really cares any more about the people in Zimbabwe than they do the people in Mississippi. They certainly don’t have any experience with the people who are suffering there. But it is really the fact that having a callous disregard for the suffering in Mississippi and a deep concern for the suffering in Zimbabwe pushes their existing belief that globalization is a Good Thing™. All of the neoliberal data journalists should listen to Lowery’s own inadvertent wisdom, “The reality, you’ll be surprised to hear, is more complicated.”


After I wrote this, I noticed that the brilliant Matt Bruenig wrote, The Muddled Globalization Debate. He looks at the issue in an economic way and notes, “The fact that goods cost 10% less than they would in the alternative doesn’t help someone whose income is 30% less than the alternative.” It gets to the same issue, which is just that Lowery and company are clueless about the effects of globalization on actual people. They can wave a hand and say that there are things we could do to minimize the harm, but the fact remains that we don’t. It’s like I wrote earlier this year, No Trade Deals Until Our Economy Is Fixed. I’m not interested in trade deals even if they do increase GDP as long as the vast majority of the gains all go to the top.

Morning Music: Robert Schumann

Robert SchumannI guess we have to discuss Robert Schumann. To me, he is the Romantic period. He is also the reason that I don’t like the period. But that doesn’t mean that he wasn’t a great composer. What’s more, he was a huge influence on Johannes Brahms, who I like rather more.

For the first ten years of his career, Schumann wrote exclusively for the piano. He had intended to be a pianist, but injured his hand and so turned to composition. At the peak of his abilities, he composed the Piano Concerto in A minor. I have to admit, it is an exquisite piece. At the same time, you can hear the kinds of things that bother me — its overly dramatic parts. But his use of the full orchestra for all its colors really is masterful. And you can certainly hear the beginnings of impressionism that would come with later composers.

This performance features one of the greatest pianists alive, Martha Argerich.

It may be of interest to you to know that Robert Schumann came by his music honestly. He was manic-depressive and slipped into paranoia later in life. He died at the age of 46 in an insane asylum.

Anniversary Post: Black Panther Party

Black PowerOn or about this date in 1966, the Black Panther Party was started in Oakland, California. In the early 1960s, the Civil Rights Movement made huge positive change in the south. But in northern cities, things hadn’t changed. The issue wasn’t voting rights. It was poverty, lack of opportunity, and police violence. Interestingly, these are same problems communities of color face today.

The Black Panthers was started by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale out of the Black Power movement. It was actually quite an intellectual group. That was true of the whole Black Power movement. But to the white suburban middle class, they were terrifying. Of course, the white middle class had also helped to created the group — by segregating themselves in the suburbs and leaving the cities to die economically.

What’s been getting a lot of attention recently is the Mulford Act. All the conservatives today are against any form of gun control. But the conservatives sure were in favor of it in 1967 when they saw black men with legitimate grievances carrying guns. Such a thing was enough to get Ronald Reagan signing gun control laws, that’s for sure.