Monthly Archives: January 2016

The 22 “Top Secret” Email Messages

Hillary ClintonLike The 39 Steps or The Loyal 47 Ronin, The 22 “Top Secret” Email Messages has a mythic quality to it. As you may have heard if you are a normal person, and definitely heard if you are a Fox News or hate radio devotee, the government declared 22 Clinton email messages “top secret.” And so withheld them from release. Almost immediately, the Clinton campaign demanded that the email messages be released. Why would they do that? Most people are like Max Fisher at Vox who thinks that it is because the Clinton campaign wants the world to see that there is nothing top secret about them.

I disagree.

This is definitely the reason. Good God! I would be shocked if even 0.01% of classified documents deserve to be. When very old documents are finally declassified, they are almost always the most banal things. When they are sexy, it is because they embarrassed someone, not because they would have led to the fall of our empire. Creating “top secret” documents is a way for bureaucrats to feel like they are special. The fact that their jobs are usually pretty boring probably doesn’t help matters. Everyone likes to feel like they are an insider, and what better way than to mark banal nonsense as “top secret”?

One thing I remember very fondly from the 1990s was all of the work that the Clinton administration did declassifying documents. It was amazing and refreshing. I’ve always hated the over-classification of stuff. It’s anti-democratic. But the icing on the cake of what Clinton had done was that after George W Bush was appointed president, Dick Cheney began his own program of re-classifying what Clinton had declassified. It showed that there really are two kinds of people in the world: normal and authoritarian jerks. I mean, that’s such a Stalinist move! Sure, the information has been made public, but now I’m going to stop anyone from talking about it!

Paul Krugman wrote a really good blog post about his own experience with classified documents. Here is the heart of the matter which not only goes along with everything I know about classified documents but is also pretty funny:

I received a lot of classified reports from the CIA, the State Department, etc. They had all sorts of warnings in capital letters on their covers: SECRET NOFORN NOCONTRACT PROPIN ORCON, I think, was the standard litany. And there was a security person who came through our offices at night, scooped up any classified documents we left out, put them in a safe, and issued citations. Between the number of classified documents I received and my continuing true identity as an absent-minded professor, I got a lot of citations — second only to [Council of Economic Advisers Chairman] Marty [Feldstein].

But the reason I kept forgetting to lock the things up was that none of them — literally not one, during a whole year — contained anything actually sensitive. There was nothing in any of them you couldn’t have read in newspapers, or figured out for yourself given public information.

I’m not a good prognosticator, but I’ll tell you how I think this is going to go: no one who doesn’t already care will care. The truth is that the Clinton campaign is playing this exactly right. By immediately demanding the documents’ release, they are signaling that there is nothing to see. And the vast majority of people already know that our classification system, very much including “top secret,” is a joke.

There’s another aspect to it too. People might have their questions about Hillary Clinton. Is she too secretive? Is she a political opportunist? (As if all politicians aren’t both.) But no one thinks that she is incompetent or a traitor. What’s more, it is all so boring. But if it starts a discussion about how over-classified government documents have become, it will be a great thing.

I know one thing: Bernie Sanders won’t be using the “damn emails” as an issue.

H-1B Visas and the Assault on the American Worker

VisaErik Loomis brought my attention to an article in The New York Times, Lawsuits Claim Disney Colluded to Replace US Workers With Immigrants. This is all about the H-1B visa. This is supposed to be a way for companies to get highly skilled workers that they just can’t find in the United States. It is most definitely not meant to be used to bring workers from other countries to replace existing workers. And so there are two class action lawsuits against Disney for doing just that.

I’ve written about H-1B visa a lot, because in my life, I’ve worked with a lot of people on H-1B visas. I have nothing against them — some I even counted as friends while I knew them and one I gave a guitar and instruction to. But they were neither super smart nor super knowledgeable about arcane subjects. They were just good, professional coders. There was nothing to distinguish them from the many good, professional coders here in the US except that they would work for a lot less money.

In the days of old, IBM didn’t expect to hire people with the “right skills.” They expected to hire smart young people, invest in them, and employ them for their entire careers.

What’s so annoying about the constant drum beat for more H-1B visas is that it is the same old scam. Business owners always say they can’t find qualified workers. What they actually mean is that they can’t find qualified workers for the crummy pay they offer. I remember back a few years, my father was aghast that an employer was complaining that he couldn’t find skilled workers would could do trigonometry and other things. How much was he offering? Fifteen dollars an hour with no benefits. That’s a $30,000 a year job. (As I recall, the guy was also upset that many of the workers he did get were fired because they insisted on their legal rights — things like breaks.)

What we are seeing with Disney is not at all surprising. And the truth is, it is no different than the way the H-1B visa is normally used. Other companies just aren’t as obvious about it. But does it really matter that a company has a 50-something coder who is now considered too expensive so it brings in a cheap Indian coder? How is that different from a company that pretends it can’t find qualified people in the first place? There really is no difference, and everyone in government and industry knows it. This is all “nod and wink” nonsense.

Last year I wrote, H-1B Visas Are a Scam to Keep Wages Low. In it, I talked about an actual criminal conspiracy: Steve Job’s deal with other Silicon Valley giants not to hire each other’s workers. Instead of making sure that workers were happy, the CEOs just made it impossible for a high tech professional to go from, say, Apple to Google. Employers already have the great advantage of a monopsony. They wanted to make it so that even the little wiggle room that employees had was removed. Effectively, they wanted to turn workers into serfs.

Sadly, Erik Loomis doesn’t really get what’s going on. He’s an academic and they get screwed over in a totally different way. But this isn’t about people having to train their replacements or even putting people out of work. This is about a systemic problem designed to keep wages down. The H-1B visa is just a tool in that regard.

Exactly who are these workers who have skills that the US lacks? We aren’t talking about letting Albert Einstein into the country here. In the days of old, IBM didn’t expect to hire people with the “right skills.” They expected to hire smart young people, invest in them, and employ them for their entire careers. But now we have a whole new way of thinking where having any job at all is considered some kind of privilege. So people go way into debt so that they can get those lauded “right skills.” And even if they happen to succeed in that, by their 50s, they will find that they are costing the company too much money and be replaced.

It’s disturbing. People like David Brooks and Charles Murray have spent decades talking about the decline of values in America. But they never touch the single most important area where values are lacking: the business world. If you want people to marry, have kids, and raise them properly, they first need a job they can depend upon. Well that is out of the question now because all that matters is next quarter’s profits and the bonuses of top management.

Morning Music: Sadcore and American Music Club

American Music Club CaliforniaOh, I know these bands usually hate the label, but let’s do a week of sadcore music. As AllMusic put it, “Primarily an extension of alternative/independent rock, Sadcore is slow, fragile and gut-wrenching music made by and for the depressed.” And let’s start with what I think of as the ultimate sadcore band, American Music Club.

I spent years listening to almost nothing but American Music Club. This was the last couple of years they were together. (They got back together later.) Now they say that depression is repressed anger. That very much fits American Music Club. Some of their music is unhinged like “Bad Liquor” and other of it is hilarious, even if depressing, like “The Hula Maiden.” But most of it is sad at a very deep level.

To give you an idea, we’ll listen to “Blue and Grey Shirt” off their album, California. (Generally a fan favorite.) As far as I know, it is about a friend of Mark Eitzel who had just died of AIDS. Eitzel is, after all, a gay man. And American Music Club was a San Francisco band. And it was 1988. It includes the line, “Now I just sing my songs for people that are gone.” Of course, the song is broader than that. It has the line, “I’m tired of being a spokesman for every tired thing.”

As usual, it isn’t just Eitzel’s writing. His work away from American Music Club (specifically Mark Pankler, known simply as Vudi) is never as good. Even if you couldn’t hear the lyrics of song, you would still get it. It’s heartbreakingly beautiful. And just heartbreaking.

Anniversary Post: First Yugoslav Constitution

First Yugoslav ConstitutionOn this day in 1946, the first Yugoslav Constitution came into effect. It was patterned after the Soviet Constitution. It reminds me of something a couple of years back when some idiot like Michele Bachmann stated that Obama only cared about upholding the communist constitution. Something like that. It doesn’t matter. What does matter is that a lot of people think that authoritarian regimes had terrible constitutions. They rarely did.

The Soviet constitution was great. As Justice Antonin Scalia said, “The bill of rights of the former evil empire, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, was much better than ours.” Those that fetishize the Constitution are idiots. It’s just a document. And it means what we collectively say it means.

This also reminds me of the Second Amendment idiots who think that it’s their guns that will stop the government from turning into a tyranny. If it gets to the point of us having to protect ourselves from the government, then we’ve already lost. Think about the people at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. A truly tyrannical government would just fly a drone over and blow it up. Problem solved!

Societies don’t stay free because of old documents and stockpiles of firearms. They stay free because the people stay engaged in the process. Every time someone opens a voter’s pamphlet, they are helping to save this republic. Every time someone listens to a political debate, they are helping to save this republic. The greatest threat to this republic and to every other free country in the world is apathy. By the time a Hitler or a Stalin or a Pol Pot comes to power, the fight has already been lost.

We all need to remember that. If Dick Cheney were dictator of the world, he would have all kinds of pieces of paper telling you how free you are, just like the Yugoslav Constitution. And he’d allow you to have your guns. Because he wouldn’t have to worry about them. His position would be solidified by something far more powerful.

Avik Roy, Uber, and Stupid Idea Healthcare Ideas

Avik RoyInvestor’s Business Daily (IBD) has an editorial asking one of the stupidest questions you are likely to hear this year, Why Is There No Uber For Health Care? It is based on a paper by pretend wonk Avik Roy, Health Care 2.0: Ushering in Medicine’s Digital Revolution (pdf). Before I get to the specifics of the stupid question, let’s go over a few issues that the editorial raises.

First, IBD thinks healthcare costs are all about technology. This isn’t even close to being true. For one thing, in Japan, they have a lot more healthcare technology than we do, yet their healthcare spending is much lower. People who make these kinds of arguments are all free marketeers who are just looking for some reason to claim that the free market will save us if we just let it.

Well, a free market in healthcare might be just fine. But the people at IBD aren’t interested in that. And Avik Roy certainly isn’t interested in that. They aren’t calling for an end to licensing of doctors. In fact, they aren’t even calling for an end to restrictions in doctors immigrating to the US. Because that’s the reason healthcare costs so much: doctors get paid two to three times as much in the United States as they do in other advanced countries. Do we have better doctors than they do in Canada and Japan and Germany? I don’t think so.

Then IBD asks a question about all this technology, not understanding its wider ramifications, “Why would any consumer demand a more expensive product if they had no idea whether it would work?” Well, the truth is that most people do not demand a more expensive product. But generally speaking, healthcare customers are not knowledgeable enough to make good healthcare buying decisions. This is why the neoliberal approach (Not to mention the free market approach!) is not a good way to provide healthcare.

The great Avik Roy trick in all this is that technology will save us. This is the answer that conservatives have for every problem.

But the editors — based upon Avik Roy — go in the opposite direction. The real solution is to get rid of insurance! It’s the conservatives’ great solution to everything: health savings accounts so that people can count every penny and not go in for expensive procedures! Of course, they started with the understanding that people don’t know what they are doing when it comes to healthcare.

But there’s another issue here. Ultimately, conservatives all think we should save money on healthcare by getting less of it. They don’t want to deal with the issue that the healthcare itself is too expensive. And let’s face it: it’s a false saving. Because if you get people to count their pennies, many of them will decide they can save a buck by not getting preventative care or taking drugs that will lead to much more expensive care later on.

Big on Avik Roy’s radar is that the insurance that people get, they don’t pay for directly. Thus the “direct consumer is largely indifferent to the price.” But surely the businesses and government agencies that are paying for the insurance care about price and are in a much better position to negotiate it. Again we are back to the idea that the more the individual has to pay for care, the better. But the truth is that increasing co-pays and similar devices have not been shown to cut down on unnecessary care.

The great Avik Roy trick in all this is that technology will save us. This is the answer that conservatives have for every problem. And there is no doubt that technology can help. But the kind of technology that Roy and Carly Fiorina and the editors at IBD want is market innovation. They want a way to make it easier for customers to compare prices. They want a little app that will allow people to get the best price on a colonoscopy. Okay. I’m not saying that might not save a few pennies.

But it wouldn’t be like Uber. Uber saves money because it is a low-skill service. It has thrived because there are a bunch of out of work, desperate people. And it effectively placed all the burden on these powerless people. In as much as it has changed the market, it has taken a pretty bad job and made it worse. Yet in the entire IBD editorial, the word “doctor” is used only once — and then in a quote that they attack. Do they really think that doctors are going to allow themselves to be Uberred?

No. What it all comes down to is that the people at IBD and Avik Roy (who I’ve been following for years), don’t give a damn about providing healthcare. They just want to keep taxes down and salaries high for the already rich. So they will nibble around the edges. Medical technology! Skin the game! Malpractice insurance! In fact, the article even talks about the high price of drug entrepreneurship, without discussing all the billions of dollars that the government does in drug research that makes the drug companies rich.

A couple years ago, Avik Roy went through a cycle. He kept writing articles about this or that country that had a supposed free market healthcare system that worked. And then, an actual healthcare wonk would point out why he was wrong. So Roy would move onto another country. Because there just isn’t a country that provides reasonably priced high quality healthcare without having the government very much involved.

The problem is as it always is with conservatives on any issue. They are constrained by conclusions. Yes, they would like everyone to have good paying jobs, but only if the solution is that we lower taxes on the rich and get rid of regulation. And they would like everyone to have good affordable healthcare — but only if it involves the government only helping the rich stakeholders in the process. If it involves subsidizing individuals, forget it.

For more on this, see my article from three years ago: Avik Roy: Healthcare Apologist.

Krugman: Republicans Are Bigots So Vote Clinton

Paul KrugmanI devised The Paul Krugman Bernie Sanders Giving Game just three days ago. If I were actually playing it, I would now be broke. Three days! Krugman doesn’t seem to be interested in much of anything but how wrong it would be to vote for Bernie Sanders and how Hillary Clinton is the only sane choice.

He also has taken to complaining about Sanders’ supporters not being nice to his friends and him. In fact, last week, he wrote, Health Wonks and Bernie Bros. Now I don’t know the etymology of the term “Bernie Bros”; it probably started with Sanders supporters, but among the liberal punditocracy, it has become a pejorative. The implication has long been that Sanders appeals to young men and that being a Sanders supporter is somehow sexist (despite the fact that the people supporting Sanders first wanted Elizabeth Warren). And note: young women now support Sanders far more than Clinton.

But Krugman’s column yesterday was truly over the top, Plutocrats and Prejudice. It’s a straw man, as so many arguments against Sanders are: Sanders is an idealist who can’t get his big ideas accomplished and Clinton is a pragmatist who will make incremental improvements. The implication is always and forever that Sanders is some ossified old sixties socialist who can’t adjust to political reality. Listening to Krugman, you would think that when the public option was off the table, Sanders had voted against Obamacare. What actually happened was that he got the Senate to roughly double funding for community clinics in exchange for his support. Sounds like a guy who is capable of making incremental change.

So we have a Republican Party that is bigoted. One of their great bigotries is against powerful women. And one of their greatest bigotries is Hillary Clinton herself. And she’s the one who is going to be able to make incremental progress?

So Krugman argues that since Sanders talks insistently about economics, he must think that is the only (or almost the only) issue. It’s funny. Just a few days before, Jonathan Chait wrote pretty much the same thing, What Bernie Sanders Doesn’t Understand About American Politics. I’m not suggesting that these guys are on the Clinton payroll, but they both have the same ax to grind, and they grind it the same way.

But it is worse than that. Because Krugman starts off by going over territory that I’ve gone over before: the plutocrats were able to get their lower taxes and decreased regulation by supporting politicians who got votes by demagoguing against minorities. But that isn’t entirely true. We got the Taft–Hartley Act in 1947 — long before the Silent Majority, Welfare Queens, and Willy Horton. But does Krugman really believe that Sanders doesn’t understand the role that bigotry has played in helping the plutocrats since the 1960s? I don’t think so.

If you look at the other things that Krugman has been writing, you’ll see a certain level of hysteria. He’s been looking for anything he can hammer away at Sanders on. There’s never a kind word. And there is never a negative word for Clinton. No, in Krugman’s world, Clinton is right and perfect and Sanders is wrong about everything that matters. As one commenter (PN) put it, “Prof Krugman seems to dream of ways to disagree with Sanders and to support Hillary.” It’s true.

So we have a Republican Party that is bigoted. One of their great bigotries is against powerful women. And one of their greatest bigotries is Hillary Clinton herself. And she’s the one who is going to be able to make incremental progress? Krugman ended the article with a question, “Isn’t there something noble, even inspiring, about fighting the good fight, year after year, and gradually making things better?” Yes! Yes! Again, I say, yes! But isn’t there also something incredibly suspicious about a candidate who campaigns in that way?

Everyone (and certainly Krugman) knows the Mario Cuomo quote, “You campaign in poetry. You govern in prose.” And Bernie Sanders’ entire career has demonstrated that. The only place that isn’t true is in the fever dreams of people like Krugman. It could be that Krugman either doesn’t really like Sanders’ positions, but this seems unlikely given that they really aren’t that different from Clinton’s. I think it is that Krugman doesn’t think Sanders can win the general election. That’s a fair argument. Make it! Don’t give us this garbage about how Sanders is too high minded and naive to be president.

Morning Music: Doug Yule’s Velvet Underground

SqueezeTo most Velvet Underground fans, Doug Yule was an interloper. After replacing John Cale as of the third album, he grew in importance to the point where he forced out Lou Reed and tried to take over the band. That is absolutely not true. For the last couple of years, it is better to think of Yule as Reed’s right hand man. Yule ended up singing four of the songs on Loaded because Reed simply couldn’t.

After Reed left, the band carried on. But soon Morrison left to pursue his PhD, and finally Tucker left to raise a family — Yule was all alone. And in 1972, Doug Yule found himself alone in London — abandoned by the group’s manager and expected to make an album. And he made that album, Squeeze. Most people don’t even know that it exists. Those that do write it off as another reason to hate Doug Yule. It was just another sign of him trying to leverage the fame of the Velvet Underground for his own personal aggrandizement. There’s just one problem with that: it’s completely wrong.

Reappraising Squeeze

Almost five years ago, Steven Shehori wrote an amazing article, Criminally Overlooked Albums: Squeeze by Doug Yule’s Velvet Underground. Other than the overestimation of Loaded, I completely agree with this:

The haze of nostalgia leads many to believe the Velvet Underground made an indelible mark on the music scene in its brief lifetime. In reality, VU’s iconic status was posthumous, not cemented until years after Loaded hit stores in 1970. Which means in the summer of 1972, Yule wasn’t recording Squeeze to ride the slipstream of one of the most cherished rock n’ roll records in history. He was crafting a faithful follow-up to a genius yet poor-selling album from a cult band most people had never heard of. And outside of the brilliant Lou Reed, I’m convinced the only person earning the right to venture into such waters would be Mr Doug Yule. The fact he pulled it all off so seamlessly makes Squeeze a doozy of a criminally overlooked album.

It’s a short album: just a half hour long. And the thing is: it sounds just like a followup to Loaded. The best things on the album are not as good as the best of Loaded. But the worst things on it are not as bad as the worst of Loaded. The fact that the album is so easily pushed aside says everything about the cult of stardom. Doug Yule was 26 years old when he made this album — interestingly, the same age that Reed was when he made The Velvet Underground & Nico.

Listen to Squeeze

Squeeze is a really good album. If people had dismissed Loaded as the Velvet Underground going commercial, that would be one thing. But they didn’t, and they haven’t. Squeeze is of comparable quality. It deserves your attention. And Doug Yule deserves an apology from the music press.

Anniversary Post: the 47 Ronin

47 Ronin GravesOn this day in 1701, two feudal lords met. Asano was the weaker of the two and he was visiting Kira. Kira treated Asano very poorly for uncertain reasons. This led to Asano attacking Kira, wounding him slightly. However, to attack a feudal lord in his own home was consider the gravest of offenses, and Asano was forced to kill himself. This made all of his hundreds of retainers lose the title of samurai and become ronin. Forty-seven of these ronin plotted revenge against Kira, killing him exactly two years later. Then the 47 were allowed honorable deaths. That is the story of the 47 ronin. It is perhaps the most famous story in all of Japanese art, having been rendered in painting, literature, and theater. It’s been made in movie form countless times.

Given this, I had always assumed that it was just a myth, but it really happened. It is generally now seen as an act of honor, but certainly at the time, opinion was mixed. Ultimately, it is just a tale of revenge. “They raped our queen, so we raped their city, and we were right!” Even the story we have leaves it open to interpretation. It matters quite a lot if Kira had a good reason to be rude to Asano.

But it does show an amazing amount of loyalty. And for those who believe in hierarchy, the act is laudable at least on those grounds. And the attack was successful in the sense that it allowed Asano’s heir (his younger brother) to re-establish his feudal reign. And the other ronin were allowed their titles back (basically, allowed to make a decent living). Still, a lot of people died.

In the film Ronin, there is a wonderful scene in which the great French actor Michael Lonsdale tells the story of the 47 ronin. It is in the context of honor among thieves. Lonsdale’s character seems to know that Sam (Robert De Niro) works for the CIA. He is making the case that the ultimate master is not the employer but that sense of honor. Sam at least pretends not to understand, but then Sam is not a very interesting character. Ultimately, Lonsdale has nothing to worry about because Sam is an American Good Guy™. The story of the 47 ronin is much more complex, even if American screenwriters have begun playing with it.

Rats (and Richard Dawkins) Making Me Hate Men

Richard DawkinsYou all know that I like rats — a lot. And I’ve certainly told you the story about the study that showed rats exhibiting altruism. In particular, if given a bunch of chocolate chips (which rats love), they will generally save some of them for another rat that is in another cage. But then I found out something unfortunate. All the females rats did this. But only 30% of the male rats did it. The other 70% of the male rats ate all the chocolate chips. I mean, rats don’t have to be altruistic. Having a selfish rat as a pet is perfectly fine because rats are awesome regardless.

But ever since learning that, I think about it every time a man does a horrible thing. It’s really not hard to conclude that 70% of men are selfish jerks. This does go along with my general sampling of male behavior. The one place that it breaks down is in that I also think about 30% of women are jerks. But I should be clear, because I’m implying that there are certain people who are just jerks. Well, sure: some are. But mostly, I think it is that 70% of the time, any given man is a jerk. Certainly I am not perfect. But the point is that because of the mix of chemicals swimming around in our bodies, women really are better then men.

Well, I was over on We Hunted the Mammoth. Why do I do that? It just upsets me. When I say that men tend to be jerks, I’m talking on the small scale. I’m talking about them doing things that I can see myself doing — in many case have done. But it’s nothing too bad. A trip to We Hunted the Mammoth is the gender politics equivalent of putting on NAZI Death concentration camps Germany August 28 1945. It’s really upsetting. But given that Nazis are mostly gone and MRAs are still around, very vocal, and I think, dangerous, it is necessary.

But what’s sad is Richard Dawkins is — relatives to the MRAs — reasonable. He even calls himself a “feminist,” even though he seems to think that as long as women somewhere are having forced clitorectomy, women elsewhere can’t complain about anything.

So yesterday, David Futrelle offerred up, Richard Dawkins, Lindy West, and the Cartoon Video of Great Hatefulness. It is about Richard Dawkins, because Dawkins was recently in a fight that is just like so many others that he’s been in. And that means in many ways it hardly is worth writing about. It’s more the backstory that bothers me. But before I get to that, allow me one sort parenthetical paragraph.

(What’s with the MRAs? Do they think people mistake them for “real men” or something? My direct experience with them is that they are a bunch of man-boys who are mostly just upset because they can’t get dates. It really is all about scapegoating women. I suppose for the older ones, it is about all the other things in their lives that suck. But the younger ones clearly need girlfriends — which they won’t get because they are such misogynists. I would be willing to provide training for the young ones, though. I’m no Don Juan, but it really isn’t that hard to get women to like you. Hint: don’t be an MRA.)

There is a woman named Chanty Binx who made the mistake of yelling at some MRAs on video. This went viral, at least through the Mammoth community. Which led to the usual rape and other violence threats. And then came a video that equated fundamentalist Islamists with feminists. The feminist in the video was a caricature of Binx. Richard Dawkins then tweeted out a link to the video saying that he didn’t think all feminists were like this but some where.

Ultimately, Dawkins backed down. But his back-down position I find truly repugnant. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend you read Jon Ronson’s So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed. What Richard Dawkins is pushing as a good thing in fact destroys lives. So apparently, as a society, we should allow absolutely anything so long as it doesn’t threaten violence. This is beyond absurd. Has Dawkins never heard of bullying? It very often has nothing to do with violence or threats thereof.

But what’s sad is Richard Dawkins is — relative to the MRAs — reasonable. He even calls himself a “feminist,” even though he seems to think that as long as women somewhere are having forced clitorectomies, women elsewhere can’t complain about anything. And this is, remember, one of our greatest scientists. I guess we can just place him next to William Shockley. But it does remind me of all the New Atheist nonsense of, “I only believe things I have evidence for!” I’m sure that Dawkins and Shockley would claim the same thing.

Regardless: rats. Love ’em or hate ’em, they are not very different from us. I’m not against men. My rat was a male and he was wonderful. But we men tend to be worse than women. And at our very worst, we are terrible.

Looking for America in Bernie Sanders

Bernie SandersMy friend Kristen McHenry recently wrote about, That Oddly Existential Bernie Sanders Ad. It reminded me that I had wanted to write about the spot. When I first saw it, I cried. Now that’s not terribly surprising, given that I’ve written before, On Sobbing and Being a Blubbering Fool. But the ad is amazingly effective.

The song, Simon & Garfunkel’s “America,” is the perfect choice. And the spot gets 15 seconds in before we see a Bernie Sanders sign, and then the man himself is incidental. But it turns suddenly different at the line, “Counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike. They’ve all come to look for America…” Part of this is because they cut from the early quiet portion of the song, right to the end when it is most energetic. Then we see Sanders and his wife walking into an event and the sound of crowd rises. I’m not much for joining things, but it’s hard not to stand up and shout, “I want to be part of that!”

The commercial was designed for the Iowa caucus. And I assume most of the footage is from that state. And I have to say: it is really white. The state is 91% white and less than 3% black. It really is a hell of state to start our only national election. But I would assume that the Bernie Sanders campaign will continue to use the ad outside Iowa, and I assume they will cut a little diversity into it. I understand Ta-Nehisi Coates’ argument against Bernie Sanders, but what I think Coates fails to understand is that Sanders might be interested in shaking things up, but he’s also interested in winning. Sanders’ not being more radical on racial issues and having a pretty white commercial for Iowa are pretty much the same thing.

But the question is, “What is the meaning of the Bernie Sanders spot?” I’m with Kristen, it isn’t about nostalgia. She thinks it is about “our growing sense of alienation and loss of identity.” I think she’s definitely onto something there. But it’s clear that the identity to be found is not some sense of conformity. Looking for America is an odd kind of thing because we are all different. What binds us together must be something more nebulous. America is not a people but an idea. This is how I put it in my comment to Kristen’s article:

It has various images of different kinds of people — all of them Americans. And they are all coming together because they all believe in that idea of America that we were taught in grammar school. We just want to have our barbecues and go to our kids’ school plays and tinker in the garden or the shop or on the computer. We are bound together in wanting to live our lives as we see fit. And it isn’t big government that is stopping us (as the Bundy freaks would have us believe). It is an unfair system that doesn’t allow all of us to share in the fruits of this nation.

I am tired of — angry about, even — this idea that the sum total of my civilization can be quantified by the GDP — or even worse, the wars we’ve “won.” To me, the ultimate symbol of America is YouTube where people of great talent and little post their videos. They express themselves in all their idiosyncrasies. Yet we live in an economic system that not only doesn’t provide proper compensation, but also no sense of security. It’s as if our greatest cultural desire is to make the lives of ordinary Americans the same as the natural world where the strong thrive and the weak die.

I like Hillary Clinton. But I’m with Robert Reich:

But what about the “pragmatic” Hillary Clinton? I have worked closely with her and have nothing but respect for her. In my view, she’s clearly the most qualified candidate for president of the political system we now have.

But the political system we now have is profoundly broken. Bernie Sanders is the most qualified candidate to create the political system we should have because he’s leading a political movement for change.

That’s as good a textual description of that video as anyone could make.

Morning Music: Rock & Roll

LoadedIf there is to be only one song from Loaded, it has got to be “Rock & Roll.” I’m not saying that it is better than “Sweet Jane.” It’s just that “Sweet Jane” has been so overdone, that I’m kind of bored by it. I still think that the version on Loaded is by far the best. But I’m getting sidetracked.

“Rock & Roll” tells what was apparently a common experience of people living far outside the “big city” hearing rock & roll (or jazz or just about any other kind of music you can think of) and having an epiphany. Life wasn’t constrained the way they grew up thinking. People of my generation had no such experience. Yes, occasionally a great little radio station would turn up. While still in high school, Will discovered KSAN right at the end of its existence. But it wasn’t a mind blowing experience.

But I’m not nearly as excited about much of the rest of the album. I don’t know what “Lonesome Cowboy Bill” is all about. In fact, it’s one of those albums where one side is just great and the other kind of meh. I am kind of amazed to see that pretty much every rock critic around today thinks that everything the Velvet Underground did was a classic. The quality of their work varied widely. And if I have to listen to “Train Coming Round the Bend” one more time, I think I’ll just kill myself.

But “Rock & Roll” really is a great song and this is a great performance of it:

Anniversary Post: Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven

Edgar Allan PoeOn this day in 1845, Edgar Allan Poe’s poem “The Raven” was first published, in The Evening Mirror. Poe’s reputation as a writer of horror tends to overshadow the fact that he was a technical master. During most of his lifetime, he was better known as a literary theorist than a writer. Pretty much everything he is known for was written in the last decade of his life. Of course, “The Raven” made him a star (not that it meant that much at that time).

But the main thing is that he wasn’t just telling stories or writing poems. He was approaching it from a technical standpoint. Think about “The Raven.” I don’t think people remember it all these years later because of the story. There isn’t much of story to it. It’s just really, really disturbing. Certainly a part of it is the mystery. What is the loss that is being talked about? What happened to Lenore? Does it matter? And what’s with that menacing bird?

Anyway, here is Vincent Price performing the poem from a television special he did of Poe’s work: