Remembering Ronnie Corbett

Ronnie CorbettI just found out that Ronnie Corbett died. He was 85 years old, so it isn’t a big surprise. I know him from some movies, most notably one of my favorite undervalued films, Fierce Creatures. Before I go on, let me just say that people ignore this movie because it wasn’t A Fish Called Wanda. But it is wonderful. And the reason it is so wonderful is because its filled with so many great characters, like Corbett.

Here is a brief scene from it. Corbett is at the beginning and the end of it. The idea is that a Rupert Murdoch like character has purchased this little zoo so John Cleese is put in charge of making it profitable. He wants to make the zoo “dangerous” and so get rid of all the nice animals like the anteater. So the staff stage a bunch of fake accidents to get him to keep the animals. Eventually, he falls in love with the animals and the zoo. It’s totally my kind of movie: silly but extremely sweet.

Mostly, I know Ronnie Corbett from the sketch comedy show The Two Ronnies. But it wasn’t the show so much. It was that every episode had an “armchair monologue” where he would tell a joke. But the joke didn’t matter. It was just an excuse for him to be amazingly funny getting around to telling the joke. In this case, it is the parrot joke, which is one of those great jokes you can tell your grandmother.

But most of the lead up to the joke is about Ronnie Corbett’s wife. Why? Who knows?! That’s what’s so great about these bits. But it is interesting to noted that they married 30 May 1966, which means that they were just about to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. Corbett was diagnosed with ALS just one year ago today, and he died, as is appropriate, surrounded by his family.

Death is not such a bad thing. But it is sad when a great person like Ronnie Corbett is taken from us.

What Are Republican Reformers, Anyway?

Ross DouthatPaul Krugman wrote an interesting blog post, The Pathos of Republican Reformers. It starts, “Ross Douthat has a wonderfully written, heartfelt takedown of the WSJ editorial page, which is — surprise! — dead set against any deviation from the tax-cuts-for-the-rich agenda.” But Krugman goes on to wonder about the naivete of these supposed reformers; did they “really think there was any chance that their ideas would achieve headway within the party?” Well, I’m not quite so sympathetic toward these people — especially Ross Douthat.

Douthat is a Catholic and that seems to be why he is a conservative. I refer to him as “God’s older brother.” The truth is that Catholics don’t have to be conservatives. Just look at Garry Wills. The issue for Christians is always what you are going to focus on. Douthat focuses on homosexuality and abortion. He cares about feeding the poor and so on, but not enough to turn against a party that is totally at odds with that. And that’s true of all of the reformish conservatives. They all have their little issues with the Republican Party, but they all buy into the basic idea that the rich deserve everything and the government should be set up to facilitate that.

It’s very simple. The Republican Party is so broken — it has nothing to offer to the nation — that it needs these apologists who claim to be reformers.

But as Krugman says in other words: what the hell is the Republican Party all about anyway? So I think all these Republican reformers are frauds. Even Josh Barro. Of all the Republican reformers, he’s the only one (along with Bruce Bartlett — who has similar problems) that even pretends to take reform seriously. The rest just want to make the Republican Party seem better. But look at how Barro provided cover for Chris Christie’s fiasco on the Hudson River tunnel.

We got into a small public fight about it. He claimed that Christie was against the tunnel because it was too expensive. I noted that this was what politicians always said when they wanted to kill something for other reasons. No politician ever says, “I want to kill this needed infrastructure project because I want to give the money away to my rich friends.” This is political science 101. See the book Winner-Take-All Politics if you have any questions. But Barro claimed I was dumb because as a liberal, I just wanted to spend money without worrying about efficiency. Then a year later, it came out that Chris Christie did in fact kill the tunnel so he could cut taxes and that he would never have allowed the tunnel — a decision that will cost the state of New Jersey billions of extra dollars over the coming years.

Think about things from the other side. I have a lot of problems with the Democratic Party. I’m highly critical of it and I’m very open about the fact that in a parliamentary system, I would not be a Democrat. Yet I don’t put on airs that I’m a Democratic Party reformer. And no one in the Democratic Party does that. The reason is simple: everyone in every political party has problems with it. There are always things that they don’t agree with. So what’s the big deal about Republican reformers?

It’s very simple. The Republican Party is so broken — it has nothing to offer to the nation — that it needs these apologists who claim to be reformers. And the reason for this is because our media is not willing to tell the truth. So they have to pretend that there are people in the Republican Party trying to turn it into something that a reasonable and informed person could support. But none of these guys actually care about reforming what is wrong with the party. David Frum wants gun control, but keep those tax cuts for the rich and foreign wars coming! And Ross Douthat might care about the poor, but not enough to give up on the party that panders to what he really cares about: homosexuality and abortion.

Morning Music: Mason Jennings and Kevin Kling

Mason JenningsI like to end these weeks with a live performance. But I find that there really isn’t anything for Mason Jennings. There is, however, this astounding performance that he did with storyteller Kevin Kling. Kling really is amazing. I suspect I’ve heard him before. He’s really quite amazing. And the two of them make a great team.

I don’t have much to say. This is the kind of entertainment that I enjoy. I would pay to go and see these guys. Most live entertainment bugs me. I’ve watched as theater has gotten bigger and bigger and more and more like film. But my favorite things when I was a kid were things like Will Rogers’ USA and Mark Twain Tonight — one man shows. I find it far easier to get absorbed in someone telling me a story than I do in having the story rendered to me. And in movies, most of the time so much is going on you can’t catch it all anyway.

This is nice because it presents a great storyteller and a great songwriter. When I’m at a rock concert, I’m almost always overwhelmed with how fake it is. The pretense overwhelms everything else. I guess I’m supposed to think that the performers are cool and so I am too because I can see it. But what I feel is alone — like I’m surrounded by lost and confused people who are pretending to have a good time. I know that says much about me and nothing about them. I have no real idea what they are thinking and feeling. But that’s how the experience feels to me.

On the other hand, this concert with Mason Jennings and Kevin Kling is something that I connect with. It speaks to my life and I find moments of truth in it. I highly recommend watching it all.

Anniversary Post: Apple iPad

Apple SucksOn this day in 2010, the first iPad was released. It was an extremely big deal because like every Apple product ever, it didn’t do anything new. It was what all their products are: a well packaged implementation of other people’s work. But it had the secret sauce that all their products have: a really big legal department that sues every other company that builds on the same technology that Apple has been stealing for years.

It is not, as many people seem to think, that I have it out for them and that I love Microsoft. First, I don’t like Microsoft at all. But more to the point, I don’t care about devices. If I can get work done on it, fine. That’s all that matters to me. Give me a computer with OS X or Windows or Linux: I don’t care. I can get my work done on them. With things like tablets and phones, I can get work done, but it is harder because they aren’t built for work; they’re built for entertainment.

What I Hate About Apple

But what I do hate about Apple is how it tries to win through the courts. As I said: it never innovated anything. At least Microsoft did a couple of things worth note. So for Apple, it’s all about using the legal system to gain advantage. Consider Apple Inc v Samsung Electronics Co. I thought that whole clusterf@#k was typical of what was wrong with Apple and America. In South Korea, Japan, and the United Kingdom, Apple was laughed out of court. But the litigious bastards won in the United States because as the saying goes, “The business of America is business.” And what that means is that we don’t care about innovating and creating stuff. We just care about allowing companies to trick their way to profitability.

If you like Apple products: fine! I don’t care. I still do most of my work with the vi editor, initially released in 1976. It’s not the best editor, but I’ve been using it so long that it is natural. And I can create keyboard mappings that do amazing things. I know that Emacs can do a lot more, but I’ll bet I can still do things faster in vi than 99% of Emacs users. So it’s fine to like one tool more than another. But don’t kid yourself: Apple is one of the most evil companies in the world.