New on Psychotronic Review: Horrors of Spider Island

Psychotronic Review - Horrors of Spider IslandOver at Pychotronic Reviewwe’ve created a new page for the classic German horror-girly film, Horrors of Spider Island.

If you know the film, it is probably because Mystery Science Theater 3000 featured it in their final season (10th if you don’t count the KTMA season, 11th if you have any class at all). As I’ve been working on the Psychotronic Review project, I’ve been surprised at how often I run into the show. Of course, Michael Weldon’s The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film was their bible, just as it is mine.

But the film is quite good all on its own. I wish I could find it in German. You can get a taste of it in a short clip. In addition to hearing the original language, the picture quality is fantastic — at least compared to all the English language versions online.

Anyway, head over to Psychotronic Review to check it out. The page includes the full movie from It’s the perfect film to watch on this rainy Friday afternoon.

Trump’s Backup Plan: Blame Ryan

Greg Sargent - Trump's Backup Plan: Blame RyanNobody knows whether the House GOP health bill will pass today, or even whether it will get voted on — the vote could get postponed again, even though President Trump has demanded this vote or else he will allow Republicans to languish under the oppression of Obamacare forever (yes, it’s possible this is a bluff). The White House isn’t sure it has the votes. The whip counts show enough opposition to sink it. But a last-minute shift that puts it over the line is definitely possible.

Still, here are a few things we already know: Even if Trump “wins” and the bill passes, this whole process has been an utter disaster from start to finish. The media analysis is already being framed in a way that will obscure this from view. And Trump himself is determined not to learn the right lessons from the whole mess — no matter what happens.

The New York Times reports today that Trump is bracing for a possible loss, and he’s already moving to pin the blame on Paul Ryan if it fails …

Meanwhile, top Trump adviser Stephen K Bannon is also moving to blame Ryan for a loss, New York Magazine reports, by distancing himself from the bill and blaming Ryan for the fact that it doesn’t drive down costs. And so, if the bill goes down, the story will become whether Trump can shift the blame to Ryan and move on to other things, as Bannon apparently hopes to do. In this telling, the reason the bill failed (or the reason it was so close to tanking, if it prevails) will be that the White House underestimated the difficulty of getting the bill passed, or had too much faith in Ryan’s ability to do so.

The White House — and Republicans — also thought they could render the policy specifics and procedural challenges meaningless through sheer force of bluster. They attacked the Congressional Budget Office’s credibility in advance, but that only left them flatfooted and unprepared when the CBO did find that enormous numbers will lose coverage, which ended up weighing heavily on moderates, despite efforts to undercut its findings in advance. They opted for an absurdly compressed time frame, which alienated moderates and even some conservatives.

Indeed, the Times‘s reporting confirms that Trump never cared much about the policy or the process …

Yet there is no recognition, anywhere, that this might have been part of the problem all along. Worse, all of this will only be obscured if the bill passes, because the coverage is being framed as an epic gamble in which Trump either emerges as the heroic risk-taking “closer” or an abject failure at “dealmaking.” If he succeeds, the closeness of the vote bolsters the “closer” narrative. If he falls short, the failing was personal.

–Greg Sargent
Even If Trump “Wins,” This Health-Care Mess Has Been a Horrendous Disaster

The Ellipsis and Clarity

EllipsisThe ellipsis is probably the most troublesome punctuation mark in the English language. It is made up of three periods. And it means… Let me see now… Well, mostly it means that something is missing. But is it something concrete or just implied. When it’s used in dialog, it generally indicates that someone trails off, not finishing their sentence. It is implied that there is more to say but the speaker doesn’t say it because they are distracted or confused or…

In nonfiction writing, it is normally used when quoting material. Take, for example, the classic line from Hamlet, “There are more things in heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” This is usually misquoted, because no one cares about Horatio, whose only real claim to fame is being the only principle character in the play who doesn’t die in it. So if you wanted to quote accurately but get rid of Horatio, you could write, “There are more things in heaven and Earth… than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” And this has been the way that I have used it my entire life.

Unclear Ellipsis

There’s just one problem: it isn’t clear. People add ellipses to their writing all the time. So if you didn’t know the original quote, you wouldn’t know if that was what Shakespeare actually wrote, as thought Hamlet were pausing because he thought he saw his father’s ghost. A better solution then, would be, “There are more things in heaven and Earth … than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” Then there is no question that the ellipsis is used to indicate that the quote is missing text.

Now this is a pretty banal and obvious point. I normally wouldn’t take the time to write about it. But until just a few days ago, I always connected the ellipsis to the preceding word. Obviously I didn’t when the preceding text ended with a question or exclamation or quotation mark. This added inconsistency to my lack of clarity.

Bad Reasons for Bad Punctuation

The reason I did this was the same reason behind so many bad punctuation practices (eg, the lack of the serial comma): I liked the way it looked. And that’s so embarrassing!

As much as possible, I like to quote full sections of text, and not have to cut little pieces out of it. It looks bad, but it’s also harder to read. This is why I usually cut out starting conjunctions without using square brackets to capitalize the new first word.

Suppose I had a sentence like this, “But images look great.” If I wanted to get rid of the first word, I would quote it as, “Images look great” and not, “[I]mages look great.”

I believe I got this from Fowler. There’s no loss of clarity, I’m not changing the meaning of what the original writer is saying, it is easier to read, and it looks better. And I always used that justification for attaching the ellipsis to the preceding word. But it came to me suddenly that this practice did reduce clarity. And worse still: it did it in a way in which the reader wouldn’t even know.

So from now, the ellipsis will always have a space in front of it.


There are, of course, front ellipses: indicating that we are picking up the text already in progress. I never use them. They’re awful. It is even better to add text inside square brackets, although neither is usually necessary.

Why the Republican Base Will Continue to Be Chumps

Matt Taibbi - Why the Republican Base Will Continue to Be ChumpsA dynamic that all good swindlers understand is that once you’ve gotten a person to make one embarrassing decision, it’s easier to get him to make the next one. A person who loses 10 grand trying to buy the Brooklyn Bridge is a good bet to spend 20 more chasing the loss. Con artists call this “reloading.”

The Trump phenomenon has been like this. Megachurch moms and dads across the country grit their teeth when the “grab them by the pussy” tape came out, quietly convincing themselves that “locker-room talk” was less horrifying than a Hillary Clinton presidency.

When they cast their votes weeks later, it was like a secret transgression that bound them to the new leader. This counter-intuitive brand of politics is very effective.

–Matt Taibbi
Milo Yiannopoulos Isn’t Going Away


Taibbi was talking about Milo Yiannopoulos, but the Republicans have understood this for decades. Thus, they betray their base (chumps) and get punished for it at most only one election cycle. The Same old trick works again and again. Vote for helping the middle class. Get tax cuts for the rich. Vote for helping the middle class. Get Tax cuts for the rich. There is no end to it!

The Problem Is Capitalism, Not Market Failures

Capitalism - We Work for All; We Feed AllI just read an interview over at PorMarket, The Exercise of Market Power Probably Contributes to Economy-Wide Inequality. It’s with Jonathan B Baker and discusses how effectively having a monopoly tends to increase inequality. If this sounds a little obvious, well, that’s because it is. This is why monopolies are technically illegal. But the issue really isn’t specific market failures. The issue is (or should be) capitalism itself.

The first question starts, “The discourse on concentration, market power, and bigness in many US industries has increased dramatically in the last year.” Really?! Like so many things that economists were thinking a lot about over a century ago, economists are again thinking about them. It’s sad because this really isn’t about finding a better way to arrange our economy. This is instead a big effort at capitalism apologetics. It’s a faith-based belief that capitalism is the right system. These economists (and they are mostly “liberal” economists) are trying to tinker with the system to save it. No thought is given as to whether capitalism is worth saving — much less if it can be saved.

Problems of Capitalism

A question later on in the article starts, “The five largest internet and tech companies — Apple, Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Microsoft — have outstanding market share in their markets.” It then goes on to ask about anti-trust. That’s an issue with Apple, Google, and Microsoft.

For example, I think Google is the biggest search engine because it is the best. The truth is that a company could come in and destroy Google. Certainly Microsoft could have, but it never thought it necessary to create anything but Google with more images on the front page. Now it is true that Google might be immune to competition because at this point it is “good enough.” Any better search engines might be welcomed by people who have to do research seriously, but for 99 percent of the people Google is good enough. Even still, I can see Google losing out.


I leave Amazon alone, because it is kind of a hybrid of these companies on one hand and Facebook on the other.

Facebook is different a bird altogether. It is successful because it is successful. You could create a Facebook that is ten times better, yet it wouldn’t matter because what makes Facebook useful is that everyone is on it. So Facebook is a huge financial success due to nothing but the luck of timing (and having rich friends whose dads could back you — again: luck).

Last night, I heard on the news that someone was rushed to Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center. Oh. That was the first I had heard of that. It appears that the boy no-wonder gave SF General $75 million. With a net worth of $58 billion, that is roughly equivalent to me giving SF General the contents of the wallet — and I carry very little cash on me. Yet in addition to being given ridiculous sums of money for being in the right dorm room at the right time, he’s given hugh societal pats on the back for what is the equivalent of me giving spare change to beggars.

Why Don’t Economists Talk About Capitalism Itself?

My point is not to beat up on Zuckerberg, however. I don’t find him particularly more evil than any other high tech billionaire. But the question is why is it, “The discourse on concentration, market power, and bigness in many US industries has increased dramatically in the last year”? And why isn’t it, “The discourse on the random and immoral natural of capitalism has increased dramatically in the last year”?

I know the answers to these. Regardless of all the pretense to economics being a science, it isn’t. And the people who practice it are trapped by their faith-based beliefs.

The Unstated Assumptions

Whenever I talk about this kind of stuff, I know there are tech people out there who scoff at me. When I worked more directly in high tech, I used to talk about this stuff. I got lots of scoffs. But the responses I got were always the same old stuff. First: communism! Somehow, the fact the USSR under communism didn’t work as well as the US under capitalism is taken to mean something, despite the fact the US had a huge advantage to start with and then the lack of a world war decimating it.

Second: innovation! If it weren’t for capitalism, there would be no innovation and we would all still be farmers. But this is so clearly not the case. And there are other ways of encouraging innovation than making it like a lottery. What’s more, capitalism encourages people to game the system. Look at how litigious Apple and Microsoft have been.

When I look at innovation, what is normally the case is that people working at universities and national labs come up with new ideas, and then private companies come in and monetize them. Well, there’s no reason why the government and non-profits and worker collectives couldn’t do the same thing. (Note: in the old days, many corporations also innovated; but those days are long gone.)

I’m Still Searching for Answers

Note that both of these reasons for why we absolutely must stick with capitalism are not based on evidence. They are just taken as given in our society. I’m not saying that I’m right. And I certainly don’t have all the answers. But I know that whether capitalism is the right system for us is a question, not a given. It doesn’t matter how well you think, if you can’t see the important questions, all the thinking in the world will take you nowhere. And we are getting there. Fast.

GOP Reasons for Healthcare Bill Make No Sense

Jonathan Chait - GOP Reasons for Healthcare Bill Make No SenseRather than advocate for the alleged benefits of the bill — if anybody even alleges them any more — Republicans have staked their case on a series of reasons unrelated to its direct effects on the healthcare system:

1. They promised. “We made a promise and now it is the time to keep that promise,” says Paul Ryan. “If we keep that promise, the people will reward us. If we don’t keep our promise, it will be very hard to manage this.” …

A related argument maintains that Republicans would somehow take the blame for the status quo if they failed to pass the bill. “I’m optimistic that none of my members in the end want to be responsible for the status quo on Obamacare,” says Mitch McConnell. Of course, Republicans will be held responsible for the status quo regardless of whether they pass a healthcare bill.

2. Losing will embolden our enemies. “[Trump] told us if we don’t pass this bill on Thursday, it will put everything in jeopardy that he wants to do, his agenda,” Republican Representative John Duncan of Tennessee told The Hill. “If we are not able to move forward with healthcare reform, it endangers tax reform,” Representative Bill Flores of Texas, a former chairman of a House conservative caucus, tells Sahil Kapur. “The folks that were able to tear this down would feel like they’re empowered to tear the next big project down.” This is, essentially, the domino theory of legislation. But, really, think about it rationally: the folks who are tearing down Trumpcare are fellow Republicans in Congress. If Trumpcare fails, are they going to turn against tax cuts? …

3. But think of the tax cuts! The manic drive to pass the healthcare bill follows from a legislative strategy that was designed to culminate in a huge tax cut that would not have to be phased out after a decade. Republicans continue to insist health reform must be passed for this reason. …

4. We’ll lose Congress if we fail. “If we get this done, and tax reform, [Trump] believes we pick up ten seats in the Senate and we add to our majority in the House,” says Republican Representative Chris Collins of New York. “If we don’t get it done, we lose the House and the Senate.” Trump has reportedly emphasized the same point to his party. …

The AHCA is the fruit of a failed strategy. The law’s design was dictated by a legislative schedule that initially assumed Republicans would simply defund Obamacare, move on to tax cuts, and return to health care at their leisure later on. They have instead been forced to craft an actual healthcare bill on a manic time frame, using a legislative mechanism that is not designed for major social legislation. Like people leading a country into a losing war, they demand to push on and invent new reasons to justify the cost, because they can imagine nothing worse than admitting they failed.

–Jonathan Chait
Why Trump Thinks Passing a Terrible Healthcare Bill Makes Sense

Psychotronic Review’s First Blog Post

Psychotronic ReviewI fear that many of you may see this image and have the same let-down that I did as a child when I was expecting Night Gallery to come on and instead they aired The Sixth Sense. But what I write there I just would have written here.

The interesting thing about Psychotronic Review is that it isn’t a blog. It is meant to be more of an encyclopedia. While all the articles on Frankly Curious could never be compiled into a book, I suspect that those of Psychotronic Review could be — certainly if I ever manage to write as many articles as I have here.

So on Psychotronic Review each film has a page rather than a post. The different in CMS-speak is that posts are sequential — one after the other. Pages just are. So my page on A*P*E has no indication of when it was create — even relative to other articles.

Anyway, this made me wonder what I was going to use the blog for. I’ve decided that it will mostly be on theory. This first article, however, isn’t that much theory (although I couldn’t come up with a better category for it). It’s The Good and Bad of Mystery Science Theater 3000. It deals with my deeply divided thoughts on the show. On the one hand, it introduced a lot of people to psychotronic films. On the other, it seems to think they are all bad.

Go take a gander.

Like GOP Generally, Trump Wants to Exploit Terrorism, Not Stop It

Peter Maass - Trump Exploits Only Some Kinds of TerrorismThe first thing to understand is that attacks by foreign-born terrorists are rare. From 1975 through 2015, a total of 3,024 Americans were killed in such attacks, with most of those occurring on 9/11, according to a recent Cato Institute report. In other words, the annual odds of being killed by a foreign-born terrorist are 1 in 3,609,709. Each of these deaths is a tragedy, of course, but they represent a fraction of the preventable fatalities from any number of causes, including spouse-on-spouse violence, traffic accidents, and even toddlers with unsecured guns.

Trump’s eagerness to exploit only a particular type of terror attack — by Muslims — was reflected in his selective reaction to two incidents in his first month in office. In late January, he remained silent when a white Christian shot dead six Muslims in a Canadian mosque. A few days later, an Egyptian with a machete attacked French soldiers at the Louvre while shouting “Allahu Akhbar.” Nobody was killed, not even the attacker — one soldier was slightly injured before the Egyptian was shot four times. Yet within hours, Trump tweeted:

His disingenuity exposes a glaring fallacy in his executive orders. The handful of Muslim-majority countries named in the orders represent a negligible threat for domestic terrorism. The few attacks in America that have involved Muslims, including 9/11, drew largely on people from Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Egypt — but those countries were not included in either order from the Oval Office. A ruling by Judge Theodore Chuang that blocked the second order noted “strong indications that the national security purpose is not the primary purpose of the travel ban.”

–Peter Maass
For Donald Trump, a Terror Attack Will Be an Opportunity Not a Curse

New on Psychotronic Review: The President’s Analyst

Psychotronic ReviewNew at Pychotronic Review: The President’s Analyst.

This is a rather long look at this very odd, but funny 1967 film written and directed by the co-creator of Barney Miller. When I first saw it, I didn’t care for it that much. But it has only improved with time and viewings. Read all about its plot, my analysis of its deeper meaning, and a look at the technical side of the film.

Rima Khalaf Resigns From UN Due to Trump Pressure

Rima KhalafOn Wednesday, a UN agency published a report noting that “Israel has established an apartheid regime that dominates the Palestinian people as a whole.” Yesterday, the author of that report, who has served as executive secretary of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (UNESCWA) since 2010, Rima Khalaf, resigned after the Trump administration, working in conjunction with Israel, pressured the UN secretary-general to demand that she withdraw the report.

Khalaf, a Jordanian national who has served in multiple high government positions, refused the demand to repudiate her own report, instead choosing to resign. The report — which was co-authored by the Jewish American Princeton professor and former UN official Richard Falk, a longtime critic of Israeli occupation — has now been removed from the UNESCWA website.

What makes this event most remarkable is how unremarkable the report’s conclusion is: It’s a point that a former Israeli prime minister — as well as Trump’s own defense secretary — has made unequivocally. Back in 2010, Ehud Barak, Israel’s former prime minister and its most decorated soldier, explicitly warned that Israel was on a path to what he called a permanent “apartheid” state. As he put it: “As long as in this territory west of the Jordan river there is only one political entity called Israel it is going to be either non-Jewish, or non-democratic. If this bloc of millions of ­Palestinians cannot vote, that will be an apartheid state.”

Seven years later, Israel is indisputably committed to exactly that outcome. Many of its key ministers do not even support a two-state solution. Israeli expansion of illegal settlements continues unabated. Palestinians are further away than ever from full political rights, or even enjoying the right of democratic self-determination. As Barak himself pointed out, this is the very definition of apartheid.

Yet now, thanks to the Trump administration’s self-destructive devotion to Israeli interests — an odd posture for a president who ran on a platform of “Putting America First” — it is impermissible for UN officials to note this reality lest Israel be offended.

–Glenn Greenwald
Trump Administration Ousts UN Official to Protect Israel From Criticism

So Long, Chuck Berry

Chuck BerryThe rock and roll legend Chuck Berry died yesterday at the age of 90. When I a kid, I thought of him as just a great guitarist — certainly the most recognizable and most copied lead guitar player ever. And he was certainly that. But I tend to downplay it now. Sad as it is to say, he is the only lead guitar player who I can play like — basically, I’ve never gotten past the surfer bands of the 1960s, and they didn’t know a thing they didn’t learn from listening to Chuck Berry.

It was only later that I realized that he is one of the greatest songwriters of the 20th century. And I’m not just talking about rock and roll. He is as good as Rodgers and Hart, for example. And I can’t really give a songwriter any greater compliment. There is lots to say about Berry’s life, but I prefer to let the music speak for itself. So let’s listen to a few of his hits.

First there is the classic, and possibly the greatest rock and roll song ever (but not my favorite), “Johnny B Goode”:

Second is one of my favorites, “You Never Can Tell”:

Beyond Teen Music

One thing I especially like about Berry’s work is that by and large it isn’t adolescent. That doesn’t take away from it’s fun. But I love the multiple generations of “You Never Can Tell” — rather a more adult take on marriage than The Beach Boys’ anemic “Wouldn’t It Be Nice.”

In “Memphis, Tennessee” he wrote about trying to get in touch with his daughter following a break-up. It’s poignant:

New National Anthem?

As many of you know, I’m not fond of our national anthem. Not only does it have a questionable history, it isn’t a pleasant tune and it brings out the worst in our modern day screechers. But Chuck Berry wrote a song that would make a great national anthem, “Back in the USA.” It is the most patriotic song I know of, and without a hint of jingoism. Maybe it’s time to finally change:

What can I say? Chuck Berry gave more than he took. I guess I’ll just take a hint from Douglas Adams…

So long, and thanks for all the songs, Chuck Berry!

Another Trump Policy to Screw His Supporters

Todd VanDerWerff - Another Trump Policy to Screw His Supporters - CPB EditionIt’s true that just over 23 percent of the CPB’s budget (nearly entirely derived from the federal government) goes toward the development and acquisition of television and radio programming. And, yes, losing that stipend will hurt PBS and NPR on some level — though the difference will probably be covered by private funding, whether thanks to corporations, grant foundations, or the famous “viewers like you.”

But most of the federal government’s dollars to CPB (just over 65 percent) go toward one thing: keeping rural PBS and NPR stations alive. These stations only continue to operate due to funding from the federal government. If Trump’s proposed budget becomes law, PBS and NPR themselves will continue to exist, on TV, on the radio, and on digital platforms. So will local affiliates in major urban areas. But many of those rural stations will be shuttered.

The rural areas served by those stations backed Trump heavily. He received 62 percent of the vote in rural counties. Thus, his budget’s proposed defunding of CPB is yet another way that a policy proposed by Trump seems as if it will have the most adverse effect on those who voted for him.

–Todd VanDerWerff
Defunding the Corporation for Public Broadcasting Won’t Kill PBS