Bubba Ho-Tep on Psychotronic Review

Bubba Ho-TepI watched Bubba Ho-Tep the other night and wrote about it over on Psychotronic Review. I’m sure I’ll write more about it later. This last time I watched it, I was most struck with how it worked as a very serious film about the way that we abandon the elderly.

Of course, the film remains quite a fun romp, but there is lots of meaning if you are inclined to see it.

Getting People to Watch It

Bubba Ho-Top has been a troublesome movie for me for many years. When I first saw it, I loved it. So I introduced it to just about everyone I met. Yet it seemed no one could even make it half way through. I think it’s all the business about cancer on Elvis’ penis. I understand the problem. But if people would just push through, they would find that they really enjoy it. That’s especially true after it becomes a buddy picture. Bruce Campbell and Ossie Davis make a wonderful pair.

If you have somehow managed to miss it these last 15 years, you really should find it. It’s extraordinary.

The Federal Reserve Keeps People Unemployed

Dean Baker on 2016 July Jobs ReportThe New York Times had an interesting piece that reported on the ways in which Uber uses techniques learned from behaviorial economics to get drivers to work longer hours than they might want. The article concludes by saying that with changes in the economy, many workers may have no choice but to rely on Uber jobs.

In this context, it is worth mentioning the Federal Reserve Board. The Federal Reserve Board has raised interest rates twice in the last four months because it is concerned that the economy is creating too many jobs. It is expected to raise interest rates three more times this year.

If people consider it bad that workers have few options other than working for Uber, they should be very upset that the Fed is raising interest rates. These interest rates are helping to ensure that millions of workers have limited job opportunities.

–Dean Baker
Uber and the Federal Reserve Board

Zulu and the Racism We Bring to It

Zulu (1964)I watched part of the 1964 classic Zulu last night. I recommend reading an article I wrote about the film a few years ago, Zulu and the Politics of Power. But something struck me while watching it this time: how much it is like the Iliad.

What I mean by that is that the poem is Greek, written for Greeks to make them feel good about themselves. But it doesn’t vilify the Trojans. Certainly the Trojans are considered in the wrong. They supposedly started the war by kidnapping Helen. And so the Greek reader can be happy that the “good guys” win the battle. But mostly, it’s kind of like a sporting event: there’s our side and their side. And reasons don’t much matter. (Indeed, in the Iliad, it isn’t clear whether Helen was kidnapped by Paris, simply ran away with him, or something in the middle.)

Zulu Isn’t Objectively Racist

This is the case in Zulu, the movie. (For information on the actual battle, check out my article.) The Zulu aren’t really bad. In fact, it isn’t clear why they are attacking at all. There is no discussion of the Anglo-Zulu War, which really was an act of imperialist aggression by the British. But it hardly matters: the Zulu are attacking and, in this case, the British are defending. And other than the very beginning, it is told entirely from the perspective the British military.

It is because of this that the film isn’t racist. However, it is ethnocentric — shockingly so. The film does everything it can to humanize the Zulu. But it is a film for the British by the British. And that’s fine. A South African filmmaker who wanted to do the same thing would doubtless tell the story of the Battle of Isandlwana (the one right before the events shown in the film).

It’s also interesting that the film is anti-war. At the end of the film, Lieutenant Chard admits that this had been his first experience of combat and says, “You think I could stand this butcher’s yard more than once?” There’s no doubt that he’s not talking about his own troops. But even if war is hell, that doesn’t mean you can’t feel good about winning.

The Racism We Bring to Zulu

What’s troubling about the film, however, is that while it may not be racist objectively, it is easy to see a racist film while watching it. And that’s especially true of Americans. All of the “good guys” are white and all of the “bad guys” are black. What’s more, King Cetshwayo is the only black character who has a name. The white characters have superior technology. And in the context of the film, they are completely innocent. The leader of the whites is only there because he wants to build a bridge.

The story of the pure, advanced white man defeating the immoral, primitive black man dates to at least to D W Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation in 1916. And with our history of chattel slavery still very much with us in continued inequality and everything that goes along with that (eg, over-represented black criminals on the nightly news), there’s little doubt that Zulu is viewed as a racist film by many.

Rocky Is Similar to Zulu

I’ve long felt much the same way about Rocky. The film itself isn’t racist, but it is hard for white Americans to not watch it in that way. In fact, I think if Apollo Creed had been a white character, the film probably wouldn’t have been the blockbuster that it was. I’m not sure the same can be said of Zulu, although it probably was a lot more popular in the US because of the easy racist reading of the film.

The Power of the Reader

This is all very disturbing to me. I have written a lot about how the reader (listener, viewer) of a work of art is the ultimate arbiter of its meaning. And in this way, our social problems soil our art. But it also gives us hope. Recognizing racism in Zulu or Rocky is recognizing racism in our society. And as we (slowly) move beyond racism, the art works will be healed automatically.

On the other hand, how much of the power of these films comes from our own latent racism? I really don’t know. But I do know that racism and other social dysfunctions soil everything we do.

Mitch McConnell Admits He Has No Principles

XXXAfter Antonin Scalia died, in February of 2016, Mitch McConnell justified his decision to blockade the vacancy on the grounds that neither party would approve a Supreme Court justice during an election year. (The truth is that there was simply little precedent for this either way.) McConnell was simply acting on a “principle” that, he explained, had been understood by all sides but never ratified in a formal way. …

A good test of any principle is whether the person claiming it is willing to make it apply to all circumstances going forward. If McConnell were willing to make “fill no election-year vacancies” a formal rule, it would hardly prove his good faith — he might have embraced the rule as a post hoc rationale for his power play — but it would be at least consistent with the idea McConnell was acting in good faith. And he would be binding himself, and his party, to the “rule” he forced Obama to follow, that a president may fill only those Supreme Court vacancies that occur during the first three years of a four-year term.

But instead McConnell simply brushed off the idea of making it a rule… …

So, no rule. McConnell blockaded the Supreme Court vacancy because he had the votes to do it. There’s no principle guiding Supreme Court nominations other than: “Does the president have 50 Senate votes?”

Instead of trying to understand the Calvinball rules, Democrats should work within the order that exists. Which means they have to filibuster Neil Gorsuch, and let McConnell formally eliminate the filibuster for Supreme Court nominations, so that they can confirm their nominees with 50 votes, too.

–Jonathan Chait
Mitch McConnell Admits the “Rule” That Blocked Merrick Garland Is Not Actually a Rule

Parchment Paper and Delicious Healthy Enchiladas

Parchment Paper And Delicious Healthy EnchiladasI have a few things to say about parchment paper. And it isn’t just that it isn’t wax paper.

Those of you who’ve poked around this site long enough know that Mr Curious likes to cook. He seems to be pretty good at it. And, as he would tell you, anyone can be! All it takes is practice. The more things you try making, the better you will become. You will learn which methods and shortcuts work best for you.

If you want to learn to cook and don’t know where to start, find a cookbook one of your relatives has lying around. Try making some dish you want to eat, but have never made before. (Avoid recipes with complicated-sounding steps or equipment you don’t have.) If you follow the recipe, the dish will turn out perfectly edible. You might make a mistake — it won’t poison anybody. (Unless it’s undercooked meat or spoiled vegetables.)

I heartily recommend Better Homes And Gardens cookbooks — preferably older ones.

Over time, you will rely less on recipes, using them more for ideas than as strict guidelines. The reason cooking is easier than singing or writing? You’re your own food critic! You know when something tastes good, and you’ll learn how to adjust a recipe to your tastebuds and cooking style.

The Fightin’ Side Of Me

How to adjust a recipe brings up my know-it-all side. Mr Curious has an all-but-ideal recipe for Potatoes au Gratin. Which is much easier to make than scalloped potatoes, and just as delicious, if not more.

Our chef correctly notes that the problem with potato dishes is they can be a mess to clean up. Potatoes are very starchy, and often stick to the cooking pan’s bottom under oven heat. The above recipe provides an elegant solution to this problem.

Unfortunately, the solution is wrong. I have the correct one!


Embedding “The Fightin’ Side of Me” does not imply approval of jingoistic lyrics.

Parchment Paper Does Everything Right

Parchment paper is a thick paper which does not burn at regular oven temperatures. (Under 400-425 °F, but probably safe for higher temperatures if you keep an eye on it.) It is generally used for baking bread or dessert items, to prevent them from sticking in the pan.

But you can use it for so much more! It’s ideally suited for anything being cooked in a rectangular glass casserole dish. If your cooking dish has a reusable plastic storage lid, you don’t even have to take your leftover food out! Just wait until it cools, put the lid on, and stick your leftovers right in the fridge. It won’t get the parchment paper soggy.

I’m not aware of anything that sticks to parchment paper. So cleanup is a cinch. Your food comes out easily, and your cookware is easy to rinse.

Worried about the waste of throwing out paper? Worry no more! Parchment paper is easier on the environment than aluminum foil, and it doesn’t come from factory farms like dairy fats. Wax paper, which is often used instead, has a petroleum-based coating and doesn’t work any better. Besides, you won’t be using parchment paper all the time — and, let’s face it, most people throw away a lot of paper products they should be recycling. (You can’t recycle used parchment paper, but you can compost it.)

A Healthy Delicious Enchilada Recipe

Now that the lecture’s over, let’s cook! You will need a baking dish (I use one that is 8.5"×13"), parchment paper, and the following food items:

  • 1 block firm tofu
  • 1 packet MILD dry taco seasoning mix
  • 8-10 soft whole wheat tortillas, almost as wide across as your baking dish
  • 2 cups enchilada sauce (canned, or packet mix with tomato paste and water)
  • Reduced-fat cheese of choice (see recipe for amount)

Instructions

Drain the tofu by pressing it with a dry, smooth cloth. Crumble the tofu into a bowl and stir in the seasoning mix. (You do not need to heat it or add water.) Now cover the bottom and sides of your baking dish with parchment paper.

Put some tofu in a tortilla. If you like, add shredded or thinly sliced cheese strips. Roll up the tortilla to be shaped like a long pipe. You want enough filling so that the rolled tortilla looks full inside. But you don’t want so much that the tofu spills out the ends when you roll it.

(If it’s not full enough or the tofu spills out, just unroll, add or remove tofu, and roll it again.)

Place each rolled tortilla in the baking dish, with the tortilla flap on the bottom (so it won’t unroll). If your baking dish isn’t long enough, don’t be afraid to smush the tortillas in there so they get tall and skinny.

Cover the tortillas in that enchilada sauce. Add more cheese on top if you like.

Bake, uncovered, at 350°F for 20 minutes, longer if the cheese on top isn’t melted to your satisfaction.

Recipe Notes

My spouse invented this tonight! Start to finish, it took about 45 minutes. I think it cost about $12. Refried beans would be cheaper and just as delicious, with only a little more fat and cooking time.

The taco seasoning flavor is strong, which is why I suggest using a packet labeled, “Mild.” You can also add half the packet to start, then taste a bite of tofu before adding more seasoning. You can save any seasoning you don’t use for later.

Of course, you can go the less-healthy route. I’m preaching the virtues of parchment paper, not nutrition. White flour tortillas roll up fine (not corn tortillas, though). You can crumbled beef, shredded chicken, or pork, anything you want can go in the tortillas. Pre-cooked bell peppers, onions, or cactus would be a tasty addition. (They would require more tortillas and a larger baking dish.)

And if you absolutely loathe reduced-fat cheese, by all means use the regular kind. Do not use nonfat cheese! Nonfat cheese doesn’t melt at all. It just gets dry. That’s fine for some things — But not enchiladas (or pizza)!

Afterword: Mr Curious Responds

Frank responded:

“I will certainly use parchment paper in the future. But the point of my Potatoes au Gratin bottom was not to make clean-up easier — even if this is a bonus. The point is to make the cheese at the bottom easy to cut into bite-sized pieces.

“Also, enchiladas don’t have to go alone. Normally, I serve enchiladas along with my refried beans and Spanish rice. It’s true: doing this does create an enormous amount of food. But I like all of this so much that I don’t have a problem eating it for a week straight.”

Why Is Trump Tanking? Lies and an Unpopular Agenda

Greg Sargent - Why Is Trump Tanking? Lies and an Unpopular AgendaThe health bill, the travel ban, and the border wall are all either defeated or in deep trouble. As veteran Washington consultant David Gergen put it, Trump is “flailing because he doesn’t know where to find his natural allies.”

But if this is so, surely it is partly because the policies are so unpopular. Take health care: Many blame House conservatives for tanking the GOP bill. But more pragmatic GOP lawmakers also played a big role. They opposed it in large part because the policy was so regressive that even they could not abide by it. The plan would have cut over $800 billion in Medicaid spending — which would have left 14 million fewer on Medicaid, according to the Congressional Budget Office — while delivering an enormous tax cut for the rich.

A number of moderate House Republicans opposed the plan precisely because it would have taken coverage away from many of their poorer constituents. Moderates were also alienated in part because the plan was broadly unpopular: A recent poll found that only 17 percent of voters backed the plan, and core Trump voter groups opposed it. The Medicaid cuts were a key reason for that: 74 percent of voters, including 54 percent of Republicans, opposed its Medicaid cuts — revealing broad opposition to its most prominent mechanism for massively rolling back spending to cover poor people. …

Something similar is happening on the travel ban and border wall. The original travel ban, which was blocked by the courts, was the result of a laughably slapdash process that could not conceal its anti-Muslim animus. The new version was also put on hold, in part because Trump and his advisers themselves revealed that its true rationale and goals were very similar, thus making it just as vulnerable to legal challenges, even as its stated rationale has been undercut by Homeland Security’s own analysts. (The fact that there’s no serious rationale for it may help explain why it’s unpopular.) Meanwhile, the wall on the Mexican border may also stumble over one of Trump’s big lies. He claimed Mexico will pay for it, but now that Congress actually has to do so, Republicans are privately saying they don’t really want to fight for that spending. The fact that the wall is also very unpopular probably makes this easier for them. …

Why is Trump tanking? The bottom line is that the ongoing translation of Trump’s agenda into policy specifics is showing that major elements of it are unpopular, or unworkable because they are premised on lies, or both.

–Greg Sargent
Why Is Trump Flailing? Because Americans Hate His Agenda, and It’s Based on Lies.

The Modern Willy Loman Has Simply Yielded to Power

Death of a Salesman - The Modern Willy Loman Has Simply Yielded to PowerDeath of a Salesman is an amazing play. Formally, there are many things I don’t like about it. I’m not keen on the use of flashbacks, to start. And I don’t like the standard theatrical drama. Yet unlike most of Shakespeare that I now find boring, I never tire of Death of a Salesman. And I think the reason for that is that the play is as relevant to American life today as it was in 1949. The modern Willy Loman is more tragic than the original.

When people analyze the play, they tend to focus on Willy Loman’s delusions. But I don’t think he’s delusional at all. I think he understands the society that he lives in. And he understands that he is one of its losers. What makes him fascinating is that he tries to cover. His ideas about what it takes to be successful are really just bravado. After all, what does it mean to say, “He’s liked but not well-liked”? That’s an astrology-level of explanation — there to prove absolutely anything at all.

Willy Loman Was Self-Aware

But under this bravado is the understanding that Willy just hasn’t had the kind of luck that leads to the kind of life that he thinks would represent success. And here, my focus is not on Willy’s environment, but on who Willy is. He’s limited in his thinking. He’s leveraged his one talent — an appealing, outgoing personality — into a reasonably successful sales career. But with age, his charm has declined to the point where he is fired.

I come back again and again to something that David Foster Wallace (PDF) wrote:

There is no such thing as not worshiping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And an outstanding reason for choosing some sort of God or spiritual-type thing to worship … is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things … then you will never have enough … Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you. … Worship power — you will end up feeling weak and afraid … Worship your intellect … — you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out.

The Modern Willy Loman Has Crammed the Truth Deep

What I fear most about modern American life is that the people who worship power are not self-aware enough to feel weak. The people who worship beauty don’t feel ugly. The people who worship intellect don’t feel stupid. Understand: they still act the same way. That’s why the millionaire is always a million away from happiness while the billionaire is always a billion away. But as a society, we manage to stuff these truths so deep that we rarely if ever grapple with them.

This isn’t some kind of law of nature. This is a law of our political, economic, and legal system, which is designed by the powerful to protect themselves.

Willy Loman spends all of Death of a Salesman grappling with this truth. Many people who analyze the play contend that he was never a good salesman. That’s nonsense. He’s been at the same company for 34 years. At the time of the play, that means, he’s been working for the same company since 1915 — that he managed to sell his way through the Great Depression. This is a man who was good at his job — maybe even great. But he’s forced to grapple with his idea that being charming and hard-working is all it takes to succeed as he gets older and therefore less charming and less able to work hard.

The Death of the American Dream

Today, people have turned against the idea of the American Dream — even as idiosyncratic as the idea always was. Now they see things the way pre-industrialism royalists did. You just are or aren’t a success. Of sure, as a society, we continue the pretense. We have people like Daymond John[1] to do a turn on the red carpet so that no one gets any ideas like that maybe all that really matters is who your parents were. But even though we’ve stuffed it really deep, we know the truth: all that really matters is who your parents were.

Willy Loman Has Given Up

This isn’t some kind of law of nature. This is a law of our political, economic, and legal system, which is designed by the powerful to protect themselves. The problem is the system itself. But Willy Loman at least reflects on his place in the system (regardless of how feebly). Today, people seem to be suffering from learned helplessness. They just accept their lot in life because they have no memory of a time when they had any control.

In 1949, it was Death of a Salesman. Today, it is “Salesman Becomes Walmart Greeter, Works Part-Time at McDonald’s in Retirement.” And it’s not a life-action film; it’s a Lego animation.


[1] And note that John was hardly the son of a crack addict. He grew up in a fairly stable household and went to a good high school.

Trump: “Can’t Live in Country With Me President”

Donald Trump InaugurationAt an impromptu press conference, President Donald J Trump announced that he was stepping down as President of the United States as of Monday morning 8 am EST after which he will be immigrating to Iceland. “I just can’t live in a country that would have me as its prsident,” the clearly distraught president stated. He went on to explain that he only ran for president to give himself an excuse to quit his job on The Apprentice before its sagging ratings caused NBC to tell him, “You’re fired.” But, Trump said looking down and shaking his head, “It all got out of control. And now I just can’t continue to live in a country that is this vile and stupid.”

The president dismissed insightful questions shouted from the press corps, like “How many square feet will your Icelandic house have?” and “What wardrobe changes will Melania make?” Trump said, “I did everything I could to lose this election.” He then went through a list of what he said should have been disqualifying actions: admissions of sexual assault, not paying contractors, punishing his infant nephew over a financial grievance with his brother, and three dozen other acts that “only a psychopath would do.” Throwing up his hands he concluded, “What kind of country would elect me?!”

America More Racist Than Trump Thought

“But it’s the racism that really did it for me.” He went on, “I never thought that this country would elect a man as racist and hateful as I am!” After noting that this was a country built by immigrants, he said, “How could half the nation vote for me? It boggles the mind; it really does.”

He went on to say that he felt bad for all the losers who had no choice but to stay a country that was so messed up and vile as to vote him into office. “And now you’re stuck with Mike Pence! I really do feel bad about that. But I have to do what’s best for me and my family, and that means getting the hell out of this country and into a place the people value competence and humanity.”

Presidency as Vile as His Candidacy

This is just what America is: a country that accepts me as its leader. I’m not even a mediocrity; I’m a total incompetent with clear mental problems.

At that point, President Trump opened the floor for questions. Samuel Fronk from Breitbart New Network asked if this wasn’t just a reaction to the president’s recent failure with healthcare reform. “No!” Mr Trump said curtly. “It’s quite the opposite.”

Seeming to calm, he leaned onto the lectern and said, “I thought maybe America was just confused. I thought, ‘If I act just as vile as president as I did on the campaign trail, maybe people will wake up.’ I figured surely you all would impeach me — or at least assassinate me. But no. This is just what America is: a country that accepts me as its leader. I’m not even a mediocrity; I’m a total incompetent with clear mental problems. But I’m not crazy, so I’m leaving America.”

TracyAnn Sheffield of Fox News asked what he thought the future holds for him. Trump responded that the one good thing about his presidency has been that it’s made him feel better about himself. “At least I would never elect me to be president. There really is something wrong with America.”

Mixed Reactions Throughout America

Vice-President Pence was unavailable for comment because he was in a briefing with someone anonymous White House sources say goes by the name Nikolay. Speaker of the House Paul D Ryan released a statement saying in part, “I am saddened that I will not be able to lower President Trump’s taxes.”

Trump supporters around the nation had mixed reactions. Dick Dongle of West Virginia said, “If I’d known Trump was so introspective, I never would have voted for him in the first place.” On the other hand, Maxine Wellstone of Franklin, Pennsylvania said, “Iceland on the west coast, right?”

Political Scientist Jennifer Collins of the Brookings Institute speculates that this news will ripple all the way through to the 2020 presidential election where, “Donald Trump Jr is now clearly the front-runner.”

Mainstream Media Outlets Need to Earn Respect

Glenn Greenwald - Mainstream Media Outlets Need to Earn RespectLast week, we published documents that definitively debunked and disproved a claim that numerous media outlets had circulated and affirmed for years: that Edward Snowden lied about where he was during his first 11 days in Hong Kong. Contrary to the fable these outlets dispensed to their readers — that Snowden did not check in to the Mira Hotel on May 21 as he claimed but only did so on June 1, 11 days later — these new documents, obtained from the Mira, prove that Snowden arrived there exactly when he always said, rendering their published stories factually false. …

Even the best and most careful journalists get things wrong sometimes. But the minimal requirement for journalistic credibility and integrity is acknowledging and fixing mistakes. When the debate over Fake News first emerged, advocates of the term insisted that it was this attribute — a willingness to admit and correct errors — that distinguishes credible news outlets that sometimes err from fakes and frauds.

Yet in this case, only one of the media outlets that published what is now a significant and documented falsehood — Brazil’s Folha — has even acknowledged these new documents. In Folha‘s case, they did so lamely and grudgingly: Rather than add an editor’s note or correction to their original story by reporter Igor Gielow (which still stands uncorrected), they published a short news article about these new hotel documents, which merely noted that I claim that these new documents “resolve a mystery” about Snowden. The Folha article also neglects to note that they were one of the outlets originally publishing the false story. But at least they said something.

That stands in stark contrast to all the US outlets that published this falsehood and yet, 10 days later, have said literally nothing, continuing to allow what they now know is a factually false story to remain online uncorrected. They have simply refused even to address or acknowledge this new evidence. That includes the newspaper that first printed this falsehood and then re-published it most frequently — The Wall Street Journal — but also outlets such as Business Insider, Yahoo! News, and Slate… …

If you publish serious claims without any basis that mislead readers, and then refuse to acknowledge new evidence that disproves your original claims — all because you dislike the people you originally smeared with falsehoods too much to correct your error or because you hope the embarrassment will disappear faster if just you ignore it — why should anyone view you as being different than Macedonian teenagers or “alt-right” conspiracy sites? What are the cognizable differences?

A vibrant and powerful fact-checking media is supposed to be one of the great safeguards against demagoguing authoritarians and assaults on democratic institutions. That only works if they earn the trust that they need to fulfill that function.

–Glenn Greenwald
Why Has Trust in Media Collapsed? Look at Actions of WSJ, Yahoo, Business Insider and Slate.

Afterword

Greenwald noted in an update that the media outlets Slate and Business Insider have added corrections. I don’t think the Slate correction is nearly good enough. Business Insider did it right: in bold at the beginning of the article. But apparently, they haven’t done it on all the articles.