American Patriotism Is Usually Just Nationalism

American Patriotism Is Usually Just Nationalism
The “Patriot” Who Lives Near Me

I pass by this house a few times a day as I take walks to lower my cholesterol. It’s a sign of what many Americans think of as patriotism but that is really just nationalism. There are two flags there: not nation and state, but nation and local sports team.

Most People Disrespect the Flag

As I go for walks, I’m always amazed at the number of houses that have American flags hang, which are never taken down. Some of them are in tatters. But I’ve gotten used to that. What really interests me are the people who have invested in poles as you can see in the image above.

Now let me be perfectly honest here. At least the owner of this pole takes the whole flag ceremony seriously. They always take the flag(s) down at dusk. This is traditional. Unless a flag has a spotlight it should not, by tradition, fly at night. So I appreciate that they take their flag waving more seriously than the people who put yellow ribbons on the backs of their cars during the Iraq War — as if that meant anything.

Why I Don’t Like Flags: They Are Nationalistic

But I don’t like flying the flag because it strikes me as more nationalism than patriotism. It stinks of “My country, right or wrong!” (I know the original phrase continued, “If right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.” But that isn’t what people remember.)

People who care about ideals, which is the core of my patriotism, don’t wave flags, because we know how far we fall short of those ideals.

Who’s Number One? The US or the Warriors?

US and Warriors FlagsBut okay, people like to wave the flag. I wouldn’t have written this article if it hadn’t been for the second flag. It isn’t the flag of California. (It is often the awful Gadsden flag, as if this white homeowner in the suburbs is being treaded upon.) Instead, it is the flag of our local professional basketball team, the Golden State Warriors.

And that strikes me as perfect! Because they have the American flag up in the same way they have the Warrior’s flag up. Just as the roster of the Warriors is constantly changing, so is America. So I assume that if fascists took over the country, they would still be flying the flag proudly. (Actually, they’d probably be flying it more proudly — most people only hate the Nazis because of the Jews; they don’t seem to have much of a clue why fascism is bad beyond that; and if any country were primed for fascism, it is modern America.)

Nation or Sports Team: Whatever!

But this just shows that these people love their country in the same pathetic way that they love their sports teams. In the case of the American flag, it has nothing to do with what the nation stands for. It is like real estate: location, location, location. They have the Warriors’ flag because they are our local team and they have the American flag because they were born here. And that’s as far as it goes.

My friend Will recently saw a house with a Confederate battle flag proudly displayed. We couldn’t find it. But we did come upon a house that had two flag poles side by side: one had the American flag and the other the San Francisco Giants’ — our local baseball team’s — flag. (We think this might have been the same house and that baseball simply trumps their racism. Sorry: “southern pride.”)

US Flags Are Not About Patriotism

I think the American flag is up out of simple habit. They know they are supposed to do that. They are virtue signaling. What’s really in their hearts is the love of seeing the Warriors or the Giants beat teams from other places — teams they would support if they lived there.

Both flags just represent nationalism on different levels. There’s no thought behind it other than that we are the good people and they are the bad. And it’s that kind of non-thinking that got us President Trump. And it’s that kind of non-thinking that is going to turn us into an authoritarian banana republic.

The Statue of Liberty should be weeping.

What the Summit With North Korea Is Really All About

North Korea's Kim Jong-un winning the negotiations with Donald Trump
Kim Jong-un winning the negotiations with Donald Trump.

I’ve cropped this AP picture taken by Evan Vucci and am licensing it under Fair Use because this article is about it and only it. It is a picture of Kim Jong-un doing what his father was unable to do. And he is only able to do it because the American system of government (not the people) elected Donald Trump to be its president.

After Decades, North Korea Gets Just What It Wanted

For decades, North Korea has wanted to talk to the United States alone. And all previous presidents — even the less than brilliant George W Bush — refused to do it.

There are many reasons for this. But probably the biggest is simply that you don’t want to give a third-rate despot the opportunity to look like he is on the same level as the leader of the free world.

Of course, maybe that whole “free world” business is over anyway. Trump seems far more interested in hanging out with authoritarian leaders than democratically elected leaders. Trump seems intent on destroying the carefully constructed post-WWII alliance.

If a Deal Is Reached, It Will Be Bad for the US

If anything comes out of these negotiations other than Kim Jong-un solidifying power in North Korea and looking more powerful everywhere else, it will be a bad deal for the US. Trump will go along with any deal now that he’s BFFs with Kim.

Trump actually said that he would know if Kim Jong-un was serious “within the first minute” of their meeting. Does that remind anyone else of George W Bush’s fatuous claim that he looked in Vladimir Putin’s eyes and “was able to get a sense of his soul”? (Later Bush retracted this because he said Putin had changed; this is what conservatives do; they can’t admit that they’re just stupid.)

I have heard people make apologias for Trump along the lines of, “Well, he has advisers that will make sure everything is done right.” That wasn’t a bad argument to make before the president was Donald J Trump. But anyone who makes that assertion today has to ignore the last year and a half. Trump surrounds himself with yes men and doesn’t even listen to them when they deviate the smallest amount from what he believes or wants to do.

Trump will jump at anything and the Republicans will not stop him because they got their tax cuts and they are terrified of their base voters.

Most Likely, Nothing Will Come of The Negotiations, Because This Was Never About the Negotiations

But more likely, nothing at all will come from this summit. Trump will leave Singapore and say, “I knew in the first minute he wasn’t serious!”

Regardless, this was always about Kim Jong-un getting that picture above. He out-maneuvered Trump in a way that Kim Jong-il couldn’t out-maneuver George W Bush. That is sad.

What Intelligent Person Would Make a Deal With the US Now?

And Kim Jong-un would be an idiot to make a deal with the US anyway. Look at what happened to Muammar Gaddafi! Look what happened to the Iran deal! Look at how Trump treats our longstanding friends!

Making deals with the US is dangerous. Making deals with Trump is madness. I think Kim Jong-un is a psychopath.

But he’s not a madman and certainly not an idiot. Unfortunately for the US, Trump is a madman and an idiot.

They might as well pack their bags. Kim Jong-un got what he wanted. And Trump will get nothing that he wants, except for manic tweets about how dishonest and weak Kim is. Except all the world will know that Kim played Trump for the foolish mark he is.


Bruce Cockburn’s song “Yanqui Go Home!” is a great song, but it’s clear that Yanqui didn’t go home, he just went to several more bars:

What Did Shakespeare Mean by “Purple Testament”?

What Did Shakespeare Mean by Purple Testament?
The royal family still likes purple — a lot — they are just more subtle.

If you’ve read me at all, you know of my love-hate relationship with “That Bard” — the broccoli of theater (something you don’t like but think is good for you) — William Shakespeare, or as I like to refer to him, “My Willy.” So I was very interested in a Twilight Zone episode I was watching, which I’ve always liked, called “The Purple Testament.” It’s from Richard II one of That Bard’s better plays, “‘He is come to open the purple testament of bleeding war.” But for the first time I thought, what does that phrase mean?

So I went looking to see if it was a common phrase at the time. Indeed it was not. I guess Willy just thought it sounded good and fit into his blank verse. As with all of Shakespeare, there is so much talking. A lot of people think people spoke that way at the time. No. I’m sure an actual king would have simply said, “He’s come to start a bloody war!”

But the phrase still requires some explanation. He wrote “purple testament” and not something else. The whole line is “the purple testament of bleeding war.” I will give myself at most five minutes to come up with a more understandable line (although truly, I’d rework the line before, which is 12-syllables not 10):

“The bleeding war of his selfish hubris.”

And don’t tell me that isn’t a great line, because his line wasn’t great either. And mine has the advantage of saying what Richard actually means!

What Do The Shake-Scholars Think?

Still, there have been 400 years of Shakespearean scholars (if you include people like Jonson). So some of them must have come up with some good ideas, right? Not so much, no.

In his mid-19th century edition of The Works of William Shakespeare, Howard Staunton wrote:

Stevens believed that testament is here used in its legal sense, but Mr Whiter, in his ingenious Specimen of a Commentary on Shakespeare, quotes a parallel passage from the first part of the old play Jeronimo,

“There I unclasp the purple leaves of war”

and remarks, “Whatever be the direct meaning of the words in question, I am persuaded that the idea of a book with a purple covering suggested this combination to the mind of our poet.”

What Does “Purple Testament” Mean

Well, sure, Shakespeare stole from everyone — all writers did at that time. But it only provides some indication of Shakespeare’s process. It could be reaching but Jeronimo was performed in 1592 at The Rose, when Shakespeare was there.

But all this tells us is a little about the writing process. Why did the Jeronimo writer use “purple leaves”? I don’t know the play. I assume by “purple,” he is referring to autumn. Thus it indicates the lead into war — and thus death. That’s not bad.

A purple testament has no such association. Based on the context, testament doesn’t just refer to a book, it refers to the Bible. Richard is ranting on about how no one likes him but God.

So is Shakespeare implying that Richard will soon lose the favor of God? I think that’s a reasonable reading of the text.

Why Do We Always Have to Help Out Poor Willy Shakespeare?

But here’s the problem: for hundreds of years, people like me — but generally with a far higher opinion of That Bard — have been doing this: assuming that he wasn’t just pulling lines out of his ass that fit. It’s very likely that “purple testament” meant nothing to him or the actors or the theater-goers.

He probably just liked the sound of it. Also, of course, purple is a “royal” color. Queen Elizabeth I (you know, the woman who was queen when Richard III was written) forbade anyone outside the royal family from wearing it. So that was doubtless on Willy’s mind, given what a suck-up he was to royalty.

It’s a good phrase though. It sounds important. But mostly, I think it was meaningless — just five syllables when Shakespeare needed them.

Colin Kaepernick, Roseanne, and the Libertarian Myth

Colin Kaepernick, Roseanne, and the Libertarian MythWhen I was a libertarian, the single biggest philosophical mistake I made was to think that the government was the only cause of the the limitation of freedom. This was because the government had the right to jail and kill you. For a long time, I used an argument that I hear from libertarians all the time today: a private company can’t hurt you because you don’t have to work for them and you don’t have to shop with them. These people should really talk to Colin Kaepernick — a man who lost his job for making a respectful protest.

Colin Kaepernick Isn’t Free

When he first protested, he simply sat for the national anthem. But after talking to a Green Beret, Kaepernick choose to take a knee. The reason was the the Green Beret told him it was something that soldiers did in front of a fallen soldier’s grave. As the Green Beret put it: “to show respect.”

So taking the knee isn’t to show disrespect to America (not that it should matter). It could just as easily be that the tradition was that we all kneel. But doing something that not everyone else was doing was the whole point of his protest. In the best tradition of the United States, Colin Kaepernick non-violently asked people to think of something during the two minutes of the national anthem.

But that isn’t good enough for a lot of people. It isn’t good enough for pretty much every conservative in this country. And it isn’t okay for a lot of other people too. This is because their idea of patriotism is “America: right or wrong.”

What they are really calling for is what I grew up thinking was all wrong about the Soviet Union: the requirement that everyone must behave the same way. The people weren’t a collection of individuals but simply a thing. Let’s call it the synchronized swimming theory of society: if everyone isn’t doing exactly what the coach wants, it’s all a catastrophe.

The Libertarian Belief in Theoretical Freedom

“Ah!” I hear the libertarians say, “But Colin Kaepernick isn’t being oppressed. He could get another job!” Yeah, he can. But he can’t get a job doing what he has been trained at, working at the level he has attained and wants to perform. And why? Because the owners shut him out. It is exactly the same thing I discussed in Property Rights. In that case, it was an out of work farmer who simply can’t work because all the land to farm is owned by someone else.

One commonly hears libertarians say, “Rights imply responsibility.” But somehow, that’s only ever applied to workers. It isn’t applied to owners. So property rights don’t imply any responsibility on the part of the property owner.

So in the libertarian utopia: you get real freedom if you’re rich, but just theoretical freedom if you aren’t. It’s much like Orwell’s parody of the Soviet Union, “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

So Colin Kaepernick is out of a job, but he’s got another, far more important one. And history will show him to be a great man and the owners who clearly colluded to deny him a job they needed filling will be seen for what they are: soulless, immoral people for whom money is all that matters.

And, of course, in 40 years, all conservatives will honor Kaepernick as a great man, as they always do when it doesn’t matter — when there is a new status quo to honor.

(I am so ashamed to be white in this case. It took a whole season for the first white player to take a knee. Since then, there have been more, but it was never more than a small group.)

Another Libertarian Myth

Now we get to another libertarian myth (There are so many!) with the NFL forbidding players from kneeling. It turns out this is flatly illegal. And I suspect the owners know this. But this is all about appeasing President Donald J Trump.

If the courts say that they must allow the players, what can they do? Trump can’t go after them and the vile “America: right or wrong” crowd will know that this horrible two-minute distraction of the time before the most important issue of playing a game can’t be helped.

Of course, this is the opposite of the way things usually go. Normally, even really bad presidents have better things to do than stick their noses into the minutia of how exactly entertainment is managed by the producers of that entertainment. So it is normally the case of owners getting the government to do their bidding.

The “Perfect” Libertarian Courts

The truth is that it really doesn’t matter that the government has a monopoly on going to war and putting people in cages. The rich will always control that government unless safeguards are put in place by the people. But libertarians want to go the other direction. Private courts! Yeah, that will work out great, because the far greater safeguards we have today (you know, the ones that will find for the players against the NFL) won’t be there.

As a result, we see that yet again libertarianism simply turns into “might makes right.” Courts would turn into nothing more than a show to justify finding for whomever gave the bigger pile of cash (or gold — a libertarian fantasy — the same goes for bitcoin).

What About Roseanne?

The cases of Colin Kaepernick and Roseanne Barr could not be more different. Kaepernick was making a dignified protest and was simply not hired through the collusion of NFL owners. Roseanne Barr made her employer look bad and cost them money in the long term.

But that hardly matters. I don’t think Roseanne should have been fired. She is a toxic, unstable person. She was before ABC gave her the show and she is today.

After Robert Downey Jr had his half-decade of drug use and unstable behavior, he had to prove himself. He slowly worked his way back and beyond. But not Roseanne! Her career was all but over. But then she became a Trump supporter and ABC saw big money.

(Truthfully, it never made sense long-term. As I believe I discussed in the comments around here, I figured the show would last about 3 years. By next year, it would only be watched by old people. It would get great ratings, but not great advertisers. It’s like when Jay Leno was beating David Letterman in the ratings: I recall reading at the time that because Letterman had a younger audience, his show made more money. So the Roseanne reboot was just a quick money grab — typical of corporate Hollywood.)

ABC Is Not Acting Morally

ABC acting as though they are taking a moral stand is ridiculous. They knew who they were hiring. They hired exactly the same person they fired.

That wasn’t the case with the people who tentatively hired Downey shortly after he got past his self-destructive period. So ABC isn’t the “good guy” in this case. First, they foisted Roseanne on the nation, then they fired her so that conservatives can have another data point about how mean “liberals” are with all their “political correctness.”[1]

(Yes, we haven’t seen conservatives rally around her; they’re too afraid — they have no idea what she might do next; but trust me, the Republican base thinks she has been completely wronged, that it wasn’t a racist tweet, and that had it been, they would have liked it more.)

Most People Require Jobs

Obviously, Roseanne doesn’t need a job. She didn’t need the reboot of the series, except to get attention and push the false narrative that stuggling middle America just loves Donald Trump. I doubt Colin Kaepernick can go the rest of his life without a job. But none of this is about either of them.

Almost everyone has to have a job. Yet we live in a society where you literally do not have the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” If you can’t find a job, you can find yourself hungry on the street. Eventually, you can find yourself dead.

Libertarians Want You to Have Less Freedom

Yet for the libertarians, this situation isn’t good enough. Owners of capital should have far more power over your life. They want everyone to give up the little actual liberty they have for theoretical liberty. The only practical liberty in the libertarian utopia is for the rich — like now, but much, much worse.

Freedom is a simple concept. Let me give you a simple example from my life. I don’t have the freedom to get my teeth fixed right now. Hopefully, they will hold out long enough so that I can slowly get them repaired (my dentist is not hopeful that I have enough time). What libertarians offer is potential freedom. I could get all my teeth fixed today if I had $80 million like Roseanne Barr.

Who thinks that is real freedom other than rich people and young people who think they will be rich?

Freedom is not the freedom to maybe get a job you would have had you not taken a brave political stand. Freedom isn’t even losing your job for being exactly the person your employer knew you were when they hired you.

How Capitalism Makes Things Worse

I know how capitalism apologists will respond. “If it weren’t for our system, we wouldn’t have smartphones and we would live under authoritarian rule.” Really? Is that how limited their creativity is? The truth is, the world would be a better place if I had the freedom to do what I want. Humans want to work; they want to be productive; they want to make society better. (Obviously, not all humans, but most humans.)

But instead, they are forced into jobs where they sell crap that people don’t need or even want. If it weren’t for capitalism, there would be no opioid crisis in this country. I noted two decades ago that there would be problems with Oxycontin and MS-Contin because they relieved pain for substantially less time than advertised and would thus cause people to take more and eventually turn to the black market.

Doctors could have prescribed methadone, which works really well. But it wasn’t under patent. There wasn’t a bunch of money to be made off it. So it wasn’t pushed on doctors as the miracle drug it is. Instead, a toxic jumble of chemicals made to slowly release a short-acting opioid was. And today we have a big problem.

That’s Capitalism!

That’s what capitalism produces: not what we need but what makes certain people rich. But in the libertarian utopia, that would never happen.

I’m serious.

The libertarian utopia would quickly devolve into the Mad Max world. Then some vile warlord would become dominant, and we would all live under an authoritarian dictatorship. Good luck with that cold turkey detox white people. And thank you libertarians!


One final thought about Roseanne. This is yet another example of a racist society trying to scapegoat one person for what they say so as to ignore the much more important racism that people of color live with every day. Roseanne hurt almost no one with her tweet. And she certainly didn’t kill anyone. But our racist society kills people all the time. So the racism that most hurts us is just ignored (Colin Kaepernick) while we make a big deal about the racism of a crazy woman that doesn’t mean squat in the grand scheme of things.

Indeed, scapegoating Roseanne helps racism, because it makes tens of millions of white people think that as long as you don’t say the wrong words or imply the wrong things, America is a total meritocracy where any black kid can become president. It’s like saying we have an equal chance to win a game of Monopoly despite starting the game after every piece of property has already been purchased. It’s hogwash. Remember all the conservatives saying that Obama’s election was proof that there was no racism in America? That is the racism that never gets anyone fired; it is the racism we need to fight.

Why Roseanne Matters

The only reason Roseanne’s racism toward blacks is interesting is that she says what roughly 40 percent of the country believes. And most of the rest of us are just less racist (including roughly half of blacks — society poisons widely).

[1] I put “political correctness” in scare quotes because it is a meaningless term. What it is supposed to mean is done by everyone — and as far as I can tell, much more by conservatives. The whole “you must stand for the national anthem” is a typical case of political correctness. But it is almost never applied to conservatives.

History Western Classical Music (With Examples!)

This article is based on a series of Morning Music posts. It’s a work in progress because I only made it to the beginning of the Classical Period. (Yes, Classical music has a Classical Period — and it’s fairly short.)

Gaudeamus omnesJim Holt’s book, Stop Me If You’ve Heard This: A History and Philosophy of Jokes, is a really fun book. In my discussion of the book, I highlighted a joke from the 15th century. It doesn’t even seem like a joke, because most of it is spent explaining to the listener why it is funny. As a result, it’s important to understand just how much art changes over time. A joke that we find funny today would make no sense to someone who lived a thousand years ago.

I am going through the history of what we call Classical music. It is a particular kind of music that really represents what the elites of Europe have listened to. As a result, for nearly the first millennium — dating back to about 1000 CE — it was exclusively religious. But even through the Baroque period (1600–1750), most of the major composers had some relation to the church.

The Medieval Period: Get Your Chant On

We are going to start with the Medieval period because, frankly, there wasn’t much that changed before that. For what we would call Classical music, this remained supreme and largely unchanged for 500 years.

So that means we are going to listen to a Gregorian chant. When learning music theory in an American college, you always start with these chants. They are incredibly formal in their melodies. They have as simple a rhythm as you can get. And they have no harmony whatsoever (unless you consider unison harmony, which I guess it technically is, but really). Yet they do have a simple beauty. And they are often hypnotic. You can well imagine someone going into a trance during one — having a religious vision.

Thus we listen to “Gaudeamus Omnes” (Let Us All). I don’t present it as something you are going to love. But this piece is meant to work the same way a film history class works — allowing you to see how the art form evolves over time.

Josquin des Prez Gets Funky

Josquin des PrezNext in our exploration of classical music, we get to the Renaissance period. This is a hard one because it is when sacred and secular music diverge. The main importance of the secular music for our purposes is that it introduces instruments. Up to this time, all the music was sung. But the secular music tends to lead us more in the direction of the folk music tradition. So forgive me for staying with the sacred for a while more.

There are many new things here. The main innovations at this point are that the music becomes polyphonic and somewhat rhythmic. No longer is a melody just sung in unison with quarter notes. What’s more, this is the time that fugue-like structures find their way into the music. You hear this quite often in motets — where different people are singing the same thing but at different times. If you want a simple example, think of a group singing “Row Row Row Your Boat” — but actually beautiful to hear. It is formal without being rigid — or at least it is when created by a great composer.

Today, we are going to listen to a piece by Josquin des Prez — one of the greatest of the Renaissance composers. This is the motet “Ave Maria … Virgo Serena.” It is performed by Schola Antiqua of Chicago and it is gorgeous. But I think this fact is easy to miss if you listen to it relative to modern music of almost any kind — since the polyphonic innovations have been so thoroughly integrated into our musical language.

Claudio Monteverdi and His “Tiny” Revolution

Claudio MonteverdiNow we look at the early Baroque period. This is the period where counterpoint just goes crazy. This is where two or more musical lines work together to create a greater harmonic whole. Probably the best representation of this is the string quartet, which won’t really come into its all until the Classical period — although it certainly existed long before that and continues to be one of the great forms of classical music.

The man most associated with the transition from Renaissance to Baroque music is the Italian composer Claudio Monteverdi. He fused the kind of polyphony that we heard from Josquin with a style of composition called the basso continuo. In it, the melody and the bass line are provided, and an indication of the kind of harmony, but not the actual notes. The performer was then expected to improvise the rest.

Actually, many of the great classical musicians into the Romantic period were known to be excellent improvisers. So those who think someone like Antonio Salieri[1] was a boring fellow are quite wrong; he was the McCoy Tyner of his day!

We are going to listen to a madrigal from 1619, “Chiome d’Oro, Bel Tesoro” (Golden head of hair, beautiful treasure). You can definitely hear the transition here. For one thing, now we have voices and instruments together. Also: the different musical lines are working in the service of the harmonic structure. This was originally written for two voices, two violins, and a basso continuo. You can well imagine just how revolutionary this music must have sounded to the people of the early 17th century. And here it is beautifully fleshed out by Voices of Music:

Barbara Strozzi: Attack of the 50 ft Baroque Woman

Barbara StrozziAlmost every Baroque composer you’ve heard of is from the late period. There is a strong urge on my part just to skip right to them. But the middle period is really important. Because of the establishment of absolute monarchies throughout Europe, “court” music was developing. This created a great deal more sharing of music geographically. And so composers like Johann Jakob Froberger became really important in spreading different ideas all around the continent. (But we won’t listen to anything by him because most of the stuff online is harpsichord music — which I’m just not that fond of.)

This is the period when Baroque becomes more austere. There’s something almost romantic about the Renaissance and early Baroque music. But now it becomes intricate and exact. At its worst, it is overly intellectual. At its best, it is deeply affecting without pandering.

One of the greatest composers — almost certainly the greatest of secular vocal music (including the librettos, which are said to be excellent) of this period was a woman, Barbara Strozzi. She was also a great singer. Not only was she a woman in a time when they didn’t do this thing much, she was illegitimate. Yet she dominated the period. And look at the painting — she’s quite young and already has the look that she doesn’t take shit from anyone.

She is typical of the work that is breaking away from the early Baroque period. Notice in the following cantata, “Che Si Puo Fare” (What Can Be Done), the melodic development, which sounds distinctly classical at times. At the same time, the harmonic structure is still very much like what we heard from Claudio Monteverdi:

Dieterich Buxtehude: Let the Harmony Begin!

Dieterich BuxtehudeNow we get to the end of the middle part of the Baroque period. I’m going to focus on Dieterich Buxtehude.

He was a well known organist in his time, and so he wrote a lot for the organ. But he also wrote a great deal of vocal music. This is not surprising, as the middle Baroque period was when music and words first came together as equals. But for some reason, his vocal work doesn’t seem to have been terribly popular in his own lifetime.

What we are going to listen to today is Membra Jesu Nostri (The Limbs of our Jesus) — a cycle of seven cantatas. The main thing to notice about it is the very modern harmonic structure. This is kind of an inflection point in music from melodies creating harmonies to harmonies creating melodies. It is what allows us to know with such certainty that a piece of music is finished: because it has a harmonic denouement — as surely as a Greek tragedy.

Vivaldi: So Great One Name Is Enough

Antonio VivaldiThere are really two titans of the late Baroque period: Bach and Vivaldi — two men so great, they only need one name. They were quite distinct, even if they both fully sum up the period. Bach is more focused on counterpoint. And it can, at times, be overwhelming. Vivaldi does get into excessive counterpoint at times, but it isn’t actually his thing. Vivaldi is more free flowing. But Bach, in his formalism pushed in some surprisingly modern directions. Above all, both composers are similar but distinct.

In general, my favorite is Vivaldi. That dates back to when I played flute. Vivaldi understood how to write for the flute. Playing pieces by Bach always felt like I was playing something that was actually meant for the violin. Vivaldi knew that flutists had to breath from time to time. But I also think that Vivaldi understood the character of the instrument better. That is not to say that Bach didn’t write some of the greatest flute music ever — he did.

Bach and Vivaldi Similarities

One thing that both composers pushed was the use of solo instruments. Up to this point, most music had been predominately ensemble.

What’s more, the forms became longer — that was especially true of Bach, who often got lost in his own compositions. But ultimately, I don’t think you can point to a better piece as the height of the Baroque period than Vivalidi’s Four Seasons. It is actually not a single piece, of course; it is four violin concertos. But they are beautiful, and unlike almost everything else in my life, I do not get tired of listening to them. Here they are performed by the Amsterdam Sinfonietta with the great (there are a lot of great violinists in the world) Janine Jansen at the International Chamber Music Festival in 2014. (I was going to present Antal Zalai better performance of it, but the audience applauding between each movement drove me crazy.)

Interestingly, after their deaths, both Bach and Vivaldi fell out of favor. They were considered old fashioned. Bach came to be admired in a way he was not during his life in the 19th century. Vivaldi was not rediscovered until the 20th century. And that is probably why Bach has a bigger reputation.

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach: The Classical Period Begins

Carl Philipp Emanuel BachThe Classical period of music started in 1750, and I am going to stop just as we reach it.

It’s interesting, though, that we call the kind of music we have been listening to as “classical music,” when most of what people think of as classical music is, in fact, from the Romantic period. In general, my favorite period of music is the Classic period because it spans a divide: not so intellectual as the Baroque period and not so emotional as the Romantic period. (Interestingly, when I take the Myers–Briggs Type Indicator, my thinking and feeling functions are about equal, so that might be why I like the Classical period.) I’m also really fond of early 20th century music, but that will have to wait for later.

Galant Music

Now I want to look at what is called Galant music. It represented a turn away from the excessive complexity that had come to dominate the Baroque period. It also represented the big shift toward the solo instrument. And so we are going to listen to one of the great theorists and composers of this this period, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach — one of the sons of the Bach. He was not only influenced by his father, but also his godfather, Georg Philipp Telemann, who was himself part of galant style — although more as a follower than an innovator.

We are going to listen to Trio Sonata in B-Flat Major, dating from 1843 — when Bach was 29 years old. It is for flute, violin, and bass. But as you will see in the following performance, the bass part has been fully realized for the piano. I’m very struck by this flutist, Sofia Lubyantseva, who is very good. Note the clarity of the lead instruments, the simplicity of the harmonic structure, the directness of the melody. It also has lots of clear legacy material. For instant, it is largely a very clever fugue. Even though this piece was written before it had started, it signals that the Classical period had begun.


Here are all the videos put together in a single playlist:

[1] If you read that article (and you should), you will not that it says historians have uncovered no animosity between Salieri and Mozart. That’s not exactly true. As the article points out, if there was any animosity between the men, it was all on Mozart’s part. Mozart did complain in one or two letters about Salieri. But it’s clear that this was just a younger, less-established musician with a chip on his shoulder. I’m sure as his career improved, all that was forgotten.

Unlike portrayed in Amadeus, Mozart’s career steadily improved. Had he lived another decade he probably would have been a rich man. He got the reputation of being terribly poor because his father (a truly vile man) had taught him to never owe money to someone for very long. So he would borrow money from one person. Then borrow money from another to pay the first person. And on and on. And remember at that time, people lived on credit far more than they do now, because money would normally come in chunks. Cervantes (early, but still) was a tax collector for the Spanish king and had to pay all his own expenses and waited as long as 3 years between payment.

It Really Isn’t a Question: To Be or Not to Be

It Really Isn't a Question: To Be or Not to Be

Last night I had a dream. I was hunched over my keyboard, working furiously. And in the corner was Arthur Schopenhauer with a friend. He motioned toward me and said, “The Will is strong with this one.” And my head planted on the keyboard — the letter “x” scrolled across the screen.

I assume the Force is a good thing to have. I don’t really know, having seen almost none of the films and not having given them much thought. But the Will is not a good thing to have. It exists for itself. It is a parasite that lives within us, feeding off us — only interested in its own existence.

We all live in the middle of the most terrifying horror show ever imagined. But most of us haven’t a clue. In this context, a drone attack on a wedding party is the ultimate act of mercy and Obama is a saint.

Suicide: A Once Comforting Thought

The writer Stevie Smith famously found the thought of suicide extremely comforting. She said that when she learned about it as a child, it great cheered her because she knew that if life ever got too painful, she could end the pain — in an instant.

As a result, she lived her life to its natural conclusion despite her depression and anxiety because of that thin tether of knowing that she could always kill herself tomorrow.

Nobody’s Waving — Their Drowning

I suppose one could see the Will as a friendly entity that keeps us alive through the bad bits of life so we can enjoy the good bits. But I think that Smith sums up life for most people pretty well in his poem fragment:

Oh, no no no, it was too cold always
(Still the dead one lay moaning)
I was much too far out all my life
And not waving but drowning.

That’s most people: too far out all their lives, drowning while everyone thinks they are having a marvelous time.

You see a lot of people drowning on Facebook. But they would prefer you not see them drowning, so they are waving furiously as they swallow mouthfuls of seawater, sink, and then breath the brine as they die. Don’t trust the happy pictures of ball games and parties. You need both hands to slit your own wrists.

Emily Dickinson Had It Right: We’re Stuck

Most people only know the first two lines of Emily Dickinson’s most famous poem, “The Chariot”:

Because I could not stop for Death,
He kindly stopped for me…

Many people they think (certainly I did when I was young) that the word “kindly” is meant ironically. It isn’t. The whole poem isn’t a celebration of death — Dickinson was not a cheerful poet (or person, it would seem — she was pretty much a shut-in like me). But people are sometimes fooled by things like, “‘Hope’ Is the Thing With Feathers.” The quotation marks around “hope” certainly indicate that she sees it has something of a phantom.

But “The Chariot” is quite positive toward death. She looks upon death as a good thing.

All These Prisons

For most of my life, I was like Stevie Smith: I took comfort in knowing that I could make this all go away. But my dream Schopenhauer was right: my Will is ridiculously strong. I could never kill myself except under the most rational of circumstances (eg, I’m in the World Trade Center and a fireball is coming toward me, so I jump). Otherwise, no.

So more and more I feel like a prisoner in this body on this planet — stuck in this constant now, now, now. But like Dickenson, I cannot stop for death. I must live in this cage until it takes pity and stops for me.

It is only science and art and lots of people (one at a time) that provide any kind of relief. I would rewrite Dickenson: “Hope is a thing for children.”

The 70 Year (Failed) Experiment of Zionism

The 70 Year (Failed) Experiment of Zionism - Judaism and Zionism Are Diametrically Opposed

Today was the 70th anniversary of a grand experiment. Many Jews had long wanted their own land and they fought for it. Many of them were terrorists in the cause — though you will never hear that on the television news in America. But after World War II, a Jewish homeland was founded. After all: Nazis.

I Supported Zionism for a Long Time

Not only would I have been on board then, I was on board most of my life. Even over the last decades I continued to support Zionism because I though the Jews, as a group, really did have something to fear. And they do!

Even in the US (a very Jew-friendly country), according to the FBI, over half of reported religious-based hate crimes are committed against Jews. But the fact that Jews are hated by many, I don’t support a Jewish state. Indeed, I believe that Israel has made antisemitism worse.

Israel Has Lost Legitimacy

What Israel has shown is that just because you have been oppressed in the past, does not mean that you will not turn into an oppressor yourself. Indeed, we accept on the individual level that abused children usually grow up to be abusers. So, I’m afraid, it is with countries. And so it seems to be with Israel.

It’s been clear for decades that Israel has no interest in making peace with the Palestinians. In an earlier time, Israel would have simply committed a mass genocide and taken over all of the remaining Palestinian land. (See, for example, the Old Testament.)

But with modern media, they can’t do that, so they’ve done it inch by inch — both through murder and by simply stealing land.

The American “Honest Broker” Lie Is Clearly Exposed

There is one good thing to come out of this, however. The US has moved its embassy to Jerusalem. And in so doing has shown, in a way that even the most rapid Israeli apologists cannot rationally dispute, that the US is not an honest broker in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — and haven’t been for at least the 37 years.

If Israel did simply march into the West Bank and killed everyone outside of all the Jewish Settlements (most illegal), the US government would report that it was provoked and a necessary step to keep the people of Isreal safe. And the media would present it that way, noting that some disagree.

Israel Has Nothing to Fear

Israel has by far the most powerful military of any country in the region. Other states may grumble about them, but they would not willingly go to war against Israel. They are the only nuclear state. And are they nuclear! They have an estimated 200 to 400 warheads.

The only threat to Israel are are rockets from Gaza. It is often reported that in the last two decades there have been thousands of such attacks. But that number includes mortars as well — which have a very short range. Still, there is a lot of firing. But they are mostly impotent. Over the last two decades, fewer than 30 people have been killed. Israel should probably worry more about people texting and driving.

And it isn’t like the Palestinians don’t have some cause. I’m not in favor of violence under any circumstances. And I think the people firing these rockets are making a tactical mistake. But it is the case that at least the attacks get covered in the US media. The countless peace protests are completely blacked-out of mainstream television coverage, and almost never covered anywhere in the mainstream press.

How Long Will the Apologetics Go On?

Regardless, the fact is that while the Palestinians kill almost no Israelis, the Israelis kill a lot of Palestinians. I wrote the following analogy on Facebook this morning:

If the US media reported on playground incidents like they do the Israel-Palestine conflict. “A teacher killed a first-grader on the playground of Monroe Elementary School. But it must be remembered that the child intentionally scratched the teacher, requiring a band-aid. Also, the teacher killed the student’s parents and took over their house. Governmental authorities have questioned Whether this wasn’t an overreaction. But no legal sanctions are currently being considered by the district attorney.”

I’m Sick of Israeli and American Disingenuousness

And that’s how I feel. And I’m sick to death of reading in the US press it would all be over if the Palestinians would just stop launching those rockets. It sickens me that Palestinian peace protests are all but ignored in this country. I’m tired of the apologetics for decades illegal Israeli settlements, clearly designed to make any peace impossible. I’m sick of it all.

Call me antisemitic if you like. That’s the great trump card of Israeli fanatics: if you are against Israel, you are against Jews. That couldn’t be further from the truth for me. And I would just refer you to the image above.

So many people have died because the US allows Israel to behave even worse than it does.

Violence Causes Fear Causes Violence

Albert Einstein never said, “It would be my greatest sadness to see Zionists do to Palestinian Arabs much of what Nazis did to Jews.” But I’ve never been that into Einstein quotes anyway. I know his science, that is enough. He wasn’t a moral philosopher. But I like the fake quote, because I think it is largely true. A great trauma was wreaked upon a group. It is not at all surprising that many of that group’s survivors would, out of fear, take on the role of the oppressor, even if they are doing it step by step rather than with the Nazi’s brutal swiftness.

I’m afraid it is long past time to have bombed Isreal’s nuclear silos. At this point, I fear that Israel is at least as likely to use one or more of its nukes as India, Pakistan, or North Korea. How can we stop this failed experiment now? I don’t know. I do know this though: the fault lies with the US, just as if North Korea kills millions with its nukes, blame ultimately belongs to China.


I remember that Bill Maher, in his movie Religulous, interviewed a guy who believed much as the men in the picture above. Maher listened to him for a bit and then just walked out. The implication was that he was just a crazy man spouting nonsense. But even though I was a Zionist at the time, it was clear to me that he wasn’t spouting nonsense. It’s just that Maher, like the vast majority of Americans can brook no one who thinks that Israel isn’t some fragile country surrounded by powerful enemies and thus must be protected.

I didn’t agree with the guy and I don’t. Why would I. It is based on a very conservative reading of the Torah. But it isn’t an insane or stupid belief. And they are right: Israel is a highly nationalist state. It strikes me as having as much to do with Jewish roots as Utah has to do with Mormon roots. Bill Maher was so much better when he was just a comedian and before he thought he was smart.

The Peter Principle and the Meaninglessness of Hierarchy

The Peter Principle and the Meaninglessness of HierarchyWhen I was younger, I often heard the Peter Principle defined as follows, “Everyone rises to their own level of incompetence.” Thus, I saw it as a statement of the stupidity of corporations: that they promoted incompetent people. But that is not it at all.

Investopedia provides a far better definition of the phenomenon, “The Peter Principle is an observation that the tendency in most organizational hierarchies, such as that of a corporation, is for every employee to rise in the hierarchy through promotion until they reach the levels of their respective incompetence.”

It was only when the Peter Principle started to be applied to me I came to understand it. And it was then that I saw that it wasn’t an attack on the employee but on the corporation.

Peter Principle in High Tech

Consider this example, which I have seen in action many times. A computer programmer is hired by a company and they are great — a modern-day alchemist who manages to things done no one thought was even possible. So the company, wanting to reward this exceptional coder, promotes them to a programming manager. And this person is not great at the new job. To start with, they don’t like it because programming is in their bones. But also: they don’t know anything about management. They hate going to meetings. They think spreadsheets and reports are things people create because they don’t know how to code or that they’re just plain stupid. So, far from being a great manager, they are a bad manager — maybe bad enough to get fired.

Meanwhile, that same company probably has a mediocre programmer who would make a great manager. But they can’t be made a manager because it would be unfair. The mediocre coder would now be above the brilliant coder in the the hierarchy. The mediocre coder would make more money. The mediocre coder would be sent to conferences and fly business class. In other words, the mediocre coder will be better than the brilliant coder.

Hierarchy Destroys Diversity

The problem, of course, is that most companies have it all backwards. And a hierarchy is almost never the best way to structure a group. But you see the human tendency toward hierarchy. The World Wide Web was definitionally flat. It was, quite literally, a web. But once it became commercialized, it turned into a hierarchy. The vast majority of people on the internet spend the vast majority of their time on the top 100 websites.

And it’s built in. If you are on Facebook, why? Why not another platform? Because Facebook is only useful if everyone is there. It isn’t just a monopoly, it’s a company that can only exist as a monopoly. There is absolutely nothing technologically interesting about it and that has been true from its very idea. It provides Sudoku Meaning to people. But it’s also herd mentality. Have you ever noted the shape of a stampeding herd?

The point is the hierarchy — this idea that we need one. The fact is that it is much easier to find a good middle-manager than it is to find a good programmer or other creative. But because we think the hierarchy is natural or right or whatever, we must put the creatives at the bottom. We must pretend that although necessary, they aren’t worth that much. Hence, companies try to turn exceptional creatives into exceptional managers, but end up with mediocre (and generally unhappy) managers.

We Need a Better System

There are better ways, of course. The most obvious is the ecosystem. It is typical of the stupidity of man that the lion is referred to as the “king of the jungle.” (And that makes no sense given that lions don’t live in the jungle, tigers do.) That’s not the way the jungle works. Yes, there are apex predators. But everyone dies and is eaten. Humans think they control this planet? Ha! Insects and bacteria.

But there is no reason that a manager of programmers should necessarily make more than any given programmer. Especially if you want to believe in a meritocracy (and we don’t have one and can’t have one), you should see this. A programmer working alone can revolutionize the world. A manager working alone can’t do anything at all.

In a company however, you need lots of people doing lots of things. And doubtless, some of those people are worth more to the company than others. But the hierarchy doesn’t come close to modeling this. An ecosystem does.

The Lost in America Reversal

There’s a scene in Lost in America where this idea is put on its head. Albert Brooks plays an idiot, as usual. He’s a great advertising creative and gets upset when he isn’t going to be promoted to management. And his supervisor tells him plainly that Brooks is too talented a creative to lose him to management so he promoted someone with far less ability.

And that’s the way it should be. Except it shouldn’t be that the other guy was “promoted.” There should be an ecosystem where everyone plays their role — doing what they like and are good at. And if that means a lowly coder makes as much as the vice-president of finance, so be it. (Note: the vice-president of finance is just at the top of a huge group of people. So he isn’t actually doing any more work than the coder, and isn’t necessarily any more important — even if the vast bureaucracy he leads is).

Trump’s Stupidity With the Iran Deal

This article is based on a Facebook post from yesterday early morning — right when I found out that Trump did what I knew he was going to do. But sense Frankly Curious has a lot of smart readers (that is: they aren’t on Facebook), I’m presented it here. I’ve edited and greatly expanded it. –FM

President Donald TrumpYesterday, President* Trump will did another stupid and cruel thing, primarily because he just doesn’t like Barack Obama. And the world will be worse off for it. I’m talking about walking out of the Iran Nuclear Deal, of course.

But my bet is that Iran will stay in the deal with the Europeans, especially if they sweeten it. Of course, the Trump administration is now saying that they are going to start a trade war with any European country that stays in the deal. But I don’t really see that happening. I think the Europeans know that Trump is not long for political office (and maybe even life outside a cage). And Europe can hurt us just as badly as we can them.

The worst thing is that the deal completely falls apart.

If the Iran Deal Can’t Be Trusted How Could a North Korea Deal?

Of course, the bigger issue for us is that the US will show in the biggest way it ever has that it can’t be trusted. This is right before a negotiation with North Korea!

My prediction on this is that there will be a meeting, because it will make Kim Jong-un look like a major player in world politics (which he isn’t).

But there will be no deal. Why in the world would he make a deal with the US?

To begin with, I don’t think the Trump administration is capable of making a deal because their idea of a deal is that the US gets everything it wants and everyone else gets nothing.

At least when Stormy Daniels got f**ked by Trump, she got a decent amount of money. What is North Korea going to get? Since Trump is, in fact, a terrible negotiator, if a deal did manage to be made, it would be overwhelmingly in North Korea’s favor.[1]

The Iran Deal on the Domestic Front

It isn’t just the North Koreans and other countries who shouldn’t trust Trump and therefore the US.

What are struggling whites who voted for Trump getting from anything he’s done other than a sense that they are pissing off people like me? They are doing worse than ever. Trump cares about them like he does bubble gum stuck to his shoe.

Why Was Trump Elected Anyway?

I would like to think that this is just a dark period for the US. But that’s not it. The US has been a fading empire for decades. Trump is just a darker shade of black. It might get a bit better after he is gone. But not much.

The reason is that about 30 percent of Americans are rightly pissed off about things, but are mad at the wrong people; they support the very people (eg, Trump, the Republican Party) who have made their lives worse over the last 40 years.

Then about 20 percent of Americans are just idiots.

Electoral College

And finally: we don’t live in a democracy. In the US, 7 percent of presidents got less votes than the “loser.”

As CGP Grey has noted, “Would anyone tolerate a sport where, by a quirk of the rules, there was a 7 percent chance that the loser would win? Not likely!” Then why do you put up with it in the much more important issue of presidential politics?

I’ll tell you this: if it had been Democrats who won two recent elections while getting fewer votes, Republicans would demand a change.

And Democrats — being somewhat rational and having a sense of fair play — would go along with it. But since it is helping Republicans, they are against changing it. Although their voters were for changing it — right up to the point that Trump “won.” Then they flipped. The Republicans are no longer a political party; they are a cult — and I’m not just talking about Trump.

We Continue the Struggle, But I Fear It Is Hopeless

I’m sad and embarrassed by my country. “Take Back Our Country,” indeed! (Where did they get the idea that it was theirs and not ours?) Our country is being destroyed by the people who use that phrase.

[1] Here’s a little advice: if you are negotiating with someone who talks about what a great negotiator they are, all you need to do is flatter them and you will get an unimaginably good deal. Trump is the ultimate example of that. Remember: Trump would have far more money today if he had simply put his inheritance in an indexed mutual fund. This is what’s known as an opportunity cost. If you have money, it isn’t hard to make more. The question is whether you are making as much as you could elsewhere. Trump has been a huge failure economically, even though his cultists believe otherwise.

Why People Like Sports and Game Shows

Why People Like Sports and Game ShowsWhen I was very young (less than 10-years-old), I loved game shows. I know why: I was good at them. Even into my teens, I wanted to be on Tic-Tac-Dough because I would have been on there for months. Then I just wanted the money and I couldn’t believe how ignorant the contestants were. But why do mature people like game shows?

And I don’t just mean the traditional game shows. Almost all “reality” shows are game shows. Dancing with the Stars is a game show. I find them mind numbing. But most people love them!

Watching the Money on Game Shows

And I know why. It was all explained at the end of the movie Quiz Show. Dan Enright (played by David Paymer, who you’ve never heard of but have seen everywhere — 233 credits on IMDb) gives the best speech of the film:

But even the quiz shows’ll be back. Why fix them? Think about it, will ya? You could do exactly the same thing by just making the questions easier. See, the audience didn’t tune in to watch some amazing display of intellectual ability. They just wanted to watch the money.

“Reality” TV Show Forged in Fire

My father loves a game show called Forged in Fire. In it, these guys with forges make swords and compete.

If I didn’t hate these kinds of shows so much, I would find it funny. The judges are so serious and make out that they are such experts. But they are really more like sports “color” guys who are constantly repeating the same things.

And the format is entirely typical: most of the show consists of interviews with the sword makers. First they interviewed before their swords are judged. Then they interviewed after the swords are judged.

The show runs 42 minutes, but if you cut out all the repetition, fluff, and ridiculously long dramatic pauses by the judges, you might have 5 minutes of material. That’s a lot of nothing to sit through to find out who wins the $10,000.[1]

It’s Probably All Fake

Last night I asked my father about the show. Because all my life I have lived on the outskirts (and sometimes right in the middle) of the construction industry. I’ve never met anyone with a forge. Now I know: it is probably one of those situations where if you know anyone with a forge, you know ten. They are a tight group.

But there isn’t a huge demand for swords and other things made in a small forge. Yet the show has had 66 episodes with 4 contestants on each. That is 264 people with forges who are willing to go on the show. I don’t buy that for a minute.

Andy Kaufman was on The Dating Game three times as part of his effort to become a successful entertainer. I won’t be at all surprised if one of the 264 people who was on Forged in Fire turns out to be a successful actor.

It Might Have Been Real at Some Point

I have little doubt that when the show started, they were using real people. But as time went on, they couldn’t find people. So they hired actors and had other people make the swords. At this point, I’m sure the entire show is scripted (in the same way professional wrestling is — not exact dialog, but everyone is told what to say, and it comes from some guy like me who doesn’t mind writing crap anonymously if the money is good enough).

When I mentioned this to my father, he pushed back. You could see their forges! Yeah, and one well designed set could be made to look a million ways by a professional art director. Did my father think the forge in Army of Darkness was a real one? No. He yielded the point.

But he will continue to watch the show. It makes no demands of him. And it gives him the ultimate American thrill: watching an absolute win and three absolute losses.

The Black and White of Competition

We Are All SisyphusOf course, even if the show is for real (and I don’t think it is), it’s just one competition.

It reminds me of something I heard someone say about Major League Baseball (roughly): “Each season, every team will win 50 games, lose 50 games, and its the last 50 that determines who does well or who does poorly.” (MLB now plays 162 games a year, but you get the point.) Similarly, it is often said of the National Football League, “On any given day, any team can beat any other.”

I like those quotes because they talk about reality. The truth is that there are thousands of great baseball players who are roughly as good as each other.

But Americans like things clear. That’s why soccer has had such a hard time here: most games end in a tie. (Or at least they used to. I don’t care enough to look it up.) Americans hate that kind of thing because there must be a winner who celebrate far too much and a loser who we criticize far too much.

Life Is Not a Competition

But my life and that of every human I’ve ever known is a mess of contradictions and general messiness. You never win because there is nothing to win. You just continue to live until you don’t.

To make up for the fact that you have to appreciate life at a higher level — that you have to work to find the sacred, as David Foster Wallace put it, in a crowed grocery store when you’re tired and grumpy — people make up games and pretend that life is one too.

Life Is a Process — a Struggle

The one sport I enjoy watching is baseball, because it is beautiful and subtle. But I much prefer watching amateur or minor league ball. The people in the majors make it look too easy, even though it is enjoyable enough to watch.

But I prefer to watch the struggle. Because we are all Sisyphus.

It doesn’t matter our wins or losses. To quote John Maynard Keynes, “In the long-run, we are all dead.” And in the short-run, I’d rather do something more edifying.

I’m not Capital One, so I’ll ask the ultimate question, “What’s in your soul?” I ask it of myself first.


None of this is to take away from people who try to excel at anything. I’m that way too. And in weird ways. I practice the clarinet each night. Why the clarinet? Because it is the most bizarre instrument known to humanity.

But there is a difference between pursuing mastery and simply wanting to win. And we live in a degenerate country where the primary motivation is winning. And you will never find the sacred in such an ignoble goal.

Oh how we need to evolve!

[1] That’s another thing about most game shows. On Tic-Tac-Dough, you stayed on the show until you lost. So you could win hundreds of thousands of dollars. But the people on Forged in Fire are setting themselves up to be humiliated for a maximum payout of what the median American makes in two months. Who would do that?! Well, idiots. Also: actors (see above).

What Is Wrong With “Emails”?

What Is Wrong With Emails

I was reading a Jonathan Chait column and he used the word “emails” a dozen times. (Okay, seven emails.) I hate this. The war is over, of course. But I will have my say.

A Brief History of Mail

Here’s my problem: there was once a time when we had no email. We had something that worked wonderfully well. We called it “mail.” People would write down words on paper. Very often, all the words were spelled correctly because the people knew how to spell most words and when they weren’t sure, they looked them up in a big book called a dictionary.

No red lines appeared under supposedly misspelled words.

They would then fold the one or more of these pieces of paper they had written on, stick them in an envelope, apply a stamp (or something similar — it evolved), and have a mail carrier deliver it to someone else. It worked great.

An Even Briefer History of Email

But then came ARPANET.

Here’s a fun fact for you all: the first network connection on what would become ARPANET was just between two computers. They sent the word “LOGIN” from one computer to the other. But only two characters made it before the network crashed. That was at the surprisingly high speed (for the time) of 56 kilobits per second.

Obviously, things improved quickly. And before long people invented a mailing system on the network. It was not written by Shiva Ayyadurai. (Note, email systems on intranets date back to the early 1970s.)

When we all decided on the word “email,” it was short for “electronic mail” — a term widely used in the early days.

Then Stupid People Showed Up

It made sense. Computer scientists are easily as picky as editors. So one might say, “My email is really piling up; I’ve got to get to it.” That’s because you would say, “My mail is really piling up; I’ve got to get to it.”

But no literate person would say, “I’ve got a mail I’ve got to get to the postman.” But otherwise literate people have no trouble saying, “I’ve got an email I’ve got to send.”

The Obviousness of “email” and “emails” Usage

The proper sentence would be, “I’ve got an email message I’ve got to send.” Right? Isn’t that obvious?!

You have no idea how old I feel right now.

Grammar is Descriptive Not Prescriptive

Okay. You’re thinking, “What happened to that liberal grammarian, Frank?”


I’m just as liberal as I ever was. People understand it. It’s fine. I’m a sinner too. I checked earlier and there were 33 articles on Frankly Curious that include the word “emails.” Now there are 20, because I removed my writing abominations and a couple of editing abominations (where I didn’t fix another writer’s abomination).

The remaining ones are in quotes and there is one proper use of “emails.” I’ll come back to that.

So a significant number were by me. But as I’ve noted many times here: I do not edit any articles written by me.

The Dreaded “Emails”

There’s only one situation where I can justify “emails”: as a present perfect verb. For example, “She emails a lot of messages!” But you never “send a lot of emails,” just as you never “send a lot of mails.” Why? Because “mail” is plural.

Why do people think they need to add an “s” to “email” but not “mail”?! Because they are sloppy and don’t think. And… (This is the critical thing.) Publishing moves so fast now that little time is spent editing.

Why Not “Eletter”?

Email was an outgrowth of messaging systems. So you would think “email message” would just trip off the tongue. (Note: this is commonly written “drip off the tongue.” It’s one of those wonderful “wrong” usage cases that make great sense. Another example is “beat red.” I love these things.)

The real problem here is that there was never general acceptance of the term “eletter” or something similar. And most people will not type “email message” when “email” (as much as it drives me crazy) is just as clear.

But people did try. In the late 80s and early 90s, I commonly read “eletter” and similar things. But they never took off. And then the web came and a lot of ignorant people just overran us like zombies in Night of the Living Dead. And now that Hillary Clinton had so many “emails” and Bernie Sanders didn’t want to hear about her “damned emails” the war is so far over that I should give up.

The Current State

I won’t though. I’ll be one of those (probably apocryphal) Japanese soldiers still fighting World War II well into the 1950s.

So where are we? Well, for the time being, any time I edit a writer I fix this obnoxious usage (not that I’m perfect as already noted). And I will continue to do so until the day when someone who pays me says, “Our style is to use ’email’ rather than ’email message’.” And on my sites it will always be done what I consider the right way. That is: the right way.

But I’m sure the day will come when someone will tell me to put “emails” as a noun in a style book. I’ve been writing on at least a semi-professional level for the last 25 years. And as I’ve noted, during that time, I’ve seen editing standards go down constantly. Even the books that are published today have so many more errors in them than they did two decades ago, it’s frightening.

Why I Care

Ultimately, editing (and writing, of course[1]) is about quality control. And the quality you are controlling is clarity. As much as I hate these uses of “email” and “emails,” I know they don’t normally cause confusion. They could, however — in rare cases. But my specific concern is just that this kind of usage is ugly.

My general concern is much more disturbing. Every language has its strengths and limitations. There are concepts that take a paragraph to describe in one language that other languages have single words for. And vice versa. It does not help the language to take two different words and replace them with one. It makes the language less precise. And we already have the mother of all problems: homophones.

I realize we are creating new words all the time. But they are new words for new things. Mail is mail — regardless of the mode of transport. That’s why we should have coined “eletter” or “ezipdingdong” or whatever.

And I feel even older now.

The Bottom Line: Read This!

It’s simple. Read your sentence without the “e.” If it sounds right, great! If it sounds wrong, change it. There are few grammatical matters that are easier than that.

Suppose you wrote, “Now that there is talk of some emails that no one has looked at that might have something to do with something that might conceivably be important, people swing in the opposite direction.” Few people would complain. But try this sentence with a single character taken out, “Now that there is talk of some mails that no one has looked at that might have something to do with something that might conceivably be important, people swing in the opposite direction.”

You’d never write that second sentence. So why not write, “Now that there is talk of some email that no one has looked at that might have something to do with something that might conceivably be important, people swing in the opposite direction”? You have no reason other than laziness.


My great fear is that people will begin to use “mail” as they use “email.” And that second sentence that I assume all readers find offensive will not only be accepted, but standard.

Now I feel as old as Dr Muñoz at the end of H P Lovecraft’s story “Cool Air”!

[1] Every writer edits and every editor writes. When I say I don’t edit my work here, I mean I don’t take the time to do even what passes as a professional edit today.

A Final Word on 2016 (I Hope)

Portents of Doom… For RepublicansAgain and again the media makes the claim that Hillary Clinton lost the easiest election ever.

By Damon Linker (twice).  By ostensibly professional Democratic partisan Jon Favreau. Chris Cillizza of course. They often do this because they assume her campaign was terrible and she did nothing right.  They often do not explain exactly what her campaign did that was so terrible except that she did not go to Wisconsin. After all, Cheato was the worst candidate in history therefore it must be her fault.

But this isn’t true.

The Fundamentals Were Against Her From the Start

When it comes to any given election, there are a group that will always vote Democratic and a group that will always vote Republican.  The rest of voters are what need to be persuaded.  In the 2016 election many of these were individuals who had voted for Obama but were ready for something new.

This is what is called third term fatigue.  Generally, a third termer can win when the opponent is one of two things: bland and boring, or simply bad at campaigning.  History gives us three examples.


In 1940, Republicans nominated as a surprise candidate when their convention deadlocked a former Democrat Wendell Willkie.  He was a tough campaigner, but he was indistinguishable from the Democrats based on what he was proposing.  He lost.

In 1948, Republicans nominated a very bland but popular governor of New York who was an extremely lazy campaigner who did not even endorse his party’s platform.  But he was beloved by the media (sounds familiar) and they gave him all sorts of advantages in the press.  Meanwhile Truman was barnstorming the country and giving rip-roaring speeches.  In the days before real mass media like TV, he was a good in-person entertainer.  He also was the current president who in a masterful stroke, called the majority Republican Congress back into session to pass their priorities as listed in the platform.  They failed.

In 1988, Democrats nominated Michael Dukakis.  He was a passionless fellow who had a couple of problems. First, he had no passion. Second, he was governor of a state where a black guy was given a furlough and killed a woman.  George HW Bush seems like a sad old man now but he okayed using a racist ad against Dukakis and it won him the election. (Racism will return again and again in this story.)

Donald Trump Was A Formidable Candidate

Next, the fallacy that Cheato was somehow a terrible candidate.  He didn’t do what he needed to do of course. He didn’t fundraise. He only did one event a day. Trump was also extremely stupid. And he had to fire two campaign managers mid-campaign. (Lewandowski and Manafort)

Trump Was Tough — For Other Reasons

He was a formidable candidate for other reasons-he was entertaining as a clown often is. Because of that, he got almost 5 billion dollars in free advertising. Much of it was negative but all of it was free.  Hell, his podium got more airtime than Clinton even when she was making major speeches.

He had the clear assistance of Russia. From direct help in the form of stolen information, active interference on social media, and of course indirect assistance by way of pouring money into the NRA, the entity that spent 30 million dollars for Cheato’s win.

Russia is also the group that handed Wikileaks most of the non-Clinton email messages to be dropped for the media to blather relentlessly and pointlessly over.

The Primary

He was not a normal politician so didn’t care about the general election.  Remember, before the general, Cheato had to face 15 Republicans, some of whom were extremely good politicians.  Despite Rubio’s whining, he has been elected numerous times in Florida.  He even won re-election in 2016 while complaining about how much he hated being a senator.

John Kasich was no joke when he ran. Kasich is one of those smiling Republicans who gut you while you are complimenting them on how nice they seem. He won re-election in 2014 by thirty points. Even now he is above 50% as governor despite Ohio’s economy not being that great.

Ted Cruz was another major contender who had no reason to suspect he would lose.  He had, after all, been the guy who gave one of history’s biggest political upsets with his surprise win in 2012 in the Texas Republican primary. David Dewhurst, his then opponent, had what appeared to be an insurmountable lead after the initial primary in May when he got 10 points over Cruz but was flipped by the runoff election in July. That is a shift of over 10 points in two months.

Jeb Bush was always going to suck.

But with those three other opponents, it should have been simple for them to beat Cheato.  Why didn’t they?

Trump’s Lack of Care

I believe a large part of it was Cheato simply didn’t care enough to moderate his tone for the general.  Republicans had been playing with fire since 1972 and the invention of the Southern Strategy. They use racist policies that they paper over so those who have zero interest in dealing with it can pretend that no, the Republicans are not the home of white supremacy.  Their news organizations (Fox, Sinclair, and others) go to a great deal of effort to magnify racial tensions by overreacting to the slightest expansion of rights of non-whites while steeply underreacting to real world racist results.  In addition, Republican state legislatures have been openly racist for years with the North Carolina legislature being so racist a court took extreme measures to point this out.

The national politicians (including Kasich, Cruz, Rubio, and Bush) had long been playing cute, so they usually were using dog whistles to hide the racism.  2016 and Cheato blew past the dog whistles and gave the Republican base what they wanted — a racist candidate who was happy to play up all the same conspiracies that they had been fed for years by Fox News.

But wait! What about the fact that many voters voted for Obama before they voted for Cheato?  Racial resentment plays a large part in this. It is dressed up as “cultural anxiety” but it is plain ol’ racism.

“I voted for Obama but black people didn’t stop demanding things.”

A co-worker said that to me.  I don’t know why it is weird that they would demand to not be shot but then I try to actively work on my privilege.

Let’s Talk Sexism

The 2016 election was one of the ones where cultural issues hold great sway.  Why?  The economy was humming along okay, the world was mostly at peace, and there wasn’t a sense of urgency like there had been in 1992 and 2008.  Both of those years had pick ups by Democrats because the US was worried about the economy. 2008 was bad enough that a guy named Barack Hussein Obama won in a landslide.

The 800 lb gorilla in the room that is rarely spoken about except by Hillary Clinton fans like myself is the sexism.

Many People Don’t See Women as Presidents

It is extremely hard for a woman to run for President of the United States.  Here is a table of only the national party candidates who got at least on the nominating ballot at the convention.

evidence 276

Of the 10 women who have run for the national parties, only Margaret Chase Smith, Shirley Chisholm, Hillary Clinton, and Carly Fiorina have been taken seriously enough to win delegates. And of those four, only one has made it to the general election.  Every other woman has been a third-party candidate who was there mostly for symbolic reasons.

Gee, looking at it like that shows it is kind of hard does it not?

Further, we have numbers to back up the fact it was sexism and not simply Hillary Clinton being somehow uniquely unlikable. We also have confessions from Republicans.

Let us look at the numbers for Hillary Clinton and her “likability”:

Evidence 275


If she was not running for anything and was a subordinate to another person, Clinton was popular for a politician.  She hit a peak of 60% in 2011.  But then Benghazi happened, and she decided to leave office, which the media assumed was so she could run for the White House.  The Republicans, as confessed here by Kevin McCarthy, decided to abuse their power once again to try to stop her.

Note that word in there: untrustworthy.

Lies, Damn Lies, and the Truth

Clinton is not much of a liar.  She has had very few outright lies — 31 in ten years.  (I disagree with some of Politifact’s characterizations of her statements since obviously some of them were hyperbole that all politicians fall prey to but whatever.)

Barack Obama had 71 in that time frame.  Donald Trump set the webpage on fire. Mitt Romney (they stopped tracking him after 2012) had 32.

In fact, if you want honesty out of a politician, go ask a Democrat.  They usually will tell you the truth.

evidence 277

Why Is Hillary Seen as a Liar?

Yet she is assumed to be lying all the time.  Why?  Women tend to be more honest than men but Clinton has been called a liar since William Safire’s column on her being a congenital liar in 1996 despite her generally being honest.

Which means it isn’t about Clinton’s actual honesty.  It is about the people who lie about her.

Republicans have been doing that since she showed up on the national scene as Bill Clinton’s wife (prior to that, she was her own person but when Bill ran for the presidency, things changed a wee bit.)  The media has usually and gleefully joined in.  This has happened again, and again, and again, and again.

(A good example of this is Judicial Watch who were the ones who sought her emails from her time at State and repeatedly made up claims about them that the media swallowed whole scale. Judicial Watch is not a clean actor.  They have a vendetta against Clinton and the media has never particularly cared.)

Hillary Fought This False Narrative

Because of this, Clinton spent most of 2015 and 2016 being as precise as possible in her speaking.  She obviously failed since multiple times she had to go back and explain something when it was distorted by the press (who then distorted what she explained.)  She is still having to do that when the brouhaha flared up over her accurate statement in India about where she won and where Cheato won and why.

Yet even though she is no more of a liar then say Obama, she is treated much worse by the press. Even her husband isn’t treated as badly as she is. It is why he is at 45% and she is at 36%. Part of the reason is of course that Fox News has been acting like she is currently President despite her repeated attempts to resign as their President in Fake.

There is also some other data that show it was about sexism that is little looked at.

I have used this before to explain why Clinton lost and I think it is important to look at. Firefighters are one of the last main bastions of white masculinity. The group is mostly white, mostly male.

evidence 266

They voted for Obama at barely more than 50% in 2008 and less than 50% in 2012.  But they dropped to 27% for Clinton. The only thing that really explains both (since they voted for Bill Clinton at a much higher rate) is racism for Obama and sexism for Clinton.

They don’t even hide it. The president of the Firefighters Union flatly stated that they didn’t like Clinton or Democrats being focused on minorities and college educated whites instead of them.

James Comey

And finally, the last part about sexism is James Comey.  He of the impeccable reputation that somehow viewed his women bosses as less than reasonable.  First up is Loretta Lynch.  He thought she had a credibility gap.  Why? There was no reason to assume it this time. He had to use a doctored email that was thoroughly debunked by his own team to assume she was going to be discredited by the partisan press.

Yet the entire time he could have gone to Sally Yates about his concerns because he may have thought that Lynch was not impartial enough. Never went to her. Didn’t go to her again when he found out about the email messages that were on Anthony Weiner’s laptop. Didn’t go to her when she was acting AG with Cheato’s behavior after the election.

(This probably should not be a surprise since the mostly male FBI has a bit of an issue with the sexism against Hillary Clinton being as obvious as the ones against Lynch and Yates:

“Besides, as one bureau official after another has made clear to me in recent months, Comey never expected Clinton to lose. He saw The Letter as the politically expedient thing to do to help bolster the legitimacy of her victory – and preserve the FBI’s apolitical reputation. “The worst-case scenario [in his mind] was she was going to be really pissed [at him],” one executive told me. “But then we’d sit her down and tell her it was her fault we were in this position.”)


The 2016 election is one that still rankles for so many reasons that we aren’t going to finish grappling with them any time soon.  There are many actors who refuse to take a hard look at their behavior. From the media refusing, almost to a person, to look at what they obviously did wrong;  to average Americans who do not want to admit they were acting in sexist and racist ways; to the lack of caring by Republicans as they have been turned into traitors for Russian money.

Even I have not admitted my errors.  While I was active online campaigning I did little in-person and even less phonebanking.  I had reasons. My loss in 2014 made physical campaigning extremely painful, but I should have done more.  That is on me.

Clinton looked at her behavior in What Happened which was a bit self-serving as all memoirs are, but she did look at what she did wrong. She admitted she screwed up.  As far as I can tell, she is the only one who has admitted their screw-ups. Amy Chozick comes somewhat close in her memoir Chasing Hillary: Ten Years, Two Presidential Campaigns, And One Intact Glass Ceiling however the excerpts posted online are extremely clueless and self-serving.

There is a great deal to be learned from the 2016 election.  Some has been with Eric Holder’s group to combat gerrymandering. DNC’s efforts to quietly help campaigns get the vote out. But the problems of racism, sexism, Russia, and the media’s right wing behavior have not gone away and will not any time soon.