Noor Salman, Leo Frank, and the “Other” We Must Destroy

Lynching Leo Frank
Noor Salman is the wife of Omar Mateen, the man who killed 49 people in the Pulse nightclub in Orlando in 2016. He’s dead, so we have to find someone to punish. So why not his wife? It doesn’t matter that two other recent high-profile mass shootings also involved women who were more clearly involved. They were white women. Salman is a Muslim, and so must face decades in prison.

Omar Mateen Wasn’t Targeting Gay Clubs

The main reason this case has come to be a big deal is that Pulse is a gay nightclub. And lots of false information came out when no one knew anything that indicated that Mateen picked the nightclub because it was gay. As Glenn Greenwald and Murtaza Hussain discuss in As the Trial of Omar Mateen’s Wife Begins, New Evidence Undermines Beliefs About the Pulse Massacre, Including Motive, Mateen probably didn’t even know it was a gay nightclub.

None of his searches had anything to do with the LGBT community. He was just looking for a nightclub, and the Pulse was the first one he found that seemed vulnerable.

Development of a Narrative

This isn’t to take away from the extreme villainy of what Mateen did. But I think a big part of indicted his wife (who he brutalized) has to do with this false narrative.

We now live in a world with 24 hour a day cable news that must be fed. AIt doesn’t matter if what is reported is true. And in the case when nothing is known, it is even worse. Then some reporter’s hunch becomes news.

A gay nightclub was attacked, so it must have been an LGBT hate crime. Mateen was Muslim, so he must have been a closeted homosexual.

And before you know it, there is a narrative. And the only information that gets reported is that which fits the narrative. The media are just like the police. Only smarter. And therefore more dangerous.

Leo Frank

This whole thing has made me think about Leo Frank and what happened to him. But I’m hopeful that things will work out better for Noor Salman than for him (but I’m not sure; I’ve seen too much injustice in this country for anything close to certainty).

Now most of you probably don’t know who Leo Frank was. The only reason I know about him is because when I was a kid, I saw a made-for-television film about him. And unlike the way these things usually are, further research on my part has shown that the film was quite accurate.

Who Was Leo Frank?

Leo Frank was Jewish and raised in New York. He went to college and got a degree in mechanical engineering. Afterward, he took a job as a superintendent at a factory in Georgia.

The Murder of Mary Phagan

Everything was fine until 13-year-old Mary Phagan was found murdered. The police first suspected James Conley. He was an African American janitor at the factory. In his first affidavit, he implicated Leo Frank. But it was so bad that even the police didn’t believe it.

Noor SalmanCoaching the Murderer

But the police helped Conley work his affidavit to the point where it would sound good to a jury. Now most modern historians believe that Conley murdered Phagan. That was, after all, what all the evidence pointed to. So you would think they would just indict him and be done with it.

There was a problem, though. Sure, Conley was black and they hated them. But he was also a southerner. He was, in his limited way, one of them. Leo Frank, on the other hand, was a Jew, which means he was hated as much as a black man. Plus, he had a college degree and a good job. And then there was the fact that he was from New York! (Although he was born in Texas.)

Antisemitic Narrative

So the police and the press engaged in an antisemitic attack on Leo Frank. He was found guilty, but never officially executed. Instead, he was kidnapped and lynched.

I’m always amazed by these lynching photos with all the proud white men standing around.[1] Ultimately, it isn’t the lynchers who are to blame but the police and the journalists who whipped them into a frenzy where they absolutely knew that this innocent man was guilty.

Noor Salman and Leo Frank

I think it should be obvious why I see a connection between Noor Salman and Leo Frank. The LGBT community is still oppressed. There are people who hate them with a furiosity that is unimaginable to you and me.

America Hates Muslims

But overall, it is nothing compared to the hatred that Americans reserve for Muslims. I think this quote from the article I mentioned above says it all:

The decision to prosecute Salman is particularly odd given the Department of Justice’s refusal to prosecute Marilou Danley, the girlfriend of Las Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock, despite far greater evidence suggesting her foreknowledge of his plans. Additionally, the DOJ refused to prosecute Katherine Russell, the white, ex-Christian wife of Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev, also in the face of evidence of possible complicity that was far stronger than exists for Salman.

No Justice When Only Some People Are Prosecuted

It doesn’t matter how good juries decide guilt or innocence, when someone’s religious beliefs determine whether they show up in court at all. If Noor Salman were white and her husband just a white neo-Nazi, she’d be free to get on with her life.

But they were both Muslims, and Omar Mateen is dead, so we’ve got to punish Noor Salman. And don’t think that if she’s found innocent she won’t have been punished. First, she stood the chance of spending decades (or her whole life) in jail. Second, the stress of going through such a trial is worse than anything most people in this country ever go through.

What Should Have Happened to Noor Salman

Noor Salman should be happy right now. She got rid of a husband who brutalized her. But instead, she got a whole society to continue the brutalization. And all because she is an Other. She doesn’t have the right religion. And this will hang over her head for the rest of her life if she is found not guilty. If she’s found guilty, it will be so much worse.

This is another case, in a long line of cases, where we have oppressed the weak. Look at the proud men in that lynching photo. That’s us. Today.

[1] If there is one thing life has taught me that is most important it is humility. It is that I’m quite fallible. This is an issue I deal with in my family. I come from redneck stock. And so I’m always told about this or that outrage. But I’m rarely outraged, because in pretty much every case, when I research the outrage at hand, it is far more nuanced than I’ve been told. A good example was this undocumented guy who accidentally shot that young woman here in the Bay Area. I knew from the start it wasn’t the way people were saying. This guy wasn’t a psychopath just having fun killing people. He was a person with mental problems playing around with a gun that resulted in tragic consequences. It’s sad, but not every sad story has a villain. But I know it is the thinking of my family members that leads to those proud smiling faces that gather around innocent people they just lynched. I love my family, but many of them are part of the problem.

Americans Are Smart, but Naive: American Empire Edition

Matt Yglesias - Americans Are Smart, but Naive: American Empire EditionMatthew Yglesias wrote a very good article last week, Maybe Voters Aren’t as Uninformed as Elites like to Think. It’s based on an upcoming article by Vanessa Williamson, “Public Ignorance or Elitist Jargon? Reconsidering Americans’ Overestimates of Government Waste and Foreign Aid.” And it makes an argument for an idea that a lot of us have been thinking for a long time.

The idea is that when pollsters ask Americans questions about what the government spends on various programs, the people asking the questions have different definitions than the people answering them. The best example of this is the question, “What percent of the federal budget goes to foreign aid?” The “correct answer is 1 percent or less. But Americans give much bigger numbers. They’ll say 25 percent — even 50 percent.

Foreign Aid or American Empire Maintenance?

But what is “foreign aid”? Americans believe more of their government’s propaganda than the citizens of any other peer country. Despite all the nonsense about fake news, Americans except just about everything the media and the government say. That’s especially true when it comes to foreign affairs. Like my 85-year-old father would never believe that we go to war for any reason but to spread democracy and make people free.

Now if that were true, our entire military budget should be considered foreign aid. As of 2015, the military took 16 percent of the entire federal budget. And if you don’t count Social Security and Medicare (and I don’t think you should given they are totally different programs based on their own particular tax receipts), the military is 35% of the Federal budget.

Americans Believe Government Propaganda

So the problem isn’t that Americans are wrong about how much we spend on foreign aid. The problem is that Americans believe our government propaganda that our military is just to take care of the world. You know, the whole “World’s police force”?

The United States spends approximately as much on its military as every other country in the world combined does. We have this huge military so we can keep our worldwide empire going. And that empire involves about half the countries in the world.

But the media doesn’t report our military as the main instrument of our empire. In fact, the American media won’t even admit that we do have an empire.

The New Kind of Empire

This is very much like the old line about generals always fighting the last war. Since the American empire doesn’t look like the empires of a century ago when the lead country put its own people in charge of the other countries, we can’t be an empire.

But we accomplish the same thing, just in a different way. Even the British got in on the act at the end of their empire days. In the early 1950s, the people of Iran elected Mohammad Mosaddegh. He was going to nationalize the oil industry. So the US and UK had him assassinated. The Shah was put back in power, and Democracy was outlawed. But it wasn’t a matter of Eisenhower and Churchill putting in one of their men. They just used the old despot who would do whatever they wanted. This is how modern empires work.

Americans Don’t Believe We Have an Empire

But tell me: have you ever heard anyone in the mainstream media — even liberals — talk about the American empire? Of course not. They are as brainwashed as my father is.

So you can’t go around deceiving people about what our military does, and then laugh at the people for believing you. The US government is dependent on the people believing this fairy tale. So all the people who run our great death machine should praise the people for saying that 35 percent of the federal budget goes to foreign aid. Don’t you remember the Iraq War? That was to help all those people. We didn’t spend $2+ trillion on ourselves. It was all to aid the Iraqis. It was foreign aid.

Portents of Doom… For Republicans

Portents of Doom… For RepublicansAnother special election has occurred that, more than anything, shows what is building for the upcoming November election.

In the soon to be redistricted out Pennsylvania 18 th district, Conor Lamb won the seat as a Democrat for the first time since 2002. Representative-elect Lamb (results are not certified yet) showed that if you match the district to the candidate, you can win. But he needed help along the way.

Republicans gave him that help. Repeatedly.

Republican Help

First by having the former Congressman have to resign due to not simply having had an affair (practically de rigueur [foreign words and phrases should be italicized] for Republicans these days) but
pressuring the woman to have an abortion. As is the norm with anti-choicers, only abortions that don’t affect them are bad. So his pressuring her caused him to have to resign because her abortion didn’t affect the rest of the Republican caucus. That leaves voters distasteful of Republicans to start.

Then they nominated a fairly boring uninspiring candidate which would normally have won the race because he followed the party line to a T(ea party, yes he was a tea partier first running in 2010 where he barely beat his Democrat opponent twice). When your opponent comes off looking like a dynamic, fresh, and talented guy you would like to see marry your daughter, well, it doesn’t help.

The Pelosi Boogeyman

They tried to tie Lamb to Nancy Pelosi. Lamb said he wouldn’t vote for her as the leader (most likely with the party’s blessing). Pelosi’s no fool; she knows Republicans use her as a boogeyman like they have anytime there isn’t an equally competent woman *cough* Hillary *cough* around to bash.

Then the Republicans in the House passed the ACA repeal. Among the many things it did was show how precarious the state of health insurance for people was. Lots of voters didn’t like that.

“Hey! We Lowered Rich People’s Taxes!”

Then the Republicans passed a giant tax giveaway — The Great Tax Scam Bill of 2017 — to corporations and the rich that took money from the middle class in the form of higher health care premiums.

The Great Tax Scam Bill was designed to be signed in 2018 so it would make it politically unfeasible for the Democrats to reverse anything. Instead, the mentally failing Cheato signed the bill right away — in 2017. This caused automatic cuts in popular spending programs like Medicare, which (unsurprisingly) ticked off all the old people.

The House Says Trump Is Honest

Finally, in the days leading up to the final vote, the Republicans in the House released the “final” report on the TrumpRussia issue. To no one’s surprise, they freely admitted they are trying to cover up what happened by saying nothing occurred between Russia and Trump’s campaign. Democrats then released a comprehensive list of what the Republicans refused to do. (Now many of the Republicans on the committee are backtracking.)

You could say that the final factor was actually Cheato himself. But he’s an eternal problem that was there back in the early days of special elections.

Democratic Help

Additionally, Lamb benefited from the rage that is still in many Democratic voters who realized that they were too complacent in 2016. We know, now, that the election was likely stolen. The party has started instituting quiet reforms. And there is a great deal of effort to register, ID,verify, and vote among Democratic activists. All of the Democratic committees and subcommittees are working to get our likely voters registered and verified to vote.

We also are donating in small but consistent amounts. While Lamb had plenty of large contributions, 50% of his financial support came from small donors of $200 or less. There are over a thousand candidates generating excitement (in the case of California, too many candidates because of its “top two” voting system) in the congressional races.

The Takeaway

It’s hard not to see Lamb being helped more by the Republicans than the Democrats. Lamb’s opponent, Republican State Representative Rick Saccone, ran as “Trump before TrumTrump before Trump was Trump.” This might seem like a stupid move, but Sacone didn’t have much choice.

The Republicans have put themselves in a bad situation. Trump is extremely unpopular. But in the Republican Party, he’s very popular. So if Saccone had abandoned Trump, a bit chunk of his Republican voters would have abandoned him. That’s especially true in a special election where it is very easy to decide to stay home.

But this is a problem that Republicans face everywhere. And it will be just as true November 6, 2018. And the Republican Party is freaking out.

This article is cross-posted at Humorless Rants.

S.2155 Makes the Claim “Both Sides Are Corrupt” Hard to Argue Against

Chuck SchumerSo the Senate is set to pass S.2155, basically a gutting of the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. And it is doing it with 17 members of the Democratic caucus. Not only will S.2155 make another financial crisis (and you and I will have to pay for) more likely, it does other things like make discrimination in lending easier. Good job by 17 political “Allies.”

But don’t get me wrong: I understand what’s going on — probably better than the Democratic politicians themselves. First, Chuck Schumer is allowing this. He’ll vote against it, but all the lobbyists will know that he set up the situation so that he can say to his constituents that he was against it, while being the most important person who is allowing its passage. What’s more, many of these Democrats are owned by the banking industry. They are voting this way because it is what they believe. These are the kind of Democrats we desperately need to rid ourselves of.

Protective Voting Never Works

And then there are those who are voting for it because they are in a conservative state. And they think that voting for S.2155 will make them more likely to get re-elected. There are a few problems with this idea.

The first is that most conservative voters are fairly liberal when it comes to economic issues. So they won’t hold a parade that Democrat X voted for this bill. If they want to get in good with conservative voters, they should vote against abortion rights or make a racist comment. This bill will be hated by Democratic and Republican voters alike.

Second, they won’t get any credit for it. The president will get credit for it. The president is a Republican. They are Democrats. So any credit that is given will go to their Republican opponent, not them.

Trump Will Get Credit for S.2155, Not These Idiotic Democrats

I would have thought that all national politicians would understand this. In 2002, the Democratic Party decided to work with President George W Bush after 9/11. (I still find it amazing that a president can allow the worst attack on American soil in history and his approval ratings go through the roof. I wish I could get a job where the worse I do the more my employers like me.) Anyway, as a result of working with the Republican President, voters thought it meant Bush was great, the Democrats were savaged in 2002 — a year that the Democrats should have gained many seats.

The truth is that Senators who are less popular in their states than Trump, are going to lose re-election. Voting with Trump 100 percent of the time will not change that. The only thing that would have changed that is if they had switched to the Republican Party in January of 2017.

Democrats Are Making an Economic Crisis More Likely for Nothing

So now we are going to get a really bad bill. And even if it were a good bill, there is no time pressure; it could be put off for a year with no problems — except that huge banks would be less likely to destroy our economy again. But in return for this really bad bill, the Democratic Party gets — wait for it — nothing. Even the individual members will get nothing for it. And it will hurt other Democrats because it will make Trump look more like a competent leader, which we all know he is not.

It’s Hard to Say Republicans Are Worse Than Democrats

But this also bugs me on a personal level. Whenever I have an argument with a conservative, I know I’ve won when they get to the point of saying, “Well, both sides are useless.” Or whatever: corrupt, stupid, any pejorative that fits. When over a third of the Democratic Party votes for a bill that only billionaires want, it’s hard to say to these conservatives, “No, both sides are not the same. The Republican Party really is bad. The Democrats have their problems just like any party. But the Republicans are destroying this country.” Because now they can just say, “What about S.2155?”

Marlon Brando Was Not a Method™ Actor

Marlon Brando Was Not a Method ActorAlmost everyone I know thinks that Marlon Brando was a Method™ actor. Throughout his career people referred to him as a Method™ actor, regardless of how many times he contradicted them. And so this morning, I went over to Vox and read, Why the Oscars Love Method Actors. The subtitle was, “From Marlon Brando to Daniel Day-Lewis, Hollywood’s infatuation continues.” Other than the part about Brando, that’s quite true.

The thesis of the article is that the Oscars love method actors because the Academy’s members are a bunch of pretentious idiots. But how do you know that an actor is using The Method™?! By going on talk shows and telling the world. There’s no doubt that Robert De Niro one the Oscar because of all the publicity generated by his putting on 60 pounds for Raging Bull. Personally, I think John Hurt as Joseph Merrick in The Elephant Man is one of the greatest acting achievements on film. But Hurt wasn’t even a trained actor, much less one trained in The Method™. So he lost.[1]

The Method™ Is Not Just Bad But Dangerous

I’m well on record as being very much against The Method™. Every actor has a method. The Method™ is trite. The idea is to act by not acting. Well, that’s just nonsense. And so now we hear stories of all the horrible things that Leonardo DiCaprio did to prepare for his role in The Revenant. It’s these things and not the performance on screen that got him the Oscar.

Marlon Brando Was Not a Method™ Actor

Marlon Brando was not not not a method actor. This is the man who, remember, was supposed to show up on the set of Apocalypse Now skinny, but showed up way overweight, such that the script had to be changed. That’s hardly the behavior of an actor who is “becoming the character.”

Another thing about Brando was that he was very good at accents. This is something that is almost never mentioned about him. Followers of The Method™ are generally useless with accents because they aren’t trained to the way, say, British actors are. I’ve heard people talk about how De Niro is great with accents. This is from Zimbo, Masters of Accents:

The most overlooked part of Robert De Niro’s incredible performance in Raging Bull is his meat and potatoes Bronx accent. The actor is from New York but Manhattan, which might as well be Connecticut if you ask someone from the Bronx.

Um, no. Not that different. Also: not that hard to pick up. Rent an apartment in the Bronx for a month and you’ll probably come out with the accent, especially if you study with a vocal coach. After 17 years as a professional actor, worth millions of dollars, doing a working class Bronx accent is not even worthy of a party trick. No master of accents he.

Great Actors Don’t Need The Method™

Don’t get me wrong, Brando was a great actor. But he did not use The Method™. Of course, the video that goes with the article hedges. It says that since 1951, there have been 132 Best Actor and Actress Oscars. But it says that “59 have gone to actors with Method™ acting training.” Well, it’s actually pretty hard to be a professional actor and not get at least some Method™ acting training. Certainly Brando had some. But that doesn’t make him a Method™ actor.

The Academy Members Are Pretentious Idiots

Let’s just lay it bare. The members of the Academy are pretentious idiots. In general, they don’t give out Oscars for great acting; they give it out for great characters. They’ve given Dustin Hoffman Academy Awards for two of his least memorable performances: Kramer vs Kramer (Ha!) and Rain Man. Hollywood gives out awards for what happens behind the scenes because the truth is, they don’t know what a great performance is. The truth is that no one knows. What you can do is look at an actor’s career and say, “Yes, that was good.” If we were honest, we would admit that any given performance has more than enough room to make the case that it was good or bad.

The article and video want to have it both ways. They want to say that The Method™ is just a marketing gimmick and that it makes for better performances. It’s not. I don’t like Leonardo DiCaprio, regardless. But I don’t see him being substantially better now than he was in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. Yes, he is better, just as anyone gets better in the performance of their jobs as time goes on. The Method™ hasn’t done anything for his acting, but it’s done loads for his reputation.

We’d Be Better Off Without The Method™

You can be a great actor who uses The Method™ (although I’ve never thought much of Lee Strasberg’s acting). But it isn’t necessary at all. And I think it hurts actors because it draws them away from learning basic acting skills — like accents.

Afterword: Tom Cruise

The video also takes a potshot at Tom Cruise. It said he was always Tom Cruise up there on the screen. Well, maybe in the 4 movies they mentioned. But Cruise is a decent actor. There are a number of roles I could mention, but I’ll just mention Interview With a Vampire where he puts Brad Pitt to shame.

[1] I’ve never understood what is supposed to be so great about De Niro’s performance. He was up against Robert Duvall in The Great Santini too! Was there anything incredibly subtle about De Niro’s performance? Not that I’ve ever noticed. And when people bring up the performance, they always mention the same two things. First, he gained 60 pounds for the role. I do think that’s amazing, but I don’t think it has anything to do with acting. Second, they bring up his ad libbing with Joe Pesci.

People who know nothing of filmmaking tend to idolize ad libbing. The director Alan Parker once spoke about a scene between De Niro and Mickey Rourke in Angel Heart. These two Method™ actors didn’t think a particular scene was going very well. Parker is an excellent director and writer. Like most writers, he’s not too keen on ad libbing. He spent a lot of time coming up with just the right words. The idea that actors just messing around will improve on it is absurd. But The Method™ makes actors think that they can come up with better action and dialog because they are the characters.

But Parker had two stars, so he went along with it. And they shot hundreds of feet of film of these two ad libbing. They went in many directions, and ended up back to almost exactly what was written in the script. And don’t even get me started with Robin Williams. I recently re-viewed Good Morning, Vietnam. I was amazed that the film had aged pretty well, but not William’s ad libbing. In fact, his ad libbing was never very funny. It was based most often on very offensive stereotypes. And it was funny simply in its absurdity. It went by too quickly to really appreciate. I wish people would get over this. At best, ad libbing is simply writing fast. And there is rarely a time where writing fast is an important skill to have.

The Olympics Is Everything That Makes Us Bad

Michael PhelpsAfter the Olympics were over, some commentator came on the television screen and did this big feel-good speech about what the world had just watched was a super-duper example of humanity at its best. This was all the best athletes of the world coming together to compete. It showed people trying to do their best and all getting along. Oh joy!

I watched almost none of the Olympics largely because I already knew what this guy would go on to say was the absolute opposite of reality. The Olympics demonstrate the worst of what we are and what make us, as a species incredibly dangerous.

This is not going to be an exhaustive discussion of the problems with the Olympics. For that, you would need a book. But really, this isn’t complicated: the Olympics are a nationalistic display featuring competitions meant to show which country is “best.” You would think that after the 1936 Nazi Olympic Games, people would have given up on the idea that the whole spectacle was above politics or a representation of what is best in humanity. But they don’t. The Olympics start with each country marching into the stadium wearing their colors and waving their flags. Could there be anything more nationalistic?

Sure, they aren’t carrying guns and shooting each other. But that’s just because the Olympics are like Christmas dinner: everyone is on their best behavior. The opening ceremonies are a perfect display of what leads to war.

There Is No Real Individualism in the Olympics

And they show that the games have nothing to do with the individuals. If you know the name of an Olympic athlete, it is almost certain that the athlete is from your country. And all through the event, we are kept abreast of the “medal totals.” How many gold, silver, and bronze medals were won by each country. Sure, we got a running total of Michael Phelps’ metals in 2008, but I assure you, Russian television wasn’t doing the same thing.

But yes, a big deal will be made of individuals who win a lot of metals. Yes, if you are an American, you know who Michael Phelps is. But have you ever heard of Larisa Latynina? Most likely if you lived in the Soviet Union or come from the Ukraine, you know who she is. She’s the woman with the most Olympic medals, in a sport I consider much harder: gymnastics. Swimming is probably the easiest sport to dominate in metals because it’s there is so much of the same thing. You have 100 m freestyle, the 200 m freestyle, the 400 m freestyle. And that’s to say nothing of the corresponding relay races.

No one will ever win metals in both the 100 m dash and the marathon. They are completely different. They even require completely different body types to excel at. And why are there so many dull-as-dishwater swimming events? Because the US has a huge amount of power on the Olympic committee and the US dominates in swimming.

What’s more, the differences between the athletes are generally pathetically small. In 2008, Phelps won the 100 m butterfly by 0.01 seconds. A change in lane position could have given Phelps the silver metal in the 100 m butterfly. And in 2016, he lost by a quarter of a second and shared silver with two other men. Personally, I don’t see how people can get excited by a sport where they can’t even tell who won.

I’m not saying any of this to put down Phelps. He’s an amazing athlete — just like all the other Olympic athletes and hundreds of thousands of others who never make it to the Olympics. But my point is that we make a big deal of him because he’s our boy. In as much as there is individualism in the Olympics, it is all done in the name of nationalism. People who get excited by Michael Phelps are no different than the idiot frat boys who were chanting “We’re Number One!” after we killed Osama bin Laden.

Competing Against Others Is Bad

One of the worst characteristics of humans is their desire to “beat” others. I’ve never had that compunction, yet in my way, I’m very competitive. But I compete with myself. I love learning new things — mastering them. But being better at something than someone else just isn’t interesting to me. Yet a lot of people live for it. And it turns out these people are overwhelmingly conservative politically.[1] And it is no surprise why. Beating the next best person by a hundredth of a second in the 100 m butterfly is really no different than wanting your country to have the most powerful military and wanting to be able to tell all the other countries how they should live.

When I played chess, I was always amazed at how much winning mattered to other people. It was a game. I really didn’t care. All I cared about was improving. As as a result, although I lost a lot of games, I improved most of the people I played against didn’t. I watched as players went from a point where I could never beat them to a point where I so dominated them that they weren’t worth playing. And they never got it because winning was all that mattered to them.

Life Is About Self Improvement

Winning is a game for kids. Adults should work on improving as a person. If you try to improve yourself, you are lucky because it will make you happy (well, happier). If everyone were like that, we would have a better world than the one we have now where everyone is encouraged to be “the best.” As it is, outside of measured sports (eg, running and jumping) there really is no “best.” After you get past a certain level on the violin, it is a matter of taste. And in that case, it’s a very small number of people who can tell the difference between an excellent college violinist and Itzhak Perlman.[2]

If people aren’t primarily involved in improving themselves (in all ways, including humility — something I need to work on more), you are simply left with nothing important. There is nothing that matters as much as the things you choose to spend your time on. Winning a gold metal really is pointless; but if you love swimming, getting to that level of ability is.

Above All, the Olympics Doesn’t Matter to the World

The Olympics are an opportunity for countries to show off. This is why they fight on the Olympic committee as to just which sports will be included. This makes the games all the more nationalistic. But if people like them, fine. But never mistake the Olympics for a gauge of which country is best. The best countries are the ones that see their people taken care off. It’s fine if people are great athletes. But they aren’t what makes us great. The Olympics aren’t important and are probably bad for us.

Afterword: Alfie Kohn on Education and Competition

This is a great lecture by Alfie Kohn. (By the way, what he does at the beginning — having people break up into small groups to solve a problem is how I taught physics. Imagine if your math teachers had done that with your classes.) He talks about how turning any activity into a competition makes the individual results worse. He’s talking primarily about education, but it fits so well with what I talked about in this article that I had to share. It’s possible that the best runners would be faster if they only ever ran alone for the purpose of their own improvement.

He also talks about a way of changing musical chairs so it isn’t competitive and ends up being much more fun for all involved.

People who have read me for a long time know that I greatly admire Kohn. And if you extrapolate his work to economics, you also see that capitalism really is a failure and how we can move on to something better.

[1] Phelps has never made a political statement so far as I know. I suspect he is kind of liberalish but mostly non-political. The reason I think he tilts a bit left is because he admits that he got lucky and it isn’t all his personal will and hard work that made him so successful. (Although really, I’d love to sit down and talk to him about the fact that there are way too many swimming events in the Olympics.)

[2] I might pick the college student anyway. I’ve always found Itzhak Perlman too flashy. I wish he would stick more closely to the music as written. But then, I’m the guy who doesn’t really like Romantic Period music. And I’m not questioning that Perlman is an annoyingly great player. I would still jump at the opportunity to hear him live.

Ice Dancing and Trying to Stay Awake

Ice DancingSo I was cooking dinner and forced to watch ski jumping, which I at least consider a sport. And then came on the ice dancing. And I’ll admit, I had been drinking. But I don’t think anyone should criticize me for metaphorically vomiting. It wasn’t on the screen. I admire what they were doing. But was it sport? No, not at all. It was beautiful in the way that a clarinet concerto is beautiful; but it was not sport.

These are amazing performers! But they were not athletes. To my mind, they were so much more. But atheletes? No! Atheletes are something different, and far less edifying. I want to talk to them. I want to know how they take just an activity and turn it into art. I want to know how they push away all the pretense and show us art.

Most of all, I want to know how they move so fluidly.

From Skill to Art

I want to know how they transform what is nothing more than skill into art. Because that is what they do. On the biggest of stages, they transform what is nothing more than technical moves and turn them into art.

How can it be?! They take what the proles think of as nothing but technique and create art.

Maybe they don’t even know. Maybe art is just craft turned into art without them even realizing it. How triumphant for the artists?! How wholly disreputable for the viewers who can see nothing but technique — those who miss the art.

Transcendiing Art

They are so focused on technique that they don’t even think of art. And so they think of what they need. They need only technique. It’s the one thing that the Olympics require. And this is why the Olympics is not worth watching.

How to Understand the Ending of Learning to Drive

Learning to DriveLearning to Drive is a film for adults and that is why you have probably never heard of it. The primary character is Wendy (Patricia Clarkson), a noted book reviewer who has been left by her husband just minutes before the film starts. She gets into the taxi of Darwan (Ben Kingsley), an Indian Sikh who also teaches driving. And through a series of cinematic cliches, she becomes his student and friend.

In India, Darwan was a teacher and still is an intellectual. This is why when you are on vacation, you should take taxis because the drives are very often interesting people. On my last trip to San Francisco, I met a driver who had a PhD in Social Linguistics, and we had a nice conversation about the subject that extended several minutes after I had exited the vehicle. Looking back, the most amazing thing was that there was not a hint of bitterness in him. He was just happy to talk about his love to another who was interested in it. If the roles had been reversed, I doubt the interaction would have been so pleasant.

Wendy Decides It Is Time for Learning to Drive

Wendy, being a New Yorker, has managed to never learn to drive. And now she needs to in order to visit her daughter who is living and working on a farm in upstate New York. Her first effort results in failing her test, so Wendy gives up. But one day, her daughter, Tasha (Grace Gummer) visits her and tells her that she has decided not to return to the farm. (It is some part of her college education.) She admits that she had been in love with a young man there, and he was going back to college. So Tasha wants to come and live with her mother. But Wendy says no. She would love to have her daughter around, but she must finish her farming experience. At this point, Wendy is determined to learn to drive so she can visit and support her daughter.

Wendy Tries Again

So Wendy calls Darwan and tells him that she would like to try again. At this point, Wendy and Darwan become true friends. Darwan is having problems of his own. His arranged marriage to Jasleen (Sarita Choudhury) is not going well. The biggest problem is that Darwan is an intellectual and Jasleen is not. They don’t connect. Clearly, Darwan and Wendy are better suited, although it is clear they could never have a romantic relationship because of their social differences. But clearly, they can be and are excellent friends.

Darwan’s Marital Problems

Darwan confides in Wendy that their relationship is not going well. Wendy asks him if he would ever cheat on Jasleen if she disappointed him. He says no in a way that implies that the very idea has not occurred to him. She says, “You are a good man.”

Eventually, Wendy passes her driving test and Darwan goes with her to help her buy a car. As they are saying their goodbyes, Darwan asks Wendy if they can have dinner or coffee sometime. He does not want their friendship to end. But she says no. She adds, “The trouble is, you’re a good man.”

This is a subtle film.

The Ending of Learning to Drive

It took me several viewings to understand what Wendy was saying. It’s clear that Darwan is not asking for a romantic relationship. He simply wants their friendship to continue. But finally, I got it. The problem was not him; it was her. If they continued their friendship, she would fall in love. She would want more and he could never give it to her because he is a good man.

Also, she respects his wife Jasleen, even though she has never met her. And she knows that if she provides the intellectual stimulation that Darwan needs, he will never form the bond that he must with Jasleen.

Thus the literal end of the film is unnecessary. Wendy is driving to her daughter’s farm. But we know this will happen. It is the entire point of her learning to drive. The true ending of the film is for Darwan. And it is a beautiful scene.

The Real Ending

Jasleen comes home from shopping to find Darwan sitting on their bed. She says, “Darwan, I didn’t expect you.” He moves on the bed to provide a place for her. She sits next to him, having no idea what to expect. Is he going to divorce her and send her back to India? It’s a reasonable assumption. He says, “Jasleen, maybe I will not work at night anymore. Would you like that?” Jasleen smiles slightly, turning her head away from him. Her smile widens — almost to a laugh. She says, with the relief of all months of loneliness, “Yes!” He puts his hand on her face. She takes it. He gently rests his head on her shoulder. They are happy for the first time in the film.

Then we see Wendy driving out of New York on her way to visit her daughter. But this is de rigueur — simply for completeness. The film was complete with the joy on Jasleen’s face. Wendy’s story arc is about finding her own power. It is the primary plot, but we know it. We’ve experienced it too many times. What matters — what affects us — is the story of a traditional Sikh man who sacrifices his idea of how the world should be for the happiness of his wife. It is beautiful.

See this film!

Craig Steven Wilder on The Central Park Five

Craig Steven WilderI felt ashamed, actually, for New York. And I also felt extremely angry because their innocence never got the attention that their guilt did. The furor around prosecuting them still drowns out the good news of their innocence.

These were five kids who we tormented, we falsely accused, we pilloried in the press, we attacked. We invented phrases for the imagined crimes that we’re accusing them of.

And then we put them in jail. We falsely convicted them. And when the evidence turned out that they were innocent and they were released, we gave a modest nod to fairness, and we walked away from our crime…

I want us to remember what happened that day and be horrified by ourselves because it really is a mirror on our society. And rather than tying it up in a bow and thinking that there was something that we can take away from it and we’ll be better people, I think what we really need to realize is that we’re not very good people. And we’re often not.

–Craig Steven Wilder
Quoted in Ken Burns: The Central Park Five

H/T: James Fillmore for introducing me to the film.

I Have a New Amazon Slogan: Do Be Evil

Amazon Prime

After what seems like decades, but was probably only a couple of years — which is long enough, I finally decided to sign up for Amazon Prime.

The truth is that I hate Amazon. If we had a proper FTC, Amazon would have long ago been broken up into about 10 different companies. And they probably already would have gone out of business if they had not been given the huge advantage against other stores of not having to charge sales tax on their goods for over a decade.

The Government Made Amazon Rich

This isn’t the main point of my article, but let me explain something to you. The government allowing Amazon (and other online comparies) was a big deal.

Sales tax in California, the state with the most people and money, is roughly 10%. Since I have been, one way or another, in the publishing business for 25 years, I know that the margins in bookstores are extremely small.

So if all that time when Amazon was becoming a behemoth, the government had been giving all these other little brick-and-mortar stores had been given 10% extra money, they would have had no problem competing with Amazon.

You could do an experiment: randomly give half the restaurants in downtown 10% from the government and see what happens. I’m certain the only restaurants still around after a couple of years would been the ones that would still be in business. That’s because they would be able to cut prices where necessary and take extra profits where possible.

Economists Chime In

So Amazon’s good fortune over all these years has been due to the fact that the government gave them a whole bunch of money. This is something that should outrage everyone. But no one seems to care. I’ll write about it more later, but here’s a summer from Alternet, How Tax Avoidance Is a Big Reason For Amazon’s Success:

A new study finds Amazon’s sales drop in states where it is required to collect sales taxes, revealing what Jeff Bezos has undoubtedly known for years: the company’s success, its track record of shuttering local businesses, is as much a product of government favoritism as it is of its own ingenuity.

Amazon’s sales have fallen in states where it is now required to collect sales taxes, according to a new study by three economists at Ohio State University. The study offers striking evidence of how much Amazon’s dominance of the retail marketplace is owed to nearly 20 years of favorable tax treatment.

I Signed Up for Amazon Prime

So the thing is that I signed up for Amazon Prime. And I bought a few things because that’s necessary if I’m going to get Psychotronic Review off the ground. But my first two purchases gave me an offer. I could get my DVDs within 2 days or I could get $6 off Amazons Prime Pantry. So I looked at it and it looked okay. There were razors and tea. Those are two things I buy quite a lot. So that sounded pretty good to me. $12 of free razors and tea!

Amazon Prime Pantry

I was skeptical of course. This was Amazon, after all. And they are a vile company. I know Google no longer uses the slogan don’t be evil. But Amazon might as well use the opposite, “Do Be Evil!”

So there was a 50 pack of Irish Breakfast tea for $5.49, which is about what you would pay anywhere. So I added it to my cart and I went to check out. And I found that in fact the $5.49 was subtracted from my bill, but unlike my regular Prime purchases, I was charged $5.99 for shipping and handling.

And this is tea! It weighs almost nothing. Amazon could doubtless ship it for less than a dollar. And here they were charging me $6 to ship it to me. (Okay, it was only $5.99.) Yes I got $5.49 off the price of my tea but the shipping cost was even more.

But Maybe There’s Hope!

But I got an idea. I had $12 of Amazon Pantry Prime dollars — or whatever the hell it is they call it. So if I ordered two boxes of tea then they would get both boxes of tea for free and the shipping cost would be the same. So I would get the tea at half price. Well that wasn’t so bad. So I did it. But — try not to be too shocked — that’s not the way it works.

No, It’s Just Another Amazon Scam

Instead of both my boxes of tea being free because I had $12 on account only my first $6 was applied. So I still had to pay for one box of tea (less 51¢) and they’re ridiculous price for shipping. Note that if I bought Amazon tea just normally the shipping cost would be $4 not $6, of course the total cost would have been $10. So Prime Pantry is better than the usual “Amazon: great prices and then unreasonable shipping prices that make their prices irrelevant.

So now I was still stuck with paying basically the same amount of money. I can just walk over to Raley’s, get the tea for the same price, and have it. I don’t have to wait.

Amazon Prime Pantry Offers Nothing

I don’t care. Really I don’t. I would rather do my grocery shopping in a grocery store. What really bugs me is that when Amazon offer me this deal it was not at all clear that they were going to do this. And even when I figured out what the con was it was worse than I had even thought. I don’t see any way for Amazon Prime to be worth anything at all. If my total Amazon Prime Pantry can’t be used together, it is never worth using except for saving four bits. That’s it.

So Amazon is offering me nothing for my delaying the shipment of my products. And what they ended up doing was shipping both products which were very light in one envelope. So I suspect that they were able to ship both of my items for about a dollar. And in exchange for that they gave me nothing.

What About Amazone Prime Itself?

Thus far, I have to say I’m happy with Amazon Prime. I do like the free shipping. But whether it is worth it will all depend upon how much I spend. And I have a feeling that I won’t spend enough money with Amazon to make it worth my while.

And ultimately I would rather buy these DVDs from an actual DVD retailer. Not Amazon. As I said I hate Amazon. They are evil. I don’t actually think they should be broken up. I think they should be forced out of business.

Better Would Be to Find a Video Store

So I’m going to have to find some nice online DVD retailer. That would have many advantages. For one thing the description of the item would probably be accurate. Amazon’s descriptions are terrible. I usually have to rely upon user comments to figure out what I am buying. They are like Netflix in that way; they cater to people who don’t care that much about film.

And if I can do that then $99 can be the last amount of money that Amazon ever gets to scam out of me.

Why (Stupid) People Love Amazon Prime

I know that a lot of people think that Amazon Prime is just the greatest thing in the world. But it’s not. It treats its customers poorly it treats its employees like they are thieves. And it pays them so badly that they should be forgiven for becoming thieves.

If Jeff Bezos got a very bad and painful form of cancer, I would not feel the least bit bad. But the bottom line is this. I don’t see why a company that makes so much money needs to manipulate its customers and make them think they are getting things that they are not.

I want to do everything I can to avoid doing business with this extremely unethical company. And if I have to buy things through distributors and hope that I can sell a large enough number to make my investment back, well, that’s what I’ll have to do.

It’s the Rich, Stupid!

But I doubt that if you’re reading this you are a big Amazon fan. I find that the people who are the biggest Amazon fans are people who have a lot of money. They’re the kind of people who just would have clicked and wouldn’t have noticed that Amazon Prime Pantry was screwing them. (Note that in a very real way, Amazon acts like a street beggar.)

Not that I’m alone. Amazon’s business model seems to be to screw people over. As the study I quoted above showed, Amazon is doing worse in states where they now have to collect sales tax. If you haven’t been screwed over it just means you haven’t dealt with them long enough.

Amazon: Do Be Evil!

The Final Word on the College of Architecture and Planning Sign

Update on the Ball State College of Architecture

College of Architecture and Planning Sign

Two of the biggest pages on this site have to with this funny sign on the College of Architecture and Planning building. The joke is that these very smart and erudite people who teach planning didn’t plan enough to get their sign properly displayed. It’s slightly amusing, but my reason for writing about it was that there were a lot of people who thought it was real — that the faculty of Architecture and Planning had this sign made with no thought and then just said, “Oh well, nothing to be done!”

No, Academics Are Not Idiots, Even Though Conservatives Want Them to be

This was an idea particularly pushed by conservatives who want to believe that all academics are idiots. But even worse, libertarians seemed to take this line the most. I had always thought that for all their failings libertarians at least valued knowledge and that while they might think government bureaucrats screw things up, they wouldn’t take it to academics. Most libertarians think of themselves are smart and learned.

My Purpose: to Show the Image Was Made to Be Funny

So my only reason for writing the articles was to make the point that the sign was a joke. It doesn’t matter if the subcontractor screwed it up and the dean said, “Let’s keep it, it’s funny!” And it doesn’t matter if a change was made to the building and the dean said, “You know, instead of redoing the lettering, let’s put the “C” on the other wall because it will be funny and stand as an object lesson for our students!” And it doesn’t matter if the photo was simply photoshopped to make a funny image.

There Is No Deep Meaning in the Image

The sign was meant to be funny; it wasn’t an indication that academics are idiots. That’s all I had to say. Unfortunately, there are, about a million people who took the image very seriously indeed. And for a long time, I responded to these people with variations of, “You make an interesting point, but it’s still true that whoever did it, did it because it was funny. It doesn’t mean anything. Conservatives and libertarians can’t use it as an illustration that academics are idiots. That’s not what is going on in the image. Regardless of what way you turn it, the perpetrator did it because they thought it was funny. And that’s the end of the story.

The Two Articles

So I eventually wrote two articles about this stupid little images. At first, I had no idea that this would be such a big deal. The first article was just intended to talk about how un-serious it was. Then, the second one was written to try to lower the fever. But when the reaction to it was even bigger than it had been to the frst one, I knew it was hopeless. So I gave up. But here, for all you people who think this is very important, I’m putting it all together.

College of Architecture and Planning Sign Is a Joke
Update on the Ball State College of Architecture and Planning Sign — It’s Still a Joke

I’m even including the comments because most of these people are very smart and they had interesting things to say. Sure, the world would be better if these people tried to cure cancer or something. But this is what they’ve decided to do and who am I to say they’re wrong? (A sensible person.)

College of Architecture and Planning Sign Is a Joke

At the top of this article, you can see the “hilarious” image of the College of Architecture and Planning sign. In case you can’t see it, the “C” in the word “College” is pasted on the brick wall to the left (on the right in the image). It is clearly meant as a joke and perhaps an object lesson for all those “planning” majors. I think it’s quite brilliant in its way.

Cjhelms to the Rescue: Nothing to Be Done!

By all accounts, the building was at Ball State and has since been torn down. But it is hard to know anything for sure. Consider that when this photo was posted on Reddit this January 2014. Some reddit person who goes by the name cjhelms wrote:

The building was constructed in two parts. One completed in 1972 and the newer part completed in 1982. The newer part includes the wall to the left and the older part is the rest that you see. The photo was taken from the basement level. The lettering is above the first level (the windows above the words are of a second-floor conference room). There was originally a pedestrian bridge that connected to the entrance below the lettering.

When the newer portion of the building was constructed, the contractor missed his mark and caused the lettering to be cut off. Why didn’t they change it? The space that used to be a beautiful grand entrance to the college was converted into a loading dock.

Part of this may well be true: the left side looks newer. Just the same, none of this would imply that an error was made and I find it very unlikely. Much more likely is that they were making an addition to the building and they knew they had to cover over part of the existing beam. Rather than redo the sign, someone said, “You know what would be funny…?” Cjhelms’ implication that they couldn’t be bothered to fix the sign because it was now just a loading dock doesn’t fly. If that’s the case, why did they go to the trouble of pasting the “C” on the brick wall?

What’s more, I question cjhelms’ seriousness. In another comment, he mentions that it was built by the “lowest bidder,” which is a tired cliche. No one ever gets a contract by being the lowest bidder; they often get them by being the lowest qualified bidder. What’s more, cjhelms claims he knows what went on there because he works at Ball State. But that doesn’t mean he knows anything about the project. And if he weren’t there when it was built (he recently had a child so he is probably young), all he likely knows is campus folklore.

This automatically raises a question: if this was now the loading dock, why didn’t they just remove the letters? They were no longer needed. I’ll bet you anything that Cjhelms prowled the droms looking for a couple of people having drinks so he could explain traveling past the speed of light was possible. And trust me: his dissertation required the use of string, Magic Tape, and the last burrito in the freezer.

RJMjr60 at Least Makes Some Sense

In contrast, RJMjr60 claimed:

It was done intentionally to prove a point, and to continually reiterate that point to every student who entered the building… The name was a reminder to always think things through and the fact that it made it to Reddit many years after its demise is proof that it got people’s attention and made them think.

Or just consider the human psychology behind the sign. If you ran the College of Architecture and Planning at Ball State, and something went wrong on the project for your new building, you would make the best the situation. (For one thing, you would require the contractor to fix the sign!) You would not throw up your hands and say, “It’s an embarrassment, but there is nothing we can do about it!” So whatever the situation with the building, the sign was a choice — a joke that makes a point about the subject being taught.

It wasn’t some stupid dean who couldn’t think of anything else to do. “God, what an embarrassment! But nothing can be done! Maybe if Kurt Gödel were around, he could come up with some hyper-intellectual solution like moving all the letters closer together. But this is Ball State! We don’t have that kind of brain power, so let’s just embarrass ourselves!”

Comments Both Great and Stupid

Here are all the comments to the first article. I’ve left out the “track-back” comments, which are just links from other websites that linked to the article. It was originally a way to encourage people to link to each other, but quickly just turned into another way for scammers to try to increase their Google Rank. It’s sad. Before the Internet was monetized, this never happened. Now it always does. And the single thing that made the internet great — people earnestly trying to help each other out, has died. I much preferred the only internet. Now it is soiled.

There is actually a way to bring back the old internet using some idea of the economist Dean Baker. But it would never happen, because people are too used to the capitalist internet and can’t imagine anything else. When you have a whole bunch of people who are making millions of dollars off the new internet, they have the incentive and the money to keep it the way it is. It’s too bad because we could have something better. I was on the internet in the heady days of the 1980s. Most of the people today don’t even remember those days. All they know is the capitalist internet. And there is so much more.

The image is a photoshop fake and the back-story is invented. Here is a genuine shot of the building.
Thank you so much! I’m preparing a followup article, that will go up at 5:05 tonight. I don’t think this new photo quite proves what you claim. But it is really great to have it, and and it has brought a couple of things to my mind that I hadn’t discussed before. I hope you will drop by and see if you buy what I have to say.
Isak Lindenauer
What’s stupid and what makes the joke fail is the fact that whoever wanted to create this hoax erroneously made the “error” on the left side. No one would start with a mistake or put up the sign starting at the right and working to the left. (Well, maybe if it were an Orthodox Jewish college!). For the joke to work, it has to appear seamless and believable. That means some shmendrick who was commissioned to put up the sign starts with the letter C without really thinking his actions through and making a plan even though the very word is in the sign. He gets to the END and sees there is not enough room for the last letter so he puts it on the right wall to finish the title…
Read the update. I don’t accept it, but the competing theory is that the left wall was added, cutting off the sign. The dean (or whoever) thought it would be funny to put the “C” on the wall. But we now have a better version of the image with the letters displayed perfectly. So I am 99% certain this is just a PhotoShop gag.
Dwight Simmons
What is really funny, is all the posts of Facebook and the comments about how stupid the College is.
Ah! I had wondered what was going on there, because I’ve been getting a tremendous amount of traffic on this.

Update on the Ball State College of Architecture and Planning Sign — It’s Still a Joke

The College of Architecture and Planning Sign Is a Joke. It is in reference to the photo at the top of this article. I didn’t think much about the article at the time, but it has been huge — arguably the most viewed article I’ve ever written. The reason I wrote it was basically political. A lot of people use the picture as “yet another example of how the government can’t do anything right.” And that offends me. So I went searching for information about the photo. There was very little and so I put together what I could find.

The “It’s a PhotoShop Hoax Theory”

Yesterday, there was another explosion of traffic to that page, and I got a very interesting comment from a guy named Dave, “The image is a photoshop fake and the back-story is invented. Here is a genuine shot of the building…” He provided a link to a recent article from Ball State Daily, Ten Signs You’re an Architecture Major. The content of the article has nothing to do with the question at hand, but it does include a picture of building, which I have cropped to highlight the part of the building that is displayed in the original image.

College of Architecture and Planning

To reiterate, this has little to do with my original article. If that photo is digitally altered, then it was indeed a joke. The point of the article was that the College of Architecture and Planning didn’t, as I wrote, throw up its hands and say, “It’s an embarrassment, but there is nothing we can do about it!” No one behaves that way! Whether the sign ever existed hardly matters. Whether it was a designer or a graphic artist, it was intentional. And it was always meant to be humorous. The fact that a lot people don’t see that annoys me. It reminds me of those “ancient alien” shows that are predicated on the idea that humans are dumb.

There is a really clear difference between these two photographs, however. In the original photo, there is a wall on the left side. There is no wall in the new photo. This doesn’t prove that the original photo wasn’t a PhotoShop job. Indeed, it adds some credence. It might have been perfect because the beam had no lettering on it. But why put a wall in? It makes more sense to have the end cut off, not the beginning. But I can’t say.

It is also possible that these photos are from different parts of the building. Or it could even be that they are different buildings — the Bracken Library on the Ball State campus has a similar design. This possibility would almost certainly make it an altered image and not a representation of anything that ever existed.

The one thing that disturbs me is that wall. In my original article, I quoted a Reddit user, “The building was constructed in two parts. One completed in 1972 and the newer part completed in 1982. The newer part includes the wall to the left and the older part is the rest that you see…” The new photo is from the college archives — a similar one by the same photographer (Savannah Neil) was used a year earlier. So maybe the original photo is actually more recent. I actually think so, because the building looks shiny and new. I suspect this photo was from the original shots taken of the building.

It could have been that someone thought they would throw up some letters on the beam temporarily when the expansion was taking place and they thought this was cute. Or maybe it was a prank. I’m rather fond of that idea because it is exactly what you would think a few students at the College of Architecture and Planning would do and think was the funniest thing ever. On the other hand, that beam is very high and would be hard to get to.

The strongest argument for this being a PhotoShop job is that the original image is the only one I’ve found of the sign. There are no others from a slightly different angle or time. But if the building does date back to the early 1970s, then we are talking about a different time. People didn’t have cameras everywhere. Maybe it was pranksters. They took several pictures of it, but this is the only one they hung onto — or at least the only one they bothered to digitize.

Ultimately, all the new photo provides is some indication that this is PhotoShop work. (I’m about 50-50 on the issue right now.) But if it is, that only proves what I was always saying: the people at Ball State are not lazy idiots. The sign — real or digitally created — is still a joke.

Update (8 September 2015)

In the comments, Paul L provided what looks to be the original photo. It contains the letters where you think they would be. And the photo is better: you can clearly see a figure in the window who is vague in the “mistake picture.” So I assume this picture is the original and the mistake picture is a PhotoShop job. If any picture proves it, it is this one — not the picture above that I’m sure is an earlier one.

College of Architecture and Planning - Original, No PhotoShop

Update (14 September 2015 9:05 am)

Here is the video that we have been talking about in the comments:

If you skip to 0:53 in the video, there is a pan up of an image of the sign. It is shockingly like Alien Autopsy in that just before we get to see “the truth” it cuts. I guess we can be happy that it doesn’t go blurry. But it does show that the seam in the metal that the sign is on runs through the second “T” in “ARCHITECTURE.” In what I thought was the original image, the seam goes through the second “C.” As I’ve noted before these are the same exact photographs so one must be a PhotoShop job. And it would seem that the “correct” one is.

I hate being dragged down in the weeds on this. For the umpteenth time: the sign is a joke, not an example of incompetence. That is all I care about.


So here are the final coments. Again, my point is that this is a joke. That’s all I care about. It does seem that this is a PhotoShop joke. That’s what the data indicates. But a joke it is. Professionals are neither so ignorant nor so later to do this by accident.

There’s also this video which seems believable.

Thanks for that. This is more or less what one of the original Reddit people said — almost word-for-word. The problem with it is in the newest image above. And as I think I pointed out in this article, I can’t actually find the “wrong” image going back more than a year or so. But what are we to make of the newest image? Is it PhotoShopped? Because it is the exact same image. One of them has been PhotoShopped. I think I discussed in the first article that it is possible that now even the people at Ball State are relying on folklore about this. As it is, the video references Professor James Underwood for the “oral history.” I would love for the story to be true — partly because he specifically says, “It would be funny” — which was my original point. But it doesn’t seem to be the case. I’m starting to wonder if it isn’t Chris Helms who created the image in the first place.
There is one thing I’ve been thinking about that is brought up in the video, and was discussed originally on Reddit: the big image above (without the left wall) is not that part of the building. The building is sorta symmetrical, and the part with the sign was on the other side. But that makes the “mistake sign” even less reasonable, because then the new wall wasn’t built and there would have been nothing to change the original sign.
Is it too far fetched to consider the photo was flipped horizontally before the letters were photoshopped onto it?
At this point, I’d believe anything… If it turned out that Ball State doesn’t even exist, I wouldn’t be surprised.
The “original” photo you posted has Where’s Waldo waving from the window.
Considering Ball State’s own video says “this happened”, I’m inclined to believe the photo is real, and the “original” photo with Where’s Waldo is a photoshop.
Good eye! But all that proves is that the image was taken after 1987. Both images contain the same figure, so it is meaningless to note that the figure is Where’s Waldo. But I did notice something, so I guess I will have to update this damnable article.
Charlie (It was you!)
Have you looked at the 1:11 moment of video? I see no mention of this. It appears as though this part of the building with the ill placed “C” has been built over. Hmmmm, the plot thinks.
Jim B
Have you looked at the 1:11 moment of video? I see no mention of this. It appears as though this part of the building with the ill placed “C” has been built over. Hmmmm, the plot thickens.
It’s Photoshopped. you can see the tell tale drop shadow pixellation around the letters under 500 magnification. I made an addition to the photo to show off but there’s no upload here. :(
Interesting. Do blogs have that capability? That sounds more like a forum. Anyway, we are but a wee website.
I’m more than willing to believe you. But I have promised myself I will not be dragged back in! Every week or so, there seems to be an argument somewhere about this photo and someone links to this article.
But, once again: my interest is really not whether or not the image is real. My interest is whether or not it was actually a mistake. Was it the result of bad planning? Clearly it was not. It’s great regardless, and people find it constantly interesting — this has been going on for well over a year now.
Randall Peacock (with the ice pick in the kitchen)
Okay people, why is this so difficult to understand? I am completely baffled at the amount of ridiculously incorrect information that has been posted in this small amount of cyber space.
1. The original image is of the upper portion of the building. Starting at the third floor there is a cantilevered outside corner section of the building that sits within the interior corner formed by two brick walls. You can see this on any street view of the building.
2. The image in this post showing the “correct” sign is actually the spandex over the door on the first floor. The doors are at the first floor and are parallel with one of the two brick walls forming the inside corner. This is the reason you see brick on both sides of the doorway.
3. The photoshopped image of the incorrect sign is the “left” side of the cantilevered exterior corner. There are no signs on this third floor section of the building.
4. The building was expanded in 1982 but the expansion is on the complete opposite side of the building. All of the photos shown in the original and in this post are of the of the original portion of the building.
5. Simply going to Google Earth will allow you to see the street view of the building.
A Genour
I’m sorry, but you’ve been had. Your “original photo” in the update, the one with Waldo, is the photoshop, and quite a bad one at that.

A flip-book style comparison with the original with the mistake will show you how the Waldo photo’s creator has just moved the letters a few pixels to the right – not bothering to retouch elements such as the seam in the panels around the letter “T”. This is the by far biggest tell, and frankly you could stop reading here.

But to go on – you’ll also see how the job is rushed, not bothering to align the subtle textures of the metal around the letters with that of the rest of the panel. Also, Waldo’s addition to a clean photo is simple to perform, whereas removing him while preserving the reflection and detail of the dark space where he once was would require significant skill and time. In fact, calculating the pixel difference between the two images reveals that the difference is a perfect rendition of Waldo, something that would be *extremely* difficult to achieve if Waldo was the subject being removed, as you’d have to *perfectly* remove him, down to the tiniest color and texture subtleties.
I can’t speak to the authenticity of the first photo with the mistake. But I do question the assertion that the update’s “original photo” is of better quality – it is not. The noise pattern or “grain” is almost identical, with the slight addition of JPEG compression artifacts only visible upon a difference comparison and contrast adjustment – I say with confidence that the “original” is sourced from the photo with the mistake. The powers of suggestion are in full force here.
In conclusion, the “update” photo is fake, and Paul L is a dirty dirty liar :)
For the umpteenth time: I’ve always said it was a joke. I’m agnostic about whose joke it is. The original argument was about how it showed how incompetent academics are. I leave the rest of the argument to the tens of thousands of Reddit users who never seem to get enough of this!
A Genour
I see I was not clear enough in my post. I’m not discussing the original case of the “C…OLLEGE” sign, or whether it’s a joke. I’m simply pointing out that the 2015-09-08 update claiming to be an “unaltered original photo” featuring a correctly-spaced sign and a Waldo, is a photoshop fake, created by manipulating the “C…OLLEGE” photo that started all of this. That whole update is incorrect. The poster that gave you that update and photo is having a laugh at your expense, and trolling us all.
For what it’s worth, I’m fairly certain the “C…OLLEGE” photo is real, as suggested by the account in the 2015-09-15 update video by the college in question. And while I suppose it’s possible (although not corroborated by the story in the video) that a photo *could* exist of a correctly-spaced sign, the update photo of 2015-09-08 is certainly not it, as it’s a fake.
Explaining a joke ruins the joke you know. [Not when it isn’t much of a joke to begin with. –FM 6 Feb 2018]
What you are doing is dangerous. I try not to get drawn in. Just the other day, about 2,000 people rushed to this page because another discussion started on Reddit. This happens at least once a month. I could not possibly care less at this point. But apparently, I’m the only one who’s ever cared enough about the subject to lay it all out — twice! Ugh!
Well no one is going to disagree you are a dork. :-) [True –FM 6 Feb 2018]
Bruce Keller
Isn’t it that they added the new brick wall on the left, and it would have covered the ‘C’, so after building the addition, they just stuck on the ‘C’ again, making the joke?
Something along those lines is my theory. As these articles have shown, this picture means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. My interest in it is only that it isn’t the result of bad planning but rather an explicit joke. There are many people who want to believe that it is the result of actual bad planning. I think a lot of that is just people who have a problem with colleges and want to believe the myth of the “educated fool.” Regardless of what happened with the remodel of the building, there were many ways to deal with it. Those in charge decided to make it a joke. Which is great!
Sean R.
I was showing this to a friend and stumbled on this article. I was a student in the building in question. I can tell you 100% the c in College is on the brick wall and not on the metal with the rest of the letters (at least last I have heard from a friend that still lives in Muncie). As for the original post, the first picture is correct (the delivery/side entrance off of Neely Ave.), while the second picture is of the main entrance (off of McKinley).
I can’t comment on whether the C being placed on the brick was a joke or not, as no one in the building or on campus can answer that (I lean towards joke, as the planners on campus have had a lot of fun with the buildings over the years – the aerial view of the library looks like a stack of books, the architecture building looks like a drafting table, the performance hall looks like a piano, etc) I’m sure most people are long past this, just thought I would add a first person account to the mix.
For the right person, it could turn into an obsession. But it’s really very simple for me. I grew up around builders. The letters are a trivial amount of money compared to the remodel, much less the building. But had no one cared, they would have simply cut the “C” off. But for the college of planning? It’s a brilliant joke and object lesson.
The building is genuine. It’s on Clarence Street, York, England. The signage was originally like that, I remember as I passed it twice a day on the bus to and from work. York residents were told that it was a joke by the college. I’m unsure if they have since corrected it as I moved away 6 years ago
In general, I don’t respond to comments on this because I’m so tired of this story. But really?! This is the first I’ve head of it.

The only reason I wrote about this in the first place was because so many people were claiming that it was just an error. Regardless of where it is and how it came to be, the people involved thought, “This will be funny.”
You are clearly a Big Edu shill. Wake up sheeple!!!1!!

I understand this to mean that my claim that this is a joke is an effort to protect pointed headed intellectuals. You aren’t far wrong; but you are wrong. It is my effort to protect human beings, who are overall pretty smart. Even if it was a mistake, the builders didn’t fix it because they thought it was funny. The original article was based on my experience with other humans — even ones I don’t think that highly of.
In the discussion of this image on reddit before I wrote about it, a lot of people wanted to believe that others were just stupid. I don’t want to live in that world. Lucky for me: I don’t have to. Humans are hardly perfect, but on the whole, not a bad lot. Not a bad lot at all.
James Fillmore

Could just be a joke about the silly word “sheeple.” Which, whenever I hear it, makes me think of the sheep in Aardman animations. Who are quite smart!
Here’s a fun thing I read recently. Mules aren’t stubborn; they’re smart, and have better eyesight/smell than horses. So if a mule sees a path is too treacherous to walk on safely, or smells a pack of predators in an oncoming direction, they’re really hesitant to move. A horse might not smell predators that sharply; they don’t really need to, they can run super fast. Donkeys/mules don’t run fast, so they rely on better smell for a warning sign, and better eyesight to make it into difficult terrain most predators can’t follow.
I came upon a mule fan site just the other day. It was fascinating. Mules also don’t bolt when they get scared. They seem to appraise the situation. They may then bolt. But as a result, people are not nearly as likely to be hurt by a mule. This is one of many reasons why mules are used in the Grand Canyon. They are also far more surefooted. They are also (in my experience) much quieter than donkeys. That’s the one thing I don’t like about donkeys!
James Fillmore
There is a large population of feral donkeys in Custer National Park, in the Black Hills. They are smart and hugely aggressive. They don’t attack people, but they will block roads and surround your car and butt their heads against the window until you roll it down and throw some food out far enough for them to chase it. Smart, annoying SOBs.
I love that! I’d hate to live through it. But I love it.
Came here because the BSU video was referenced in the following article:
I then clicked your link in the comments.
I thought I had missed something when I attended Ball State 2000-2002. I wonder if some of the profs I still know could shed some light on this. I’ll let you know.
As a former BSU architecture student in the 80s I can tell you the sign was in fact cut off when they made the addition to the building. It wasn’t fixed when I graduated in 88. Not sure when they fixed it but at some point they did fix it.
Janus Kane
Just go to Google Maps… the street view shows the sign without error, beneath the overhang where the sign was photoshopped onto.
I don’t mean to dump on your spirits, as I love your rationality… But this took me less than 2 minutes. Pictures for proof in the website field
Clearly, you did something in a previous lifetime that you are now paying for. Man oh Manischevitz…this article is like purgatory for you. lol
Yep. I’m trying to figure out what it is. But it was bad. Not doubt about that!
IT IS very cute picture and it made me giggle out loud. Whether it be real or not, can’t we all find at least, some humor in this society? WHY be so darn serious all the time?
t isn’t about being serious, Sonya — at least for me. I just love to analyze things. Although I have to admit that after all this time, I’m pretty bored with this!
But yes, it is funny. And what I think happened is that an administrator said, “Why don’t we do this? It will be funny!” People think of bureaucrats as stodgy. Well, here’s one that wasn’t!
(Being years late to this conversation) I’m with “flip horizontal”, though the “maybe original” image in this post isn’t the same used in the “meme version” being discussed. I did it–flip horizontal, a little rotation–the vertical caulk line at the left, and the odd brick pattern, seem to confirm. If, of course, there is an institution called “Ball State” in the first place ;)
I’m with you! I’m so sick of this article and the question that I wish I had never written it. Every week or so, someone posts it on reddit, and my email box gets filled with passionate arguments that remind me of nothing so much as arguments about JFK’s assassination. I know the subject is interesting. But I swear to God, the world could be on fire and people would still be arguing about whether the photo is real or not. If I weren’t afraid that it would land me in a mental hospital, I’d write a third article taking into consideration what everyone has said — because many people have made good points. But truthfully, I’m far more interested in Bugs Bunny: Rabbit or Hare?

Democracy Dies in the USA

Democracy Dies in the USA

Ever since the publication of Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt in their new book, How Democracies Die, I’ve been hearing a lot of people talk about how Trump isn’t the cause of the death of our democracy but merely a symptom.

What Makes a Democracy?

This is undoubtedly true and certainly not a keen insight. Although I must admit that the acceleration of our democracy’s demise has been so great the last couple of years that even I’ve been surprised. I used to tell people that we didn’t have to worry about democracy dying in the US because democracy was not about voting. It was about the institutions of democracy that would keep the ship on course. I should have known better.

Republicans Figured Out How to Destroy Our Democracy

I did not reckon for the modern Republican Party which has absolutely no interest in democracy or even the country. I don’t consider myself terribly patriotic, but modern Republicans aren’t patriotic at all! As I have said too many times before: all they care about is power. Power so that they can enrich themselves and their rich friends.

This all really started in 1994 with Newt Gingrich. He’s the man who really changed the Republican Party from a bad but normal political party into one that cared only about power.

The Real Witch Hunts

And it was because of the Republican caucus that he created that started the actual witch hunt of President Bill Clinton. In fact, I find myself extremely angry when Trump mentions that there is a witch hunt after him. He’s gone through nothing the Bill Clinton went through! He’s not even gone through anything that Hillary Clinton went through. And they were both innocent of any wrongdoing. Day by day it looks like Trump is more guilty than Richard Nixon was.

Hillary Clinton Witch Hunts

As of 2015, there had been 7 Benghazi probes by Congress. Each one of them found the same thing: not only did Hillary Clinton do nothing wrong, no one did anything wrong. The 2012 attack was a tragedy. But the Republicans went on a witch hunt. They just knew that Hillary Clinton had to be responsible for the deaths of Christopher Stevens and three others. And when they found nothing, they started the whole thing over again. It was one of the most disgusting things I’ve seen in American politics. But it wasn’t surprising in the least.

Bill Clinton

And then there is Bill Clinton, but let’s not forget that these were also attacks on Hillary Clinton.

People remember Monica Lewinsky. But they tend to forget about how we got to her. Ken Starr, the special prosecutor for Bill Clinton was determined to get him regardless of what the facts where. He investigates the death of Vince Foster. That’s right! The death of Vince Foster. And after billing the US government for ungodly amounts of money, they produced a 100+ page report that determined what others had found: Foster had killed himself.

(I have a certain affinity for Foster, because I believe that I would have done the same thing that he did. And in the end, in death, he was used in the same way that made him kill himself. Vince Foster was a good man — better than our society deserves.)

And Then Monica Lewinsky

When that went nowhere, Starr just threw the investigation open and looked at everything: Whitewater, the travel office, I assume even Clinton’s supposed drug running when he was governor of Arkansas. But in the end, Starr got him! He knew that any husband would lie about an extramarital affair. And that’s how we got to Monica Lewinsky.

The problem was, the people didn’t care. They could see what the Republicans were doing. Their lives were good, and whatever problems Bill and Hillary had in their marriage, that was their problem.

This, my friends, is a witch hunt. Both of the Clintons have been the subjects of witch hunts. Donald Trump has not. To him, anyone questioning him about anything is a witch hunt. Because Donald J Trump is not the kind of man you question. He’s the kind of man you protect. So if the FBI isn’t protecting him, it must be corrupt!

December 2000

But the day democracy truly died was late in the year 2000. That was when we saw that even the Supreme Court was more interested in having their guy win than seeing the law properly applied. It’s truly amazing that it is conservatives who constantly talk about our legal system being out of control when it is the conservatives who are doing it.

Equal Protection for Our Man Bush Jr

Once that happened all bets were off. There was no democracy. What was the point of even voting if your vote didn’t count. If 9 unelected justices could just say no we’re going to decide who’s president and we’re going to use the precedent we hate and say it only applies to George W Bush.

So don’t ever try to use this equal protection thing to protect poor people. It only applies to George W Bush.

From 1994 Onward, Republicans Will Protect Their President Regardless

The real issue we’re having in this country right now is that the Republican Congress will protect Trump no matter what. And I don’t believe that is any different than it was in 1994. Newt and company would have done the same thing. I just wasn’t paying attention. Few of us were.

Would a Parliament Help Us?

I tend to think that a parliamentary system would have fewer problems of this nature. That’s because it is so hard to get a majority in a parliamentary system. Thus most governments are made up of two — sometimes even three — parties. Thus, getting a government who would protect a man as unfit for the job as Donald Trump wouldn’t happen.

You certainly wouldn’t see what’s going on with Trump right now in a parliamentary system. Because you wouldn’t have enough people in one party who would do anything to protect him. His party might stand behind him, but his coalition partners wouldn’t.

What About Hitler?

But even there we still have the example of the Nazi’s rise to power. And that was in a parliamentary system. But that was very hard. The parliament simply could not form a government. My understanding is that this is no longer a problem.

The winning party gets the first shot at forming a government. But if they are so vile like the Nazis were and like the Republicans are then the second place party gets to see if it can form a government.

More Parties Would Help

I tend to think that if the United States had five or six major parties the Republicans would not be able to get more than about 20 percent of the vote. In a parliamentary system, a party would rise up that would offer the current Republican voters a real populist party: one that was socially conservative and economically liberal. And this would force the current Republican Party to be less just a party that offers oligarchy and one policy (anti-choice) that they like.

But it doesn’t really matter because the truth is when you get that many people who care only about power, democracy is dead. And it’s not like the United States started at a high level.

Constitutional Convention of 1787

The Anti-Democratic Foundation of the United States

Remember the Three-Fifths clause? Slaves who were in every other way property gave the slave states 2/3 of a vote for each slave or rather their master’s. And also we have the Senate which is incredibly undemocratic. And finally, we have gerrymandering.

We have the technology to do this. It’s the same technology that we now use to make are congressional districts as unfair as possible. Use exactly the same tools and you could have a fair and Democratic country. But we don’t.

Gerrrymandering Is Bipartisan

And that’s not just the Republican Party’s fault. The truth is that every elected official has a stake in the current system because it is the current system that got them elected. But I truly believe that the Democrats would be in favor of fixing the system.

Look at California: the bluest of blue States. It passed a law and pretty much got rid of gerrymandering. But you don’t much see that in red States. And the reason for it is that Republicans are not popular. They understand that in order to gain power they must the system.

Our Broken Judicial System

What I find truly amazing though is that conservatives complain about how Obama abused the Constitution. I remember no such thing.

He was extremely careful. There were many things that he did that I don’t like. But he did not trample the Constitution. The truth is that we have a constitution that is over 200 years old. It might have been state-of-the-art then but it is not today. There are much better constitutions. But that’s not Obama’s fault.

People Think Trump Is Saving Our Courts

At the same time, the people who think that Obama destroyed the Constitution think that Trump is saving it. And while I don’t think that Trump has done much damage to the Constitution because he’s so incompetent, it’s true that he knows so little about it that his general instincts are to run roughshod all over it.

He thinks like an authoritarian. He thinks that everyone in government is there to protect him. He seems to think that people join the FBI and pledge to protect him and not the Constitution.

I would be shocked to find out that Donald Trump has ever read the Constitution. He doesn’t understand it and he doesn’t understand our country. That’s really the biggest problem with him. How can you love America when you know nothing about it?

Donald Trump's Eyes

We Will Survive Trump, But…

So I think we’ll get through Trump. And I think the next president will be a Democrat. And they will do a lot of cleaning up. They will also do some bad things but let’s face it: the Congressional Democrats won’t let them get away with much.

This has been one of my complaints about the Democratic Party. They are not loyal to their own. The Republicans have the opposite problem. They are so loyal to their own that they will see their country destroyed before they will turn on a president like Donald Trump.

The Next Republicans

So we’ll get another presidency and things will go back to the way we thought they were. But I assure you the next Republican president will be even worse than Trump. Remember how bad George W Bush was? Remember how we couldn’t imagine someone worse? Welcome to president Donald J Trump.

So the next Republican president will be like Trump but he will be far smarter. He might even manage to dismantle our democracy completely without anyone even noticing. He might be rather well-liked — even by Democrats! Our problems don’t stop with Trump.

I don’t expect to live that long. But if I live to be 90, I know I will see a country that is unlike anything I ever thought possible when I was 30 years old. Things just get worse and worse.

The Real Fault: No False Equivalence

And I will not play any false equivalence here. There are many problems with the Democratic Party. But they are a normal political party. They are not the reason that our democracy is dying. Our democracy is dying because of the Republican Party. That’s all there is to say. And if you are Republican voter, you’re voting for the death of democracy in America.

I don’t want to be cute about this. You need to read some books. You need to pay attention. You need to see that the Republican Party is something more than just the party that will install anti-choice judges.

Because that is the real question for you. Does getting a few anti-choice judges on the court enough? Because they will also, by the way, always vote against individuals and for large corporations and basically vote against you in every way except on this one issue. Is that an acceptable exchange for the end of democracy in the United States?

Because there are already countries you can go to where abortion is completely illegal even to save the life of the mother. Many of them are authoritarian. So if that’s what you want go there. Why destroy our flailing democracy here?