Odds and Ends Vol 29

Odds and Ends

Welcome to another Odds and Ends. I almost didn’t write it this week and went with a long article about the falling number of men working (see below). But there’s so much to write about!

Also, I’ve been putting off publishing a general interest article about apples because apples are cool. Speaking of which, my cousin just dropped a bunch of pears on me and this weekend, I need to do some major pie making.

Anyway, it’s time for more Odds and Ends.

Our Messed Up Electoral System

Will forwarded me the current odds on the US presidential race. They are illustrative even if they are more or less what you would think. Biden is -160 and Trump is +135. That means that Biden is a moderate favorite. You have to bet $160 to win $100. For Trump, you have to bet $100 to win $135.

But what’s shocking are the odds of the candidates winning the popular vote. Since neither candidate is the official nominee, it is by party. The Democratic candidate is -600 — bet $600 to win $100. The Republican candidate is +375 — bet $100 to win $375.

Roughly speaking, these are the odds of the candidates winning:

CandidatePopularElectoral
Biden96%68%
Trump4%32%

I can accept the popular and electoral vote not being exactly the same. But that’s ridiculously out of balance. Basically, unless there is major voter suppression, Biden is going to win the popular vote. We know that.

Yet here we are worried that the election will be very close or even that Trump will win. Democracies do not exist like this for long. Eventually, people will just give up because they see that the deck is stacked. Americans are clueless but even we can’t stay that way forever.

Kanye West

It looked like nothing would come of Kanye West’s presidential campaign, but it turns out that he has “friends” in high places. You know: Republicans who want to re-elect Trump with an even smaller fraction of the vote he managed in 2016.

I tend to think there is nothing to this. The kind of people who would fall for this are the kind of people who can’t even bother to vote. But I will admit that I’m still concerned. This election could come down to a very small number of votes in a state like Wisconsin. Biden could win the popular vote by 6 million and still lose. So we need to take this seriously.

But I want to say something to people who think we shouldn’t criticize West: fuck off! If he’s mentally ill, then he should have a handler who doesn’t allow him to run for president. He doesn’t get to do whatever the fuck he wants and then have an army of defenders claim he isn’t responsible when he’s criticized. If you’re going to take the love, you’ve got to take the hate too.

And yes: I hate Kanye West. You see, it really doesn’t matter to me whether or not he means to be evil. The actions result in evil being done. And it’s not even being done for the betterment of society. Even if he thinks his “dragon power” would be a force for good in the White House, he is not going to win. So fuck him. Fuck Howard Schultz. And fuck Ralph Nader!

A Social Ill

One last thing: our society needs to get past this idea that because someone is great at one thing they should be listened to about other things. Being a great stock trader does not mean you know anything about macroeconomics. Kanye West is taken seriously as a candidate because he’s a great musician. We’ve already been through that with Trump who was taken seriously by people who mistakenly thought he was a competent businessman.

Update: Kanye West Indicates That His Spoiler Campaign Is Indeed Designed to Hurt Biden.

Don Henley

Don Henley is a well-known asshole. But the guy is smart. At one of Mojo Nixon’s concerts, he forced his way on stage and performed “Don Henley Must Die.” But there was apparently no goodwill about it. He seemed to be pissed off the whole time. Regardless, good for him!

This tweet made me think of him.

This is the first Mojo Nixon song I ever heard. It’s probably the first that most people heard. I probably heard it on Dr Demento. “Elvis is in Joan Rivers — but he’s trying to get out!” The best thing about him is that he never changed.

Employment to Population

Something weird has been going on for a while: the employment-to-population ratio for prime-aged male workers. This is the percentage of men between the ages 25 and 54 who are working. Before the pandemic, it was sitting at roughly 86 percent. But it was roughly 95 percent in 1967 and it has been steadily declining since then.

Overall, the employment-to-population ratio rose from this period to about 1990 due to more women entering the labor market. But even it has been fairly steady in the high 70s since then.

When this issue is brought up, most people brush it aside as due to more people retiring. This makes no sense at all given that this is specifically for younger workers. (I’m not even included in this group!) So I asked Dean Baker about it on Twitter.

Bad Jobs

This resulted in a bit of discussion. Harland AL thinks it is due to the reduction in good jobs since that time. This makes a lot of sense. As economists are always telling us: incentives matter. And given that most jobs pay poorly, offer no benefits, and have little potential for advancement, why would people take them?

Note that the main (usually unstated) reason that conservative hate the safety net is because it gives workers options. The best thing for employers is to have a desperate and terrified workforce.

Mass Incarceration

But Dean Baker is the master at the unusual take and he presented a white paper that his think tank (CEPR) published a decade ago, Ex-Offenders and the Labor Market. It notes:

We use Bureau of Justice Statistics data to estimate that, in 2008, the United States had between 12 and 14 million ex-offenders of working age. Because a prison record or felony conviction greatly lowers ex-offenders’ prospects in the labor market, we estimate that this large population lowered the total male employment rate that year by 1.5 to 1.7 percentage points. In GDP terms, these reductions in employment cost the U.S. economy between $57 and $65 billion in lost output.

This doesn’t give us data over time, but it’s a strong indicator that increases in incarceration has had a notable effect on employment and has harmed the overall economy.

Most Americans think that people who commit felonies “pay their debt to society” and then get on with their lives. This explains why they are so often confused about recidivism. But the truth is that our society punishes felons for the rest of their lives.

Passive-Aggressive Poe

Andrea sent me this.

Passive-Aggressive Raven: Nevermind!
Via Arte Van Gogh on Pinterest.

Kansas Senate Race

There are big happenings in Kansas. Roger Marshall managed to beat Kris Kobach in the Republican primary, which my sources tell me makes this a horse race. His challenger is Kansas State Senator Barbara Bollier. So if you can, donate to her campaign. The only way that we can move forward with Biden as president is by taking the Senate. So this is important.

Barbara Bollier

Frogs

I’m not sure why AIP decided to put out a horror film with the title “Frogs.” They aren’t the most terrifying creatures even if people do tend to find them a bit creepy. What’s next? “Banana Slugs: The Movie”?!

But Frogs is a pretty good little film starring Sam Elliott and Ray Milland. And other there they being a lot of frogs (mostly toads) on screen, it really isn’t about frogs. Nature is turning against man in the form of every creature in the swamp.

Most horror films don’t really scare me except for the jump scares, which I am especially prone to. But at a certain point in Frogs, I was certain things were crawling on me. If you are looking for meatier fare, check out The Mountain of the Cannibal God. But bear in mind that you will see real animal cruelty as well as a man anally raping a hog (thankfully, only simulated). But you get to see Ursula Andress’ boobs!

Frogs is playing over at Psychotronic Review. Watch it now!

Until Next Time

Hopefully, I’ll see you before next week. But it should be next week at the latest.

Odds and Ends Vol 28

Odds and Ends

Welcome to another Odds and Ends. Herman “Shucky Ducky” Cain just died. Unlike most Republicans, he at least had some charm. In fact, he reminded me a lot of George W Bush in that his conservatism was mostly based on a deep unseriousness. It wasn’t that Cain disagreed with liberals; he just didn’t care. And I have more respect for pure grifters than I do psychopaths. Regardless, he had a net negative impact on the world. And as usual for such people, he had a long and happy life. There really is something wrong with our society.

When Tucker Carlson Whines Freelancers Are Doxed

Last week, Tucker Carlson aired a segment where he accused The New York Times of trying to dox him. This is despite The Times being in communication with him and explaining that this was not happening. But really?

Is it reasonable to think that The Times goes around doxing major celebrities? Of course not! This is just the old conservative trick of keeping everyone distracted from what really matters. Social safety net destroyed and clean water gone? No problem! Just imagine what it’s like for Tucker Carlson with the liberal media literally trying to get his children killed!

Scared Little Rich Man

But Carlson didn’t just go after the evil newspaper. He said the names on air of the freelancers who were writing and photographing the nonpolitical story. According to the photographer, Tristan Spinski, “The story would be about this community, this rural community in Maine that is very small, very rural and very kind of Americana and happens to be the location of this massively popular cable news show.”

And what happened? Well, the writer, Murray Carpenter, had his home address was posted online. Even worse, someone tried to break into Spinski’s house when he was home with his wife. So in the name of countering an obviously mythical doxing, Tucker Carlson got two freelancers (not employees of The Times) doxed.

But there’s good news: Carlson saw that he was wrong and apologized. Just kidding! He doubled down because demagogues can’t admit being wrong. It’s off-brand.

I especially take offense to this because I’m a freelancer. I like my life. But you’re kind of alone. If Spinski or Carpenter get into trouble, none of the people they work with is going to run to aid. Anyway, check out some of their work:

Animal Consciousness

I just found an article in The Atlantic, A Journey Into the Animal Mind. It’s a personal essay about animal consciousness. There’s a great story in there about how fruit flies that don’t have good mating prospects seek out alcohol. Amazing!

But I don’t understand why people have for so long questioned animal consciousness. Humans are so self-impressed! As far as I can tell, the best thing about us is not are ability to think but rather our ability to communicate. So it’s the passing down of information that has been key to our success — not are relatively minor individual insights.

I’ll Go On

Barry McGovern is an Irish actor that I know for the excellent Beckett on Film Waiting for Godot. I’d heard that he created a one-man show based on Beckett’s work called I’ll Go On. I still haven’t seen it, but I did find this selection of scenes. It looks great!

A Good Brain

Stephen Colbert made a trailer based upon Trump’s claims about acing that cognitive test. It’s pretty good. Of course, it also indicates that our president is an international embarrassment.

Sexist Hypocrisy

Digby pointed out an interesting contrast.

At The New York Times

In The New York Times, Peter Beinert wrote an excellent article, The Real Reason Biden Is Ahead of Trump? He’s a Man. He notes:

A major driver of the public’s extreme dislike of Mrs Clinton was its perception of her as duplicitous. In a poll taken just days before the 2016 election, Americans deemed her even less truthful than Mr Trump. By contrast, in a Pew Research Center poll late last month, Americans rated Mr Biden as more honest than Mr Trump by 12 points.

Now, you might be able to dismiss that as the result of decades of conservative fear-mongering about her. That doesn’t really explain the moral outrage that people felt toward her. And not just here:

But the same “moral outrage” that plagued her four years ago also plagued this year’s most prominent female presidential contender: Elizabeth Warren. If Mrs Clinton is far less popular than Mr Biden, her fellow centrist insider, Ms Warren has proved far less popular than Bernie Sanders, her fellow progressive insurgent. The data is striking. Most polls show that a majority of Americans disapprove of the gentlewoman from Massachusetts. By contrast, most Americans approve of the gentleman from Vermont, usually by double digits.

That’s all very interesting I think, although I know what some people will say. They will point to this or that aspect of the women that explains it. But to me, this is like conservatives who complain, “But new immigrants aren’t assimilating like they did in the past!” But of course, they are. The same thing was said about past immigrants.

And so too here where there will always be people who claim, “This isn’t sexism! It just so happens that all these women suck and the only good politicians are old white men!”

Meanwhile, at The New York Times

But none of this is the hypocrisy. For that, we have to turn to an article by Rebecca Traister, The Poison of Male Incivility. It notes that just 3 days before The Times ran Peter Beinert’s article on the way female politicians are treated, it ran AOC Unleashes a Viral Condemnation of Sexism in Congress. Traister characterized the article:

All these words somehow cast Ocasio-Cortez and her female colleagues as the disruptive and chaotic forces unleashed in this scenario, suggesting that they shattered norms in a way that Representative Yoho’s original, profane outburst apparently did not.

The bottom line is that a man acted crudely toward a woman and when she responded, she is the one who is analyzed. It’s disgusting. And this is in a “liberal” newspaper.

And speaking of crude men, here’s one who at least is very funny:

Parts: The Clonus Horror

I can always tell if a film is great if while watching it via Mystery Science Theater 3000 I start to get annoyed that they are talking over the movie. Such was the case many years ago with Parts: The Clonus Horror. The first half of it is a great mystery and the second half is the kind of paranoid action that only the post-Watergate era could provide.

It was remade my Michael Bay in 2005 as The Island. The problem was that they never told the original filmmakers. There was a lawsuit and Bay & Co had to pay up. But despite having only 1/200 the budget, Parts: The Clonus Horror is the better film.

It’s playing over at Psychotronic Review. Watch it now! It is really good — like Coma but not boring!

Until Next Time

You know how sometimes you hurt yourself badly? So you go to the doctor and they start treating you? And you feel better just knowing that soon the problem will be fixed? Not knowing if Trump will be re-elected in November is like hurting yourself badly and waiting for a ride to the hospital from your really flaky brother.

I’d feel so much better if I had confidence in the American electoral system or the American people. But I don’t. See you next week.

Odds and Ends Vol 27

Odds and Ends

What a week! The way things are going, I won’t be surprised if Ruth Bader Ginsburg dies before this post goes live. Of course, I’m not sure that it would matter. If Biden is elected in November, he will need to act boldly to stop the judicial take-over of this country that has largely already occurred. And I doubt he will. So we will limp into the future. As usual.

Secret Police in Portland

Trump is going full authoritarian on Portland. But since he hasn’t said the exact words “I’m going full authoritarian in Portland,” most news sources are equivocating or just talking about how it will affect the November election.

What’s happening in Portland is just a replay of what we’ve seen before. Each week, he shows that our government is extremely fragile. The only thing stopping a president from doing almost anything he wants is his own conscience. The American people finally picked for themselves the perfect president. And our system is crumbling.

If it weren’t for the fact that most of the military command doesn’t like Trump, we’d have troops in every major American city. I assure you, however, the next authoritarian who becomes president will be much better liked.

Libertarian Reactions

I watched the reaction to the secret police action in Portland among libertarians over the weekend. Nick Gillespie’s timeline mentioned Portland. But it didn’t rank high in his priorities. Politics is ultimately about what you are willing to fight for. The clearest authoritarian moves don’t animate libertarians like “tyrannical” clean water rules.

One libertarian I saw called out leftists as hypocritical because we believe in mask mandates. So: mask mandates are as bad or worse than secret police kidnapping protesters? This is the kind of intellectual nonsense that drives the libertarian movement. “Hitler was bad but a social safety net is worse because it leads to Nazism!”

This kind of sums up what was happening on Twitter:

I appreciate that libertarians on Twitter didn’t think they should be blamed for not speaking out about Portland. Many of them did so. But going through endless Twitter threads, the vast majority of people who call themselves libertarians were fine with what’s going on.

Libertarians Missed the Mark

One argument I found particularly annoying: “We’ve been talking about this for years!” True. They have! But it’s mostly been theoretical nonsense that focused more on the supposed threat from the dreaded “political correctness.” Actual authoritarian behavior on the right was simply ignored.

The libertarian movement does much of the heavy intellectual lifting for the Republican Party. It has allowed the GOP to go off the rails while proclaiming that leftists are the real threat.

Most libertarians are just neo-Confederates anyway. But the movement has never been interested in cleaning house — or even pretending to. Because if they did that, there would be no movement left. I’m willing to admit there are principled libertarians. But they are small in number and cowardly.

Trump Repetition

The media are reporting that Biden called Trump the first racist president. Thank God for that, given it is an absurd claim. What Biden did say was also not true. But he is right that no recent president has been so overtly racist.

What’s more interesting is how Trump responded:

Trump has very little to say. We know that he speaks at a very low level. But the main thing about him is that he is repetitious. It’s just the same thing over and over again. I suspect that some of the slip in his approval rating is pure boredom. And I suspect the only support he maintains is simply because he outrages people like me.

John Lewis Dies

Last Friday, John Lewis died of the pancreatic cancer that he was diagnosed with six months ago. I don’t know what to say about him. Truthfully, I’m not that good with commenting on people deaths because I don’t think it is a bad thing. That’s especially true if they’ve had a life worth living.

I can’t think about him without the image of him being beaten on the Edmund Pettus Bridge on Bloody Sunday. It’s not pleasant. Just the same, check out this video. It doesn’t look much different from what we’ve seen by law enforcement during the protests the last couple of months.

If the police and others don’t think they are going to look just as bad in a decade or two, they are delusional. There will be no apologists to protect them. They will be busy apologizing for the current events. Conservative ideology has a very short shelf life.

In an amusing story, Senators Marco Rubio and Dan Sullivan both posted pictures of themselves with Elijah Cummings in memory of John Lewis’ death. But you know what they say, “If you’ve seen one bald African American congressman…”

Michael Brooks Is Dead?!

Long-time co-host on Majority Report and more recently on his own show, Michael Brooks died. He was 36. It came out of nowhere. The reports indicate that he died suddenly of a medical condition. One thing I remember about him is that he meditated and ate well.

Anyway, he was always brilliant — especially about international affairs. And he was very funny. His Obama impression easily fooled people.

One thing I especially liked about Brooks was his cackle. Most funny people have restrained laughs. Brooks showed that he was fully plugged in the absurdity of life. It’s a sad loss.

Splatter Farm

Over the last week, I’ve watched about a dozen films by pioneering no-budget filmmaker Mark Polonia (sometimes with his late twin brother John). They are pretty well-made and always feature notable elements. But most of the time, due to budget constraints, they seem more like proof of concepts.

I finally saw what is probably the Polonia brothers’ masterpiece, Splatter Farm. They made it when they were 18 years old. And it is twisted. I’ll just describe one bit of it. There’s these psychopath who works on the farm. He kills someone. Then he cuts off his hand. Then he eats part of it. Finally, he sticks the hand inside his pants and masturbates with it.

It’s playing over at Psychotronic Review. You can watch the whole thing. It’s the kind of film that you’ll want to share with someone you love. Really. It’s amazing!

Until Next Time

I hope there is enough to write about in the coming week…

Odds and Ends Vol 26

Odds and Ends

Here we are with another week’s worth of stuff that caught my attention for a few moments.

Jade’s Trick

I came upon this article I wrote six years ago, “Jade’s Trick” in Shakespeare. It’s rather good. There are three plays in which That Bard uses the phrase and so I’m able to nail-down it’s meaning.

I came upon it because I saw a video where Jordan Peterson was complaining that English majors can now get a degree without ever encountering Shakespeare. It’s a typical conservative complaint.

But more than that, people who speak like this usually know little of Shakespeare and only mention him because “everyone” thinks he’s such a great writer. Well, he wasn’t such a great writer. He was among the best at his particular place and time.

I’m sure if I ever got into a discussion of this, Peterson would pull a jade’s trick. I know him of old.

Blake Neff and Conservative Plausible Deniability

So it turns out that Tucker Carlson’s top writer, Blake Neff, has been posting “racist, misogynistic, homophobic, and other offensive content” anonymously for the past 5 years. As a result of this information coming to light, Neff quit.

Notice that I didn’t say that he quit because he was racist, misogynistic, homophobic, and so on. I didn’t say he was fired because he’s a white supremacist. And I certainly didn’t say that he was fired because he was having a nefarious effect on our political discourse.

That’s because we always knew that. Tucker Carlson is a white supremacist and he spews out those toxic beliefs on his show nightly. But in modern America, as long as you have a patina of respectability, as long as you don’t use the forbidden words, you can spout the worst stuff in the world and you’re fine.

This gets to my main problem with the #NeverTrump movement. It isn’t about Trump’s incompetence and horrible policies. The truth is, the last Republican president was incompetent. And he had roughly the same policies as Trump too. No: the problem is how crude Trump is.

And this is why America is at a very dangerous point. The next Republican president will be more like Tucker Carlson (or be Tucker Carson himself). And since he will say the “acceptable” things even while doing what Trump is doing — And worse! — there will be no uproar. In fact, he will be the new Ronald Reagan: the authoritarian Americans have so long craved!

Meanwhile, Tucker Carlson will continue to have the highest-rated cable news show in history. And all Right-Thinking Americans will pretend that it’s just a coincidence that he happened to have had a writer who was a full-on white supremacist. And they can get away with think that because Tucker Carlson knows better than to spout his racist garbage unfiltered.

Free Speech Hypocrite Bari Weiss Resigns

For decades, it’s been widely accepted that The Wall Street Journal editorial page is a toxic stew of lies, ignorance, and villainy. So why The New York Times thought that “diversity” would be increased by bringing on Bret Stephens and Bari Weiss from there, I can’t say. There have always been two problems with them:

  1. Apart from having vile opinions, they are simply bad at their jobs.
  2. Coming from inside the conservative echo-chamber, they both have extremely thin skins.

This second one is critical because it makes them claim that any disagreement is oppression. Liberals are supposed to pretend that they aren’t disingenuous ideologues and respond always, “I politely disagree but not like I disagree with the people who impolitely disagree with you!”

So after 3 years of The New York Times making all manner of accommodations for for Bari Weiss, she has resigned because the paper didn’t defend her from the other reporters at the paper who disagreed with her. So good riddance.

But she will continue to have a good career as a professional moderate even as the only stuff she writes is right-wing nonsense.

Ivanka Trump Wants You: To Be a Phlebotomist

The White House is pushing a campaign for workers to learn new skills. On one level, that’s great. People should constantly learn. It’s good for you and it’s fun. But this does seem to imply that the reason you hate your job is that you just suck and that you should do something about it.

Also part of this is the current conventional wisdom that workers should take all the risk and spend all the resources on making themselves employable. Then the companies should make the big profits because, according to conservative dogma, they took all the risks!

Here’s one of the ads. The phlebotomist is in there but she isn’t highlighted:

But can we all take a moment and marvel that the person the administration has spearheading this is a trust-fund baby (Ivanka Trump) of a trust-fund baby (Trump).

Let’s look back at the last two Democratic presidents: Obama and Clinton were both from working class families. The last two Republican presidents were both born into wealth and never did anything of significance.

Yet it’s the Republicans who claim to be salt of the Earth and just regular guys. In this regard, Ivanka Trump is the perfect person to tell the nation to learn new skills. Her trust-fund husband probably helped her with the project.

The Price of Folly

It’s well known that gold is not that useful a metal. In industry, it can usually be substituted for. That isn’t really true of silver, which is a more usable metal generally. Right now, the price of gold is roughly 100 times the price of silver. This is an indication of gold being purchased for other reasons — mostly for investment.

In terms of its use and rarity, gold is clearly over-priced. Yet only a fool would say it isn’t a good investment because of this. The price of gold is not driven by normal considerations. It is driven by the fact that hoards of people are convinced that it is a safe asset. So it’s price always peaks during economic downturns because people are sure gold is a safe haven.

There’s a weird kind of thing that goes on with this. The truth is that gold is not a good investment over the long-run. But even while central banks have made inflation a thing of the past, gold people continue to believe that hyperinflation is just around the corner. So they push up gold prices thus continuing the belief that gold is a good investment. Of course, this only goes on for so long.

Another thing gold people say is that inflation really is high but that the government is lying. The go-to example is the price of milk. “Have you seen how expensive milk is!” But if you look at milk prices since 1930, you’ll see they only went up substantially at the start of the Great Depression. Even during 1970s, milk only went up about 5 percent per year.

So gold continues to do better than the US dollar — but only because a bunch of fools keep buying it based on the same misunderstanding of economics. Ultimately, the price of gold will crash. It’s high price now is an indication that we are a wealthy country and so fools can continue to push up the price of gold.

But I will give the gold bugs this: at least gold does have some intrinsic value. That cannot be said of bitcoin and the thousands of other cryptocurrencies. But that doesn’t void the fact that the gold market is driven by a bunch of people who know just enough economics to be dangerous.

Reel Bad Arabs

Reel Bad Arabs is a one-hour documentary based on Jack Shaheen’s book of the same name. I recommend checking it out. Most of it is stuff I’m well aware of. But I had never noticed the stuff about Network. Give it a view.

Wisdom Comes Suddenly to Chuck Woolery

Four years ago, I wrote, Why So Many Conservative Game Show Hosts? In it, I explained why game show hosts are so often conservative. One of the hosts I highlighted was Chuck Woolery. He’s been one of the most outspoken.

Sunday night, Wollery tweeted, “The most outrageous lies are the ones about Covid-19. Everyone is lying. The CDC, Media, Democrats, our Doctors, not all but most, that we are told to trust. I think it’s all about the election and keeping the economy from coming back, which is about the election. I’m sick of it.” [I fixed a couple of typos but kept the redundant content.]

Then Monday morning (H/T: JJC):

Chuck Woolery COVID-19 Tweets

Fifteen hours and 22 minutes later, he followed it up with, “To further clarify and add perspective, Covid-19 is real and it is here. My son tested positive for the virus, and I feel for [all] of those suffering and especially for those who have lost loved ones.”

According to Showbiz 411, Woolery shut his account down. I’m glad to see that. Ranty old men shouldn’t have Twitter accounts. Of course, Woolery hasn’t really backed off his claim. On his podcast, he said that he never used the word “hoax.” In other words, he left Twitter because he couldn’t take the heat. But on his podcast where no one can challenge him, he’s as awful as usual.

H/T: Dave L from alerting me to this.

Now Playing at Psychotronic Review

Psychotronic Review is featuring a low-budget horror film from 1973, Messiah of Evil. It was made by Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz, a married couple well-known for their screenplays for American GraffitiIndiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and Howard the Duck.

I checked the film out because I’ve been watching a lot of Italian horror films. I heard Kate Ellinger say that Messiah of Evil had a kinship with the Gates of Hell trilogy in its Lovecraftian basis. But it’s more than that. Much of the film looks like what we later see from Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci.

Here’s the trailer:

Until Next Time

I hope there is enough to write about in the coming month…

Odds and Ends Vol 25

Odds and Ends

I thought since I don’t have much time these days to sit down and write a long article, I’d try to put one of these things out each week and add to it over time. We’ll see how it goes.

The Dum-Dum Left

It turns out that the left has consolidated behind Joe Biden. According to a poll by The New York Times, people who supported Sanders during the primary now support Biden over Trump 87-4. And people who supported Warren during the primary support him by 96-0. Amusingly, people who supported Biden in the primary support him slightly less than Warren supporters: 96-1.

But on Twitter and YouTube, the Dum-Dum Left continues to make a lot of noise. In 2016, this group was represented by Jimmy Dore. But this year, it is represented by Krystal Ball. I’ve been pleased to see that a lot of the people who kind of lost it during the primary have come back. Here’s Nathan J. Robinson:

Kyle Kulinski is another member of this group. What I find interesting about them is that they all used to be pretty generic liberals. But the rise of Bernie Sanders was greeted by them like welcoming Jesus into your heart. And as the the saying goes, they are now holier than the Pope — more socialist than their hero (not that this is saying much).

The Lincoln Project

In one way, I’m not fond of The Lincoln Project. If it took Trump for you to realize something is wrong with the Republican Party, one of two things is true. You are an idiot. Or you don’t actually care about what he does but only about his crude performance.

But this is an all-hands-on-deck moment and The Lincoln Project are allies for the moment. Also, they create political commercials like this one: Names.

What I like about this ad is that it goes after Republican senators: a combination of the worst and the most vulnerable. We see: Mitch McConnell, Lindsey Graham, Thom Tillis, Cory Gardner, Martha McSally, Ted Cruz, Joni Ernst, Marco Rubio, Susan Collins, John Cornyn, Jim Inhofe, Mike Rounds, and Steve Daines. (Links are to the opponents’ websites.)

“Never, ever trust them again!”

Not to be outdone, the Biden campaign has released a great ad of its own.

Why Do Conservatives Hate George Soros?

I’ve long wondered why conservatives hate George Soros so much. On one level, it’s simple. Conservatives are mostly authoritarians. Elite conservatives have told them to hate Soros and so they do.

How do I know? Because whenever I hear someone blasting Soros, they always bring up the same untrue story about his being a Nazi collaborator. Ben Shapiro even does it in a concern-trolling way of, “The poor kid!” If Shapiro were an honest broker, he wouldn’t bring it up. Even his telling of it is wrong.

But I found an excellent article about Soros in The Guardian from a couple of years ago, The George Soros Philosophy — and Its Fatal Flaw. It goes through Soros’ intellectual development and the current state of things where his dream for the world really isn’t possible with the kind of inequality that we have. In other words: in order to have the Open Society that Soros wants we need to prevent people from becoming as rich as he is.

One thing that the article highlights is that he was a student of Karl Popper. That makes sense. I’ve read a couple of Soros’ books and they are very much in that tradition. But that highlights what’s so bizarre about the hatred of Soros. Popper was a conservative. And ultimately, so is Soros.

I think the right hates Soros because they hate Jews. And it’s telling that Shapiro gets in on the action because he’s shown himself again and again to be more accepting of antisemitic conservatives than liberal Jews.

Speaking of Karl Popper

I found this video of Karl Popper discussing the Open Society. This is what I consider a thoughtful conservative. It doesn’t sound at all like what we think of as a conservative.

And let’s be clear: conservatives never did sound like this. For as long as the masses have been able to vote, conservatives only got power by appealing to bigotry. Look at the people who adore Trump. They aren’t interested in an open society. They are interested in a closed society — but one where they (or people who look like them) are in charge.

In Defense of the Ayn Rand Institute

There was a bit of crowing online last week when it was reported that the Ayn Rand Institute (ARI) had taken upwards of a million dollars from the Paycheck Protection Program. Oh, the hypocrisy! Well, maybe.

If there is a sin here, it isn’t ARI; it’s Ayn Rand herself. Despite her claim that the government was terrible and that it shouldn’t do much of anything, she claimed that as long as it existed with its evil taxes, you should get all you can. She argued that Objectists should take scholarships and government jobs in her newsletter.

She famously collected her Social Security check and used her Medicare benefits. Her argument was that as long as the government was “stealing” from you, you had this right. In the utopian Objectivist World it wouldn’t be necessary. (Because Fairy and Elf doctors work for cheap, I assume.)

The problem is that taxation is not theft. It is part of the social compact. It is the price we agree to pay to live in society. If you don’t want to pay it, you can disappear into the wilderness. But, of course, Rand and her followers have always assumed that the social goods would exist magically if the John Galts of the world were just free from government interference.

Regardless, it makes no sense to accuse the ARI of hypocrisy. They’ve already justified the matter to themselves. And there are far worse things they do than collecting a government handout.

The Andie MacDowell Murders

And finally, America’s Finest News Source (Which is true!) called my attention to an under-reported story, 10 Celebrities You Never Knew Were Abducted And Murdered By Andie MacDowell. I’ve always had my problems with her. She’s beautiful but her acting is kind of awkward. That’s a shame but this is a crime.

Corbin Bernsen is perhaps best known for his role in the hit ’80s TV drama LA Law, but we bet you didn’t realize he was yet another victim of Green Card star Andie MacDowell! In 2010, the Hollywood actress dragged a screaming Bernsen into the trunk of her car before driving him out into the Mojave Desert and shooting him in the head.

Who knew?

Now Playing at Psychotronic Review

You know you can always find a film that is worth watching at Psychotronic Review. This is in contrast to what you probably will watch. This week, we are highlighting the Lucio Fulci classic, The House by the Cemetery.

It is the last of his Gates of Hell trilogy. And frankly, it’s the least of them. But it is also the one people will like the most because it is relatively conventional. My favorite is The Beyond, which seems to be the one that most film nerds prefer.

Here’s the trailer:

We’ll Meet Again

As you may have heard, Vera Lynn died last month. She was 103 so it wasn’t a shock. Anyway, we too shall meet again. Next week, I assume.

Relativism Doesn’t Lead to Authoritarianism

The Ominous Parallels

In The Ominous Parallels, Leonard Peikoff makes the argument that relativism was leading the US to Nazism. It isn’t a great argument. It is based mostly on some really pathetic readings of Kant and Hegel that show that he doesn’t understand them. So it shouldn’t be too surprising that his analysis is nonsense.

But right now, we are in a situation where the US is moving towards authoritarianism with people justifying it with relativism.

This is not leftist relativism. It is the opposite of what Peikoff (or Paul Johnson or David French or any other “serious” conservative) told us. This is right-wing relativism.

In decades past, people criticized leftist for their relativism. And by and large, leftists thought it and turned against it. It’s very hard to find anyone on the left who accepts it today.

Authoritarianism Leads to Relativism

The right did not accept relativism in a general sense, however. Instead, conservatives got more and more authoritarian over the last few decades. Then they grabbed onto relativism as a post-hoc justification for it.

So it’s not relativism itself that led to authoritarianism. It was the other way around. Authoritarianism led to relativism.

And this shows the problem with people like Leonard Peikoff who complained that leftists were going to bring about authoritarianism. They may have been right that authoritarianism is coming but they totally missed the mechanism — and even where it was coming from.

It is also interesting that a lot of supposed libertarians who are anti-authoritarian naturally turn to someone like Donald Trump when he gains power. Fundamentally, philosophy of this nature is not strong enough to protect you. It seems to work the other way around.

The Limits of Ideology

Many people want to believe that they are Masters of the Universe. They think that they should have the right to do anything they want. So they grabbed on to Ayn Rand’s philosophy. It is not, as they almost always claim, the other way around.

People do not start with first principles and then base their political views on that. Philosophy is almost always used as a way to justify what people already believe not to guide them in what they ought to believe.

And that’s even more true on the right where they so limit the information that can get to them.

The entire world would be better off if people just tried to be decent. What we are seeing in the US is that vilifying groups of people and empowering demagogues leads to authoritarianism. And the people will grab hold of any justification available.

Leonard Peikoff and other conservatives and libertarians have spent decades predicting authoritarianism from the left. They ignored the growing authoritarianism of their allies on the right. I don’t think it was a mistake. It was just a question of priorities.

Ben Shapiro and Gender vs Age

Ben Shapiro

Ben Shapiro is an odd phenomenon. People who like him take the most facile arguments as genius. It reminds me that as a writer, you find that greater fame mostly leads to more people who don’t engage seriously with your work. But I guess that’s enough for Shapiro.

Over the weekend, I came upon his old argument that gender and age are the same things. You can’t choose your gender any more than you can choose your age. It is the most facile of facile arguments. But it’s actually a very useful comparison. If Ben Shapiro engaged with it, he’d learn a few thing.

Numeric Age and Sex

As most people should know by now, there is a difference between sex and gender. Sex is a biological term and gender is a sociological term. So if someone has XX chromosomes, their sex would be female. Their gender would be whatever they present as.

Of course, even sex can be difficult. Not all humans have XX or XY chromosomes.Some people have XXY or XYY chromosomes. Or X, XXX, or XXYY. Biology is varied and I’m frankly amazed that our bodies work at all.

Warning: do not read the comments on this video; you will overdose on hate and ignorance.

So we can’t say that there are just two sexes. But you could say that there is some number of sexes. For ease, let’s say there are three: female, male, and other. This is quantitative and roughly equivalent to someone’s numeric age.

As far as I know, my sex is male and my age is 56 years old. It would be wrong for me to say that my sex is female and my age is 42 (much as I might like to).

But under most circumstances, people aren’t interested in the numeric age and sex of adults. These attributes just aren’t that useful.

Qualitative Age and Gender

On the other hand, people are interested in qualitative age and gender.

ContraPoints dealt with this subject in her video Pronouns. In it, she discusses the social use of gender. It’s not about chromosomes or biology.

It’s also confusing. To make a big deal of calling someone (who looks like a woman) a man doesn’t create clarity. From a social standpoint, if someone looks like a man they are a man.

(As for non-binary people, I think it is the same for many cis people who may not present clearly as one gender or the other: there may be initial confusion but this can be worked out with a little sensitivity and knowledge.)

Qualitative age works the same way and has many of the same problems. I think of myself as old but many people might consider me middle-aged. These are terms that are less clear than quantitative age. And even if octogenarians want to call me “young” I still feel old.

There is, of course, one way that qualitative age and gender are different. People who mis-age me do it to make me feel better. People who mis-gender do it to make the other person feel bad and generally to make some ideological point.

Summary

So in the video, Ben Shapiro is making a false analogy when he asks the young woman, “Why aren’t you 60?” It would be appropriate to say, “Why aren’t you old?” But had he done that, everyone would have see that it was no argument at all. If the young women felt old, that’s her business.

So Shapiro has to create a false analogy. And it’s particularly bad because he knows the difference between sex and gender. But he chooses to ignore gender. As he says in the ContraPoints video of he/she: “Biology is the nature of the pronoun.”

But it isn’t. Unfortunately, thinking about the issue with a little clarity would only help his endeavor to “Debate Leftists and Destroy Them.” It would only bring him closer to the truth.


Ben Shapiro by Gage Skidmore. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

NASCAR Bans Confederate Flag

Back in June 2013, I went to my first (and thus far only) NASCAR race. And I came away with a much greater appreciation of the sport. I saw it a lot like chess — a game that I played with a fair amount of seriousness for a long period of my life. It was fascinating to see how the racers won and lost their races just a little bit at a time — just like in a chess match between professionals.

I didn’t come away interested in the sport. Actually, given how evenly matched the drivers are and how subtle it all is, I’m amazed that it’s popular. But if people appreciate auto racing at even my simple level, I’m impressed. Good for them!

Confederate Flags at NASCAR

Of course, I wasn’t so impressed with the cultural elements of my time with NASCAR. It was filled with overt nationalism and public displays of religiosity that Jesus cautioned against in the Sermon on the Mount.[1] But you will see much the same at any sporting event in the US.

What really stood out were all the Confederate flags. I have zero tolerance for this. The people who sport them are at very best deluded. But in general, they are racist to such an extent that they are beyond proud of it. It’s not enough that they don’t care if you know about their bigotry. They want everyone to know about it.

The Confederate flag is the symbol of an act of treason against our country in the name of one of our worst shames: slavery. And this is not helped because most people who display the flag think they are the “true” or “real” Americans. They aren’t. They don’t like America but rather some vision of an American past where white men were proudly on top and everyone else kept quiet.

NASCAR Says No to the Confederate Flag

So I was thrilled when NASCAR put out the following statement:

The Presence of the Confederate flag at NASCAR events runs contrary to our commitment to providing a welcoming and inclusive environment for all fans, our competitors, and our industry. Bringing people together around a love for racing and the community that it creates is what makes our fans and sport special. The display of the Confederate flag will be prohibited from all NASCAR events and properties.

Don’t misunderstand me: this is a business decision. NASCAR could see two things clearly:

  1. Most of their fans think of themselves as good people who are not in favor of overt racism and so will welcome this ban of the Confederate flag.
  2. NASCAR has a lot more black and brown fans than they do hard-core racist fans.

Of course, this hasn’t stopped a bunch of people online from claiming that they will never support NASCAR again:

But mostly, people seem pleased. (Check out this parody tweet.) I suspect for a lot of people, even ones who may not especially like it, it isn’t worth contesting. As the poet said: the times they are a-changing.

Congratulations

Regardless, it says something when a large business like NASCAR decides that it will not tolerate the Confederate flag. It says the time is over for when people could claim this treasonous, racist flag is just about their “southern pride” or some other horseshit.

Congratulations America! You won NASCAR!


[1] Matthew 6:5 “When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full.”

Confessions of a Republican

William Bogert

The iconic political commercial of the 1964 presidential election was Johnson’s Daisy ad. It featured a little girl pulling the leaves off a daisy while she counted them. Then, in voice-over, we hear a countdown and a nuclear explosion.

Then we hear Johnson saying, “These are the stakes. To make a world in which all of God’s children can live, or to go into the dark. We must either love each other, or we must die.” And we are finally told to vote for him because, “The stakes are too high for you to stay home.”

Everyone at the time knew what this meant: if Goldwater became president, he would start a nuclear war. That may have been unfair. And even at the time it was criticized, which may explain why it only aired once. Not that it needed to run again. The ad hammered home what most people were already thinking.

Confessions of a Republican

There was another Johnson ad during that campaign: Confessions of a Republican. It ran a number of times. And it was very intellectual. It’s for that reason and many others that it would never be used today.

It’s a remarkable ad in its authenticity. But I’m not sure that it moved many people. It seems like the kind of ad that would move someone like me. But we are unlikely to need convincing.

William Bogert

What I find most interesting is the actor, William Bogert. For people of my age, he will always be remembered as the father in War Games who butters his corn in an unusual (and somehow disgusting) way.

He’s telling the truth: he had been a Republican. In fact, he was indicative of the great party consolidation that was going on in the mid-1960s where liberal Republicans were becoming Democrats and racist Democrats were becoming Republicans. But I don’t know if he ever became a Democrat. I know that he was married to Muppet puppeteer Eren Ozker, so he must have been a liberal.

But what’s even more interesting about Bogert is that he did very little filmed acting until about 10 years after he did this ad. He’d been acting since about 10 years before the ad. But there isn’t much documentation. He could have been working in television but it’s more likely he was doing theater and industrial films. He certainly seem comfortable with the camera in the ad.

2016

In 2016, Bogert filmed a follow-up ad for Hillary Clinton regarding Donald Trump. It’s also good. Very authentic. And it didn’t change anything. Because apparently a lot of Americans do like unpredictability in the use of nuclear weapons.

William Bogert died on 12 January of this year. I’m reserving judgement. If Trump wins in November, I’ll be glad Bogert didn’t live to see it. But if Trump loses, well, that will make Bogert’s death sad. But I’ll live with it — distracted as I am dancing in the streets.


Image cropped from the original ad, which is in the public domain.

Paul Tudor Jones and the Bitcoin Con

Paul Tudor Jones
Paul Tudor Jones

Paul Tudor Jones made a splash recently by investing either “just over 1 percent” or “almost 2” percent of his assets on bitcoin.

That might be a great investment. After all, bitcoin enthusiasts are just the newest generation of gold freaks. The market in cryptocurrency is not driven by those who think it will one day be a useful currency. It’s driven by the ideology of debt hysteria. These people all believe that hyperinflation is just a short time away.

But unlike the Jehovah’s Witnesses who stopped making predictions about the end of the world after they were wrong a half-dozen times, the debt hysterics never admit defeat. It’s just a couple of years away!

If you follow the bitcoin press, you’ll see it’s more advocacy than news. While they do bring up troubling issues, the articles are always peppered with lots of happy horseshit from “industry leaders.” Unmentioned is that all of these people have strong incentives to keep the crypto bubble inflating.

The Value of Currencies

Think about currency in terms of its actual value. Those in the digital bubble refer to government-created currencies as “fiat.” It’s almost always used derisively. But it is true to some extent.

You see, even if all the world decides that the US dollar is useless, it will still have value. You and I can still pay our taxes with it. So the government, by law, provides its currency with value.

Where is the value of bitcoin except in the heads of its believers? The few things I can buy directly with bitcoin only exist because people are speculating on the currency.

But I understand: currency is a strange thing. The more you think about it the less you understand. But bitcoin advocates seem to think that it is some stable form of wealth whereas fiat currencies can’t be trusted. This is despite the fact that all the major currencies have been rock-solid over the last 40 years while the supposed great stores of wealth like gold and bitcoin have been all over the place.

“Whims” of Government, “Wisdom” of Markets

I said before that Paul Tudor Jones might be making a good investment. I am not, however, saying he is smart. His reasons for investing in bitcoin are based on the same old fact-free debt hysteria.

He noted that bitcoin wasn’t “subject to the whims of government spending.” First, the value of a currency is not subject to the whims of government spending. Japan, for example, has a 200% debt-to-GDP ratio but can borrow cheaply. The UK had a debt-to-GDP ratio that high or higher from roughly 1920 through 1960.

The second issue is this anti-government idea that what it does is bad. The whims of the market are supposedly fine. Bitcoin went from $15,000 at the start of 2018 to $4,000 at the start of 2019 to $7,000 at the start of 2020.

Think about that as a practical matter. Here are what you would have paid for a loaf of bread:

YearCost
2018$4.00
2019$15.00
2020$8.57

Wow! What a great system! You might as well live under hyper-inflation.

Inflation, Deflation, and Libertarian Fantasies

Paul Tudor Jones also said this:

If you take cash, on the other hand, and you think about it from a purchasing power standpoint, if you own cash in the world today, you know your central bank has an avowed goal of depreciating its value 2 percent per year. So you have, in essence, a wasting asset in your hands.

One of my first indications that libertarianism was nonsense was an article about the glories of the gold standard. It noted that inflation was a terrible thing that destroyed our precious wealth. It even talked about how great deflation (negative inflation) was. “Wouldn’t it be great if your money went up in value?!”

Well, no. It would be terrible.

If you are rich, a monetary system with no inflation or deflation might be great. If you have to work for a living, it’s terrible. The economy would not grow nearly as fast without modest inflation. If you knew that things would only get cheaper over time, you would hold off on purchases.

Now, that might be great in the abstract. We do a lot of useless consumption. But we need to set up an economic system where the lack of consumption doesn’t result in poor people starving.

Deflation would also be catastrophic for lending. Imagine if in addition to the interest you have to pay on a loan you have to pay it with money that is worth more!

The “Wisdom” of Paul Tudor Jones

People like Paul Tudor Jones don’t think this kind of stuff through. They don’t have to. They are like two guys running from a bear: it doesn’t matter how fast they are; the one who is slower gets eaten. In the bitcoin market, Jones can be an idiot as long as there are even bigger idiots for him to make money from.

That’s all fine. What’s not fine is that people like him are held up as oracles about the economy. And the fact that people see him on television results in something really odd.

People who don’t follow business at all tend to be slightly better informed on how the economy works. That’s simply because they haven’t swallowed all the debt scold nonsense that isn’t true but sounds so very Serious.

So invest in cryptocurrencies or don’t. I actually find them very interesting. I think the rise of stablecoins shows that they may be very useful in time. But the rise and fall of their prices is about speculation — mostly speculation based on nonsense reasoning.

If you invest in corn futures, you are doing something: helping corn get to where it needs to be in the global marketplace. What are you doing when you invest in bitcoin? I don’t think you are doing anything more than if you played poker.

Yes: some people are better poker players than others. Some people make a lot of money playing poker. But the world isn’t a better place because you play poker.


Image created from Paul Tudor Jones by Hedge Fund Letters under CC BY 3.0.

Morning Music: Toy Dolls

Dig That Groove Baby - Toy Dolls

And so we end our Sheep in the Box playlist with the British punk band Toy Dolls.

They are a fun band. I can put them on and it’s nice: there’s a lot of energy and they play really well. They are a solid, professional band.

But there isn’t much too them. They are an awful lot like Richard Hell and the Voidoids but during their Destiny Street period when Hell didn’t have much to say. They also sound quite a lot like generic Ramones.

I don’t mean to be difficult here. And I will admit: I’m biased towards California punk. I don’t think we got really great stuff out of England until the post-punk period.

But I appreciate any artists who even try to entertain — much less ones like Toy Dolls who succeed in spades.

Nellie the Elephant

Toy Dolls is known for their covers and they are best known for their cover “Nellie the Elephant.” It was originally released by child star Mandy Miller. Toy Dolls released a single in 1982 of the song, which was later included on their first album, Dig That Groove Baby.

The following music video is a rerecording of the song. It’s charming. But then, most things from Toy Dolls are.


Dig That Groove Baby album cover via Wikipedia under Fair Use.

Morning Music: Laura Marling

Song for Our Daughter - Laura Marling

Sheep in a Box next takes us to a particularly good artist for me, Laura Marling.

According to Wikipedia, she is a “British folk singer-songwriter.” That seems strange to me. I wouldn’t call her music “folk.” Just speaking harmonically, it’s much more interesting. Sometimes her work is almost modal. At other times, it seems like it was written on a piano with leading chords. But people call Jane Siberry folk so, so I guess it doesn’t matter.

It seems that I was familiar with her before. I’ve definitely heard Ghosts off her first album, Alas, I Cannot Swim. It’s a lovely song and typical of her early work. She has grown much more sophisticated over the course of seven albums.

Her most recent album is Song for Our Daughter. We’re going to listen to “Fortune,” which is one of those piano-kind-of compositions.

According to Wikipedia, it “is about a powerless woman unable to escape her circumstance.” All I can say is that I don’t get that from the lyrics. It appears to be a conversation between two people at the end of their troubled relationship. But I’m sure someone will be able to point me to an “interview where Laura Marling said…” You know how much I like that sort of thing!

It’s a beautiful song.


Song for Our Daughter album cover taken from Amazon under Fair Use.