Odds and Ends Vol 35

Odds and Ends

Sorry for being absent so much. The truth is that I’m just a lot more focused on horror films these days. I’ve started a Diary over at Psychotronic Review. It’s the one place on the site where I allow myself to vent. The idea of the site is to appreciate what is good in any given film. But it is true that I get annoyed from time to time.

A problem I’ve been having a lot recently is watching a good film that is at least lessened by a terrible ending or coda. For example, The House of the Devil is pretty good and then they add a coda that destroys a good ending and offends me by making explicit what was clear in the film. Ugh! But it’s still better than American politics…

Impeachment

I was shocked that 7 Republicans voted for impeachment. I wasn’t even certain that Mitt Romney would vote to convict. I’m pretty sure it all came down to the big news (which wasn’t new) that Trump talked to Kevin McCarthy during the Capitol siege and he was indifferent. He reportedly said, “I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are.”

Of particular note is Senator Bill Cassidy (R-LA) who said that he voted to convict Trump because he thought he was guilty. It’s a shockingly simple statement compared to the likes of McConnell who come up with procedural reasons to acquit. It’s always the same: if they want to vote a certain way, a politician can always come up with a plausible reason to justify it.

But the truth is that it doesn’t matter what individuals in the Republican Party do. The party itself is committed to Donald Trump because the base is committed to him because he provides the clearest expression of why they’ve been voting for Republicans all along: he hates the people they hate.

How I Would Vote

I would have voted to convict Trump for the same reason that Cassidy did. But I will admit that I don’t find the case that compelling that Trump incited an insurrection with his acts on that day.

Trump incited an insurrection for months — going back well before the election itself. The problem with this is that this means that the majority of Republican office-holders also incited an insurrection. And they did! But threading the needle and talking mostly about January 6th didn’t stop Republicans from seeing their own culpability.

GOP at the State Level

We’ve seen all kinds of censure announcements of Republicans from state-level organizations. This is nothing new, of course. The GOP has always been fanatical about purity in a way that can only exist when a party has a huge systemic advantage at the polls.

But it’s interesting that these censures have nothing to do with ideology. All those decades of the GOP dog-whistling to their authoritarian base has come home. It is no longer a political party. It’s now a cult of personality.

I wonder what happens if Trump dies.

Mitch McConnell — Impeachment Next Time

If this situation comes up again to impeach a Democratic president who is out of office, McConnell will make a 180° turn and vote to acquit. I know what his argument will be. He’ll say, “The Senate established that you can convict a president after he’s left office. Live by the sword, die by the sword.”

And the media will report it as though McConnell is making a good argument. Sure, people at The Nation will note that McConnell voted against conviction because he said it was unconstitutional even though the Senate voted that it wasn’t. (Not that it is up to the Senate.)

People claim McConnell is brilliant but that isn’t the case. It’s just that our media system is hopeless. In my dark moments, I think any system that can be so effectively manipulated by the likes of McConnell deserves to die.

Mitt Romney — Again

I paid over 18 percent of my income in federal taxes this year. It would have been over 20 percent except for a special COVID-19 tax credit. That’s on less than $27,000 in total income. I want to put that into perspective.

When he was running for president, Mitt Romney released his 2011 taxes. He paid 14.1 percent in federal taxes on his $13.7 million in income. I’ve always assumed (with good reason) that he paid more that year because he knew it would be public.

So he made over 500 times as much money as I did and paid a smaller percentage in taxes. This is the man who was complaining about poor people paying no federal income taxes. This is the man that the mainstream press holds up as a good Republican.

Fuck. Mitt. Romney.

Note: I don’t think there is anything wrong with my paying this amount of tax. And I do it happily because I am a patriot.

Jonathan Chait’s Lazy Apologetics

Jonathan Chait wrote an article defending Gina Carano’s firing. I’m sympathetic about this because I really don’t like to see people fired. I’m not keen on public shaming either, to be honest. But Jeet Heer pushed back on Chait’s argument in a way I very much agree with (I admire Ilhan Omar and the freak-outs about her are racist):

Check out the image on the right that shows one thing that Gina Carano tweeted. In a response to Heer, Chait wrote a whole article in response. And this is what he says of the image:

Is this image anti-Semitic? On the one hand, it suggests certain populist conspiratorial themes that are consistent with anti-Semitism. On the other, it lacks any identifiable Jewish features.

As regulars around here know, I’m not very good at recognizing people and I don’t know much about what’s going on in pop culture. But the most obvious figure in that image is George Soros. Chait is incapable of admitting error and this claim shows the lengths that he will go to avoid it.

Tonya Harding

Tonya Harding is the reason that I lost all respect for institutional figure skating. She made me see that it wasn’t really a sport. At her peak, she was probably the best figure skater in the world — certainly in the US. Yet she struggled because she wasn’t the right kind of person and body type for the sport.

I’ve always thought she got a raw deal. So I was thrilled to hear about a new podcast called You’re Wrong About. They look at past events and show that what people think they know is actually wrong. They did two shows about Harding (part 1, part 2).

I highly recommend the podcast. I’ve listened to a ton of episodes now on a lot of things (they get far afield of their stated mission). Check it out!

TTYL

I’ll talk to you later!

Odds and Ends Vol 34

Odds and Ends

I’m a bit scattered these days. Just when I was going to file for divorce, I was served with divorce papers from my wife. Good news, you might think. And in some ways, it is. But my wife is asking for $2,000 every other week in alimony. It’s ridiculous in the sense that, this is roughly what I make in a month before taxes. But also: we haven’t even seen each other in over a decade.

But the whole thing brought the phone calls and texts back. She’s screaming and threatening. So I blocked her number. Then she started emailing me. More threats. It’s very stressful. Anyway, on to the odds and ends.

Kathleen Parker

I saw a very annoying headline at The Washington Post last week, The GOP isn’t doomed. It’s dead. It was written by “moderate” conservative Kathleen Parker.

Every time the Republicans lose an election, establishment-types declare it dead or in need of reform. Instead, the party just moves further right and becomes more loony and they win control of Washington and a majority of states.

You would think that The Washington Post would hire political columnists who know at least a little political science. If they did, there wouldn’t be ridiculous articles like this. Because there are systemic qualities of the US (both planned and accidental) that allow Republicans to be far more conservative than the country itself.

But the reason I bring this up is because Parker wrote the following, “The party’s end was inevitable, foreshadowed in 2008 when little-boy Republican males, dazzled by the pretty, born-again, pro-life Alaska governor, thought Sarah Palin should be a heartbeat away from the presidency.” Oh, I see! This started all the way back in 2008!

Mitt Romney

Over the past four years, Mitt Romney has been allowed to rebrand himself as the sensible, truth-based, Republican. But that’s ridiculous! I was blogging full-time during the 2012 presidential election. I remember what a mendacious campaign he ran.

Michael Cohen (not that one) in The Guardian expressed it well:

Granted, presidential candidates are no strangers to disingenuous or overstated claims; it’s pretty much endemic to the business. But Romney is doing something very different and far more pernicious. Quite simply, the United States has never been witness to a presidential candidate, in modern American history, who lies as frequently, as flagrantly and as brazenly as Mitt Romney.

As you know, I don’t like PolitiFact. Like most fact-checkers, they work really hard to find “lies” from people on the left to balance out the abundance of actual lies on the right. But despite this, Romney has far more lies than Obama:

RatingRomneyObama
True14%20%
Mostly True16%27%
Half True28%26%
Mostly False16%11%
False15%11%
Pants on Fire9%1%

Happy Birthday, Ronald Reagan

And speaking of the mythical past, Ronald Reagan would be 110 years old today. Most things we’ve said about Trump over the last four years was said about Reagan. In particular, Reagan was a champion norm-buster. Like Trump, he didn’t know any better. And when he was told, he didn’t care.

In 1982, Rolling Stone noted, “Two years into [Reagan’s] presidency, federal regulations go unenforced, poor and middle-class incomes have decreased and social services were slashed.” The only thing that was different were the times. I don’t think Trump harmed the country any more than Reagan did. It was just that things were worse when Trump came in.

Some Leftists

But lest you think I am only going to be attacking conservatives today, there are some leftists who are really annoying me. Or maybe I should say “leftists,” because I’m not at all sure where these people are coming from.

There are a number of people in this small but vocal group, but I’m going to highlight Briahna Joy Gray. She has Opinions about the minimum wage!

There’s no doubt that the minimum wage should be higher. The Center for Economic and Policy Research calculated that if the minimum wage had been raised at the rate of productivity growth since 1968 (which is the rate it increased before then), it would now be $24.

But this is a political fight, not an economic analysis. If we can get a $15 minimum wage, that would be great. Then we can work on raising that. But Gray’s take is not helpful. It’s a way of telling the Democrats that they shouldn’t even work on winning over progressives because we will never be happy anyway.

Obamacare

I’ve seen this a lot with respect to Obamacare. People claim that it means nothing because millions still don’t have healthcare. Well, I’m one of the millions who do have it because of Obamacare. So it is something.

But this is relatively new. I don’t remember people on the left saying it was nothing at the time. What’s changed? Patreon, I think. There are a lot more people on the left who can make money online grandstanding like this. Clearly, Sam Seder and David Pakman fill the thoughtful niche. So people like Gray and Jimmy Dore are working the Howard Beale lane.

Rant On

And I get it. I feel like Beale a lot of the time too. But if you’ve watched the film, you know that Beale didn’t bring change. People just liked an excuse to get angry. And when Beale started preaching degeneration, people tuned out. People were only ever mad as hell. They were definitely going to continue to take it.

These leftists are not helping. They are actually harming the cause. It doesn’t look like we are going to get the $15 minimum wage after all. But with it or without it, Briahna Joy Gray’s position is the same: Democrats suck.

FOLE

Last weekend, I got a call to write an article (quickly) about what was going on with GameStop, Dogecoin, and other related stuff. You can check it out: GameStop, AMC & Dogecoin. The whole thing is just a pump-and-dump scheme. But I do think it matters who’s doing it. Millionaires sticking it to billionaires is good. My concern is that regular people get caught up in it.

I’ve felt rather good that the two things I said should go up early last year — silver and Ethereum — did. Of course, I didn’t invest in them. I’m not a speculator. “Fear of Missing Out” is also “Fear of Losing Everything.” Get it? “FOLE”? Pronounced “folly”? People should think more in terms of FOLE than FOMO.

It’s sad that we live in a society organized in this way. It isn’t a great way to allocate resources.

TTYL

I’ll talk to you later!

Treat the Flag Like Shit But Don’t Burn It!

American Flag

I find it curious that there are still people who think that burning the American flag is some terrible thing. A lot of people want to make it illegal. But could there be any form of speech that the First Amendment most clearly applies to?

If you think that the United States has betrayed its own ideals, what better way is there to say so than to burn the American flag?

When I was a kid, it was widely believed that if a flag fell on the ground, it had to be destroyed — by fire. Or maybe burying it. Certainly, you wouldn’t want to throw it in the trash. Regardless, this was the kind of thing that you supposedly did out of respect for the flag.

It turns out that most people say you do not have to destroy a flag that touches the ground. But it doesn’t matter. It shows that how one treats the flag is open to opinion. And it changes over time.

I know it’s shocking to many, but we all show our patriotism in our own ways. What I don’t like is people who get angry at others while they show a facile kind of patriotism themselves.

Flags in My Neighborhood

The neighborhood I walk each day features dozens of American flags flying outside houses. Almost all of these houses feature multiple trucks and badly managed lawns, so I know they are owned by conservatives. And not one of these flags is taken down at night or in bad weather. I know because I take walks in the early morning and at night.

I also know because many of these flags are badly worn. One is obviously fraying when viewed from across the street. And I’m sure that these people think themselves very patriotic. “Remember last year when I bought a flag and hung it up?!”

Facile Patriotism

This is very much like the yellow ribbons that I saw on cars during the George W Bush administration. It showed that you supported the troops! It’s set-it and forget-it patriotism.

This fetishization of the American flag is thus literal “virtue signaling.” It the kind of patriotism that signals that you are a Good Person as opposed to people like me who have a more nuanced but active patriotism.

And by and large, these flag-wavers are the people who are most offended by the burning of the American flag. In Shoe0nHead’s video, these free-speech champions were mostly all for laws against flag burning. The people who didn’t think it should be illegal were mostly military, who I would hope would also treat their flags well.[1]

I have little doubt that many of the insurgents on 6 January 2021 had well-worn flags outside their own houses. They don’t love America so much as “America.” Easily won patriotism is just as easily lost.

But I totally defend their right to treat their flags badly. I’m just not as accepting of the way they treat our country.


[1] It’s amazing how many people bring up the burning of the BLM flag without understanding the issue at all. It was stolen from a church and then burned. The issue was never that you can’t burn a BLM flag. Yet in their minds, there was some special law that protected BLM. It’s amazing! It’s like the old NRA bumper stickers, “I’m ignorant as fuck, and I vote!

Image via PxHear — it is in the public domain.

The Public Square Must Be Public

George Caleb Bingham - Stump Speaking

A lot of things people say are both true and wrong. A good example of this is the claim that the First Amendment only applies to government censorship. This is true. But are we also going to say that this is good? I don’t think so.

In a world where the commons is now owned by private companies, we need to expand upon the First Amendment. And we need to be broader when we talk about free speech.

None of this should be seen as a defense of Donald Trump or conservatives more generally. The major social media platforms have been doing nothing but helping the conservative movement. Just look at the top shared articles on Facebook in any given week. It’s always overwhelmingly conservative articles with a couple of mainstream news items and nothing leftist at all.

Just as with the War on Christmas, what conservatives think is fair is for there to be great limits on everyone else while they get special rights. But there are major (Real!) free speech issues with the private ownership of the public square that greatly harm leftists.

Who Controls Speech?

The biggest political story since Republicans stormed the Capitol is that Amazon kicked Parler off their servers. The power of Amazon in the web hosting business has been a huge problem for years. If you pulled the plug on AWS, the internet as we know it would be gone. They host everyone! This is the biggest problem with Amazon, not its retail sales.

Parler seems to be a toxic entity on the internet. I have no problem with them being shut down. In fact, I’m happy about it. However, I don’t think Amazon should be the one to make that decision.

Similarly, I don’t have a problem with Trump being kicked off Twitter. But this example is illustrative.

Had Trump been an ordinary person, he would have been banned from Twitter years ago. In fact, I think that had Trump been a Democratic politician with leftist ideas, he would have been banned from Twitter.

So the question is not, “Why was Trump banned?” It was, “Why did it take so long”? And I think we know the answer to that. It’s because Trump is good for the bottom line. Fuck any concerns about the public good.

The Obvious Solution

Some people think that the big social media companies should become utilities. But to my mind, utilities are just a bullshit way of allowing the private sector to make a profit on things that are effectively collectivized. I’ve certainly not seen it working well here in California with PG&E.

So I say we just collectivize all of these things. We democratize the process of algorithms instead of allowing our country to be destroyed just so Mark Zuckerberg can add a few dollars to his store of wealth.

Now some may wonder why I had to write an article about this. What I’m proposing is really simple after all. And that’s the thing. Nationalizing general social media companies is distinctly outside the Overton Window. And that’s bizarre because the status quo is to allow the public square to be completely controlled by a few very rich individuals who have very different incentives from what is best for the public.

The Public Square Must Be Public!

So it’s obvious that the public square should be public. Yet we don’t generally talk about this because we are so caught up in a paradigm of socialism vs capitalism. But the progression of capitalism over the years has been to make more and more public space private.

When people like Adam Smith and Thomas Paine were writing, the world was far more public than it is today. It was still possible to go and find farmable land that didn’t belong to anyone. Not so today. Try farming an unused piece of land somewhere near you and see how long it takes for the police to come and arrest you.[1]

This isn’t rocket science. It isn’t brain surgery. It’s something that a toddler could understand. The public square should be public.


[1] Note that so-called libertarians are in favor of everything being private property. It shows that libertarians don’t really care about liberty. They care about private property. This is why a world run by libertarians would be a dystopia.

Image cropped by Stump Speaking by George Caleb Bingham in the public domain.

Jacob Blake and the Revolution

Jacob Blake Protestor

Wednesday morning, I woke up to the news that there would be no charges filed against the officers responsible for paralyzing Jacob Blake, including one officer who shot at his back seven times (four shots him him). It was sad but not surprising. The truth is, as a society, we’ve decided that blue lives matter more than anyone else’s. But I didn’t have a lot of time to think about the problems we face with policing and racism because reactionaries stormed the Capitol.

Contrast in Black and White

It was quite a contrast. On one hand you have an unarmed black man facing away from an officer shot in the back. And on the other, the Capitol Police were shockingly nice and accommodating to people who were literally staging a revolution.

Many people have noted that had the insurgents been black or brown, the police would have sprayed them with bullets. Clearly, this is racial. But it is more than that. It is about affinity.

If there had been a bunch of white people there storming the capital in the name of social justice or other liberal causes, I believe there would have been more shooting. Certainly not as many had they been black. But still a lot.

Police and Military Affinity

This is a major problem in the United States. Just as in the Jim Crow South, the police are on the wrong side of history. Police tend to be more conservative — especially when it comes to how society ought to police itself. (I’m sure that a large number of officers did go into policing because they wanted to help people. The problem is what they mean by “help people.”)

Traditionally, authoritarians gain power because the military backs them. Right now we don’t have to worry about that because Trump is not that popular in the army — and distinctly unpopular among the officer corps. But what about next time? What about when someone like Trump comes around who’s much better at talking to and about the military?

Another issue is the 147 Congressional Republicans who objected to the presidential election results even after the attack on the Capitol. I have no doubt that almost all the Republicans would have been for throwing out electoral votes if they had control of both chambers of Congress. It’s just that some were smart enough to know they couldn’t actually steal the election so it wasn’t worth putting out their necks.

Whose Votes Matter?

I don’t pretend to have much affinity with conservatives. They’re mostly people who lack empathy and don’t care about facts or knowledge. But I do share enough affinity with them to realize that they are human beings with different beliefs who vote differently than I do. And I understand that in a democracy their voices must be heard.

The issue with racism is that it allows people to see others as less human. As less valid. I don’t think that his supporters actually believe that Trump got more votes in the election. I think they believe that Trump got the most votes from the kind of people who matter.

So the responses to the attack on the Capitol and to Jacob Blake are the perfect contrast of what’s wrong in this country today and, well, let’s face it, forever.


Jacob Blake Protestor by Becker1999 under CC BY 2.0.

The Aesthetics of Revolution — Trump’s Capitol Siege

Trump - Stop the Steal - 6 Jan 2021

The storming of the Capitol building on Wednesday was, as so much during the Trump era, shocking but not surprising. Also, like so much of the last four years, it has been analyzed well by others. What I think I might have to say that I haven’t heard is about what these would-be revolutionaries did once they got inside.

Cosplay Revolutionaries

If I could look past the despair I feel of seeing our imperfect but existing democracy crumble, Wednesday was pretty funny. Once the mob got inside the Capitol, they acted like the proverbial dog that catches the car. They had no plan. So they did some vandalism.

But mostly they just took selfies of themselves and explored the area. It reminded me of what my friend Will and I did when we managed to break inside the college recording studio. (Note: we didn’t break anything. It just wasn’t that hard to get past the locks. And we had a bit of experience with that…)

I’ve made fun before of cosplay socialists. I still think they are ridiculous; they make leftists look silly; and they hurt the cause by making social progress sound easy. But I wasn’t prepared for the pretend revolutionaries on the right. They don’t even have real complaints!

Offended Conservatives

Conservatives have been very good at appropriating the aesthetics of social justice without having the cause. Aesthetics without content.

We see this a lot with conservative dust-ups over liberals not using the right word. And admittedly there are some really pathetic liberals who do the same thing. But they aren’t co-opting it. They are pointing out real problems even if the specifics are nonsense.

Conservatives, on the other hand, really think that it’s just a game. None of them were really outraged when Hillary Clinton said, “I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do was fulfill my profession…” Conservatives love opportunities to pretend to be offended when they aren’t.

And the nation as a whole does too. For example, a politician who uses the n-word will probably have their career ended. But no one is surprised when the n-word is unleashed. It is always following a long time in which the speaker has shown themselves to be a racist.

This kind of dedicated never-read-the-subtext game is beloved by the vast majority of Americans.

The Oppressed Elites

The one thing Trump has been very good at is allowing all of these people who are not oppressed to think that they are. To think that the results of one election that they don’t like are tantamount to tyranny. Of course, even if Trump had won these people would claim to be oppressed.

Nothing new here. Just think of John Wilkes Booth killing Abraham Lincoln. He was convinced he was Brutus striking a blow against the tyrant Julius Caesar! You have to ask why Booth felt he lived under tyranny. After all, his life was good. But he, like the “revolutionaries” on Wednesday, had convinced himself that minor complaints justified a violent response.

Brought to You By the Media

The media is a huge part of the problem here. They allow conservatives to pretend to be oppressed simply because they cloak themselves in the language of the oppressed. Conservatives are always given the benefit of the doubt. We’ve seen this most clearly with Donald Trump.

When Trump says something that is demonstrably wrong, the media claim they can’t call it a lie. After all, how can they know what’s going on inside his head? He might really think it’s true! Then they tell us that Trump thinks he really won the election! Suddenly, when knowing what goes on inside Trump’s head helps him, they are psychics!

The rules are simple. If it makes Trump look better then they can get inside his head. If it makes him look worse, though, they can’t. They don’t want to be unfair!

And this opens the door for media outlets that will go far further — who will make a buck telling people that their basest inclinations are Right and True.

More Than the Insurgents

But the insurgents who attacked the Capitol this week have been condemned! They had to be given how much coverage violence that happens adjacent to liberal protests get. But even this criticism is limited to the mainstream. In conservative media, it was really leftists who stormed the Capitol!

But all the others who support these would-be revolutionaries are given a free ride. The 45 percent of Republicans who say that the attack was justified are given a pass. We are told again and again that they really believe that the election was stolen.[1]

Well, that may be. But they are the ones who have chosen to get their news from OANN and The Epoch Times. They are the ones who continue to vote for politicians who lie to them.

[1] Check out this wonderful bit of false equivalence from The Washington Post. Yeah, a lot of Democrats were unhappy about 2004. First, what do you expect after 2000? Second, things were bad in Ohio in 2004. And people always grumble after an election loss. In 2020, we have a candidate who lost the popular vote by over 7 million votes and still they are certain that the election was stolen. A lot of political science research is remarkably facile.


Trump at “Stop the Steal” Rally 6 Jan 2020 by Voice of America. It is in the public domain.

Odds & Ends: Christmas 2020

Odds and Ends

Hell of a year, huh? It wasn’t strangely hard on me because my life is already mostly online. But even for me, it’s been hard. It’s one thing to choose to be alone. It’s another to be forced. Nothing makes me want to go outside like knowing that I can’t!

I don’t have a lot to say otherwise. Here are just a few things worth mentioning.

James Fillmore

I’m sure that this will embarrass him, but I want to highlight James Fillmore. He continues to write here. And I’ve gotten a number of compliments for his writing. So let me be clear: look at the author! I know, it’s in small print. But some of the best stuff here is by him.

His last article was particularly good, The Strange and Awful Origins of the Resolute Desk. That was really good! It reminded me of the days when I had the time to write cool articles like that! Remember the slogan here, “Everything interesting for everyone interesting!”

Sure, you can find most of that information on Wikipedia. But first, it will be poorly written in a way that will bore you to death. And second, you won’t know to look on Wikipedia for the HMS Resolute.

I spend most of my life editing other people writing. And I always know that something is good when I get interested in the text while editing. I assure you: it is extremely rare and I work with a lot of professional writers!

So thanks James! I really appreciate it. And I suspect a lot of other people do too!

Santi Claus

Early today, I was thinking of Santa Claus, as you do on Christmas Eve. And then I thought, “Oh yeah! Chico Marx and the Santi Claus.”

So I found this bit of Marx Brothers insanity from A Night at the Opera. These two are great together. And this is a great print:

And here is Chico in what I consider his best piano bit in Go West.

Christmas Evil

My favorite Christmas film is It’s a Wonderful Life. Just kidding! I actually hate that film. I love Frank Capra but at his worse, he’s saccharine. And that’s the case here.

My actual favorite Christmas film is Christmas Evil. If you want to know why, go over to Psychotronic Review. I explain this as well as why you should buy the film. But if you don’t want to, there is a free copy!

But now that I think about it, do I really explain why I love the film? The truth is that such things can’t be explained. It is unquestionably a great film. It’s a slasher film that is also an art film. But why do I love it? Because I love it!

Baroness von Sketch Show

The best comedy group I’ve found in the last several years is the Baroness von Sketch Show. They are Canadian and they do some of the best stuff I’ve seen.

Strangely, most people I know aren’t that into them. I’m not sure why. Here’s Santa’s Christmas:

Stewart Lee Doesn’t Ruin Christmas

I was going to return to this old comedy bit by Stewart Lee to go along with my tradition of “Frank ruins holidays” posts. But when I watched it, I realized that he doesn’t actually ruin Christianity. Instead, he acts very pretentious and over-thinks a simple song. It’s very funny.

This is still a large part of his act today. A good example of this is his “pirate’s letter” routine where he complains that the audience isn’t laughing fast enough. And he goes on to explain the joke. People say explaining a joke ruins it, but when it’s done by a pretentious Englishman, it’s brilliant!

I had wanted to add a video of Harry Hill to show you what he was talking about but I couldn’t find a good one. The truth is that I think he’s brilliant but I don’t find him very funny. As for Michael McIntyre, I don’t even see why people think he’s funny. He’s so artificial. But I can tell that he could be funny if he weren’t doing the crap that his fans clearly love.

Merry Christmas

My mother’s side of the family is made up of a bunch of Christian Conservatives. And it’s only since she died that I learned that my mother was very religious in her way. I wish I had known because I would have loved to have talked to her about it.

The truth is that I think religion can be a beautiful thing. So I find it distressing when people use religion for nothing more than to reinforce their bigoted social and political beliefs. As an atheist mystic, I want more.

But regardless of your feelings about Christianity, you’ve got to admit that Christmas isn’t much of a holiday. From a theological standpoint, what does the birth of Jesus mean? There are stories but it has nothing to do with the religion itself. Yet I never hear Christians complaining about the Easter Bunny.

Listen up Christians: Easter is your big holiday. The fact that Christians make a big deal (or any deal) about Christmas show that they don’t take their own mythology seriously. But honestly, I really don’t know what American Christians get from their religion.

But whatever it is would starve any seeker of truth or God.

Merry Christmas!

The Strange and Awful Origins of the Resolute Desk

Resolute Desk

The Resolute Desk. It’s the main desk in the Oval Office. Duplicated a zillion times on film and TV sets, it is immediately recognizable to everyone. (Well, that and the windows.) Let’s learn where it came from!

Search for the Northwest Passage

In the 19th century, every empire worth its salt was trying to find the Northwest Passage. What’s that? It’s an easier way of getting from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific.

The route south of Argentina has notoriously awful sailing conditions. Even today, it’s a rough ride for scientists headed for Antarctica.

Lewis and Clark were trying to find a river route for it. They failed badly, of course. Eventually, we found the solution of having lots of workers die from malaria digging through Panama. But this was before then.

England Loses Two Ships

England sent two ships to explore the waters north of Canada: the HMS Erebus (named for a mythical figure in Hell) and HMS Terror (named after the English word for “terror”). Sailors are superstitious sorts, as a rule, so those aren’t great ship names.

Both ships got frozen in sea ice. Some Inuit oral history suggests that the desperate sailors went all Donner Party. Whatever happened, they didn’t come back.

There’s a brilliant fictionalized TV show about this, called The Terror, in which everyone dies horribly. The star, Jared Harris, is also in the brilliant TV show Chernobyl, which has equally gruesome deaths. It’s Mr Harris’s thing, so it seems. (His dad was in Unforgiven, where most everyone dies — but via standard means and after Harris’ character escapes. There’s no radiation sickness or Death Murder Polar Bears.)

England Almost Loses a Third Ship

The captain of the Terror had a proper English wife, so she pushed for a search-and-rescue operation. It was launched on the HMS Resolute (better name). It also got stuck in Arctic sea ice, but the crew was saved.

America, which was just then building up its own navy, and had unsuccessfully tried to invade Canada a few times, decided to be gracious and permitted the Resolute to be returned to England. Because the thing could still float, barely.

It gets back to England, and it’s basically only worth salvaging for parts at this juncture. But Queen Victoria grasps the point of America’s gesture and responds in kind. They make a very beautifully wood-worked desk out of the Resolute. And they offer it to America as a gift, which we accept

Today, it sits in the Oval Office. (LBJ had it tour the country for a awhile after Kennedy was killed; Carter put it back in.)

So, that’s the Resolute Desk. Betcha thought the name was because Presidents made serious decisions at it. (I did!) Nope, it’s from scraps of a doomed boat looking for two other doomed boats, gifted to us in a geopolitical strategy move. But, hey, geopolitical strategy move is also where the Statue Of Liberty comes from. I’ll take it!

Afterword

The wreckage of the Erebus was discovered in 2014. Two years later, the Terror was discovered in better shape. Their exact locations have not been disclosed, but from what we know I calculate that they were roughly 40 miles apart. The sites have not been fully examined and there is hope that they will find written records.


Image cropped from Barack Obama at Resolute Desk by White House (Pete Souza) — derivative work — under CC BY 2.0.

What About Those Georgia Polls?

Georgia

Like a good little numbers-oriented liberal, I was all over the polls in the lead-up to November’s election. And election night came and I was crushed. I concluded that there really was something wrong with the polls and I wasn’t going to listen to them. Then I started hearing about how close the two Georgia Senate race polls were.

Unskew the Polls!

I thought, “Aha! I’m going to show how wrong the polls were in Georgia and how no one should listen to them for the run-off!” My idea was that I could do an estimate of these conservative freaks who aren’t showing up in the polls but who are showing up to vote. I was planning to do something like Dean Chambers’ Unskewed Polls.

Back in the 2012 election, conservatives claimed that the polls were all wrong because they didn’t have a high enough percentage of white people. It was a telling claim: the more white people vote the better Republicans do!

So Chambers “unskewed” the polls by adjusting them to have the “right” number of white people. And could you believe it?! Obama was only going to win 179 electoral votes!

But this was wrong. The country is becoming less white. So there were simply less whites as a percentage of the vote in 2012 than there had been in 2008. And when the votes were cast, that was exactly what they showed. Obama won 330 electoral votes — 151 more than Mr Chambers had predicted.

A Better Plan

But I had a better idea. I was going to look at how much better Trump did than the polls suggested he would. The Senate elections are only two months after the presidential election, so that ought to be valid. Off the top of my head, I figured the polls were off by about 4 percentage points.

But I was wrong. At least about Georgia.

The Georgia Polls

The FiveThirtyEight average of national polls gave Biden an 8.4 percentage point lead over Trump. The final results were that Biden won by 4.5 points. So they were off by 3.9 points. (Note that this isn’t actually that bad — especially in an unusual election like this one with huge turnout because of the pandemic.)

But in Georiga, FiveThirtyEight had Biden winning by 1.2 percentage points. And Biden won by 0.24 points. And Real Clear Politics had Trump winning by 1.0 points!

When it comes to the Senate polls, things are more complicated. I’ll start with the easy one: Perdue vs Ossoff. Real Clear Politics showed Ossoff winning by 0.7 percentage points. But he ended up losing by 1.8 points. That is mostly due to “undecided” voters all going for Perdue. (I really do think that a lot of Republicans don’t even like to admit to themselves that they support the people they do.) That’s off by 2.5 points but it isn’t unreasonable.

The Warnock race had a ridiculous number of people running. Obviously, we know about the two major Republicans: Loeffler and Collins. But the 6 candidates only garnered 90.3 percent of the vote. A full 9.7 percent of the vote went to 14 people who got less than 2 percent (7 got less than 0.6 percent).

RCP had Warnock winning by 15.7 percentage points and he won by only 7.0 points. But remember that the people supporting the minor candidates were not generally included in the polls. So that’s probably what most of the difference is.

The Run-Off Polls

The run-off polls show the two races even. Can we trust them? Kinda.

Generally what they show is the Republican candidate slightly ahead. But this is not always the case. And it is rare for any candidate to get to 50 percent.

What does this mean? I’d say it means that the most likely outcome will be two Republican victories. But it will all come down to turn-out.

The good news is that these appear to be competitive. And I didn’t think that was the case when I started writing this.

Help Out

You can help out the campaigns. Here are their websites:

If you are going to give money, you might consider Stacey Abrams’ group Fair Fight Action. They are doing the kind of work that is most critical to turning Georgia blue.

I recommend doing what you can but not getting your hopes up. These are real possibilities for the Democrats but that’s all. But that’s better than it could be. And all the more reason to fight!


Georgia by Nick Youngson under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Alpha Stock Images.

Advocates for “The Unborn”

Dave Barnhart

“The unborn” are a convenient group of people to advocate for. They never make demands of you; they are morally uncomplicated, unlike the incarcerated, addicted, or the chronically poor; they don’t resent your condescension or complain that you are not politically correct; unlike widows, they don’t ask you to question patriarchy; unlike orphans, they don’t need money, education, or childcare; unlike aliens, they don’t bring all that racial, cultural, and religious baggage that you dislike; they allow you to feel good about yourself without any work at creating or maintaining relationships; and when they are born, you can forget about them, because they cease to be unborn. It’s almost as if, by being born, they have died to you. You can love the unborn and advocate for them without substantially challenging your own wealth, power, or privilege, without re-imagining social structures, apologizing, or making reparations to anyone. They are, in short, the perfect people to love if you want to claim you love Jesus but actually dislike people who breathe. Prisoners? Immigrants? The sick? The poor? Widows? Orphans? All the groups that are specifically mentioned in the Bible? They all get thrown under the bus for the unborn.

Pastor Dave Barnhart

Image taken from Saint Junia United Methodist Church under Fair Use. Their website says, “A community of sinners, saints & skeptics,” which is pretty cool! I saw the quote above in graphics form on Twitter and knew that I had to share it. -FM

Why I Care About “Little” Films

The Lacemaker by Vermeer

Over at Psychotronic Review, I just published The Films of Slumberjack Entertainment. It includes embeds of most of their short films, so you should check it out.

It’s almost all horror. But it isn’t the kind of stuff that’s going to give you nightmares. They are heavy on the comedy. There is, however, a fair amount of gore. I mention that only because I’ve recently found that most people don’t find blood spraying out of zombies funny the way I do!

Why I Care?

I’ve been giving a lot of thought to why I love independent films like these. Some others include:

There are many more, of course. But why do I care? I think it is because it is ridiculously hard to be an artist today.

Decades ago, I came up with my “Sunday Morning Blues Jam” theory of creativity. It’s this: you can go to any Sunday morning blues jam session anywhere in the world and find people who are better than you could have hoped to have seen a century earlier.

When it comes to film, it’s even worse. With digital cameras and computer software that is a hundred times better than anything anyone had a couple of decades ago, there are a lot of really creative people making a lot of really creative movies.

It’s hard for me because I want to see everything. But it has to be far worse for the filmmakers. The people I talk about are making really great stuff. And few people notice. Yet they keep producing things. They are quite literally the best of who we are.

Caveats

Okay, some caveats. Bookwalter is something of a legend. Also: he hasn’t directed anything in almost two decades and generally isn’t even producing. But he’s still working behind the scenes and getting things restored and released.

And Tjardus Greidanus has gone on to be quite a successful documentary filmmaker. And I also don’t want to forget people like George Barry whose artistic vision is so wonderfully idiosyncratic that he left the business.

Finally, I don’t wish to minimize what any of these people are trying to do. I know they all are clearly hoping that they will take off. I hope they do too! (Admittedly, my liking all of them is normally a bad sign for their careers.) And I have little doubt that their work will at least lead somewhere fulfilling.

Creative Dedication

But even producing a fully developed 4-minute short like The Dog Walker takes a lot of work. So this is about something more than dreams. This is about the creative force that many people feel.

Regardless of what is in the hearts of any of these people, they honor us by honoring their art. And I guess that’s why I care.


Detail of The Lacemaker by Johannes Vermeer — Musée du Louvre, Public Domain.

And Now a Relaxing Article About COVID in Danish Mink Farms

White Mink

From The Guardian, a generally reliable enough website, this article:

“Denmark tightens lockdown in north over mink Covid outbreak”

As a headline writer myself, I respect the craft. Please continue:

“Twelve people infected so far with new strain against which vaccines may be ineffective”

That’s what we people doing online publishing call the “dek”; it means “deck.” It’s a subheading.

We also call the lead the “lede.” Don’t ask why, these things go back centuries. Do you want to know why windows in ships are always called “portholes” and “deck” means floor? Not really, no.

Mink Apocalypse

An outbreak among farmed mink of a mutant form of Covid-19 with the potential to be resistant to future vaccines has led to the Danish government bringing in tougher lockdown measures in parts of the country.

The measures were announced following the discovery of a new strain of the disease in animals bred for fur in the country’s northern regions.

Twelve people in the Jutland region have been diagnosed with infection with the new strain, and municipalities in northern Denmark will impose restrictions on residents’ movements between regions.”

Now, this is some fine newscraft! Let me break down how we do it in the sports world:

“Tigers 7, Twins 4: Bullpen blows lead, player also rips head off baby”

With the dek:

“In a surprising finish, the Twins lose a key division game with an unusual ‘twist.'”

See! That’s how it’s done! Ya hook ’em, ya reel ’em in. Child’s play, really. If you’ve practiced it enough.

Now, the gist of the article is about some new strain of coronavirus which blahblahblah — nobody really knows nothing about. But it has spread between minks. And humans have gotten it, which means it might have been mutated into something even scarier.

So 15 million minks are going to be killed.

Welcome to Loveable, Liberal Denmark

I do know northern Denmark a little. I attended a lovely wedding there. It was between two naval officers, appropriately held on a ship. During a smoke break, and they have those at Danish weddings, we noticed something in the far distance that looked like a ship on fire. It was difficult to be sure, but it very much looked like a very large ship on very much fire. Some watchers muttered, “That’s a bad omen.” Seagoing people are into omens.

Did it turn out, that was a fire? Yes it did! Did that marriage last? No, it spectacularly did not!

But they did go on a honeymoon, which meant one of their friends I’d never met provided me a ride to the airport. He was a farmer and spent the 90-minute drive complaining about how large-scale agricultural companies were squeezing out family farms. It was the kind of thing I’m inclined to sympathize with, so I listened.

He never mentioned mink farming.

Oh Yes: Danish Mink Farming Is a Thing

Denmark actually leads the world in mink production. For comparison, the pro-fur-farming website, Truth About Fur, says there are 268 mink farms in America, producing 2.7 million pelts a year.

The number of affected farms in Denmark? Well over 1000, raising 16 million minks a year. They are legally required to share information and innovation concepts with each other. (Obviously, in this instance, it didn’t work out too well.)

They actually have pretty decent regulations on preventing animal cruelty, but by no means are most Danes vegan. They consume insane amounts of pork, for instance; I’ve never stayed in a Danish home where bacon or chops or pork burgers or pork hotdogs aren’t served at least once daily, sometimes in combination. They all had pork liverwurst in the fridge as a midnight snack, too.

And, valid concerns about animal rights aside, I’ve eaten all these items in Danish homes, and they were all delicious. I’m a guest; it would be rude not to. Even if you only take a little bite to compliment the cook.

The End of Danish Mink? And the Best Bar in the World?

This mass slaughter will, no doubt, greatly hurt the Danish mink industry, even though worldwide demand is likely to continue. (Why wouldn’t it? Rich people spending on ridiculous luxury goods is recession-proof.) Most likely, if usual agricultural economics hold, the smallest farms will have to sell out to ones with greater cash reserves.

In a way, it’s very much like what my post-wedding airport driver was complaining about – the little farms losing out to bigger ones. He probably meant pork or potatoes farms (Danes also eat a lot of potatoes), but in this case, it’s mink. You don’t have to approve of fur farming to root for the little farmer. Or the littler minks.

How’s the naval ex-wife? (That’s who we knew of the couple.) She’s fine, still in the navy, and lives in this teensy Northern Denmark town with probably the best, most wonderful bar I’ve ever been to in my life. Picture “Cheers,” but with sailors, and a lot of people quietly smoking and reading. The grill is in the back for anyone who wants to use it.

That’s shut down because of a lockdown due to the mink farming crisis. That’s sad but maybe it’ll survive; Denmark is better at supporting small businesses than we are.

The COVID mink did not survive, however. But hey, at least this article wasn’t about the US election. A friend of mine I sent The Guardian story to actually responded, “Thanks for the distraction.”


White Mink by felixd under CC BY-SA 4.0.