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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

Happy Labor Day?

Happy Labor Day!Happy labor day, comrades! Do you know why labor day is today and not on May Day — International Workers’ Day? Well, it’s because of the commies and anarchists. President Grover Cleveland was afraid of associating the international worker movements with the American movements. Of course, Cleveland wasn’t all that keen on the labor movement. But he made Labor Day a national holiday! Why? Because he was trying to make nice after totally screwing up in the government’s response to the Pullman Strike.

Pullman Company Screws Workers

This is an interesting but totally typical story. The Pullman Company made railroad cars. Following the Panic of 1893, Pullman lowered worker wages. There is nothing especially wrong with this. It can be much better than laying workers off. Of course, Pullman did lay off workers. It probably only lowered wages because it had an excuse. But all that was probably okay.

The problem was that the workers lived in a company town. They paid the company for rent and food and more. But when the company lowered wages, it did not lower the cost it was charging workers for their necessities. The workers were, not surprisingly, unhappy about this situation. But George Pullman refused to lower his company town prices and refused to even arbitrate the matter.

The Rich Are Never Allowed to Suffer

Eugene DebsNotice the situation here: Pullman thought that his workers should suffer because of the bad economic conditions. But he didn’t think he should suffer at all.

During the first years following our financial crisis and the bursting of the housing bubble, there was endless repetition that what the country needed was “shared sacrifice.” Obama loved the idea. But if you dug down even a little into these pleas, you saw that it was all sacrifice by the lower classes — none by the upper. For example: we heard constantly that we had to cut Social Security, but we couldn’t even mention raising the payroll tax cap. (That would be class warfare!) The bankers were bailed out without much fuss but homeowners were just left to their foreclosures.

And there were large cuts to social programs but only a tiny increase in the very top marginal tax rate and only because it was going up anyway. Then the Republicans took over Washington in 2017 and again lowered taxes on the wealthy. Shared sacrifice!

Pullman Workers Strike

More desperate than we are today, many of the workers joined Eugene Debs’ American Railway Union (ARU). And they went on strike. It got ugly. Union members eventually stopped railroad service in a number of places. Then Grover Cleveland used the interruption of mail delivery to justify sending in federal troops. This did eventually end the strike — at a loss of 30 striker lives and almost twice as many wounded. This is generally the way it goes.

The government does not like organized labor. It is too much of a threat to the status quo and the wealth of the elites. When organized, workers have enormous power. That was why, in 1947, we got the Taft–Hartley Act, which outlawed “jurisdictional strikes, wildcat strikes, solidarity or political strikes, secondary boycotts, secondary and mass picketing, closed shops, and monetary donations by unions to federal political campaigns.” That basically neutered unions — it was just a matter of time. Then, Reagan savaged unions and basically made the remaining union rights void through lack of enforcement.

Grover Cleveland Tries to Mollify Workers

Grover ClevelandIn 1894, of course, the government was scared. Grover Cleveland and the rest of the government wanted to make nice with organized labor. They probably had Louis XVI of France in mind and were trying to hedge their bets. So only six days after the strike ended, Cleveland signed the legislation making Labor Day a federal holiday.

As for old George Pullman, well, a national commission was appointed to look into the causes of the strike. It found Pullman culpable and said his company town was “un-American.” In 1898, the company was forced to sell off the land, which became part of Chicago. It didn’t matter to George Pullman, however; he died the year before.

Debs Is Held Accountable

After the strike, Debs was arrested and charged with conspiracy to obstruct the mail. You know: it wasn’t enough to have your strike crushed; Debs was a little man and so the government needed to crush him too. But Debs was represented by one of the great heroes of that period: Clarence Darrow. Darrow argued that Debs didn’t conspire to do anything and that it was the railroad that conspired against the workers.

(This is something that doesn’t seem to be understood by my libertarian enemies who almost to a man hate unions: if workers aren’t able to organize, it isn’t fair; the company management is very organized.)

The prosecutors knew they were going to lose the case, so they dropped the conspiracy charge. Debs was later convicted on the lesser charge of violating a Supreme Court injunction and was given six months in jail. (This too is always what happens; if the government wants to get you, it will.)

Debs Becomes a Socialist

Although he entered jail what we might call a liberal, Debs left a socialist. While in prison he read a whole bunch of Marx and that changed his outlook. He was also influenced by visits from Victor L Berger. Along with him and others, Debs founded the Social Democratic Party of America. He went on to run for president as a socialist five times — the last time in 1920, he did from prison. He was serving a ten-year sentence for violating the government’s new favorite bullshit law to attack anyone they don’t like, the Espionage Act of 1917. He violated it by giving a speech that “obstructed recruiting” for World War I.

Do I need to note that what he was doing is the very definition of free speech?

Labor Day Was Hard Won

In 1921, The Bridgemen’s Magazine wrote:

Labor Day evolved from the aspiration of the labor movement; it was not handed down as a present. Its recognition as a legal holiday was won by labor: it was not given as a present.

So enjoy your Labor Day. But don’t forget the suffering and loss that it represents. And don’t stand for people showing such great disrespect to it. We know conservatives hate the labor movement. We know that many so called liberals are at best apathetic towards the labor movement. But the least we can demand is that they all show a modicum of respect one day of the year. Now go enjoy your barbecue or whatever.

Should Russia Have Ever Been in the G8?

Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump

Trump constantly embarrasses the US on the world stage. But that is nowhere as true as when he acts as Putin’s lap dog. This was on full display at the Group of Seven meeting last weekend. He not only begged to let Russia back into the group publicly, he did it in private too.

To our friends overseas, it must seem as though Americans elect presidents randomly. Sure, we occasionally elect someone like Obama, but that’s more than countered by the election of people like Trump. And Bush Jr. And Reagan. And Nixon. Really, you have to go back to Eisenhower to find a Republican president who isn’t an embarrassment for one reason or another. (Bush Sr wasn’t a fool; but he was a spook.)

Russia Isn’t a Major Economic Player

But it got me thinking. Why was Russia ever in the Group of Eight? China isn’t. And I think there’s a much better case to be made for China. The Group of Whatever is about economic development. China is the second-largest economy in the world. (The largest if you look at the economy based on purchasing power.) But I get why China is not included. I just don’t get why Russia ever way.

Let’s look at some economic data of the G7 along with Russian:

Country GDP Total
(trillions)
GDP Per Capita
(thousands)
USA $19.5 $59.9
Japan $4.9 $38.2
Germany $3.7 $44.7
UK $2.6 $38.2
France $2.6 $39.8
Italy $1.9 $32.0
Russia $1.6 $10.8

There are three countries not in the G7 that have higher GDPs. Of these, India has a very low per capita GDP. But both China and Brazil have per capita GDPs that are roughly the same as Russia’s. So why not them? I can’t determine any reason why Russia would be allowed in while these two wouldn’t. Must be a nuclear power? Then why not India or China? Must be a “free market” economy? Then why not India or Brazil (and let’s face it: China)?

It’s clear from the table above, that Russia really doesn’t fit into the Group of Whatever. It makes far more sense to include China.

Why Was Russia in the G8?

It seems clear that Russia was only allowed into the G8 because Boris Yeltsin was being rewarded for all his neoliberal changes to the Russian economy that screwed over the vast majority of Russian citizens. And given that this is partly to blame for the rise of Vladimir Putin, it makes a certain amount of internal logic to let Russian back in. But just because the Group of Whatever is a sham neoliberal project designed by the most powerful countries to keep everyone else down doesn’t mean the rest of us need to go along with it.

Russia is a two-bit economic power that only matters because of their nuclear arsenal. The group itself serves no ethical purpose as Russia’s previous inclusion shows.

Why Conservatives Are Calling El Paso Massacre Terrorism

Ted CruzTed Cruz said that the El Paso massacre was “a heinous act of terrorism and white supremacy.” This is representative of what I’ve seen throughout the day from conservatives. And I’ve seen a lot of liberals applaud what seems like a change coming from conservatives that used to believe these things only happened because of insanity.

But isn’t it obvious that calling this terrorism is just the newest way for conservatives to ignore the main problem that there are too many guns floating around?

After the Sandy Hook massacre, many on the left (including me) discussed the effect of mental illness and access to care. That’s because the shooter was, in fact, mentally ill. But conservatives quickly picked up on this idea. “The problem isn’t guns! It’s the mentally ill!”

In general, this narrative has worked with most mass shootings because most of the perpetrators end up dead — often at their own hands. It’s harder to do that in the case of the El Paso massacre because the perpetrator survived.

But it doesn’t matter whether you want to say that some guy started killing a bunch of people because he was insane, just bad, or a terrorist. Each of these cases reduces a systemic problem to one of bad actors. If you accept this idea then there is no point in trying to change the environment. Instead, you just have to get the bad actor.

Don’t Expect Change

If this causes any changes in the law, it will be around the edges. But even this is unlikely to happen. In a few days, after reporters stop asking politicians about this, the conservatives will go back the NRA line that universal background checks are one step from tyranny.

And even if we did get background checks, I wonder how much good it would do. Guns are widely available outside of legal channels. We are decades past the point where minor tinkering around the edges is going to do much good.

Not that I’m against trying. But like I said: nothing is going to change.

It’s bad to watch Ted Cruz and the rest of the conservatives in this country stonewalling against doing anything about gun violence. But it’s worse to watch that while the nation gives them credit for being so reasonable.

Why Has Matt Yglesias Forgotten Political Science?

Matt YglesiasOne thing I’ve learned over years of blogging (Coming up on our 10 year anniversary!) is that it is wrong to be vague about things you criticize. More than wrong, it’s boring. You see this all the time with conservatives. “Libtards are saying white men should be killed!” Really? Who is saying this? So I find it a little worrying that I say this: Matt Yglesias has been arguing for the Democrats to nominate Joe Biden.

I’ve been following Yglesias’ on Twitter and on The Weeds podcast. And he has this overarching idea that Elizabeth Warren is more popular than she should be and that the people who support her shouldn’t. And below all this is, I think, the idea that she can’t beat Trump. You know: because people don’t actually support her ideas. The people (as though Yglesias has any more of a clue what “the people” want than I do) just want to get rid of Trump and don’t actually want any structural reform of the American economic system.

For all I know, Matt Yglesias will vote for Elizabeth Warren. But he’s fond of the “hot take.” He loves to play the informed iconoclast. So I’m not arguing anything about what’s in his heart. But his “take” on Warren seems to be ill-advised.

Why Does Matt Yglesias Think Warren Will Lose?

Elizabeth WarrenDoes he really think that people are going to choose to vote for Trump over Warren because of these policy issues? She’s talking about making structural changes to the economy when Trump is talking about nuclear war with Iran. I wonder how the American people will vote?!

But what really bugs me about this is that we have loads of political science data on this question. Unless 2020 is somehow completely different from every other election for almost 50 years, Trump will win or lose based on the economy.

And it’s worse than that. The economy is the most important thing. Pretty much everything else runs against Trump. If the economy slows down, Trump is toast. It doesn’t matter what Democrat runs against him.

On the other hand, if the economy heats up to a point that none of us can even imagine now, no Democrat will be able to beat him.

Remember: my simple political science model predicted that Trump would win in 2016. Trump’s election to president doesn’t change the underlying political science.

Why Has Matt Yglesias Forgotten Political Science?

This political science is exactly the kind of stuff that Vox writers live and breath. So why does Yglesias seem to have forgotten it all?

I suspect that it all comes down to him playing the part of a journalist rather than living the part — you know, where he actually looks for the truth?

There’s not much point in focusing on political science since it doesn’t change much over time. Instead, focus on your own ideas about electability!

And that’s what Yglesias is doing. He’s far too smart to fall into the trap of thinking “electable” means “white man.” But he isn’t so smart that he can’t fall into the same trap with a more sophisticated notion of electability.

But really: it isn’t that sophisticated. Despite all evidence, he’s assuming that people vote based upon policy rather than what we know: people base their policy ideas on the candidate they vote for.

This is sad to see because, despite it all, Matt Yglesias is still an interesting and insightful writer. His problem is simply that he, like far lesser journalist, is being blinded by the narrative he has landed on.

Erik Satie Makes a Joke

Erik Satie by Suzanne ValadonFor most of my life, I’ve dismissed Erik Satie as a composer who created pretty but ultimately uninteresting music. Like most of the opinions I developed as a teen, this was wrong. And over the last few months, I’ve been listening to a lot of his work. It’s magnificent.

The other night, I was listening to Embryons Desséchés. It’s pretty typical of his mature work. But right at the end of the piece, he makes a joke. And it was wonderful for me to hear because I don’t usually get musical jokes. While it’s true that I know a lot more about classical music than most people, I don’t actually know that much about classical music.

What’s more, musical jokes are like regular jokes: they don’t age well. Satie’s joke only works in the context of the move out of the Romantic period. And I only get the joke because I’ve spent so much of my life fuming about the excesses of this most-played and least-fulfilling period of classical music.

Find the Joke!

Before I explain the joke, see if you can’t hear it in the third movement. You should at least note that the ending seems out of place with the rest of the piece.

Slapping Romantics for Fun and Profit

Even in this one movement, you can tell that Satie is messing around. He skips around in terms of style — as he does in the piece as a whole. The first movement even previews what he will ultimately do in the third.

So as I listen, I enjoy hearing Satie having fun bouncing around stylistically. And then he says, “Hey! Remember this?!” And he provides one of these ridiculously extended endings that I love to hate.

This is usually said to be a direct attack on Beethoven’s Eighth Symphony. That does seem to be the case, but I think Satie means for his attack to be broader:

Erik Satie’s Other Jokes

Apparently, Satie was making more jokes than this one. In particular, he ridicules the music-hall song “Mon rocher de Saint-Malo” (“My rock of Saint-Malo”), which you can hear quoted very clearly in the first movement.

This isn’t really a musical joke, however. You can only see it in Satie’s notes on the score such as, “‘It was a very nice rock! Very sticky!” But even if musically it had been more than a quotation, I wouldn’t have noticed it. I don’t recall hearing the song before. And I have no context within which to find it funny. Apparently, the song was very popular at that time and Satie was not a fan.

Humor Ages Poorly

This is a problem with all humor. In fact, I developed my approach to theater in an effort to find an audience for my jokes. I found that people didn’t find my jokes funny because they couldn’t understand them. So I got the idea of creating theater to teach the audience so that they would then laugh at my esoteric jokes. How well that works is open to debate.

The good thing about music is that by the time people don’t understand any jokes placed in a piece, they’ve also gotten to the point where the joke doesn’t stand out as odd. A great example of this is Mozart’s Ein Musikalischer Spaß (A Musical Joke). Most people think it sounds fine. To me, it sounds clunky and certainly not the work of Mozart at this late stage of his career. But I have little doubt that he and his friends screamed with laughter when they performed it.

I’m just glad that I was able to pick up a notable musical joke for a change. And I did laugh — a lot!

Rod Dreher: Serious Christian Thinker and Homophobe

Rod DreherEzra Klein’s most recent interview sounded really interesting, “Rod Dreher on America’s post-Christian culture war.” Dreher is a writer for The American Conservative — a journal I have a fairly high opinion of. And at first, I was onboard for what he had to say. Dreher talked about something that’s important to me: that most religious people are facile and don’t take their beliefs seriously. But then he talked about his own political beliefs and they were no impressive.

Rod Dreher Cares About Poverty — Sometimes

Klein asked Dreher the classic question: why the focus on sexual matters and so little on, say, poverty. As Klein noted, sexual matters don’t hurt anyone but poverty does. Dreher went on to explain why sex was so important to people like him who think it is a good idea to base their morality on an ancient religious text and tradition. But before he got to that, he said that he felt that Christians should talk more about poverty.

But the question is not why that amorphous group of facile Christians focus on sexual matters; it is why the Very Serious Christian Rod Dreher does. Because looking at his writing he doesn’t seem that concerned about starving children. Like unserious Christians, he is most concerned about the brave martyrs forced to bake a cake for a same-sex couple.

Rod Dreher Persecuted by LGBT ActivistsSaint Sebastian! You knew nothing of pain! American Christians might someday not be able to fire employees for being gay!

It’s Not Homophobia — It’s Religion!

Ezra Klein pushed Dreher many times on why his homophobia is okay when racism is not. (He didn’t put it in such a coarse way, of course.) Dreher has a theological argument for why there is a difference. But I don’t see how it matters.

If things were switched and now homophobia were something no respectable person would admit to but racism were, a racist Christian could now make a theological argument for why homophobia was un-Christian but racism was not.

Rod Dreher’s argument comes down to this: because he has a Biblical rationalization for his beliefs they aren’t bigotry; they are just his faith. I don’t see how this helps him. Racists have reasons for their beliefs too. That’s what all the conservative obsession with IQ tests is about.

Rod Dreher: Alarmist

He’s also an alarmist. Ezra Klein explicitly stayed away from this because he didn’t want to have a debate and wanted to share Dreher’s thoughts that were worth listening to. I’m not sure any of them are. Dreher really isn’t a serious thinker.

Here is some of the “evidence” that Rod Dreher presented for how the secular society is destroying Christians and why he writes so much about religious liberty (and by extension, so little about child poverty):

“We’re being made to care!” That’s Erick Erickson’s line. You can’t ignore it when the freedom of your religious school is put at risk by lawsuits by the advance of gay rights… I’ll tell you a story here. A pastor here in Baton Rouge here where I live, which is pretty much deep Trumplandia, came to me and said that a woman came to him and his congregation and said, “I need your help here. My middle-school daughter has come home and said that she thinks she’s a boy. And I went to the [public school guidance counselor] and asked what was going on with my daughter and she told me quite firmly, ‘You had better accept your son how he is.'” This is a huge thing.

There are a couple of things worth noting here. First, the guy is quoting Erick Erickson. I’m surprised that any thoughtful person would associate with Erickson. While it is true that Erickson was once a never-Trumper, like most he eventually supported Trump (after seeing that Trump was just a typical bigot-Republican and thus of no threat to the status quo).

God Wants Anecdotal Evidence

The main thing to notice is that this is a three-level story. Are we really to believe that the counselor said “quite firmly” given it came through two men who would just assume it? Plus, this woman wasn’t even a member of this church! (What are the odds that she has a religious reason for her concern?) Is she credible? She might just be some crazy person.

It sounds like the kind of case that the church would have made a big deal about had the woman been credible. Yet I haven’t found any news stories about it.

I would think that anyone who really thought that Christians were being oppressed would look for actual data. But of course, Rod Dreher doesn’t look for actual evidence. He don’t need no stinking evidence. He feels that Christians are being oppressed and those are the only (Ben Shapiro-approved) facts he needs!

America’s Sunny Delusions

U-505 at Museum of Science and IndustryI am in Chicago, the Muggy City. Yesterday, we visited the Museum of Science and Industry (MSI). It’s an impressive museum, but its audience is the American family and I found myself bristling about its treatment of history. I know people would say it is done “for the kids.” But I don’t think so. Most of what I hated was there to make adult Americans bask in their delusions of superiority.

This is in contrast to the Chicago History Museum (CHM), where there was a great exhibit about the struggle for minority rights. It was excellent in presenting things as diverse as slavery, the Indian Rights movement, Japanese internment, and the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.

Similarly, the International Museum of Surgical Science was a horror show of medical progress topped off with an exhibit about the use of medicine in perpetrating the Holocaust. I’ve spent a great deal of time studying the Holocaust and I still broke down three times.

Vacation Is a Time to Cry

You might think this odd. I’m on vacation. Why would I enjoy being tortured by the villainy of humanity? Well, I’m not. I just don’t like being lied to.

For example, the CHM had a great and fun exhibit on Chicago blues. But it too didn’t shy away from uncomfortable truths. See the image on the right, “Help Save the Youth of America: DON’T BUY NEGRO RECORDS.” And this was a thing: record companies had race record lines — designed to be sold to blacks but clearly appealing to white youths.

I don’t like knowing this. But I actively dislike being lied to. And I most of all hate seeing American myths presented in museums as fact. And that brings us to the German submarine U-505.

U-Boat Sailors Are People Too

U-505 was captured by the US Navy in June 1944. It wasn’t the first U-boat to be captured. It wasn’t the last. But it’s interesting all the same. But it was presented in the museum the same way TV presented the Moon landing: America wins!

To me, the story of the U-boat capture is much more interesting from the perspective of those on the U-boat. There was very little of that. There was an enormous amount of information about the US attacks on it but almost nothing on what damage was done to the U-boat.

But more important, after the crew was captured, they were hidden so that the Nazis would not know that the Allies had the Enigma codes. But these were of limited value. So why exactly it was necessary to defy the Geneva Conventions is not clear to me.

I get why it was done. You never know. But it highlights the nonsense of the concept of the “rules of war.” And it is certain that this story would have been told very differently if the Axis powers had won the war.

No Nuance When It Comes to America

Regardless, at the MSI, there was little nuance. The decision to hide the Germans was presented as though there were no alternative. Indeed, the families of the German sailors were told they were dead. This was presented as a good thing in that they all had a great surprise when the families found out 3 years later that the men were alive.

I guess this all annoys me because as a child, I really believed all this American mythology. We were the Good Guys who never tortured and just wanted people to be Free! So I was devastated when I learned that the US was the biggest bully in the world only interested in its own gain. (See my article on Venezuela and Saudi Arabia.)

So beyond the fact that places like the MSI feed the delusions of American adults, I really hate the fact that children are lied to before they have any defenses against this corrosive nonsense.

What If All Elizabeth Warren’s Plans Fail?

Elizabeth WarrenIn a recent interview, Elizabeth Warren was asked by Ezra Klein what she could do if Republicans maintain control of the Senate and she can’t get any of her plans through Congress. (And let’s be honest: even if the Democrats do gain control of the Senate, she may have problems because the Democratic elites are still far to the right of the party itself.) Her answers were good — discussing the importance of putting people in charge of federal agencies who actually believe in their missions.

But she didn’t mention the single most important reason that presidents have a profound effect on the economy: the Federal Reserve Board. This is something I discussed years ago, Why the Economy Does Better Under Democrats. It was based on an article by economist Mark Thoma where he explained why, since World War II, the economy has done much better under Democratic than Republican presidents. There are a number of reasons for this but control of the Fed is one that the president has complete control over.

Trump’s Policies

I suppose I should clarify a few things. The economy has done fine under Trump. But that appears to be due to the tremendous amount of slack in the economy. Most of what Trump has provided has only hurt it: tariffs and political uncertainty. Even the tax cut was designed so as to have a minimum effect on the economy in the short-term.

One place Trump has complained (rightly so) is that the Federal Reserve has been raising interests rates and thus slowing the economy. The reason for this is that the Fed chair, Jerome Powell, believes that we are on the verge of an inflation spiral. It’s funny because this is pretty much what all the establishment types have been thinking for half a decade.

But it’s Trump’s own fault. He could have appointed a Fed chair that would have pursued the kind of expansive monetary policy Trump wants. But like the judges he nominates, Trump has no idea who to nominate to the Federal Reserve. So he just listens to the establishment Republicans that he surrounds himself with. Actually, we are lucky we got Powell. He’s really no different from the last Fed chair, Janet Yellen. It really raises the question of why Trump replaced her. But I think the answer is clear: he thought he was getting something different.

Warren’s Choices

Unlike Trump, Elizabeth Warren knows stuff — especially when it comes to the economy. I don’t expect she would make radical appointments to the Fed. But she would know what she is doing. And the monetary establishment might think her appointments were radical. I know she wouldn’t appoint the kind of hard-money zealots that conservatives prefer.

And she’s right that her policies and appointments will make a huge difference. Putting someone in charge at the EPA who will clamp down on polluters will mean corporations have to spend some of their profits on mitigation — you know, forcing them to employ workers rather than simply making the rich even richer.

Additionally, she can help our economy by reversing many of Trump’s policies like his tariffs — and threats of tariffs.

Elizabeth Warren has a plan in case Republicans stymie all her legislative plans. She can use executive power to make the world better — just as Trump has used it to make it worse.

Betty Hutton

Betty HuttonI’ve gotten into the habit of posting little things that occur to me on Facebook. But I’m in the process of leaving Facebook. It really is an evil dump. And it bugs me that I’m creating free content for it.

Few songs feel me with so much energy as “Murder, He Says” written by Frank Loesser and Jimmy McHugh for the film Happy Go Lucky (1943). It is sung by Betty Hutton who co-starred in the film.

Hutton was never what I would call a movie star. Her focus was more on live performance although she had a number of hit records like the Hoagy Carmichael song Doctor, Lawyer, Indian Chief. If you watch the video for that song, you can tell that Hutton was something of a goof.

Her biggest success was probably in the title role of Annie Get Your Gun — a role she was born to play. I’m just not that fond of musicals like that anymore. (I loved them when I was a kid!)

The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek

The film I most associate her with is The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek (1944). It was one of the handful of Preston Sturges classics made during World War II. In it, Hutton plays a classic girl who can’t say no. She wakes up one morning having remembered that she married a soldier the night before but can’t remember his name (except that it had a “z” in it). Later, she learns that she is pregnant.

The film is a maze of absurdities in its attempt to justify what everyone watching knows is about premarital sex in the age of the Hays Code. If you get a chance, you should watch it. The plot doesn’t make much sense. But Sturges’ dialog is as witty as ever and Betty Hutton is her usual effervescent self.

Murder, He Says

Here is Hutton performing “Murder, He Says” for the troops:

Censorship Is for the Censors: Cannabis Edition

CannabisCannabis[1] is legal in Canada and quasi-legal in places in the US. Yet in the not too distant past, people spent a decade or more for cannabis possession. Even today, you can spend up to 20 years if the police claim you are distributing.

Whether cannabis is a great evil or no big deal depends upon when and where you are. I recently discovered that there are now cannabis affiliates programs. These are effectively advertising programs. For example, if you had a cannabis-related website, you could advertise for a seed or accessory (or, depending upon where you live, cannabis by mail) company and get a percentage of the sale.

Cannabis Goes Mainstream

If you want to get an idea of how this works, check out THCaffiliates.com. It is a very professional site that connects website owners to affiliate programs that they can use.

What I find really interesting about this is just how mainstream this has all become. Cannabis is just another commodity.

To be clear: I have no problem with this. Cannabis is just another commodity. But it is telling that cannabis was once a major boogieman in even more enlightened areas.

In Ceremonial Chemistry: The Ritual Persecution of Drugs, Addicts, and Pushers, Thomas Szasz argued that modern drug laws were no different than previous witch laws in the west. It seems society always needs some foil and since tackling real problems is hard, we just make up problems.

Censorship Broadly

This all had me wondering just what the point of these laws is. And I’m not even particularly interested in the drug laws specifically. I’m more thinking of classic censorship of art.

Because of all my writing about film, I constantly run into something strange in the United Kingdom. They don’t have a First Amendment there so it is far easier to censor films.

For example, when Tobe Hooper’s Eaten Alive came out on video in 1982, it was banned. Just ten years later, it was allowed with 25 seconds cut from it. Eight years after that, it was released in whole.


Once “unwatchable,” Eaten Alive is now passe (but totally awesome).

I see this again and again and again. The difference between something that will “destroy the youth of today” and something that is acceptable or even lauded is a few years. What’s up with that?!

Remember back in 1985 when Tipper Gore got the whole nation freaked out about nasty lyrics in pop songs?[2] There is no proof that the Parental Advisory Stickers actually worked to “protect the kids!” But they sure made middle-class parents like Gore feel better.


Highlights of the PMRC hearings.

Censorship Is for the Censors

And that is the point. Censorship is about making the censors feel better. It wasn’t film-lovers who changed their minds about Eaten Alive after ten years; it was the censors. By then, the stuff in the film was so common it no longer scared them.

And that brings us back to drugs. In the early 20th century, the Federal Bureau of Narcotics looked at making caffeine illegal. They quickly found that its use was so ubiquitous that it was impossible. It’s pretty hard to censor something that everyone is using.

I hope that right now you are taking a long and perfectly legal hit of cannabis.


[1] The word “marijuana” comes from Mexican Spanish for cannabis. It became the default in the United States because Harry Anslinger popularized it in his efforts to make it illegal as head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics. The idea was to associate it with Mexicans and turn the public against it. This has always been the approach to making drugs illegal from the first anti-drug law in the US in San Francisco where opium dens were made illegal to keep white women safe from those evil Chinese men. Racism is the surest way to get people on board for your small-minded cause.

[2] Note that there wasn’t a law just as there wasn’t a law during the horror comics freak-out of the 1950s. Instead, a bunch of powerful people just bullied the recording industry into self-censorship.

It’s Time to Stop Being Proud

It's Time to Stop Being ProudThere has been a recent controversy in the trans community. It brought up something that I spend a lot of time thinking about: the nature of competition and choice. But before I discuss that, let me go over the controversy.

Trans Athletes in Women’s Sports

EssenceOfThought and Rationality Rules have been fighting since the latter created a video, “The Athletic Advantage of Transgender Women (And Why It Is UNFAIR).” His basic argument is that if we don’t stop trans-women from competing in women’s sports there will be no women’s sports because it will only be trans-women who compete at the top levels.

I think there are generally two gut reactions to this. For most people, this just seems like “common sense.” For others, this seems like the typical hysteria of the bigotted mind.

You can work your way backward with EssenceOfThought’s most recent video, Rationality Rules Non-Apology & Tone Policing — A Critical Response.

On the facts, I side with EssenceOfThought. I have to admit to learning quite a lot. Not surprisingly, I haven’t given much thought to sports or biological changes caused by hormone treatments. To his credit, Rationality Rules has also been educated and changed his thinking — at least to some degree. So there doesn’t seem to be a lot of argument on this matter.

Tone Policing

As for the rest of this controversy, I don’t especially want to engage. But I don’t like the way Rationality Rules or his defenders have behaved — taking potshots at EssenceOfThought without owning it.

I know that EssenceOfThought can be brutal online. I like that. In one video (that I can’t find now), a friend of Rationality Rules says it is wrong to make instant messages public while briefly showing the twitter feed of EssenceOfThought. I believe this is in reference to their fight with Logicked. Out of context, it is just a smear — and a cowardly one given EssenceOfThought is never mentioned.

As EssenceOfThought has pointed out, this is nothing but tone policing. That’s petty, but I don’t necessarily have a problem with that. But it’s useless. And I do have a problem with that.

What Do Sports Prove?

Over the years, I’ve come to see hierarchy as fundamentally incoherent. This is a natural outgrowth to my rejection of free will. Without it, any person’s position in a group is entirely outside their control.

Thus, if one is the best sprinter, it is the result of the body (including the brain) they were born with as well as the environment that body interacts with. Much is made of the work-ethic of great athletes. But this too is not a choice but the result of the body and its environment. There is no choice — only the illusion of choice.

If this is not clear, read Free Will.

What Do We Take Pride In?

Despite all this, humans continue to feel pride in “choices” they believe they have made. And I understand: it is important for society to have standards — they help individuals to make good decisions — ones that make them happier. But it makes no sense for individuals to feel pride in what they do.

Instead, they should feel gratefulness. If you’re smart, you are lucky. And there is no point in society praising intelligence since it is its own reward. The same goes for knowledge. Or height. Or speed.

But I know what people always say. It’s some variation on, “But Donovan Bailey worked really hard!” Sure he did. And his work ethic was something else he was gifted.

I think it is great that humans strive to improve themselves. But in our endeavor to pit people against each other, we soil a noble endeavor.

A good example of this is how grades work. Most successful students know the experience of becoming addicted to good grades and losing their love of learning as a result. (See Alfie Kohn’s work.)

But this is all practical stuff. I’ll have to write an article about it sometime in order to make a convincing case. My point here is we are all just given. We may think we create ourselves, but we’re really just along for the ride.

Transgender Athletes

To me, the most remarkable thing about transgender women is how hormones change their bodies in fundamental ways. EssenseOfThought pointed out a few things in this regard. One is that trans-women generally have lower testosterone levels than cis-women. What’s more, hormone therapy “reduces muscle mass, bone density, and hemoglobin count while increasing body fat.” Yet excellent trans-women athletes were normally excellent cis-male athletes.

This shows how we aren’t in control of who we are. This has obvious relevance to transgender people. But it is much bigger than that. Thus, it makes no sense to me that we let people live in poverty or otherwise suffer. Beyond setting up a society that gives people the best chance to thrive, we need to get past notions like success.

Shaun created a great video two years ago, Paul Joseph Watson is Wrong About: Sports. He summed up with this:

If you’re prevented from being entertained by [watching a great women’s soccer game] because you’re sitting there thinking, “Well, they couldn’t beat the German men’s team!” then that’s just sad.

I want a world in which individuals are appreciated. We act like we live in such a world, but we don’t. Instead, we live in the world of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. If you don’t have abilities that make you marketable, you’re an outcast — or at least someone of no value. We celebrate those with red noses when we need them. But that isn’t appreciating individuals.

I specifically use this example because I know what I’m talking about goes back to things we teach children about inclusion and love. But these morals are not what our society is based on. Appreciating people as people and not for how they can make you richer or entertain you should be the goal regardless.

But it’s also the case that we have no reason to be proud that we are smart or fast or knowledgeable. Again: we should be grateful. We are lucky. But we are not great or better than others.

Don’t Fall for the Electability Trap

Joe BidenIt’s back! Less Than Half in US Would Vote for a Socialist for President. And this is the kind of thinking that will make Joe Biden the Democratic nominee before any other candidate gets to make their case.

This is not a defense of Sanders (or even Warren, who I’m actively supporting). For one thing, he doesn’t need defending. He calls himself a socialist but he doesn’t qualify by my definition. He’s a New Deal Democrat. It’s sad that politics in the US is so far off the rails that someone with such middle-of-the-road opinions as Sanders can get away with calling himself a socialist.

(I suppose it is more accurate to call Sanders a Social Democrat. But Americans don’t usually know what that is. Or what Democratic Socialist is. Or basically anything at all. That’s why simplistic slogans is the way of the day: “Capitalism good! Socialism bad!”)

The Pathetic Logic of “Electable” Candidates

It is a fool’s game to try to figure out which candidate is more electable. I know in 2004, everyone thought John Kerry was the most electable. He lost.

In fact, based upon Lynn Vavreck’s The Message Matters, it is now clear the Democrats’ best chance to win the presidency in 2004 was by nominating Howard Dean and running an anti-war campaign. But that’s not the kind of insight that falls out of people’s common sense.

People aren’t interested in political science. In fact, mostly, they have no idea what it even is. So instead of engaging with what the data show us, they try to read other people’s minds. And it just doesn’t work.

The Racist Neighbor

There’s actually some sociological research on how people think this way. People always assume that their neighbors are more racist than they actually are. And when it comes to Democrats, they always assume the world is more conservative than it actually is.

An important aspect of this is that it means we automatically dismiss women and people of color. “We must defeat Donald Trump” easily breaks down to “We must nominate a white man!” Indeed, I’ve even heard liberals I know speculate that maybe we shouldn’t nominate a woman — as though Hillary Clinton didn’t win 3 million more votes than Trump in 2016!

I remember last year, PM Carpenter wrote, Why This Democratic Socialist Opposes Bernie Sanders. His entire argument was that he didn’t think the nation was ready for a socialist candidate.

But how did he know?! Even at the time, I thought this was nonsense. But after Donald Trump, how does anyone claim to know who others will vote for?

Voters Don’t Care If They Like a Candidate

I always go back to 1988 and the Dukakis campaign. It was really painful to watch it transpire.

There was the tank photo op that Bush turned into a commercial:

Then there was the rape of Kitty debate question:

And, of course, the Willie Horton ad:

All of that seemed to matter a great deal. But it didn’t. These things stuck because the economy was roaring along and Bush’s party was in the White House.

Similarly, the misreporting of Bush and the grocery scanner was a big thing in 1992 because the economy was tanking and Bush’s party was still in the White House.

People used to marvel at how nothing ever stuck to Ronald Reagan. We called him the Teflon President. But it was because the economy was doing well. Nothing really sticks when things are going well for the president and non-issues do stick when things are going badly.

You Don’t Know Who Is Electable

I know I’m a broken record on this stuff, but it’s important. And I don’t think polling tells us a lot. How would people have answered this question in 2015: “Would you vote for a corrupt, crude, childish sexual assaulter who plays a rich man on TV and stiffs hardworking small business owners?” I don’t think so. In fact, most people didn’t think he would become president until moments before he did.

If Sanders can win the Democratic nomination, he can win the general election. The only thing that would stop him is if there really is something behind the repugnant #NeverBernie movement.

And if that’s true of Sanders, it is even more true of Elizabeth Warren.

People should just vote for who they want. As long as it isn’t Joe Biden — because no one wants him. His appeal is entirely that he is “electable.” I might listen to an argument based on political science that he is more electable than Harris or Warren. But this idea that he is the guy who conservatives will vote for is just nonsense based on what liberals and moderates think others want.

Similarly, let Sanders run and see how he does. This freak-out among Democrats is pathetic. And if it succeeds in anything, it will be saddling us with Joe “Waist Rub” Biden.

Vote for who you want because you don’t know anything about what other people want.