Author Archives: 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.

Sexual Assault and the Abandonment of Norms

Sexual Assault and the Abandonment of NormsAlleen Brown and John Knefel at The Intercept wrote an amazingly interesting article, The FBI Used the #MeToo Moment to Pressure an Environmental Activist into Becoming an Informant. The main point of the article is interesting enough: that the FBI is using the #MeToo movement for its traditional purpose of destroying all leftist political movements. But I want to discuss the other story: the sexual abuse allegations.

The Assault of Julie Henry

In 2014, environmental activist Julie Henry seems to have been sexually assaulted by environmental folk-hero Rod Coronado. My personal opinion is that this absolutely happened. But I don’t think that either of them is lying, but it certainly seems as though Coronado at least realizes to some extent that his behavior was wrong — even if it was only after he started to be attacked.

I don’t want to go into detail about all of this. You really should read The Intercept article. But the main thing is that Coronado forced himself on Henry in a motel room. But she didn’t really fight back in a physical way. And she could have.

But here’s the thing: I completely understand.

I’ve been in similar situations several times — although never to the point that Henry suffered. It’s hard not to blame yourself. Because in these situations, it seems very much like two people are playing the same game with totally different rules.

Norms and Sexual Assault

For me, it is all about social norms. I had one experience on a bus going to Los Angeles about ten years ago. This drunk guy (Coronado was, not surprisingly, also drunk) was coming on to me. I didn’t want to make a scene — I very rarely do. So I used all of my social skills — and everything I’d learned from decades of being the placator in a dysfunctional family — to tell this guy I was not interested.

It got to the point where he grabbed my penis and I moved. That was the end of that.

But the whole experience was so surreal. It’s easy to say that he was willfully avoiding all my clear signals. But I don’t really think that is the case.

I think this is how most men are socialized. And I’m hardly unsympathetic. The truth is that no does not always mean no. And men are not generally very socially sophisticated. So a polite but firm no is often taken as nothing but a negotiating tactic.

On the other hand, when women have said “no” to me in a playful way, stopping always allows them to clarify. So while I am sympathetic to how confusing sex can be for men, I am most definitely not defending it. Quite the opposite.

Socializing Men

I think as a society, we need to do a much better job of socializing men. And given all the problems men have anyway, they should completely eschew sexual encounters when drunk.

Sadly, I believe the only way that this will ever happen is if women like Julie Henry keep coming forward. That’s not to say I believe we should all pile on Rod Coronado. When reading what he had to say, I got the impression that he really doesn’t understand.

What we really need — what would be most effective — is for men to see what they’ve done. And I mean see. I don’t mean generic apologies that really come down to, “I’m sorry I was caught.”

I’m not just talking about other men. Decades ago, I was on a date with a woman whose hand I held about two seconds too long. I know it doesn’t sound like much. But it was a physical battle of wills — and something I’ve been greatly embarrassed about ever since. (Not that the woman made me feel bad about it. She absolutely did not. She was actually very sweet.)

Obviously, for a lot of men, sexual assault is something else — something uncontrollable. But I firmly believe that the vast majority of men can be socialized. Sadly, regardless of #MeToo and other similar movements over the decades, men are generally not. And it hurts us all.

Broader Social Problem

The fact that Henry’s account of what happened would likely find little sympathy in the nation as a whole is telling. Too many people think that if a woman could scream or gouge out some eyes or otherwise avoid the attacker, she couldn’t have been assaulted. But that shows a fundamental disconnect about the way people exist in a broader social context.

And I don’t want to live in a world where people have to destroy their good social behaviors for the sake of being physically safe.

Conservatives Are the New Postmodernists — What Truth?

President Donald TrumpDonald Trump tweeted out a video that claims that while Google promoted a live stream of Obama’s state-of-the-union addresses, they didn’t do it for him. It’s nonsense, of course. Check out the archive.org copy. Now the producers of the video could maybe get away with ignorance, because archive.org stores pages using GMT. So instead of starting at 9:15 pm on 30 January 2018, archive.org has it stored starting at 3:15 am 31 January 2018.

But is this reasonable? For one thing, they must have understood the time change to get the Obama screenshots. But just as important, anyone making such a claim would be very careful. But its clear they didn’t care. Certainly, Trump has made no retraction, and Google corrected the record within a minute of his tweet. What else is new? It makes total sense that Trump sees lies everywhere, since that is all he produces. I’ve been talking about conservative projection for many years.

More interesting is that Jim Hoft (Gateway Pundit) produced an article, HOLY CRAP! President Trump DESTROYS Biased Google in One 24 Second Clip.

That too has been up for well past 24 hours. The page has not been taken down. (I don’t agree with it, but this is how conservatives normally respond to their idiocy.) And the page has not been amended.

I’m so tired of this. This isn’t a matter of opinion. The president just spreads lies and never retracts them. And there is a billion dollar industry dedicated to supporting his lies.

Meanwhile, the Trump Cult continues to think anything out of his mouth is gospel. Have you seen this? California Man Parroting Trump’s “Enemy of the People” Line Threatened to Shoot, Kill Boston Globe Staff, FBI Says.

This is why it is so poisonous for a president to make such claims. It’s even worse with people in the Trump Cult because there is nothing to convince them to change their opinions. Trump has already told them that the press is out to get him. So they won’t believe it. I suspect that even the man who made the threats considers the press coverage a lie.

The fact is that Trump’s “the press is the enemy of the people” is identical to what authoritarian leaders always say. It’s the only way they can justify getting rid of a free press and installing a propaganda outlet in its place.

Of course, thanks to the miracle of capitalism, we already have that throughout the right. As if Fox News alone weren’t enough to destroy a free country.

Mindless Retweets

I do, however, take a certain amount of sollace that Jim Hoft’s tween generated 33 comments — all of them contradicting his nonsense. But maybe I shouldn’t be, because 67 people retweeted.

Of course, this is nothing compared to the effect that Trump had. Almost 38,000 people retweeted. After all these years of Donald Trump being very open with the fact that he is stupid, heartless, and craven, you would think people wouldn’t trust him. But no.

Can’t Stop the Con

It reminds me of how high level managers so often fall for charlitans who workers can see are nothing but useless braggarts.

Whenever I hear someone talking about how great they are, I become suspicious. But even without that, how could regular working people not see that Trump has nothing but derision for them?

I really don’t know. But I don’t think it will change. This country is doomed.

Death Came to Senator John McCain

John McCainEarlier today, as it must to all men, death came to Senator John McCain. I don’t have a horrible opinion of the man. But I also don’t have a good opinion of him. And I don’t think death should make me forget that McCain had an almost completely bad effect on this country.

Obviously, if I thought his loved ones would read this, I wouldn’t say bad things about him. I’m not a monster. But that also means that I wouldn’t say anything at all. Because there is very little good to say about him that I don’t think is tainted.

But given that I have the luxury of obscurity, I will say my piece.

McCain Wasn’t Principled

This article really grows out Matt Yglesias’ obituary at Vox, John McCain, Who Died at 81, Explained. It’s actually better than the countless obituaries we are going to see that will portray McCain like he had been Patroclus climbing the walls of Troy in The Illiad. Yglesias at least notes that McCain’s past is spotty.

But I feel certain that Yglesias is just being a good whore of a writer and creating the general obituary for McCain that won’t offend anyone too much. I suspect that Yglesias feels rather like me. But his obituary will be read. So it ends up giving McCain too much credit.

Maybe this is how it should be. When a man dies, you give him the benefit of the doubt. But I question that. Did McCain vote against the Bush tax cuts because he was actually against them? It’s possible. But the overwhelming evidence is that he did it because he was (understandably) angry at Bush’s campaign tactics in the 2000 primary. Remember, McCain had a notoriously volatile temper. He wasn’t the cuddly guy he made out in the 2008 campaign.

If you look at McCain’s career, it seems that everything good he did was simply a way to save face for something he did wrong before. If not that, it was like with Bush, settling a score. None of these were indicative of a strong moral sense. They were indicative of a strong sense of reputation. And I’m not going to let that be something to applaud just because Trump has set the bar so low.

McCain and Torture

The one thing I did like McCain for in a big way was his stand on torture. But that was just his Gay Son.

You may remember that Rob Portman was quite the anti-gay politician. He thought that employers should be able to fire people just because they found out the employee was gay. But then Portman’s son came out to him as gay. Suddenly, Rob Portman was in favor of same-sex marriage!

But this is the conservative way. If you don’t have direct experience with an issue, you can’t understand it. This is why conservatives will always give huge tax breaks to the rich. None of them will ever have a son who comes out to them as poor.

McCain’s Gay Son

In McCain’s case, he had suffered from torture. Thus, as a conservative, he could understand it. Bush and Cheney had never suffered it so they couldn’t understand it.

I’m glad that McCain was fairly reasonable on torture. But I don’t see that he gets a big red star for it given that it was his Gay Son. He didn’t show any empathy for anything that he didn’t have direct experience with.

He was an extremist on abortion, birth control, and sex education — probably because it never affected his life. He was against same-sex marriage because he literally didn’t have a gay son. And he was for eternal war because his experience fighting it was from high above it.

McCain’s So-So Torture Record

But even on torture, McCain was far from perfect. Jennifer Williams explains this in Vox, Senator John McCain’s Complicated Moral Legacy on Torture. It’s worth reading all of it, but the main thing in it is that McCain, while he was getting lots of positive news about stopping the army from torture provided a carve-out for the CIA — the only ones who were actually doing it.

When Dianne Feinstein proposed a bill to end torture, McCain worked and finally voted against it. When it passed anyway, McCain pushed Bush to veto it. And perhaps most important of all, McCain was the one who allowed all the CIA torturers to get off scot-free — and in the case of Gina Haspel, becoming Director of the CIA.

It’s bad that McCain died because his replacement will be even worse. But that doesn’t mean we need to pretend that McCain made America better. He didn’t.

Update

I began to feel bad that I wrote anything about McCain at all. But then I watched a little of the television news coverage of his death and I knew why I wrote this in the first place. The coverage is all myth-making. It doesn’t present a man; it presents a Greek hero. And it is all wrong. Most annoying of all is the way that McCain gets credit for his face-saving political theater of telling a voter that Obama wasn’t a Muslim — after he knew he would lose the election.

Why Medicare Is Okay but Not Medicare-for-All

Centers for Medicaid and Medicare ServicesI find it curious that in America, Medicare is an accepted institution but Medicare-for-All is somehow radical. Don’t get me wrong: I understand that Medicare-for-All is popular. Back in March, the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 59 percent of Americans are in favor of it. But the fact remains that the establishment of the Democratic Party is highly skeptical of it. And the media is even worse.

“Objective” “Liberal” Media Against Tax Increases

This is most telling in Jake Tapper’s recent “fact check” of Bernie Sanders’ statement that the Mercatus Center report showed that Medicare-for-All would save Americans $2 trillion over a decade. In order to find the statement deceptive, Tapper claimed that Sanders had said it would save the government $2 trillion.

I don’t think Tapper meant to misquote Sanders. I think it is simply a matter of how Medicare-for-All is seen by people in Jack Tapper’s class. They know that they would have to pay more in taxes. So there’s really no thinking involved — just a gut reaction that they might lose a little money in the name of allowing poor people to live.

Old people are far more expensive to insure. Since they would not, in general, be able to afford insurance, give it to the government!

And this is a poison of this entire class. It’s funny that these are the very people who most think they are non-ideological — that they just look at the facts. They are the self-described moderates. But the truth is, they do have an ideology — one so insidious that they can’t even admit to it. And when their errors are pointed out, they just retool their arguments without the errors and — What a surprise! — conclude the exact same thing.

For example, Tapper was going to take the error out of his online video. But that was it. The rest would be the same. And there would be no on-air recantation because Tapper doesn’t see that his entire argument fell to pieces.

Similarly, it’s funny that before Glenn Kessler had to take out all his salient points against Sanders, he gave the claim “Three Pinocchios.” After his argument was shown to be nonsense: “Three Pinocchios.” The article was changed to its core, but the conclusion remained. It’s shameful.

Why We Can’t Have Medicare-for-All

But I’m interested in the usual question: why can’t we have nice things? Why is it that Medicare is fine but not Medicare-for-All.

Part of this is just ossification: we’ve had Medicare for a long time. Thus, for most people, it is fine. For rich journalists, that money is already taken from them so they don’t have to worry that they might have to give up a day of vacation each year.

But I think the bigger issue comes down to what is best for insurance companies. In general, they are glad there is Medicare. Old people are far more expensive to insure. Since they would not, in general, be able to afford insurance, give it to the government!

This is time-honored. In our country, where the only kind of speech that matters is lobbying, we allow the government to do those things that the private sector doesn’t think it can make much money at. Certainly, if we did not have public education, we would never be able to get it today.

As it is, that’s what the charter school movement is all about. When businesses couldn’t get vouchers, they changed to charter schools. It’s never been about providing students with a quality education. If it had been, we would get rid of charter schools because there is no indication that could be notably better than public schools. But we keep with them because rich people are making money off them.

What we see in modern America is a political system that only caters to the rich. And we have a media landscape that pretends that their highly ideological dismissal of popular working class policies are objective. Both facts alone would poison a good political system. And we didn’t exactly start with the most informed and democratic system.

I Don’t Think Hans Fiene Is Funny, but He Is Arrogant

Hans FieneI was looking for a quote from Garrison Keillor where he jokes about his ancestors coming to America in search of less freedom of religion. I couldn’t find it, but I did find an article he wrote in The Washington Post right before Donald Trump was inaugurated president, Trump Has Me Searching for a New Religion. It’s okay — more a testament to how we liberals felt at the coming of President Trump than anything else. It’s well written and as funny as one could expect under the circumstances. But Lutheran pastor Hans Fiene doesn’t think so!

The Problems With Garrison Keillor

In his article, Garrison Keillor Is on a Quest to Leave the Religion He Never Found, Fiene tells us two important things: Keillor isn’t a real Lutheran and he isn’t funny. Now I have a general problem with both of these claims. You can’t really say that someone isn’t funny — only that you don’t find it funny. For example, I couldn’t make it more than 5 minutes into Dumb and Dummer, yet I know it is funny because people laugh at it. As for being a “real Lutheran,” that’s not just a classic case of No True Scotsman, it is the height of hubris.

I’m not sure what to make of the sexual abuse allegations against Keillor. They don’t seem terribly strong, but just the same, why would any woman have a reason to lie about such a thing? I’m sure that Hans Fiene would have said something about this, but these articles were both written before these allegations became known. Regardless, they don’t really have anything to do with Keillor’s humor and they certainly don’t have anything to do with his status as a Lutheran.

Hans Fiene Thinks He’s Funny

One person Hans Fiene does think is funny is himself. His bio on The Federalist explains that he is “the creator of Lutheran Satire, a series of comical videos intended to teach the Lutheran faith.” Wow. There’s nothing like pastors who think they are funny. So I checked out his YouTube channel. Here is his most recent humorous video:

I’m sure that this video is hilarious to fellow conservative Christians. But I don’t see anything to laugh at. If I hated Catholics and loved guns, I’d probably find it somewhat amusing just because it is fun to pretend you are having a debate with someone you hate and showing how dumb they are. But since I’m kind of ambivalent toward both Catholics and guns, I don’t see anything to laugh at.

Fiene used another fallacy in his attack on Keillor: appeal to authority. He claimed (more than once) that Keillor wasn’t funny. And the closest he came to defending it was to refer to The Simpsons episode “Marge on the Lam.” In it, there is a parody of a PBS pledge break. It’s a pretty tame parody and doesn’t make the point that Keillor isn’t funny but that different people like different things. But whatever.

Conservative Christian?

Normally, I would say that it takes a lot of guts for someone who supposedly makes comedy to make such unsubstantiated claims about the most successful humorist of his generation. But in the case of Fiene, it’s just arrogance. The man is full of himself. But what do you expect from a religious person who is so focused on politics?

I was going through his recent videos and they are mostly just about how awful other religions are. If they aren’t, they are explicitly political. How they “teach the Lutheran faith” I can’t say.

Hans Fiene: More Catholic Than the Pope

Probably the worst part of the video above is its presentation of Pope Francis. It’s all based on this tweet:

Hans Fiene doesn’t just tell the pope things about Christianity that I’m sure the pope knows more about he does. He also tells the pope about Catholic doctrine. Again, I’m sure this makes his fellow conservatives very happy. If you look at the replies to the pope’s tweet, it is filled with similar arrogance like “Pope needs to remember the story of Sampson and Goliath. I stand with the true God. I don’t know who the pope stands with.”

But Fiene isn’t just some idiot on twitter. He is a Lutheran pastor. Frankly, I would think he would show more humility and class. But such is not the case.

It’s all kind of a shame because the videos themselves are well made. If Hans Fiene had something good or even positive to say, I would recommend them. But it’s a waste of effort to just tell other Lutherans that they are the right kind of Christians. It reminds me of how in 17th century England, you were an atheist if you weren’t protestant. Meanwhile, in France, you were an atheist if you weren’t Catholic. It’s all very silly but also sad.

Frankenstein vs the Wolfman — 2008?!

Frankenstein vs the Wolfman

For people who have never grown up, Frankenstein vs the Wolfman means the Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, the 1943 Universal classic starring Lon Chaney Jr and Bela Lugosi. But while working hard to avoid working, I came upon this film on Amazon Prime — a short from 2008. And I have to say, this discovery is well worth the whole year’s subscription.

15 Glorious Minutes

If you get rid of the titles, Frenkenstein vs the Wolfman is about 15 and a half minutes. And they are glorious minutes! I’ve often reflected on the desire of humans to tell stories and this is a great example because the technique is really not up to the story. Just the same, it tells an incredibly interesting story — so interesting that the relative weakness of the animation really doesn’t matter.

I should point out before I continue, the animation is at least a hundred times as good as anything I could ever do. But my talents lie in analysis. (And maybe in my experiment plays that no one will ever want to perform.) Frankenstein vs the Wolfman is animated with what looks very much like gaming software. Just the same, I found it far more interesting than any game.

One of the complainers on Amazon wrote, “This is a ‘movie’ (featurette) that only family of the ‘actors,’ animators, etc, could possibly love.” When I read that review, I knew I had to watch it. There’s nothing like an ignorant and opinionated jerk to make me want to watch a film. I start watching everything other than big-budget superhero dreck with the idea that the film was made by my son. Why don’t others?! It is a far better mindset to enter a film if you want to be entertained.

Frankenstein vs the Wolfman Overview

Frankenstein vs the Wolfman tells an incredibly compelling story of three orphans who live in, well, let’s say Transylvania because it has Gypsies in it. It is of interest because the “monster” of Frankenstein is more or less the guy that we know from Mary Shelley’s book: an ugly but intelligent creation. But in this reality, he has been accepted by the community (admittedly somewhat far-fetched given how awful humans are).

Living in this town is a man who has been cursed (by a Gypsy — racism, it seems it eternal and not at all solely an American thing) to spend each night walking the Earth as a wolf. During the day, he’s a writer of horror stories — a wonderful bit of self-incrimination: what writer doesn’t think that they aren’t a total fraud?!

Frankenstein, an “orphan” because he, like the children, has no parents, helps the three children. The Wolfman, on the other hand, is unrepentant. He doesn’t even try to stop his killing spree. Even though the film humanizes him, he isn’t very likable because he puts his needs above those of other humans. It shouldn’t be a surprise that, in his fight with Frankenstein, he is the loser. But you will be surprised to see how.

Analysis

If I can get a bit political, the film shows the importance of collective action. Even though Frankenstein is a “superhero” in the film, it is only due to the help of the other orphans that he is able to defeat the Wolfman. This is in stark contrast to most superhero films.

What is most remarkable about Frankenstein vs the Wolfman is that, compared to a Hollywood animated film, it is weak. Yet if you just accept it for what it is — or imagine what you personally would be able to produce — you easily get lost in the story. That isn’t to take away from the animation. As I’ve said, I couldn’t do anything close — regardless what software you gave me. But there are so many things besides the animation that the film does really well.

I thought the editing could have been a bit better; there were parts where the pacing didn’t seem quite right. But it didn’t pull me out of the story. The individual images always looked good. The music by Andrew Kalbfus was very effective. The acting was good. But most of all, the screenplay by Colin Clarke & Marc Packard was first-rate. It triumphed over everything else. The overall production by Andrew Carlson and Colin Clarke works — which is how I try to judge any piece of art.

Colin Clarke’s Other Films

And it shouldn’t be forgotten that this was the first film Colin Clarke directed. He’s made a total of five films over the last decade. I’ve seen four of them, which are all worth checking out: Raven’s Hollow (2011), Witchfinder, and Slit.

Raven’s Hollow is animated the same way as Frankenstein vs the Wolfman. It’s not as strong, simply because the story isn’t as strong. But it’s well made and interesting throughout.

Witchfinder is mostly a live-action film as the rest of Clarke’s film seem to be. The acting in it at the community theater level. But it mostly doesn’t get in the way. And I thought Valerie Meachum as the witch was particularly compelling. Again, the focus of the film is on the story, which is very strong.

Slit is probably Clarke’s strongest film in terms of production value. I have some problems with the story. In particular, the denouement was exactly what I expected. And overall it struck me as a bit misogynistic. And there are strong fetish elements to it. Regardless, the film works and is of interest to see Clarke’s growth as a filmmaker.

I still like Frankenstein vs the Wolfman most. Other people will probably find his live-action films better (especially Slit). But there is something special about this animated film that brings back memories of watching Creature Features with my older siblings.

Regardless, I think any of Colin Clarke’s films are worth checking out. At $1.99 to rent, they are probably over-priced. But if you have Amazon Prime, there’s no reason not to. I’d start with Frankenstein vs the Wolfman. Next, I recommend Witchfinder.

Butterfingers Irving — The 142nd Fastest Gun in the West

When You're in Love the Whole World Is Jewish - The Ballad of IrvingWhen I was a teen, I listened to The Dr Demento Show every Saturday night. I think it was a social thing: my closest friends all listened to it. I disliked a lot of the material that was played. And it was repetitive. Still, there were transcendent pieces like Doodles Weaver’s parody of “Eleanor Rigby.” But it was very rarely played. One song that was played quite a lot was “The Ballad of Irving.”

In order to understand “The Ballad of Irving,” we have to go back to 1964 and a surprising number one hit in the US by Lorne Greene. That’s right: Ben Cartwright (“Pa”) on Bonanza. It should not surprise you that this iconic American character was played by… a Canadian. But I digress.

Greene had a hit with the song “Ringo.” It’s about the drummer of a really famous band who has no detectable skill in anything at all. It’s about an outlaw in the old west. I rather like it. But then, I’m a sucker for this kind of sentimental drivel.

But the only part of the song that is sung is by a chorus that repeats, “Ringo! Ringo!” Otherwise, it is just Greene telling the story. Rather than recount it, you should just listen:

You can see why people would like it at the time. But you can also see why two years later, people would find it ripe for parody — especially since this kind of song became something of a thing.

Here Comes “The Ballad of Irving”

Those people were Frank Peppiatt, John Aylesworth, and Dick Williams. “The Ballad of Irving” tells the story of a Jewish gunman Irving: the 142nd fastest gun in the west. It was first released on the Bob Booker and George Foster comedy album When You’re in Love the Whole World Is Jewish and “sung” by Frank Gallop.

The song is basically one long Jewish joke.

I Don’t Want to Be Racist

What’s strange is that the people involved with that album, and it’s predecessor, You Don’t Have to Be Jewish, mostly don’t have classic Jewish names. I know some of them were Jewish. Probably they all were. In general, one gets Jewish humor from Jews.

I bring it up because (1) Jewish as a race has never made any sense to me and (2) I would feel slightly more comfortable about it if it were created by Jews. I probably shouldn’t worry. It’s hard to imagine a group of Baptists putting out You Don’t Have to Be Jewish and When You’re in Love the Whole World Is Jewish.

Ladies and Gentlemen: Butterfingers Irving

Regardless of my natural liberal guilt, I find this song extremely funny — as I suspect most American Jews would too. There’s something very likable about Irving. I’m not Jewish. (I’m Catholic, which a Jewish friend told me made me half Jewish — a thought I rather like.) But had I been a gunman in the old west, I would have acted very much like Irving, the 142nd fastest gun in the west.

Son of Irving

Shortly after the success of “The Ballad of Irving,” the same songwriters wrote “Son of Irving.” The song was not a success at the time. But worse is that it hasn’t aged well because, at least to me, it is implicitly homophobic. And I do mean “implicitly,” because there is nothing in the song that really signals this. It’s about a moma’s boy.

But there’s something about him being thin, tall, and good-looking that makes me think that they were implying homosexuality.

Regardless, even though the denouement is as strong as it is in “The Ballad of Irving,” the song doesn’t work nearly as well. Still, it’s worth a listen.

Dr Demento Days

Dr Demento is still around. There seem to be umpteen Dr Demonto CD collections. It’s nice to be reminded of him. But I doubt I would want to listen to his show — or any of his CDs. It’s all too uneven. But I’m glad to have been introduced to all those songs — even the ones I hate like Shaving Cream and Wet Dreams.

Why Was Ivanka Trump in Nordstrom to Start With?

Why Was Ivanka Trump in Nordstrom to Start With?I’m sure you’ve heard the good news that we won’t have Ivanka Trump’s “fashion brand” to kick around anymore.

According to Trump, she’s just so involved in Washington politics that she can’t give the company the love it deserves. This is odd in a couple of ways. One is that she hasn’t been running the company since her father became president due to conflicts of interest. (Or rather: the public backlash that she could expect from exactly the demographic she was trying to sell to.)

The other odd thing is that I don’t know what she’s been doing in Washington. She was supposed to be moderating her father. Well, that didn’t work out very well. And then she just vanished. So anything she’s doing in Washington, you can bet it is — at base — lobbying to make the Trump family fortune bigger.

Did Ivanka Trump Create Fashionable Clothing?

But as I was reading up on this, I came upon a great article in The Guardian from a year and a half ago, Is Ivanka Trump’s Fashion Line Any Good? It’s written by Hannah Marriott, the Fashion Editor of the paper.

The article was written shortly after Nordstrom and other retailers dropped Ivanka Trump from their stores. Daddy Trump and the rest of the right wing claimed it was all about politics. Nordstrom said her stuff just wasn’t selling well. But Marriott had a different idea: the Ivanka Trump line just wasn’t very good. She wrote, “The collection shows a talent for taking the temperature of what was happening in design five years ago…”

Another Opinion

Everyone who knows me, knows what a fashion maven I am not. Other than underwear and socks, I do not believe I have a single piece of clothing that was not given to me. People are always trying to improve me. (You really would think that after all this time, they would have given up.)

But Marriott is not the only person to say that the Ivanka Trump clothing line was not up to snuff. Caille Millner at The San Francisco Chronicle wrote, Why Ivanka Trump Really Shut Down Her Line of Clothing. In the article, she goes in search of Ivanka Trump clothing in local stores and finds them decidedly not good choices for the people they were meant to appeal to. She concludes, “I point to this shopping excursion because, ultimately, I think the products are what sunk Ivanka Trump.”

I looked for glowing reviews of the Ivanka Trump line and I did not find any. So with these two opinions combined with the fact that Daddy Trump has never put out anything good, I think it’s safe to say that Ivanka Trump’s clothing line (or fashion brand or whatever the hell you want to call it) sucked.

Why Did This Expensive Crap Get Stocked?

My question is: why did Nordstrom carry what was clearly an expensive line with mediocre quality and design? That’s pretty much a rhetorical question. I think most people around here already know the answer: the Trump name. It doesn’t matter how many times Daddy Trump failed, corporate America is always willing to give him or his equally evil but more polished offspring another chance.

It reminds me of the days when I worked in corporate America. As a whole, management were the biggest marks for con artists. I’ve sat in on interviews with people who were clearly unqualified for the jobs they were applying for. The regular employees could spot the con in an instant. The managers were usually blown away. I think it’s because managers value style over substance. Workers have to actually produce something.

But imagine after Trump is out of the White House and a Democrat is in there cleaning up the huge mess from years of Republican rule (this time, the Democratic president really will need to go on an apology tour — not just in the fevered imaginations of Fox News hosts and watchers). I’m sure that Ivanka Trump will reintroduce her new clothing brand.

And Nordstrom will stock it, again! When it comes to a Trump, corporate America can’t be fooled enough.

The Rich Aren’t Allowed to Fail in America

Of course, this is generally true of the rich in modern America. You just can’t screw up enough so that you won’t be given another chance — another loan you won’t be able to pay back — another high-paying job you aren’t qualified for.

But the Poor Are

If you are not rich, well, roll the dice! If you screw up, there will be no one to catch you if you fall.

It’s funny. I remember all through the 2012 presidential campaign hearing about how important it was to reward “risk takers.” But the fact is that the rich in this country aren’t really taking risks. When a worker takes all their savings to start a small business, they are laying it on the line. Not so for the rich, even if they lose all their money. That’s because all their rich friends will lift them back up.

A regular American can hope at best that when their business fails, the economy isn’t too bad and they can get a job.

A Rose by Any Other Name?

One thing’s for certain: if some nobody came out with Ivanka Trump’s products, Nordstrom would never have stocked it in the first place.

dear wendy number 1

The Rise and Fall of the Third ReichHi, Wendy!

Pleased to meet ya. I hope this doesn’t sound speciest, but some of my best friends have been rats

Okay, so no archy and mehitabel. What would you recommend I read?

Oh, and see if your computer has a “sticky keys” option. Just a suggestion

Thank you.
Dave L

dear dave l,

it’s interesting that you would say some of your best friends have been rats for two reasons…

  1. all of my best friends are rats
  2. and yeah, rats don’t live very long, don’t rub it in.

this is an excellent question if by ‘you’ you mean ‘all of humanity especially america’ and by ‘should’ you mean ‘must.’

personally, i like a good story. but i like to know how it’s going to end. now don’t get up on your heals. you already know how just about every story is going to end. when you watch hamlet do you really think he’s getting out of that play alive[question mark]

i would like to see you humans read as much as possible — it doesn’t matter what. the more you’re reading, the more you are not making the lives of the rest of us worse.

but i won’t leave you with this. just so that you should all be prepared for the future, i recommend The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.

in particular, you should pay attention to the sonderweg thesis.

[parenthesis]this is different from the soderbergh thesis, which holds that people will only put up with your pseudo-avant-garde bullshit before they stop pretending to like it.[parenthesis]

the sonderweg thesis holds that there is a direct line from martin luther to nazism. if you question me — and many easily dismissed human historians have — you should check out this quote frank posted before i was born, Antisemite Martin Luther. if luther had just gotten to his eighth point — paper was expensive back then — i’m sure it would have been genocide — a ‘final solution,’ if you will.

obviously, martin luther was not an american — unless you are a mormon — who knows what those people think. but the vast majority of americans are christians. and a large majority of those christians are protestants.

so i’ll spell it out. they ain’t done killing witches.

protestantism is the religion that the antisemite martin luther started. it was a stupid idea. he thought people should actually read the bible because then they would know what god really wanted rather than getting it filtered through the hateful corrupt catholic church. the problem is that the bible is a whole lot of contradictory rubbish that only an expert can make any sense of at all.

luckily, almost none of these protestants actually do read the bible. they just allow it to be filtered through their hateful corrupt churches.

bob dylan, during one of his most annoying periods, sang ‘gotta serve somebody.’ in my experience, christians have to hate somebody.

it may be the jews
or it may be the spicks
but you’re gonna have to hate somebody.

i know that a lot of you out there think that trump will leave office and everything will be fine. that’s not true.

first, roughly half of you idiot americans voted for the man. and it’s not like he didn’t let you know exactly who he was. you knew he was a constant liar before you voted him the most powerful man in the world. [parenthesis]the most powerful creature on earth is the leader of a large colony of termites in australia.[parenthesis] you knew he was an idiot. you knew he didn’t know anything about politics. you knew he was a bigot. you knew he was a sexist. if he’s surprised you as president, you are even stupider than he is.

but even if you did somehow go back to normal, you won’t think about what happened. america doesn’t look back. you think the best way to deal with past wrongs is to ‘look forward’ and pretend it never happened. until it happens again.

i give you all 30 years tops before you have world war iii.

so i say to my fellow rats, ‘let’s start heading south.’

and i say to europe, ‘i think you had better start spending a lot more on your military because fascist america is coming for you and i don’t think russia’s gonna help much this time — but you never know. if america doesn’t have have a complete idiot in charge but just an insane one, the country might attack russia, china, and india as well. still, prepare for the worst.’

and finally, to americans, i ask, ‘is this really how you want to see your empire go down[question mark]’ don’t answer that question americans. it was rhetorical.

cheers,
sally fink signature
wendy

60 Minutes Commits Child Abuse

Alma Deutscher - Artist's RenderingI saw that 60 Minutes profiled the child musician Alma Deutscher. I thought it odd. Very accomplished young musicians are hardly uncommon. I had season tickets to the Portland Symphony for a few years and it seemed every other performance featured some “great” 12-year-old on the violin or piano or glockenspiel. So why this child? Well, because she wasn’t just a performer; she was a composer. Oh, my! How exciting!

Now I should point out that I’m not using the word “prodigy” because that was a word that was used a lot about me: I was a “mathematical prodigy.” And I loved math. But I wasn’t interested in studying it 8 hours per day and my parents weren’t inclined to push me to do it. Instead, I spent time playing and drawing and putting on plays and generally doing anything that made me happy. I have a hard time believing any child wants to do one thing all the time. But I certainly can’t speak for Alma Deutscher. Nor would I want to. She speaks for herself, although she’s obviously been coached as much as Marjoe.

A Composer! Of 200 Year Old Music!

I was skeptical. Modern classical music is incredibly complex — even the bad stuff. The best stuff is filled with so much creativity that I had a hard time thinking that a 12-year-old would have much to offer. That was certainly true of Mozart. Nothing he wrote was really great until he was well into his 20s. (That’s right folks: Mozart wrote a lot of dreck in his early years.) Clearly, he had talent. But as with word writers, music writers need experience with life.

But I hoped that the compositions of this little girl were limited or even bad modern classical music. So I went to YouTube and found everything I could. I was sorely disappointed. She doesn’t even try to write anything from the last two centuries. Her music sounds like a precocious child’s version of the music before Beethoven. And that makes me think her performances aren’t anything more than her copying other performers. (That’s almost certainly true because it’s pretty much always true of young musicians; they haven’t had the life experience to add anything to the music.)

Great Composing Requires a Life Lived

Great composers do amazing things with their work. They communicate — in great detail. You might just hear a passage as sad, but they aren’t working in generalities. Many composers are known for putting musical jokes in their work. A great composer will tell you a story as clearly as the best writer or filmmaker.

Obviously, composers must study. Mozart studied counterpoint with Giovanni Martini, and the music he created afterward was far more interesting. But it was still years before he wrote anything I ever want to listen to.

But here’s my point: he was trying to write the music of his time. And this supposedly amazing child isn’t interested in any of the music of her own time. Most of it is no more interesting in the juvenilia of Mozart — which he wrote over 200 years ago!

The Classical Music Industry Sucks

This is not to knock Alma Deutscher. She’s a child. But it is a knock on the people who “enjoy” classical music. And it is a major knock on the people who produce classical music. As for her parents, well, I don’t know. But I suspect child abuse just as Marjoe Gortner suffered — just in a different way. I’d love to read the child’s autobiography when she’s 50.

This all makes me think that this poor young girl has been turned into a trained monkey by her parents and the classical music establishment. Almost everything she plays is something she’s written. I listened to her play a middling Mozart concerto that wasn’t really very well done. (She’s better on the violin than the piano.) Great for a little girl. Savaged by critics if performed by an adult. (She doesn’t seem to have even been told the purpose of a cadenza. And why an audience would applaud after the first movement, is unclear to me.)

There is no Brahms that I can find — much less Debussy — much much less Francis Poulenc — much much much less Elliott Carter! It’s almost all sweet music by the child herself.

What a Real Composer Creates

But I ask you, do you think the child composer of this:

Will ever grows up to be the adult composer of something this creative and great?

Not to mention Roomful Of Teeth.

I don’t think so. She might have. But not with all the adults who used her natural gifts to stick her two centuries before her own time. Sure, she’ll get better. But I doubt she’ll break from the music that made her famous. And at 16, she won’t be so cute. And if she’s lucky, she’ll have enough money that she can just quit.

Abused Child: Alma Deutscher

60 Minutes brought her on because they (and most classical music “lovers”) know almost nothing about classical music. Because they could have brought on someone like Masha Diatchenko, who at 15 actually seemed to understand the music she was playing. She didn’t seem like an abused trained monkey:

And listen to her at 23-years-old!

Maybe it’s an American thing. But I weep for Alma Deutscher. She’s being abused. And if she doesn’t know it now, she will soon enough.

Afterword

After reading this, I read the child’s Wikipedia page. It’s interesting that it contains not a single criticism, despite the fact that there has been quite a lot of criticism of her work. I suspect part of her marketing team makes sure that any criticism is removed. But there is much in there that makes the case that she is pushing against the prevailing trend against melody. This is preposterous. She has shown no sign of even being aware of current trends in classical music — or even trends over the last century.

Darius Milhaud once said, “Don’t ever feel discomfited by a melody.” I think modern composers know this. They don’t need to be taught by a precocious child. If they can be, modern classical music is over. But I don’t think it is. I think this child will have no effect whatsoever on the art of classical music. She might drag down the quality of what people listen to. Most classical music “lovers” may finally admit that they only like the music that doesn’t offend their archaic tastes. But the art will move along because of people like Caroline Shaw, even if most listeners aren’t sophisticated enough to enjoy it.

Thomas Frank at Book Passages

Thomas Frank at Book Passages (12 July 2018)
Thomas Frank at Book Passages (12 July 2018)

Thomas Frank was at Book Passages last night. He’s on a tour for his new book Rendezvous With Oblivion: Reports From a Sinking Ship. He was his charming self. I think that he is on the outside what I am on the inside: totally despairing but laughing about it because it’s all so absurd. I don’t just mean the politics — I mean everything. Life is a joke, and I am the punchline. You either laugh or cry.

Poor Will

I dragged Will with me. He didn’t know Thomas Frank. I should have prepared him. While Will laughed a fair amount during the talk, he left about halfway through. I figured he went to the bathroom. We had been drinking a lot of caffeine. And indeed, he did do that. But he noticed that Book Passages sold beer so he got one.

We were separated for the rest of the event. I only saw him back in his seat when I was in line to get my book signed. (More on that in a minute.) But afterward, he was so depressed. I felt bad.

Thomas Frank Said Something New

But there was almost nothing in the speech that was really new. The only thing that surprised me is that he said he liked Democratic politicians more than the liberal commentariat and (gag) political consultants. He noted that someone he used to hate, Cory Booker, sees where things are going and is now really good. And where things are going is real (leftist) populism, not this fake rightwing stuff Republicans use to get elected so they can give tax breaks to billionaires and rip apart unions.

Listening to that, I thought he’d been reading my mind because that’s exactly what I’ve been thinking and Booker is my favorite example. And I know what conservatives and liberal “purists” will say, “He’s just saying those things to get elected!” (Yes, Booker wants to be President.) I heard the same thing about Bill Clinton, Al Gore, John Kerry, Barack Obama, and Hillary Clinton.

And so what?! They are Democrats! By and large, they will govern the way they campaigned. Compare this to Trump: campaigns on building the wall and how the working class is getting screwed. He gets into office and there is no wall. But there is a great big tax cut for fat cats; he’s made healthcare go up in price; he’s started a trade war that is going to hurt the working people who voted for him.

But he did stick by his racism. I’ve got to give him that!

Book Signing

So I stood in line to get my book signed. He’s really great. He’s cheerful and nice to people who stand in front of him and pontificate about things they probably learned from him.

But it gave me time to think of something to say to him. At first, I was going to say, “Could you write, ‘To Frank from Tom,’ so I can use it later to prove that we used to be friends and ask to borrow a couple of bucks.” That seemed a bit too oblique, even for someone as sharp as Thomas Frank. Also, it was a little too much Tom Waits:

Thomas Frank: Hüsker Dü Fan

During the talk, he mentioned hanging out with some of his friends under a freeway overpass drinking and listening to Hüsker Dü’s Zen Arcade while seeing the McMansions being built. And he asked if anyone remembered Hüsker Dü. There was a scattering of acknowledgment. I, of course, was vaguely offended. What else is new? I’m an arrogant bastard. So I figured I’d talk to him a little bit about punk. It would probably be refreshing after the constant political talk that would make Mary Poppins’ suicidal.

So I told him Hüsker Dü was great — especially Zen Arcade. Then I asked him if he was into Minutemen and he was slightly less excited by them but he said he three of their albums. Maybe he’s just really good at this kind of stuff, but giving me an exact number of books made me think he was telling the truth. And why not? For one thing, we are both the same age with relatively similar backgrounds. Minutemen were one of the most political punk bands around — outside Dead Kennedys and Gang of Four, which were much more (probably too) explicit.

Without my asking, he did give me a good signature. I don’t doubt he always uses it when he runs into people named Frank or Thomas. “To Frank from Frank. Thomas Frank.” He has a much better signature than Bruce Campbell — not that I’m complaining about having both of Bruce’s autobiographies signed, thanks to Elizabeth.

Thomas Frank’s Talk

I made an audio recording of the talk. I hate those jittery YouTube videos. The video is mostly useless and the sound is terrible. The sound is pretty terrible here too, but if you turn it up, you can make it all out. I missed the first minute or so, so I faded in. He starts by making a comment about what the Trump Presidential Library will be like. (It’s an interesting thought given that the Nixon Library was filled with flat-out lies to decades.) But the rest of it is a reasonable recording of the event.

It probably would have been even more interesting to record the book signing. But alas.

The book, which I bought more to support independent booksellers than anything, is just a collection of previously published essays — at least half of which I’ve read. But I think I’ve read The Wrecking Crew twice, so I’ll probably read this too.

Happy Independence Day?

Happy Independence Day?

Oh, the Places I’ve Gone!

When I was a kid, I loved the Fourth of July: Independence Day! Admittedly, part of it was because they showed 1776 on television that day every year and I loved musicals. But I was also super patriotic because I totally bought all the lies my teachers had told me about this great nation.

Now it is just a night filled with loud noises and ignorant people.

One Nation, Built on Racism

Things really changed for me just a few years ago when I read The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism.

I really should have known, of course. Historians have been writing for a long time about the fact that the primary push for the southern colonies to enter the Revolutionary War was their fear that England was going to take their slaves away.

The Bigots…

Now I understand: for about 30 percent of the modern US population, that sounds like a damned good reason to start a war. In fact, all those people clamoring about “states’ rights” only really care about them in so far as it will allow them to bring back Jim Crow if not outright slavery. It certainly isn’t a concept they believe in when California wants to maintain high pollution-control standards.

Yes, I’m calling 30 percent of the nation bigots.

And the Racists…

The rest of us are just racists — regardless of color. That’s just what happens when you grow up in a racist society. The best of us fight it, but it’s still there — poisoning us.

As Jesse Jackson said, “There is nothing more painful to me at this stage in my life than to walk down the street and hear footsteps… then turn around and see somebody white and feel relieved.”

I feel the same way when I involuntarily tense up when a young black man gets on the bus. I disgust myself.

And the Liars…

There are, of course, people who claim not to have a racist bone in their bodies. They were wonderfully satirized by Stephen Colbert. I suppose some of them are just clueless racists. But mostly, I think they are lying bigots.

If you can’t admit to your faults, you have no hope of fixing them — or even becoming slightly less vile.

Revolution: What Is It Good For?!

Ultimately, the American Revolution was good for the white men that were already doing well. For everyone else — and that includes poor white men — the war didn’t improve their lives. And made the lives of millions to come far worse.

It’s Not Just About Racism

Dylan Matthews makes pretty much the same argument that I just made, but better because he didn’t spend the day writing and editing a mammoth article on Unix shells, Three Reasons the American Revolution Was a Mistake.

In the article, he also addresses the treatment of the first Americans. They would have been treated badly regardless — as they were in Canada. But it’s most likely that there wouldn’t have been a genocide committed against them over decades.

If you want to get a good idea of how badly we treated the first Americans, you should check out the ignorant and racist comments to my article Ayn Rand and Indians. I don’t want to get into it here. I’ve written a lot about this subject in the past.

Parliamentary System

Matthews third reason for why we would have been better off not separating from England is that we would now have a much more stable system of government: a parliamentary system. I’ve also written a lot about this, so I’m not going to dive into it.

You should really just go read Matthews’ fine article. I agree with it point by point.

The Bottom Line

Tomorrow, when I wake up, I will put the flag out. I don’t especially like to because I don’t like the way that people see the flag. I have traditionally seen it as aspirational. Right now, I see it as pictured above: the zombie apocalypse has happened; they’ve destroyed what’s good about us and now they’re hungry for our best aspirations.

But even if we fight them back, our vile and partisan Supreme Court will do all it can to bring the end. Because they crave brains too.

Happy “Independence” Day!