One can’t exactly celebrate this day, 50 years ago when Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated. But it brings up a lot of thoughts.
The first is how much I hate the deification of King. When he was alive, he was hated by northerners and southerners alike. And if he hadn’t been assassinated, he would still be hated by those on the right in this country. If he were alive today, he’d be treated the same way as Jesse Jackson. And do you remember the way he was treated by the Democrats in 1988?
But what really bugs me is the way that conservatives try to take Martin Luther King Jr for their own. They know next to nothing about King. They certainly don’t know about his still radical ideas of economic equality. Yet at least once a year, we have to hear a bunch of Republicans claim that we live in the Promised Land and so King would side with them now. What a joke!
When he was younger, my father was a member of the John Birch Society. And to this day, you cannot convince my father that King did not, in fact, visit the Soviet Union. I believe that was propaganda the FBI spread.
My father is also convinced that Martin Luther King Jr was a communist. Now you have to start with the fact that my father has no idea what a communist is. But it’s clear that King wasn’t too fond of capitalism. Neither is my father’s son. The truth is that in this country, “communist” is the same as “boogeyman.” It doesn’t mean anything. It was just the totalitarian system used by the Soviet Union. And I’m not at all certain that the people of Russia today are better off. Oh, Putin is elected, but he gets to choose who he runs against.
But speaking of embarrassing family members, there was an interesting discussion about Martin Luther King Jr over at New York, What Do We Forget About MLK? It’s short and worth reading, but here is quote from Ed Kilgore, who grew up in the south in the 1960s:
I happened to be visiting some of my rural relatives right after the assassination. The “nicer” among them were unhappy that so many Yankee politicians attended MLK’s funeral. But I mostly remember my sweet “old maid” great aunt saying that if she could find the assassin, she’d take him in and hide him and feed him and care for him the rest of his life.
Martin Luther King Jr Is No Threat Now
I really don’t think we’ve changed much. We just know what not to say publicly. I’ve seen it in more distant parts of my family. When they think they are safe (and why they think they are safe around me is anyone’s guess), they will say the most racist things. I see our society as being very much like it was in 1968, but with a patina of respectability covering over it.
And you don’t have to look hard. There have been numerous studies that show that identical resumes get interviews more often if they have a white sounding name than if they have a black sounding name. And the people making these hiring decisions aren’t illiterate southern bigots. They are people with college educations who doubtless see themselves as being color blind. But the truth is there in their subconsciouses.
The New Racism
Frankly, I would prefer if people would just be more honest. It seems like what we’ve done over the last fifty years has been to bury our racism. There are no longer laws keeping black people from moving into your neighborhood. But economic inequality does the job just as well. As The Conversation put it:
While racial segregation in US schools plummeted between the late 1960s and 1980, it has steadily increased ever since — to the the point that schools are about as segregated today as they were 50 years ago.
I think what I want to say on this anniversary is that at the time, most whites didn’t have a problem with Martin Luther King Jr being assassinated. They do now because he is no longer a threat to their lives. That’s what it all comes down to.
Afterword: Noor Salman Found Not Guilty
It’s been a few days, the jury in the Noor Salman case took only 12 hours to find her not guilty. It’s not surprising. The case against her was terrible. Basically, all the prosecution had against her was an initialed confession after 11 hours of interrogation. The defense was able to show that over half of it wasn’t true. So clearly, the FBI created the statement and pressured this poor woman to accept it. If I know anything about cops, it is this: they promised her if she initialed it, they would let her go home with her son.
I may write more about this later. But for the moment, I’m very pleased.
As you may have noticed, I’m consolidating articles. A big part of this is Google. They will give me a lot more credit for one 10,000 word article than 20 500 word articles. That’s what I did for my Christmas posts. I will create a whole new post on Christmas that includes the old posts and then I won’t have any old articles on the subject of Christmas itself. (I’ll still have articles about specific issues that relate to Christmas, however.)
I’m doing the same thing for Thanksgiving. This is really hard, because work is a nightmare around Thanksgiving because of Black Friday and something you may not even know exists, Cyber Monday. So this Monday I worked 11 hours. Tuesday, I worked only 9 hours — but just because I was too exhausted to go on.
Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. It’s one of the few times of the year that I get to cook for a large collection of people.
This year, we are having a ham and tri-tip. That’s all very easy. I’m responsible for the tri-tip as well as pretty much all the side dishes: green bean casserole, potatoes au gratin, macaroni and cheese, and strawberry cupcakes with vanilla frosting. I was going to make a cheesecake, but I decided that I was going to make something for myself instead. So cupcakes it is! Also: cheesecake takes a long time to make. The truth is that nothing on my list is all that time-consuming.
The Serious Business of Thanksgiving
Most of my writing about Thanksgiving is historical, however. I’m very interested in the European invasion of America. Mostly, the Europeans acted very badly. But even when they didn’t, they brought so many diseases that it didn’t matter.
So much of what follows will be along these lines.
–FM (23 November 2017)
Thanksgiving Without Cynicism
Well folks, I’m pushing today. There is so much to do. First, I have to write my normal stuff for today. And then I have to write at least my morning stuff for tomorrow. And, I have all this cooking today. As usual, I’m going to my older sister’s place for Thanksgiving. I’m not in charge of cooking. But I’m still bringing: my au gratin potatoes, which are now kind of a staple that no family gathering can be without; my absolutely great macaroni and cheese; the great mushroom quiche from The New Moosewood Cookbook; and a pumpkin pie, which I have never made before and I don’t vouch for. All of this is a good deal more complicated than you might imagine. The macaroni and cheese in particular, takes a long time; it is very complex. Really, I can’t stress this enough: it is fantastic.
But here’s the thing that I think you can probably tell from that last paragraph. I am really looking forward to this holiday. In fact, I keep thinking that it is Christmas. And in fact, it pretty much is for me. The only difference is that I give the kids money and try to lobby everyone beforehand to not buy presents. Otherwise, it is an opportunity to cook for a bunch of very grateful people. And it is an opportunity to hang out with my family.
Everyone in my family is about as annoying as I am. We are imperfect people. Yet on holidays, it all seems very much like a game to me. Mostly it is just one long tease, but very good natured. And we laugh a lot because it just doesn’t take much to get us to laugh. We are the sort of people who laugh at stand-up comedians performing in an empty bar on a Tuesday night with a blizzard outside. And the only one who has strong opinions about things is me. I, of course, have strong opinions on everything. But I keep them to myself.
Speaking of lobbying, I successfully lobbied against turkey this year. Other than on sandwiches, I don’t see the point of eating turkey. Ever. But on special occasions, I really don’t understand. What is special about turkey? It’s just a really big chicken with less tasty meat. My preference is to have prime rib. And the cost is basically the same! We aren’t having it tomorrow, however. For one thing, it is a pain to cook. I’m willing to do it, but I’m not cooking. So we are having tri-tip. Why? I don’t know. It just is the case that my brother-in-law likes to cook it and he does a good job of it. So I’m sure it will be delicious — especially with my side dishes!
Does this mean that tomorrow there will not be the usual “Frank tries to destroy your holiday” post? Not at all, although I have to admit that I don’t have any idea what I’m going to write. But holidays are very disruptive of my work. This week has been really difficult. And then Friday, the libraries are closed. There is no national political news except the turkey pardon. (That give me an idea for an anti-Thanksgiving post!) But overall: family, food, and some excellent alcohol (I’m still deciding). It really doesn’t get much better.
And before someone says something: yes, my expectations have gone down over the years…
–FM (27 November 2013)
The Myths of Thanksgiving
John Green is an internet phenom. He and his brother Hank make highly produced videos that seem that be educational while being very entertaining. But if you watch them enough, you’ll come to see that they are neither. Or maybe it’s just me. If I already understand the subject, then I can follow along and see that they are in fact hitting the high points. If I don’t already understand, I might pick up one or two things, but I end up wishing that I had spent the time reading Wikipedia. As for entertainment value, let’s just say that John Green is a one trick pony who gets old fast. (In fairness, I can put up with Hank a lot longer.)
But now and then, a John Green video is just what the doctor ordered. And I’m desperately looking for things to post on this Thanksgiving Day. I figured that he would have something interesting to say about the history of the day. Surprisingly, he didn’t. But he did make the following hodgepodge video about the European colonization of America. It all goes by rather fast and I can’t help but think that at this point he isn’t trying very hard. It is more schtick than anything else. Still, it’s kind of fun and interesting in as much as it make sense:
The most interesting thing about the whole Thanksgiving story is the ex-slave Squanto, who is probably the only reason any of the Plymouth colonists survived. Something that I don’t think is highlighted enough is that only half of the people who came over were Pilgrims. Included in their cargo was beer and opium. And most of all: the Pilgrims weren’t searching for religious freedom. They had religious freedom in Holland, but it wasn’t going well. Many of the older members of the congregation were going back to England and the children were leaving to start new lives. Moving to the new world was their way of surviving as a going concern. That’s fine, but I get really tired of the happy horseshit about the brave Pilgrims coming to America in search of religious freedom.
Recently, I’ve seen a lot of Christians trying to claim Thanksgiving as a religious holiday. Where does that come from? Even the standard story they tell to children doesn’t indicate that. The Native Americans saved the colonists from all starving to death. So to pay them back, they had a big old party with turkey. To me this says that the colonists were gracious, but clearly the natives are the heroes — you know, the pagan natives. In retrospect, they’ve got to have regretted that.
I like to think of it happening like this:
–FM (28 November 2013)
Capitalism, Productivity, and Thanksgiving
Happy Thanksgiving everyone! It is actually a holiday that I kind of like. That’s because it is just about eating. I think we could use more holidays like this. In fact, as time has gone on, I’ve become more fond of holidays. The reason is simple: the oligarchs are trying to destroy the very idea of holidays. Americans work far too much. We need to take more time off. Part of our economic problems come from the fact that those who do have jobs work a lot, leaving an unreasonable number of people with no work at all.
In other countries, the people have chosen to exchange increasing productivity for more leisure time. This makes sense. But Americans have not in general made that decision. They’ve taken all of the increased productivity in a higher standard of living. I think that is likely not an actual choice. In the United States, not “living to work” is seen as a moral failing. But at some point, the “family values” crowd might consider what is better: being able to afford a better television and iPhone or being able to spend more time with their kids?
Of course, for the last four decades, American workers haven’t traded their productivity gains for either more leisure or a higher standard of living. All those productivity gains have gone to the owners of capital. The whole social contract in America has broken down. And I’ve been waiting for decades for the people to do something about it. But they seem too busy just trying to make ends meet to do anything else.
In addition to this, conservatives have gotten really good at defining as “normal” and “moral” the current system that enriches the powerful at the expense of the weak. It reminds me of Newspeak in 1984. The idea of the language was to make it so that people weren’t even able to think heretical thoughts. The very idea of freedom would be gone from people’s minds. I run into people all the time who are poor but somehow think that the capitalist system is God given. We have embraced capitalism in the past because it worked — for both owners and workers. Now it has stopped working for the vast majority of people. But capitalism is embraced for ideological reasons rather than practical ones. And that is evident in the fact that most workers don’t think that capitalism has to prove itself. Capitalism never fails — it is only failed.
So on this Thanksgiving, I hope that you did not have to work. What’s more, I hope that you took care of all your shopping before today so that you don’t have to go down to Safeway to pick something up. All that does is convince our corporate masters that everything must be open on Thanksgiving. But most of all, I hope you don’t sneak down to one of those horrible pre-Black-Friday sales. Trust me: you don’t need all that crap anyway.
Enjoy Thanksgiving! We may not have it much longer.
I figured there must be some fun Thanksgiving poetry out in the big world. And I was sadly disappointed. That’s not to say there isn’t such poetry. It is just that the vast majority of what I found was pretty lame. But I did find a decent amount of stuff that tickled me — at least a little.
One website, You Can Be Funny, had Funny Thanksgiving Poems. There are basically just two things that the poems discuss. One is the fact that people eat a lot on Thanksgiving. The other — and main — category consists of those that discuss the fate of the turkey. Here is a typical, but better than average, example:
Turkey, Turkey, look at you
Please be careful what you do.
Thanksgiving day is almost here.
We eat turkey every year.
Go and hide out in the woods.
We’ll eat pizza like we should.
Better is a poem by Jane-Ann Heitmueller, “Reprieve.” It is the turkey equivalent of Poe’s “The Raven.” It is a little funny, but mostly it is profound. Thanksgiving is always a good time to think about death:
While sauntering down an oak filled lane one bright, crisp autumn day,
I sensed a quiet, hidden gaze directed in my way.
With searching eyes I scanned the limbs to find the Peeping Tom,
And sure enough, though well concealed, the turkey sat… so calm.
Apparently, ’twas in his heart approaching Turkey Day,
So he was hidden with the hope to be nobody’s prey.
I couldn’t help but sympathize, as I went strolling by,
And know I too would be in fear thinking I soon might die!
Striking a pose of nonchalance, my pace, I kept it steady,
Deciding this Thanksgiving Day—
My meal would be spaghetti.
Will and Guy’s Humor (“Funny Clean Jokes”!) provides some very sentimental poems, but we must have one poem about food in general:
May your stuffing be tasty
May your turkey plump,
May your potatoes and gravy
Have nary a lump.
May your yams be delicious
And your pies take the prize,
And may your Thanksgiving dinner
Stay off your thighs!
Let’s end with a couple of more sophisticated poems from MadKane. This first one is from one of her limerick competitions. She asked people to write one about eating. And as always, she provided her own example:
A man was attempting to eat
When he spotted a mouse near his seat.
So he smashed down his foot,
And the mouse went kaput,
As his kid cried, “You killed little Pete!”
And then there is this Thanksgiving limerick from 2012 when Washington was approaching the “Fiscal Cliff”:
It’s time for some serious talk.
Please don’t bitch or complain, and don’t balk.
Our issues are great—
Act before it’s too late.
So kindly talk turkey. Don’t squawk.
Just to show you how beneficent I am, I have decided to not leave you with a poem. But I could totally create a poem using turkey, perky, quirky, murky, and beef jerky.
–FM (27 November 2014)
Morning Comedy: Thanksgiving
This week is Thanksgiving. When I was a kid, I didn’t think much of it as a holiday. Now, it is one of my favorites because it is an excuse to cook in a very ostentatious manner. Of course, I’m spending this Thanksgiving with my younger sister who is kind of a vegetarian, so I won’t be doing a prime rib. Instead, it will be a couple of very nicely treated chickens. So I thought that we would do a week of Thanksgiving songs.
But given that at the moment I don’t know how many Thanksgiving songs there are, I figured I would hedge and start the week out with this sketch from Portlandia. I’m pretty sure someone mentioned this to me recently in the comments. And frankly, I’m very pleased whenever I’m able to rip off one of my readers for an article.
This is a very funny sketch that speaks both to the over-concern of many people about animals and also my odd love of chickens. Because, frankly, I’d love to see one chicken with its wing around another chicken.
–FM (22 November 2015)
It is Thanksgiving. And given that this post will go up at 11:05 am local time, I should already be cooking and, more important, drinking. But as I write this, it is days earlier and I am sober. So let me tell you a little about the Thanksgiving celebration. Don’t get me wrong: any excuse for a party. And our society is sorely lacking in rituals that bring people together. So that’s great. You should enjoy this day. And you should give thanks, because if you are able to read this, it probably means that your life isn’t too bad. But that doesn’t give an excuse to the bastards who run the world.
Anyway, I came upon an interesting article at Indian Country Today Media Network, Six Thanksgiving Myths, Share Them With Someone You Know. It wasn’t like I was shocked or anything. But I did learn a great deal. One thing I did not learn, but that is very important is that the Wampanoag and Pilgrims were not all that friendly. In fact, the Pilgrims had chosen a former Wampanoag settlement. The tribe had abandoned it because previous European traders had caused an outbreak of plague that killed as many as two-thirds of the roughly 100,000 Wampanoag people who lived in 69 villages. Of course, it wasn’t just the plague; traders also kidnapped tribesmen and sold them into slavery.
What I did not know is that the Indians and the Pilgrims seem to have gotten together because the latter group were acting like typical American idiots. They were happy about harvest, so they were shooting off guns and cannons. “The Wampanoag chief and 90 warriors made their way to the settlement in full warrior mode — in response to the gunfire.” Since the Pilgims were vastly outnumbered, I guess they figured they should invite the concerned warriors to hang out and eat.
But the most interesting thing is that this didn’t become a regular event. The original meal took place in 1621. But there were no similar celebrations for more than a decade. In 1636, a white man was murdered. Now, usually, that means he was murdered by another white man. That’s the kind of thing that happens. If you look at the statistics in modern America: whites kill whites and blacks kill blacks and so on. But the Pilgims blamed another local tribe, the Pequot people. So in retaliation, the good Christian Pilgrims massacred them — burning many of them alive and killing many others by different methods. It is this massacre that the Pilgrims started celebrating each year:
The day after the massacre, William Bradford who was also the Governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony, wrote that from that day forth shall be a day of celebration and thanks giving for subduing the Pequots and “For the next 100 years, every Thanksgiving Day ordained by a Governor was in honor of the bloody victory, thanking God that the battle had been won.”
Apparently, Thanksgiving didn’t become the G-rated celebration of how super-keen things were between the Pilgrims and the Indians until the Civil War, when Lincoln used it to try to united the nation. And it is a nice story! But it should be treated like Santa Claus: a nice story, but not the truth. This nation has never come to terms with its treatment of the hundreds of native tribes. Maybe we should rename this holiday AskForgiveness Day.
–FM (26 November 2015)
I do like Thanksgiving in the sense that I like cooking and I like eating. But it’s hard to get past the mythology of the holiday. You know what I’m talking about: the Wampanoag and Pilgrims getting along and singing Kumbaya. One day out of hundreds of years and we pick up on it. The reason is clear enough: our European ancestors were awful. And the room that I write this in — much less the house that I will be cooking Thanksgiving dinner in — is the result of straight-up theft, combined with unthinkable acts of cruelty and murder.
That’s not to say that the hundreds of American tribes were perfect people. I don’t buy into the noble savage myth either. Humans are, all things considered, pretty awful. But when the first Americans came here, they weren’t invading; they were settling. And they ended up with a diverse system of cultures. Most important, they interacted very much like the countries of Europe: sometimes they got along and sometimes they didn’t. It’s sad to say that today, most people just assume it was one or the other. Either these original Americans were peace-loving peyote eaters. Or they were constantly at war with each other.
The truth is that the first Americans were just people — like any others. When Europeans invaded, they won because they had more firepower. And by “firepower,” I’m talking more about disease than guns. Cortés didn’t manage to destroy the Aztec empire by his brilliance. It’s just that all his men, coming from disease infested Europe managed to wipe out 90 percent of Moctezuma’s troops by breathing on them. This, of course, was typical of meetings between Europeans and Americans.
I’ll discussed this below, AskForgiveness Day. I note that, “The Pilgrims had chosen a former Wampanoag settlement. The tribe had abandoned it because previous European traders had caused an outbreak of plague that killed as many as two-thirds of the roughly 100,000 Wampanoag people who lived in 69 villages.” But don’t get the wrong idea; it wasn’t just inadvertent death and destruction. Those earlier Europeans kidnapped many Wampanoag people and sold them into slavery. You should read the whole thing; it’s got some other nice tidbits of information that are worth thinking about today.
It isn’t my intent to beat up on the Europeans. As I said: humans are awful. But the whole European invasion of America always makes me think of a platitude from my youth, “Might doesn’t make right.” But unlike most platitudes, this one is so obviously wrong. Might indeed makes right. If it didn’t, certainly all our presidents going back to at least Ronald Reagan would have been hanged for war crimes. And does anyone think but that Churchill would have been tried and hanged if the Nazis had won World War II?
We humans try to avoid hard truths. So we come up with fairy tales to justify why we are rich and others are dead. But fairy tales are for children. After a while, we tell children that Santa Claus is a fable. But we never get around to admitting that the Thanksgiving story is equally one.
–FM (24 November 2016)
“Squantohowwellthecornprospered” by The German Kali Works, New York – Bricker, Garland Armor. The Teaching of Agriculture in the High School. New York: Macmillan, 1911. Page 112. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons. The other images are licensed under Fair Use.
What most annoys me about Libertarians — and free market purist of all varieties — is that they see the only potential liberty killing force as being the government. Or if they don’t believe that they believe that it is only the government that we should be fighting against.
This seems to come from the idea that they can’t stop businesses from doing what they want because that would limit the individual liberty of the business owner. And they are unwilling to make any judgments to maximize liberty. Even if a law would greatly increase the liberty of workers and only decrease the liberty of employers by a tiny amount, it can’t be done. This is largely because libertarians don’t see in terms of trade-offs, and they don’t even know they are making a trade-off.
The result of this is that their philosophy comes down to support for oligarchy. Since they start with business owners’ rights as undeniable, workers always get screwed. And this is why for example Libertarians almost to a person are in favor of Right to Work laws, even though they are clearly liberty killing on the part of the workers and employers. Libertarians just don’t like workers. It is simple as that.
What Limits Your Liberty?
If you vote for a libertarian what you end up getting is a politician who is against all of the good things that the government does. But they are all for continuing the gravy train for the rich.
But think about your life. Do you find it is the government that destroys your liberty? Unless you have spent a lot of time in jail, the answer is almost certainly no. The single biggest thing that gets in the way of your liberty is your boss.
Libertarianism might not be so bad if we still had a rural economy where almost everyone was a self-employed farmer. But today almost no one has any choice but to get a job working for someone else. And depending upon their boss, they are living in tyranny.
I stress the fact that workers had no choice because Libertarians always throw this idea up. To them everyone has endless choices. This may come from the fact that most libertarians are themselves from affluent or at least upwardly-mobile families themselves. But the truth is that people have at most an alternative not a choice. And most people don’t even have an alternative.
Libertarianism Just Helps the Rich
So libertarianism is a useless philosophy. All it stands for is bashing the government and allowing in the rich to do whatever they want. And I will fully admit that governments are often a huge problem. But in the United States it is not. The government is a problem mostly to the extent that it acts as a protector of the rich. Thus it isn’t surprising that the rich tend to be libertarians. In the United States it’s quite a deal. You have a government that supports the powerful and here is this supposedly scruffy political philosophy that wants to destroy the government.
This goes back to something I noticed many years ago and is probably the biggest reason why I stopped being a libertarian. If you vote for a libertarian what you end up getting is a politician who is against all of the good things that the government does like helping the poor, providing healthcare, providing for retirement, and so on. But they are all for continuing the gravy train for the rich.
Now it is true that if you talk to libertarians, they will usually tell you how they don’t believe in all this crony capitalism. But there are two important issues here. One is that in practice this is the way libertarians always act when elected. And the other is if you look at the libertarians themselves and how their default position is pro-business and anti-worker, you will see that it’s no accident that in practice libertarian philosophy always comes down to the worst form of conservatism.
Libertarianism Is Anti-Worker
What workers need to know is that libertarianism is not their friend. Even if it says some nice things about workers and rights it is dead set against them. It believes that if you aren’t a business owner you are just a taker and you should be glad that some great Job Creator is there to give you a job.
When you get down to it, libertarianism is the worst political theory that gets any kind of a fair hearing in our society. It is quite amazing that libertarianism hasn’t been soiled the same way that communism and fascism have been. But I believe this is only because a major country has not explicitly called itself libertarian. The truth is that Pinochet’s Chile was a libertarian system of government. Of course libertarians will never admit this.
Libertarians Will Not Accept Its Practical Results
Libertarianism only exists as a platonic ideal in the minds of its adherents. When it exists in practice it simply reduces to the worst kind of conservatism: absolute law of the jungle capitalism for the poor and crony capitalism for the rich. But this is never the fault of libertarianism. This is because libertarianism is a cult. It can never fail; it can only ever be failed.
Thus I get incredibly tired of even talking to libertarians because they aren’t willing to talk about the real world. They are stuck in their minds. But even on that level they are no friend of the workers. Remember that. If you work for a living, libertarians hate you.
Happy Labor Day!
On this Labor Day, you should really read Elizabeth Anderson excellent article How Bosses Are (Literally) Like Dictators. I read it right after writing this article, and I was pleased that she said much of what I had. But she goes into a lot more depth overall. What’s more, she talks about how all the great free market (libertarian) writers were talking about a totally different economic environment, and how the Industrial Revolution made what they were talking about irrelevant. I highly recommend reading it. I’m going to get her book, Private Government: How Employers Rule Our Lives (and Why We Don’t Talk About It).
The rock and roll legend Chuck Berry died yesterday at the age of 90. When I a kid, I thought of him as just a great guitarist — certainly the most recognizable and most copied lead guitar player ever. And he was certainly that. But I tend to downplay it now. Sad as it is to say, he is the only lead guitar player who I can play like — basically, I’ve never gotten past the surfer bands of the 1960s, and they didn’t know a thing they didn’t learn from listening to Chuck Berry.
It was only later that I realized that he is one of the greatest songwriters of the 20th century. And I’m not just talking about rock and roll. He is as good as Rodgers and Hart, for example. And I can’t really give a songwriter any greater compliment. There is lots to say about Berry’s life, but I prefer to let the music speak for itself. So let’s listen to a few of his hits.
First there is the classic, and possibly the greatest rock and roll song ever (but not my favorite), “Johnny B Goode”:
Second is one of my favorites, “You Never Can Tell”:
Beyond Teen Music
One thing I especially like about Berry’s work is that by and large it isn’t adolescent. That doesn’t take away from it’s fun. But I love the multiple generations of “You Never Can Tell” — rather a more adult take on marriage than The Beach Boys’ anemic “Wouldn’t It Be Nice.”
In “Memphis, Tennessee” he wrote about trying to get in touch with his daughter following a break-up. It’s poignant:
New National Anthem?
As many of you know, I’m not fond of our national anthem. Not only does it have a questionable history, it isn’t a pleasant tune and it brings out the worst in our modern day screechers. But Chuck Berry wrote a song that would make a great national anthem, “Back in the USA.” It is the most patriotic song I know of, and without a hint of jingoism. Maybe it’s time to finally change:
What can I say? Chuck Berry gave more than he took. I guess I’ll just take a hint from Douglas Adams…
So long, and thanks for all the songs, Chuck Berry!
I generally think in terms of days. This is why I manage to make at least 365 foundational errors every year: each day I choose to continue on being conscious of the universe. But today, let’s consider this whole year that we look toward. Are we really all going to sit through the whole thing? I think it makes the question of continued survival more stark. Yes, I can make it through the next day. But the next year? Given that we know it will be much like last year, it’s hard to answer in the affirmative.
The Meaning of Life
Many people ask, “What is the meaning of life?” That’s a stupid question. Can you honestly look forward or back on your life and see any meaning in it? I don’t want to upset anyone who really hasn’t been paying attention, but life is meaningless.
For most people, I stand as an object lesson for never allowing a teenager to read Schopenhauer. So I’m on record — repeatedly — about my belief that the continuance of life — the will to live — is an irrational thing. But one needn’t be rational in all things. Indeed, I write more about the irrationality of humans than I do Schopenhauer. One of the easiest ways to annoy me is to tell me that humans are rational. They aren’t — even in little ways.
It’s because of this that I have a thin reed to hang onto as I continue into the future. Perhaps you will find it helpful.
You Make the Universe Worse
I have a great love of anti-art. This is the kind of art that is created only for the process itself. So an example of anti-art might be a digital music device programmed to destroy itself before playing any of the music it was programmed to play. It is art explicitly created for no one. And I am a work of art created for no one. (When you get into ontological matters, it gets hard to distinguish between the implicit and the explicit.) I like to learn things, gain skills, create stuff — all while knowing that they are all ephemeral.
An enormous amount of the universe’s energy has been used to fight entropy and create me. And then I exist for a period of time before giving into entropy. Ultimately, I will have taken very useful energy and turned it into heat, which is a decidedly poor energy source. The universe will be more chaotic after I’ve gone than it was before I existed. So the universe has greatly harmed itself for the purpose of creating a machine that understood for a short period of time that universe was doing this.
And that is hilarious!
More Than You Think
It’s even more hilarious when you consider that the vast majority of people on earth are too caught up in their delusions of meaning to even know the joke exists — much less to get it. And that’s to say nothing of billions of years of evolution of creatures that didn’t get the joke. So why not hang around for another year?
Think of yourself as conscious toxic waste. Wouldn’t you want to hang around as long as possible soiling your environment? But if you don’t like that analogy, you can feel good that most of the damage that your existence has done to the universe has already been done. Maintaining your wasteful machine is pretty cheap. And depending upon how funny you think your existence is, maybe it’s a net positive.
Existence Is a Joke
We are all a joke. If more people understood that, maybe we would live in a more just society. Because when you know that existence is a joke, you also know that it has nothing to do with justice. Your existence is a waste of elementary particles. In this next year, thousands of children will be burned alive. And a trust-fund baby will get the biggest ego stroke on the planet by being the leader of the “free” world. Try not to think of that. Focus on what a waste you are in this universe. That might get you through to next year when I promise I’ll have a whole new reason for irrationally continuing on.
 Or maybe all these “lesser” brains did and do get the joke. Maybe this whole self-awareness thing makes the joke harder to get. Maybe when a female mantis is biting the head of her mate, she is laughing up a storm, thinking, “Can you believe this?!” The male might be thinking the same thing in its final milliseconds of consciousness. For the record, I suspect that no mantis, dog, or cat actually gets the joke. But they do have us beat in not thinking themselves rational. Biting the heads off your mate is just what you do.
Today is Noam Chomsky’s 88th birthday. It’s remarkable to see him these days. We know that the human brain deteriorates distinctly around the age of 70. Yet Chomsky’s certainly doesn’t seem to have. Now part of this is no doubt that he was operating at such a high level before that he’s still sailing above most of us.
Noam Chomsky vs William Buckley
But it’s not that I don’t see it. I don’t think he is quite as quick as he was in 1969. Watch him debating William F Buckley. He was 40 years old at that time. It’s interesting in that Chomsky flails Buckley effortlessly. But it is clear that Buckley (no intellectual slouch) is working very hard and losing to a man who seems to be preoccupied with something else — perhaps a linguistics question that came up at the graduate seminar that day. It’s only because of Chomsky’s passive speaking style that conservatives think of this confrontation as something of a tie rather than an embarrassing defeat, which it obviously was.
After all these years, this exchange is well worth watching. It isn’t just because nothing has changed in a categorical sense. It’s also just wondrous to watch Chomsky at the peak of his powers (full debate):
I can’t speak to Chomsky’s work on linguistics. The basics of it are clear. I even put “Colorless green ideas sleep furiously” into my most recent book to make a point about the lack of editing from certain small presses. But that is a subject for another time. For the last fifty years, Chomsky has been known for his political work. And it is the reason that he’s been important in my life.
Chomsky at 88
It is still amazing to listen to him or, even better, read him. He’s probably been the biggest influence on my thinking about foreign affairs. That has, in turn, changed how I’ve thought about domestic matters. But this interview he did with Mehdi Hasan is probably the most insightful thing I’ve seen about the post-Trump world. Given that I’ve highlighted it twice already, you’ve probably seen it. But if not, you really should take the time.
The down side of Noam Chomsky is that he can make you feel hopeless. His insights are so clear that it is impossible to avoid the conclusion that those in power know. That’s what is so devastating in the Buckley interview: that it shows that Buckley understands what Chomsky is talking about, but that he just doesn’t care because all the pain that the country causes results in much better lives for people like Buckley — and let’s be honest: Chomsky and me as well.
Chomsky Still Has Much to Teach
The one thing that I can get almost no one to understand is the biggest thing that I learned from Chomsky: that all the stuff we tell ourselves about being a force for good in the world is a lie. That’s not to say that we kill innocent children for pleasure. But it is to say that killing innocent children would only get in the way of our policies if it might create an unacceptable level of blow-back.
The world — my world — is a far greater place because Noam Chomsky is in it. And even at 88 years old, he continues to improve it. I hope I can wish him many more happy birthdays.
Good morning everyone! It seems I have gotten back my evil will to live — others call it their “groove.” And just in time because it is the best holiday of the year: Halloween! And I thought I would share with you a few wonderful clips from my favorite Halloween movies.
The Bride of Frankenstein
Okay: I have to make a disclosure. My favorite Halloween movies really aren’t scary. When I was eight years old, I stayed up late with my older sister to watch Creature Features. They were showing The Bride of Frankenstein. And I was so afraid, that I vomited. Now, of course, I find it one of the most charming films ever made. The monster is not frightening. If you treat him well, he’ll be nice to you. He just wants to be loved!
There is so much to love in the film. But the ending really does sum everything up, “Friend? Friend?” Not that he can’t be riled, as he is soon enough.
The House on Haunted Hill
This one is pure fun. But again, when I was kid, I was very frightened by it. The following video is of the entire The House on Haunted Hill. But I have it set at the very ending because it is so ridiculous. When Vincent Price appears out of the shadows with his preposterous contraption for controlling the skeleton, lesser minds think, “That’s stupid!” But the evolved know that it makes perfect sense that a man would have a small pool of acid and a skeleton marionette. Right?!
The Last Man on Earth
Before Night of the Living Dead there was The Last Man on Earth. In fact, George Romero has said that he was inspired by the film (and the book by Richard Matheson). When I was very young (six or seven), it seemed that The Last Man on Earth was always being played on Creature Features. Now I’ll admit: it isn’t as good a film in terms of narrative. But it terrified me as a child. “Morgan, come out!”
What’s remarkable is just how beautifully the film is shot. I recommend watching it just as an exercise in the craft of filmmaking. The whole film is there.
Bride of the Monster
Okay, Bride of the Monster is a hard film to watch all the way through. People say that Ed Wood was a terrible director. He wasn’t. But he didn’t worry too much about the scripts that he wrote. Most people don’t know this, but Wood published over 80 novels in his life. He was a writing machine — apparently because quality wasn’t that important to him. But he was capable of great work. And that is well on display in this star scene with Bela Lugosi.
Best of the Halloween Movies: A Comedy of Terrors
Of course, I’ve never been a big Lugosi fan. I love Boris Karloff. And we’ve already had one of his films. Also: two with Vincent Price. And one film written by one of the greats, Richard Matheson. So why don’t we throw in Peter Lorre and Basil Rathbone and enjoy a whole film, A Comedy of Terrors. It is not at all frightening. It probably wouldn’t even have been to 8-year-old Frank. But it’s wonderful:
Have a wonderful holiday all of you! Use it as an excuse to enjoy some great old Halloween movies. Let’s finish with a song:
I just learned that Edward Albee died yesterday. It isn’t a shock; he was 88 years old. Still, it is sad. He was a hero of mine.
I first discovered him in high school. I went over to the college, which was performing The Zoo Story. It was a total mystery to me going in. And it was performed in a converted classroom. There were perhaps 50 people in the audience. I was blown away. It hadn’t occurred to me that you could do so much with just two actors and a bench. Now, of course, I see it in context. But then it was totally new to me.
It started my obsession with Theatre of the Absurd. But that term always brings to mind Eugène Ionesco. It’s actually much broader than that. Albee was more in the tradition of Samuel Beckett. Although clearly The Zoo Story was influenced by John Osborne. Albee was at his best when he was at his most real. Things like The American Dream are at best uninspired, and certainly nothing worth reading more than once.
Edward Albee’s Work
The truth is that Albee’s work was quite uneven. But I think that says something good about him. He was always searching. At the same time, it is hard not to think he was just a bit evil. I read Tiny Alice many times in high school — trying to figure out what Albee was on about. I finally went to the college library and researched the play. After it opened in New York, reporters asked him what the play meant. He replied that he knew when he was writing it but that he had forgotten. It was a good response, but I think Albee was rarely clear what he was doing.
Edward Albee is best known for his 1962 play Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? I’ve cooled to it over the years. It is such hateful play about four unlikable people. I have a bleak outlook on life, but it isn’t that bleak. Don’t misunderstand: the play is brilliant and there is much truth in it. But I think his aim was much more true in A Delicate Balance.
After that, Albee got a little soft with two of his best plays: All Over and Seascape. He seemed to get to the point where he could see past alienation. Both of those plays triumph over alienation in their way. And then, Edward Albee went rudderless — for about a decade.
That’s not to say the work was bad. Certainly he got lots of bad reviews, but that was true of most of his work. He never wrote the kind of stuff that was meant to be fully appreciated in one viewing or reading. But he wasn’t doing anything he hadn’t done before. But all that changed in 1991 with what I consider his masterpiece, Three Tall Women.
Three Tall Women
It’s hard to say just what is so great about the play. The second half is simply a conversation between the same woman at three different ages: 20s, 50s, and 90s. And it shows, in such a powerful way, how cynicism grows in us. I’ve done a lot of writing trying to mimic what Edward Albee does in that play. But like the greatest art, it’s obvious yet elusive.
Anyway, it’s sad that Edward Albee has died. But he left us a lot of great work. And I assume he had as good a life as anyone could reasonably expect.
Do you remember 11 September 2002? It was the first year that we got to remember 9/11. Ah, it was a good time. By that point, we had only lost 67 American troops in Afghanistan. No one was much thinking about Iraq, even though the Bush administration was already pushing hard for war. That’s not completely true, of course; Donald Trump told Howard Stern that day that he was for the new war. But overall, it truly was a good year to remember 9/11!
By 11 September 2003, it wasn’t quite so great to remember 9/11. By then, 342 American troops had died in Iraq. On the plus side, the number of American deaths in Afghanistan was down to only 54. The unemployment rate had gone up to 6.1 percent. Things certainly weren’t getting better, but times were nice enough to look back and remember 9/11.
On 11 September 2004, things were much the same as they had been in 2003. There were a few things that were worth celebrating. The unemployment rate had gone down to 5.4 percent. What’s more, Thomas Friedman had already started using what would later be called the Friedman Unit. On 30 November 2003, he wrote, “The next six months in Iraq… are the most important six months in US foreign policy in a long, long time.” Yes, it was still a good day to remember 9/11!
Still, things had started to unwind a bit. By 11 September 2005, every person I knew who had voted for George W Bush the year before claimed to regret it. How could they have known that the Iraq War was a sham — something the Bush administration had wanted to do from the moment they got into office? Certainly reading a book was out of the question! This was the Bush era: real Americans didn’t read! In 2005, it was not a good day to remember 9/11.
So when we remember 9/11, just what are we remembering? It doesn’t seem to be anything deep. It seems to be like the frat boys partying on the announcement of Osama bin Laden death. “We’re number one!”
So much had changed. But I wondered from the start exactly what we were remembering. It’s not that I don’t accept that 9/11 was a huge tragedy. But it was also a great gift to the war mongers. I doubt that Bush would have gotten his Iraq War if everyone didn’t remember 9/11. We wouldn’t have seen the huge increase in the security state. We wouldn’t be flying unmanned death machines all over the world and killing children because some set of criteria indicate that maybe someone in the vicinity kinda seems like maybe they are sorta terrorish.
Remember 9/11: In Your Own Way
Every year that we remember 9/11, we get yet more reruns of documentaries about what happened that day. I don’t think anyone has to be reminded. We all remember. But I think “Remember 9/11” is kind of like “Remember the Maine.” It’s just a call for war. We were attacked and therefore anything we do is okay. “They raped our queen, so we raped their city, and we were right!”
Now I know: everyone remembers 9/11 in their own way. But as a society, I think we remember the attack. Many remember the rescue, which was both heroic and incredibly successful. (Pretty much everyone who could get out did.) But overall, I’m not sure what we are remembering. It seems that too much of it is remembering that we were wronged. Well, even if you accept that simplistic analysis, what did we learn?
What Are We Learning?
As we remember 9/11 for the 15th year, what are we getting for it? As a country, we are just as likely to resist democratic movements and support autocrats. We have normalized continuous war. Jihadism seems to be alive and well. We haven’t accepted a lick of responsibility for the blowback of our meddlesome foreign policy.
So when we remember 9/11, just what are we remembering? It doesn’t seem to be anything deep. It seems to be like the frat boys partying on the announcement of Osama bin Laden death. “We’re number one! We’re number one!” It means nothing to remember something if you don’t learn from it. And I don’t think that our country has learned anything. We will remember the attacks on 9/11 until the next attack. And we will respond to that attack in the same way we always do.
On this 15th remembrance of 9/11, I think we should remember that responding to tragedies like this should be done in a mature way — and not as a child would. But we won’t. We never do. Humans never have. “They raped our queen, so we raped their city, and we were right!”
It’s Labor Day and I do hope that you aren’t working. I am of course working. There are a lot of reasons that are specific to me. One is that I work with people all over the world. International Workers’ Day is on 1 May. We have Labor Day because of the federal government’s disastrous response to the Pullman Strike. Those were the days when politicians actually worried about revolution (although not enough to do what was right in the first place). So most of the people I work with will not have today off.
The other reason is because I work all the time. The closest I’ve had to a day off since I returned from Mexico was on Friday when I worked about two and a half hours. The truth is that this work is kind of addictive. I’ve come to think of it as providing me with Sudoku Meaning. It’s the kind of meaning that I get from doing Sudoku puzzles. I’m very good at them. They engage my mind. They require a fair bit of creativity. But they aren’t deep. What television is to most people, Sudoku is to me.
Sudoku Meaning and My Job
I get Sudoku Meaning from my job. What’s more: I get paid to get Sudoku Meaning. I consider myself quite lucky in this regard. Just the same, this feeds itself. I shouldn’t work this much. But to stay with the television analogy, it’s like people who always watch The History Channel or whatever. They know there are other things on. But it’s just convenient. In this regard, my job is way easier than running Frankly Curious. I never know what I’m going to write around here. There’s no structure. There’s just a vague notion that I should write something interesting for the people who make a special trip here each day — and there are quite a number of them.
Frankly Curious Too!
But the truth is that Frankly Curious mostly provides Sudoku Meaning to me. There isn’t anything fundamental about it. There are times when what I write about transcends the format. Some of my work on Don Quixote works that way — providing me with sense of self-actualization. But way too much of it is facile craft. Give me any subject and two hours and I’ll give you an 800 word article, typeset with images. Hell: give me a first sentence! After writing over 7,000 articles for this blog, I’m good at that kind of stuff.
Rather than find meaning that has substance, we settle for a simulacrum…
It’s all Sudoku Meaning. So I’m looking for some deeper meaning. What that requires, I think, is slowing down. And that brings us back to Labor Day. We should have lots of them. But the truth is that most people don’t get one of them. Even if they get the day off, they don’t get paid for it. It’s hard to have friends and family over for a barbecue if you don’t have any money. But I think we lack leisure because we’ve embraced Sudoku Meaning.
Sudoku Meaning Is the Modern Sisyphus
Think about Sisyphus — the guy who rolls a huge boulder up a hill, only for it to roll back down, requiring him to repeat the process — for eternity. I see this — Quelle surprise! — in Schopenhauerian terms. It is the struggle of life that we live through each day just so we can repeat the same struggle tomorrow.
But we don’t need to struggle anymore. There is more than enough food for all. We can shelter everyone. In the west, we are doing quite well. So I think we developed Sudoku Meaning to help us carry on the Sisyphusian struggle. As Neil Postman put it in Amusing Ourselves to Death, “Big Brother does not watch us, by his choice. We watch him, by ours.” Rather than find meaning that has substance, we settle for a simulacrum of it.
I see the problem very clearly in my own life. And I am fighting it. And losing. Badly.
In 1978, Elvis Costello recorded the best known version of “What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace, Love, and Understanding.” It’s a great version, there’s no question of that. But a lot of people are surprised to learn that he didn’t write it. This is because his version seems sarcastic. The song was written by Nick Lowe, a man certainly capable of great cynicism. But I think this song is really a self-indictment. It’s an honest question, “What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace, Love, and Understanding?”
When I was in graduate school, I lived with two Brits. I liked them both very much. I still do. They were fun people. But they had a very cynical view of the world and considered themselves very cool. In some ways, I thrived around them. It was knowing them and their incredible self-assuredness that got me to start my first underground newspaper and eventually led to me being a professional writer. But it also brought out a lot of bad things in me, especially being over-conscious of how people viewed me.
As any teenager can tell you, the easiest way to feel un-judged is to be cynical and to pretend that nothing really matters. And I think Nick Lowe suffered from that same thing as many creatively minded people do. So the song is kind of him slapping himself in the face. I know how that goes. I remember writing a song once told from one perspective and thinking that it was so unfair. So I wrote a song from the other perspective. The second song was better, because it was more thoughtful.
I think that America suffers from the same kind of insecurity. This is why we take up 48% of the world’s military spending. We just aren’t right with us. What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace, Love, and Understanding? Everything! It’s for weak people, suckers, or as Donald Trump would say, losers. But I want all the peace, love, and understanding that I can get.
The 4th of July always strikes me as the opposite of peace, love, and understanding. When I was kid, I liked the fireworks. They were colorful. But now they are all illegal. So people get illegal “fireworks” that are not pretty. They are just bombs — loud. And I hate loud sounds. They are the sounds of conflict, hatred, and intolerance. And that is what America is for me to a large extent. If Donald Trump becomes president, it will be a catastrophe, but it will also be fitting.
But on this 4th of July, I want to offer the hope that we can be better — that we won’t laugh at those who are kind. That being an “easy mark” is a sign of greatness, not stupidity. What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace, Love, and Understanding? Not a damned thing.
I put that image of Robot Monster up because it's only an hour. And it's wonderful. It's from the period of time where you would go to the theater and see a newsreel, cartoon, B-feature, and finally the A-feature.
But we live in a world now where you see only one film along with trailers and actual commercials. So what we are getting is longer and longer films to justify their budgets and the high price of tickets. A fight that doesn't need to be more than 2 minutes is 15 minutes. Do you want to see that? I don't.
The great thing about an hour long film is that it's the right length. It doesn't need a bunch of conflicts in the second act to fill out the film. Find out much more at Psychotronic Review.