Odds and Ends Vol 11

Odds and EndsHowdy, friends and neighbors! I gotta tell you, I was not planning to do an Odds and Ends today, but we are more than overdo. You know who does a great Odds and Ends kind of thing? Our friend Infidel753. And we’re not just talking politics either, or even mostly. I get a lot of great stuff from him. By the way, I asked him about that 753 thing and he responded, “The 753 refers to 753 BC, which is the traditional (though likely apocryphal) date of the founding of Rome. I’m interested in Classical history, as I hope my occasional posts about it show.” So there you go. I probably should have known that, but as you all know, I have this thing about numbers, which probably blinded me to its historical significance. I think you can guess what number I would follow with that series: 7, 5, 3… Anyway, like a reasonable person, he just provides simple introductions to articles whereas I am forced (it is the way of my people) to yammer on and on. So on I yammer.

  1. For years, everyone rolled down the windows of their cars when it got hot, because the air conditioner was assumed to consume so much energy. But then, the air conditioners got more efficient, or at least we were all fooled by those Car Talk guys, and we learned that it actually used less energy because cars are so aerodynamic when the windows were rolled up. So I was very interested to read Joseph Stromberg over at Vox, who tells us, Why Rolling Down Your Cars’ Windows Is More Fuel Efficient Than Using AC. Now maybe this isn’t always true. If you have a super aerodynamic car and you are traveling down the road at 100 mph, then okay, maybe use the AC. But for normal people: use the windows. Plus: your dog will like it more, not to mention your Komodo Dragon. (Anyone know that film reference?)
  2. This next article is so old, it is from when Matt Yglesias was still at Slate. (Since then, he’s moved to Vox where his work is arguably even better.) This article tells us something I already knew, but which won’t change our vindictive society in the least, Big Data Says You Should Hire Criminals. Basically, ex-cons are more productive on average. No one knows why exactly. One theory is that ex-cons are just glad to have a job and so they try harder. I don’t doubt that’s part of it. But also a big part of it is that ex-cons are (to use a term from pool hustling) working under speed. If there are two candidates for a job that are identical in every way except that one of them has a felony drug possession charge, you know which one is going to get hired. So if two people are doing the same job and one of them is an ex-con, he’s undoubtedly more skilled, more intelligent, more everything, really. People (white people anyway) think that people who break the law, serve their time, and then its over. It isn’t. It is held against you for the rest of your life. We are a cruel and stupid people.
  3. Being a short man, I know that it sucks to be short. Women generally prefer tall men, even though in my experience sex is better when you are roughly the same height. (Just saying.) In the business world, you are ignored. If you try to be assertive, you are said to have a Napoleon complex. And by the way: two brief points about the Napoleon complex. First, Napoleon is not short; that myth was the result of a unit conversion error. (Damned imperial units!) Second, psychologists have studied this supposed complex and have found that it doesn’t really exist. One study “discovered that short men were less likely to lose their temper than men of average height.” But mostly, they don’t find any difference.

    Well, one thing about being short is very good: you live longer. A 50 year study of 8,000 men found that shorter men live longer—especially very short men—5’2″ and below. It is thought that we only have so many cells to create in our lifetimes and being short requires fewer.

  4. This is very interesting. Jason Jones of The Daily Show went to India to study democracy there, in a multi-part segment, India Jones and the Election of Doom. Now, despite all the recent bad coverage, India has a vibrant democracy—a hell of a lot better than ours. But in the segment, he hired a journalist to write a paid article in the Millennium Post, Poll shows US Number A-1 Star Jason Jones does best Indian Election Coverage. Well, it was taken down. When the editors found out, they wrote, Dear Readers. And then, Moutussi Acharya wrote an opinion piece, Jon Stewart, America’s Biggest News Douche. Clearly, the article comes out of annoyance about the Jason Jones piece. But it makes a number of valid points, including the contention that the show has to twist itself in knots in order to maintain its impartiality. I would also note that usually when going after liberals, the show just isn’t as funny. But that could well just be my perspective.
  5. If The Upshot is supposed to replace FiveThirtyEight at The New York Times, it has failed completely. Because The Upshot is far, far better than FiveThirtyEight ever was—and currently is, unless you are into sports, where it is probably great. Anyway, a week and a half ago, Michael Paulson wrote, Americans Claim to Attend Church Much More Than They Do. Well, that’s hardly a shock. According to the article, “Americans continue to report high levels of belief and participation—more than 90 percent of Americans say they believe in God or a universal spirit, and nearly 40 percent report weekly attendance at a worship service, numbers that have remained relatively unchanged for decades.” But it isn’t really about God. It is about this stupid American idea that being religious makes you a good person. Given how negative public Christianity is, I hardly think that’s true. But some researchers decided to check out how much people lie about their church attendance. They compared telephone surveys where people had to speak to other humans to online surveys where they didn’t. And they found that people reported a lot less church attendance when they weren’t trying to impress another human. Only 9% of white evangelical protestants (You know: the most hateful but also devout of the Christians.) admitted on the telephone to rarely or never going to church; online, the number almost doubled to 17%. Overall, 43% of Americans admitted that they rarely or ever went to church. The biggest disparity was among my fellow Catholics, who reported 15% on the phone and 33% online. But that’s to be expected; the great thing about being a Catholic is that getting forgiven is built right into the program!

    Speaking of Catholics, Brandon Ambrosino over at Vox published an article that didn’t surprise me, Catholics Are a Lot More Liberal Than Evangelicals. Part of this is the confessional. But I think a bigger part of it is that the Catholic Church doesn’t encourage people to read the Bible. All that Protestant garbage of finding God in that book of ancient folk tales only confuses people. And so they grab onto it in the most pathetic, simplistic, childish way. The Bible becomes literally true and inerrant. And what can they grab onto? Not the Holy Trinity, that’s one that professional theologians grapple with their whole lives. No, they grab onto homosexuality being a sin and women being subservient to men. No wonder the most explicitly protestant believers (the Evangelicals) are the most screwed up. I so wish there were an actual Christian God so that at some point, these people would be taken aside and told, “You know: you really blew it! You should have spent a lot more time on the Sermon on the Mount and a lot less on Leviticus. But you are forgiven, now go get your wings and harp…”

  6. You probably know Stuart Margolin as Angel on The Rockford Files and perhaps also that he is a big television director. But my friend Pow Wow reminded me that he is also a singer and songwriter. There isn’t much of him online. But here he is doing Chuck Berry’s great “Brown-Eyed Handsome Man”:

Well, that’s enough for now. I’m going to have to create a category for these posts. Right now I put them in politics, but that isn’t right. They are their own thing. Anyway, until next time!

Odds and Ends Vol 10

Odds and EndsI just have a few shorts bits for you today. As usual: they are just things that I didn’t have a lot to say about but which are interesting. I have to say: I’m getting tired of talking about Republican racism. But the fact remains that racism seems to be all that they have to offer. In fact, Paul Krugman made that exact point in his column today, That Old-Time Whistle. There is also a great artist and a little microeconomics that may make a train ride much more pleasant.

  1. War of Southern Racism: There’s a whole lotta racism going on in the Republican Party, ain’t there? This time it is the genial Mike Huckabee. On 12 March, he was speaking to Susan B Anthony List. Now the SBA List might sound like a liberal group, but it is actually an extremist anti-choice group. Because, you know, the first thing people think of when they hear the name “Susan B Anthony” is abortion. Unless you listen to historians, who claim that Anthony did not spend any time on the abortion issue at all. Egghead scholars; who needs em?! But you get the idea: they are conservative extremists and so Mr Huckabee must have felt right at home. And that’s why he said, “I don’t believe I can own another person, I thought we settled that after the Civil War, or as some people in the South when I was young used to still call it, the War of Northern Aggression.” Ha ha ha! What a card that man is! But maybe Dave Weigel will want to explain how that isn’t racist. He should, actually; he’d have a hell of a lot better a case than he had with Paul Ryan.
  2. Potato Famine: Speaking of Paul Ryan, Timothy Egan wrote a great article in The New York Times, Paul Ryan’s Irish Amnesia. It turns out that Ryan’s great-great-grandfather fled the Irish Potato Famine of the late 1840s for the opportunity (and food) in America. Ryan is rightly proud of this legacy. But he also doesn’t seem to know much about it.

    The famine was the result of years of English abuse of the Irish peasantry leading to their dependence upon potatoes as a food source. When potato blight hit the island, the people starved. But as John Mitchel wrote, “The Almighty, indeed, sent the potato blight, but the English created the famine.” As Egan notes in the article:

    A great debate raged in London: would it be wrong to feed the starving Irish with free food, thereby setting up a “culture of dependency”? Certainly England’s man in charge of easing the famine, Sir Charles Trevelyan, thought so. “Dependence on charity,” he declared, “is not to be made an agreeable mode of life.”

    Sound like anyone you know? Maybe the great-great-grandson of one of the Irish who escaped the famine? During the 2012 campaign, Irish historian John Kelly wrote, “Ryan’s high-profile economic philosophy is the very same one that hurt, not helped, his forebears during the famine—and hurt them badly.” I recommend reading the whole article; it is excellent.

  3. Homeward Bound: In case you don’t know, Andrea runs a couple of other blogs, one of which is ALE Designs, where she presents interesting artists who she comes across. There is always fun stuff there that is worth checking out. But a couple weeks ago, she featured collage artist Catrin Welz-Stein. She does wonderful, haunting, surreal work. You can see a bunch of her work on her Red Bubble page. But here is a great example of her work, Homeward Bound:
    Homeward Bound - Catrin Welz-Stein
  4. Monopsony: I don’t know a lot about microeconomics, probably because (1) I only took a single course in economics and (2) I’m not really interested in markets as such, but rather in the policies affecting all markets. But there is a very interesting microeconomic concept that I do find interesting: monopsony. This is a market where there are many sellers but only one buyer. Without strong unions, we have this in the labor market. Think about it: when McDonald’s advertises a job, a hundred people apply for it. That obviously gives McDonald’s the ability to dictate terms. Thus, McDonald’s effectively has a monopoly in the labor market. Pretty much all employers do. The next time you are forced to talk to some idiot conservative who claims that we can’t raise the minimum wage because “it’s just simple supply and demand,” throw the concept of monopsony at him. He’s probably never heard of it and so will stutter. This will give you the opening to change the subject to something he may know something about—like the weather.
  5. The Good News: At 84 years old, it isn’t great news that Fred Phelps is near death. It would have been great news if he had died much younger, before he was able to poison the world and abuse his children. But it is nonetheless good news that we may soon be rid of the hateful preacher. The news comes from Nathan Phelps, his son who escaped the hatred of his father’s church and is currently an LGBT activist in Canada. It isn’t his death that matters, of course. As I noted about Andrew Breitbart, I don’t know Fred Phelps. But his absence from our society will be a public good.

That was fast! And I got rid of a whole bunch of Chrome tabs. Onward we go!

Odds and Ends Vol 9

Odds and EndsI really don’t know why I do these other than that I kind of like the “Odds and Ends” graphic. But most of these could have been a full article. Or I could just do one of these a day and relax the rest of the day.

Well, now that I think of it, only a couple of these actually seem interesting enough to do a whole article about. The main thing is that I try to do shorter takes here. Today is a bit of a mixed bag. There is some politics from the last two days and then just some “fun” stuff. I’m sure it will be worth the price!

  1. Canadian Healthcare Debate: This is interesting. Dr Danielle Martin from Toronto was testifying before the Senate Health Subcommittee about the differences between the Canadian and American healthcare system. That’s Bernie Sanders’ subcommittee. The ranking Republican is Richard Burr, who, like most conservatives, will never believe anything but that America has the Greatest Healthcare System in the World™. He is very big at throwing out anecdotal evidence. But of course no one questions that America has as good a healthcare system as any in the world if money is no object. One would hope for better from and for America.

    Also in the video is Sally Pipes of the Pacific Research Institute. PRI is a “free market” think tank that has been pushing medical savings accounts from at least since I started graduate school 24 years ago, when I saw a presentation by one of their people. Their interest is not creating a good healthcare system but rather creating a passable system that is in alignment with their anti-government philosophy. Sally Pipes is nothing but a talking point fount who is usually arguing any way she can against Obamacare. It’s very simple: Obamacare is the free market healthcare reform. The fact that she argues against it indicates that she doesn’t want any healthcare reform. Not that I would ever expect her to admit that.

    But Pipes is a small part of this video. Most of it involves Martin. My favorite part of the exchange is when Burr asks her, “On average, how many Canadian patients on a waiting list die each year? Do you know?” Martin replies, “I don’t, sir, but I know that there are 45,000 in America who die waiting because they don’t have insurance at all.” Ouch!

  2. Historical Jesus: Regular readers know my position on the historical Jesus: if he ever existed, he is now so covered over by myth that the actual man is lost. So the fact that there is a whole industry of books and lectures on the historical Jesus strikes me as silly. The most recent notable work is Reza Aslan’s Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth. I’m afraid that such books really only speak to the author and his times. But that’s not surprising. Regardless of what the fundamentalists think, religions evolve and that’s how something like Christianity manages to still speak to people after two thousand years.

    One bit of Jesus historicity is very good. That is the push back against the idea that Jesus was some blond hair and blue eyed man who looks more like Odin’s son than a Jewish carpenter. (By the way: the Bible never actually says that Jesus was a carpenter.) About 15 years ago, some anthropologists put together an image of Jesus for a BBC program. Now, this is not a picture of Jesus, but rather a picture of roughly what Jewish men in Nazareth looked like two thousand years ago. This is now the image I use when thinking about Jesus:

    Anthropologist Rendering of Jesus
  3. Weird State Things: On Huffington Post I saw the following click bait headline, The 1 Weirdest Thing You Never Knew About Your Home State. (Was that “1” really necessary?) But since I’m a total sucker for click bait, I clicked over. In this particular case, I clicked because I was pretty certain that whatever they were going to say about California was very well known to me. Indeed: “Hollywood was initially founded to escape Thomas Edison.” I think this is common knowledge, but I might be wrong. Sadly, the article made no mention of the fact that it shows how patents largely reduce creative output. If Edison had been able to rigorously exploit his patents (As he would in modern America!) the development of film as a great entertainment medium would have taken far longer.

    I also knew a few other state secrets. For example, “Every year, a town [in Colorado] celebrates a frozen dead guy.” Of course I know that! The event gets a lot of coverage and I try to stay up on all the latest news about frozen dead guys. Similarly, “Lobster was once so abundant in this state [Massachusetts] that it was given to slaves and prisoners.” I knew that because I have read David Foster Wallace’s great essay “Consider the Lobster.” And really, doesn’t everyone know about South Carolina’s Rhesus monkey island? But somehow I hadn’t heard that they were being bread for lab testing. That takes the shine off that particular fact.

    Many of the “weird things” are trivial. Consider: “The terrain of the entire state [of Kansas] is actually scientifically proven to be flatter than a pancake.” Actually, I’m pretty sure that others states are too. Pancakes are not that flat. Other “weird things” are not really indicative of the state. Consider: “A Minnesota father would only speak to his son in the Star Trek language of Klingon for the first three years of the child’s life.” Yes, there are kooks all over. Hell, there are Star Trek kooks all over! And then some aren’t even true. Consider: “The residents of a small fishing island [of Virginia] still talk in a dialect closely resembling ‘Restoration English.'” This is a common linguistic myth; people throw an occasional “ye” in their conversation and the Yankees think they’re Shakespeare.

    Still, you should probably click over. Some of the information really is important. Did you know Nevada has an Area 51-themed brothel? Or this:

    Boring Oregon City
  4. Ezra’s Folly: After a string of notably straight white male hires, Ezra Klein has been trying to add a bit of diversity to his Vox Media project. And his newest hire is getting a lot of attention, although not in a good way. Hired as a “writing fellow,” it is not exactly clear what Brandon Ambrosino will do for the project. But as a graduate of Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University, he is known for being a gay man who writes apologetics for anti-gay causes and groups. For example, after Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty equated homosexuality with bestiality, Ambrosino wrote that he would still like to go fishing with the homophobic and racist older man.

    Gabriel Arana provides an excellent rundown of the problems with Ambrosino in The American Prospect, Ezra Klein’s Queer New Hire. It focuses not on Ambrosino’s opinions, but rather his incompetence:

    Gay intellectuals like Andrew Sullivan or Jonathan Rauch may occasionally ruffle queer folks’ feathers for going against the grain when it comes to hate-crime laws, say, or the right of for-profit businesses to turn away gay customers. But Ambrosino should not be thought of in this mold. Whereas Sullivan’s and Rauch’s positions are thoughtfully staked out and stem from nuanced views about the role of government, Ambrosino’s iconoclasm amounts to heedless self-promotion. His gross distortions of mainstream gay views and stunning lack of fluency in the basic language of gay equality reveals him to be little but a feckless provocateur. His mischaracterization of 20th-century philosopher Michel Foucault—Ambrosino warps the philosopher’s idea that sexuality is a “social construct” to justify his view that gays choose their sexuality—has gotten him called out by academics. But his use of nonsensical phrases like “intersexed crossdressers” (intersexuality, a medical condition, has nothing to do with cross-dressing) and penchant for referring to transsexualism as a “sexual choice” (it’s not about sexuality) show that his lack of familiarity with his subject matter runs even deeper.

    A similar appraisal is offered by Mark Joseph Stern of Slate, Vox‘s Unbelievably Terrible New Hire:

    Yet Ambrosino’s main problem is not that he defends homophobia; The New York Times‘ Ross Douthat does that too, but at least Douthat’s views arise from real intelligence and conviction. Ambrosino’s worldview, so far as he has one, is primarily comprised of crass opportunism and toxic narcissism. His writing is a quagmire of tedious ideas and sloppy prose; his angry jabs at the LGBTQ community reek of a writer legitimizing his insecurities by presenting them to an audience that should know better. A typical Ambrosino article takes a self-consciously contrarian thesis (Jerry Falwell was a gay-friendly saint, gay-rights activists are bigots) and immerses it in a muddle of casuistry, victimization, and unintelligible nonsense. On first read, his pieces aren’t infuriating so much as they are baffling: Ambrosino ignores the basic principles of journalism and simply spews free-form argle-bargle, as though he’s swinging a bat at a pinata that’s hanging from a different tree.

    Klein responded that he is still learning about hiring. I tend to think it doesn’t play to his strengths. Time will tell. Whenever I hear discussions of “new media” I always think of the same thing: click baiting. And that seems to be all that is really behind the Ambrosino hire.

  5. Andrea and Phil: Last week, Andrea recommended that I watch Phil the Alien. Even though I do think she has good taste in films, I’m usually more excited to see films she really hates. But she thought that I would particularly like this one. And I did! How could I not? It has a beaver puppet and Joe Flaherty does the voice. But I did make the mistake of saying that I thought the script was weak and she has not been willing to let it go.

    For the record: the screenplay seems very much like an unfinished draft. It is filled with lose ends and generally isn’t tight. And the problems are fairly extreme. I think it is at least two drafts from being finished. But that doesn’t make it bad. There are lots of things to like about it. At first Phil becomes a drunk. When this lands him in jail, he becomes a Christian, using his special powers to convert people. It has plenty of funny bits in the middle of all that. But it ends about as abruptly as it starts. It’s worth a viewing but not much more.

  6. UFOs: And finally, here’s a sketch from That Mitchell and Webb Look that points out most of what is absurd about the “government hiding alien crash” conspiracies:

Well, that’s all for now. My best guess: tomorrow will be very much like today.

Odds and Ends Vol 8

Odds and EndsWell, the tabs are really starting to add up in my little world. Right now I have 56 tabs open in Chrome alone. That can only mean one thing: I need to do another installment of Odds and Ends. There is some very important stuff today. That’s generally the case with these posts. If there is something that hangs around on my tabs for a long time, it usually means it is something interesting. Often I don’t get around to writing about it because I don’t feel I can do justice to it. But here, I just dump it without adding too much. And away we go…

  1. Let’s start with Paul Krugman who wrote a great rant over on his blog, Fighting the Last Macro War? Noah Smith wrote an article claiming that economists are always working on the last crisis, Is Macro Doomed to Always Fight the Last War? Krugman defends the Keynesians very well and you can read the post if you want to know. What I thought was more interesting was how he attacked the freshwater economists. These are basically the University of Chicago gang, with their real business cycle (RBC) models, who think that the government is evil and everything will be great if the government gets out of the way. Krugman thinks Smith is being way too easy on them:
    First there was stagflation—and that did indeed knock Keynesians back for a while, even as it gave freshwater macro some credibility. As I’ve already indicated, the freshwater guys then stopped there. And I mean really, really stopped there: in many ways they seem to be forever living in 1979.

    In particular, they never reacted at all to the second macro war, the disinflation of the 1980s. The point there was that disinflation was very costly, with protracted high unemployment—which shouldn’t have happened if freshwater macro were at all right. This reality, as much as clever new models, drove the Keynesian revival; the RBC guys paid no attention, and learned nothing…

    Now, you might ask why, in that case, we haven’t solved the problem [of our persistent economic slump]. But the answer there has nothing to do with lack of economic understanding; it has to do with ideologues who made up new doctrines on the fly (like expansionary austerity or doom by 90 percent debt) to justify policies that made no sense in the standard models. If politicians turn to climate deniers, that’s not a reflection on climate science; if they turn to crank macroeconomics, that’s not a reflection on Keynesianism.

    Ouch! I’m sure some of the freshwater guys will swat back—impotently, of course.

  2. The Can Kicks BackA bit over a year ago, I wrote, Rich Kids for the Rich. It was about The Can Kicks Back, an astroturf group of young people concerned about government debt. As I wrote then, it was “founded by seniors at Phillips Academy, a $40K per year prep school for the kids of the wealthy. And just like their parents, they are concerned about the debt—and for the same reasons.” Well, Byron Tau at Politico reported that The Can Kicks Back is in debt. In November, their communications director wrote in an email, “Without someone/something else covering staff costs and without fundraising miracles like Stan or near-Stan happening consistently, I don’t know how we both sustain [an] organization and do meaningful things…” The “Stan” mentioned is billionaire hedge fund manager Stan Druckenmiller. He gave them a check for a quarter million dollars last year—roughly 40% of their fundraising for the whole year. Of course, I’m sure that The Can Kicks Back will not go bankrupt. Having a youthful face is important for the billionaires’ campaign to starve granny.
  3. Dylan Scott at Talking Points Memo provided the following graph of Obamacare enrollment by state:
    Obamacare Enrollment

    The redder a state is, the higher the enrollment. The highest is Vermont with 52.4% of eligible people enrolled. The lowest is surprisingly Hawaii with just 3.2%. If you click over, they have a very cool interactive map where you can see what the enrollment is in any given state. But you can see the general shape of things: in conservative states, fewer people are getting enrolled. Part of that is the deep south where it seems they are determined to continue fighting the Civil War by other means. It’s all disgraceful. Poor people are suffering all over the nation because Republicans want to register their disapproval of President Obama. We Democrats weren’t thrilled with Medicare Part D, but we weren’t spiteful about it. There is really something wrong with those people.

  4. Chris ChristieAlec MacGillis wrote a great long piece over at The New Republic, Chris Christie’s Entire Career Reeks. If you are at all interested in Christie, you should read it. I want to draw your attention, however, to a much less prominent article. Right after the story broke, Joe Patrice over at Above the Law wrote, Governor Chris Christie Did What We All Should Have Expected From an Old Prosecutor. Patrice is a defense attorney and he argues that the way Christie appears to have done business as governor is exactly the way prosecutors do business everywhere in the United States. The whole idea is to apply maximum leverage at all times. This is why your average junkie caught with a bag of dope ends up facing 16 charges instead of just one. If you are at all interested in Christie or our horrible “justice” system, you should really read Patrice’s article.
  5. David Sirota has a great piece over at Pando Daily, The Wolf of Sesame Street: Revealing the Secret Corruption Inside PBS’s News Division. It is mostly about how former Enron trader John Arnold gave $3.5 million to PBS affiliate WNET to produce a series on public pensions called Pension Peril. The problem is that Arnold is simultaneously lobbying to have public pensions slashed. There is nothing surprising about this. As conservatives have painted PBS and NPR as liberal outlets, they have also managed to push them far to the right through funding mechanisms. It is extremely sad. The good news is that Sirota’s article had a big impact. After much jockeying, PBS announced that it would be returning the money to Arnold. Of course, several of the shows have already been made, but hopefully PBS will be more careful in the future. I’m not hopeful, though. For every case like this that gets noticed, there are dozens that don’t. Just look at the ridiculously skewed The McLaughlin Group that has been on PBS for 32 years.
  6. I thought it would be nice to end this Odds and Ends with a performance of one of my very favorite songs, Fields & Kern’s “The Way You Look Tonight.” That turned out to be really hard! Maybe it is just because I know the song so well and have lived with it for such a long time that I’ve gotten intolerant of other interpretations. But I don’t think so. For example, I found a version by Eliane Elias that isn’t what I’m looking for right now, but I see completely that it is brilliant. The worst of what I found was Tony Bennett. Now, I’ll admit: I think Bennett is about as overrated as anyone has ever been in any field whatsoever. But his “talk” version is worse than embarrassing; it is the waste of a great song. I did find this nice version by Catherine Brozena. But the only thing that really did it for me was this great version by Carla Cook:

    Wow. I’m gonna have to spend more time listening to her!

That’s it for this digest. I’ll see you around the internet!

2013 Review: Part 6

2013 ReviewFinally, the end of it. I think by this one, I’m starting to get the hang of it. Now I could go back and do it correctly. But that isn’t going to happen. Maybe if I do it next year, it will be better. I think I have a better idea. Just one introductory paragraph and then a list of the ten best articles from that month. That would be pretty simple and most usable for the readers. We’ll see.

November 2013

There were a few notable events in my life in November. I got my very first smart phone, a Samsung Exhibit. It isn’t as great as some of the newer phones, but it does all the things that the newer phones do. It seems the main thing about the newer phones are that they are a bit faster and they are thinner. Neither of those things matter too much to me. I really like my new phone, but it isn’t that great. I like that I can serf the web more easily than I used to be able to. In particular, having 4g, instead of no-g, is good. But it is still pretty hard to get any real work done. I also like the mic feature for texting. But it makes a lot of mistakes. For example, I absolutely cannot get it to recognize the word “atheist.” I just said the word a number of times and it gave me: 80 AST; a CST; ACS; eight CST; a fierce; a fifth. What’s more, I haven’t figured out how to make it stop censoring me. Today, it changed “sexualized” to “s*********.” Since when is “sexualized” a “bad” word? But the main thing is that the phone has not changed my life in any meaningful way. It’s nice to have, but it isn’t a big deal.

I coined a term in November, Placebo Policies. This came about because of all the whining about people losing their cheap healthcare policies because they didn’t meet the requirements of Obamacare. Hence the term. These are great policies in that they don’t cost much and they give the holder the feeling that he is covered. But when it comes down to it—if he gets sick—he will find that the policy is of no use. So all these news reports, in as much as they are true (which they usually aren’t), are just arguing that people should be able to keep placebo policies. And that’s really terrible. These reporters would feel terrible if you put it to them like that, “So you want to allow this person to go on thinking they have health coverage when they really don’t?” The stories ought to be the other way; they ought to be about consumer protection. These are the opposite: making sure that companies can continue to lie to their customers.

As I said in Part 5 of this series, the Obamacare website problems went on into November. Most of my coverage was like that in, Democratic Freak Out Will Not Help. As I pointed out again and again, it was just a technical problem. They had good people working on the problem and that no one had given them any time. In fact, every new bug that turned up was seen to cause for panic. This is typical of people who aren’t software development professionals. For those of us who are, we know that finding bugs is a good thing. It’s what you are supposed to be doing. If you have a broken system but you aren’t finding any bugs, you have a really bad development team. And by the end of the month, the system was basically fixed. Of course, work will go on fixing and improving it as long as it exists. That’s just the way software works.

November also brought the end of the filibuster on nominations. That was something I’ve been begging for for a couple of years. And once it was done, I wanted more. I wrote, Obama Must Use Filibuster Reform. What I meant was that now Obama needs to quickly fill all the openings on the courts. Because God knows, if he doesn’t and Ted Cruz is our next president, he will. Of course, as is typical for this president, I don’t see a great deal of urgency coming from the administration. We’ll see. But mostly, he seems to have other priorities.

Memorable Articles

Selective Conservative Outrage
I Love Democracy
Sympathy for Rob Ford
The Veil in the Western World
Conservative Ideological Clumping
How to Catch a Cheetah
Where’s My Third Lost Skeleton Film?!
The Q Filmcast
Income Inequality is Government Policy
Two Great Vincent Price Murder Films
Libertarians Just Don’t Like the Poor
No Economic Lessons from Star Trek

Enjoy the entire: November 2013 Archive.

December 2013

Now we are almost back to the present. It was almost exactly a month since I stopped watching MSNBC. The reason? Martin Bashir Fired, MSNBC Sucks. It isn’t just MSNBC, I think that liberals have a loyalty problem. The smallest scandal and liberals start firing each other. The best example of this was Shirley Sherrod. But when MSNBC fired Martin Bashir, I had had it with the network. What he did was not a firing offense. And then, less than a month later, the right-wing has Melissa Harris-Perry falling all over herself apologizing for what, I still don’t exactly get. But I feel certain that had she not done her parade of self-flagellation, she too probably would have lost her job. It’s just pathetic. And the truth is that I don’t miss MSNBC. It was convenient to put on while I was cooking dinner, but that was about all. And now looking back on it, it seems even worse. I still admire Chris Hayes, but Rachel Maddow and Lawrence O’Donnell both have annoying and obvious biases. Regardless, I want to send my own little message that firing people like Bashir (and Alec Baldwin) for minor things costs them viewership on the other side. And I don’t think they gain a single viewer from their cowardly behavior.

Something I’ve written about a lot is the hypocrisy of conservative Christians. The public ones, anyway, clearly have two masters; God as they see it and free market capitalism as they see it. For short: God and Money. In December, I went after one of my favorite targets: Ross Douthat’s Politics Before Religion. Douthat is very ostentatious about his Catholicism. In the article I talked about how Douthat was cheering for the failure of Obamacare, even though it will give healthcare to up to 50 million people. And before that, he thought that Pope Francis’ liberalish public statements only mattered if they got more people to go to church. It didn’t even occur to him that Francis might think of these things as a matter of faith. That Francis cares more about the teachings of Jesus than he does money. And then, at the beginning of the year, I had much to say about another supposedly religious man, David Brooks Puts Profits over Prophets. Or pick another: Paul Ryan. They are all a bunch of phonies. See also: More on Politics First Religion Second.

In December, I started another series on income inequality solutions. I’ve been working around the edges. I figure I’ll get to the big ones later. The first was on the estate tax. The second was on higher inflation. I’ve got to get back to that series. There are a lot of things we can do. We have high income inequality because of government policy, not because it is “natural.” And so there are a lot of government policies that can fix the problem.

Memorable Articles

My Creepy People Models
Conservative Hatred of Nelson Mandela
Pennies from Heaven, Roses from Cairo
The Bald Soprano Economy
America’s Vague Caste System
One Year After Sandy Hook Little Changed
How to Not Become a Neo-Nazi
Play-By-Play Chess Action!
Blackfish
These Are Victims: Matthew Shepard and Emmett Till
Our Economic Turn From Shared Sacrifice to Social Darwinism
More Evil English With Palate and Palette and Pallet
The Beauty of Abandonment and Decay

Enjoy the entire: December 2013 Archive.

Afterword

If I had to pick one quotation from all my writing last year, it would come from my article in early December, Prison, Dentists, and the Least Among Us. It is sad, but it sums up the fundamental problem in our society and explains generally all of our problems:

In our society, justice is something that is applied to the poor. It is rarely something done for the poor. In a world where that’s what passes for justice, we would be better off with less justice.

Let us hope that things continue to get better. I know that as humans we have the power to make that happen.

2013 Review: Part 5

2013 Review

September 2013

September began the drum beat for war with Syria. It seems that Joe Lieberman has never seen a war he wasn’t in favor of. No wonder he and John McCain are such good friends. It seems that I spent the whole month making the argument if we cared about Syria, we should have done something before 100,000 people were killed in the conflict. I also noted that what all the clamoring for war with Syria was about was providing a backdoor into war with Iran.

This month, I also wrote about the atheist religious scholar Robert M. Price, Another Conservative Atheist? I really like him because he knows a lot about the Bible and he’s amusing. But I’ve read him long enough to notice occasional comments that indicate that he’s politically conservative. I talked about it in that article. But then, just two weeks later in his podcast, The Human Bible, he mentioned hypocrisy and gave as an example, people in Congress who didn’t want to have Obamacare apply to them. Well, that was too much! That’s straight out of right-wing radio. The answer is that Obamacare is not supposed to apply to anyone who gets his insurance from his employer. So I was none too happy to hear that. As a result, I commented on the podcast:

Oh my, a bit of Dr. Price’s conservative politics has fallen into his podcast! I wouldn’t mind if it had been something other than a talk radio canard that shows a total lack of understanding of Obamacare.

My advice: more Chuck Heston impersonations, less low information conservatism.

I don’t know if it makes any difference. But I think it’s important to push back against this kind of thing. As I’ve argued a lot lately, atheism is linked not only to libertarianism but to conservatism generally. And I’m sure that all the people Price hangs out with agree with his politics. Well, I want him to know that I don’t listen to his podcast for his political opinions. Even if I agreed with them, when it comes to politics, he’s a low information voter. In the last two podcasts, there have been no political commentary. More than anything, I hope he was embarrassed, because what he said showed a shocking level of ignorance.

After 23 years on death row, I was pleased to pass along the information, Debra Milke Released on Bond. The entire case came down to Detective Armando Saldate’s claim that Milke had confessed to him. Milke claimed she did not. The jury believed Saldate. But since then, it has been shown that he has lied repeatedly under oath and that he abused witnesses and twisted their words. On 18 December 2013, the judge in the new trial against Milke allowed Saldate to plead the 5th Amendment. He is rightly afraid that the defense team will tear him apart on cross examination and open him up to charges of perjury and much else. If he doesn’t testify in this case, the judge has said that the prosecution cannot introduced Milke’s supposed confession into evidence. Without that, they really have nothing. I can’t imagine that they won’t drop the case. But who knows. I didn’t think they would go this far.

The second half of the month brought back the debate of who would be the next Fed Chair. Many insiders really wanted Larry Summers. But as I wrote, after many similar articles, Just Nominate Janet Yellen! Eventually Yellen was nominated, but Obama handled the whole thing badly. It went on and on. She was just confirmed by the Senate.

This was also the month the the chicken came to live with me, Fred Henhouse. At the beginning of the month, she just showed up and wouldn’t go away. Also, I couldn’t find any neighbors who would claim her. But I rather liked her, so I bought feed and started taking care of her. Unfortunately, just as I was making plans for a permanent house for her, she was killed by some local animal. It was very sad because I became very fond of her.

Memorable Articles

The Rich Lack Empathy
Alcoholics Anonymous is Not Like the Washingtonian Movement
Obama Diversity Problem Goes Deep
Pretty Woman Ugly Tweets
GOP Bad Faith Obamacare “Replacement”
Presidential Ideology
Government Policy Led to Inequality
I Was a Middle Class Food Stamp Kid

Enjoy the entire: September 2013 Archive.

October 2013

This was, of course, the month of the government shutdown. The funny thing is that September was filled with articles about how the government shutdown was going to be terrible for the Republicans. And then it was. By the middle of the month, they collapse and learned nothing from the experience. At the same time, the Obamacare website came online and was a disaster. At first, I was an apologist for it. But when the problems became clear, I approached it as a technical issue. There’ll be more about that in November. The main thing is that it was never what the Republicans claimed, “The government can’t do anything!” It was that the proper resources were not given to the project and once they were, the website was fixed. We’re not hearing anymore about it now.

Memorable Articles

Sad Result When Libertarians Get Practical
Nine Month Democratic Super-Majority Destroyed California Film Industry 7 Years Ago!
Why Democrats Aren’t an Extremist Party
In Which I Am Tested for Personality Disorders
No Contradiction in Genesis Eve Creation
The GOP Problem Is Not Messaging
The End of the Bagel Exception
The Power of False Lessons
What’s With “Democrat Party”?
What I Think of George W Bush
Obamacare Is Not Liberal Policy
Truthful Obama Bumper Sticker
New Democrats and the Rightward March
Libertarianism Incompatible With Atheism

Enjoy the entire: October 2013 Archive.

2013 Review: Part 4

2013 Review

July 2013

It’s interesting going back over old writing. Much of the time I can tell I’m just grinding out the article. But sometimes things really click. That was the case with the first article of this month, Can’t Two Puppets Cuddle? It’s a riff on that Bert and Ernie The New Yorker cover with them snuggling on the couch watching the Supreme Court on the television. It was an opportunity to discuss male culture and my belief that half of all the time men spend together is an effort to prove that their not gay. The problem is that being gay is about being attracted to people of the same sex. It really has nothing to do with being a macho jerk. And there is something wrong with that!

Chris Kluwe, is back in the news. And it was in July that I wrote about him, Chris Kluwe Better Punter Than Writer. It’s part of my bigger concern about winner-take-all economies like we have today. The man is neither a very good thinker nor a good writer, and yet he had just published a book and an article in Salon. And why? Because he was good at punting a football. So if now he lost his job because he was too outspoken, no one should care. I’m sure there will always be publishers around willing to pay him to write meaningless books with stupid titles.

I’m surprised at just how angry I am at the Republican Party during this month. It probably comes from the fact that for most of the year I’d been complaining about the Democrats. As much as I complain about my dear old party, I never forget that it is vastly superior. I cannot understand why anyone would be a Republican at this point. Well, I can understand why, I just don’t think the reasons are good. You could be a racist. You could totally lack empathy. You could be rich and a total jerk. That’s about it. If you are a Republican, you are one of those things. There are those who are Republicans because of what the party used to be. So I guess there is that fourth category: delusional. It’s time to wake up.

July was the month when a bunch of conservatives started talking about “libertarian populism.” As I wrote time and again, all that was the same thing the Republicans have been feeding their base for decades: economic libertarianism and social conservatism. I don’t understand what these people are thinking. It’s just the same old stuff. Republicans want everyone to think they are reforming without them actually having to change their policies in even the smallest way. That’s why I’ve argued that it won’t be until after the 2018 elections that the Republican Party might start making some changes.

Memorable Articles

Four Independence Days
Are the Rich Above the Law?
The Real IRS Scandal
Why Screenplays Suck
How We Treat Real American Heroes
Christianity Stifles the Search for God

Enjoy the entire: July 2013 Archive.

August 2013

In August for some reason, I wrote a lot about the fake IRS scandal. What really bugged me was that even though the scandal was fake, all the credulous reporting on it made the IRS look bad. And earlier today, I was asking about just how bad conservatives were. Well, in this month, I wrote, Trust Funds, Hedge Funds, and Slampieces. It was about that really vile letter that a trust fund baby sent out to his frat brothers about starting a hedge fund with daddy’s money. It’s interesting, because as I’ve reported before, in general, hedge funds don’t make money. They are kind of a con that the rich play on themselves.

I got back on my usual complaints about liberals and their naive ideas about how Republicans are going to change. One such article was, Hoping Won’t Make Chamber of Commerce Hate GOP. That was based upon another Greg Sargent article. I’ve gotten to the point with him that I won’t bother reading what he writes. It’s like he lives in Wonderland with the Republican “reformers.”

The month also contained a big bout of conservatives re-defining “equality of opportunity.” One of the articles I wrote was, Conservatives Define “Equality of Opportunity” Out of Existence. The truth is they never believed in equality of opportunity or anything else. But as long as “equality of opportunity” didn’t mean anything, they went with it. Once it was shown that in order to have even a little bit of it, they’d have to change their policies, they decided it was something else. The new definition: equality of opportunity is not having a rigid caste system.

Memorable Articles

How Much Could McDonald’s Pay Workers
Jesus and Troy
Blacks Getting Educated, Then Forgotten
Using a Teleporter Is Suicide!
Collectivist Pro Sports in Land of the Free
Stalin, Not the Bomb, Defeated Japan
Ashton Kutcher Works Hard for the Money
Rocky and Bullwinkle

Enjoy the entire: August 2013 Archive.

2013 Review: Part 3

2013 ReviewWell, this gets us halfway through the year and I now thoroughly regret having started this series. It is really hard to sum up a month’s worth of writing. One thing that has become clear to me is that I’m only interested in certain kinds of things when it comes to politics. I would be best paired with one or more people to do an overall look at the news. That’s kind of what The Reaction is supposed to be. But the truth is that it would take a full time editor to do that.

What’s also interesting is that most of the political stuff has a short lifetime. My writing about film and music seems interesting for a lot longer. This may cause me to change the way I cover politics. I know there is an ongoing complaint that my political coverage assumes too much knowledge. We’ll see if anything changes when I look back next year.

May 2013

May was a big month, because we published our 2000th Article. Of course, later in November, we published our 3000th article and didn’t even mention it. Regardless of what else you can say about Frankly Curious, we grind out content. And I read a lot of blogs, and in my not at all humble opinion, the quality of the content here is quite high. But that probably says more about the quality of the writing in the blogosphere than it does my skills.

I wrote a lot about immigration reform during this month. Just like gun control, I was pushing hard against this idea that something was going to happen. And it turned out to be exactly the same as with gun control. The proposed law was so watered down that I barely supported it and then it didn’t even get a vote because the Republicans are now building suburbs to Crazytown. It gets tiring. I know I’m a smart guy, but the people I read are at least as smart as I am. Yet again and again they make this mistake of thinking the world of politics is the way they think it ought to be, not the way that it is.

So I rarely wrote about Republicans on the immigration issue. What is there to say? Basically: they hate immigrants. If there is one thing that most defines the conservative movement in this country it is racism. So even though big business wants a bunch more low-paid workers, the racism trumps that for the GOP. That’s all I really know about the immigration issue when it comes to the Republicans and that’s really all there is to know. The only reasonable discussion of immigration on the right is about H1-B Visas and how businesses can get cheap labor. There is no discussion at all about what the issue means broadly. Conservatives are fine to have illegal immigration be our dirty little secret that keeps the gardens of the rich well tended for little money. So the issue for me is why liberals pretend that there is any kind of conversation going on with conservatives. There isn’t, but a lot of really smart liberals keep hoping.

As many of you know, one of my filial obligations is to go see action movies with my older brother. In May, I went to see the terrible Iron Man 3 with him. I mention it only because I managed to write three articles about it! The first was Physics in Iron Man 3. That was a fun one. I know that you aren’t supposed to hold action movies to the standards of science. But I thought what I did was very good. The second was Escapism in Iron Man 3. In it, I discuss how the movie works as escapism, even as it mocks the very people who use it as escapism. The third is Humor in Iron Man 3. Basically, it is a love letter to Ben Kingsley who is wonderful and funny in the film.

May, of course, was the month the “scandals” started. I humorously commented on the Benghazi “scandal” with Hillary Killed Foster and Stevens! As I noted from the beginning, there was nothing at all to the IRS “scandal.” It is still amazing to watch how the conservatives get the mainstream (and even liberal) media to play along with their fishing expeditions. There was, of course, a real scandal: the NSA and the Associated Press and all that. But no one was really interested in that, because the conservatives don’t care that America has become a police state. It’s what they want—at least for the “little” people.

Memorable Articles

Transubstantiation of Elvis
Cold War Politics in Hogan’s Heroes
“You Gotta Thank the Lord, Right?!”
Family Guy Rush Limbaugh Whitewash

Enjoy the entire: May 2013 Archive.

June 2013

I started June by laying out the basics of an article that I am working on in longer form, False Lessons of the New Democrats. Basically, I’m saying that the Democrats lost the presidency for 12 years because of bad economic luck and Clinton didn’t win the presidency because he was conservative. Any Democrat would have won. But by that time, it had become Democratic doctrine that the party needed to move to the right. And that’s still Democratic doctrine. The party always has to move to the right—at least on economic issues that the wealthy funders care about.

June was also when I got Josh Barro very mad at me. It was actually exciting because it showed that the website is making a bit of an impact. I wrote, Josh Barro Phenomenon. Now, the truth is, I’m rather fond of Barro. But in this case, he was doing his conservative apologetics—defending Chris Christie’s decision to kill the new Hudson River tunnel for mass transit. It was all based on the fact that it was too expensive and there was waste in the project. Well, that’s always the case. That argument can always be made. So Barro was just defending Christie with something reasonable when that wasn’t the real reason that Christie was killing the project.

Well, Barro was very offended and tweeted out how stupid I was. Whatever. It was clear he didn’t finish reading the article. My point was not that the tunnel should be built, but simply that Barro was acting as an apologist for extreme, partisan behavior on the part of Christie. Since that time, I have noticed that Barro has a kind of political crush on Chris Christie. Generally Barro makes a lot of sense, but he just talks gibberish when the issue of Christie comes up. This is something I write about a lot: there is nothing reasonable or moderate about Chris Christie. He is as conservative as they come. And he’s also an asshole. What a great combination! (See What Josh Barro Hasn’t Figured Out Yet for a full discussion of Barro’s confusion on such matters.)

June was also the month I went to a Democratic Party meeting. And I felt so at home that I will never go to another one. They don’t exactly make it easy to get involved. But I’ve figured out that I’m not really the type to help out in that way. I’m socially awkward. I’m at my best doing what I’m doing right now: sitting in front of a computer writing.

If May was the month of “scandals,” then June was the month of Edward Snowden. And oh did many liberals fail their final exams on liberal fundamentals. Sure, the conservatives hated him. But far too many liberals were skeptical or worse. Looking back on it now, how can anyone question that Snowden was anything but a hero. Without him, we never would have had that “conversation” that Obama was promising us. Our country’s treatment of people like Snowden just disgusts me. This is the kind of nonsense that made me think the Soviet Union was bad when I was a kid. People had to flee the USSR just because they told the truth. Well, that’s the USA today. Are we proud?

Memorable Articles

Why Reagan but Not Bush?
Drunk Driving Hysteria
Michael Bloomberg Wants to Destroy the Democratic Party
Supply Side Dogma
Unstable Weirdos and Business Success

Enjoy the entire: June 2013 Archive.

2013 Review: Part 2

2013 ReviewHere we are with the second part of my six-part series on what the hell I was writing about last year. To some extent, it is getting boring, because I am most concerned about the same issues. Of course, I mix things up by talking about movies and music and science. But we continue to live in a shockingly unjust country. And every time I hear a conservative claim that America is the best country in the world I have a stifle a scream.

March 2013

I started March of last year being very annoyed by pundits pretending that Republicans actually mean what they say. A good example of this was, Adorable and Wrong Ezra Klein. Klein had gone to an off-the-record press conference with a Republican in the House. A reporter asked him if Obama putting Chained-CPI (basically cuts to Social Security) up for negotiation would make a difference. The politician said it definitely would because it would show that Obama was serious. Well the fact was that Obama had offered Chained-CPI over and over again. Klein claimed that the real problem was that Democrats and Republicans were talking past each other. That wasn’t it at all. As I noted at the time, as soon as the politician was set straight on the issue, he would come up with another reason why Obama wasn’t “serious” and thus not worth negotiating with. I see this stuff all the time. Reporters in Washington are so desperate to make the Republicans look halfway reasonable they end up just looking silly.

March also contained a couple of articles that got some attention. As I noted before, my birthday post about Lou Reed was quoted in the San Francisco Chronicle. The Daily Beast picked up my Zero Dark 30 parody video. Actually, that video ended up being far more popular in France than in America. Shocking, I know!

One article I was very pleased with was, Michelle Obama and Downton Abbey. It was about how people can watch shows like Downton Abbey and feel superior that they don’t have anti-gay prejudices like the people of that time did. But they are completely ignorant of their own prejudices. In the First Lady’s case, she has a husband who has admitted to committing drug felonies countless times, but somehow still supports locking people up for drugs. That was pretty much the beginning of my writing more about drug policy in this country. It’s a subject I would like to avoid, but I am so tired of liberals patting themselves on the back about their recently enlightened attitudes toward the LGBT community, while maintaining actually far worse prejudices against drug users.

March also brought perhaps the most important political science study that I heard all year. It turns out that Republican and Democratic politicians alike all assume that their constituencies are more conservative than they actually are. This is one of the reasons that I did not write that much about the gun control talk after the Sandy Hook massacre. Sure, the people wanted something done. But as the year progressed, it became more and more clear to me that we really don’t live in a democracy. It would be one thing if Republican politicians systematically thought their voters were more conservative than they were if the Democratic politicians thought their voters were more liberal. But that’s not it at all. What it actually means is that the true constituency of both parties is the super rich. They always get their way and the poor never get their way. Clinton may have ended welfare for the poor as we knew it. But welfare for the rich is bigger and easier than ever. Much of my writing was about the various ways that this was affecting our country and it is when I really started to argue that the Republicans had become so radical because the supposed liberal party—the Democrats—had become so conservative that there really was nowhere else for the Republicans to go.

And in the middle of March was the first of many articles about Debra Milke, the woman who had spent two decades on death row for the murder of her son, even though she clearly had nothing to do with it. She is now out on bail awaiting another trial, but I still don’t understand that given that the state actually has no evidence against her. The only evidence they had in the first place was a lying cop. Since he’s been exposed as a serial liar and much worse, I don’t see why the state is continuing except, as always, in a desperate attempt to save face.

Enjoy the entire: March 2013 Archive.

April 2013

By April, I was even complaining that Jonathan Chait was naive. Eric Cantor said he would “see about additional taxes” if Obama showed he was serious about cutting the budget. The thing is that Obama has savagely cut the budget already. This is one of the reasons our economy is doing so poorly. So all Cantor was saying was that he would not see about additional taxes. If by April of 2013, Cantor didn’t see Obama as being “serious” about the budget, he never would. And indeed that’s exactly what we saw. But it was telling that Chait fell for this. Chait is usually much better about this kind of stuff.

I wrote an interesting article about websites like Yahoo! Answers where the “best” answer is the one with the most votes. I had my own question, Were Women Allowed to Act in the Theater in the Shakespearean Era? It turned out that every answer given was filled with misinformation. And I detected more than a hint of racism in it too. The more you know about a subject, the more concern you have about “crowd sourcing.” It often gets the questions wrong and brings out the worst in people.

April also brought more coverage of Chained-CPI. It was all part of the Grand Bargain that Obama and “centrists” are so in love with. Thankfully, the issue eventually went away because there was no way that the Republicans would vote for anything that made the rich pay even a penny more in taxes. I always knew this, so most of my attacks were on the Democrats. I don’t know what they were thinking. We have a poor economy. And what do they want to do? They want to cut government spending, which will be bad for the economy. And they also want to raise taxes, which will be bad for the economy. So the Grand Bargain was bad policy. But it was also bad politics. Other than the professional centrists like Thomas Friedman and Barack Obama, no one was interested in such a lose-lose bargain.

There was also some news that we were going to get some national gun control legislation. It was so watered down as to be useless. And in the end even it couldn’t get through Congress. I had been predicting that for a while. I think gun control is a stupid issue for Democrats to focus on. It is not a winner. There are bigger fish to fry. Unfortunately, most of Democratic politicians don’t want to deal with those bigger fish, because doing so might offend their funding sources.

Christopher Knight is the actor who played the role of Peter Brady on The Brady Bunch. But in April, we met a hermit with the same name who lived alone for 27 years before he was arrested for petty theft. It is a fascinating story, which you should read if you missed it, North Pond Hermit. Of course April also had the Boston Marathon bombing. And Reinhart and Rogoff crashed and burned. And it was the 25th anniversary of Reagan signing the United Nations Convention Against Torture. I wrote a number of articles that month about torture. And I officially got rid of the nofollow tag in comments. And immigration flared up again.

My high level of cynicism about what Congress would do served me well the whole year. That really started in April. Most liberals have this very childish idea that the Republican Party will go along with legislation if it is popular enough. That’s not the way it works. And at this point, saying no to everything is about the only policy idea that they have. If they start agreeing with the Democrats on anything other than the names of post offices, they will lose their brand.

Enjoy the entire: April 2013 Archive.

2013 Review: Part 1

2013 ReviewAs it is the first day of 2014, and I have already discussed the last year in a general sense, it seems natural to go back and look at what I spent the last year talking about. This is the first of a six-part series of articles about what we were talking about this last year.

January 2013

The first thing you notice about this month is that it is when my love affair with the movie Romantics Anonymous started. In the end, no political scandal, no amount of bad behavior by our supposed leaders is going to trump a movie that will continue to delight me for the rest of my life. The first time I wrote about it was on the first day of last year. Apparently, I spent new year’s eve watching it, which is about as good a way to spend the night as anything else I can think of.

I also first wrote about something that has become a bit of an obsession with me, Live Long and Eat. It’s about how it is most healthy to be a little bit on the fat side. All those skinny people we see in ads and movies are actually bad examples for us. Let me put it in terms that Curb Your Enthusiasm fans can understand: it is better to be Jeff Garlin than Larry David. And remember, Jeff Garlin’s feature film debut as writer and director was I Want Someone to Eat Cheese With. Keep right on eating that cheese, Jeff!

The beginning of the month dealt with the Fiscal Cliff negotiations and my anger that the Democrats (Obama specifically) were doing a terrible job with those negotiations. After all, if they had not negotiated at all, taxes would have gone way up. The Republicans were not in a position to allow that. So why even negotiate with them. Give them the offer and say, “It’s that or income taxes go up on everyone and it will be your fault.” But in the end, a deal was made that was much better for the Republicans than they could reasonably have hoped for. One thing that wasn’t part of the deal was an increase in the debt ceiling. And as a result, we are still dealing with that situation today. Otherwise, on the political front, I was talking a lot about income inequality and I really started pushing filibuster reform.

Aaron SwartzOn 11 January Aaron Swartz killed himself. That resulted in a few articles about our social injustice but also about how depression works. There was too much of people trying to turn the whole tragedy to their own benefit: mostly by exonerating the government’s attacks on him and by just trying to pass it off as the act of a depressed young man. It makes me think of that part of the Bible where it says you aren’t allowed to beat your slave so badly that he dies within three days. Sure, depression is a terrible thing and maybe Swartz would have killed himself at some point anyway. But being hounded by the government made it so much worse. It’s like our entire culture is determined to destroy the best of what we are.

One thing our culture has lost is any sense of irony. Last January John Kiriakou was given two and a half years in jail for leaking information about the CIA’s torture program. And how many people in the CIA have been punished for actually torturing people. Let me think, there was that one guy that… No. Not him. How about that woman who… Oh, that’s right! Not only has no one been punished, no one has even been indicted. That’s because in America, torturing people is just fine. But revealing government secrets, well, that’s the worst thing a person can do. As a truly patriotic American, I am disgusted with my country.

Enjoy the entire: January 2013 Archive.

February 2013

This month saw the release of some of George Bush the Younger’s paintings. Some art “experts” even went to far to say that they were good. So much for the experts. Look, I’m not an artist, but I really like art and I learn as much about it as I can. And as a result, I can tell the difference between good art and really weak art. Bush isn’t terrible. But if he hadn’t been president, no one would take his work seriously. It is very much like the work done by men of his age and social class who take up painting late in life. This led me later to mistake some parodies of his work as the real thing. Such is the value I place in his work and his thinking. Speaking of which, I also wrote about Celebrity Painters. In general, I don’t like that kind of thing. But the fact is that Hitler really wasn’t a bad painter.

Most of the month, however, had me talking about income inequality in a lot of different ways. I wrote a lot about the minimum wage. The big thing about the minimum wage is that conservatives are always saying that it will cause companies to cut employment. The evidence just doesn’t support that contention. What’s more, as Dean Baker teaches us, prices are not set by the costs that companies pay to bring products to market. Just the same, employers don’t hire people to be nice. They hire employees because they need them. We get the same thing about the corporate tax rate. If you raise corporate taxes, they will just pass the costs on to the customers. No! That’s not the way the economy works and February was when I really started talking about the fact that conservatives really don’t understand economics or business.

Kathleen O'Brien WilhelmFebruary was also the month we first learned about Kathleen O’Brien Wilhelm. She is the Tea Party idiot who writes a blog for the Avon-AvonLake Patch. But you probably remember her as the woman who thought that deer crossing signs were a waste of money because, “Deer cannot read, do not obey the law and probably will cross where they wish.” I know, it sounds like an article from The Onion, but the woman is dead serious. I check up on her every couple of months and usually write something. But it gets harder because her articles rarely say anything. They are just the random “thoughts” of a committed Fox News viewer. Here most recent article for Christmas summed up, “Remember, this government has worked to take our guns, stifle our speech, and tear at our religious beliefs. It is time we stop them!” Yeah, those 80% Americans who are Christians are really being kept down. Oh, she also says, “As a Christian, do not turn the other cheek.” Because, you know, what Jesus said was important and all, but the NRA is really a high power.

The whole month shows a move on my part toward sarcasm. All of the talk about the fiscal cliff and the debt ceiling and the Sequester seem to have finally gotten to me. The Republicans were just talking gibberish. But the Democrats weren’t doing much better. I think this was the beginning of the end of my mostly positive relationships with relatively liberal writers like Greg Sargent and Ezra Klein and to a lesser extent Ed Kilgore. Someone like Matt Yglesias may annoy me a lot, but he never bores me; he never feeds me the Democratic Party line. Although I am a Democrat, that doesn’t mean I’m happy with it. Half of the party is useless. As I’m always saying, we have one good conservative and one good liberal party in the United States, and they are both in the Democratic Party. But to be a Democrat, you’ve got to maintain a sense of humor.

Enjoy the entire: February 2013 Archive.

Odds and Ends Vol 7

Odds and EndsIs it just me or am I writing longer articles recently? I can’t help it. For the last couple of days, I’ve been so angry about the state of this nation. It all started this weekend when I took a big plunge into my long thought about book-length essay, “How to Cross a Street.” The truth is that I have no idea what it is about except in the vaguest of terms. It is about the one thing that I think matters: community. But our cultural trend is disastrous. And my personal history is none too great either. And that’s the part that makes me mad. If I can’t help to create community in my little part of the world, what hope is there generally? But from a writing standpoint, it’s all good. An honest look at one’s failings can work very well. Or so I tell myself. Because no one else is here.

  1. Paul Krugman recently wrote, Empty Boxes of Political Economy. In it, he points out that more or less sensible economics are coming entirely from the Democrats and all the charlatans and cranks are Republicans. That’s correct. And I would put it even stronger than he does. But there is something that I think he is missing. He noted:
    In practice, left-wing cranks have never played a significant role in US politics, while right-wing cranks always have. Still, back in the days of George HW Bush—and even, to some extent, in the days of Bush the lesser—there were politicians in the lower left box.

    Sigh. Can he really be so naive? When Republicans are in the White House, they are Keynesians. They believe in stimulus and monetary policy. They aren’t worried about debt, because mostly debt is never that big a deal. It’s only when a Democrat is in the White House that suddenly the Republicans forget everything they learned in Econ 101.

    Look at Greg Mankiw — by all accounts a great economist who is conservative. Under Bush Jr, he was all for stimulus. Under Obama, he came up with some complicated ideas as to why stimulus wouldn’t work. And then, as the 2012 election was approaching (he was Mitt Romney’s economic adviser), suddenly he was walking back his anti-stimulus rhetoric to prepare for more Keynesian stimulus once Romney was president. It’s a game that all politicians play. But it is one that only conservative economists play.

    Krugman knows that, but obviously can’t say it. Earlier, he wrote, “There are liberal professional economists; there are conservative professional economists; and there are professional conservative economists (aka right-wing hacks).” I think that “conservative professional economists” have shown themselves to be largely right-wing hacks as well.

  2. German President Joachim Gauck has announced that he will boycott the Olympic games in Sochi over Russia’s human rights abuses and it’s “gay propaganda” law. The position of president in Germany does not have much power, but it is an important stand. Chancellor Angela Merkel is still the one with all the power. Although I have major problems with her, I think her position that going to the games and highlighting the Russian abuses is a defensible one. Still, I think it is the wrong one. To a very large extent, I think that the Olympics are a crock. We aren’t one big happy world. There are currently at least 12 major wars being fought and at least another 29 smaller ones.

    Look: I’m not against the games as games. I don’t, for example, think that international chess tournaments should be stopped. But the Olympics has this whole “we are the world” symbolism going on. It seems to be a way for big countries like the United States to sit back and feel good about themselves while the drone killing of civilians continues on. So I say fuck the Olympics regardless. But Gauck is right to boycott the Sochi games over the gay rights issue. This is Russia after all—not Saudi Arabia.

  3. This is an interesting optical illusion. These square flat surfaces of these two blocks are exactly the same color. They don’t appear that way because our brains still think of the bottom block as being white, but poorly lit, whereas the top block is black, but well lit. You can see this by covering up the seam. But even when you do this, it will take your brain some time to get used to it. The lesson here is that we don’t see colors in an absolute sense. We are forever making calculations about light and angles. This is how a lot of optical illusions work. Anyway, this one is fun:
    Optical Illusion Blocks

Until next time my friends!

Odds and Ends Vol 6

Odds and EndsWell, boys and girls, it has been a while since our last Odds and Ends. That may be because I’m just generally slowing down. The fact that there has been little real political news doesn’t help. But I’ve been lazy too, I think. Yesterday, I watched both The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra and The Lost Skeleton Returns Again. I’ve also been cooking a lot. In fact, I have a couple of new recipes that I will publish when I’ve perfected them. One of them is the best potato chowder ever. Ah, food and silly movies!

And now the news.

  1. Are you as surprised as I am about what’s going on with BlackBerry? In case you missed it, the dying technology company was given a billion dollars to restructure. (It also happens that BlackBerry has $2.3 billion in cash on hand. This is one of the countless examples of all the companies that are sitting on huge piles of cash and doing absolutely nothing with it: no investment, no hiring. I’ve never heard a compelling conservative answer to why this is and how exactly Obamacare and “high” taxes are stopping them.) I just don’t get how this is a good investment. I don’t see how BlackBerry fits into the modern world. But we’ll see.

    But what I really don’t get are things like Sean Vitka’s article, BlackBerry’s New CEO Has Raised the Dead Before. Can He Do It Again? I don’t mean to put down Vitka, because I don’t think he necessarily buys into this crap. The main thing though it that I don’t. I think that good management is critically important to businesses. But the rock star mentality is totally bogus. It mostly comes from the fact that some CEOs are very good at marketing themselves. And some are just very lucky—being in charge during exactly the right years. (See, for example, Bill Clinton.) That’s not to say these guys aren’t good. An idiot can destroy even the best of luck. (See, for example, George Bush Jr.) John Chen is no more likely to pull BlackBerry back from the brink than any other competent manager. It isn’t rocket science nor is it witchcraft. It’s just management and larger market forces.

  2. It had to happen. A third person—this time a woman—has come forward with allegations that New Mexico authorities did the same things I’ve reported before. Basically: a dog indicated that the woman had drugs. So they took her to a medical office where she was x-rayed and anally probed. But I don’t feel like getting into that subject any more until we start seeing some actual court proceedings. Click over and check it out yourself, though.
  3. Matt Yglesias alerted me to the fact that quite recently, both Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s have downgraded the big banks. As I wrote last Sunday, the ratings agencies are awful. Yglesias at least partially agrees with me, ” I think they’re ratings of large sovereign countries largely reflect politics rather than real economic analysis.” He adds, however, “But corporate debt is close to their core competencies and I think people should take these claims from Moody’s and S&P seriously.” In the more recent Moody’s downgrade, they said they don’t think the federal government will save the banks anymore. In other words: “too big to fail” is over. Dean Baker has laid out why we shouldn’t have “too big to fail” banks and why TARP was unnecessary. So these downgrades are a good thing. But I am absolutely not sure that “too big to fail” is over. The federal government always looks out for the interests of the big guy.
  4. In case you haven’t heard, in the Virginia Attorney General’s race, after all the votes were counted, Mark Herring came from behind to win it by 164 votes. This may change, of course. I don’t think anyone trusts Virginia’s election process with Ken “I’ll do anything to protect zygotes” Cuccinelli in charge. And the margin is “wafer thin”: 0.007%. So there will be a recount. But in these situations, you would rather be up than down. And in general, you would rather be a Democrat than a Republican, because Democratic votes are more likely to go “missing.” This one’s for Herring’s opponent, Mark Obenshain, because even things that are “wafer thin” can be dangerous:
  5. The controversial IQ-race researcher Jason Richwine seems to have found a home at the National Review. Good for him, I guess. I don’t have it out for him the way a lot of liberals do. He’s just another conservative who does sloppy work. As for his IQ work, I don’t really accept any IQ work, but clearly he has entered into the field because he has an ax to grind. I mean, really, who would choose to look at racial disparities in IQ tests when you could look at the truly massive generational disparities. But whatever. I don’t think the guy deserves to never have a decent job again. This is something the Republicans are much better at than the Democrats. If such a scandal happened on the left, the guy would be working at a book store now.
  6. And finally, thanks to The Drinking Atheist, I know that lots of animals masturbate. In an article at I Fucking Love Science, we get the tenderly phrased headline, Self-Love in the Animal Kingdom. It provides a rather long but incomplete list of animals that masturbate with details that you never knew you were desperate to hear. For example, “Yes, even cute fluffy squirrels will take matters into their own paws and they even eat their own ejaculate when they are done.” And why not? The ability to masturbate is one of the few things in the universe that argue for a loving God.

Until next time, my friends!