History Western Classical Music (With Examples!)

This article is based on a series of Morning Music posts. It’s a work in progress because I only made it to the beginning of the Classical Period. (Yes, Classical music has a Classical Period — and it’s fairly short.)

Gaudeamus omnesJim Holt’s book, Stop Me If You’ve Heard This: A History and Philosophy of Jokes, is a really fun book. In my discussion of the book, I highlighted a joke from the 15th century. It doesn’t even seem like a joke, because most of it is spent explaining to the listener why it is funny. As a result, it’s important to understand just how much art changes over time. A joke that we find funny today would make no sense to someone who lived a thousand years ago.

I am going through the history of what we call Classical music. It is a particular kind of music that really represents what the elites of Europe have listened to. As a result, for nearly the first millennium — dating back to about 1000 CE — it was exclusively religious. But even through the Baroque period (1600–1750), most of the major composers had some relation to the church.

The Medieval Period: Get Your Chant On

We are going to start with the Medieval period because, frankly, there wasn’t much that changed before that. For what we would call Classical music, this remained supreme and largely unchanged for 500 years.

So that means we are going to listen to a Gregorian chant. When learning music theory in an American college, you always start with these chants. They are incredibly formal in their melodies. They have as simple a rhythm as you can get. And they have no harmony whatsoever (unless you consider unison harmony, which I guess it technically is, but really). Yet they do have a simple beauty. And they are often hypnotic. You can well imagine someone going into a trance during one — having a religious vision.

Thus we listen to “Gaudeamus Omnes” (Let Us All). I don’t present it as something you are going to love. But this piece is meant to work the same way a film history class works — allowing you to see how the art form evolves over time.

Josquin des Prez Gets Funky

Josquin des PrezNext in our exploration of classical music, we get to the Renaissance period. This is a hard one because it is when sacred and secular music diverge. The main importance of the secular music for our purposes is that it introduces instruments. Up to this time, all the music was sung. But the secular music tends to lead us more in the direction of the folk music tradition. So forgive me for staying with the sacred for a while more.

There are many new things here. The main innovations at this point are that the music becomes polyphonic and somewhat rhythmic. No longer is a melody just sung in unison with quarter notes. What’s more, this is the time that fugue-like structures find their way into the music. You hear this quite often in motets — where different people are singing the same thing but at different times. If you want a simple example, think of a group singing “Row Row Row Your Boat” — but actually beautiful to hear. It is formal without being rigid — or at least it is when created by a great composer.

Today, we are going to listen to a piece by Josquin des Prez — one of the greatest of the Renaissance composers. This is the motet “Ave Maria … Virgo Serena.” It is performed by Schola Antiqua of Chicago and it is gorgeous. But I think this fact is easy to miss if you listen to it relative to modern music of almost any kind — since the polyphonic innovations have been so thoroughly integrated into our musical language.

Claudio Monteverdi and His “Tiny” Revolution

Claudio MonteverdiNow we look at the early Baroque period. This is the period where counterpoint just goes crazy. This is where two or more musical lines work together to create a greater harmonic whole. Probably the best representation of this is the string quartet, which won’t really come into its all until the Classical period — although it certainly existed long before that and continues to be one of the great forms of classical music.

The man most associated with the transition from Renaissance to Baroque music is the Italian composer Claudio Monteverdi. He fused the kind of polyphony that we heard from Josquin with a style of composition called the basso continuo. In it, the melody and the bass line are provided, and an indication of the kind of harmony, but not the actual notes. The performer was then expected to improvise the rest.

Actually, many of the great classical musicians into the Romantic period were known to be excellent improvisers. So those who think someone like Antonio Salieri[1] was a boring fellow are quite wrong; he was the McCoy Tyner of his day!

We are going to listen to a madrigal from 1619, “Chiome d’Oro, Bel Tesoro” (Golden head of hair, beautiful treasure). You can definitely hear the transition here. For one thing, now we have voices and instruments together. Also: the different musical lines are working in the service of the harmonic structure. This was originally written for two voices, two violins, and a basso continuo. You can well imagine just how revolutionary this music must have sounded to the people of the early 17th century. And here it is beautifully fleshed out by Voices of Music:

Barbara Strozzi: Attack of the 50 ft Baroque Woman

Barbara StrozziAlmost every Baroque composer you’ve heard of is from the late period. There is a strong urge on my part just to skip right to them. But the middle period is really important. Because of the establishment of absolute monarchies throughout Europe, “court” music was developing. This created a great deal more sharing of music geographically. And so composers like Johann Jakob Froberger became really important in spreading different ideas all around the continent. (But we won’t listen to anything by him because most of the stuff online is harpsichord music — which I’m just not that fond of.)

This is the period when Baroque becomes more austere. There’s something almost romantic about the Renaissance and early Baroque music. But now it becomes intricate and exact. At its worst, it is overly intellectual. At its best, it is deeply affecting without pandering.

One of the greatest composers — almost certainly the greatest of secular vocal music (including the librettos, which are said to be excellent) of this period was a woman, Barbara Strozzi. She was also a great singer. Not only was she a woman in a time when they didn’t do this thing much, she was illegitimate. Yet she dominated the period. And look at the painting — she’s quite young and already has the look that she doesn’t take shit from anyone.

She is typical of the work that is breaking away from the early Baroque period. Notice in the following cantata, “Che Si Puo Fare” (What Can Be Done), the melodic development, which sounds distinctly classical at times. At the same time, the harmonic structure is still very much like what we heard from Claudio Monteverdi:

Dieterich Buxtehude: Let the Harmony Begin!

Dieterich BuxtehudeNow we get to the end of the middle part of the Baroque period. I’m going to focus on Dieterich Buxtehude.

He was a well known organist in his time, and so he wrote a lot for the organ. But he also wrote a great deal of vocal music. This is not surprising, as the middle Baroque period was when music and words first came together as equals. But for some reason, his vocal work doesn’t seem to have been terribly popular in his own lifetime.

What we are going to listen to today is Membra Jesu Nostri (The Limbs of our Jesus) — a cycle of seven cantatas. The main thing to notice about it is the very modern harmonic structure. This is kind of an inflection point in music from melodies creating harmonies to harmonies creating melodies. It is what allows us to know with such certainty that a piece of music is finished: because it has a harmonic denouement — as surely as a Greek tragedy.

Vivaldi: So Great One Name Is Enough

Antonio VivaldiThere are really two titans of the late Baroque period: Bach and Vivaldi — two men so great, they only need one name. They were quite distinct, even if they both fully sum up the period. Bach is more focused on counterpoint. And it can, at times, be overwhelming. Vivaldi does get into excessive counterpoint at times, but it isn’t actually his thing. Vivaldi is more free flowing. But Bach, in his formalism pushed in some surprisingly modern directions. Above all, both composers are similar but distinct.

In general, my favorite is Vivaldi. That dates back to when I played flute. Vivaldi understood how to write for the flute. Playing pieces by Bach always felt like I was playing something that was actually meant for the violin. Vivaldi knew that flutists had to breath from time to time. But I also think that Vivaldi understood the character of the instrument better. That is not to say that Bach didn’t write some of the greatest flute music ever — he did.

Bach and Vivaldi Similarities

One thing that both composers pushed was the use of solo instruments. Up to this point, most music had been predominately ensemble.

What’s more, the forms became longer — that was especially true of Bach, who often got lost in his own compositions. But ultimately, I don’t think you can point to a better piece as the height of the Baroque period than Vivalidi’s Four Seasons. It is actually not a single piece, of course; it is four violin concertos. But they are beautiful, and unlike almost everything else in my life, I do not get tired of listening to them. Here they are performed by the Amsterdam Sinfonietta with the great (there are a lot of great violinists in the world) Janine Jansen at the International Chamber Music Festival in 2014. (I was going to present Antal Zalai better performance of it, but the audience applauding between each movement drove me crazy.)

Interestingly, after their deaths, both Bach and Vivaldi fell out of favor. They were considered old fashioned. Bach came to be admired in a way he was not during his life in the 19th century. Vivaldi was not rediscovered until the 20th century. And that is probably why Bach has a bigger reputation.

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach: The Classical Period Begins

Carl Philipp Emanuel BachThe Classical period of music started in 1750, and I am going to stop just as we reach it.

It’s interesting, though, that we call the kind of music we have been listening to as “classical music,” when most of what people think of as classical music is, in fact, from the Romantic period. In general, my favorite period of music is the Classic period because it spans a divide: not so intellectual as the Baroque period and not so emotional as the Romantic period. (Interestingly, when I take the Myers–Briggs Type Indicator, my thinking and feeling functions are about equal, so that might be why I like the Classical period.) I’m also really fond of early 20th century music, but that will have to wait for later.

Galant Music

Now I want to look at what is called Galant music. It represented a turn away from the excessive complexity that had come to dominate the Baroque period. It also represented the big shift toward the solo instrument. And so we are going to listen to one of the great theorists and composers of this this period, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach — one of the sons of the Bach. He was not only influenced by his father, but also his godfather, Georg Philipp Telemann, who was himself part of galant style — although more as a follower than an innovator.

We are going to listen to Trio Sonata in B-Flat Major, dating from 1843 — when Bach was 29 years old. It is for flute, violin, and bass. But as you will see in the following performance, the bass part has been fully realized for the piano. I’m very struck by this flutist, Sofia Lubyantseva, who is very good. Note the clarity of the lead instruments, the simplicity of the harmonic structure, the directness of the melody. It also has lots of clear legacy material. For instant, it is largely a very clever fugue. Even though this piece was written before it had started, it signals that the Classical period had begun.

Afterword

Here are all the videos put together in a single playlist:


[1] If you read that article (and you should), you will not that it says historians have uncovered no animosity between Salieri and Mozart. That’s not exactly true. As the article points out, if there was any animosity between the men, it was all on Mozart’s part. Mozart did complain in one or two letters about Salieri. But it’s clear that this was just a younger, less-established musician with a chip on his shoulder. I’m sure as his career improved, all that was forgotten.

Unlike portrayed in Amadeus, Mozart’s career steadily improved. Had he lived another decade he probably would have been a rich man. He got the reputation of being terribly poor because his father (a truly vile man) had taught him to never owe money to someone for very long. So he would borrow money from one person. Then borrow money from another to pay the first person. And on and on. And remember at that time, people lived on credit far more than they do now, because money would normally come in chunks. Cervantes (early, but still) was a tax collector for the Spanish king and had to pay all his own expenses and waited as long as 3 years between payment.

It Really Isn’t a Question: To Be or Not to Be

It Really Isn't a Question: To Be or Not to Be

Last night I had a dream. I was hunched over my keyboard, working furiously. And in the corner was Arthur Schopenhauer with a friend. He motioned toward me and said, “The Will is strong with this one.” And my head planted on the keyboard — the letter “x” scrolled across the screen.

I assume the Force is a good thing to have. I don’t really know, having seen almost none of the films and not having given them much thought. But the Will is not a good thing to have. It exists for itself. It is a parasite that lives within us, feeding off us — only interested in its own existence.

We all live in the middle of the most terrifying horror show ever imagined. But most of us haven’t a clue. In this context, a drone attack on a wedding party is the ultimate act of mercy and Obama is a saint.

Suicide: A Once Comforting Thought

The writer Stevie Smith famously found the thought of suicide extremely comforting. She said that when she learned about it as a child, it great cheered her because she knew that if life ever got too painful, she could end the pain — in an instant.

As a result, she lived her life to its natural conclusion despite her depression and anxiety because of that thin tether of knowing that she could always kill herself tomorrow.

Nobody’s Waving — Their Drowning

I suppose one could see the Will as a friendly entity that keeps us alive through the bad bits of life so we can enjoy the good bits. But I think that Smith sums up life for most people pretty well in his poem fragment:

Oh, no no no, it was too cold always
(Still the dead one lay moaning)
I was much too far out all my life
And not waving but drowning.

That’s most people: too far out all their lives, drowning while everyone thinks they are having a marvelous time.

You see a lot of people drowning on Facebook. But they would prefer you not see them drowning, so they are waving furiously as they swallow mouthfuls of seawater, sink, and then breath the brine as they die. Don’t trust the happy pictures of ball games and parties. You need both hands to slit your own wrists.

Emily Dickinson Had It Right: We’re Stuck

Most people only know the first two lines of Emily Dickinson’s most famous poem, “The Chariot”:

Because I could not stop for Death,
He kindly stopped for me…

Many people they think (certainly I did when I was young) that the word “kindly” is meant ironically. It isn’t. The whole poem isn’t a celebration of death — Dickinson was not a cheerful poet (or person, it would seem — she was pretty much a shut-in like me). But people are sometimes fooled by things like, “‘Hope’ Is the Thing With Feathers.” The quotation marks around “hope” certainly indicate that she sees it has something of a phantom.

But “The Chariot” is quite positive toward death. She looks upon death as a good thing.

All These Prisons

For most of my life, I was like Stevie Smith: I took comfort in knowing that I could make this all go away. But my dream Schopenhauer was right: my Will is ridiculously strong. I could never kill myself except under the most rational of circumstances (eg, I’m in the World Trade Center and a fireball is coming toward me, so I jump). Otherwise, no.

So more and more I feel like a prisoner in this body on this planet — stuck in this constant now, now, now. But like Dickenson, I cannot stop for death. I must live in this cage until it takes pity and stops for me.

It is only science and art and lots of people (one at a time) that provide any kind of relief. I would rewrite Dickenson: “Hope is a thing for children.”

The 70 Year (Failed) Experiment of Zionism

The 70 Year (Failed) Experiment of Zionism - Judaism and Zionism Are Diametrically Opposed

Today was the 70th anniversary of a grand experiment. Many Jews had long wanted their own land and they fought for it. Many of them were terrorists in the cause — though you will never hear that on the television news in America. But after World War II, a Jewish homeland was founded. After all: Nazis.

I Supported Zionism for a Long Time

Not only would I have been on board then, I was on board most of my life. Even over the last decades I continued to support Zionism because I though the Jews, as a group, really did have something to fear. And they do!

Even in the US (a very Jew-friendly country), according to the FBI, over half of reported religious-based hate crimes are committed against Jews. But the fact that Jews are hated by many, I don’t support a Jewish state. Indeed, I believe that Israel has made antisemitism worse.

Israel Has Lost Legitimacy

What Israel has shown is that just because you have been oppressed in the past, does not mean that you will not turn into an oppressor yourself. Indeed, we accept on the individual level that abused children usually grow up to be abusers. So, I’m afraid, it is with countries. And so it seems to be with Israel.

It’s been clear for decades that Israel has no interest in making peace with the Palestinians. In an earlier time, Israel would have simply committed a mass genocide and taken over all of the remaining Palestinian land. (See, for example, the Old Testament.)

But with modern media, they can’t do that, so they’ve done it inch by inch — both through murder and by simply stealing land.

The American “Honest Broker” Lie Is Clearly Exposed

There is one good thing to come out of this, however. The US has moved its embassy to Jerusalem. And in so doing has shown, in a way that even the most rapid Israeli apologists cannot rationally dispute, that the US is not an honest broker in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — and haven’t been for at least the 37 years.

If Israel did simply march into the West Bank and killed everyone outside of all the Jewish Settlements (most illegal), the US government would report that it was provoked and a necessary step to keep the people of Isreal safe. And the media would present it that way, noting that some disagree.

Israel Has Nothing to Fear

Israel has by far the most powerful military of any country in the region. Other states may grumble about them, but they would not willingly go to war against Israel. They are the only nuclear state. And are they nuclear! They have an estimated 200 to 400 warheads.

The only threat to Israel are are rockets from Gaza. It is often reported that in the last two decades there have been thousands of such attacks. But that number includes mortars as well — which have a very short range. Still, there is a lot of firing. But they are mostly impotent. Over the last two decades, fewer than 30 people have been killed. Israel should probably worry more about people texting and driving.

And it isn’t like the Palestinians don’t have some cause. I’m not in favor of violence under any circumstances. And I think the people firing these rockets are making a tactical mistake. But it is the case that at least the attacks get covered in the US media. The countless peace protests are completely blacked-out of mainstream television coverage, and almost never covered anywhere in the mainstream press.

How Long Will the Apologetics Go On?

Regardless, the fact is that while the Palestinians kill almost no Israelis, the Israelis kill a lot of Palestinians. I wrote the following analogy on Facebook this morning:

If the US media reported on playground incidents like they do the Israel-Palestine conflict. “A teacher killed a first-grader on the playground of Monroe Elementary School. But it must be remembered that the child intentionally scratched the teacher, requiring a band-aid. Also, the teacher killed the student’s parents and took over their house. Governmental authorities have questioned Whether this wasn’t an overreaction. But no legal sanctions are currently being considered by the district attorney.”

I’m Sick of Israeli and American Disingenuousness

And that’s how I feel. And I’m sick to death of reading in the US press it would all be over if the Palestinians would just stop launching those rockets. It sickens me that Palestinian peace protests are all but ignored in this country. I’m tired of the apologetics for decades illegal Israeli settlements, clearly designed to make any peace impossible. I’m sick of it all.

Call me antisemitic if you like. That’s the great trump card of Israeli fanatics: if you are against Israel, you are against Jews. That couldn’t be further from the truth for me. And I would just refer you to the image above.

So many people have died because the US allows Israel to behave even worse than it does.

Violence Causes Fear Causes Violence

Albert Einstein never said, “It would be my greatest sadness to see Zionists do to Palestinian Arabs much of what Nazis did to Jews.” But I’ve never been that into Einstein quotes anyway. I know his science, that is enough. He wasn’t a moral philosopher. But I like the fake quote, because I think it is largely true. A great trauma was wreaked upon a group. It is not at all surprising that many of that group’s survivors would, out of fear, take on the role of the oppressor, even if they are doing it step by step rather than with the Nazi’s brutal swiftness.

I’m afraid it is long past time to have bombed Isreal’s nuclear silos. At this point, I fear that Israel is at least as likely to use one or more of its nukes as India, Pakistan, or North Korea. How can we stop this failed experiment now? I don’t know. I do know this though: the fault lies with the US, just as if North Korea kills millions with its nukes, blame ultimately belongs to China.

Afterword

I remember that Bill Maher, in his movie Religulous, interviewed a guy who believed much as the men in the picture above. Maher listened to him for a bit and then just walked out. The implication was that he was just a crazy man spouting nonsense. But even though I was a Zionist at the time, it was clear to me that he wasn’t spouting nonsense. It’s just that Maher, like the vast majority of Americans can brook no one who thinks that Israel isn’t some fragile country surrounded by powerful enemies and thus must be protected.

I didn’t agree with the guy and I don’t. Why would I. It is based on a very conservative reading of the Torah. But it isn’t an insane or stupid belief. And they are right: Israel is a highly nationalist state. It strikes me as having as much to do with Jewish roots as Utah has to do with Mormon roots. Bill Maher was so much better when he was just a comedian and before he thought he was smart.

The Peter Principle and the Meaninglessness of Hierarchy

The Peter Principle and the Meaninglessness of HierarchyWhen I was younger, I often heard the Peter Principle defined as follows, “Everyone rises to their own level of incompetence.” Thus, I saw it as a statement of the stupidity of corporations: that they promoted incompetent people. But that is not it at all.

Investopedia provides a far better definition of the phenomenon, “The Peter Principle is an observation that the tendency in most organizational hierarchies, such as that of a corporation, is for every employee to rise in the hierarchy through promotion until they reach the levels of their respective incompetence.”

It was only when the Peter Principle started to be applied to me I came to understand it. And it was then that I saw that it wasn’t an attack on the employee but on the corporation.

Peter Principle in High Tech

Consider this example, which I have seen in action many times. A computer programmer is hired by a company and they are great — a modern-day alchemist who manages to things done no one thought was even possible. So the company, wanting to reward this exceptional coder, promotes them to a programming manager. And this person is not great at the new job. To start with, they don’t like it because programming is in their bones. But also: they don’t know anything about management. They hate going to meetings. They think spreadsheets and reports are things people create because they don’t know how to code or that they’re just plain stupid. So, far from being a great manager, they are a bad manager — maybe bad enough to get fired.

Meanwhile, that same company probably has a mediocre programmer who would make a great manager. But they can’t be made a manager because it would be unfair. The mediocre coder would now be above the brilliant coder in the the hierarchy. The mediocre coder would make more money. The mediocre coder would be sent to conferences and fly business class. In other words, the mediocre coder will be better than the brilliant coder.

Hierarchy Destroys Diversity

The problem, of course, is that most companies have it all backwards. And a hierarchy is almost never the best way to structure a group. But you see the human tendency toward hierarchy. The World Wide Web was definitionally flat. It was, quite literally, a web. But once it became commercialized, it turned into a hierarchy. The vast majority of people on the internet spend the vast majority of their time on the top 100 websites.

And it’s built in. If you are on Facebook, why? Why not another platform? Because Facebook is only useful if everyone is there. It isn’t just a monopoly, it’s a company that can only exist as a monopoly. There is absolutely nothing technologically interesting about it and that has been true from its very idea. It provides Sudoku Meaning to people. But it’s also herd mentality. Have you ever noted the shape of a stampeding herd?

The point is the hierarchy — this idea that we need one. The fact is that it is much easier to find a good middle-manager than it is to find a good programmer or other creative. But because we think the hierarchy is natural or right or whatever, we must put the creatives at the bottom. We must pretend that although necessary, they aren’t worth that much. Hence, companies try to turn exceptional creatives into exceptional managers, but end up with mediocre (and generally unhappy) managers.

We Need a Better System

There are better ways, of course. The most obvious is the ecosystem. It is typical of the stupidity of man that the lion is referred to as the “king of the jungle.” (And that makes no sense given that lions don’t live in the jungle, tigers do.) That’s not the way the jungle works. Yes, there are apex predators. But everyone dies and is eaten. Humans think they control this planet? Ha! Insects and bacteria.

But there is no reason that a manager of programmers should necessarily make more than any given programmer. Especially if you want to believe in a meritocracy (and we don’t have one and can’t have one), you should see this. A programmer working alone can revolutionize the world. A manager working alone can’t do anything at all.

In a company however, you need lots of people doing lots of things. And doubtless, some of those people are worth more to the company than others. But the hierarchy doesn’t come close to modeling this. An ecosystem does.

The Lost in America Reversal

There’s a scene in Lost in America where this idea is put on its head. Albert Brooks plays an idiot, as usual. He’s a great advertising creative and gets upset when he isn’t going to be promoted to management. And his supervisor tells him plainly that Brooks is too talented a creative to lose him to management so he promoted someone with far less ability.

And that’s the way it should be. Except it shouldn’t be that the other guy was “promoted.” There should be an ecosystem where everyone plays their role — doing what they like and are good at. And if that means a lowly coder makes as much as the vice-president of finance, so be it. (Note: the vice-president of finance is just at the top of a huge group of people. So he isn’t actually doing any more work than the coder, and isn’t necessarily any more important — even if the vast bureaucracy he leads is).

Trump’s Stupidity With the Iran Deal

This article is based on a Facebook post from yesterday early morning — right when I found out that Trump did what I knew he was going to do. But sense Frankly Curious has a lot of smart readers (that is: they aren’t on Facebook), I’m presented it here. I’ve edited and greatly expanded it. –FM

President Donald TrumpYesterday, President* Trump will did another stupid and cruel thing, primarily because he just doesn’t like Barack Obama. And the world will be worse off for it. I’m talking about walking out of the Iran Nuclear Deal, of course.

But my bet is that Iran will stay in the deal with the Europeans, especially if they sweeten it. Of course, the Trump administration is now saying that they are going to start a trade war with any European country that stays in the deal. But I don’t really see that happening. I think the Europeans know that Trump is not long for political office (and maybe even life outside a cage). And Europe can hurt us just as badly as we can them.

The worst thing is that the deal completely falls apart.

If the Iran Deal Can’t Be Trusted How Could a North Korea Deal?

Of course, the bigger issue for us is that the US will show in the biggest way it ever has that it can’t be trusted. This is right before a negotiation with North Korea!

My prediction on this is that there will be a meeting, because it will make Kim Jong-un look like a major player in world politics (which he isn’t).

But there will be no deal. Why in the world would he make a deal with the US?

To begin with, I don’t think the Trump administration is capable of making a deal because their idea of a deal is that the US gets everything it wants and everyone else gets nothing.

At least when Stormy Daniels got f**ked by Trump, she got a decent amount of money. What is North Korea going to get? Since Trump is, in fact, a terrible negotiator, if a deal did manage to be made, it would be overwhelmingly in North Korea’s favor.[1]

The Iran Deal on the Domestic Front

It isn’t just the North Koreans and other countries who shouldn’t trust Trump and therefore the US.

What are struggling whites who voted for Trump getting from anything he’s done other than a sense that they are pissing off people like me? They are doing worse than ever. Trump cares about them like he does bubble gum stuck to his shoe.

Why Was Trump Elected Anyway?

I would like to think that this is just a dark period for the US. But that’s not it. The US has been a fading empire for decades. Trump is just a darker shade of black. It might get a bit better after he is gone. But not much.

The reason is that about 30 percent of Americans are rightly pissed off about things, but are mad at the wrong people; they support the very people (eg, Trump, the Republican Party) who have made their lives worse over the last 40 years.

Then about 20 percent of Americans are just idiots.

Electoral College

And finally: we don’t live in a democracy. In the US, 7 percent of presidents got less votes than the “loser.”

As CGP Grey has noted, “Would anyone tolerate a sport where, by a quirk of the rules, there was a 7 percent chance that the loser would win? Not likely!” Then why do you put up with it in the much more important issue of presidential politics?

I’ll tell you this: if it had been Democrats who won two recent elections while getting fewer votes, Republicans would demand a change.

And Democrats — being somewhat rational and having a sense of fair play — would go along with it. But since it is helping Republicans, they are against changing it. Although their voters were for changing it — right up to the point that Trump “won.” Then they flipped. The Republicans are no longer a political party; they are a cult — and I’m not just talking about Trump.

We Continue the Struggle, But I Fear It Is Hopeless

I’m sad and embarrassed by my country. “Take Back Our Country,” indeed! (Where did they get the idea that it was theirs and not ours?) Our country is being destroyed by the people who use that phrase.


[1] Here’s a little advice: if you are negotiating with someone who talks about what a great negotiator they are, all you need to do is flatter them and you will get an unimaginably good deal. Trump is the ultimate example of that. Remember: Trump would have far more money today if he had simply put his inheritance in an indexed mutual fund. This is what’s known as an opportunity cost. If you have money, it isn’t hard to make more. The question is whether you are making as much as you could elsewhere. Trump has been a huge failure economically, even though his cultists believe otherwise.

Why People Like Sports and Game Shows

Why People Like Sports and Game ShowsWhen I was very young (less than 10-years-old), I loved game shows. I know why: I was good at them. Even into my teens, I wanted to be on Tic-Tac-Dough because I would have been on there for months. Then I just wanted the money and I couldn’t believe how ignorant the contestants were. But why do mature people like game shows?

And I don’t just mean the traditional game shows. Almost all “reality” shows are game shows. Dancing with the Stars is a game show. I find them mind numbing. But most people love them!

Watching the Money on Game Shows

And I know why. It was all explained at the end of the movie Quiz Show. Dan Enright (played by David Paymer, who you’ve never heard of but have seen everywhere — 233 credits on IMDb) gives the best speech of the film:

But even the quiz shows’ll be back. Why fix them? Think about it, will ya? You could do exactly the same thing by just making the questions easier. See, the audience didn’t tune in to watch some amazing display of intellectual ability. They just wanted to watch the money.

“Reality” TV Show Forged in Fire

My father loves a game show called Forged in Fire. In it, these guys with forges make swords and compete.

If I didn’t hate these kinds of shows so much, I would find it funny. The judges are so serious and make out that they are such experts. But they are really more like sports “color” guys who are constantly repeating the same things.

And the format is entirely typical: most of the show consists of interviews with the sword makers. First they interviewed before their swords are judged. Then they interviewed after the swords are judged.

The show runs 42 minutes, but if you cut out all the repetition, fluff, and ridiculously long dramatic pauses by the judges, you might have 5 minutes of material. That’s a lot of nothing to sit through to find out who wins the $10,000.[1]

It’s Probably All Fake

Last night I asked my father about the show. Because all my life I have lived on the outskirts (and sometimes right in the middle) of the construction industry. I’ve never met anyone with a forge. Now I know: it is probably one of those situations where if you know anyone with a forge, you know ten. They are a tight group.

But there isn’t a huge demand for swords and other things made in a small forge. Yet the show has had 66 episodes with 4 contestants on each. That is 264 people with forges who are willing to go on the show. I don’t buy that for a minute.

Andy Kaufman was on The Dating Game three times as part of his effort to become a successful entertainer. I won’t be at all surprised if one of the 264 people who was on Forged in Fire turns out to be a successful actor.

It Might Have Been Real at Some Point

I have little doubt that when the show started, they were using real people. But as time went on, they couldn’t find people. So they hired actors and had other people make the swords. At this point, I’m sure the entire show is scripted (in the same way professional wrestling is — not exact dialog, but everyone is told what to say, and it comes from some guy like me who doesn’t mind writing crap anonymously if the money is good enough).

When I mentioned this to my father, he pushed back. You could see their forges! Yeah, and one well designed set could be made to look a million ways by a professional art director. Did my father think the forge in Army of Darkness was a real one? No. He yielded the point.

But he will continue to watch the show. It makes no demands of him. And it gives him the ultimate American thrill: watching an absolute win and three absolute losses.

The Black and White of Competition

We Are All SisyphusOf course, even if the show is for real (and I don’t think it is), it’s just one competition.

It reminds me of something I heard someone say about Major League Baseball (roughly): “Each season, every team will win 50 games, lose 50 games, and its the last 50 that determines who does well or who does poorly.” (MLB now plays 162 games a year, but you get the point.) Similarly, it is often said of the National Football League, “On any given day, any team can beat any other.”

I like those quotes because they talk about reality. The truth is that there are thousands of great baseball players who are roughly as good as each other.

But Americans like things clear. That’s why soccer has had such a hard time here: most games end in a tie. (Or at least they used to. I don’t care enough to look it up.) Americans hate that kind of thing because there must be a winner who celebrate far too much and a loser who we criticize far too much.

Life Is Not a Competition

But my life and that of every human I’ve ever known is a mess of contradictions and general messiness. You never win because there is nothing to win. You just continue to live until you don’t.

To make up for the fact that you have to appreciate life at a higher level — that you have to work to find the sacred, as David Foster Wallace put it, in a crowed grocery store when you’re tired and grumpy — people make up games and pretend that life is one too.

Life Is a Process — a Struggle

The one sport I enjoy watching is baseball, because it is beautiful and subtle. But I much prefer watching amateur or minor league ball. The people in the majors make it look too easy, even though it is enjoyable enough to watch.

But I prefer to watch the struggle. Because we are all Sisyphus.

It doesn’t matter our wins or losses. To quote John Maynard Keynes, “In the long-run, we are all dead.” And in the short-run, I’d rather do something more edifying.

I’m not Capital One, so I’ll ask the ultimate question, “What’s in your soul?” I ask it of myself first.

Afterword

None of this is to take away from people who try to excel at anything. I’m that way too. And in weird ways. I practice the clarinet each night. Why the clarinet? Because it is the most bizarre instrument known to humanity.

But there is a difference between pursuing mastery and simply wanting to win. And we live in a degenerate country where the primary motivation is winning. And you will never find the sacred in such an ignoble goal.

Oh how we need to evolve!


[1] That’s another thing about most game shows. On Tic-Tac-Dough, you stayed on the show until you lost. So you could win hundreds of thousands of dollars. But the people on Forged in Fire are setting themselves up to be humiliated for a maximum payout of what the median American makes in two months. Who would do that?! Well, idiots. Also: actors (see above).

What Is Wrong With “Emails”?

What Is Wrong With Emails

I was reading a Jonathan Chait column and he used the word “emails” a dozen times. (Okay, seven emails.) I hate this. The war is over, of course. But I will have my say.

A Brief History of Mail

Here’s my problem: there was once a time when we had no email. We had something that worked wonderfully well. We called it “mail.” People would write down words on paper. Very often, all the words were spelled correctly because the people knew how to spell most words and when they weren’t sure, they looked them up in a big book called a dictionary.

No red lines appeared under supposedly misspelled words.

They would then fold one or more of these pieces of paper they had written on, stick them in an envelope, apply a stamp (or something similar — it evolved), and have a mail carrier deliver it to someone else. It worked great.

An Even Briefer History of Email

But then came ARPANET.

Here’s a fun fact for you all: the first network connection on what would become ARPANET was just between two computers. They sent the word “LOGIN” from one computer to the other. But only two characters made it before the network crashed. That was at the surprisingly high speed (for the time) of 56 kilobits per second.

Obviously, things improved quickly. And before long people invented a mailing system on the network. It was not written by Shiva Ayyadurai. (Note, email systems on intranets date back to the early 1970s.)

When we all decided on the word “email,” it was short for “electronic mail” — a term widely used in the early days.

Then Stupid People Showed Up

It made sense. Computer scientists are easily as picky as editors. So one might say, “My email is really piling up; I’ve got to get to it.” That’s because you would say, “My mail is really piling up; I’ve got to get to it.”

But no literate person would say, “I’ve got a mail I’ve got to get to the postman.” But otherwise literate people have no trouble saying, “I’ve got an email I’ve got to send.”

The Obviousness of “email” and “emails” Usage

The proper sentence would be, “I’ve got an email message I’ve got to send.” Right? Isn’t that obvious?!

You have no idea how old I feel right now.

Grammar is Descriptive Not Prescriptive

Okay. You’re thinking, “What happened to that liberal grammarian, Frank?”

Nothing.

I’m just as liberal as I ever was. People understand it. It’s fine. I’m a sinner too. I checked earlier and there were 33 articles on Frankly Curious that include the word “emails.” Now there are 20, because I removed my writing abominations and a couple of editing abominations (where I didn’t fix another writer’s abomination).

The remaining ones are in quotes and there is one proper use of “emails.” I’ll come back to that.

So a significant number were by me. But as I’ve noted many times here: I do not edit any articles written by me.

The Dreaded “Emails”

There’s only one situation where I can justify “emails”: as a present perfect verb. For example, “She emails a lot of messages!” But you never “send a lot of emails,” just as you never “send a lot of mails.” Why? Because “mail” is plural.

Why do people think they need to add an “s” to “email” but not “mail”?! Because they are sloppy and don’t think. And… (This is the critical thing.) Publishing moves so fast now that little time is spent editing.

Why Not “Eletter”?

Email was an outgrowth of messaging systems. So you would think “email message” would just trip off the tongue. (Note: this is commonly written “drip off the tongue.” It’s one of those wonderful “wrong” usage cases that make great sense. Another example is “beat red.” I love these things.)

The real problem here is that there was never general acceptance of the term “eletter” or something similar. And most people will not type “email message” when “email” (as much as it drives me crazy) is just as clear.

But people did try. In the late 80s and early 90s, I commonly read “eletter” and similar things. But they never took off. And then the web came and a lot of ignorant people just overran us like zombies in Night of the Living Dead. And now that Hillary Clinton had so many “emails” and Bernie Sanders didn’t want to hear about her “damned emails” the war is so far over that I should give up.

The Current State

I won’t though. I’ll be one of those (probably apocryphal) Japanese soldiers still fighting World War II well into the 1950s.

So where are we? Well, for the time being, any time I edit a writer I fix this obnoxious usage (not that I’m perfect as already noted). And I will continue to do so until the day when someone who pays me says, “Our style is to use ’email’ rather than ’email message’.” And on my sites it will always be done in what I consider the right way. That is: the right way.

But I’m sure the day will come when someone will tell me to put “emails” as a noun in a style book. I’ve been writing on at least a semi-professional level for the last 25 years. And as I’ve noted, during that time, I’ve seen editing standards go down constantly. Even the books that are published today have so many more errors in them than they did two decades ago, it’s frightening.

Why I Care

Ultimately, editing (and writing, of course[1]) is about quality control. And the quality you are controlling is clarity. As much as I hate these uses of “email” and “emails,” I know they don’t normally cause confusion. They could, however — in rare cases. But my specific concern is just that this kind of usage is ugly.

My general concern is much more disturbing. Every language has its strengths and limitations. There are concepts that take a paragraph to describe in one language that other languages have single words for. And vice versa. It does not help the language to take two different words and replace them with one. It makes the language less precise. And we already have the mother of all problems: homophones.

I realize we are creating new words all the time. But they are new words for new things. Mail is mail — regardless of the mode of transport. That’s why we should have coined “eletter” or “ezipdingdong” or whatever.

And I feel even older now.

The Bottom Line: Read This!

It’s simple. Read your sentence without the “e.” If it sounds right, great! If it sounds wrong, change it. There are few grammatical matters that are easier than that.

Suppose you wrote, “Now that there is talk of some emails that no one has looked at that might have something to do with something that might conceivably be important, people swing in the opposite direction.” Few people would complain. But try this sentence with a single character taken out, “Now that there is talk of some mails that no one has looked at that might have something to do with something that might conceivably be important, people swing in the opposite direction.”

You’d never write that second sentence. So why not write, “Now that there is talk of some email that no one has looked at that might have something to do with something that might conceivably be important, people swing in the opposite direction”? You have no reason other than laziness.

Postscript

My great fear is that people will begin to use “mail” as they use “email.” And that second sentence that I assume all readers find offensive will not only be accepted, but standard.

Now I feel as old as Dr Muñoz at the end of H P Lovecraft’s story “Cool Air”!


[1] Every writer edits and every editor writes. When I say I don’t edit my work here, I mean I don’t take the time to do even what passes as a professional edit today.

A Final Word on 2016 (I Hope)

Portents of Doom… For RepublicansAgain and again the media makes the claim that Hillary Clinton lost the easiest election ever.

By Damon Linker (twice).  By ostensibly professional Democratic partisan Jon Favreau. Chris Cillizza of course. They often do this because they assume her campaign was terrible and she did nothing right.  They often do not explain exactly what her campaign did that was so terrible except that she did not go to Wisconsin. After all, Cheato was the worst candidate in history therefore it must be her fault.

But this isn’t true.

The Fundamentals Were Against Her From the Start

When it comes to any given election, there are a group that will always vote Democratic and a group that will always vote Republican.  The rest of voters are what need to be persuaded.  In the 2016 election many of these were individuals who had voted for Obama but were ready for something new.

This is what is called third term fatigue.  Generally, a third termer can win when the opponent is one of two things: bland and boring, or simply bad at campaigning.  History gives us three examples.

Examples

In 1940, Republicans nominated as a surprise candidate when their convention deadlocked a former Democrat Wendell Willkie.  He was a tough campaigner, but he was indistinguishable from the Democrats based on what he was proposing.  He lost.

In 1948, Republicans nominated a very bland but popular governor of New York who was an extremely lazy campaigner who did not even endorse his party’s platform.  But he was beloved by the media (sounds familiar) and they gave him all sorts of advantages in the press.  Meanwhile Truman was barnstorming the country and giving rip-roaring speeches.  In the days before real mass media like TV, he was a good in-person entertainer.  He also was the current president who in a masterful stroke, called the majority Republican Congress back into session to pass their priorities as listed in the platform.  They failed.

In 1988, Democrats nominated Michael Dukakis.  He was a passionless fellow who had a couple of problems. First, he had no passion. Second, he was governor of a state where a black guy was given a furlough and killed a woman.  George HW Bush seems like a sad old man now but he okayed using a racist ad against Dukakis and it won him the election. (Racism will return again and again in this story.)

Donald Trump Was A Formidable Candidate

Next, the fallacy that Cheato was somehow a terrible candidate.  He didn’t do what he needed to do of course. He didn’t fundraise. He only did one event a day. Trump was also extremely stupid. And he had to fire two campaign managers mid-campaign. (Lewandowski and Manafort)

Trump Was Tough — For Other Reasons

He was a formidable candidate for other reasons-he was entertaining as a clown often is. Because of that, he got almost 5 billion dollars in free advertising. Much of it was negative but all of it was free.  Hell, his podium got more airtime than Clinton even when she was making major speeches.

He had the clear assistance of Russia. From direct help in the form of stolen information, active interference on social media, and of course indirect assistance by way of pouring money into the NRA, the entity that spent 30 million dollars for Cheato’s win.

Russia is also the group that handed Wikileaks most of the non-Clinton email messages to be dropped for the media to blather relentlessly and pointlessly over.

The Primary

He was not a normal politician so didn’t care about the general election.  Remember, before the general, Cheato had to face 15 Republicans, some of whom were extremely good politicians.  Despite Rubio’s whining, he has been elected numerous times in Florida.  He even won re-election in 2016 while complaining about how much he hated being a senator.

John Kasich was no joke when he ran. Kasich is one of those smiling Republicans who gut you while you are complimenting them on how nice they seem. He won re-election in 2014 by thirty points. Even now he is above 50% as governor despite Ohio’s economy not being that great.

Ted Cruz was another major contender who had no reason to suspect he would lose.  He had, after all, been the guy who gave one of history’s biggest political upsets with his surprise win in 2012 in the Texas Republican primary. David Dewhurst, his then opponent, had what appeared to be an insurmountable lead after the initial primary in May when he got 10 points over Cruz but was flipped by the runoff election in July. That is a shift of over 10 points in two months.

Jeb Bush was always going to suck.

But with those three other opponents, it should have been simple for them to beat Cheato.  Why didn’t they?

Trump’s Lack of Care

I believe a large part of it was Cheato simply didn’t care enough to moderate his tone for the general.  Republicans had been playing with fire since 1972 and the invention of the Southern Strategy. They use racist policies that they paper over so those who have zero interest in dealing with it can pretend that no, the Republicans are not the home of white supremacy.  Their news organizations (Fox, Sinclair, and others) go to a great deal of effort to magnify racial tensions by overreacting to the slightest expansion of rights of non-whites while steeply underreacting to real world racist results.  In addition, Republican state legislatures have been openly racist for years with the North Carolina legislature being so racist a court took extreme measures to point this out.

The national politicians (including Kasich, Cruz, Rubio, and Bush) had long been playing cute, so they usually were using dog whistles to hide the racism.  2016 and Cheato blew past the dog whistles and gave the Republican base what they wanted — a racist candidate who was happy to play up all the same conspiracies that they had been fed for years by Fox News.

But wait! What about the fact that many voters voted for Obama before they voted for Cheato?  Racial resentment plays a large part in this. It is dressed up as “cultural anxiety” but it is plain ol’ racism.

“I voted for Obama but black people didn’t stop demanding things.”

A co-worker said that to me.  I don’t know why it is weird that they would demand to not be shot but then I try to actively work on my privilege.

Let’s Talk Sexism

The 2016 election was one of the ones where cultural issues hold great sway.  Why?  The economy was humming along okay, the world was mostly at peace, and there wasn’t a sense of urgency like there had been in 1992 and 2008.  Both of those years had pick ups by Democrats because the US was worried about the economy. 2008 was bad enough that a guy named Barack Hussein Obama won in a landslide.

The 800 lb gorilla in the room that is rarely spoken about except by Hillary Clinton fans like myself is the sexism.

Many People Don’t See Women as Presidents

It is extremely hard for a woman to run for President of the United States.  Here is a table of only the national party candidates who got at least on the nominating ballot at the convention.

evidence 276

Of the 10 women who have run for the national parties, only Margaret Chase Smith, Shirley Chisholm, Hillary Clinton, and Carly Fiorina have been taken seriously enough to win delegates. And of those four, only one has made it to the general election.  Every other woman has been a third-party candidate who was there mostly for symbolic reasons.

Gee, looking at it like that shows it is kind of hard does it not?

Further, we have numbers to back up the fact it was sexism and not simply Hillary Clinton being somehow uniquely unlikable. We also have confessions from Republicans.

Let us look at the numbers for Hillary Clinton and her “likability”:

Evidence 275

 

If she was not running for anything and was a subordinate to another person, Clinton was popular for a politician.  She hit a peak of 60% in 2011.  But then Benghazi happened, and she decided to leave office, which the media assumed was so she could run for the White House.  The Republicans, as confessed here by Kevin McCarthy, decided to abuse their power once again to try to stop her.

Note that word in there: untrustworthy.

Lies, Damn Lies, and the Truth

Clinton is not much of a liar.  She has had very few outright lies — 31 in ten years.  (I disagree with some of Politifact’s characterizations of her statements since obviously some of them were hyperbole that all politicians fall prey to but whatever.)

Barack Obama had 71 in that time frame.  Donald Trump set the webpage on fire. Mitt Romney (they stopped tracking him after 2012) had 32.

In fact, if you want honesty out of a politician, go ask a Democrat.  They usually will tell you the truth.

evidence 277

Why Is Hillary Seen as a Liar?

Yet she is assumed to be lying all the time.  Why?  Women tend to be more honest than men but Clinton has been called a liar since William Safire’s column on her being a congenital liar in 1996 despite her generally being honest.

Which means it isn’t about Clinton’s actual honesty.  It is about the people who lie about her.

Republicans have been doing that since she showed up on the national scene as Bill Clinton’s wife (prior to that, she was her own person but when Bill ran for the presidency, things changed a wee bit.)  The media has usually and gleefully joined in.  This has happened again, and again, and again, and again.

(A good example of this is Judicial Watch who were the ones who sought her emails from her time at State and repeatedly made up claims about them that the media swallowed whole scale. Judicial Watch is not a clean actor.  They have a vendetta against Clinton and the media has never particularly cared.)

Hillary Fought This False Narrative

Because of this, Clinton spent most of 2015 and 2016 being as precise as possible in her speaking.  She obviously failed since multiple times she had to go back and explain something when it was distorted by the press (who then distorted what she explained.)  She is still having to do that when the brouhaha flared up over her accurate statement in India about where she won and where Cheato won and why.

Yet even though she is no more of a liar then say Obama, she is treated much worse by the press. Even her husband isn’t treated as badly as she is. It is why he is at 45% and she is at 36%. Part of the reason is of course that Fox News has been acting like she is currently President despite her repeated attempts to resign as their President in Fake.

There is also some other data that show it was about sexism that is little looked at.

I have used this before to explain why Clinton lost and I think it is important to look at. Firefighters are one of the last main bastions of white masculinity. The group is mostly white, mostly male.

evidence 266

They voted for Obama at barely more than 50% in 2008 and less than 50% in 2012.  But they dropped to 27% for Clinton. The only thing that really explains both (since they voted for Bill Clinton at a much higher rate) is racism for Obama and sexism for Clinton.

They don’t even hide it. The president of the Firefighters Union flatly stated that they didn’t like Clinton or Democrats being focused on minorities and college educated whites instead of them.

James Comey

And finally, the last part about sexism is James Comey.  He of the impeccable reputation that somehow viewed his women bosses as less than reasonable.  First up is Loretta Lynch.  He thought she had a credibility gap.  Why? There was no reason to assume it this time. He had to use a doctored email that was thoroughly debunked by his own team to assume she was going to be discredited by the partisan press.

Yet the entire time he could have gone to Sally Yates about his concerns because he may have thought that Lynch was not impartial enough. Never went to her. Didn’t go to her again when he found out about the email messages that were on Anthony Weiner’s laptop. Didn’t go to her when she was acting AG with Cheato’s behavior after the election.

(This probably should not be a surprise since the mostly male FBI has a bit of an issue with the sexism against Hillary Clinton being as obvious as the ones against Lynch and Yates:

“Besides, as one bureau official after another has made clear to me in recent months, Comey never expected Clinton to lose. He saw The Letter as the politically expedient thing to do to help bolster the legitimacy of her victory – and preserve the FBI’s apolitical reputation. “The worst-case scenario [in his mind] was she was going to be really pissed [at him],” one executive told me. “But then we’d sit her down and tell her it was her fault we were in this position.”)

Summary

The 2016 election is one that still rankles for so many reasons that we aren’t going to finish grappling with them any time soon.  There are many actors who refuse to take a hard look at their behavior. From the media refusing, almost to a person, to look at what they obviously did wrong;  to average Americans who do not want to admit they were acting in sexist and racist ways; to the lack of caring by Republicans as they have been turned into traitors for Russian money.

Even I have not admitted my errors.  While I was active online campaigning I did little in-person and even less phonebanking.  I had reasons. My loss in 2014 made physical campaigning extremely painful, but I should have done more.  That is on me.

Clinton looked at her behavior in What Happened which was a bit self-serving as all memoirs are, but she did look at what she did wrong. She admitted she screwed up.  As far as I can tell, she is the only one who has admitted their screw-ups. Amy Chozick comes somewhat close in her memoir Chasing Hillary: Ten Years, Two Presidential Campaigns, And One Intact Glass Ceiling however the excerpts posted online are extremely clueless and self-serving.

There is a great deal to be learned from the 2016 election.  Some has been with Eric Holder’s group to combat gerrymandering. DNC’s efforts to quietly help campaigns get the vote out. But the problems of racism, sexism, Russia, and the media’s right wing behavior have not gone away and will not any time soon.

A Change Ain’t Gonna Come

Sam Cooke - A Change Ain't Gonna ComeI do love the Sam Cooke song “A Change Is Gonna Come.” Cooke is one of those performers, like Brel, who never misses. If you put together “Sam Cooke’s Least Loved Songs” it would still be a great album. According to Cooke the song is about social change and he was thinking specifically of his touring group being turned away by a “whites only” hotel. But it sounds like a gospel song. In particular, it sounds like a black gospel song — so full of hope because that’s all they had.

When I first went to college, one of the few courses I always attended was Developmental Psychology. And I learned the term “meta-grumble.” The construction actually makes no sense: a grumble about a grumble?! But what it means in the literature is the complaints of those who have all their basic needs met. As a result, any complaint I have is a meta-grumble. Imagine if someone had told me at 10 years old that I would be a successful freelance writer and editor and have enough money to buy anything that I wanted and was able to spend much of my time learning new things. I would have been thrilled.

My Meta-Grumbles

But I’m not. Earlier I was having a panic attack. I drove to the store to buy a bottle of vodka. I was so freaked out that I got a bottle of gin instead. But I drank two shots and the panic went away. But I can still taste the gin and that makes me want to retch. Here I am living my dream life and self-medicating with vile alcohol. I don’t have anything but meta-grumbles. Yet here I am: a hopeless mess.

The initial incident that spawned “A Change Is Gonna Come” happened just a year and half before Sam Cooke was murdered. It was recorded less than a year before he was murdered. And it was release a week and a half after he was murdered. The most important lines to me are these:

There have been times that I thought I couldn’t last for long
But now I think I’m able to carry on.

Sam Cooke was Wrongly Optimistic

In fact, no. He couldn’t carry on long enough for the song to be released. And the police never considered it a murder. It was just a black man, after all. I have little doubt that Cooke was set up to be robbed and that the murder was part of that: Elisa Boyer and Bertha Franklin were working a scam they had worked many times before. But again: the police were probably only interested in the case to the extent that it deprived them of killing Sam Cooke themselves. The absolute best take on the murder was that Sam Cooke was robbed and Franklin did feel threatened. But I find it hard to believe that someone feels that threatened but has time to go get the shot gun.

Regardless, I’m not writing about Sam Cooke. I’m writing about everyone. The truth is that President Donald Trump really bothers me. I feel like I live in a new country. Even if the Democrats take control of Congress (which is unlikely; hopefully they will take the House) and a Democrat becomes President in 2020, everything has changed. The Democrat will be more corrupt than they would have been without this dark moment in the US.

It’s possible that it will all work as shock therapy. The Republicans, freed from having to pledge allegiance to Trump otherwise they will be primaried, will work to turn their “party” into a normal conservative political party. I mean, I understand why the current Republicans don’t stand up against Trump. The most recent polling of evangelicals shows that he is more popular than ever. A married man has affairs with a Playboy playmate and a porn star, and these good “traditional values” evangelicals like him more than ever.

Is This the US or North Korea?

I feel like I’m living in North Korea. The Dear Leader can do no wrong. Anything said against him is a lie. If Trump claimed he shot 18 holes of golf and got a score of -38 with 5 holes-in one, these people would believe it. Because Trump doesn’t have a constituency; he has a cult.

There is no reasoning with these people. They’ve learned that truth is just a matter of opinion. That’s right: conservative Christians are now postmodern. If I want to believe that the Moon is made of green cheese, well, that’s just my opinion. They know it’s wrong, because the Moon is actually made of Donald Trump’s sperm. But I have video evidence:

Okay! So no green cheese, but some kind of cheese! But who is to say? I literally have more evidence that the Moon is made of green cheese than they have that Donald Trump is a moral man. Because there is plenty of video evidence (mostly not in claymation) that shows quite the opposite. Just listen to him interviewed by Howard Stern. Is this the Christ of the modern conservative Christian?!

Suicide Is Always an Option

Maybe none of it matters. The first thing I think about each morning is killing myself. Don’t alert the authorities! There was a two month period over the summer where I was actually suicidal. And if things had not made a turn for the better, you would probably not be reading this today. But generally (and currently and for all my life except those two months) suicide has been an intellectual issue.

I’ve studied it very well, and I know how to kill myself in a painless and foolproof way. What I’ve never quite figured out is how exactly to do it so my body is found by professionals. I would never want a family member or friend or even hotel maid to find me. Oh yes, dying in the bathtub and putting a very clear note on the door of the hotel bathroom would probably work. But it isn’t certain. At this point, that’s what I would do.

Hope Remains

As I said though: I’m not going to kill myself. As long as I can write, I still have hope. And as long as I have hope, I would never kill myself. And let’s face it: I’m too much of a coward to do it. If I didn’t do it over the summer, I don’t think I will ever do it. I do hope I die before I’m 60, but that’s quite different.

Still, hope that Sam Cooke showed in “A Change Is Gonnna Come” is something I just can’t relate to. I love it. I listen to it often. But I fear any change that comes will be for the worse. I’m not of my father’s generation when things were improving. My life has seen things get worse and worse. Not for me, of course! I’m blessed. I am literally living the dream.

But that isn’t enough, I’m afraid. I’m not that selfish. And of course, that’s what my country wants me to be.

Afterword

It is a couple of hours since I wrote this and I’ve spent most of that time listening to Minutemen. I’ve always known that George Hurley was a great drummer, but it really stood out tonight. Strangely, I’ve found the music to be very calming. And nothing more than this acoustic set from only a few month before Boon tragically died. God I love those guys. Tonight it was “History Lesson – Part II” that really struck me, even though “I Felt Like a Gringo” will always be my song:

No. We don’t need no stinkin’ badges.

Although I wish every member of the NRA would listen to “Little Man With a Gun in His Hand.” Because that’s what we think of you all. You think you’re tough. We think you’re pathetic.

Afterword II

Now I’m listening to a live (1980) concert by Talking Heads with Adrian Belew et al. Maybe it’s just my mood, but for the first time, I see that it’s really the rhythm section that makes the band — Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz. There isn’t a lot that David Byrne adds. Of course, I think that Byrne is a supreme asshole who thinks all the success of the band is due to him. But his guitar playing really is bad. I play funk guitar better than he does. And the only album of theirs that really remains listenable is Remain in Light, and that is one of only two albums that Byrne allowed the others to take their appropriate credit. Still, this is okay. Nothing close to the worst of Minutemen.

Note: whenever I rag on Byrne, someone comes by and says, “Oh, you have to listen to X.” And I do. And it’s totally derivative work. He spent all his creativity on those first four albums. There’s nothing left. He’s boring.

And really: what was the point of bringing in Busta Jones on bass? Weymouth was perfectly competent. That’s no slight of Jones who was an amazing bassist. But it just stinks of Byrne trying to push everyone away to make himself the star. Like I said: I hate the man. If he were in the room, I’d slap him. Age hasn’t improved him either. Maturity doesn’t go along with aging for David Byrne.

Listen to the bass part on “Once in a Lifetime.” It’s almost all just vamping. That’s true of most of the songs Jones plays. Nothing he plays requires his level of skill. Did I mention that David Byrne is an asshole? It makes me feel better. I’m a mess. And there are times when I am unkind. But at least I’m not David Byrne.

Afterword III

I hope you understand that my real problem with Byrne is his lack of loyalty. Loyalty is very big in my life. And those who show a lack of it are really out as far as I’m concerned. I have read a lot about Byrne — especially from the early to mid-1980s. I wanted to like him but there was little to like. And if you want a good example of just how pathetic he is, listen in 1994’s “Angels.” Why didn’t he just re-release “Once in a Lifetime”? Or better: just him screaming, “I have no new ideas!”

And with that I guess I’ll go watch a monster movie because I really do feel better. The only thing is that I don’t want to go to work tomorrow.

Afterword IV

Maybe I’m just going crazy. But I could hardly breathe watching this.

Goodnight!

Sam Harris Isn’t as Smart as I Thought

I am putting this is red now. It is now one month since this article was written. I am more angry at the Sam Harris Cultists than I was before. And still I get comments from you sub-geniuses. Interesting fact: not one of you has shown any indication that you even listened to the podcast. You don’t know what you are talking about. And for the most recent cultist, this isn’t philosophy class. I’m not publishing a book. And I am not a journalist! Can’t you people tell a personal blog when you see one?! I have a full-time job editing a large tech website. It speaks incredibly lowly of your God-substitute that you feel the need to defend him on a small (though doubtless extremely successful by your own personal standards) personal blog.

How can I make this so clear that even the sub-genius Sam Harris cultists will understand: you aren’t welcome here. I don’t care what you have to say (not that one of you has said anything worth responding to). The fact that you think Sam Harris is a great (or even good) public intellectual shows you are ignorant of what a true public intellectual (eg, Edward Said) is. I’m fine with having debates, but you people offer nothing. And you complain (as you have been for years) that I just don’t understand poor Dr Harris. Of course, it never occurs to you to look at even one other article that I’ve written about Harris — in particular the nice things I’ve said about him when he was making more sense and wasn’t nothing more than a celebrity for the almost intelligent.

But since I don’t believe you will go away, I’m simply turning off comments. I don’t even remember what I wrote. That’s how important Sam Harris is in my life. In the past, he’s had some interesting things to say. But anyone so ignorant of Charles Murray’s career as to think him some oppressed man who can’t get his message out is delusional. And it is also more evidence that Harris himself has major problems with his own racism.

One last thing. Do you really think a 1,000 word blog post is supposed to do a thorough job of refuting Sam Harris in a conversation that ran over two hours? Really?! (Why would I need to given that Klein, in his mild style showed how wrong Harris was.) That’s probably what angers me the most. I just read this article again, and other than the misinformation (see comments) about Neanderthals (which make Sam Harris look even more ignorant), I stand by it all. I’m not going to go line by line over what Harris said. For one thing, it would be boring given how much he repeats himself.

—Frank Moraes

PS: I had never thought before to check what RationalWiki had to say about Sam Harris. All my experience has been direct. I didn’t know about a number of things in this well researched article. I don’t expect the Cultists to read it. And if they do, they will be secure in the knowledge that it is just yet another case of Sam Harris being misunderstood. Because Harris never writes anything wrong. It’s just that most readers can’t understand this amazingly big-hearted humanitarianism when he cherry-picks information to make Muslims look like a particularly vile religion and writes apologias for killing them. It’s sad that Sam Harris has just bought a bill of goods. It’s sadder that millions of subgeniuses can’t see or even accept that there might be more rational people on the other side. Go read the article!

Sam Harris

Sam Harris “Debates” Ezra Klein

Sam Harris and Ezra Klein had a debate with each other for over two hours about… To be honest, I don’t know what it was about. It was supposed to be about the connection between intelligence and race. It was also supposed to be about Harris’ new BFF Charles Murray and how badly he is treated.

Let me get the elephant in the room out of the way right now: poor Charles Murray. It’s certainly true that Murray gets attacked a lot. But it really has little to do with The Bell Curve where he argued that blacks are dumber than whites, that there is nothing we can do about it, so we should just get rid of affirmative action and all those programs that try to make the nation more economically fair.

The Bell Curve was co-authored by Richard Herrnstein. He was the scientist and I believe that he was responsible for all the science in the book. He also died of lung cancer the year the book came out. So it was really Murray’s book. And like all Murray’s books, it was political. All of his books push a radical libertarian ideology. He is in favor of the universal basic income (UBI), but only because he’s a pragmatist. Like many libertarians, he’s for the UBI as a way of getting rid of all other social programs and has even said that the UBI would allow the nation to spend 10 percent less on helping the poor.

Sam Harris: Repetition Machine

What was most interesting in the debate was that Sam Harris would make a comment like, “All these people don’t want to deal with race and IQ because it makes them uncomfortable.” Ezra Klein would respond insightfully. And then Sam Harris would just repeat what he had already said in different words.

I’ve had debates with people like this. They don’t really understand the subject they are talking about at a deep level. What they think is really just emotional. So they think that if they just repeat what they believe enough, others will agree. Because they don’t actually have a rational argument. They just believe. This is hilarious coming from New Atheist Sam Harris.

The Sam Harris Cult

Of course Sam Harris leads a kind of cult. There are many young men (Yes: men!) who hang on his every word and fight with anyone who disagrees with him. So as soon as the podcast was out, I saw reddit and blog posts with titles like, “Sam Harris Destroys Ezra Klein.” Ah, no.

In fact, I had a reasonably favorable opinion of Harris before this debate. Now I think he’s kind of a dullard who within 5 years will be a conservative and frequent guest on Fox News. And it won’t matter to his cult members, most of whom now believe themselves to be liberal.

John von Neumann

I was very tickled by something that Sam Harris said about the great mathematician (among other things) John von Neumann:

I mean, for instance, I would bet my life that my IQ is lower than John von Neumann’s was. The chances of that being true are 100 percent. Of course this is mere speculation, but this is speculation that you could bet the fate of the world on. Despite what Turkheimer says in his article, in his tweets, you can make very high probability speculations. Do you think I’m inferior to John von Neumann? Do you think I think I’m inferior to John von Neumann?

The Inferiority Argument: von Neumann Edition

What he’s getting at is that just because he thinks blacks are stupid doesn’t mean he thinks they are inferior. There are many problems with this. I figure that Harris’ IQ is something like mine: in the low genius area. And that means that even though he knows he’s no von Neumann, he’s smart. He’s a guy who people look up to. He has many fans. He’s rich. Any book he wants to write will be published.

Now compare this with a black man who is also a genius. But he’s looked down on in society. If he ever got in trouble with the law, he’d probably be lucky to have a job as a janitor. He wouldn’t get all the social perks of a white man of his intelligence.

And that’s true of black people at every intelligence level. As Ezra Klein noted, black families with $100,000 incomes live, on average, in neighborhoods where the median income is $30,000. Sam Harris ignores the question.

Charles Murray Isn’t a Scientist

Harris wants to make it all about science. But it’s not about science for Murray. But it makes Harris feel good to pretend that Murray is in the business of science. Because if he is, it means that Sam Harris lives in a meritocracy. And it means that he deserves the excellent life that he has.

Of course, Sam Harris doesn’t believe in free will (I agree with him). He got lucky! But given that luck, he deserves his wonderful life.

And for the record, I do think Sam Harris is inferior to John von Neumann. Von Neumann made the world a better place and Sam Harris is making it a worse place.

By the way, Harris used that example many times in the debate. Ezra Klein ignored it because it’s stupid.

Sam Harris Doesn’t Like Neanderthals

Ezra KleinAnother of Sam Harris’ repeated examples had to do with Neanderthals. He noted that Europeans had Neanderthal genes but that Africans did not. His point was that had it been the other way around, everyone would have freaked out. This is very strange. First, Africans do have Neanderthal genes — just less than Europeans. Second, where did he get his education abut Neanderthals? The Flintstones? Neanderthals had a larger brain to body ratio than humans, indicating that they might have been smarter. What they didn’t have were well developed parts of the brain used for communication.

Now it’s true that Neanderthals as a going concern went extinct. But humans went one person from going extinct. We are all the descendants of a single woman. As I recall, the total world populations of humans got down to less than one thousand. So the fact that humans are alive today and Neanderthal are not is a simple matter of luck.

King of the Subgeniuses

I can see why all these relatively bright but not terribly bright guys love Sam Harris. First, he’s a lot smarter than they are and so can convince them with plausible but facile arguments. Plus, he feeds their prejudices in a way that allows them to think that they aren’t prejudiced — just “rational” and “scientific.”

There is no point in listening to Sam Harris. His debate with Ezra Klein showed that he has nothing to add to the public debate. He’s actually starkly closed minded. I can see why Noam Chomsky didn’t want to debate him. Chomsky would have had to stop Harris after every sentence to correct him.

If you are a Sam Harris fan, I beg you: read some real intellectuals. Harris is a pretender.

50 Years Without MLK?!

Martin Luther King JrOne 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!

Family Memories

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.

The One Problem With the United States Postal Service

The One Problem With the United States Postal Service

Donald Trump hates Jeff Bezos. He’s the founder of Amazon. I hate him too. And if you ask Trump why he hates Bezos, he will give you reasons that are similar to mine. For example, he has noted that Amazon has made a lot of money by screwing state and local governments out of sales tax revenue. He also says stupid things like that Amazon is destroying the United States Postal Service, when it is, in fact he and his fellow Republicans that are destroying it. (That’s the one problem with the post office that I mentioned in the title.) But what Trump says about Jeff Bezos is roughly correct.

If there is one bright spot in having Donald Trump as president, it is that he is completely transparent. Sure, Republicans and other Trump supporters like to pretend that he’s mysterious and he isn’t doing what any reasonably objective person would know he is doing. But that doesn’t change reality. Trump may be the king of liars, but American conservatives are masters at lying — to everyone, including themselves.

Donald Trump Does Care About the Postal Service

So the real reason that Donald Trump hates Jeff Bezos is because he owns The Washington Post, and that paper has been particularly harsh to Donald Trump. (Of course, if Trump really wanted to hurt Jeff Bezos, he would have gotten a tax increase on rich people, but Trump doesn’t hate Bezos enough to harm himself. So instead we got the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, which will really only make the rich richer and will likely cause job losses.) So even though what I’m about to write might seem like I agree with Trump (which I have no problem doing when it’s true), I don’t. Donald Trump doesn’t care about the United States Postal Service. If he did, he would do something to help it.

The subject came up because I read an article in Vox (I know! I read it a lot!), Trump Thinks Amazon’s Destroying the Post Office. Here’s What’s Really Happening by Jen Kirby. It bothered me, however, because there is really only one reason that the US Postal Service is losing billions of dollars every year. And Kirby spends surprisingly little time on it.

The Evil Republicans Did in the 2006 Lame Duck

If the Republican Party had no power, it would be hilarious. When the Democrats are in control of the government, but the Republicans get it back in the election, the Republicans scream that no legislation should be passed because “the people have spoken.” We even have a conservative on the Supreme Court because the media was willing to accept this argument for a whole year before a new president took over. Yet when things are reversed, the Republicans go hog wild. I’ve been very concerned that they will manage to repeal Obamacare in the lame duck period, should the Democrats take control of Congress in November.

But in 2006, when the Republicans had been destroyed, they used the lame duck period to pass a law requiring that the US Postal Service pre-fund all their retirement benefits out to 75 years. As the Vox article notes, “A Post Office Inspector General blog entry from 2015 (which, of course, has a big stake in the debate) describes the prefund arrangement like this: it’s as if your credit card company estimated you’ll spend $1 million in your lifetime, so it asked you to send them that $1 million check up front.”

Virtually no real company pays for its retirement in this way, so why make the US Postal Service? That’s simple: Republicans hate the postal service. They would like to cut it up and give it to FedEx and UPS and other shipping companies that pay them money. This was a great way for the Postal Service to look like a drag on the economy that something really had to be done about.

The Postal Service Is in the Constitution!

I know what you are thinking: but the postal service is in the Constitution. And don’t conservatives love the Constitution? Don’t they masturbate to it? Isn’t it a divinely inspired document that could never be improved upon?!

Ah, Grasshopper, you have much to learn. Most conservatives have never read a word of the Constitution. The only thing they know about it is the preamble, and then only in song form:


Try to watch this without the subtext. As the states accumulate, millions of people who used to live there were murdered. every voter is white. I loved this cartoon when I was a kid but it gives me the willies now.

So the Republicans want to destroy the postal service because, given all of its limits, it does a great job. For 49¢, I can send a letter to Hawaii, Alaska, or New York — and to the farthest reaches of those states. Ask the CEO of FedEx if he wants that job. Oh, no! He just wants the lucrative routes. Leave the government to deliver all the money-losing routes.

Congress Hurts the Postal Service in Other Ways

But in addition to this pre-funding of the retirement program, the Congress also stops the postal service from doing a lot of other things. The biggest I see is acting as a limited bank. The US Postal Service could put all of these payday lenders out of business overnight. And at the same time, they wouldn’t be preying on the poor. But we can’t have that. We’ve got to let the free market work when it comes to screwing the poor.

The United States Postal Service is one of the great prides of this nation. It’s unfortunate that for conservatives and the business community, it is just a bunch of money that they can steal. But let’s face it: the way things are going, the postal service probably will be destroyed, existing only as much as the Constitution requires. And given the people on the Supreme Court, that doesn’t mean much: maybe ten people and ten horses. Remember how conservatives see the Constitution they’ve never read: it never changes. So why not horses? It will only take three months to send a letter from California to New York, and only cost a few thousand dollars.

Keep Up the Fight

But we can try. And let’s start with the only problem the US Postal Service really has: the pre-pay requirement. If the Democrats get control of Congress next year, they should pass a law getting rid of that. And who knows? Trump might even sign it! He only cares about “winning!” so why not win this way?