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 the 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 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?

March for Our Lives – Santa Rosa

Now You've Pissed Off Grandma
Now You’ve Pissed Off Grandma

Visiting the March for Our Lives

The Junior Human Rights Division is a group of local high school students and they put on a demonstration for the March for Our Lives this morning. It started at 10:00 am and went until 2:00 pm. I got there at 9:30 am and the place was already pretty crowded — perhaps 2,000 to 3,000 people.

I always feel out of touch at these things. They really have just about everything I don’t like: crowds, noise, the outdoors. But I managed to stay for half of it. There were a lot of speakers, but I can’t tell you who they were because I literally could not get to the Junior Human Rights Division tent.

But that didn’t bother me too much, given that I really have little interest in political speech. But the people at the event were very attentive. From my perspective there really isn’t anything to say. As German Lopez wrote yesterday, I’ve Covered Gun Violence for Years. The Solutions Aren’t a Big Mystery. But I don’t believe anything will change in this country, because facts don’t matter in this country.

People Care

Still, it is always nice to see people who care enough to go to these things. And the crowd was good. By about 10:30 am, I talked to a police officer and he gave me an estimate of 5,000 to 7,000 people at the event. He said it was a little smaller than the women’s march. But by the time I left, it was much more crowded. That was one of the reasons I left. It was hard to move. So based upon the early estimate, and my own relatively scientific estimate, I think we made it up to 8,000 or more. And that’s pretty amazing for a town of roughly 100,000.

I guess I don’t have much more to say, so I will present some photos. In every case I got an oral okay to show their faces. I realize that wouldn’t cover me that well. But I don’t have enough money to be worth suing. And I think all the people I shot were proud to be there.

Tony Speirs

I should, however, give you an explanation of this first photo. I saw three people with beautifully rendered drawings of what I assumed were three of the victims of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting. But by the time I got to them, one of them had slipped away. Later, I saw many others. I believe the local Democratic Party booth had all 17 surrounding their tent.

Tony Speirs is from Graton and wasn’t selling them. So far as I could tell, he gave them out to people to take to the event. I was promised that he was going to be there, but as I said, it was very crowded, and even making it to tents was a difficult matter.

There drawings are of Peter Wang (15 year-old) and Gina Montalto (14 years-old). It’s hard not to cry just looking at them.

Peter Wang and Gina Monalto by Tony Speirs
Peter Wang and Gina Monalto by Tony Speirs

The Crowd

This was crowd as I found it a half hour before the event started. There were a lot of people who cared.

Big Crowd Before the Event Even Started
Big Crowd Before the Event Even Started

Not One More

By far the most common sign was “No One More.” I am, by nature, an optimistic person. But I’ve lived six decades in this country and I know what is possible and what is not. It was possible for Australia to fix their gun problem. But it isn’t in this country. I just don’t have the confidence in my fellow Americans. Obviously we have to fight. And I do think that eventually we will fix our problems.

But we won’t in my lifetime. Americans combine staggering ignorance and stupidity with hubris beyond anything in the Old Testament. I applaud those who can imagine a world where America will deal with its gun problem now. But I’m not one of them. When 20 grammar school children were killed at Sandy Hook, we did nothing. And although this time high school students are leading and showing all of us what must be done, in the end, I’m sure nothing will be done.

As I recall, when Ted Cruz last ran for Senate, the NRA gave him the legal limit: a few thousand dollars. But they spend $5 million on “issue” adds that were really just ads for him. You think that Ted Cruz is going to do what is right for America or what is right for Ted Cruz? If you say “America,” then stop reading right now. I’m shocked you’ve mastered phonetics.

Not One More Sign
Not One More Sign

Register to Vote

It’s been clear for a long time that if everyone voted, we would have a far better government. It’s like the jelly bean test where the average of everyone was better than the best single person. But we have a system that makes it hard for the poor to vote and easy for the rich to vote. And so we end up with this country that we have.

This sign was in the League of Women Voters booth. When I was young, I thought: why women? Now I know. Women are better than men. The League of Men Voters would tell everyone not to vote because they had it all under control. And it is the men, after all, who gave us President Donald Trump, who stands a good chance of making our species extinct. Thank the men.

League of Women Voter: Register to Vote
League of Women Voter: Register to Vote

Teachers Not Sheriffs

This was the first picture I took. I love it so much, because it pushes back against this idea teachers should have to protect their children from gunmen. What a silly idea. Isn’t it obvious that if you are asking teachers to carry guns, there is a much bigger problem the society faces? That arming teachers will not solve the problem?

But this is America! We never approach head-on. Now we don’t blame guns; we blame the mentally ill, who are far moe likely to be shot than to shoot. But maybe the problem is that white men used to be able to have a job that gave them a sense of purpose. But that would require the rich to allow unions and allow them to share in the profits. No, no, no! What does it matter if poor children die as long as their stock portfolios expand.

Teachers are saints! Let them do what they were trained for. There are two teachers in my life who who had a profound effect on my life — who made me who I am. And they don’t even know it. And the conservatives want them to carry firearms. They’ done enough.

I Have a desgree in teaching, no marksmanship!
I Have a desgree in teaching, no marksmanship!

Summary

I don’t really like events like March for Our Lives. But they are important. And I’m so glad that people care enough to show up. I suffer from agoraphobia, but I go, because it is important. And the fact that this was organized by high school students makes me very hopeful. Maybe they are better than the Americans who came before. Because there’s a war going on. The President, and the Congress, and the NRA are on on one side. And the people are on the other.

The NRA people are crazy. They think their semi-auto riffles will save them from a drone attack on their house. When Obama became president, they bought tons of weapons because Obama was going to take them all away. And what did he do? He passed one law that gave gun owners more rights. This is always the way it is with Democrats. But the ignorant NRA members always fall for the same trick.

And who wins? The gun manufacturers. That’s because they are the people the NRA really protects. And just like cigarette manufacturers didn’t care how many people they killed as long as they made lots of money, the gun manufactures are more than willing to shoot your baby in the head while it sleeps if it means more profits for them.

How is it that the NRA members can’t see that?!

Historical and Other Errors in O Brother, Where Art Thou?

O Brother, Where Art Thou?As the title should suggest, this will be a silly article. But the truth is, O Brother, Where Art Thou? is probably my favorite Coen Brothers film. I’ve watched it a lot. But it is historical fiction. The Coens have called it a cross between Homer and Ma and Pa Kettle. That’s certainly true, but it is a film that is firmly grounded in the Great Depression. And it has two clear historical figures in Baby Face Nelson and Tommy Johnson. Plus, the character of Governor Menelaus “Pappy” O’Daniel is clearly based on the Texas governor Wilbert Lee “Pappy” O’Daniel. So I figured we’d look into these things.

Timing Problem

One part of the film that has really come to bother me has nothing to do with history. Instead, it has to do with timing. After the young Hogwallop saves the trio from the police and Satan, Pete says that it is the 17th and that the location of the buried treasure will be turned into lake on the 21st. So let’s go through the film, although I know this is not going to be interesting to anyone who doesn’t know the film fairly well.

Timeline

  1. The trio pick up Tommy and make a recording.[1] They sleep near a barn that night, and again the police and Satan show up. Since they weren’t in the barn, they got away — Tommy separating from them.
  2. The trio are picked up by George (Baby Face) Nelson. They spend the evening with him until he wanders away, leaving them with all the money.
  3. With all the money left to them by Nelson, the trio seem to forget all about the treasure. We see them take a pie that was cooling in a window (they leave payment for it, however). Then, that night, we see them eating the pie.
  4. We see them walking more and a brief scene of them at night with Ulysses telling them a story. One could take days 19 and 20 as just a montage and really only one day. But as you will see, this doesn’t help.
  5. The next day, the trio run into the Sirens, who turn Pete over to the authorities. We see that night that Pete is about to be hanged, but then roles over on his comrades.
  6. Ulysses and Delmar discover that Pete is alive and back in prison. That night, they break him out. Then they save Tommy from being lynched. And finally, Ulysses reunites with his wife who insists he go back to their old home and get her original wedding ring.
  7. When the quartet reach the house, Satan is waiting for them, because Pete told them they were going there. (They think they are safe because they’ve been pardoned, but at this point it is completely established that the “sheriff” is Satan, “The law?! The law is a human institution.”)

History

I’m going to deal with three characters here, even though the governor isn’t supposed to be exactly the same character. There are some interesting aspects of his story.

George Nelson

George Nelson was quite an interesting guy — especially for a gangster and a psychopath. O Brother, Where Art Thou? is quite correct that he hated the moniker of “Baby Face.” In 1926, Harry Akst and Benny Davis wrote it. It was an immediate Number 1 song by Jan Garber and His Orchestra. George Nelson was just 18 at that time, and already an established gangster. But some other gangster with more power started calling him “baby face” because of his youth and small stature. (I can’t find the details, but I read a book about Nelson years ago.)

What’s most amazing about George Nelson is that he had, all things considered, a pretty normal family life. At the age of 20, he met and married Helen Wawzynak. The two of them had two children: first a boy and then a girl. As Nelson wandered the nation robbing banks, he brought his wife and son with him. His wife taught his son on the road. I don’t remember anything about the daughter; it’s possible she wasn’t born until after George Nelson’s death.

By all accounts, George Nelson was very sweet to Helen and the children. This is remarkable, because as a gangster, he was ruthless and shows every sign of being a psychopath. Helen lived until 1987. I’ve always thought should would have been a fascinating person to know.

George Nelson never went to the electric chair. He was killed in a shoot-out with federal agents. Nelson still holds the record for the number of federal agents killed by a man: three.

Tommy Johnson

There is a story told about Tommy Johnson (but more often about Robert Johnson). Tommy Johnson’s brother told a story some years after Tommy had died, that he had sold his soul to the Devil in exchange for his extraordinary guitar playing skills. You can see why the the story is so often attributed to Robert Johnson, who was truly an innovator, whereas Tommy Johnson was a great blues musician, he didn’t stand out that much from other blues players of his time.

The problem with his portrayal in O Brother, Where Art Thou? is that it has Tommy Johnson meeting with the Devil in 1937. He had been a professional musician since 1914, when he was still in his teens. His career lasted until his death in 1956, when he died of a heart attack. He is still a very enjoyable performer. You can see that he’s actually more of an interesting singer than guitar player.

Wilbert Lee “Pappy” O’Daniel

The real Pappy O’Danniel was the governor in the wrong state and the wrong time (in the 1940s). But there is no doubt that the Coen Brothers were thinking about him. For one thing, he worked most of his early life in the flour industry. What’s more, he went on to be a radio celebrity with a show that was supported by a flour company. In fact, it was the fame he gained from radio that made him governor — much like our current president. Nothing ever changes. We’ve always been stupid.

The other thing that is wrong about O Brother, Where Art Thou? is that there was no gubernatorial race in Mississippi in 1937. The races were in 1935 and 1939. It’s interesting though. It had been 70 years since the Civil War, yet no Republican ran in either of those races. The South only turned Republican, when the Republican Party became the party of segregation. It’s not nice to say, but there really is something wrong with southern whites.

Summary

Like I said, this was a silly article. But why not? O Brother, Where Art Thou? is a silly movie. I hope you enjoyed my providing some context.


[1] The trick that Ulysses plays on the blind producer, saying that there are six of them rather than just the four would never work. He could clearly hear that there are two background singers, a lead singer, and a guitarist. One person could sing and play guitar, and the lead singer could also do background vocals on the song. So Man of Constant Sorrow could be performed by two people — four at the most. Just because you’re blind doesn’t mean you are an idiot. But it is a clever con on first brush.

Noor Salman, Leo Frank, and the “Other” We Must Destroy

Please forgive me for my mistake! This is not the first time I’ve made this mistake. I have partial face blindness. And I really didn’t want to use that picture of her smiling at what looks like a party in an article about such a serious matter. I really appreciate your pointing out the error and I’m sorry it took me so long to fix the problem. I haven’t been to the site and it was only because of a tweet that I first found out that I had totally blown it. Although this is not even close to the dumbest thing I’ve done here. And it gets harder and harder as I have so little time to put articles together. Finally, I’m so sorry to Noor Tagouri. I will attempt to make amends to her privately. Thanks to everyone who pointed out the error!

Lynching Leo Frank
Noor Salman is the wife of Omar Mateen, the man who killed 49 people in the Pulse nightclub in Orlando in 2016. He’s dead, so we have to find someone to punish. So why not his wife? It doesn’t matter that two other recent high-profile mass shootings also involved women who were more clearly involved. They were white women. Salman is a Muslim, and so must face decades in prison.

Omar Mateen Wasn’t Targeting Gay Clubs

The main reason this case has come to be a big deal is that Pulse is a gay nightclub. And lots of false information came out when no one knew anything that indicated that Mateen picked the nightclub because it was gay. As Glenn Greenwald and Murtaza Hussain discuss in As the Trial of Omar Mateen’s Wife Begins, New Evidence Undermines Beliefs About the Pulse Massacre, Including Motive, Mateen probably didn’t even know it was a gay nightclub.

None of his searches had anything to do with the LGBT community. He was just looking for a nightclub, and the Pulse was the first one he found that seemed vulnerable.

Development of a Narrative

This isn’t to take away from the extreme villainy of what Mateen did. But I think a big part of indicted his wife (who he brutalized) has to do with this false narrative.

We now live in a world with 24 hour a day cable news that must be fed. AIt doesn’t matter if what is reported is true. And in the case when nothing is known, it is even worse. Then some reporter’s hunch becomes news.

A gay nightclub was attacked, so it must have been an LGBT hate crime. Mateen was Muslim, so he must have been a closeted homosexual.

And before you know it, there is a narrative. And the only information that gets reported is that which fits the narrative. The media are just like the police. Only smarter. And therefore more dangerous.

Leo Frank

This whole thing has made me think about Leo Frank and what happened to him. But I’m hopeful that things will work out better for Noor Salman than for him (but I’m not sure; I’ve seen too much injustice in this country for anything close to certainty).

Now most of you probably don’t know who Leo Frank was. The only reason I know about him is because when I was a kid, I saw a made-for-television film about him. And unlike the way these things usually are, further research on my part has shown that the film was quite accurate.

Who Was Leo Frank?

Leo Frank was Jewish and raised in New York. He went to college and got a degree in mechanical engineering. Afterward, he took a job as a superintendent at a factory in Georgia.

The Murder of Mary Phagan

Everything was fine until 13-year-old Mary Phagan was found murdered. The police first suspected James Conley. He was an African American janitor at the factory. In his first affidavit, he implicated Leo Frank. But it was so bad that even the police didn’t believe it.

Noor SalmanCoaching the Murderer

But the police helped Conley work his affidavit to the point where it would sound good to a jury. Now most modern historians believe that Conley murdered Phagan. That was, after all, what all the evidence pointed to. So you would think they would just indict him and be done with it.

There was a problem, though. Sure, Conley was black and they hated them. But he was also a southerner. He was, in his limited way, one of them. Leo Frank, on the other hand, was a Jew, which means he was hated as much as a black man. Plus, he had a college degree and a good job. And then there was the fact that he was from New York! (Although he was born in Texas.)

Antisemitic Narrative

So the police and the press engaged in an antisemitic attack on Leo Frank. He was found guilty, but never officially executed. Instead, he was kidnapped and lynched.

I’m always amazed by these lynching photos with all the proud white men standing around.[1] Ultimately, it isn’t the lynchers who are to blame but the police and the journalists who whipped them into a frenzy where they absolutely knew that this innocent man was guilty.

Noor Salman and Leo Frank

I think it should be obvious why I see a connection between Noor Salman and Leo Frank. The LGBT community is still oppressed. There are people who hate them with a furiosity that is unimaginable to you and me.

America Hates Muslims

But overall, it is nothing compared to the hatred that Americans reserve for Muslims. I think this quote from the article I mentioned above says it all:

The decision to prosecute Salman is particularly odd given the Department of Justice’s refusal to prosecute Marilou Danley, the girlfriend of Las Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock, despite far greater evidence suggesting her foreknowledge of his plans. Additionally, the DOJ refused to prosecute Katherine Russell, the white, ex-Christian wife of Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev, also in the face of evidence of possible complicity that was far stronger than exists for Salman.

No Justice When Only Some People Are Prosecuted

It doesn’t matter how good juries decide guilt or innocence, when someone’s religious beliefs determine whether they show up in court at all. If Noor Salman were white and her husband just a white neo-Nazi, she’d be free to get on with her life.

But they were both Muslims, and Omar Mateen is dead, so we’ve got to punish Noor Salman. And don’t think that if she’s found innocent she won’t have been punished. First, she stood the chance of spending decades (or her whole life) in jail. Second, the stress of going through such a trial is worse than anything most people in this country ever go through.

What Should Have Happened to Noor Salman

Noor Salman should be happy right now. She got rid of a husband who brutalized her. But instead, she got a whole society to continue the brutalization. And all because she is an Other. She doesn’t have the right religion. And this will hang over her head for the rest of her life if she is found not guilty. If she’s found guilty, it will be so much worse.

This is another case, in a long line of cases, where we have oppressed the weak. Look at the proud men in that lynching photo. That’s us. Today.


[1] If there is one thing life has taught me that is most important it is humility. It is that I’m quite fallible. This is an issue I deal with in my family. I come from redneck stock. And so I’m always told about this or that outrage. But I’m rarely outraged, because in pretty much every case, when I research the outrage at hand, it is far more nuanced than I’ve been told. A good example was this undocumented guy who accidentally shot that young woman here in the Bay Area. I knew from the start it wasn’t the way people were saying. This guy wasn’t a psychopath just having fun killing people. He was a person with mental problems playing around with a gun that resulted in tragic consequences. It’s sad, but not every sad story has a villain. But I know it is the thinking of my family members that leads to those proud smiling faces that gather around innocent people they just lynched. I love my family, but many of them are part of the problem.

Americans Are Smart, but Naive: American Empire Edition

Matt Yglesias - Americans Are Smart, but Naive: American Empire EditionMatthew Yglesias wrote a very good article last week, Maybe Voters Aren’t as Uninformed as Elites like to Think. It’s based on an upcoming article by Vanessa Williamson, “Public Ignorance or Elitist Jargon? Reconsidering Americans’ Overestimates of Government Waste and Foreign Aid.” And it makes an argument for an idea that a lot of us have been thinking for a long time.

The idea is that when pollsters ask Americans questions about what the government spends on various programs, the people asking the questions have different definitions than the people answering them. The best example of this is the question, “What percent of the federal budget goes to foreign aid?” The “correct answer is 1 percent or less. But Americans give much bigger numbers. They’ll say 25 percent — even 50 percent.

Foreign Aid or American Empire Maintenance?

But what is “foreign aid”? Americans believe more of their government’s propaganda than the citizens of any other peer country. Despite all the nonsense about fake news, Americans except just about everything the media and the government say. That’s especially true when it comes to foreign affairs. Like my 85-year-old father would never believe that we go to war for any reason but to spread democracy and make people free.

Now if that were true, our entire military budget should be considered foreign aid. As of 2015, the military took 16 percent of the entire federal budget. And if you don’t count Social Security and Medicare (and I don’t think you should given they are totally different programs based on their own particular tax receipts), the military is 35% of the Federal budget.

Americans Believe Government Propaganda

So the problem isn’t that Americans are wrong about how much we spend on foreign aid. The problem is that Americans believe our government propaganda that our military is just to take care of the world. You know, the whole “World’s police force”?

The United States spends approximately as much on its military as every other country in the world combined does. We have this huge military so we can keep our worldwide empire going. And that empire involves about half the countries in the world.

But the media doesn’t report our military as the main instrument of our empire. In fact, the American media won’t even admit that we do have an empire.

The New Kind of Empire

This is very much like the old line about generals always fighting the last war. Since the American empire doesn’t look like the empires of a century ago when the lead country put its own people in charge of the other countries, we can’t be an empire.

But we accomplish the same thing, just in a different way. Even the British got in on the act at the end of their empire days. In the early 1950s, the people of Iran elected Mohammad Mosaddegh. He was going to nationalize the oil industry. So the US and UK had him assassinated. The Shah was put back in power, and Democracy was outlawed. But it wasn’t a matter of Eisenhower and Churchill putting in one of their men. They just used the old despot who would do whatever they wanted. This is how modern empires work.

Americans Don’t Believe We Have an Empire

But tell me: have you ever heard anyone in the mainstream media — even liberals — talk about the American empire? Of course not. They are as brainwashed as my father is.

So you can’t go around deceiving people about what our military does, and then laugh at the people for believing you. The US government is dependent on the people believing this fairy tale. So all the people who run our great death machine should praise the people for saying that 35 percent of the federal budget goes to foreign aid. Don’t you remember the Iraq War? That was to help all those people. We didn’t spend $2+ trillion on ourselves. It was all to aid the Iraqis. It was foreign aid.

Portents of Doom… For Republicans

Portents of Doom… For RepublicansAnother special election has occurred that, more than anything, shows what is building for the upcoming November election.

In the soon to be redistricted out Pennsylvania 18 th district, Conor Lamb won the seat as a Democrat for the first time since 2002. Representative-elect Lamb (results are not certified yet) showed that if you match the district to the candidate, you can win. But he needed help along the way.

Republicans gave him that help. Repeatedly.

Republican Help

First by having the former Congressman have to resign due to not simply having had an affair (practically de rigueur [foreign words and phrases should be italicized] for Republicans these days) but
pressuring the woman to have an abortion. As is the norm with anti-choicers, only abortions that don’t affect them are bad. So his pressuring her caused him to have to resign because her abortion didn’t affect the rest of the Republican caucus. That leaves voters distasteful of Republicans to start.

Then they nominated a fairly boring uninspiring candidate which would normally have won the race because he followed the party line to a T(ea party, yes he was a tea partier first running in 2010 where he barely beat his Democrat opponent twice). When your opponent comes off looking like a dynamic, fresh, and talented guy you would like to see marry your daughter, well, it doesn’t help.

The Pelosi Boogeyman

They tried to tie Lamb to Nancy Pelosi. Lamb said he wouldn’t vote for her as the leader (most likely with the party’s blessing). Pelosi’s no fool; she knows Republicans use her as a boogeyman like they have anytime there isn’t an equally competent woman *cough* Hillary *cough* around to bash.

Then the Republicans in the House passed the ACA repeal. Among the many things it did was show how precarious the state of health insurance for people was. Lots of voters didn’t like that.

“Hey! We Lowered Rich People’s Taxes!”

Then the Republicans passed a giant tax giveaway — The Great Tax Scam Bill of 2017 — to corporations and the rich that took money from the middle class in the form of higher health care premiums.

The Great Tax Scam Bill was designed to be signed in 2018 so it would make it politically unfeasible for the Democrats to reverse anything. Instead, the mentally failing Cheato signed the bill right away — in 2017. This caused automatic cuts in popular spending programs like Medicare, which (unsurprisingly) ticked off all the old people.

The House Says Trump Is Honest

Finally, in the days leading up to the final vote, the Republicans in the House released the “final” report on the TrumpRussia issue. To no one’s surprise, they freely admitted they are trying to cover up what happened by saying nothing occurred between Russia and Trump’s campaign. Democrats then released a comprehensive list of what the Republicans refused to do. (Now many of the Republicans on the committee are backtracking.)

You could say that the final factor was actually Cheato himself. But he’s an eternal problem that was there back in the early days of special elections.

Democratic Help

Additionally, Lamb benefited from the rage that is still in many Democratic voters who realized that they were too complacent in 2016. We know, now, that the election was likely stolen. The party has started instituting quiet reforms. And there is a great deal of effort to register, ID,verify, and vote among Democratic activists. All of the Democratic committees and subcommittees are working to get our likely voters registered and verified to vote.

We also are donating in small but consistent amounts. While Lamb had plenty of large contributions, 50% of his financial support came from small donors of $200 or less. There are over a thousand candidates generating excitement (in the case of California, too many candidates because of its “top two” voting system) in the congressional races.

The Takeaway

It’s hard not to see Lamb being helped more by the Republicans than the Democrats. Lamb’s opponent, Republican State Representative Rick Saccone, ran as “Trump before TrumTrump before Trump was Trump.” This might seem like a stupid move, but Sacone didn’t have much choice.

The Republicans have put themselves in a bad situation. Trump is extremely unpopular. But in the Republican Party, he’s very popular. So if Saccone had abandoned Trump, a bit chunk of his Republican voters would have abandoned him. That’s especially true in a special election where it is very easy to decide to stay home.

But this is a problem that Republicans face everywhere. And it will be just as true November 6, 2018. And the Republican Party is freaking out.

This article is cross-posted at Humorless Rants.

S.2155 Makes the Claim “Both Sides Are Corrupt” Hard to Argue Against

Chuck SchumerSo the Senate is set to pass S.2155, basically a gutting of the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. And it is doing it with 17 members of the Democratic caucus. Not only will S.2155 make another financial crisis (and you and I will have to pay for) more likely, it does other things like make discrimination in lending easier. Good job by 17 political “Allies.”

But don’t get me wrong: I understand what’s going on — probably better than the Democratic politicians themselves. First, Chuck Schumer is allowing this. He’ll vote against it, but all the lobbyists will know that he set up the situation so that he can say to his constituents that he was against it, while being the most important person who is allowing its passage. What’s more, many of these Democrats are owned by the banking industry. They are voting this way because it is what they believe. These are the kind of Democrats we desperately need to rid ourselves of.

Protective Voting Never Works

And then there are those who are voting for it because they are in a conservative state. And they think that voting for S.2155 will make them more likely to get re-elected. There are a few problems with this idea.

The first is that most conservative voters are fairly liberal when it comes to economic issues. So they won’t hold a parade that Democrat X voted for this bill. If they want to get in good with conservative voters, they should vote against abortion rights or make a racist comment. This bill will be hated by Democratic and Republican voters alike.

Second, they won’t get any credit for it. The president will get credit for it. The president is a Republican. They are Democrats. So any credit that is given will go to their Republican opponent, not them.

Trump Will Get Credit for S.2155, Not These Idiotic Democrats

I would have thought that all national politicians would understand this. In 2002, the Democratic Party decided to work with President George W Bush after 9/11. (I still find it amazing that a president can allow the worst attack on American soil in history and his approval ratings go through the roof. I wish I could get a job where the worse I do the more my employers like me.) Anyway, as a result of working with the Republican President, voters thought it meant Bush was great, the Democrats were savaged in 2002 — a year that the Democrats should have gained many seats.

The truth is that Senators who are less popular in their states than Trump, are going to lose re-election. Voting with Trump 100 percent of the time will not change that. The only thing that would have changed that is if they had switched to the Republican Party in January of 2017.

Democrats Are Making an Economic Crisis More Likely for Nothing

So now we are going to get a really bad bill. And even if it were a good bill, there is no time pressure; it could be put off for a year with no problems — except that huge banks would be less likely to destroy our economy again. But in return for this really bad bill, the Democratic Party gets — wait for it — nothing. Even the individual members will get nothing for it. And it will hurt other Democrats because it will make Trump look more like a competent leader, which we all know he is not.

It’s Hard to Say Republicans Are Worse Than Democrats

But this also bugs me on a personal level. Whenever I have an argument with a conservative, I know I’ve won when they get to the point of saying, “Well, both sides are useless.” Or whatever: corrupt, stupid, any pejorative that fits. When over a third of the Democratic Party votes for a bill that only billionaires want, it’s hard to say to these conservatives, “No, both sides are not the same. The Republican Party really is bad. The Democrats have their problems just like any party. But the Republicans are destroying this country.” Because now they can just say, “What about S.2155?”