20 Apr 2014: Easter Sucked!

Category: Spirituality
Posted by: Frank Moraes
JesusIt occurred to me that I haven't written anything to spoil Easter. The truth is that I don't hate Easter so much. It's on a Sunday, and things are always crummy on Sunday anyway. And it is mostly just a morning holiday, so it doesn't get in the way of the little life there is normally on Sunday. And perhaps most of all, even though it is the hardest core of the hard core Christian holidays, mostly Christians just celebrate it amongst themselves without bothering the rest of us.

Really, where is the outrage about the "war on Easter"? No one seems to care that we secularists don't understand the "reason for the season." I don't suppose it is much of a mystery why we don't get this. Easter is basically a zombie story. Jesus is crucified on Friday where he suffered a whole six hours for all the sins of humanity. Then he was entombed. Then his body rose from the dead and a few people saw him, but not all recognized him.

You know, that's an interesting thing. The story from Luke is that a couple of Jesus' followers meet up with a man. They chat, they eat, he vanishes. Then they think, "Hey, I'll bet that was Jesus!" This is typical of the reaction of believers to failed prophecies. After the prophecy fails, they justify how it actually did happen, it's just that it happened differently that they had thought it would. So a guy comes around and they don't know him. But after he's left they convince themselves that he was Jesus. Not that I'm suggesting that the story is true.

Anyway, the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ after three days in the desert sounds like something out of a horror movie. When he appears to the women, he tells them not to be afraid. You can understand why: his rotting flesh hanging from his bones. In addition to everything else, the smell must have been incredible.

But apart from the religion of the day and all the cute bunny rabbits and eggs, the nature of today being a holiday did, in fact, really screw me up! I was coming back from San Francisco on the bus. Had it been late, I would have ridden the bus all the way to the Golden Gate Transit base. That would then give me about a two mile walk home—nothing too bad. But since it was early, I got off downtown, figuring I would take the city bus straight to my place. I really had to go to the bathroom anyway, but as I got off the bus, I noticed that the place was strangely vacant. When I went to the bathroom, I found it locked. Then I realized it was Easter and none of the city buses were running. So I went over to the mall. It was closed! Anyway, I managed to finally get a ride home. But it made me resent Easter in a whole new way.

Now, had Jesus pulled up in a car and given me a lift home, I'd have to rethink my entire theology.

Category: Politics
Posted by: Frank Moraes
David BrooksWow, David Brooks wrote a really smart column. No, I'm just kidding! If ever there were one man who demonstrated the lie of "meritocracy," it is David Brooks. On Friday, he wrote, When the Circus Descends. And I should be clear: by Brooks' standards, it is not bad because it is not utterly and completely evil. Instead, it's boring. He is lamenting that some people are complaining about the Common Core Standards, even though they've been approved in 45 states.

But in as much as he has something to complain about, it is still really vile in the way that we have come to expect from him. Because according to him, he knows the truth: Common Core is a great thing. Anyone just looking at the facts (Anyone like David Brooks!) would just see that it's great. After all, the business community is clamoring for it. And if the business community isn't selfless, then who is? But the only group he actually quotes for how great Common Core is, is the Thomas B Fordham Institute. And who are they? Just a conservative think take with an ideological ax to grind. See: its the best practical approach to education reform because an ideological group is in favor of it!

I don't especially have an opinion about Common Core. I don't mind educational standards. But I expect this will all mean in practice more cookie-cutter teaching, with lots of incentives based upon a lot of tests. My philosophy of education is liberal: train people to love learning and they will educate themselves. Too much, our educational system trains people to know very limited facts and skills, with the added disadvantage of coming to hate education. But there is nothing wrong with having goals. (Although note: it is hard to look at some of the new testing and think it is anything but a joke.)

Brooks would also have us believe that there are crazies on both sides that just can't get past their ideology. Again: that places him in the mythical center that is beyond ideology. But the two sides in this fight are hardly equivalent. On the right, you really do have loons. Although it is rarely stated, the real fear is that if the government can dictate that kids learn basic math, it can also dictate that they learn evolution. There is no doubt that the concern is about the idea that there might be some objective reality that conflicts with their religious beliefs. They can cloak it all they like in concern for local control, it's all about religion.

On the left are actually very few people. If it weren't for those on the right who are making a whole lot of noise, there would be no debate. These are the states not adopting the standards: Texas, Virginia, Alaska, Nebraska and Indiana. They are all red states, except for Virginia, which is a purple state. It isn't the teachers' unions who have stopped Common Core from making it into law. But even as much as it is an issue on the left, the people are against it because of its effect on education. It isn't that they don't think there should be no standards outside the Bible. They just disagree about what should be expected of the children.

But it's interesting. After Brooks complains about the teachers' unions being against the Common Core Standards, he writes, "A large survey in Kentucky revealed that 77 percent of teachers are enthusiastic about the challenge of implementing the standards in their classrooms." But that's typical of conservative thinking. No one wants to appear to be against teachers, because all of us remember that at least some teachers were really important in our lives. So he pretends that teachers' unions are something other than groups of teachers.

I know that David Brooks thinks that unlike other pundits, he just looks at the facts. You can see this if you ever watch him on The News Hour. But as I'm fond of noting: modern conservatism is an ideology in a way that modern liberalism just isn't. A good example of this is Dean Baker. He's a liberal. Yet no one—at least, no conservative one—is as dedicated to using the free market for the benefit of society. David Brooks is just a conservative ideologue who talks nice. And occasionally, he pays tribute to "centrism" by comparing school teachers to Glenn Beck and Elisabeth Hasselbeck.

Category: Politics
Posted by: Frank Moraes
Michael BloombergEveryone around here knows where I stand on politics. I am a liberal on social as well as economic issues. But I don't think much about the social issues. Without a decent amount of economic equality, how ever we go about accomplishing that, the social issues are of limited importance. Regardless, as long as we live in an oligarchy, we don't have the ability to affect social policy anyway. As the Princeton study pointed out: poor people occasionally get the policies they want because they just happen to agree with the policies that rich people want. It's coincidence, not power.

It was in this context that I heard last week that Michael Bloomberg was planning to spend $50 million to start a group to counter the NRA. This was not exactly news, because Bloomberg started a political campaign after Sandy Hook. And I noted at that time that he was going after some good economic liberals. I'm not keen on the NRA. But I would much rather a representative be beholden to them than to be beholden to Wall Street—as most politicians are. So I figured it made sense for Bloomberg to spend that kind of money on this cause. He is, after all, a one-issue guy. He can offer some crumbs to liberal mindedness, as long as no one gets in the way of his money.

Thomas FrankIt seems there are very few issues that I disagree much with Thomas Frank, but today I felt like he read my mind when he wrote about Bloomberg's new venture, "I'm a strong supporter of gun control, so hooray, I guess." It's part of a larger argument, Straight into the Fox News Buzzsaw: Why Elite, Billionaire Liberalism Always Backfires. After taking a scalpel to Bloomberg, he gets to his main point: we can't depend upon rich liberals because their interests are not our own.

Think about Milton Hershey, who was one of the most beneficent plutocrats ever. There was nothing that he wouldn't do for his workers. But when they wanted to start a union, he fought them with everything he had. It was all fine as long as he was the great patriarch who showered his employees with living wages. But when the workers demanded independence, that was just too much. And Hershey was far greater than plutocrats then, and light-years ahead of plutocrats now.[1] Frank sums up the plutocratic as only he can:

We've returned to the Gilded Age, laissez-faire is common sense again, and Victorian levels of inequality are back. The single greatest issue of then is the single greatest issue of now, and once again people like Bloomberg—a modern-day Mugwump if ever there was one—have nothing useful to say about it, other than to remind us when it's time to bow before the mighty. Oh, Bloomberg could be relentless in his mayoral days in his quest for sin taxes, for random police authority, for campaigns against sugary soda and trans fats. But put a "living wage" proposal on his desk, and he would denounce it as a Soviet-style interference in private affairs.

During the Occupy Wall Street protests, he declared that we should stop criticizing investment banks; it would cost us jobs: "If you want jobs you have to assist companies and give them confidence to go and hire people." Later on, when confronted with a successor who didn't share his views, he graduated to straight-up trickle-down: "The way to help those who are less fortunate is, number one, to attract more very fortunate people." Only by helping the rich, and helping them more, and then helping them even more, can we ever hope to do something for the poor.

Unusually, Frank's article actually ends on an upbeat note. And I agree with him that as individuals we really do have power if we work together. I have long thought that the key to saving our country is unionization. But at this point, the only way that's going to happen is if we all get out there and vote, because for the last 60 years our rights to organize as workers have been steadily destroyed.

Unfortunately, I am not upbeat nor am I very hopeful. And the reason I'm not is the current state of the Democratic Party. It has become primarily a socially liberal party. In terms of economic policy, the Democrats are now far more conservative than any Republican could have ever hoped for in the late 1960s. And voters seem to have largely accepted this. I don't think it is a knowledgeable acceptance. I think most people—young people especially—have come to believe that having no real choice on economic policy is not only the way things are, but the way they should be.

What hope I have is found in the recent Democratic Party embrace of raising the minimum wage. But we have to look at this clear-eyed. Getting a (still too low) minimum wage pegged to the inflation rate will only happen with a Democrat in the White House and Democratic control of both branches of Congress. And even then, it wouldn't surprise me that a Democratic president would veto a minimum wage increase—if that Democrat was someone like Andrew Cuomo, who claims to be for it but always finds a way not to support it in practice. What's more, I'm sure there are at least three people on the Supreme Court that would love to find the minimum wage unconstitutional.

But whatever hope I have is dependent upon all of us. We can't depend upon rich benefactors. We have to do it ourselves. We have to vote. We have to organize. And above all else, we have to stop believing this nonsense that the laudable improvements in gay rights make up for ever increasing poverty and an ever shrinking middle class. We mustn't mistake our own issues that just happen to overlap with those of the plutocrats as any indication that they are on our side. They aren't. We are alone in this struggle.

[1] I'm not an expert, but I've read quite a lot about that period. In general, the plutocrats of the Gilded Age were concerned about wealth inequality. It was mostly only because they didn't want to look like jerks to other plutocrats. But largely because of Ayn Rand, today we have this philosophy that just being rich is doing good works. That is what's behind the "job creator" myth and it is why the myth is so damaging to society. Anyway, this is why I think today's plutocrats are worse than they were a hundred years ago.

20 Apr 2014: Rich Kid "Reporter"

Category: Politics
Posted by: Frank Moraes
Jamie JohnsonFriday in the fashion section, The New York Times published, Including the Young and the Rich. The nature of the article is clear from its first sentence, "On a crisp morning in late March, an elite group of 100 young philanthropists and heirs to billionaire family fortunes filed into a cozy auditorium at the White House." But the United States doesn't have social classes, right?

The article gets worse. It goes on to talk about, "Patrick Gage, a 19-year-old heir to the multibillion-dollar Carlson hotel and hospitality fortune." He presented a talk about human trafficking. Here is an actual quote from the young billionaire-to-be, "The person two seats away from me was a Marriott. And when I told her about trafficking, right away she was like, 'Uh, yeah, I want to do that.'" Of course she wanted to do that; all the hip young billionaires are doing it!

But what most struck me in the article was who wrote it: Jamie Johnson, heir to the Johnson & Johnson fortune. We all know Mr. Johnson because of his dreadful little documentary The One Percent, which I discussed in Rich Kid Guilt. His whole career is based upon the fact that that he is rich. He has become a representative of the rich who think maybe they should be taxed a bit more.

The problem is that there is no recognition in any of Johnson's work that his privilege is manifested in far more ways than his money. He is an intellectual and creative mediocrity. There is no way that anyone would invite him to appear on MSNBC or write for The New York Times if it weren't for his inherited wealth and position. He isn't around to report on the super rich; he is around to represent them.

The article contained the following disclosure:

Although the event was closed to the media, I was invited by the founders of Nexus, Jonah Wittkamper and Rachel Cohen Gerrol, to report on the conference as a member of the family that started the Johnson & Johnson pharmaceutical company.

So much for the pretense of exposing the super rich, which we saw in his movie. I suspect that after the rich saw his film, they figured he was safe. This is not a guy who is going to rock the boat. And so when all the future billionaires got together, they didn't want any reports around. But Jamie Johnson was just fine. The New York Times should be ashamed.

Category: Birthdays
Posted by: Frank Moraes
Harold LloydAdolf Hitler was born on this day in 1889. I have a hard time thinking that Hitler was a remarkable man. Obviously, he had a profound effect on history. But violent, hateful sociopaths are not that unusual. I tend to think he was just the right vile human being at the right time. When I look around the political landscape, I see a lot of people who, given the right environment could have as evil an effect as Hitler did. It's probably unfair, but when I see Ted Cruz, I see the same kind of charm that Hitler had mixed with his vile will to power and the associated demagoguery. And Cruz isn't the only person I see in this light. I see this in a lot of politicians. I even see it in liberals, although it is much more a contagion among conservatives. But am I saying that Ted Cruz and his ilk want to start a genocide? No. I'm saying that what made Hitler is deeper than his racist and genocidal policies. The thing that links Cruz to Hitler is their shared wish to use fear and anger of a weak minority for political gain.

Since I'm already depressed, just like last year, I note that in 1893, the great film comedian Harold Lloyd was born. Unlike Hitler, Lloyd actually was unique. And he wasn't just amazing; he was a very funny guy:

Happy birthday Harold Lloyd!

Category: Fun
Posted by: Frank Moraes
3 Week Old KittenI saw a really great collection of photos a couple of weeks ago, The 60 Most Powerful Photos Ever Taken That Perfectly Capture the Human Experience. And since I don't have time right now to write a proper article, I wanted to offer up what I thought was the most impressive.

It is from the Korean War. During the height of combat, Sergeant Frank Praytor found an abandoned two-week old kitten. I assume its mother had been killed or otherwise displaced. This picture shows him feeding the kitten who doesn't look like its had its eyes open for long.

Sergeant Frank Praytor feeds kitten during Korean War

This does capture the contradiction of us humans. Our differences of opinion lead us to go to war with each other. But still, we are moved to save a helpless kitten. Of course, more and more I think our leaders get us to do the terrible things we often do. Basically, humans are decent. And we are often at are best under the worst of circumstances, as we see with Sergeant Praytor in this photograph.

Go check out all of the images. They are all quite good and many of them are truly amazing. I also really liked the photos of the Korean brothers, the Klan toddler, the Iranian skater girls, and the heart transplant photos. Enjoy!

Category: Computer
Posted by: Frank Moraes
Well my friends, the next two days will have scant postings here. I am off to do some field tests with my business partner Mikhail on our totally cool high tech device that hopefully some day soon I will be able to talk about. It is arguably the best work that I've ever done. We are quickly getting to the point being able to release prototypes and maybe even getting some money. This project is also the reason that I don't post quite as much as I used to. But you still get at least four articles per day!

There probably won't be anything more today. Sunday will have a birthday post, but I'm not sure of what else. Maybe a lot else, but I'm not promising anything!

Category: Politics
Posted by: Frank Moraes
Police AbuseMost of what is wrong with the American criminal justice system is summed up in the following headline from the ABA Journal, Rare "Perry Mason" Moment in Court Wins Dismissal for Defendant, Desk Duty for 5 Police Officers. The basic story is sadly typical. The police pulled over Joseph Sperling, a 23-year-old in the Chicago area. They claimed to pulled him over for not using his turn signal. Then, when the officer approached the car, while Sperling was getting his driver's license, he just happened to smell the cannabis and discovered it.

But the story has a happy ending. The defense attorney, Steven Goldman, sent a subpoena to the Glenview police department for the squad car video. And what do you know? It turned out that every one of the five officers involved in the arrest told the exact same lies. The judge was not pleased about this, calling it "outrageous conduct." And according to the article, "Cook County Circuit Judge Catherine Haberkorn granted a defense motion to suppress the search, which eliminated a basis for his arrest and resulted in a swift dismissal by prosecutors of the felony drug case against the 23-year-old."

I am really glad that Sperling lucked out in this case. But what's sad is that he indeed "lucked out." This kind of police behavior is not just common; it is standard operating procedure. But look what happens to these cops who conspired against an American citizen, "The officers were later put on desk duty..." There will be an investigation. Most likely, it will find that any collusion was inadvertent. But even if the investigation finds that they did intentionally collude, nothing bad will happen to them because everyone in the police force knows that this is how they do their jobs. It's just that normally, there isn't video tape that exposes them. (And even when there is, defense attorneys don't have the time to check it out.)

Police officers throughout the nation destroy the lives of people all the time. People get arrested on drug possession charges, become labeled felons, and have difficulty finding gainful employment for the rest of their lives. So I have no problem with throwing the book at cops that are caught doing this kind of thing. It shouldn't just be a matter removal, much less the "indignity" of having to work inside the office. At minimum, they should be prevented from ever working in law enforcement again.

The system we have insists upon treating cases like this as though they are the exception instead of the rule that they clearly are. And so every time an officer testifies in court, it is just assumed that he would never lie. If I were on a jury (and I never will be, precisely because I think this), I would take officer's word as less reliable than others. I've seen this in traffic court. Officers always claim to remember the most banal stuff, which they don't. It is all in their notes, but of course, they could write anything in their notes. And we see that in this much more serious case.

People always argue for the death penalty as a deterrent to crime. It doesn't actually work because people don't usually make calculated, reasonable decisions about murder. But police officers do make calculated, reasonable decisions about bending the rules and making their jobs easier. Deterrents really will work on them. We should throw the book at these officers.

19 Apr 2014: Sweet Tim Curry

Category: Birthdays
Posted by: Frank Moraes
Tim CurryTim Curry is 68 today. To be honest, I'm not that fond of him as an actor in a general sense. There is a sameness to all his roles that I find boring. But as a musical comedy actor, he's brilliant. And he is quite simply a fabulous singer. That's where his true greatness lies and I still find it amazing that he hasn't had a bigger career in that regard.

He got his start in London theater where he was in Hair. There he met Richard O'Brien who was writing The Rocky Horror Show. The rest, as they say, is history. Theater history. It was made into an iconic film in 1975. It is one of the silliest movies ever. And much of it really doesn't work. But Curry is great in the part of Dr. Frank N. Furter. Here he is doing "Sweet Transvestite":

In terms of his acting, he is also notable for playing the part of Mozart in the original Broadway production of Amadeus opposite Ian McKellen. Otherwise, he's mostly stayed with musicals, which is really for the best. I don't see how a musical starring Curry could miss. He's also had a very successful movie career, but as I said, not of great artistic merit.

Curry has released three very listenable albums that for some reason are not held in high esteem. Last night I read the reviews on All Music and I was amazed how they did go on. The criticism seemed to be that the albums were not something else—the worst kind of review. I was particularly bothered by the review of Read My Lips. Because it was produced by Bob Ezrin with prominent use of Dick Wagner, the reviewer, Joe Viglione, got it into his head that it was a sequel to Lou Reed's Berlin, and failed by comparison. This is despite the fact that the All Music review of Berlin is lukewarm.

I think that Read My Lips is a great album. So I'm going to present two songs from it. First, a reggae version of The Beatles' "I Will":

And this gorgeous version of Bacharach & David's "Anyone Who Had a Heart":

Of course, Read My Lips isn't available on CD or even MP3 because America doesn't believe in having the good kind of class.

Happy birthday Tim Curry!

Category: Politics
Posted by: Frank Moraes
Police Chief Crystal MooreI remember reading something Ayn Rand had written about the way political oppression worked in the Soviet Union. She said it wasn't that harsh laws were applied to everyone. It was that there were many laws and they were never applied to anyone, except when that person got out of line. Now I'm not sure exactly how true that was, given that she was only there during the very early stages of the government, before things got really bad under Stalin. But the point is well taken.

We've seen this in the United States a whole lot. In the 60s and 70s, hippies everywhere found themselves cited and arrested for ridiculous charges like spitting. And anyone arrested today can confirm that you are never arrested for a single thing. If the cops find you with a joint in your pocket, you are likely to find yourself facing a dozen other charges. That's not explicitly politically motivated, by it is a form of political oppression.

A more explicit form of this has been going on in Louisiana for the last year. The East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriffs' Department has been staging sting operations by picking up gay when and then arresting them for sodomy. These kinds of laws were made unconstitutional decades ago. But apparently, local officials wanted to "get the fags" and so they did. All the cases fell through and it was embarrassing. So the Louisiana House of Representatives voted on a bill to overturn the law. And it failed by a vote of 27-67. Of the 27 voting for repeal, only three were Republicans. Of the 67 voting to keep the law, 55 were Republicans. So 95% of the freedom loving Republicans voted to make private consensual behavior illegal. The Democrats hardly did themselves proud with only 63% voting for repeal. But then, Democrats don't claim to be the party of individual liberty. It all makes a clear statement though: stay away from Louisiana because it's filled with a bunch of bigots.

Meanwhile, we have an even better (and really, more American) example of this process. In Latta, South Carolina, the mayor fired Police Cheif Crystal Moore. This is being reported as a firing based upon Moore being openly gay. But what I think is fascinating about it is that this appears to not be the case. It looks like Mayor Earl Bullard fired her to end Moore's investigation of one of Bullard's crony hires, Parks and Recreation Department Director Vontray Sellers. And this is where it gets good.

Bullard seems to have thought that he could use Moore's homosexuality against her in this fight. During a private conversation with another council member that has been leaked, Bullard said, "I would much rather have—and I will say this to anybody's face—somebody who drank and drank too much taking care of my child than I had somebody whose lifestyle is questionable around children... I'm not going to let two women stand up there and hold hands and let my child be aware of it. And I'm not going to see them do it with two men neither." It is vile and ignorant, but it's made so much worse that he seems to be using it thinking its going to play with a big chunk of the electorate.

The good news is that thus far, the people are supporting the police chief. About a hundred people came to the town council meeting tonight. They weren't allowed to speak. Bullard said the issue was not on the agenda and so that was that. But it looks like at least part of the council is in open rebellion. And I really don't see Bullard winning this one.

But notice what Bullard's plan appears to have been. It wasn't necessary to even use the law against Moore. His plan was to just use social mores against her. It was fine that she was gay—I'm sure everyone knew that she was. But the moment she did something that Bullard didn't like, he tried to use her homosexuality against her. This is a key point, because this is something that libertarians like Ayn Rand don't understand: it isn't just the government that we have to worry about taking away our freedoms. In modern America, corporations have far more power to limit our freedom than the government does. And it is as big a problem. And any demagogue like Earl Bullard can easily use the bigotry of the American people to oppress pretty much anyone—whether the demagogue is a mayor or not.

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