Category: Politics
Posted by: Frank Moraes
Cliven BundyI'm sure you've heard that Cliven Bundy spouted some racist thoughts to Adam Nagourney at The New York Times, A Defiant Rancher Savors the Audience That Rallied to His Side. Ed Kilgore summed it up well, stating that he has "views about black folks that might embarrass your local Grand Dragon." In case you haven't heard, Bundy said that blacks were actually more free under slavery. There is actually a lot more but I'm sure you get the idea.

This whole things brings my mind to the argument that Jonathan Chait has been making that even though we all know that modern American conservatism is all about racism, we liberals shouldn't assume that any given conservative is racist. That's true as far as it goes. But there is a larger issue here.

As Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote this morning, "Prick a movement built on white supremacy and it bleeds... white supremacy." The fact of the matter is that regardless of what any particular conservative thinks, as a culture, we only take these radical definitions of freedom seriously because there are a lot of people who hold them, and most do so because of their racist underpinnings. As an example, most people are not against welfare programs because they are concerned about the budget or dozens of other seemingly innocuous reasons. Most are against them because they don't like one or more minority groups who they think benefit from them.

Rand PaulTo some extent, I'm sympathetic to Chait on this. It doesn't do us much good to constantly focus on the racism that provides the popular support for conservatism. Just the same, not doing so turns politics into a frustrating game of whack-a-mole. We beat done the notion that food stamps are a budgetary problem and up pops the concern for fraud. Beat down the fraud claim and up pops Paul Ryan's hammock "that lulls able-bodied people to lives of dependency and complacency." As long as we don't beat down what is behind the latest argument, there will always be another argument.

Note that what Cliven Bundy said is part of this whack-a-mole game. Take away the racism and the idea that slavery was just great and you are left with Paul Ryan's hammock argument. In Bundy's mind, I'm sure he thinks that he is the hero of the black man. He's the one who is trying to break the bonds of dependence that the modern welfare state has enslaved African Americans in. In this mind, he's a modern day Frederick Douglass! In reality, he's just the conservative base.

But he's not the one we are arguing with. We are arguing with politicians and pundits. And here is where I think we make a mistake on the issue of racism. I don't think that Rand Paul has any racial resentment or animus. But he is more than willing to use racism for his political gain. And I think that makes him far worse. Most racism is due to ignorance—just not knowing who other groups are and basing opinions on stereotypes. But people like Paul are using racism (that they mostly don't share) in a calculated way to get what they want.

In this way, they are like the slave owners of old. When I think of the Antebellum era, I think of three classes of people. There were the slave owners who were mostly interested in profit. There were the poor whites who had been trained to be racists by the elites. In the early days this was an explicit policy of rich land owners to keep the poor—white and black alike—from organizing themselves and fighting for their collective rights. And then there were the enslaved blacks. Now Bundy is basically a political figure in the same way that the Koch brothers are. But the basic dynamic here is the same as it was 150 years ago: political elites use racism to set poor whites against poor blacks.

What I wonder is if anyone would say that a slave owner wasn't racist just because he didn't hate blacks or think they were inferior. If he would be just as happy enslaving whites as blacks, would that mean he wasn't racist? Maybe so. But if that same slave owner did everything he could to make poor whites hate blacks, then he would be a racist. And I think that makes Rand Paul, Paul Ryan, and really most other elite Republicans racists.


Category: Birthdays
Posted by: Frank Moraes
William CastleOn this day in 1914, William Castle was born. I have a great fondness for the independent filmmakers of that time. Just getting a film made was a major accomplishment. And getting people to go out and watch it was even more so. On the first count, I think his films stand up rather well today. Too much has been said on the second point, but there is no doubt that he was one of the greatest promoters in film history. To get an idea of what he did, check out the sadly neglected Matinee where John Goodman plays a character clearly based on Castle.

Castle worked in the studio system, even working as second unit director on Orson Welles' The Lady from Shanghai. But he wanted more, so he mortgaged his house (not the last time he would do so), and made Macabre. The film is mostly memorable because of the $1,000 life insurance policies that all audience members received in case of "decease by fright." Silly and wonderful at the same time. According to Wikipedia, the film cost $90,000 to make and grossed $5 million in the decade after its release.

Perhaps the greatest bit of real time silliness came in the initial release of The Tingler. Castle had technicians install buzzers onto a couple of theater seats that were activated at the climax of the film. That must have had quite an effect on the audience. Of course, it was all in good fun as you can see in the following opening to the film. Castle looks like he's about to burst out laughing:


Ultimately, Castle's career is the prototypical American story. He was hugely successful. But he was never allowed into the inner circle. He continued to make "B" films for all his career. Near the end of his life, he managed to acquire the rights to Rosemary's Baby. But the studio would not allow him to direct it, going instead with Roman Polanski. It's hard to complain with that selection, but I'm sure the decision was entirely in-group/out-group politics. Success doesn't much matter in the United States. It has to be the right kind of success. That's why Bernard Madoff is (rightly) in jail but not the drug money laundering executives at HSBC.

Happy birthday William Castle!


Category: Fun
Posted by: Frank Moraes
Jeopardy! Board

"This is Jeopardy!" Or at least, this is the Jeopardy! board as it appears at the beginning of the game. And for a long time, I've wondered what the theoretical top score would be. The average winning score tends to be in the $20,000 range. But I figured the theoretical score would be substantially higher. But I had no idea just how much higher.

As you can see the board above, the maximum amount you could make if you got all of those "answers" right would be $18,000. The "Double Jeopardy" round doubles those amounts: $36,000. So your total after two rounds could be $54,000. And then you could double that to $108,000 in "Final Jeopardy."

Of course, there is a major wrinkle in the game: the "Daily Double." When a player uncovers the "Daily Double," he can risk as much money as he has (or $1,000 if he has less). There is one "Daily Double" in the first round and two in the second.

Just how lucrative the "Daily Double" is depends upon how much money that player has when he gets it. So clearly, the best time to get it is at the end of the board under a $200 square. So in the first round, the player would win $17,800 when he selects the last $200 square to reveal the "Daily Double." He would then risk it all because he is unstoppable. That would give him $35,600 at the end of the first round.

The second round would go the same except that there would be two $400 squares left, the player having added $35,200 to his existing $35,600. So for the first "Daily Double," he has $70,800 to risk, giving him $141,600. He would again double in the second "Daily Double" for $283,200 at the end of "Double Jeopardy."

In "Final Jeopardy," our perfect player would again double his money for a total of $566,400. And that's not bad for 22 minutes of work!

Afterword

I have found that I am as good at Jeopardy! if I vaguely listen as I am if I concentrate. I believe this is how the computer does so well. All you have to do is listen for keywords and you rarely go wrong. If the "answers" weren't filled with hints, the show would be much harder. And less popular.



Category: Politics
Posted by: Frank Moraes
Emergency

The way politics is right now, it seems pointless to even discuss it. There are lots of parts of this, but the main thing on my mind is the Medicaid expansion. The current status with roughly half of the states not expanding Medicaid is just cruel. The best you can say about the politicians who are blocking expansion is that they are placing theoretical concerns about government accountability ahead of practical concerns about poor people dying because of lack of healthcare. But a more clear-eyed view of it would be that they are purposefully hurting the working poor for the sake of political gain. It is shameful.

Ed Kilgore wrote two articles today that looked at some numbers related to this. The first was, Medicaid Expansion and the "Socialized Medicine" Underground. Most of the article is about what appears to be an obsession with him: the fact that Obamacare approval numbers appear much worse than they are because of people who say they don't like Obamacare because they want a single-payer system. Republicans like to note the polls that say that far more people dislike Obamacare than like it. But if you include the "I want single payer" crowd in the "supports Obamacare" group, the program is actually quite popular.

But what I took for the article (actually just a two paragraph post) were the numbers of people who supported the Medicaid expansion. He quotes a Public Policy Polling survey of Texans who think the state should expand Medicaid by an overwhelming plurality: 49-35. A Georgia College poll found that Georgians were for it by a huge majority: 60-30. So even in these bright red states, the Medicaid expansion is popular. The people are not demanding the stonewalling that the Republican Party is giving them. Again: shameful.

The second article was, Medicaid Expansion: Deal Too Good To Refuse Getting Better. It is based upon a new Congressional Budget Office report that finds that the earlier extremely generous federal government funding of the states will be even more generous. He quoted Edwin Park at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities as saying, "CBO now estimates that the federal government will, on average, pick up more than 95 percent of the total cost of the Medicaid expansion and other health reform-related costs in Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) over the next ten years (2015-2024)." That means that states would pay just 1.6% more than they now pay for Medicaid and CHIP to insure far more people. Shame, shame, shame:


I really wonder what these people tell themselves. I'm sure there is a whole lot of cognitive dissonance going on. But I wonder what they will think in ten years when more practical people finally give in and expand Medicaid. Probably nothing. It will be like global warming. If we're lucky, we'll get an, "Oops!" But more likely, they will never think about it. The press will be too polite to say anything. And they will never come face-to-face with anyone who was harmed by their shameful behavior. And remember: these are mostly people who consider themselves Christians. What would Christ do? Heal the sick. What would Christians do? Grumble about all the free healthcare Those People were getting.

Shame. Shame. Shame.


Category: Music
Posted by: Frank Moraes
Blinded by the LightLike many people, I have a great love of misheard lyrics—especially my own. My favorite is in the Janis Ian song "At Seventeen." One line toward the end of the song is, "In debentures of quality and dubious integrity." I can probably be forgiven, because I had no idea what a "debenture" was. For those of you similarly in the dark, it is, "An unsecured loan certificate issued by a company, backed by general credit rather than by specified assets." But I heard what I think is a better line out of context, "But death insures equality and dubious integrity." It is only at the end of the verse that Ian pays off the metaphor with, "Their small-town eyes will gape at you / In dull surprise when payment due / Exceeds accounts received..." That's one of the reasons that Janis Ian is a great songwriter and I'm just a guy with a knack for appreciating great songwriting.

But by far, the best lyric mishearing is from Manfred Mann's Earth Band's version of "Blinded by the Light." The original version by Bruce Springsteen doesn't really have the problem for a couple of reasons. One is that he doesn't pronounce "deuce" as "douche" the way that Chris Thompson does in the Earth Band. But also, the original line makes the meaning clear, "Cut loose like a deuce." What meaning? No meaning, just a pleasant rhyme. In the Earth Band version, it is supposedly "Revved up like a deuce." But of course, everyone hears, "Wrapped up like a douche."


What's brilliant is that we humans are so great at finding meaning in meaningless things that doubtless millions of people have given those lyrics some meaning. And admit it, you'd believe me if I gave you some lame meaning for the line. How about this one, "The deuce, of course, was short for the Chevy 270, straight-6 engine popular among drag racers in the 70s. So the song is about hesitating at the start of race when the light changes color. But more broadly it's a metaphor getting on with your life and getting out your hometown." In addition to everything else, you'd believe me because that is what most people think the meaning of every Bruce Springsteen song is.

"Blinded by the Light" also has that "Hooray for Hollywood" problem. The opening lyrics are so engaging that most people forget what happens afterward. The melody is what matters anyway. But while "Hooray" is a very funny song with much to say that is even more true today than in 1937, "Blinded" really has nothing to say. So why not douches or Chevy 270 engines?

All of this is grist for comedy. And indeed, toward the end of my years in graduate school, I came upon this skit from a very short lived sketch comedy show The Vacant Lot. The skit involves four friends playing poker. One of them starts singing "Blinded by the Light" with ridiculous lyrics. The others make fun of him. But then it turns out that their lyrics are at least as ridiculous. It ends with one of them cracking and setting everyone straight. Except that his lyrics aren't quite right either. I'm not sure if that is supposed to be part of the joke, or if the writers themselves are suffering from the same problem. Watch:


Springsteen said during a VH1 Storytellers that the song was just him playing around with a rhyming dictionary. So what does anyone expect? Certainly, Springsteen doesn't seem to care. I've heard him joke that "douche" was a better line given how much better the Earth Band version did than his own. (I think it is more a function of production.) Regardless, I'm sure that Springsteen was happy to cash all those royalty checks from the megahit.


23 Apr 2014: Republican Actors?!

Category: Politics
Posted by: Frank Moraes
Republican LL Cool J: Who Knew? Not him!It's been over two years since I wrote, Conservative Rock?! It was about an article in National Review that listed the supposed 50 greatest conservative rock songs ever. Perhaps the most charming thing that conservatives ever do is try to claim that that are cool. Because they aren't. I remember Bill Maher noting that it wasn't always wrong to vote for a Republican because sometimes you need an angry old man to watch your money. Now that's actually not true. Republican politicians have shown themselves to be the true spendthrifts throughout the last half century. But that image of Republicans is right: angry old white men who care only about money.

So it was with some relish that I came upon an article in Republican Reader, 15 Actors You Might Not Have Known Were Republicans. Such headlines are great click bait, because for me at least, I always think, "No. I'll bet not one of the actors will surprise me." Although in this case, some of the actors did surprise me—because I didn't know who they were or because they weren't Republicans.

It reminded me a lot of that photo collage, "It's Okay to be a Republican!" It is filled mostly with pictures of African Americans from long ago when the Republican Party was actually the liberal party. But it also has Martin Luther King Jr in the collage and he was never a Republican. As I discuss in the article, Martin Luther King Sr was a Republican. Or at least he was until 1964 at which point he was a prominent Democrat. But you can't blame the Republicans for trying. Or maybe you can.

The Reader first offers up Vince Vaughn. I don't know how he made the list given just how prominent he's been in his support for Ron Paul. And I'm sure he'll be a big supporter of Rand Paul. It's kind of low brow political thought from a low brow actor.

Next up: Dwayne Johnson. I'd always assumed he was a Republican. But I haven't actually been able to find confirmation. I figure he is. He's a testosterone fueled ex-wrestler.

The list continues with a genuine surprise to me: James Earl Jones. And in his case I absolutely don't know. A lot of Republicans claim him as one of their own, but I can't find any documentation of it. What's more, in an article in Mediaite, Jones talks about the racism of the Tea Party and how he watches MSNBC all the time. So if he is a Republican, he's pretty quiet (and moderate) about it.

The next one made me laugh out loud: Sylvester Stallone. Who in this nation does not know that Stallone is a Republican? They would have to have missed the Rambo films and Rocky IV and pretty much everything else he's done in the last twenty years. After reading this one I wouldn't have been surprised to see Arnold Schwarzenegger, the writers probably figuring that the readers are so ignorant as to have missed a Republican governorship. Thankfully, Arnold did not show up on the list. But had there been 16 instead of only 15, who knows?

And then there is Bruce Willis. Again: I thought everyone knew this. But maybe they shouldn't have, because when I looked into it, it seems that the presidency of Bush the Younger kind of cooled him on the party. But he is still conservative and doubtless still registered as a Republican. But it says a lot about a party that its biggest supporters are not very big supporters.

Heather Locklear is reportedly registered as a Republican. I barely know who she is. And other than allegedly being registered, she doesn't seem to have much to do with the party. No big booster she.

At last: Robert Duvall! An actual Republican who has been substantially involved with the party. But just like Clint Eastwood, he's more of a libertarian and holds his nose in his embrace of the party. Last month, Duvall told The Daily Beast that he and his wife are probably voting Democratic or at least independent because the modern Republican Party is "a mess."

Shannen Doherty is a Republican. I don't actually know who she is. But again, she doesn't seem to be that into it.

Now we come to what is undoubtedly the most hilarious pick on the list: Stephen Baldwin. He is a Republican! And he is nominally an actor. And I think everyone knew he was a Republican because he's a whacked out conservative Christian. But I think it is funny as hell that the Republicans are in effect saying, "Sure, you have Alec Baldwin, who is a bonafide star. But we have Stephen!" But I guess we are all just glad that Stephen got off drugs.

According to the Reader, LL Cool J is a Republican. LL Cool J is not a Republican. But the Reader claims he is because he said that people shouldn't assume that he's a Democrat. The article does not quote what he said right after that, "I'm an Independent, you know?" This is so very very sad. Perhaps the article should have been titled, "15 Actors Who Didn't Even Known They Were Republicans."

I don't know who Kristin Chenoweth is, but she is supposedly a Republican. All I could find is a quote from her in which she claimed that her parents were "right-wing Republican Christians." The Reader, of course, misquotes her to say that she is also a right-wing Republican Christian. Which she probably is. After all, in 2012 she sustained a serious head injury.

Because I'm really old, I remember who Jaclyn Smith is. And she may be a Republican. According to the Reader, some people say she is. And she once gave money to Bush the Younger's campaign. But she wouldn't be interviewed for Rated R: Republicans in Hollywood. So whatever.

Tony Danza is apparently registered Republican but doesn't talk much about it.

James Caan is a Republican just like everyone already knew. But even if this weren't well known, you can tell that he's kind of dim-witted.

The last Republican is Adam Sandler. That one surprised me a bit, only because he's Jewish. But the fact that he donated to Rudy Giuliani's 2008 campaign doesn't actually say that much about him as a Republican, given that's all we know.

I don't begrudge the Republican Party their actors. But you would think they could do a better job of finding actual proud Republicans. I understand: artists of all stripes tend to be liberal. That's especially true of actors who need empathy for their trade and empathy pushes against supporting the Republican Party. But artists are also often iconoclasts. So it shouldn't be that hard to find actual Republican actors that aren't well known as such but would like to be. And the fact that even the Republican supporters seem to have cooled to the party in the last decade speaks very poorly of the current status of the party.


Category: Birthdays
Posted by: Frank Moraes
XXXWilliam Shakespeare was not born on this day in 1564. Or at least we don't know if was. He was baptized on 26 April 1564. And it was conventional for people to be baptized three days after they were born. So what the hell, why not say that he was born today? After all, Shakespeare isn't a man, he's a myth. Also: he died on this day in 1616, so what the hell. It's Shakespeare day!

The truth is that we know shockingly little about him. We actually know more about Christopher Marlowe because he lived a more colorful life. And we know loads more about Ben Jonson because he wrote so much about himself. Plus, he had the good sense to live his whole life in London and not go scurrying off to a backwater like Stratford-upon-Avon.

I have deeply mixed feelings about the immortal bard. On the one hand, I really do like a great deal of his work. On the other hand, he was hardly the romantic writing hero that I would prefer. There's no doubt that Cervantes would have written regardless of its earning potential. But that doesn't seem to be the case with Shakespeare. It seems that writing and the theater more generally was just a way to make ends meet. Not that it really matters but it is clear that we all think a great deal more of his work than he did.

But as much as I like his work, it is wrong to place it above the other work at the time. If you just look at the poety—the work on the micro-scale—it is not different from what other people were doing. And that's clear enough in the fact that work thought to be Shakespeare's has turned out to be collaborations. He just wasn't the Wayne Gretzky or even the Michael Jordan of Elizabethan poetry.

Still, given how much the British Empire managed to cram Shakespeare down our throats, we all know him. Even people who have never seen a play can quote at least some Shakespeare, even if they are unaware that they are doing it. And so watching or reading Shakespeare is very much like taking a nice warm bath. It's comfortable and pleasant. And it is endlessly fascinating what actors and directors manage to do with the work.

The following very short video is funny. And despite itself, it gets to the pleasures and annoyances of Shakespeare: I absolutely don't believe that Shakespeare invented all of those phrases and words. But even the ones he did coin are only considered impressive because they are now widely used. And why are they widely used? Because of the literary imperialism of the British Empire. There's a tautological element here: Shakespeare is great because Shakespeare is great. It's similar to Facebook, which is popular only because it is popular; if there were only six Facebook users, it wouldn't be very usual and thus popular.


Happy birthday or death day William Shakespeare!


Category: Politics
Posted by: Frank Moraes
Poor RetireeOver at The New York Times today, David Leonhardt and Kevin Quealy wrote an excellent article, The American Middle Class Is No Longer the World's Richest. The only thing that really surprised me in it was that the median income in Canada is now greater than it is in the United States. It's pretty hard to explain that in any way but that we simply have a political system that is controlled by the rich who have managed to make economic policy that pushes money from the poor to the rich.

It's actually shocking when you consider that by and large the upper class (top 20%) minus the rich (top 1%) get screwed compared to how the rich alone are treated. But they actually have political power and I'm surprised that they haven't revolted against the system. These, after all, are the people who pay income tax rates around 30%. The rich don't; they pay half that much because most of their income in unearned. The upper class also pay a high percentage of their incomes in payroll taxes. The rich pay a tax rate that approaches zero the more they make. I understand that the rest of us are even more screwed, but we've long known our government isn't interested in us. But revolutions are usually fought between the upper class and the rich. Why is our upper class so complacent?

Of course, the problem is more than just tax policy. The truth is that even forgetting about the government, American workers don't do as well as they do in Canada and many other advanced economies. (Although that's getting less and less true.) And the reason for that is very simple: unions have been effectively destroyed in this country. This started in a big way in 1947 with the Taft–Hartley Act. And then Reagan signaled open season on them in 1981. (This was no surprise; what was surprising was that many unions endorsed Reagan.) The only reason that capital ever shared any of the benefits with labor was that it was forced to. Unions don't have the power they once had so workers haven't seen any part in productivity gains over the last 35 years.

I keep returning to what Milton Friedman always claimed: the rich were getting far richer but the poor were also getting richer. I often fantasize about having him before me and asking him today, "The poor are actually doing worse. So what do you think of your laissez faire now?" Of course, it's a hollow fantasy. I know exactly what he would say. Like all libertarians, he would retreat into theory and tell me it was still best to have our winner-take-all society because: freedom! He would also prevaricate and claim that the poor losing ground is just the product of us not yet having the libertarian utopia. It is at this point in my fantasy that I beat the poor man to death with my bare hands.

The two issues—unionization and taxes—go hand in hand. The more money the rich have, the more they can lobby the government to destroy unions and lower the raxes of the rich. This feeds back to give the rich even more power and great incentive to use it to destroy unions and lower the taxes of the rich. And it is all done in the name of making America richer. But now with Canada getting ahead of us (and other countries sure to follow), what will be the rationalization? Because I'm sure there will be a rationalization. A change in the facts is not going to stop the power elite from pushing policies that make then more powerful and more elite.

Afterword

Cenk Uygur provided a great overview of the NYT article on The Young Turks:


Update (23 April 2014 5:44 pm)

Dean Baker once again proves that as bad as anyone says it is, he can always show that it is worse, The American Middle Class Is Doing Much Worse Than the NYT Says:

While this is not a pretty picture to those who would like to see everyone benefiting from growth, the actual story is even worse than shown in the NYT piece. Most of the countries in the analysis have seen a sharp reduction in the length of the average work year since 1980, the United States has not. For example, in France the length of the average work year was shortened by 17.6 percent between 1980 and 2012, the most recent year for which data is available. In Canada the reduction in the length of the average work year was 6.4 percent over this period, in the Netherlands it was 9.6 percent, and in Finland 11.1 percent. By comparison, the average work year shrank by just 1.3 percent in the United States.

This shrinking of the average work year corresponds to the increase in vacation time in other countries, with workers in many countries now enjoying 5-6 weeks a year of paid vacation. Workers in other wealthy countries can also count on paid sick days and paid family leave when they have children or a sick family member in need of care.

These guarantees and additional leisure translate into real improvements in living standards in which workers in the United States largely did not share. In 1980 workers in the United States worked somewhat less than the average for OECD countries. In 2012, they worked somewhat more.



22 Apr 2014: Pedant vs Pedant

Category: Language
Posted by: Frank Moraes
David MitchellI have spent much of the last 24 hours watching dozens of episodes of David Mitchell's SoapBox, a video-cast he did for a few years where he rants about minor issues—often hilariously. It made me realize that as much as I think that Robert Webb is brilliant, David Mitchell is why I am such a big fan of That Mitchell and Webb Look. In fact, I think I must have a man-crush on Mitchell. And I say that without knowing what a "man-crush" is, but if it isn't what I'm feeling, I can't imagine the term has much meaning other than that I've turned gay. I am not, as far as I know, turning gay. And if I were, I'm absolutely sure it would not be over Mitchell who looks kind of like me—short and dumpy.

On the other hand, I have no illusions that in point of fact, David Mitchell and I would hate each other. We would end up in that uncomfortable hole where another person is enough like you to find them annoying but too different to find them charming. Plus, two guilt ridden shy people never get along. And most of all: two middle aged pedants should never be within shouting distance of one another.

A good example of the potential problem when two pedants meet is found in, "Dear America..." The first half of this video deals with one of the pedant's favorite issues: the difference between "I couldn't care less" and "I could care less." It's still quite funny, so have a look:


This is where pedants collide. Because David Mitchell just failed as a pedant. Originally, the phrase was indeed, "I couldn't care less." We all know this, so there is no need to watch Mitchell sitting on a graph to illustrate the point. Taken literally, "I could care less" means that what the speaker is talking about is something that is not the most worthless thing in the world. And that is never what the speaker actually means.

I haven't look into the history of it, but I do remember when I was kind, people were being sarcastic (with the typical kid's sarcastic voice) when they said, "I could care less!" In other words, "I couldn't care less." Over time, the explicit sarcasm left but the meaning remained the same. Throughout the English language there are similar phase. For example, no one complains about the phrase "big baby," because it isn't used to describe large infants.

Now I understand: most people who use the phrase don't know this. They've never thought about it. And children can be forgiven for being confused after working out the exact meaning. But adults can't! No one is confused about what people mean they use the phrase. When asked about his feelings about his baby, a new father would never try to minimize his feelings by saying, "I could care less!" And that's because everyone who uses "I could care less," whether knowingly or not, means "I couldn't care less."

This is an issue for me because I remember being a kid and working this out. And so for a couple of years, I was a typical precocious jerk, correcting everyone who misused the phrase. And given that it was America, that was just about everyone. Now I look back on that with great embarrassment. It's an example of having a little knowledge and thinking you have it all. I didn't. Neither does David Mitchell.

On the second issue of the video, I agree with him. It is "Hold the fort." But I quite like the idea that the fort might blow away. It's magical. So I'm thinking that maybe I'll start using the phrase, "Hold down the fort." This, of course, would go along with one of the great pedant traditions: saying things just to piss off other pedants. And that's why I have a man-crush on David Mitchell, yet would never like to meet him.

Update (22 April 2014 8:19 pm)

This is a good example of why I so love David Mitchell. I have spent my whole life keeping mental track of money that I owe to friends because of this kind of casual attitude to gifts. They may not realize it, but I feel terrible while I'm on the owing side of that. And it's awful.


The whole thing reminds me of a That Mitchell and Webb Look skit about the "All Party Committee to Combat Social Misunderstandings." I really do worry a lot about whether to flush to the toilet in the middle of the night when I'm a guest at someone else's home. I really don't need all this extra anxiety!


Category: Science
Posted by: Frank Moraes
XXXYou may have heard about the Pornhub report that indicated that people in blue states watch more pornography than people in red states. To some extent, I think it didn't get more attention because it goes along with people's prejudices. Now if it had turned out that people in blue states were more into scatological porn, I would have been surprised because I assume (perhaps wrongly) that people in those states tend to be sexually repressed and so tend to get into what I think of as sick and twisted stuff. But the truth is that there is really no reason to think that porn consumption has anything to do with politics. There are various issues.

Jordan Ragusa addressed probably the most important issue in a brief post, Nickelback, Herpes, and Obama's Vote Share in 2012. The issue is simply that meaningless correlations show up all the time. And that's especially true when you are looking at a lot of different things. For example, imagine correlating first names with cancer rates. Because you would look at an enormous number of first names, some would—through random chance—be correlated with high cancer rates. The problem would be even worse if you subdivided the kinds of cancer. Being named Jerry makes you twice as likely to get testicular cancer! Um, no.

Seth Masket addresses the problem more directly in his post, Are Democrats Pervs? Some Problems with a State-Level Analysis of Individual-Level Behavior. He's actually focused on an important issue that I doubt is at play here: the ecological inference problem. This is the problem that we are looking at aggregate data and trying to say something about individuals. In other words: maybe it's the Republicans in the blue states who are consuming so much porn. Like I said: I don't think that's actually the problem here.

Porn and the 2012 Vote

Masket doesn't seem to think this is the problem either. As he wrote, "Chances are that even if there is an individual relationship here, it's not a direct one." That is to say that higher levels of porn consumption and Democratic voting patterns correlate to something else. What I original thought of was youth: people (okay: men) consume more pornography when they are young than when they are old. Blue states have younger populations. Social Security and Medicare are the main reasons why red states take more from the government than blue states. So I suspect that population age is most of the effect.

Consider the youngest state in the nation: Utah. It has far more porn consumption than would be indicated by its 2012 voting. On the other side, we have the oldest state: Maine. It has far less porn consumption than the model predicts. And if you go through all the data (Age and Sex Composition: 2010) you will see this pattern over and over. In fact, as far as I can tell, that is the only thing that we see in the data.

But Masket brings up a couple of other interesting possibilities. One is marriage levels. I'm sure that's part of it. But I suspect that age and marriage are highly correlated, so I doubt this tells us much more than we already knew. He also mentioned poverty. I don't exactly see how that works. Certainly unemployment could raise the rates of porn consumption. And he mentions high speed internet availability. That could certainly be a factor; you can't watch porn if you can't watch porn.

The main thing is simply that correlation is not causation. Age, marital status, and internet access all provide potential mechanisms. Liberalism really doesn't provide a mechanism except in the sense of a caricature that social conservatives might have of the abortion-on-demand, sodomy-requiring liberal. And it doesn't really get us anywhere. So when you hear that Democrats are more interested in pornography than Republicans, remember what that means: the Republican base is dying.



H/T: Jonathan Bernstein, Read Stuff, You Should


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