You are currently viewing archive for February 2012

29 Feb 2012: Maria Bamford

Category: Fun
Posted by: Frank Moraes
I really like Maria Bamford. She's brilliant and not enough people know about her. That seems to be the case with the comedians I find most impressive. I like Louis C.K. but what's the big deal?

Note: comments turned off as spam prevention measure.

29 Feb 2012: Then and Than

Category: Language
Posted by: Frank Moraes
Then/ThanReading slowly has its advantages. In general, I'm a good copy editor. And I know what you're thinking: if that's so, why are there so many typos on your website?

There are two issues here. First, there is the cleaning paradox: people never see the spot you cleaned, only the spot you missed. In other words: typos stand out. What's more, you probably miss five typos for every one you do see. (Be honest: would you have noticed if I had used "everyone" in that last sentence?) Second, I don't copy edit this site; I read through the article once and if it seems okay, I click the "Add Item" button.

Major Publishers

Recently, I've been noticing a lot of errors in books by major publishers. In particular, I have noticed a lot of mix-ups with "then" and "than."

This is the kind of stuff that separates the good editors from the mediocre. Everyone knows to check their "there/their/they're" and "two/too/to" and "for/fore." But they seem to forget about this one. And it drives me crazy!

So let's get this straight. "Than" is mostly a preposition. It is used to compare objects: he is smarter than I; not, he is smarter then I. "Then" is mostly an adverb. It is used to sequence things: he got the job I wanted, then he got the girl; not, he got the job I wanted, than he got the girl. (I know: it doesn't feel like an adverb; it modifies got: he then got; it describes how he got the girl: after he got the job. Confused? Good.)

I have problems hearing words with great clarity. This has caused all kinds of problems throughout my life, many of which I deal with to this day. And yet, the words "then" and "than" are very clearly distinguished for me. You do this, theeeeen you do that; you'd rather do this thaaaaan that. I don't know if that will be helpful to other people. The other obvious suggestion (one I don't find very helpful in my own life) is just to memorize the difference.

I'd like to see this confusion go away. It really does annoy me more than it ought. But I suspect that if I read all the articles on this site, I would find that I'd made this mistake many times. Feel free to email me any you notice.

29 Feb 2012: Happy Leap Day!

Category: Science
Posted by: Frank Moraes
This is a nice short video about calenders. I'm posting it, because I'm working on other things that are keeping me from working on articles for this site.

28 Feb 2012: Vote Sideshow Bob

Category: Politics
Posted by: Frank Moraes
Jonathan Chait notes that the Republican primary is turning out to be a lot like an episode of The Simpsons:

Samurai II finally got around to watching Samurai I, the first film of the Samurai Trilogy. You may recall that I discovered it while watching the documentary The Cats of Mirikitani[1] where Mirikitani rents the film and watches it—a great symbol of just how much his life has improved. I am always open to a new Toshirō Mifune movie, and what's more, I've been watching any Japanese film I can find recently. Despite the title, however: this is a love story.

The film starts with Takezo (Mifune) convincing his friend Matahachi, to run away to war with him for the glory of it. Matahachi does so, even though he is betroved to Otsu. The war doesn't go well, and afterward, the two end up hiding out on the farm of a widow and her daughter. Eventually, Matahachi goes off with the mother and daughter and marries the daughter. Good riddance with that plot. This is when the movie starts to get good.

Takezo returns to his village to tell Matahachi's mother that her son is not dead. This all gets uncomfortable, because Otsu wants to know why he is alive and yet not home, with her, getting married. Meanwhile, the whole village is searching for Takezo who is wanted for treason. Unfortunately for them, Takezo seems to be able to beat any group of up to ten men. In all the comings and goings, Otsu and Takezo slowly fall in love.

The only person who manages to capture Takezo is the priest Takuan, who convinces him to turn himself in—twice! The first time, Otsu helps Takezo to escape. The second time, the priest tricks Takezo into studying so as to control his wild nature, but he convinces the two young lovers that they will be together after his years of study are over.

After Takezo becomes a Samurai (three years later), he is sent on a trip to continue his education. Otsu begs him to take her with him. He says he will, but when she goes to pack, he disappears, leaving here a message: "Soon I will be back. Forgive me."

It is a beautiful ending. It isn't all that sad, because this is a trilogy, and I figure they will finally get together at the end of Samurai III. I will let you know.[2]

[1] I can't see this title without thinking of Bruce Cockburn's wonderful and horrific The Mines Of Mozambique off The Charity of Night album (sorry, the song isn't available by itself):

[2] Wikipedia has a synopsis of the film, but whoever wrote it didn't watch the film very carefully. They seemed to miss the main aspect of the film: the relationship between Takezo and Otsu.

Category: Politics
Posted by: Frank Moraes
LysistrataRegular readers know how much I like Aristophanes—at least English translations of him. Over 2000 years before the Elizabethan playwrights, he knew how to write a comedy. And none of them did. I think we have to get all the way out to the Restoration before we get a really good comedy in Great Britain, but don't hold me to that, that's just what I think off hand.

If anyone knows a little about Aristophanes, they will know that he wrote Lysistrata. In this play, the title character convinces the other women of the various Greek city states to withhold sex from their husbands to get them to end the Peloponnesian War. It is a brilliant idea that is well executed. What's more, modern viewers generally find it very enjoyable to watch. And most of all, it is far more evolved in its thinking of women and sexuality than much of the modern Republican Party.

Lysistrata may have been written almost 2,425 years ago, but the Lysistrata ideal is alive and well in the form of the wife of Virginia Del. David Albo. Watch:

Ha cha cha cha!

Category: Science
Posted by: Frank Moraes
Water FaucetI have a problem with water faucets.

When I see the blue and red color-coding, I freak out. Right now, I'm setting comfortably at my desk, so there is no problem. The blue means cold water and the red means hot water. As everyone knows.

But when I was a physics undergraduate, I was taking upper division mechanics from Professor Joe Tenn. One day in class, he mentioned that he had been at a health club taking a shower and he noticed the blue and red color-coding. It was strange, he said, because blue light has more energy (per photon) than red light. And so it made sense that blue would indicate hot water and red cold water.

He knew, of course, that red indicated hot water because fire was red. And blue indicated cold water, because—the logic kind of falls apart here—blue stands for water and it is cooling and thus cool. But this didn't make the faucet color-coding any less frustrating—for him, at least.

The truth is, that when Professor Tenn said this in class, I wasn't that clear about photon energies and such. Not like now when I have the Planck constant memorized to 6 significant digits, despite myself. Graduate school was when the problem first occurred. That's when light really became important to me—largely because my entire PhD dissertation was about atmospheric light scattering.[1] That was when I started to think like Professor Tenn had taught me.

At first, there was no problem. But after a while, the "blue has more energy" logic became self evident. Just like the "fire is hot" logic was before. And then my usual meta-logic of "faucets use the logic that is obvious" started to fail me.

Now, I freak out when I look at a faucet. But if I manage to remain calm, I can work it out. But now, my meta-logic is, "Faucets use the logic that isn't logical."

[1] Stay tuned for my explanation of why the sky is blue. It is not the standard explanation about blue light scattering more than red. This is true, but that's doesn't go very far to explaining the things we see. For that, you need just a little atmospheric chemistry. I promise it won't hurt. Much.

Category: Music
Posted by: Frank Moraes
Laura CantrellThis is Laura Cantrell. She's great. But the question is: who does she remind you of? It's taken me a while to realize that her voice is identical to Suzanne Vega. Of course, she's a country singer, but the kind we liberals like—people who remind us of Nanci Griffith.

Here first album, Not the Tremblin' Kind, is uneven; but its highs are great. In particular, the song The Whiskey Makes You Sweeter is a treasure. She gets less country on the next two albums that are probably her best: When the Roses Bloom Again (the title song is in the video below) and Humming by the Flowered Vine. Trains and Boats and Planes is an album of covers and as such is really good. Her most recent, Kitty Wells Dresses: Songs of the Queen of Country Music is a return to her roots, but it doesn't work very well for me.


I'm working on a few articles, but I'm too tired to actually write them. Anyway, I'm trying to pace myself.

  • Confused About Red and Blue on the Facet

  • Potato Soup Recipe

  • Samurai I: a Love Story

  • Racism and Mr. Moto

  • What is a WILK?

24 Feb 2012: This is Not Cervantes

Category: Language
Posted by: Frank Moraes
Jáuregui's CervantesI've written before about Melveena McKendrick's exceptional biography, Cervantes. I just want to finish it off by providing a few quotations that I thought were very good.

Probably the most important thing I learned about Cervantes in this book is that the portrait of him (seen on the left), is not him.

This picture is the Juan Martínez de Jáuregui y Aguilar (Jáuregui) portrait of Miguel de Cervantes. Or so it is said. There are three major problems with the painting. First, Jáuregui would have only been 17 when he supposedly painted it. Second, he spells his name in a way he never spelled it. And third, he spells Cervantes name as it was never spelled.

The whole thing comes from the fact that in the Preface of Novelas Ejemplares (Exemplary Novels), Cervantes wrote:

The fault lies with a friend of mine... This friend might well have caused my portrait, which the famous Don Juan de Jáuregui would have given him, to be engraved and put in the first page of this book, according to custom.

According to McKendrick (p. 278):

This innocent remark, which could be taken to mean either that Cervantes had been painted by Jáuregui or that the painter could, if asked, produce such a portrait, predictably sent posterity haring off on a wild goosechase in an effort to discover the authentic likeness of the great man. But alas, there is none, and the portrait most often reproduced as being that of Cervantes, dated 1600, bearing the name Jáuregui and entitled Don Miguel de Cervantes, is not genuine... The painting is almost certainly a nineteenth-century fraud.

We do have some idea of what Cervantes looked like, from Cervantes himself in the same Preface:

This person whom you see here, with an oval visage, chestnut hair, smooth open forehead, lively eyes, a hooked but well-proportioned nose, & silvery beard that twenty years ago was golden, large moustaches, a small mouth, teeth not much to speak of, for he has but six, in bad condition and worse placed, no two of them corresponding to each other, a figure midway between the two extremes, neither tall nor short, a vivid complexion, rather fair than dark, somewhat stooped in the shoulders, and not very lightfooted...

In discussing Cervantes' writing, I was struck by this passage about a writer's need to balance expression and privacy (p. 102):

It also reveals [Cervantes] to be alive to the painful dichotomy that every true artist knows to exist between self-expression and self-exposure, between the need to communicate and the desire to do himself justice.

The Prologue to Part One of Don Quixote is very funny. In it, Cervantes makes fun of his own lack of erudition. It turns out, his actual target was Lope de Vega (p. 199):

But his animosity to Lope in the work does not end there. In the Prologue, which would have been written shortly before publication, he makes surreptitious fun of Lope's attempts to hide his limited education under an inappropriate display of pedantry and ostentatious erudition, his habit of prefixing to his works a whole series of complimentary poems from famous people.

The book is also very useful in providing a look at how Don Quixote was viewed in Cervantes' time (p. 223):

Lucid intervals or not, for Cervantes and his contemporaries, Don Quixote, whose "deeds"—that is, interference in the lives of others—do more harm than good, remained a ridiculous lunatic.

Finally, McKendrick provides a good view of Cervantes at the end of his life when he was famous and respected, but poor (p. 252):

The couple were but two among the many at court without any very visible means of support—the magistrate's description, it will be remembered, of the female tenants of the house in Valladolid—yet there is a sad poignancy about the wretched situation of this man whose fame was already spreading in two hemispheres and whose book was giving pleasure to thousands of readers, yet who lived in poverty back home in the most lavish court in the world, ignored by Crown and noble patrons alike. And it was a poignancy that Cervantes himself did not miss, for his later writings are scattered with references to his poverty and neglect, and to the puny rewards received by writers for their labors.

I highly recommend Cervantes. It is a very lively read about a colorful man. And unlike English writers of that time, we actually know quite a lot about him.

24 Feb 2012: Specter Stood Still

Category: Politics
Posted by: Frank Moraes
Arlen SpecterI was thinking about Arlen Specter this morning.

It all goes back to my often stated observation that the policies of such conservative icons of the past like Ronald Reagan and Dick Nixon would place them well inside the mainstream of the Democratic Party. There is a caveat, however. Politicians operate in the environment in which they find themselves. This is especially true of conservatives. So if Reagan and Nixon were in politics today, they would have far more extreme views than they held when they were in power.

This brings us back to Arlen Specter. Most politicians don't really believe in anything. I know that's cynical, but how else do you explain the vast majority of the conservative movement whose members almost never get outside the mainstream of the party? Last year they were in favor of birth control; this year, they stop on a dime and reverse themselves. Specter is an exception.

When he decided to run in the Democratic Party, his views were well inside the mainstream of the party. In fact, they'd been so for a while. I understand why the Pennsylvania Democratic voters rejected him. But he wasn't just doing a political calculation when he changed parties. He was right when he said, "As the Republican Party has moved farther and farther to the right, I have found myself increasingly at odds with the Republican philosophy and more in line with the philosophy of the Democratic Party."

What is surprising is that so few Republicans do the same. Despite what it says, the Republican Party is an extremely small tent. The Democratic Party, by contrast, is a big tent; just look at the Blue Dogs. Just look at Arlen Specter, who despite his reputation is still very conservative.

Thought for the day: how is it that Barry Goldwater, so extreme that he almost tore apart the Republican Party in 1965, was to the left of the party just ten years later?


Ezra Klein has a good article this morning:

Perhaps my biggest frustration with the U.S. news media (and yes, I am a card-carrying member) is that we permit the two parties to decide what is "left" and what is "right." The way it works, roughly, is that anything Democrats support becomes "left," and everything Republicans support becomes "right." But that makes "left" and "right" descriptions of where the two parties stand at any given moment rather than descriptions of the philosophies, ideologies or ideas that animate, or should animate, political debates.

Of course, Klein falls into some false equivalence too. It is wrong to compare Democratic compromises (e.g. lack of a public option) to Republican wholesale reversals (e.g. opposing their own long-time private insurance healthcare reform). As good as Klein is, he is part of the problem.

Update 25 February 2012

Brad DeLong says much the same thing about Ezra Klein's article, but better:

So Ezra Klein has three substantive policy flip-flop by Republicans, and zero by Democrats. And these examples support Ezra's language that "the parties"—not the Republican Party, "the parties"—"changed policy when it was politically convenient to do so, not when conditions changed and new information came to light."

But the Democratic Party changed policy when conditions changed, and new information came to light...

But there are differences in honesty and intellectual consistency as far as their commitment to substantive policies are between the two parties.

And by not stressing those differences, in my view Ezra contributes to a problem.

23 Feb 2012: Girl Fight!

Category: Music
Posted by: Frank Moraes
Girl FightA friend told me that she was going to punish her girls for fighting by having them write a song about sisterhood. Yes, she is a cruel woman. This caused me to do a Google video search on the phrase "sisterhood song." It turned up this. (Don't click on it!) I wasn't ten seconds into it before I had to stop it. It was that bad.

I was just trying to help and just look what happens. I offered up some potential lyrics the girls might use. I thought she might be looking for something along these lines: "See my sister / See her shot! / See you sit / And stink and rot!" Surprisingly (or not) she indicated that this was exactly what she was looking for.

Marvin Gaye

In order to detox from listening to ten seconds of "Sisterhood Song," I turned to a master.

The video below is an amazing live version of Marvin Gaye's What's Going On from the DVD Marvin Gaye: The Real Thing - In Performance 1964-1981. As I was watching it, I noted that the video had been voted, "26,970 likes, 304 dislikes." I thought, "What the hell?! How could 304 people dislike this?" I'm sure that the people who clicked "dislike" were not really discerning listeners. Instead, I suspect they were people who like a different kind of music. What's more, I'm sure they are people who only like one different kind of music.

I was encouraged to note that the top rated comment by W1nky13 was, "302 [sic] dislikes, WTF, There sure are some losers out there, this is the best fuckin video on youtube."

23 Feb 2012: Remix

Category: Politics
Posted by: Frank Moraes
Lawrence Lessig - RemixI've been working on an internet video series called The Post, Post Modern Comedy Hour. It's kind of a kids' show for adults. And part of it involves a group of people watching TV commercials. It is one of the best parts of the shows. And thus, it has been bugging me because I don't know if we can get away with doing this without getting the rights to the commercials. On the one side, I would think the companies who made the commercials would like the extra viewings. After all, people don't pay to watch commercials; watching commercials is how people pay for otherwise free content. But on the other side, these companies are evil.

Last night, despite myself, I read another Lawrence Lessig book. This time it was Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy. It opens with the story of Stephanie Lenz, who posted a 29 second video of her son dancing to Price's Let's Go Crazy playing on the radio in the background. This was unacceptable to Universal Music Group, which had the video removed from YouTube and threatened a $150,000 fine.

So much for my thinking that I could show short pieces of commercials on a TV in a room. Never mind that the TV screen would likely never take up more than a quarter of the screen. Never mind that both the picture and sound quality would be awful. As Lessig documents over and over in his book, they will do it because they can. They will do it (unconvincingly claiming that it is) for the sake of principal. It is an outrage. As I've written many times before, copyright is out of control.

Lessig proposes a plan forward—a way to fix the current system. Unfortunately, I am far more cynical than he is. We are already at a point where artists are worse off than they were in the time of Cervantes and Mozart. I may have to find a patron just to produce a silly, fun, totally inoffensive romp that I want to give away to the world.

Minimum date when Yesterday is in the public domain: 23 Feb 2083!

23 Feb 2012: Apology Accepted

Category: Politics
Posted by: Frank Moraes
Pete Hoekstra's Debbie Spend it NOWI've been waiting for this. After Pete Hoekstra's "Debbie Spend it NOW" Super Bowl ad that aired in Michigan, I just knew that the actor who played the semi-fluent Chinese woman would come forward. When any job is offered to a young actor, it has to be exciting. It would be easy not to think it through very well. Afterward, however, it must have been really embarrassing.

It turns out, the actor is right in my backyard. This in itself kind of bugs me. Why can't Michigan produce its own political commercials? They have actors and directors and grips. It makes me think that even local politics has lost all its links to the community.

The actor's name is Lisa Chan. She is a graduate of UC Berkeley as well as the 2012 Miss Napa Valley in the Miss California USA Pageant. And she founded The Strive, an NPO that helps at-risk kids. On her Facebook page, she wrote an apology. Note that it's a real apology rather than, "I am sorry if my clearly unoffensive comments offended people who have no sense of humor or perspective."

I am deeply sorry for any pain that the character I portrayed brought to my communities. As a recent college grad who has spent time working to improve communities and empower those without a voice, this role is not in any way representative of who I am. It was absolutely a mistake on my part and one that, over time, I hope can be forgiven. I feel horrible about my participation and I am determined to resolve my actions.

I'll admit that I empathized with her before the apology. But in this place and time, a straight mea culpa is really touching. It made me cry. (Not that this is unusual for this time of the morning.)

22 Feb 2012: Fast Food Reviews

Category: Science
Posted by: Frank Moraes
Fast FoodI'm late in getting to this. There have been two recent changes to the fast food environment: supposed improvements to french fries and hamburgers.

Burger King

Last December, Burger King changed their recipe for french fries. I was very excited to hear this. For decades, I've been trying to understand why Burger King makes such horrible french fries. It is not hard to make good french fries. I can walk into my kitchen right now, cut up a potato, and hot oil it into great french fries. Why couldn't Burger King even come near this feat? But this wasn't the only reason I was interested.

I have also spent decades hearing claims from burger joints about how they had improved their menus. McDonald's has its own think tank! And yet, not once have these places actually improved their—let's face it—limited culinary offerings. So I was ready for some really bad Burger King french fries!

And I was disappointed. Their new french fries are far better than their old fries. They still aren't as good as just about every other chain's fries, but at least now they have a reasonable offering.

Jack in the Box

A month later (I can't find a link, and I don't care to do any more searching), Jack in the Box announced that they were improving their line of hamburgers. They were going to put seasoning on them. Barbecue burgers, here we come!

Except, of course, that the Jumbo Jack is hardly a barbecued delight. It's not a bad burger—especially if you're really hungry. (I've heard the same thing about slugs and grasshoppers.) But the seasoning is very much like putting lipstick on a pig (or Sarah Palin).

And speaking of Jack in the Box, have you seen their new commercial with the guy "marrying" bacon and then "eating the bride"? It's creepy in a lot of ways. I don't know what they're thinking.

Category: Language
Posted by: Frank Moraes
Up and UpMany years ago, This American Life did an episode about things we know that we don't. In particular, there was a guy (show producer Alex Blumberg) who, when he was a kid, got the idea that Nielsen Families were people named Nielsen. The TV industry used them to gauge the popularity of shows because Nielsen was such a generic name and the people must be middle of the road or something. This, of course, is not the case. Nielsen Families are families with all kinds of last names who take part in audience measurements for the Nielsen Company. But you can empathize with the guy's misunderstanding. I think we've all had some strange notions as children. Most of the time, these get cleared up while we are still children.

Not so for this unfortunate man. While in his twenties, he was having a conversation with a girlfriend and the subject of Nielsen Families came up. He blurted out, "Isn't it weird that they all have the same last name?" Immediately upon saying it, he realized what his child's mind could not: they don't all have the same last names.

This morning, I came upon an article by Geoffrey Nunberg from about a decade ago. It is about the phrase "on the up and up." I always thought this phrase meant one thing: above board. But apparently, there are a fair number of people in the US and loads outside of it who define it to mean "increasing." My weight is on the up and up! My debt is on the up and up! My age is on the up and up!

This definition surprised Nunberg:

Out of curiosity, I sent a question about the item to a discussion group that's peopled by dialectologists and other devotees of word-lore. I had a note back from someone in Berkeley who told me that he was surprised to hear that "on the up and up" could be used to mean "on the increase." But when he asked his wife about it, she said that for her that was the only thing it could mean—she never knew it could mean "on the level." And what made it odder still was that they've been married for more than twenty years and both grew up in Southern California.

I had this image of the two of them sitting at the breakfast table. He asks "Is your brother's new business on the up-and-up?" and she says, "No, but he's making do." And they go on like that with neither of them ever realizing that they're talking at cross-purposes. Deborah Tannen[1], call your office.

It isn't that this other definition is wrong. Definitions do not define words; they (try to) explain how words are used. And frankly, the "increasing" definition makes more sense than "above board." Not that I'm going to start using this definition; it sounds childish. "Since he went on that diet, his weight is on the down and down"? I don't think so.

Language is always inexact. As the Nielsen Family example shows, we can miscommunicate because we don't communicate. In general, I would rather have someone embarrass me once by pointing out a mispronunciation or misusage, rather than letting me embarrass myself multiple times by saying nothing. But it isn't always that easy. People are fond of telling me I mispronounce "Godot."[2] And in cases like "on the up and up" both sides can be right.

If "right" is the right word.

[1] Deborah Tannen is a linguist who has written a lot about miscommunication in relationships. Two of her more famous books, which I highly recommend, are That's Not What I Meant! How Conversational Style Makes or Breaks Relationships and You Just Don't Understand: Women and Men in Conversation.

[2] "Only in American!" I tell them.

21 Feb 2012: Map Projection Cartoon

Category: Science
Posted by: Frank Moraes
Mercator ProjectionIf you read this whole article, I will reward you with a cartoon. But I know what you're thinking, "I can just skip down to the cartoon and read it now!" Silly reader! You won't be able to understand it without reading this article. Unless you know a lot about map projections. You don't, do you? I'll bet you don't know anything, and now that I've turned off comments, I don't even have to risk hearing that I'm wrong!

Projection Wars

Imagine that you are part of a group that works for pedestrian rights. For years, you've been lobbying the government to get rid of the "right turn on red light" law because it is so dangerous for pedestrians. Then this guy, who has no connection with your group, holds a press conference. He says, "This 'right turn on a red light' is madness! It must be changed. All these pedestrian rights people are wrong for supporting this law all these years." You'd be pissed off at the guy, right?

That's what happened in 1973, when Arno Peters held a press conference to blast the cartography profession and propose his new projection. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Map Projections

The world is spherical—or very nearly: it is wider in the middle than from top to bottom, just like many people my age. Maps are flat, and despite what the flat earth society might tell you (there really is one), the earth is not. So in order to translate the 3D globe onto a 2D page, compromises must be made.

There are hundreds of different map projections. Wikipedia lists almost 100 specifically. Why? Because each one has its advantages. For example, the Mercator projection (the one you probably think of when you think of a world map) is great for use in navigation. But it is horrible to look at; it greatly distorts the sizes of different places; for example, Greenland is as large as Africa, even though Africa is 14 times as big.

Back to Arno Peters

Arno Peters made a big splash in the 1970s when he came out with his map. It turned out it wasn't new; James Gall had invented it 120 years earlier, but Peters probably didn't know about it. What was important was not the details of the map, but why Peters thought a new map was needed.

Peters felt that the Mercator projection had bad political implications. And he was right. Just look at it: the countries surrounding the equator are minimized. Peters map does indeed fix this problem. But he made a lot of other claims for the map that turned out to be false, probably because he was not a cartographer.

The cartography community had long been complaining that the Mercator map was a lousy choice for general-purpose. They attacked back and forth and now, among many people, Peters and his map are vilified. This is wrong, I think. The truth is that Peters was able to do what the cartography community had not been able to do in 400 years: get non-cartographers to care about this issue.

The main problem with the Gall-Peters projection is that it looks kind of odd. The areas may be right, but the shapes are wrong. There are other maps that do the same thing better.

Other Projections

Back in about 100 AD, Marinus of Tyre came up with the projection I would have: meridians become equally spaced up and down lines; circles of latitude become equally spaced right and left lines. It is called the equirectangular or the plate carrée (square plate) projection. Sure, it is not accurate, but it's easy and it looks pretty good.

The Walter Behrmann projection is really great. It does what the Marinus of Tyre projection does with the meridians, but it squishes the circles of latitude as they get away from the equator. In 2002, the Hobo-Dyer projection was developed based upon the Behrmann projection. How they are different, I don't know, because I just don't care that much.

There are, as I've noted, lots of other projections. And they all have their uses, even the weird ones, like the Waterman butterfly. (But don't let the cartoon fool you, the Hobo-Dyer is a lot more recent.)

Randall Munroe Cartoon

Now you know enough to appreciate one of Randall Munroe's more obscure cartoons—and that's saying something.


21 Feb 2012: Khader Adnan

Category: Politics
Posted by: Frank Moraes
Khader AdnanAccording to various news sources, Khader Adnan has ended his 66-day hunger strike in return for the Israeli government agreeing to release him from "administrative detention"—a phrase the Israeli government gives for holding 309 people indefinitely without charge (one man has been held for over 5 years according to Human Rights Watch).

Bobby Sands, a volunteer of the Irish Republican Army, died on 5 May 1981 in Her Majesty's Prison Maze after a hunger strike of, interestingly, 66 days. The song below is really good and compares these two men.

What I find frustrating about this is how Israel uses our own indefinite detention (and our habit of not allowing people to defend themselves because the information is classified) to justify locking people up for years without charge or due process of law. I will always be angry that we don't even come close to living up to our ideals—the ideals I was lied to about all during my childhood. The ideals that most Americans still think we stand for.


I read through the comments for this video: very troubling. On the one side, a fair fraction (but nothing close to a majority) fall into antisemitism. On the other are a bunch of people who make the case that if the Israeli government says he's a terrorist, he must be. The antisemitism doesn't even need comment. At least I hope it doesn't. I've noticed a lot of antisemitic comments on videos that have nothing to do Palestine, Israel, or even politics. A couple of times, I've started to reply to a comment, only to notice I'm surrounded by such comments. When you see the word "Zionist" it is best to turn away unless you are prepared to go to war (internet war).

The other side bothers me more, because I think (I hope!) the "Zionist!" chanters are a minority—at least in this country. I am concerned when I see people saying things like, "This fucking islamofascist arab terrorist must die!" Really? Adnan hasn't even been charged with anything. If he were really dangerous, I don't see why the Israeli government is letting him go free. For all I know, I would find the guy's opinions repugnant. But the fact is that he hasn't even been charged with anything and probably never will be. For the zillionth time: this is about who we are. And I'm someone who thinks that people must be proven guilty. And yes, I am willing to die for that.

Category: Politics
Posted by: Frank Moraes
XXXLawrence Lessig's 2004 book Free Culture is even more depressing 8 years later. But it is really worth reading, even (or perhaps especially) now.

He starts the book by talking about the Wright brothers' invention of the airplane. I had never read Lessig, so I thought he was going to start talking about patent protection. (Really, I don't know how I decided to get this book, so I didn't know what it was about.) But he wasn't going anywhere so obvious. Instead, he jumped ahead to 1945, when two farmers from North Carolina sued the government for flying airplanes over their airspace.

Until that time, common law said that property owners owned all of the space above their property. The Supreme Court threw out the case, stating that to hold on to this view of property rights would destroy the technology that the Wright brothers had made possible.

Lessig then goes on to talk about the fight between Edwin Howard Armstrong, inventor of FM radio, and RCA. RCA wanted to stop FM radio because they made so much money off AM radio. This all led to FM radio being delayed for decades and Armstrong killing himself.

These two cases are the same in that they both deal with how the law responds to a new technological innovation. They are not the same in that when those who would stifle innovation are just individuals with little power, the technology is allowed; when those who would stifle innovation are powerful corporate interests, the technology is stifled.

This brings us to today where corporate content owners are trying to stifle innovation on the internet. The book is important reading.

I'm very concerned about all this. Over the last 30 years (although it's been going on longer), I've watched as copyright is expanded. This has done nothing for creators. It has done everything for corporations. Who would ever think that a 95-year copyright would be intended for a writer? Only corporations think in terms of these kinds of time frames. But it was one thing when copyright laws did no harm to creative activity. Increasingly, they do harm it. When everything becomes a commodity, someone will own everything.

In Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Blackbeard abuses Jack Sparrow by carving something that looks kind of like a pitchfork into his voodoo doll, and thus onto the right side of Jack's chest. But there's a problem. We know from Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, that Jack already has two scars there. Check out this video:

Now, I understand that the scene from the first movie was deleted and is therefore not canonical. But really: couldn't they have been consistent? The deleted scenes from the island are the best, and this particular one is my favorite. What's more, the deleted scenes are more than just discarded. They were in the final script—the shooting script. They were shot. Surely they can be considered back story. As far as I was concerned, Jack had those scars all the way through the first 3.5 films. Sudden gone! Perhaps it was voodoo?

Category: Politics
Posted by: Frank Moraes
Dogs Against RomneyJust as with gay rights advocates and Rick Santorum's name, animal rights advocates are associating Mitt Romney's name with something unpleasant. Because I don't deal well with scatological matters, I will leave it to you to click on Santorum to find out what it means. However, I am happy to tell you that Romney means "To defecate in terror." This is because... Wait! I can't tell you. Just read this article about Dogs Against Romney.

Currently, a Google search on Santorum will bring up the right definition as the number one result. Use "I'm Feeling Lucky"! Sadly, a Google search on Romney only brings up the right definition as the number two result. But this article is my attempt to be a good netizen and bring Romney to number one! (Not that number two isn't appropriate.)

20 Feb 2012: Huge in Canada

Category: Computer
Posted by: Frank Moraes
CanadaI sent a link to a friend up in Canada, and she could not open the page. I asked her if she could see the home page. Yes she could, but it was out of date. The most recent post was my article on the MPAA. I went and looked at it, and I noticed that it was the last article I posted before moving to a new hosting company. I've posted 65 articles since then!

It turns out that no one else is having this problem. No one else that I know of. If you're reading this, you aren't having the problem either. I think I've figured out what's going on.

My old hosting company is still hosting my site—I'm paid up through the end of this month. When I moved the site to the new host, I changed the name servers for the domain name. These name servers used to point to the old host and now they point to the new host. (You understand that the network doesn't work with names but rather numbers; what's going on here is like someone putting the wrong address on a letter to you; you're name might be right, but it will be delivered to the wrong house.) For whatever reason, my Canadian friend's name servers are currently pointing to the wrong hosting company.

I hope this is not a problem throughout Canada, because I am huge in Canada!

19 Feb 2012: Painful to Watch

Category: Fun
Posted by: Frank Moraes
VaselineMany years ago, when I was paying a fortune to put down my ideas on 16mm film (Forty bucks to develop and print 100 feet of film—less than 3 minutes!) I had the idea of doing a video of just a guy talking into the camera, saying interesting things. At least I thought they were interesting: comments about life and stuff. This was before YouTube when everyone was (or tries to) do this. There was a time when I at least thought a talking head was interesting. One example I remember:

I don't know much, but I do not that if you need to go to the store to buy a cucumber and a jar of Vaseline, you are best to make two trips.

I've been trying to put together a series of 5 minute videos that will not be painful to watch. It is potentially for the website Blifaloo. But who knows depending upon just how far I go with the cucumber/Vaseline jokes. It turns out, it is really hard to make a 5 minute video that is not painful to watch.

I've come up with something that I think works. Unfortunately, I've been too sick to record the stuff. But there's a good side to this. It's forced me to write a script. Because I respect people a lot, I will not print it here.

The basic idea—admittedly stolen from Beckett's Endgame—is that there are two twins: Frank and Joe. Frank is never let outside the house and Joe is never let in. A stupid conceit, you say? I don't think so. I could go on and on explaining thematic elements about how they represent a single person's inner and outer personas, but I don't even buy that shit. The main thing is that it allows me—Frank Moraes, bad actor—to do really short takes as well as allowing me—Frank Moraes, bad director—to switch scenes to different locations so that the stuff written by me—Frank Moraes, bad writer—isn't painful to watch.

Ha cha cha cha!

The series is called "Good Bad and Uglies" and thus has three segments. The cucumber/Vaseline is the ugly part. The good part is about how Mr. Ed was the same show as ALF, except that Mr. Ed was funny. And the bad part is a little how-to about using Samuel Beckett to avoid panhandlers.

You can't wait, can you?

I've been wrong all these years. It isn't that Wilbur won't tell anyone about Mr. Ed, it is that Mr. Ed will only talk to him. Of course, Mr. Ed is always calling people, so the show's not exactly consistent. Here is the first half of the pilot episode. It is very funny.

Category: Politics
Posted by: Frank Moraes
One of the main things that the Banking (Glass-Steagall) Act of 1933 did, was to separate banks as most of us know them (places where you have a checking account) from investment banks. The act had already been cut back in 1980 with the Depository Institutions Deregulation and Monetary Control Act. This led to the Saving and Loan Crisis. And then it was repealed completely in 1999 with the Gramm–Leach–Bliley Act. This led to today.

It is not that no one saw what this all meant. Here is Byron Dorgan in 1999 (mostly). It is remarkable. I'm amazed it hasn't gone viral.

18 Feb 2012: Jack 'n Black

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger TidesI just watched Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. As entertainments go, it is an excellent film—the best of the series. It is everything that it tries to be.

Gore Verbinski, who directed the first three films, likes his action sequences long—far too long. Rob Marshall, like the good musical-loving fag he is, knows just how long to push a scene. His instincts (or his editors' or producers') are dead on. (In his defense, Verbinski directed Rango, which was also an excellent entertainment.)

By this time in the series, it is impossible for Barbossa to be a villain. (That was always true for me, given how much I love Geoffrey Rush.) This time, they bring in the wonderful Ian McShane (who I also can't help but like after 36 hours of Deadwood) as the villain Blackbeard. I don't know anything about pirates, so I looked Blackbeard up on Wikipedia.[1] It said:

A shrewd and calculating leader, [Edward] Teach [AKA "Blackbeard"] spurned the use of force, relying instead on his fearsome image to elicit the response he desired from those he robbed. Contrary to the modern-day picture of the traditional tyrannical pirate, he commanded his vessels with the permission of their crews and there is no known account of his ever having harmed or murdered those he held captive.

That really struck me: he sounds just like Jack Sparrow.

[1] Do I need to provide a link? Just go to Google, enter "blackbeard" and click, "I'm Feeling Lucky"!

18 Feb 2012: Understanding Falstaff

Robbie Coltrane as FalstaffWhen Kenneth Branagh made Henry V and threw a bit of Henry IV in with Falstaff, he used the most famous speech of the character. Kind of. The whole truth is that he cut it savagely.

The scene is one where Falstaff and Hal role play Hal's upcoming meeting with his father, Henry IV. At first, Falstaff plays the king, but as is his way, has nothing but praise of himself come out of the acted King's mouth. Falstaff and Hal switch roles, with Falstaff playing Hal. Falstaff, as Hal, says:

But to say I know more harm in him than in myself were to say more than I know. That he is old, the more the pity, his white hairs do witness it. But that he is, saving your reverence, a whoremaster, that I utterly deny. If sack and sugar be a fault, God help the wicked. If to be old and merry be a sin, then many an old host that I know is damned. If to be fat be to be hated, then Pharaoh’s lean kine are to be loved. No, my good lord, banish Peto, banish Bardolph, banish Poins, but for sweet Jack Falstaff, kind Jack Falstaff, true Jack Falstaff, valiant Jack Falstaff, and therefore more valiant being, as he is, old Jack Falstaff. Banish not him thy Harry’s company. Banish not him thy Harry’s company. Banish plump Jack, and banish all the world.[1]

This speech is one that I've memorized. It is rather easy to do so, either because of the repetition or because I've heard it so much. As I've noted before, memorizing something really allows you to get inside it. In this case, what's really bothersome is the repeated line, "Banish not him thy Harry's company." Why?

Here is Branagh's edit from Henry V:

If sack and sugar be a fault, God help the wicked. If to be old and merry be a sin... If to be fat be to be hated... No, my good lord, [when thou art king] banish Pistol, banish Bardolph, banish Nym, but... sweet Jack Falstaff... valiant Jack Falstaff, and therefore more valiant being, as he is, old Jack Falstaff. Banish not him thy Harry’s company... Banish plump Jack, and banish all the world.

You see what I say about Shakespeare getting a lot of help from editors, writers, and actors? This is barely Shakespeare any more. Whatever: it works.

But how are we to interpret these last sentences? I think the speech, starting with "But for sweet Jack Falstaff" should be divided into three parts. At first, Falstaff is boastful. He is sweet, kind, true, and valiant. But then, he slips and falls into self-pity when he notes that he is old. This self-pity continues through the first "Banish" line. To me, it should be broken in two: "Banish not him" and "they Harry's company." Here the pause would be a small choke, as though almost crying.

At this, or even as he says the second part of the line, Falstaff catches himself. He instantly becomes the boastful Falstaff and says the last lines with gusto: banish plump Jack and banish all the world!

This, of course, is not the way the lines are normally delivered. Robbie Coltrane, in Branagh's film, is almost pleading with Hal, reading his face for clues. Orson Welles, in Chimes at Midnight, does the whole speech in full-tilt braggart. He gets going so fast that the second line slips past almost without notice. For Welles, the sadness of the character seems tethered to his soul: Welles in many ways was Falstaff. Regardless, both great actors manage the part using their great skills. I'm trying to figure it out with an empty acting quiver.

More and more, I prefer my Falstaff complex. This is certainly not how he was written. I'm sure that audiences in Shakespeare's time saw him as simply an object of ridicule to be laughed at, much the same as Don Quixote. But the modern viewer wants more. We realize that people strike more than one or two notes. For my part, as a write of fiction, I cannot write a character I do not understand. I can't write a character who is simply bad. The whole process of writing characters is about discovering how they came to be. This was not true of Shakespeare, and so people like Coltrane and Welles must go through this process themselves.


Here is Robbie Coltrane:

Here is Orson Welles:

[1] These last three lines are in iambic pentameter, but given that they are part of prose dialog, it doesn't seem important to write them line by line. Some of Moby Dick is in iambic pentameter, but it isn't written that way.

18 Feb 2012: Bill Gates, Sr?

Category: Politics
Posted by: Frank Moraes
This is from Paul Krugman's Playboy Interview:

Bill Gates Sr. used to say this: Suppose you were given the choice of being born in America or in Ethiopia. What proportion of your eventual fortune would you be willing to give to be born in America? Given the great good fortune of getting to live and run a business in this country that has all the advantages an advanced country with a decent system provides, how can you think it’s all you? And then, how can you feel you don’t have any obligation to pay it back?

Category: Language
Posted by: Frank Moraes
The Tenant of Wildfell HallThe great affliction of the 20th century was the redemption story. You know it, because you've seen it during every episode (and I do mean every episode) of E! True Hollywood Story and Biography. Mr. Neutral does something bad and becomes Mr. Bad. Mr. Bad stops doing bad thing and becomes Mr. Redeemed. And the crowd goes wild!

I despise the redemption story for many reasons. Just on its face, it is artificial: anyone's story can be cast in this way and that is why the aforementioned TV shows use it. Who has not been led astray, willingly or unwillingly? But even more offensive is the the idea that redemption is even possible. It isn't. You've done what you've done. You live with it as best you can. To take an extreme example: there was nothing Hitler could have done to redeem himself. Of course, by Christian dogma, had he found Jesus in the bunker, he's in heaven right now, enjoying pure ecstasy in the beatific glow of God's love. How about that?

The 19th century had a different affliction: the redemptionless story. In it, the world is divided into good people and bad people and rarely the twain shall meet.[1] And so it is, in the surprisingly good The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by the lesser Bronte sister Anne.

Make no mistake, I hated this novel. And yet, it was hard to put down. I really think that Anne was the most talented writer of the sisters. She combines the power of Emily with the detail and cunning of Charlotte. Added to that, she doesn't stick with convention, organizing the novel as a long letter with someone else's diary stuck in the middle. Although I think that everyone should read Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights if for no other reason than that everyone should know who Rochester and Heathcliff (not the cartoon cat) are, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is probably a better read.

My biggest complaint about the book is that Bronte spends 200 pages—200 pages!—on "my husband is awful!" Yeah. I figured that out. He's debased, debauched, degraded; perverse, perverted, and decadent; unclean, sick, and rakish; depraved, unwholesome, dissolute; slutty, demoralized, and warped. He's a libertine, a reprobate. Yes, yes, yes! He's all this and more synonyms. Get on with it already!

And another thing that really bugged me was in Chapter 15, Graham gives Gilbert her diary, saying, "Bring it back when you have read it; and don't breathe a word of what it tells you to any living being. I trust to your honor." Understand: Gilbert is the good guy. What does he do? Only reprint the entire diary for his pen pal! Perhaps it didn't count because it was written and therefore not a word was literally "breathed"?

The primary annoyance of this really very capable novel is the rigidity of the characters. The only thing the reader has to look forward to is how the good people will finally end up together. In this way, I can see why after years of Jane Austen (who I love) and the Brontes, George Eliot was such a refreshing change of pace. In the end, it must be admitted that English Literature of the 18th century is what we now get from Hollywood. Cervantes and Homer it ain't.

[1] Sydney "It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done" Carton is kind of an exception.

Category: Politics
Posted by: Frank Moraes
The 1950sTalking Points Memo had an article yesterday: How The GOP Went Back To The 1950s In Just One Day. In it, Evan McMorris-Santoro discusses the three big events that the Republicans, who are amazingly tone deaf for politicians, managed to cram into a single day:

First, Darrell Issa's hearing on contraceptives—I mean "Religious Freedom"!—that not only didn't hear any women, but refused to allow one woman, who the Democrats wanted, to testify because Issa said she was "unqualified." Apparently, only men are qualified to talk about women's health. Second, the CPAC kerfuffle over the slutty way women at the conference were dressed. And third, Foster Friess, Rick Santorum’s billionaire, who joked all women need for birth control is an aspirin held between their knees. (Friess is almost charming in how funny he thinks he is. He reminds me of me.)

The article says:

Democratic women say this is all part of a general pattern that began in 2010 when the tea party helped Republicans win a congressional election based on jobs and deficits and the Republicans then set about passing new anti-abortion legislation and declaring war on Planned Parenthood once in office.

A lot of people wonder about this, but to me it is quite simple. The modern Republican Party is authoritarian. They cannot dictate that the economy be this way or that. And anyway, they are ideologically opposed to doing anything that works to help the economy—even monetary policy! But they can dictate what women can and cannot do. They can dictate who can and cannot marry. The modern Republican Party is not interested in anything but helping those (the 0.01%) who keep them in power and using that power to disenfranchise the poor in every way imaginable.

This is your authoritarian brain. This is your authoritarian brain on power. Anyway questions?

16 Feb 2012: Tuba Tuba Tuba

Category: Music
Posted by: Frank Moraes
Most people think of the tuba as a slow, ponderous instrument. In fact, in the right hands (And lips!) it is as light and facile as any instrument in the orchestra. But don't encourage your child to play the instrument. Student model instruments cost about $7000, whereas you could pick up a flute for as little as a hundred bucks.

To give you some idea of just what a tuba can do, check out Øystein Baadsvik:

Given this, it comes as no surprise that Los Angeles is having a tuba crime wave. According to NPR, the string of thefts are going to supply the needs of banda groups who are all the rage. What is banda? It's a Mexican brass band that plays German polka-derived music. Stranger things have happened.

But their loss is your gain. Enjoy:

Category: Politics
Posted by: Frank Moraes
Sean Hannity's Town Hall

16 Feb 2012: Killing Properly

Category: Politics
Posted by: Frank Moraes
CiceroBefore Cicero was murdered, he said, "There is nothing proper about what you are doing, soldier, but do try to kill me properly." When I just tried to do a Google search on Cicero, Google offered me an option: Cicero's Pizza. Cicero's final words came to my mind. There is nothing proper about what we are doing to our culture, but let us at least try to kill it properly.

16 Feb 2012: Ezra, Ezra, Ezra...

Category: Politics
Posted by: Frank Moraes
I really like Ezra Klein. For one thing, he's a hard working guy—he posted the following clip at 3:52 am, his time. But even more important, he knows how to cut to the chase (unlike the people who work for him who are also good just not as). On the issue of what has changed in the Obama administration, he says:

Most in the White House will admit it: Over the past few months, their strategy has swung from seeking compromise to welcoming confrontation. After the debt-ceiling debacle, they stopped believing that they could reach a deal with House Republicans. And so they stopped emphasizing policies they thought Republicans would like and began emphasizing policies—like the Buffett rule—that they thought the public would like. But then a funny thing began to happen. The president's numbers began to rise. And with it, the possibility that seeking confrontation might force the Republicans to welcome compromise.

Which is what liberals have been saying all along. And this doesn't mean we'll be happy with Obama. In fact, there are still very real fears that this change in the president is just for the sake of the election and that he will go back to his old ways once the election is over. We will see. Regardless, it would be devastating for the country if he were to lose the election.

16 Feb 2012: Presume "Guilty"

Presumed InnocentLast night, I watched Presumed Innocent. I hadn't seen it in many years and I was pleasantly surprised. What I most remembered was that it was a very dark film, and so when the credits displayed "Cinematography: Gordon Willis" I was not surprised. What most people don't understand is that video always has a higher contrast than video. So when you are watching a projected film, you can see great detail in even the darkest areas of the image. When this is transferred to video and displayed on a TV, most if not all of that detail goes away. Willis is a cinematographer who gives no thought to the fact that most people will watch his work on video and not film. Even though this bothers me, I can't help but be impressed by his commitment. And even on video, his films still do look great and unmistakable.

What is most remarkable about the film is Harrison Ford in the lead role of Rusty Sabich. He is swallowed up by the actors around him. I know that the character is a hard one. He plays things very close to the vest. But Ford almost disappears in scenes with Raul Julia and Brian Dennehy. He is at his best in scenes with Bonnie Bedelia, where they seem to have a real connection. Of course, this is utterly counter to pretty much everything Scott Turow has ever written which can be reduced to a single sentence: women are unknowable. So it would have been better if they didn't look so good together. I think the film would have been better with a great actor in the lead role, but I can't think of who that might have been.

Novels—good ones anyway—are not preachy. Movies, being a melodramatic art form, often work better when they get in your face. And Presumed Innocent definitely gets in your face. It ends with a stunning voice-over with a shot of an empty courtroom:

I am a prosecutor. I have spent my life in the assignment of blame. With all deliberation and intent, I reached for Carolyn. I cannot pretend it was an accident. I reached for Carolyn, and set off that insane mix of rage and lunacy that led one human being to kill another. There was a crime. There was a victim. And there is punishment.

He is saying that even though he didn't kill Carolyn Polhemus, his decision to have an affair with her started a process than ended in her murder. It is an "I am my brother's keeper" moment. And it is very compelling to me. My experiences through these many decades have shown me that those we term guilty are not as guilty as we would believe, nor are the innocent free of guilt.

I cannot bear to be around people who consider themselves even mostly good or innocent, because they are neither; they are just fools.

Michael CloseMichael Close is a professional magician and jazz pianist. He is a very impressive guy. What I most like about him is that he works presentations until they are finally tuned—more finely tuned than just about any other magician around. He is also an innovator. One of his effects—the pothole trick—moves a hole punched in a business card around the card and then onto another card. It is amazing and the presentation is wonderful.

Here he is doing an excellent presentation to a really simple—even brain-dead—effect:

Most of Close's work has been published in 5 volumes of a series he calls Workers. They are all good and I've purchased them all twice, because I have a habit of loaning out books to people who don't return them. Other than effects, Close also provides essays that are always worth reading. Oh, that they were required reading of anyone who ever might show me a magic trick! Mostly these essays are very useful. But not always.

In Volume 3 of the series, Close provides a "sermon" that he calls "Ethics." In it, he argues that it is wrong to copy his books. And it is. It bugs me that so many (especially young) people think it is just fine to steal all of their entertain. But I think that Close goes too far. He writes a parenthetical paragraph:

I am often amused by how stupid some people think that creators are. For example, at one convention two young men came up to me at a booth and I demonstrated material from Workers #1 and #2. they looked through the manuscripts, asked the price, and then walked away and talked to each other. Then they came back. One bought #1 and one bought #2. Gee, I wonder what happened when they got back home?

I don't know about stupid, but Close is clearly presumptuous. I suspect that these young men did what all magic geeks do: loan them to their friends. Does Close really think that these young men should each buy a copy of each of his books and guard them selfishly?

As a matter of fact, based upon email conversations with him in the past, he does think that. He, like many "creators" does not see the bigger picture. For example, in the video he talks about doing a 60 city lecture series. Does he not see that he would not have been paid to do that (and given the enormous financial opportunities that go along with it) if he hadn't published these books? Or that ten people having seen a single copy of one of his book is ten people far more likely than they would otherwise be to pay to hear him lecture or see him perform? Or that some people buy his books multiple times? (Not that I have anyone specific in mind!)

This is the lesson that independent musicians have learned. Any artist can complain about every unit they don't sell. But when they behave this way, they lose something much more dear than a buck in royalties; they lose good will. And the truth is that I would never go to see Michael Close, because to me, he will always be an angry old man. It doesn't matter that he's not angry at me or even that he's gotten over this. I will always hold his books in high esteem, but as a person: he's ruined his brand. For me, anyway; you might still want to see him.

15 Feb 2012: Waiting for Groundhogs

Understand Groundhog DayFake Science presented a chart titled Understand Groundhog Day.[1] It states, "Using statistical analysis, scientists have measured how a groundhog's reaction can create predictive models." There were four examples: sees its own shadow, six weeks of winter; sees some litter, neighborhood in decline; sees shadow of spatula, groundhog is going insane; and, of course, the one on the left, sees Waiting for Godot, six weeks of tedium and existential dread.

I take exception to this characterization of Waiting for Godot. Dread implies that the characters are expecting something bad to happen, and this is not the case. The whole point of the narrative is that Vladimir and (to a lesser extent) Estragon keep toiling through life with the hope that Godot will arrive soon and give their life meaning and purpose. Thus the great irony of the play is that their hope of finding meaning gives their lives meaning.[2]

Although Fake Science does not imply this, I believe that Waiting for Godot could easily be done as a puppet play with groundhogs. You know your average groundhog wastes and pines its life away.

[1] Fun Fact: many sources say that prairie dogs were named by Lewis during the Lewis and Clark Expedition. This is not true. Nor is it true that groundhogs are prairie dogs.

[2] I don't mean to imply this is all there is to Waiting for Godot. Books can and have been written about it. To me, the search for meaning is central to the play. This is seen primarily in the hopeful act of waiting for Godot as well as bounds between Vladimir and Estragon, Pozzo and Lucky, and the two brothers.

Category: Politics
Posted by: Frank Moraes
The CheneysRecently, I read an article (which I can no longer find) that showed that conservative opinion only has a shelf life of a generation. What this means is that after a generation, conservative opinion becomes so abhorrent that no one is willing to claim it. Take, for example, the opinion on civil rights in the 1960s: conservatives (on the federal level) didn't say they were against the Voting Rights Act as a matter of policy. It was just that they believed in states' rights. Few people hold such an opinion today, because we see it for what it was: disguised racism.

I know that liberals are on the right side of history. Assuming the civilization doesn't disintegrate, we will continue to see progress in such areas as abortion rights and stem cell research. But I still find myself amazed to see where conservatives come down on the issue of gay rights. I'm not talking about being against them; that makes perfect sense; they are on the wrong side of history and in 20 years they will deny they ever held the bigoted views they now hold. What I don't understand are people like the Cheneys who are radically conservative in all ways except one: gay rights. And why? Because their daughter is gay.

How can these kinds of conservatives look at their entire ideology with this one exception carved out and still maintain their faith (because it is nothing if not pure faith) in the rest of their belief system? Why does it not make them think, "Maybe I'm wrong about all those other things I have no first-hand experience with." Certainly it is true that the Cheneys would be absolutely against gay rights if it were not for their daughter. How can they continue to think that they would have conservative ideas about welfare if they had any experience with being economically challenged? How can Dick Chaney continue to think that he would be so pro-war if he had not had better things to do than serve in the military during the Vietnam War?

There has been a lot of coverage of Maureen Walsh's speech about ESSB 6239, the Washington State law legalizing same-sex marriage. It is a good speech. But again: doesn't she see the problem? It's easy to hate Jews when you don't know any. And it is just as easy to hate the poor when you don't know any. But like I said: it's a good speech.

And One More Thing

I think I'm going to go crazy if another conservative tells me how much they miss Clinton. What this means is that conservatives, when not given a daily diet of Fox News propaganda and Talk Radio hate, forget why they hated Clinton: because they were instructed to. It's the same reason they hate Obama, who is, after all, the same moderate president Clinton was. But what really drives me crazy is the thought that in ten years, I'll have to listen to these same fucktards tell me how much they miss Obama.

15 Feb 2012: Santorum's My Man

Category: Politics
Posted by: Frank Moraes
Rick SantorumI've decided to vote for Rick Santorum. The thing is, I just can't manage my life. I don't know who to fuck, where to fuck them, and how. So Santorum is my man. He'll tell me how to live my life. And isn't that what we all want: a government that looks out for the rights of corporations but greatly limits the rights of individuals? After all: corporations create jobs and we'll need a lot of them to support all of our children.

We all know that the the road to tyranny runs directly through tax dollars spent on libraries and schools. No country ever had its liberties taken away by a government investing huge amounts of money on a military. We have nothing to fear from the militarization of our police forces. We have everything to fear from public intellectuals and women who want to have sex without getting pregnant.

So please Rick Santorum: save me from myself! Save us all! But don't do it in a way that makes our lives easier. Get rid of any government programs that provide a safety net. That way, we can all grow to be strong and self-reliant as we work 80 hours per week to support constantly growing family.

But if Rich Santorum isn't available, any other Republican will do as well.

Category: Spirituality
Posted by: Frank Moraes
Charles DickensI have long thought that every generation believes theirs to be the worst, and every generation is right. But that does not mean that things only get worse. My experience of life indicates that things are ever getting different. And for conservatives souls, which all humans are, this is bad. I've long noted that when at the grocery store the day before the Super Bowl when there are 12 check stands open, that everyone would choose, if they could, to get into a single queue. The mad rush to find the best stand is not about getting ahead of others but only about maintaining their rightful place.

It is only reptiles and vicious beasts who will not share a kill that they cannot eat all by themselves. We are, at base, cooperative creatures that want nothing more than our due. And when we behave badly it is not because we are greedy but because we fear others' greed.

If this time seems worse than times we remember, it is because we inevitably lose our connection to each other, and thus our belief in each other. But none of this really matters, and anyway: Dickens was right about our times and ourselves:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way—in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

Don't expect me to be so cheery tomorrow.

14 Feb 2012: The Other Brontës

Category: Language
Posted by: Frank Moraes
The BrontesI decided, for reasons not all together clear to me, that I ought to read a little Anne Brontë. I certainly wasn't going to read any Lord Byron wannabe poetry, so that left me with her two novels: Agnes Grey and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. Andrea told me that the latter was better and so I picked up a copy at the library today. I mentioned to the librarian that I figured I should read "the other Brontë" and she asked if I had read the brother. I had not. All I knew of him was that he was an opium addict, and I said as much.

I wish I hadn't. It seems clear that had he been an opium addict, it was probably to medicate his undiagnosed tuberculosis. We tend to forget in this modern age of pill variety, where those with erectile dysfunction have a large choice of pills to take, that it was not always so. Indeed, most of the push during the 19th century to develop drugs from morphine to heroin came from a desire to treat tuberculosis. Even today, there really isn't an effective cure and if you aren't dying from it, it is probably more due to public health measures than anything.

Now I can say that I have read Branwell Brontë. And I can see why he is generally referred to as an artist rather than a poet. The painting in this article is an example of his work. This is Anne, Emily, and Charlotte—from left to right. But if you look in the space between Emily and Charlotte, you can see a kind of ghostly figure. This apparently was where Branwell originally painted himself. Later he decided to paint over himself. This could have been because he didn't think it was very good. But I prefer to think that this is what a tortured soul like him would do. He was 31 when he died.

All the Brontë children died young: Charlotte at 38, Emily at 30, and Anne at 29. Anne also died of tuberculosis shortly after her brother, so she probably got it from him. This has led me to speculate that the Family had bad genes, but this doesn't seem to be the case. Their father, Patrick Brontë, lived to be 84 years old. He outlived his wife, Maria, by almost 50 years.

As for the writing of the Brontë's, I used to be very fond of both Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. But I've cooled off on them. Jane Eyre has too much nonsense in it (like the first 100 pages and the last 100 pages) to make up for the good parts. And Wuthering Heights is just 400 pages of foggy mood. But The Tenant of Wildfell Hall has potential. It starts well enough:

You must go back with me to the autumn of 1827. My father, as you know, was a sort of gentleman farmer in —shire; and I, by his express desire, succeeded him in the same quiet occupation, not very willingly, for ambition urged me to higher aims, and self-conceit assured me that, in disregarding its voice, I was burying my talent in the earth, and hiding my light under a bushel. My mother had done her utmost to persuade me that I was capable of great achievements; but my father, who thought ambition was the surest road to ruin, and change but another word for destruction, would listen to no scheme for bettering either my own condition, or that of my fellow mortals. He assured me it was all rubbish, and exhorted me, with his dying breath, to continue in the good old way, to follow his steps, and those of his father before him, and let my highest ambition be to walk honestly through the world, looking neither to the right hand nor to the left, and to transmit the paternal acres to my children in, at least, as flourishing a condition as he left them to me.

And you must know by now: I will let you know.

Category: Spirituality
Posted by: Frank Moraes
St. ValentineIn my ongoing efforts to destroy any joy you might have during holidays or other gift-buying opportunities, I thought I'd say a few words about Valentine's Day.

When I was confirmed in the Catholic Church, my mother bought me a book of saints. It amazes me to this day that I managed to get this far in the Catholic Church knowing almost nothing about the Catholic Church. I knew about St. Francis, of course. Partly, this was because I shared his name. Mostly, however, it was because I was crazy for Theater of the Absurd and I had read Tiny Alice. But the thing is, Francis of Assisi was an exception for a Saint—in terms of his death; like the rest, he was a nut-job. The book of saints showed that the normal way to become a saint was to get murdered, usually in a suicidal effort to push your religious beliefs in the faces of others.

And so we come to St. Valentine. Unfortunately, St. Valentine was not one guy, but two or maybe three. The early church was not good at keeping records.

First, there is Valentine of Rome. According to Catholic Online:

Valentine was a holy priest in Rome, who, with St. Marius and his family, assisted the martyrs in the persecution under Claudius II [Not the I, Claudius guy -FM]. He was apprehended, and sent by the emperor to the prefect of Rome, who, on finding all his promises to make him renounce his faith ineffectual, commanded him to be beaten with clubs, and afterwards, to be beheaded, which was executed on February 14, about the year 270.

That's how I want to go: beaten with clubs in defense of an imaginary god! You go, priest!

Second, there is Valentine of Turni, who was born around 175 AD in Turni, Italy. Check out this bit of information from Saints.SQNP [Bold mine]:

Noted evangelist, miracle worker and healer, he was much loved by his flock. Imprisoned, tortured, and beheaded by order of the prefect Placid Furius during the persecution of Aurelius. He was murdered in secret and at night to avoid riots and revenge by the people of Terni. Some scholars believe that he and Saint Valentine of Rome are the same person.

Okay, more of the same: tortured, beheaded; the usual things you associate with Valentine's Day. But dig that last sentence! Some scholars think that a guy who died around 197 AD might be the same guy who died around 270 AD. They aren't even sure that these guys who lived almost a century apart aren't the same. And they think we should believe them about Jesus who supposedly lived 200 years earlier. Amazing!

Have a happy Valentine's day! Do your part for the chocolate, flower, and greeting card industries. But just remember: real men were beheaded so you could have this day. So keep their headless corpses in your mind while you enjoy this day with your special someone. And if you don't have a special someone, go find a cop to abuse; I'm sure he'll be happy to beat you to death with a club.

Category: Politics
Posted by: Frank Moraes
Watch Ezra Klein hosting The Rachel Maddow Show:

Or read this blog posting by him:

Comparing taxes under Obama’s and Romney’s budgets

But don't do both. You see, they are pretty much identical. And you would expect this. And this just shows that if Rachel Maddow had a blog I habitually read every morning, I probably wouldn't watch her show very often.

But make no mistake: Ezra Klein is an astute political observer. You should read his blog.

MongolWhat are we to make of a film like Mongol? Certainly, we don't expect it to be historically accurate. I think we expect it to be thematically and emotionally accurate. Take Braveheart, for example: it is a mess from a historical stand-point, but it does provide a pretty good picture of William Wallace.[1] Mongol, on the other hand, is far more accurate than Braveheart. But it does present Genghis Khan as a far more likable guy than he probably was—just trying to bring the law to the people.

A woman I met when I was still a teenager was fond of saying that people could not be held accountable for the views of their time, but that they could be held accountable for their own views. I accepted this for a good long time, but finally I abandoned it. Are we really to say that Thomas Jefferson and a modern day redneck are the same, just because they both share the belief that blacks were inferior to whites? I don't think so. It is no different than anthropogenic climate change: 15 years ago a reasonable man could deny it, but not today.

21st Century Genghis Khan

If Genghis Khan is to be presented in a film, he can't be presented as he actually was. No one would like him. The film takes place in the 12th century, after all. There must be some compromise with the time we live in.

Mongol doesn't do this by changing events in the life of Genghis Khan; it does it by focusing on the good and noble things he did, like offering Jamukha freedom (but, unlike in the movie, Jamukha would not take it and so was killed). What it doesn't show is all the indiscriminate killing and genocidal campaigns. But hey, what's most of the Persian race between friends? According to Mongol, Genghis Khan was just a guy who cared deeply about conservative social values.

The Film

The film itself is shockingly engaging. It is beautifully shot and moves gracefully from epic battle scenes to the most intimate personal moments. The only bad thing about the film is that the subtitles are worse than usual.

[1] Braveheart fails completely at the end. It is true that Wallace was tortured to death. It is not true that this was done because he wouldn't submit to the crown's authority. Wallace was more of an intellectual who tried to get foreign support for the Scottish cause. I think all of the inaccuracies regarding Wallace's character stem directly from the tortured soul of Mel Gibson.

Category: Politics
Posted by: Frank Moraes
Paul Krugman presented a graph of the 50 United States by the ratio the federal taxes they pay to the federal money they receive. It is interesting. Here are the top ten states that pay the most and receive the least (and who they voted for in 2008):

  1. Delaware (Obama)

  2. Minnesota (Obama)

  3. Connecticut (Obama)

  4. New Jersey (Obama)

  5. Colorado (Obama)

  6. Nebraska (McCain)

  7. Texas (McCain)

  8. Illinois (Obama)

  9. Maryland (Obama)

  10. Massachusetts (Obama)

See the trend? Those states that paid the most and got the least voted overwhelmingly Democratic.

Here are the states who got the most and paid the least (and who they voted for in 2008):

  1. West Virginia (McCain)

  2. Mississippi (McCain)

  3. Maine (Obama)

  4. New Mexico (Obama)

  5. South Carolina (McCain)

  6. Alabama (McCain)

  7. Montana (McCain)

  8. Kentucky (McCain)

  9. Vermont (Obama)

  10. North Dekota (McCain)

This shouldn't come as a surprise. I now expect that people I meet who are wholly dependent upon the government to be anti-government. I can't exactly explain it. A few things come to mind. One is that they have all the time in the world to sit around watching Fox News and listening to Right-Wing Hate Radio. They are outraged like everyone else, but have little intellectual armor to defend against the specious arguments to be found there.

It rankles though. When asked about the money they get from the government, it is always justified. It is only those other people who are milking the system. It is only those other people who the pundits on Fox News are railing against.The conservatives they vote for would never take away their benefits; they would only take away those of the other, undeserving people.

Category: Politics
Posted by: Frank Moraes
Severely ConservativeToday, Paul Krugman posits that the current state of the GOP is due to the fact that while the party's policies are for the very rich, they have gotten elected by appealing to social conservatives and other whack jobs. As an example, he talks about George W. Bush, who won (I dispute this) the 2004 election by running against same-sex marriage, but who, after winning said he had a mandate for privatizing Social Security.

There is much to this argument. However, I think the movement of both parties to the right is just as important. The big problem I see in the GOP primary is that the candidates don't have any real differences with President Obama. The Democratic Party is now as conservative a party as the United States can support. So what we see are people like Romney making extremely fine distinctions. "Sure," he says, "My healthcare plan was the same as Obama's but that is okay because it is a state plan; when enacted federally, it is totally unacceptable."

After you get past a certain place on the right (or left), you don't get much farther by taking extreme positions. Being against abortions in all cases is not in any substantive way more conservative than being in favor of a rape exception. And this is all that the Republicans have to offer: one step farther to the right. Certainly this matters for those women who are raped, but for the average voter, it doesn't matter at all.

I think we are heading for a shake-up of the parties. The Democratic Party has become little more than the old GOP and the new GOP appeals only to people's vague outrage. It cannot last.

Category: Politics
Posted by: Frank Moraes
I'm sick, so I don't know that I will post anything today. But I found this ad that I thought was very funny. It is a parody of Clint Eastwood's Halftime in America ad. I'm surprised that there haven't been more of them.[1] It was created by comedian Andy Cobb:

From the poster:

No, seriously, he said that: Let Detroit Go Bankrupt. If Mitt had his way, Detroit wouldn't be repped by badasses like Eminem and Clint Eastwood. It'd just be some dude, chillin on the couch, dreaming what might have been.

Mitt sure did feel strongly about that whole "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt" thing. Huh. Now that GM is the number one auto company in the world again, do you think we'll hear anything about that call between now and November?

Currently: 45,228 views.

[1] There have been some. Most of them are conservative and kind of short on humor.

Category: Spirituality
Posted by: Frank Moraes
Intelligence SquaredI just watched the Intelligence Squared debate on the question of whether or not "The Catholic Church is a Force for Good in the World." It was recorded back in 19 October 2009 and featured Archbishop John Onaiyekan and Ann Widdecombe arguing in favor; Christopher Hitchens and Stephen Fry arguing against.

The way these debates work is that the audience is polled at the beginning and the end and the results are compared. One side can get over half the final votes, but still lose because the other side gained more votes. This, of course, presents certain problems because in some highly charged debates, many people on one side won't initially admit their position. Such was not the case on the Catholic question.


So the pro vote plummeted from 678 to 268, and the anti vote skyrocketed from 1102 to 1872. There were only 34 undecideds. I've never seen that before.

I think the most important reason for this result is that the Catholic Church does a lot of really bad things. The one issue that was brought up again and again was their stand on birth control. Frankly, I think the Church will eventually have to reverse its position on this issue. Eventually, people just won't be willing stay in the church over it. This is not just about personal choice; it is about life and death in many parts of the world. And then there is the question of child rape, but I doubt that had much to do with the results.

Another reason the Catholic Church lost this debate, almost as important as the facts of the matter, is that Widdecombe and (to a lesser extent) Onaiyekan did a really bad job of debating. Hitchens and Fry were great, of course, but they didn't really need to try. If you watch the whole debate, you can skip all of the pro debating; it isn't worth watching.

[1] This is my first YouTube upload!

Category: Politics
Posted by: Frank Moraes
Eric AltermanIt must be that Eric Alterman doesn't get much mail.

Certainly, he is kind of an old-fashioned guy. He doesn't allow comments on this "blog." And he doesn't post all the time. I hate Fridays because it is the beginning of the weekend, and there are lots of reasons to hate the weekend. But there are three reasons to be excited about Fridays: Paul Krugman's second column of the week, FAIR's CounterSpin, and Eric Alterman. On Fridays, on his The Nation blog, he provides links to what he's written during the week in addition to an article by the always interesting Reed Richardson.

On 27 January of this year, he posted an article called The Winter of Our Discontent. Ah, anyone quoting Richard III is a friend of mine. In the article, he mentions going to see a number of plays and concerts and generally makes me feel bad that my life sucks so badly. But he opens the article with two things that brought a smile to my face:

If you’ve been reading "Altercation" for a long time, then you may have heard my argument that I prefer Shaw to Shakespeare (and not that it’s relevant, Mozart to Beethoven).

Okay. Yes, Shaw is generally a lot better than Shakespeare and it is nice to see others admit to this. But I was especially happy to hear him say that he prefers Mozart to Beethoven. In general, in the classical world, Beethoven is thought to be better. And there is no doubt he is great, but I tend to think he appeals more to the young. Certainly I loved him when I was a teenager. But now, that whole century of Romantic music more annoys than anything else. Again, however: I still enjoy Beethoven, especially compared to the likes of Schumann and Wagner.

More than this, however, much of people's appreciation for Mozart comes down to this argument that I've heard ad nauseum, "It's too bad Mozart died so young, otherwise he might have developed into... [wait for it] Beethoven!" This is ridiculous. Yes, it is tragic that Mozart died so young (but it would have been a good deal more tragic had he died at 30, given the amazing things he created during that last five years). But had he lived longer, he would have developed into... older Mozart. His artistic trajectory was not to Beethoven. Mozart didn't have Beethoven's peevish musical temperament.

Then, on 2 February, Alterman printed a letter:

Ben Willis


Dear Alterman,

Over the years I have had my issues with some of your opinions (most notably Ralph Nader, and your unwavering support for the Democratic party), but now I understand why you write the things you do. Mozart over Beethoven?!?!?!? Are you serious? Mozart was a lyrical genius. Every musical idea he wrote was melody and no doubt his appeal is universal, yet his compositions never reached the transcendence of those by Ludwig van Beethoven. I challenge you to compare any of Mozart's works for string quartets or chamber ensembles with Beethoven's late quartets. Ops. 127, 130, 131, 132, 135 and the glorious Grosse Fuge revolutionized music and can be heard not only as romantic works but as precursors to the modern age where the sound of the notes/chords themselves are as important as to how those musical ideas fit within the hierarchy of the key or the rigidity of phrase forms that mark Mozart's oeuvre. There is also the slight issue of the position of Beethoven's symphonies within the pantheon of great repertoire of the "classical" music. Not even Mozart's "Jupiter" can compare with any one of LVB's more well known symphonies such as; the "Eroica" (3rd), the iconic 5th, the Pastoral (6th), the Tanze (7th), and the glorious Ninth. (Not to mention the underrated 8th and the almost unknown Missa Solemnis which is considered Beethoven's Tenth). Ok, Mozart has his operas and Beethoven only has one. Mozart has his twenty-something piano concerts. But Beethoven's five are outstanding and the sonatas for Hammerklavier are light years ahead of anything Mozart wrote for the soloist.
 I thank you for the review of the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra. Some of my friends, including Claudia, were there playing that night. I also know Scott Ligon of NRBQ from way back in his Peoria days. I'm glad you're covering these events. But please save the missive about Mozart over Beethoven for some other forum.

Eric replies:

Dear Ben,

I’m sorry. I should have pointed out that I’m a complete philistine when it comes to such things. I’m sure you’re right (and I’m not being sarcastic) but to be fair to me, I mentioned only as way of mentioning the Shaw/Shakespeare thing.

What? To begin with, I love how Ben just throws Mozart's most important work (his operas) aside, "Yeah. He wrote a few operas."[1] And there's the whole thing of claiming that Alterman said that Mozart was better than Beethoven when he only said he preferred him. But that's not the main thing. I couldn't believe that Alterman would betray our cause for so little cause. So I popped off an email to the scoundrel. Either Eric Alterman doesn't get much mail, or he has a soft spot for petulant little music snobs (Ben and me): he printed my letter:

Frank Moraes
Santa Rosa


I can't believe you are backtracking on Mozart just because Ben Willis of Queens blinded you with an obscure intellectual-sounding argument that said nothing. Music isn't about argument, it is about pleasure. And in the end, arguments are just intellectual exercises to justify what one feels. My regard for Mozart grows every year. Although I admire Beethoven, I cannot say the same for him. When I read your parenthetical aside, I was gleeful. You are *not* a philistine. Ben is a prat!

Eric replies:

Thanks Frank. I’m not sure I "backtracked." I just admitted that my preference need not carry much weight in the world of classical music. I still prefer Mozart, but I never argued he was in any way "better." Someone could prefer, say, Peter Frampton to Bruce Springsteen, and I would think that’s ok. Taste is taste. But if they argued that he was "better"—as I heard so frequently in the years 1976 and 1977, well, them’s were fightin’ words.

This is coming off last week's column about a 20 minute conversation he had with The Boss. He is so deft at sticking the knife in and twisting it simultaneously. I am, as it turns out, well aware that his life is infinitely better than mine.

Damn you to hell, Eric Alterman!

[1] Fun fact: "opera" is the plural of "opus." But the plural of "opera" (the ones we are talking about) is "operas." This could be confusing. A composer's first ten compositions are opera one through ten. Would ten such composers' opera be the operas one through ten? I suppose not, but isn't it pretty to think so?

The Cats of MirikitaniThis last week, I got a text from Andrea, "I just watched The Cats of Mirikitani and it made ME cry." Since you don't know my relationship with Andrea, you probably think this text represents some kind of information about her life or about a film recommendation. It isn't. It is more along the lines of a dare.

You see, I am a crier. I cry during most films and much else in life and art. It doesn't take a great artist to get me to laugh, but it takes no artist at all to get me to cry. Andrea, on the other hand, prides herself on her steely exterior strengthened with a withering sarcasm that has been known to bring real men (e.i. not me) to tears. If Andrea cried during a film, she suggests, I may go catatonic for a week.

But is that really true? Isn't it the case that there are only certain things that can make it through her armor? I know things that will make her cry. So I was not sure she was right.

As I got ready to watch the film, I became more convinced that this film was not going to be the sob-fest that Andrea had indicated. Old homeless artists and concentration camps for Japanese-Americans during World War II: I'd seen it all before. I started watching the film. And I didn't even make it to the credits, which are less than two minutes into the film, without crying.

The Cats of Mirikitani

The film tells the story of 81 year old Jimmy Mirikitani, a homeless artist who earned his dignified living selling drawings on the street in New York City. After the attacks on the World Trade Center on 9/11, he was left alone on the street inside a cloud of toxic debris. The filmmaker, Linda Hattendorf, took him in and tried to get him some help. This turned out to be harder than you would think, because Mirikitani didn't want any help from a United States government that he thought of as evil for what it did to him and hundreds of thousands of other Japanese-Americans.[1] Slowly, Mirikitani relented and his life got better.[2]

The first half of this film is very sad, in that "cry your eyes out" way so beloved by people of my ilk. The second half of the film, however, is very uplifting, but in that "cry you eyes out" way so beloved by people of my ilk.It speak to the resilience of the human soul (in that "cry your eyes out" way). And the story is inspiring even after it stops. Mirikitani seems to be doing very well to this day. According to the official website of the film:

Jimmy Mirikitani celebrated his 91st birthday in June 2011. He is feeling good and making art. He still lives in New York, and looks forward to attending the next pilgrimage to Tule Lake in July 2012.

I'd say more, but I think I'm going to cry.


The library has the Samurai Trilogy boxed set. I should have it next week. I may not be able to see the San Francisco Opera's production of Don Giovanni, but life still has its pleasures.

[1] I find it interesting that many people don't like labels like "Japanese-American" or "Afro-American." But when a country uses their heritage against people, are we really just supposed to pretend that such distinctions don't exist and aren't used in negative ways? Are we to pretend, like Stephen Colbert's character, that we just don't see color?

[2] One sign of this is that Mirikitani got to rent Samurai I, the first part of Hiroshi Inagaki's Samurai Triology starring the great Toshirô Mifune.

11 Feb 2012: The Cave of Salamanca

Ocho ComediasYesterday, I picked up a book from the library (in the closed stacks), A Treasury of the Theatre. The reason was that it included one of Cervantes's plays, and I have been keen to read his theatrical work because it was not considered good at the time and is generally discounted today. Melveena McKendrick notes that his genius is for character and not drama, so his plays don't tend to work well.

In 1615, he published Ocho Cemedias, a collection of eight short comedic plays that, like most of his theatrical work, had not been performed. Some of these plays sound like too much fun. For example, The Divorce-Court Judge presents a married couple who seem happy to be constantly bickering. It sounds funny, right? But I know what you're thinking, "Most of Shakespeare's comedy lies flat on the page, Cervantes' must do the same." But whether it is because Cervantes is just funnier than Shakespeare or because the work has been translated in the 20th century, this is not true. According to the Glasgow University Library:

Cervantes could create character and write sparkling dialogue, but he was unable to sustain dramatic tension for any length cf time, nor could he develop a plot logically. But in these short satirical sketches where character and witty dialogue are more important than plot he succeeds brilliantly.

Take The Cave of Salamanca for example (translated by Edwin Honig). It starts:

[Enter Pancracio, Leonarda and Cristina]

pancracio: Mistress, dry those tears and stop your sighing. Remember, I'll be away four days, not centuries. On the fifth day, at the latest, I'll be back, God preserve me. But if it upsets you so, just say the word and I'll break my promise and give up the trip altogether. Surely my sister can get married there without me.

leonarda: Pancracio, dear lord and master, I don't want you to be discourteous because of me. Go now, God speed you, and meet your obligation, since the matter is so pressing. My grief I'll keep to myself and spend the lonely hours as best I can. Only, I beg you to come back and not stay any longer than you promised. Oh, help me, Cristina, I've a pain in my heart!

[Leonarda faints]

cristina: Ah, weddings and holidays—such dreadful things! Indeed, sir, if I were you, I'd never go there.

pancracio: Run inside, girl, and get me a glass of water to throw in her face. No, wait, I know a few magic words I'll whisper in her ear: they can revive people who faint.

[He speaks the words and Leonarda recovers, saying]

leonarda: Enough. It can't be helped. I must be patient. My dear, the more you linger, the longer you delay my happiness. You friend Leoniso should be waiting for you in the carriage. God be with you and bring you back as quickly and safely as I could wish.

pancracio: If you want me to stay, my angel, I'll be like a statue and not budge an inch.

leonarda: No, no, sweet comfort. Your wish is my desire, which means you must leave and not stay here, for your honor and mine are one and the same.

cristina: Oh, mirror of matrimony! If all wives cherished their husbands as my mistress loves hers, they'd sing a different tune.

leonarda: Go get my shawl, Cristiana. I must see your master safely off in his carriage.

pancracio: No, I beg you. Kiss me, but stay here, please. Cristina, be sure and cheer up your mistress, and I'll get you a pair of shoes when I return.

cristina: On your way, sir, and don't you worry about my mistress. I'll see to it we both enjoy ourselves so she won't miss your absence.

leonarda: Enjoy myself? Me? What a fantastic idea! Without my love beside me, I can know no bliss or joy, only grief and sorrow.

pancracio: I cannot bear this any longer. Ah, light of my eyes, farewell; I'll see nothing to delight me will I gave upon you once again.

[Exit Pancracio]

leonarda: Good-bye, and good riddance to you! Go, and don't come back! Vanish, go up like smoke in thin air! Good God, this time all your bluster and squeamishness don't move me a bit!

cristina: And I was afraid your sweet nothings would keep him here and spoil our fun.

leonarda: Do you think our guest will really come tonight?

cristina: And why not? I've been in touch with them, and they're just dying to come.

And so it goes. A student shows up looking for a place to stay for the night. He helps out as a servant when the two gentlemen callers arrive. Then the carriage that the husband was in breaks down and he returns home. Quickly, the lovers and student are hidden. The student is discovered, but he claims to be able to do magic and calls forward demons in the form of the two lovers. And they all enjoy the previously planned feast, with the husband none the wiser.

The whole thing probably runs about 15 minutes, and it is delightful from beginning to end. The characters are certainly as well-drawn as any in Shakespeare or Marlowe. But the most important thing is that the play is funny. In performance, I can imagine it being a riot.

Category: Politics
Posted by: Frank Moraes
Saul AlinskyBill Maher has a great take-down of the conservative obsession with Saul Alinsky. For those who don't know him, Alinsky was a community organizer from the 1930s through his death in 1972. The Right (Reich?) would have you believe that he was some kind of radical, but he was anything but. I think there are two reasons that conservatives are so into him. First, he wrote Rules for Radicals. This book was very popular among student organizers in the 1960s. But what is more important, the book has been very popular among conservatives from the 1980s up to the present. I figure that they just project their own lack of any ethics onto poor Mr. Alinsky.

The second reason that Saul Alinsky has turned into the Devil for conservatives is that when he was younger, Barack Obama was a community organizer. And as all conservatives know: anything Obama does is by definition evil. Therefore, Alinsky is evil. I know the logic is twisted: Obama is evil because he follows Alinsky who was evil because he was a community organizer and we know community organizers are evil because Obama was once one. But that doesn't matter. What matters is that Obama is evil because of everything he's ever done. And because he is a follower of Alinsky. Even if he isn't. And in that case: he's evil because he isn't!

10 Feb 2012: Lucky Again

PanhandlerAs I continue to struggle to memorize Lucky's Speech from Waiting for Godot, there are two things on my mind: panhandlers and changes in absurdist theater.


Lucky's speech is of great value if you wish to navigate the great cities of America and avoid panhandlers. There is nothing like talking to yourself to keep panhandlers—who are generally rational and know that crazy people are both dangerous and unlikely to contribute—from bothering you. But what to say? "As a result of the labors left unfinished crowed by the Acacacacademy of Anthropopopometry of Essy-in-Possy of Testew and Cunard" of course! Trust me: I do it all the time. It works great.

Stage Directions

When I was still a boy, I discovered Eugène Ionesco's plays like The Bald Soprano. And I loved them because I was young and pretentious (unlike now when I'm not young). One thing that bothered me was how much shouting was in these plays. The most common stage direction was "shouting." But other than the filmed version of Rhinoceros, I had never seen any of the plays. And there was very little shouting in Rhinoceros.

The stage notes before Lucky's Speech are definitely in this tradition:

Lucky pulls on the rope, staggers, shouts his text. All three throw themselves on Lucky who struggles and shouts his text.

That's two references to shouting here! And yet, this is never the way the speech is given. This is clear in the following clip that was based upon Beckett's notes from a production that he directed:

I think the whole "let's have people shout on stage" aspect of absurdist theater was only thought to be a good idea as long as no one was performing the plays. Once the plays were performed, it was clear that even in revolutionary theater, you still want emotion and nuance.

The image in this article is a detail of an image (partially enhanced so you can read it) from the article Broke-Ass Career: Panhandling. It is well worth checking out, if only for the pictures.

10 Feb 2012: Fragments of Reality

Category: Language
Posted by: Frank Moraes
Fragments of a Hologram RoseWilliam Gibson's brilliance was to take the sex out of William S. Burroughs. For years, I thought that Gibson had combined Burroughs and science fiction, but this isn't true because there really is no science fiction in his writing. Sure: he pretends to write science fiction, but it is really all about the mind. And that had been the trend of the most interesting science fiction from its beginning. Certainly no one would have been ready for Gibson without Philip K. Dick.

I like Gibson's writing. Still, I think his best work is his earliest, and not because it is what I first read because it isn't: Fragments of a Hologram Rose. (It's on line, so go read it now.)

Is it too obvious to note that the narrative is fragmented? The story depends upon ASP (Apparent Sensory Perception) machines that allow people to play back the sensations that others have recorded on tape. The narrator tells his life's story in the context of a relationship that has just (God help me!) shattered. After she leaves, he goes through her remaining stuff and finds a hologram of a rose and an ASP tape that she recorded before she knew him. He destroys the hologram by putting it in the disposal unit where it "emits a thin scream as steel teeth slash laminated plastic and the rose is shredded into a thousand fragments." Then he plays his girlfriend's ASP tape and for a few moments he is able to be her, even if he cannot be with her.

That sounds like the point of the story, but it isn't. It is the opposite.

Parker lies in darkness, recalling the thousand fragments of the hologram rose. A hologram has this quality: recovered and illuminated, each fragment will reveal the whole image of the rose. Falling toward delta, he sees himself the rose, each of his scattered fragments revealing a whole he'll never know—stolen credit cards—a burned out suburb—planetary conjunctions of a stranger—a tank burning on a highway—a flat packet of drugs—a switchblade honed on concrete, thin as pain.

Thinking: we're each other's fragments, and was it always this way? That instant of a European trip, deserted in the gray sea of wiped tape—is she closer now, or more real, for his having been there?

She had helped him get his papers, found him his first job in ASP. Was that their history? No, history was the black face of the delta-inducer, the empty closet, and the unmade bed. History was his loathing for the perfect body he woke in if the juice dropped, his fury at the pedal-cab driver, and her refusal to look back through the contaminated rain.

But each fragment reveals the rose from a different angle, he remembered, but delta swept over him before he could ask himself what that might mean.

What that might mean is that there is some reality that undergirds all of our fragmentary perceptions. Or it could be that reality is nothing more than the sum total of all of our perceptions. Thus it could mean that reality is absolute or relative. That's a very powerful (and frustrating) way to end a story. No doubt Beckett would have been proud.[1]

[1] Beckett lived long enough not only to read this short story that was published in 1977, but to read it in Burning Chrome, Gibson's book of short fiction published in 1986. But somehow I think he never read it. Beckett died at the end of December 1989.

10 Feb 2012: Quixotic Justification

Category: Language
Posted by: Frank Moraes
QuixoticThe word quixotic means "foolishly impractical especially in the pursuit of ideals." However, when I think of Don Quixote, this is not what I think. Instead, I think of wonderfully twisted logic to justify crazy behavior.

There is no better example of this than in Chapter 21 of Don Quixote. In it, a barber is traveling to work on his mule. On top of his head, he wears his wash basin to protect his head from the rain. However, Don Quixote sees this and thinks that it is the mythical helmet of Mambrino.

He must have it so he charges the unfortunate barber. On seeing the insane man with the lance attacking him, the barber flees, leaving his "helmet" and mule behind.

This would be a perfect triumph for Don Quixote, except that Sancho insist upon injecting reality into the conversation (just like a 17th century liberal):

"What are you laughing at, Sancho?" said Don Quixote.

"I was just thinking what a big pate that pagan had who owned it, for this helmet looks exactly like a barber's basin."

Normally, Don Quixote fights more with Sancho. In this case, he immediately provides a justification:

"Do you know what I think, Sancho? I think that the famous piece of that enchanted helmet must by some strange accident have fallen into the hands of someone who did not know, and was incapable of estimating, its worth, and who, seeing that it was of the purest gold and not realizing what he was doing, must have melted down the other half for what he could get for it, while from the remaining portion he fashioned what appears, as you have said, to be a barber's basin..."

This is the same line he gave in Chapter 8 after mistaking the windmills for giants. Or Chapter 18 after mistaking the sheep herds for armies. Or... Don Quixote always has a reason for why he was not wrong.

And that is the way it is in life. It is only by denying responsibility that we can continue on making the same the mistakes. If Don Quixote admitted that he has a tendency to see things that aren't there, he would have to conclude (as he does at the end of the book) that he really needs to be cared for. But he doesn't, and that to me, is the essences of quixotic.[1]

[1] That does not change the meaning of the word, of course. If you use "quixotic" in that way, people will either think that you are ignorant or as crazy as Don Quixote.

Isn't it strange that the "x" is pronounced "j" in "Don Quixote" (as usual, more reasonably in Spanish where is it spelled "Don Quijote") but "x" in "quixotic"? It's enough to drive you crazy.

Category: Language
Posted by: Frank Moraes
Melveena McKendrick's CervantesBack in 1980, Professor Melveena McKendrick wrote a stunning biography of Miguel de Cervantes. I went through several biographies before landing on this treasure that is written in a more lively and engaging style than most modern novels. I'm no expert, so I don't know if the research in the book is out of date. I do know that certain aspects of Cervantes' life which have been shown to be untrue—like the contention that he started Don Quixote while in prison—are discussed and refuted here. So any inaccuracies must be small. One certainly could not pick a book that more vividly brings Cervantes and his times to life.

Spanish Theater

One especially interesting aspect of the biography is the picture it provides of the Spanish theater scene at that time. This is the same time when the English theater was dominated by Shakespeare and all those other playwrights we no longer perform. In Spain, theater was dominated by Lope de Vega—in a way Shakespeare never did in his own time. And it just sounds like a lot more fun than what was going on over at the other side of the English Channel. One particularly telling part of this is the use of women in the theater. In England, there was no law against women performing on stage.[1] Rather, the theaters kept women from performing because they feared the government would shut them down if they did so. (Also: English boys loved dressing up as women.) In Spain, women played the female parts on stage. Sometime around 1600, the government passed a law making this illegal. The Spanish theaters just ignored it and nothing happened. Viva España!

The Feud

Lope de Vega and Cervantes knew each other and there are even indications that at one point they were close. This all came to a crashing halt when Lope came to Seville in 1602 only to be publicly attacked by three sonnets, savaging him for his work and his scandalous private life. Cervantes wasn't there at the time, but Lope believed that he had written them. First, there is the fact that the poems seem to have been written like Cervantes had written earlier in his career. And second, there is the fact that Cervantes had always been critical of Lope's style of drama; Cervantes was more or less unable to write for the theater because of the revolution that Lope created.

Lope fired back. He wrote a sonnet that referred to Don Quixote as "trashy" and made fun of Cervante's damaged hand. (This wasn't as out of line as it may appear; they played rough in those days.) Around the same time, Cervantes lampooned Lope's efforts to appear more erudite than he was in the Prologue to Don Quixote. The whole thing reached its peak around this time when Lope wrote in a letter, "Of poets, I say nothing! what an age we live in ... but there is not one as bad as Cervantes, nor so stupid as to praise Don Quixote." In the same letter he mentions Cervantes having written that Lope's plays were "odious."

After this, the two men seem to have called a ceasefire. There were still publicly cool to each other, but the flaming rhetoric stopped. Nonetheless, long after Cervantes' death in 1616, Lope continued to write critical things about Cervantes. Around 1620, Lope wrote in To Love Without Knowing Whom that Don Quixote was "extravagant" and called upon God to forgive Cervantes for writing it.

There is little doubt that there was some bad blood between the two men. This is especially true on Cervantes' part. Lope was hugely successful and Cervantes was not. Cervantes must have felt bitter and resentful. Nonetheless, this whole feud seems to have been based upon Lope's mistaken belief that Cervantes had insulted him rather than any real slight.

[1] I know that most people say that it was against the law for women to perform on stage. However, I remember reading from an authoritative source that this is widely believed but false. I am researching it and will come back to this. However, it doesn't change the point I'm making.

Category: Language
Posted by: Frank Moraes
Cock-a-doodle-dooWhen I recently discussed fucktard, I was sad to see that the tard ending was short for retard. (I know! I'm dense! Go read someone else if you don't like it!) Up to that point, I had thought that fucktard was a charming linguistic invention. It is true that retard is not generally a word used to describe those with Down's Syndrome and such—at least not among the sort of people I know. It is normally used to describe someone like me, "What a retard! You didn't know that fucktard was a contraction for fuck and retard?" But the word retard has a bad history—generally as bad as nigger or kike.

This has brought me back to a variation that is nothing but a delight: fuck-a-doodle-doo. (Of course, what do I know? But I'm pretty sure this is just putting fuck at the beginning of cock-a-doodle-doo. Right?) There are two definitions of this word on Urban Dictionary. The first, entered in September 2004, is:

A sarcastic exclamation of joy. Said by Pete in "Shaun of the Dead". Interesting sidenote; the original line was "scooby-fucking-doo", but had to be changed for legal reasons.

"He's fun to have around."

"Why? 'Cos he can impersonate an orangutang? Fuck-a-doodle-doo!"

The second is from March 2005, but it misspells the word "Fuck-a-doodle-do":

Used as a sarcastic comment of not caring, similar to "whoopty-do".

Wayne: "He's cool because he has nice hair..."

Shaun: "Fuck-a-doodle-do..."

It is interesting that both of these definitions refer to Sean of the Dead. It is a good reference, but certainly not the first. The first appearance of the word that I know of (although almost certainly not the first) is 11 years earlier in Four Weddings and a Funeral. In it, after Carrie says "I do" at her wedding, Charles says to himself, "Fuck-a-doodle-doo." He is heartbroken.

This scene also shows that the definitions on Urban Dictionary are wrong. Fuck-a-doodle-doo is just an expletive. It can be used in joy or sadness, but as with all expletives expresses something ineffable.


Category: Politics
Posted by: Frank Moraes
Paul Krugman provided some class notes on his site today. In them, he reprinted a graph from The Hefty Penalty on Marriage Facing Many Households with Children. The graph confused me to be honest. As a result, I read the original paper and managed to figure it out. Lucky you because (hopefully) you won't have to do that. Here's the graph:

What this shows is the marginal tax faced by a low-income single parent family with two children. The first bar is the effective combined federal and state tax on every extra dollar they make. So assuming the mother has a $20K per year job, she will face 35.9% in direct taxation for all the income she receives from a second job should she decide to take one. This is about incentives. Conservatives claim that rich people will not work as hard if we raise their taxes. Even though the taxes may be very low for this family now, there is a substantial disincentive to make more money. But it gets worse.

The second bar includes government food and medical benefits. As the mother in our hypothetical family makes more money, she will also have her family's benefits reduced. This provides yet more disincentive to get that second job. In this case, it brings the effective pay of that second job down by 58.8%. But again, it gets worse.

The third bar includes direct welfare supports. When this is taken into account, the effective pay of the second job goes down by a staggering 88.6%. Meanwhile, for the same family making $90K per year, the only disincentive is direct taxation: 33.2%.

What this all means is that tax and social service policy is designed to make the poor stay poor. Most people forced to get a second job, will be getting a poorly paying job. For example, if the job pays $8.75 per hour, the effective take home will be less than $1.00 per hour. The $90K family, even if it took the same crummy job would be taking home $5.85 per hour—almost 6 times as much for the same work!

Am I the only one who thinks this is shocking?

Last night I watched The Criterion Collection DVD release of Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon. I had never seen the film before and it was a revelation. Back in 2009, Janus Films restored it and the trailer below is from that print. The print in the DVD is perfectly acceptable, but this print is stunning (and unavailable on DVD so far as I know).

The film is amazing. As the trailer explains, it tells the same story of a murder from the perspective of four different characters. Almost from the first frame, you can't help but be curious about what really happened. As each story is told, our understanding of the crime is deeper. Needless to say, it is a great film, but more than this, it is accessible. I really think that most people will enjoy it.

One of the great things about the trailer above is how well the subtitles are done. When I was watching the DVD, I got through about 15 minutes of the film before I had to take action. As I've complained about previously, subtitles often bug me—especially because of their lack of contrast. The same was true here. So I checked, and I found that the disc included an English dubbed track.

Now I know what most people think of dubbing: they freak out that it doesn't match the lip movement. This is true. They also complain that the voice acting is terrible. This is often true. And they complain that it somehow destroys the integrity of the original film. This is not true.

Although most people notice the disconnect between the sound of the voice and the movement of the lips, I don't. Sure, in Scenes from a Marriage (another great film that is surprisingly accessible), I would notice because it is shot mostly in close-up and there is a lot of talking. But in a film like Rashomon, which has lots of action, I rarely notice. When I did notice, it was pretty bad, though—like they had taken no care at all.

The voice acting can be very bad. However, this is rarely that big a deal. In some cases, like Federico Fellini's films, the screen actors also do the English dubs.[1] This, of course, is not the case with Rashomon. But the voice acting was okay, with a fair amount of effort made to copy the original actors' voices.

The negative aspects of dubbing are more than made up for by allowing the viewer to actually see the film the way it was intended (film is a visual, not an aural art) . When watching a visually interesting film, you lose so much by having your attention glued to the bottom of the screen. I don't think it matters how fast you read. Even when watching an English language film with subtitles on, I find that the words on the screen keep pulling my attention away from the action. This happens despite the fact that I know what is being said.

So preferring dubbed film may make me a cretin, but I think most people who prefer subtitles are just pretentious. And if the film is good, I will watch it again without the dubbing. But for one time through, dubbing makes films more enjoyable to watch. For Italian or Spanish films, maybe learning the language is an option. For Japanese film, it is not (for me). Unfortunately, dubbed versions of great films are rarely available. Rashomon is a blessed exception.

[1] Traditionally, Italian filmmakers did not use sync sound and so the original dialog (the Italian dialog) was dubbed.

Category: Fun
Posted by: Frank Moraes
I had heard that there was a Will Ferrell commercial for the greatest beer company ever: Pabst! Pabst Blue Ribbon! Okay: Pabst Brewing Company. And it does just so happen that Heineken sucks. Anyway, one of Pabst's worst beer offerings is Old Milwaukee. This video consists of a number of these Will Ferrell/Old Milwaukee commercials. Unfortunately, they are all video recordings of TV screens. But they're pretty well done. And the commercials are really funny.

This is the Super Bowl commercial, which I also think is hysterical:

Category: Politics
Posted by: Frank Moraes
Debbie Spend-It-Now Ad

Laura Berman over at The Detroit News doesn't like Pete Hoekstra's dumber than racist "China owns America!" commercial:

With his controversial new Super Bowl commercial and website, Pete Hoekstra seems to think he's got the advertising instincts and guts of Chrysler's Sergio Marchionne.

My instincts say he's as tone-deaf as the Susan G. Komen Foundation, which boldly cut out money to Planned Parenthood, and then reversed itself once angry women unleashed a 72-hour deluge of Facebook fury.

On Sunday night, Hoekstra's campaign unveiled a "Debbie Spend-It-Now" attack ad, which deploys an astonishing array of cheesy Chinese stereotypes to make sport of Sen. Debbie Stabenow.

I'm certainly on board with Berman's analysis of the commercial and how it doesn't appeal to anyone other than the racists already planning to vote for Pete Hoekstra. But the article seems to accept the premise of the ad that China owns most of our government debt. But it doesn't. The total foreign owned debt is 32%. For China, it is 8%. The majority of our government debt is owned by... Americans.

So Pete Hoekstra's "Doesn't California look like China?" commercial is not only offensive and ineffective, it is also just factually wrong.

Category: Politics
Posted by: Frank Moraes
David FrumLiberals like David Frum—they think of him as the Reasonable Conservative. But like any conservative, that doesn't mean much. Yesterday, he wrote an excellent review of racist pseudo-scientist and conservative apologist Charles Murray's ("Blacks are poor because they're dumb!") Coming Apart. (Sorry: I just can't bring myself to provide a link to this fucktard's book.) Frum savages the book and the author.

But as I said: Frum isn't that reasonable. Murray writes in his new book that it isn't unreasonable to hold ideological positions on issues that are resistant to data or facts. He provides such a list of positions. Frum counters:

As a matter of fact, if you announce that there can exist no possible information that might change your mind about abortion, the death penalty, marijuana, same-sex marriage, and the inheritance tax, then yes you are an unreasonable person—or anyway, an unreasoning one. I've changed my mind about same-sex marriage as experience has dispelled my fears of the harms from same-sex marriage. If somebody could prove to me that marijuana was harmless or that legalization would not lead to an increase in marijuana use, I'd change my mind about marijuana legalization. And so on through the list.

In a general sense, you have to applaud Frum: thanks for being reasonably open-minded. However, it is clear that Frum needs an overwhelming amount of evidence if it is going to cut through his ideology. It has been decades since social scientists have known that same-sex marriage is not harmful to society. And if Frum still thinks that cannabis is some kind of dangerous drug, he has a Teflon coating regarding facts. (Note how cannabis must be "harmless"—a claim that cannot be made of any human activity including water drinking.)

Beware the Reasonable Conservative because if you look close, you will find him neither reasonable nor conservative.

07 Feb 2012: Fat Men Can't Run

Category: Politics
Posted by: Frank Moraes
I keep seeing this clip of Ann Coulter saying that if the Republicans don't run Chris Christie, Romney will be the nominee and they will lose:

But when I see Christie, I am appalled.

It isn't that Christie is fat. I understand. A person's weight is largely determined by their genetics. I've seen this in my own life: other than a variation of two pounds, my body wants to weigh what it wants to weigh. Ezra Klein discussed this in an article at the end of last September: Chris Christie is not too fat to be president. But I think that while Christie might be able to be president, I'm not sure he could run for president.

It is that Christie is extremely fat.

He seems to be at least as obese as Orson Welles at his largest. And running for president is by all accounts a grueling endeavor. I really wonder if he would be up to it.

As to Klein's point that obese people don't really die earlier than other people (Welles made it to 70): I don't think that's the point; could he manage to walk 10 miles a day or work 20 hours a day? And as to Klein's point that weight is genetic: yes and no. I don't think anyone should be held responsible for being, say, 50 pounds over weight. But when they get to the point of a Chris Christie—or Orson Welles—it is more than just genetics. I don't know what's going on with Christie. In Welles' case, his habitual use of speed when he was young undoubtedly contributed to the problem. Regardless, I doubt either man could, at 50, put in the hours and miles required to run for president.

And hopefully Ann Coulter is right.

Discovering HamletIt's me again. You know: the guy who loves Shakespeare but never has a kind word for him? Once again, those in the Shakespeare industry are putting out the "Shakespeare as secular Jesus" line. I watched a little documentary last night called Discovering Hamlet. It documents the rehearsals for Kenneth Branagh starring in Hamlet at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre, directed by Derek Jacobi. And, of course, it pissed me off from the very first line. It is narrated by Patrick Stewart, who reads:

In the history of dramatic literature there is one name that will always be remembered—a playwright whose work is universally recognized as one of the supreme achievements of the human imagination. William Shakespeare wrote 37 plays and among these, one stands out from among the rest. It is called: The Tragedy of Hamlet Price of Denmark.

Shakespeare will always be remembered? Why do people think this? It has only been 400 years since he stopped writing. It was after movable type was all over Europe. It is not exactly surprising that we remember his name today. The question is whether we will remember his name in 2000 years.

Sophocles died 2400 years ago, and is still performed. Most of Euripides' 90-odd plays have survived this enormous gap of time. And Aristophanes comedies—better than anything Shakespeare managed to write with 2000 years advantage—are commonly produced.

Looking back on the reputation of Shakespeare, one quickly sees that it is the idea of Shakespeare, more than his work, that has been promulgated. In his own lifetime, Shakespeare was certainly not thought to be the greatest playwright or poet, although he was highly regarded. It wasn't until the end of the 17th century that people began to consider him a great playwright. Then, people noticed that his plays were highly melodramatic and filled with all kinds of over-the-top dramatic elements. During the early 19th century, people turned away from his plays to his poetry—especially the sonnets. In fact, this is lampooned in Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility. Today, Shakespeare is so edited and otherwise helped along by artists and academics that the fact that there is no there there isn't even noticed by the theater and film going public.

To be clear: my problem is not Shakespeare but rather with the Shakespeare industry. It is never enough to say that Shakespeare is the writer of some very popular plays. Instead, he is the best. Later in the same documentary, Stewart reads, "Part of Shakespeare's greatness is he gives every character even the wicked and devious the chance to touch an audience with truth and honesty." What an outrageous statement! Generally, it is only the evil characters who are given any motivation at all. The protagonists are generally cookie-cutter theatrical stereotypes. "Let's put a brave young man here!" or "How about a sharp-tongued female here!" If Shakespeare had been writing in America in the early 20th century, his plays would have filled with black minstrels (played by whites in black face, of course). There is much that can be said for Shakespeare, but great characters is definitely not one of them.

As for Hamlet: academics and actors love the play because they are still trying to figure it out. It is long enough and obscure enough that everyone feels there must be great meaning in it. But there isn't. The play is supposedly about Hamlet finally getting around to helping his poor dead father doomed to walk the earth until his murder is avenged. What does Hamlet need to do? Kill Claudius. But Hamlet does nothing but be obnoxious and kill lots of innocent people. In the end, he does kill Claudius, but not because of his father. He kills him because he sees Claudius kill his mother! How is that great drama?

Can we stop treating this man as though he is some kind of artistic singularity? People don't even do that for Mozart or Beethoven, and the case for each of them is far stronger.

Category: Politics
Posted by: Frank Moraes
Fareed ZakariaOn 8 July 2010, Paul Krugman and Niall Ferguson were on Fareed Zakaria GPS.[1] Niall Ferguson was saying that we have to deal with the budget deficit now. He's been saying this for years. Paul Krugman was saying that we need to stimulate the economy. He also said that eventually, we would need to deal with the budget deficit, but to do so now was wrong and probably self-defeating because it would hurt the economy and thus hurt tax revenues.

After interviewing both men, Zakaria came on alone to give his thoughts on what should be done. He said he agreed with both men. We should stimulate the economy now and work to close the budget deficit over the long-term. You can probably already see the problem here. Although he claimed that he agreed with both men, he only really agreed with Krugman. What Zakaria was proposing was exactly what Krugman had said. Ferguson didn't say we needed to balance the budget eventually; he said we needed to do it now. We are coming up on two years, and still US government bonds are ridiculously low. Ferguson is finally coming around.

The problem here is not that Ferguson was wrong; it is rare indeed when Krugman is not right about such matters; pity the man who decides to argue against him. The real problem is that we have journalists like Fareed Zakaria who will not say what they think or what is obvious. He insisted on making nice and pretending to accept Ferguson's fallacious ideas. And that makes it appear like the two sides are equally valid.

We're only supposed to do that about global warming.

[1] This is the only video I could find. I know the whole thing is available somewhere online.

On Good Reasons for SuicideThere is nothing so much as watching the Super Bowl to make one start a list of reasons for suicide. How can you not? They are thrust in your face!

Most notably, of course, there is the dullest of sporting events: football. It is deadly. First, there is the fact that there is very little actual play in the game. It looks very bad compared to soccer, basketball, hockey, rugby, or even the pastoral baseball. Then there is the fact that the teams seem more like dysfunctional hospitals than sporting groups, where every player is specialized to the point of not being able to play any other position. Could you imagine a kicker filling in for a safety? So the main event is not worth watching, which is one reason.

Then there is the fact that there is no square inch without an advertisement. And after a while, you begin to think that this is actually the main event: "I must buy a Motorola headset." This is another good reason.

Madonna performed at the half time. It was an amazing show. It was big, exciting, entertaining, professional. It could not have been any better. And it was awful. All that creativity and work and money spent to create something that looked like it shouldn't be allowed outside the city limits of Las Vegas. This was a great reason.

The high point of the show was a commercial for some truck—let's say it was Dodge, but I'm not sure. This man manages to escape sure death to meet his friends in the city, which frankly doesn't look like a place worth escaping to. Then it starts to rain frogs, which, you know, makes me think they are trying to appeal to Christians. And that is definitely a good reason.

The high point of the event was a Hulu commercial with Will Arnett. He's a funny guy and he even uses a line from Arrested Development. That in itself is not a reason.

But in the end, it seemed like my entire culture was just commerce. The creative and able people only create things to sell with but one thought: maximizing profits. And with complete honesty, I am deeply, deeply depressed. I see now how much a man of his time George Orwell was. 1984 was a great book. And movie. But it is no longer necessary to enslave people. They gleefully do it themselves.

Category: Politics
Posted by: Frank Moraes
VoteView has provided the following graph of how much to the right or left all the presidents since World War II are:


This is interesting in that it shows very clearly that Obama is the most conservative Democratic president in the post-war period. But it also goes against my often stated contention that Democrats are now more conservative than Republicans of the past.

Does this graph make me rethink my position? Definitely. However, it isn't clear exactly what the graph means. I checked out VoteView's website in some depth and did not find the details of their process.

Here's my question: are policy positions based upon the existing (at the time) political range? I suspect that VoteView would say it is not. However, there are problems with this contention, even if VoteView made it—and I don't know that they would. Certainly, Reagan was generally a bigger proponent of tax cuts than Obama, even though—as a practical matter—Obama has cut taxes more than any president. Obama wants to raise the top tax bracket to 39% while Reagan lowered the top tax bracket to 50%. I suspect that VoteView would see this as Reagan being more conservative on taxes than Obama, even though the net practical effect is that Obama's top tax rate would be 11% lower than Reagan's.

So I think this is still an open question, and I'm open to whatever the evidence indicates. Regardless, the graph clearly puts the lie to the conservative talking point that Obama is some kind of radical socialists.

Shakespeare in LoveIn my never ending efforts to provide my readers with the most trivial observations of life, I recently wrote roughly a thousand words about a ten cent mathematical error in the film Rocky. And I promised that I would discuss a similar issue in the film Shakespeare in Love.[1] This brings to mind an even more trivial question: why only Academy Award winning films? I don't know. It could be that I'm just not paying attention, because I noticed the math in both these films around the same time many years ago.

Shakespeare in Love begins with Hugh Fennyman and his henchmen torturing Philip Henslowe, because of unpaid debts. Henslowe proposes that they go into business together to put on a play. Fennyman likes this idea, so he begins to speculate.

Fennyman: A play takes time, find the actors, rehearsals; let's say we open in two weeks. That's what, 500 groundlings at tuppence [two pence] a head, in addition, 400 backsides at thruppence [three pence], a penny extra for cushions. Call it 200 cushions. Say two performances for safety. How much is that Mr. Frees?

Frees: Twenty pounds to penny, Mr. Fennyman!

Fennyman: Correct.

Let's do the math, shall we?

500 × 2 + 400 × 3 + 200 × 1 = 1000 + 1200 + 200 = 2400

Two performances: 4800? That's twenty pounds to the penny?

The United Kingdom has since metricized their currency, but not that long ago, and for a long time before, their currency made as much sense as all the other imperial units. Here is a list:

4 Farthings = Penny

6 Pennies = Sixpence

12 Pennies = Shilling

20 Shillings = Pound

240 Pennies = Pound

So 4800 Pennies is, in fact, "Twenty pounds to the the penny, Mr. Fennyman!"

[1] I'm sorry to bring this up, but there was another thing in Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor's Reduced Shakespeare that annoyed me:

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead - Two Bards

Everybody rise and give it up for Tom Stoppard. Not only did he re-energize the short-funny-alternative-Bard industry with Dogg's Hamlet ... he also helped Marc Norman write the delightful screenplay Shakespeare in Love, and he created Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, his worm's-eye view of Hamlet in which Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (minor characters in Shakespeare's play) become the leading characters in their own story and discover they aren't up to the task. Filled with Stoppardian wit, Shakespearean in-jokes, and Beckettian existential dread, Stoppard examimes a world in which "every exit is an entrance somewhere else."

So it's a bummer to report the movie's a bit of a drag. Although very funny in spots, and a treat to watch Gary Oldman play a bumbling, funny, nice guy, you can't avoid the fact that the play is ultimately about two guys who merely watch and wait. Action heroes they're not.

With that caveat, however—enjoy.

Shakespeare in Love is a great film in all ways except for the primary plot, which is okay. Given Marc Norman's history of writing (in large groups) such gems as Cutthroat Island, I doubt that anything I actually like in this film is due to him. All that is clever and interesting is most likely Stoppard's.

I seem to be one of the few people on the planet who think that the film Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead is better than the play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. It is just so much richer. In particular, it is great to watch Rosencrantz (Oldman) discover or invert Archimedes' principle, the steam engine, gravitation, conservation of energy, flight. The film is a delight that only gets better with more viewings.

The criticism that the title characters just spend the film watching and waiting is amazing, given that Martin and Tichenor seem to be aware that it is an homage to Waiting for Godot. Given that, what are the characters to do? What are any of us to do? That's life: we wait around until we die. I don't think people turn to Shakespeare when they are in the mood for an action movie.

Update (21 November 2012 4:57 pm)

I changed the numbers I got wrong by only doing a single performance. See comments below.

I am fascinated by the opening soliloquy of Richard III. Most of it is Shakespeare at his best and a little, Shakespeare at his worst:

Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this sun of York;
And all the clouds that lour'd upon our house
In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.
Now are our brows bound with victorious wreaths;
Our bruised arms hung up for monuments;
Our stern alarums chang'd to merry meetings,
Our dreadful marches to delightful measures.
Grim-visag'd war hath smoothed his wrinkled front,
And now, instead of mounting barbed steeds
To fright the souls of fearful adversaries,
He capers nimbly in a lady's chamber
To the lascivious pleasing of a lute.
But I, that am not shaped for sportive tricks,
Nor made to court an amorous looking-glass—
I, that am rudely stamped, and want love's majesty
To strut before a wanton ambling nymph—
I, that am curtailed of this fair proportion,
Cheated of feature by dissembling nature,
Deformed, unfinished, sent before my time
Into this breathing world scarce half made up,
And that so lamely and unfashionable
That dogs bark at me as I halt by them—
Why, I, in this weak piping time of peace,
Have no delight to pass away the time,
Unless to spy my shadow in the sun
And descant on mine own deformity.
And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover
To entertain these fair well-spoken days,
I am determined to prove a villain
And hate the idle pleasures of these days.
Plots have I laid, inductions dangerous,
By drunken prophecies, libels, and dreams,
To set my brother Clarence and the King
In deadly hate the one against the other;
And if King Edward be as true and just
As I am subtle, false, and treacherous,
This day should Clarence closely be mew'd up—
About a prophecy which says that G
Of Edward's heirs the murderer shall be.

If you ever want to really get inside a piece of poetry: memorize it. Nothing is like it. In trying to memorize it, you look at it from every possible angle. I have, of course, memorized this exact speech. And so I think that I understand it pretty well. Here is my take, in more or less plain English:

The king has made us all safe and happy—he's ended the war. All the terrors that haunted us are now gone for good. We have been honored as heroes, put away our weapons, silenced all calls to arms, and rested our aching bodies. War has put on a happy face, and instead of charging his enemies, he seduces our women. But I am ugly, and though I may want love, who would have me? I am a deformed beast! Even dogs bark when I come near. So in this wimpy time of peace, I am not happy. What choice do I have? Stare at my deformed shadow? No. Since I can't have a life of love, I will have hatred. I will pass my days with villainous deeds. Already, I have spread a rumor that my brother means to murder the king. And soon, I will destroy them both!

Clearly, Richard is not a well-adjusted person. Even more: he is not a believable character. No one runs their life that way, "I have two options: lover or villain." It's ridiculous. But that doesn't make it any less fun.

Henry Irving

As is discussed in the lecture available in And I Won't Even Complain About Not Much Liking Shakespeare, Henry Irving is the first person to record Shakespeare. He probably did it in 1888. And what he recorded was this opening soliloquy from Richard III. It is a remarkable thing, because his performance is almost unrecognizable as acting. There is almost no emotion: it is all elocution. When he says the line, "That dogs bark at me as I halt by them" he says it as if he were Sweeney Todd in a melodrama. The only way to understand such a performance is to hear it as an aria. And as such it is interesting. But it tells us precious little about the character.

From this lecture, I know that the history of Shakespearean performance over the last 125 years has been one of moving away from this musical style of performance to our modern emotional style of performance. Based upon this, going backwards from 1888, we can assume that performances were even more musical, less emotionally nuanced. And thus, it is surprising to read William Hazlitt in 1814, describe the character in Mr. Kean's Richard:

The restless and sanguinary Richard is not a man striving to be great, but to be greater than he is; conscious of his strength of will, his powers of intellect, his daring courage, his elevated station, and making use of these advantages, as giving him both the means and the pretext to commit unheard-of crimes, and to shield himself from remorse and infamy.

I agree with all that Hazlitt writes here, but somehow his impressive intellect and erudition seem to fail him in that he misses the one thing that most defines Richard: his anger—at the universe for making him deformed, and everyone in it for not sharing his deficiencies. If Richard is not angry (and perhaps bored as well), I don't see what the whole play is about.

Laurence Olivier

Here is Laurence Olivier doing Richard the way I see him: angry. Beneath every line is rage and I am right there with him. This is the best performance of Richard I've ever seen, even though it is far from the most emotional or human. It is from Olivier's own star-studded filmed version in 1955. Note that Olivier has taken out the dreadful lines, "And if King Edward be as true and just / As I am subtle, false, and treacherous, / This day should Clarence closely be mew'd up— / About a prophecy which says that G / Of Edward's heirs the murderer shall be."

Heartbreak Productions

Here is an interesting take on Richard. According the person who posted it, "Heartbreak Productions Richard III summer 2002. Directed by Peter Mimmack. With Andrew Cullum as Richard III. Filmed at Kenilworth Castle." He starts off very sarcastic, which I totally approve of, because sarcasm is just a veneer on anger. However, Cullum throws some self-pity in the second half of the speech that I'm not so sure of. Certainly it is a valid take on the character, but like so much of modern Shakespearean performance: a lot is created that just isn't there in the text.

Kenneth Branagh

Branagh is very good as Richard, but in this scene, he plays it too much like the melodramatic villain. His barely suppressed anger is great, but he jumps so nimbly from it to an all too clear delight that I find it jarring.

Here he is in Act 5, Scene 4. It's 27 seconds of wonderful:

Ian McKellen

The 1995 filmed version of Richard III is so stylized, that it is hard to know what to think of McKellen's understated performance. He is clearly very pleased with himself, but somehow he manages to integrate this with his hatred and frustration so that it works. (It is unfair to do a comparison of a big budget film and basically a book on tape that Branagh was doing.)

Just the same, it is hard to know if McKellen understands the speech at all, based upon the following clip. Yeah, we get it: "Sun of York" is a pun of "Son of York" and King Edward is the son of the Duke of York. But Richard does not mean these lines as stated: he would prefer it still be winter. I don't mean to suggest that McKellen really doesn't know what he's talking about. Artists are almost always at their worst when they discuss their work. But one does get the impression that he thinks he is speaking to a child of limited intelligence:

There is no doubt that the more recent actors give Richard more depth. My question is whether that is really appropriate.

03 Feb 2012: Kill Your Daughters

Category: Politics
Posted by: Frank Moraes
Planned ParenthoodAccording to MSNBC (and many other sources), "In a reversal of Susan G. Komen For the Cure's funding cuts to Planned Parenthood, the founder and CEO of the nation's largest breast-cancer advocacy agency said Friday that the group would amend the criteria that sparked a firestorm."

Despite what Komen is saying, their original decision was part of a concerted effort to destroy Planned Parenthood. According to Newsday:

Komen has explained that the defunding decision was due to the foundation's recently enacted policy to not fund organizations that are under investigation by local, state or federal authorities. That would disqualify Planned Parenthood, which is the subject of a congressional inquiry begun in September by Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., to determine whether it has used federal money to fund abortions, which is forbidden by law.

What isn't clear from this article is that Komen made its decision in December—after Stearns' inquiry had started. So they knew exactly what they were doing.

And they know what they're doing now. They've reversed themselves because of the huge backlash against them that was going to hurt donations to this primarily conservative, and clearly evil, group.

This can't be said often enough: despite all their platitudes to the contrary, these people hate women—especially young and powerful women. Depriving them of healthcare is just a way of killing them by subtler means than death camps and marches. Kill you daughters![1]


Ezra Klein has an excellent article about Komen's turn around. He writes, in part:

Originally, Komen said Planned Parenthood was ineligible for grants because they were under congressional investigation. But they quickly abandoned that claim and moved to a more apolitical explanation: Planned Parenthood doesn’t directly provide mammography. "We have decided not to fund, wherever possible, pass-through grants," said Nancy Brinker, president of the Susan G. Komen Foundation. "We were giving them money, they were sending women out for mammograms."


If Komen had initially argued that they would no longer fund organizations that didn’t directly provide mammograms, they would, perhaps, have had an easier time explaining their decision. Of course, that might have meant defunding a much larger swath of organizations. It also would have meant changing their recommendations to women.


The likelier explanation, as Kate Sheppard has persuasively argued, is that the shifting rationales behind Komen’s decision imply that the decision to defund Planned Parenthood was based on either political or ideological considerations regarding abortion. But because many of Komen’s funders are pro-choice, it couldn’t be described that way. Hence the hunt for alternative justifications, and the eventual apology and putative reversal.

The core of Kate Sheppard's argument is the following list:

  • Anti-abortion groups leading the campaign against Komen's Planned Parenthood funding may have been tipped off to the decision well before it was public.

  • The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg reported that the decision was about abortion and that Handel was involved. The story has not been corrected or retracted.

  • Komen did not cancel a grant to Pennsylvania State University despite the university being the target of a federal investigation, which was the original reason Komen cited for ending the Planned Parenthood grant.

  • Anti-abortion groups are also declaring victory in their parallel attempts to pressure Komen on embryonic stem cell research, another hot-button issue. Anti-abortion groups have targeted Komen for providing funding to any medical institution that also conducts that type of research (even if Komen isn't directly funding it). A few weeks ago, Texas Right to Life flagged a Komen press release from late November explicitly stating that they don't support research that involves "destroying a human embryo" and have never funded that type of research. Both Life News and the National Catholic Register noted the Komen release on Wednesday evening, and Life News reported further that Komen appears to have also ended grants to institutions that conducts embryonic stem cell research. The link to the press release on the Komen site is dead now, and the press release is no longer posted in their media section. The organization did not respond immediately to a request for comment on whether they've changed their policy on this topic as well.

[1] Here's Lou Reed, writing about how the good people tried to help him with electroshock therapy in the song Kill Your Sons:

All your two-bit psychiatrists
are giving you electroshock
They said, they'd let you live at home with mom and dad
instead of mental hospitals
But every time you tried to read a book
you couldn't get to page 17
'Cause you forgot where you were
so you couldn't even read

Don't you know they're gonna kill your sons

Here's the song:

03 Feb 2012: Why I Like Romney

Category: Politics
Posted by: Frank Moraes
Gingrich/RomneyI remember the 1980 presidential election. I remember that liberal-minded people were thrilled that the Republicans had nominated Ronald Reagan. And then he won, and the United States has been on a constant ride to more inequality that I fear eventually leads to some form of neo-fascism (admittedly, pro-Isreal fascism).

So I haven't been too excited with the prospect of Newt Gingrich getting the Republican nomination. It just stinks too much of 1980. What really bothers me is the Teflon issue. Reagan was called the "Teflon President" because nothing ever stuck to him. The most obvious case was the Iran-Contra Affair where Reagan's actions were treasonous.[1] Newt Gingrich seems to have the same Teflon coating.

Gingrich has terrible things in his past. And yet: no one cares. That's all in the past. That was all before he found God. Except... that he was raised Lutheran. Publicly, he has always claimed to be a good Christian. Why should we believe him now? Or more to the point: why should Christians believe him now?

I think the answer is clear. Conservative Christians believe Gingrich now because he is saying what they want to hear. And this has nothing to do with religion. What they want to hear is that abortion is bad, war is good, and the United States is "special."

It is a common liberal complaint that Jesus was very often talking about the poor, but most Christians in America are only interested in making woman carry their pregnancies to term. But the situation is much worse than this. In general, Christians (the conservative ones and those are the majority of the serious ones) don't give a damn about the poor. In fact, I think that's why the abortion (And birth control!) issue resonates so well for them: it is another way to keep the poor down. And they hate women, of course.

So I see Newt being a very dangerous candidate. When enough people say that it is unfair to talk about the man's long and varied history of personal and private corruption, the media will pick up on it. They will make it so it can't be talked about. And then, you're living in Newt's world.

Mitt Romney, on the other hand, is a terrible candidate. I think that Obama will eat them alive at the debates. I think the campaign will be able to tar Romney as a vulture capitalist, if Romney hasn't done it for them by the general election.

So I like Romney!

[1] Of course, two Republican presidents after him also committed treason, so what's the big deal? Bush Sr. was even more involved in Iran-Contra than Reagan. And Bush Jr. had that little Social Security Privatization (Sorry: Personalization!) Tour where he repeatedly questioned the full faith and credit of the nation he was nominally leading. Oh! And Clinton got a blow job: impeach that man!

Category: Politics
Posted by: Frank Moraes
Death of the Liberal ClassI just picked up Chris Hedges' Death of the Liberal Class. It is an excellent book. He argues that the liberal class—basically, the professional class—has traditionally served as a counterbalance to corporate power. Over the past many decades, however, the corporate class has eroded and corrupted the liberal class so that it is now too small and too beholden to corporate interests to serve this critical function. But Hedges isn't naive. He knows that the liberal class has always been in important ways dependent upon corporate power. The compelling case he makes is that a system that was always fragile has crumbled to bits, only to be replaced with corporate power alone. It is well worth reading.

Here he is sounding a lot like a reasonable me:

In a traditional democracy, the liberal class functions as a safety valve. It makes piecemeal and incremental reform possible. It offers hope for change and proposes gradual steps toward greater equality. It endows the state and the mechanisms of power with virtue. It also serves as an attack dog that discredits radical social movements, making the liberal class a useful component within the power elite.

But the assault by the corporate state on the democratic state has claimed the liberal class as one of its victims. Corporate power forgot that the liberal class, when it functions, gives legitimacy to the power elite. And reducing the liberal class to courtiers or mandarins, who have nothing to offer but empty rhetoric, shuts off this safety valve and forces discontent to find other outlets that often end in violence.

The inability of the liberal class to acknowledge that corporations have wrested power from the hands of citizens, that the Constitution and its guarantees of personal liberty have become irrelevant, and that the phrase consent of the governed is meaningless, has let it speaking and acting in ways that no longer correspond to reality. It has lent its voice to hollow acts of political theater, and the pretense that democratic debate and choice continue to exist.

02 Feb 2012: I am Rita

The Pleasure of HatingThere is a librarian who, on seeing me, is fond of yelling out, "Frank" in the Liverpudlian accept of the title character in the film Educating Rita. I find this charming. What's more, I would only be too delighted to think of myself as the erudite and emotionally wounded Frank Bryan. I've always been fond of his big plunge into the dark side, and his vicious comment, "Found a culture, have you Rita? Found a better song to sing? No, you found a different song to sing, and on your lips it's shrill and hollow and tuneless."

What a cruel remark. But also: how true. At least, I always thought so.

This evening, I was reading William Hazlitt's The Pleasure of Hating, a collection of essays, including that for which the book is titled.[1] And Hazlitt is nothing so much as a revaluation. First, he is a wonderful writer. As a 19th century British essayist, he commonly writes thousand word paragraphs. This is such a delight in a time when most magazines will only accept stories that are less than 2000 words. But more than the pure joy of the writing, Hazlitt is a radical thinker—both in his time and ours.

I have a new hero. And you are likely to hear much more about this great man from me.

Reading through these essays in an almost religious ecstasy, a thought came crashing into my mind: you are not Frank. Frank Bryan, that is. Certainly, I accept this song that I now sing is in no objective sense better than the song I was born to. But that isn't the point. It is a matter of perspective. For Bryan, this was the song he was born to. For Rita and me, it is a song we've worked very hard to sing in key. Love is never objective, but that doesn't make it any less fundamental. And those who feel that our song is shrill and hollow and tuneless have sunk to the point where all songs sound that way.

[1] Just to give you a taste of what Hazlitt is like, I offer you some quotes from the essay The Pleasure of Hating, which he wrote when he was exactly my age. Here is the essay in brief:

Pure good soon grows insipid, wants variety and spirit. Pain is a bittersweet, which never surfeits. Love turns, with a little indulgence, to indifference or disgust: hatred alone is immortal.

Here he could be writing about Frank Bryan, but then, I expect that Hazlitt knew more than a few of them:

We hate old friends: we hate old books: we hate old opinions; and at last we come to hate ourselves.

I marked this one because I thought it worthy of Dorothy Parker:

For my own part, as I once said, I like a friend the better for having faults that one can talk about. "Then," said Mrs. —, "you will never cease to be a philanthropist!"

There is no question that Hazlitt liked the plays of Shakespeare very much. However, if people today were as broad minded on this subject, I would never feel the need to complain about That Bard:

To cry up Shakespeare as the God of our idolatry, seems like a vulgar, national prejudice: to take down a volume of Chaucer, or Spenser, or Beaumont and Fletcher, or Ford, or Marlowe, has very much the look of pedantry and egotism. I confess it makes me hate the very name of Fame and Genius when works like these are "gone into the wastes of time," while each successive generation of fools is busily employed in reading the trash of the day...

The essay itself is an indictment of the writer and the reader:

As to my old opinions, I am heartily sick of them. I have reason, for they have deceived me sadly. I was taught to think, and I was willing to believe, that genius was not a bawd—that virtue was not a mask—that liberty was not a name—that love had its seat in the human heart. Now I would care little if these words were struck out of the dictionary, or if I had never heard them... Seeing all this as I do, and unraveling the web of human life into its various threads of meanness, spite, cowardice, want of feeling, and want of understand, of indifference towards others and ignorance of ourselves—seeing infamy—mistaken as I have been in my public and private hopes, calculating others from myself, and calculating wrong; always disappointed where I placed most reliance; the dupe of friendship, and the fool of love; have I not reason to hate and to despise myself? Indeed I do; and chiefly for not having hated and despised the world enough.

Attack of the Puppet PeopleDramatic momentum is surprisingly easy to sustain in narrative art. All you have to do is move the plot along in some direction. It absolutely doesn't matter which direction. So imagine if you came up with an idea for a story about a crazy doll maker who is turning humans into doll sized creatures and holding them hostage. That's a pretty good idea, right? The little people against the giant! I love it!

But let's see how we can screw it up, shall we? Instead of creating drama with the constant threat of little people rebellion, let's have the crazy guy be able to put the little ones asleep inside of tubes. Then, don't actually show the littles until a half hour into the film And when you finally do show them, spend about 20 minutes with everyone standing around. And what about a song? (A rather good one sung by co-star Marlene Willis.) That's it! And don't forget to use up another 10 minutes with some scientific-sounding mumbo-jumbo about tuning forks causing frequencies that make atoms scale the way projected images do. Just remember: no one cares, so they'll really be bored!

Finally, for the big finish, just stop. It doesn't have to make sense. It's all right for the little people to do what they could have done at the start of the movie. And be sure to forget completely about the vast majority of the littles. Don't sink to using that cutting-edge technology of cross-cutting, invented no later than 1903 in The Great Train Robbery.

You can always depend upon Bert I. Gordon—who, at 89, is still alive—to take a good idea and, well, give it the Bert I. Gordon treatment. What I just described is the plot to Attack of the Puppet People AKA I Was a Teenage Doll AKA Six Inches Tall AKA The Fantastic Puppet People. But the same formula is used in other such Gordon classics as Beginning of the End, Earth vs. the Spider, Tormented. And let us not forget The Amazing Colossal Man (shockingly not available on DVD), which features big in Puppet People—Gordon recycles the best part of Colossal Man in a drive-in scene in the first half of it.

As drama goes, Attack of the Puppet People is a disaster, and yet it somehow works. This is mostly due to a surprisingly compelling performance by John Hoyt as the puppet maker. He isn't insane so much as desperately lonely. Lonely enough to win the Nobel Prize in, I don't know: Quantum Puppetry?

The truth is, the whole film is well rendered. The special effects are quite good; the opticals are as good as anything I remember seeing in the 1950s—better than Hitchcock ever did. The art direction, cinematography, costume design, acting: it is all totally professional. The problem is the script. Unfortunately, when you build your house in a swamp, it tends to sink.[1]

Attack of the Puppet People succeeds because it is so silly. The plot may not pull you through, but one thing will: the screenwriter's (George Worthing Yates based upon a Bert I. Gordon story) desire to somehow make 15 minutes worth of material add up to 80 minutes. For want of a script, a fun but awful film was made. With a decent script, this would have been really good on every level. It's all Gordon's fault, though: he should have given Yates the entire afternoon to write the script.[2]

[1] As the King of Swamp Castle says in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, "When I first came here, this was all swamp. Everyone said I was daft to build a castle on a swamp, but I built it all the same, just to show them. It sank into the swamp. So I built a second one. That sank into the swamp. So I built a third. That burned down, fell over, then sank into the swamp. But the fourth one stayed up. And that's what you're going to get, lad, the strongest castle in all of England!"

[2] My hero, Crow T. Robot had the right idea with his unfilmed script Earth Vs. Soup:

Broadway Danny RoseI watched Woody Allen's movie Broadway Danny Rose this morning, for the first time since I was a kid. It may well be his best film. Regardless, it is perfect: it never makes a wrong move.

It is a comedy, of course. And very funny. But Allen usually makes funny films. I don't actively seek him out any more, but I'm generally very pleased when I do stumble upon something. Recently I saw The Curse of the Jade Scorpion, and I thought it quite good. But it isn't really about anything; it is just a romp. Broadway Danny Rose, on the other hand, is deep. By the end I was sobbing. (What else is new?) What major filmmaker writes about trust and forgiveness?

What's really amazing about the film is how Allen ends it. Tina Vitale has come to Danny's apartment to ask for his forgiveness. He can't do it. She leaves. But Danny's the kind of guy who can't not forgive. He runs after her and catches her right in front of the Carnegie Deli. He leads her back to the party at this apartment. And then we hear the comedians who have been telling the stories.

"You know that only six months ago, they gave him the single greatest honor you can get in the Broadway area? Look at the menu: at this very delicatessen they named a sandwich after him. The Danny Rose Special!"

"Probably a cream cheese on a bagel with marinara sauce."

What a great way to say, "And they—the Jew and the Italian—lived happily ever after.

Oh my God, I think I'm going to cry.