Friday, February 28, 2014

Someone's Gotta Win

The Oscars are on Sunday, so I suppose I might as well give my picks.

Best picture
"12 Years a Slave"
"The Wolf of Wall Street"
"Captain Phillips"
"Her"
"American Hustle"
"Gravity"
"Dallas Buyers Club"
"Nebraska"
"Philomena"
 
I'd pick American Hustle.  The battle is between that, 12 Years A Slave and Gravity, and though 12 Years is generally favored, I think the votes will split right for American Hustle anyway.
 
Best director
Steve McQueen -- "12 Years a Slave"
David O. Russell -- "American Hustle"
Alfonso Cuaron -- "Gravity"
Alexander Payne -- "Nebraska"
Martin Scorsese -- "The Wolf of Wall Street"
 
The Academy will go with Cuaron, who made the entire thing possible.  I agree.
 
Best actor
Bruce Dern -- "Nebraska"
Chiwetel Ejiofor -- "12 Years a Slave"
Matthew McConaughey -- "Dallas Buyers Club"
Leonardo DiCaprio -- "The Wolf of Wall Street"
Christian Bale -- "American Hustle"

I'd choose Matthew McConaughey, and I think he'll win in a close vote.
 
Best actress
Amy Adams -- "American Hustle"
Cate Blanchett -- "Blue Jasmine"
Judi Dench -- "Philomena"
Sandra Bullock -- "Gravity"
Meryl Streep -- "August: Osage County"
 
I suppose I'd pick Judi Dench, but Cate Blanchett is the lock of the night.
 
Best supporting actor
Barkhad Abdi -- "Captain Phillips"
Bradley Cooper -- "American Hustle"
Jonah Hill -- "The Wolf of Wall Street"
Jared Leto -- "Dallas Buyers Club"
Michael Fassbender -- "12 Years a Slave"
 
This is usually the best category, but is surprisingly weak this year.  Jared Leto will probably win, but I guess I'd choose Barkhad Abdi.
 
Best supporting actress
Jennifer Lawrence -- "American Hustle"
Lupita Nyong'o -- "12 Years a Slave"
June Squibb -- "Nebraska"
Julia Roberts -- "August: Osage County"
Sally Hawkins -- "Blue Jasmine"
 
Some interesting choices.  Lupita Nyong'o is the favorite.  I might choose Julia Roberts.

Best original screenplay
"American Hustle" -- David O. Russell and Eric Warren Singer
"Blue Jasmine" -- Woody Allen
"Her" -- Spike Jonze
"Nebraska" -- Bob Nelson
"Dallas Buyers Club" -- Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack
 
An easy pick for me--American Hustle.  That should be about as easy for the Academy.
 
Best adapted screenplay
"12 Years a Slave" -- John Ridley
"Before Midnight" -- Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke and Richard Linklater
"The Wolf of Wall Street" -- Terence Winter
"Captain Phillips" -- Billy Ray
"Philomena" -- Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope
 
I suppose 12 Years A Slave is the favorite. I suppose I'd pick Philomena.
 
Best animated feature
"The Wind Rises"
"Frozen"
"Despicable Me 2"
"Ernest & Celestine"
"The Croods"
 
Some decent choices here, but Frozen is the easy winner.  (I actually have a friend nominated in this category for The Croods. I'm rooting for her but the odds aren't great.)
 
Best short film, live action
"Aquel No Era Yo (That Wasn't Me)"
"Avant Que De Tout Perdre (Just Before Losing Everything)"
"Helium"
"Pitaako Mun Kaikki Hoitaa? (Do I Have to Take Care of Everything?)"
"The Voorman Problem"
 
None of them are great, but I guess "Avant Qeu De Tout Perdre" is the best.
 
Best short film, animated
"Feral"
"Get a Horse!"
"Mr. Hublot"
"Possessions"
"Room on the Broom"
 
"Possessions" is well done, but gotta go with "Get A Horse!," which, while not as charming as it could be, is still pretty dazzling.
 
Can't say too much about the rest, except you can expect Gravity to win a bunch of technical awards.

Cindy!

It's time for the annual celebration: happy birthday to my favorite member of The B-52s, Cindy Wilson.










Thursday, February 27, 2014

On Record

I spotted Sean Wilentz's 360 Sound: The Columbia Records Story in the bookstore and thought here's a good idea for a coffee table book.  There's hardly a genre of music this label didn't significantly affect in its long and storied history.  So I opened it up.

First I hit a page on Leonard Bernstein.  The book said soon after his West Side Story opened on Broadway in 1957 Columbia released an original cast album that stayed atop the charts for 54 weeks.  Wrong.  The Broadway cast album--not unlike the show--wasn't a huge hit in its day, and never made the top of the charts.  (Meanwhile, The Music Man, the show that beat West Side Story for the Best Musical Tony, had a cast album that was #1 for 12 weeks.) It was the soundtrack album of the blockbuster movie version of WSS, released in 1962, that set and still holds the record for most weeks at the top.

So I skipped ahead to Bob Dylan. Wilentz notes that he went electric on Bringing It All Back Home, and his song "Maggie's Farm" takes up a whole side of that album.  The song is under four minutes long and only one of seven on the first side of Bringing It All Back Home.  I'm still not sure how Wilentz could make this mistake.  Is he confusing it with "Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands," the entire fourth side of Blonde On Blonde?  Even so, how did no one catch this?

The book is big enough and heavy enough to be a coffee table book, and has plenty of nice pictures, but I wouldn't use it to settle any arguments.

Dex

Happy birthday, Dexter Gordon, the only great jazz saxophonist I'm aware of who was also nominated for a Best Actor Oscar.





Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Emily's List

At The New Yorker, Emily Nussbaum takes down True Detective.  I have no doubt she's giving us her honest feelings, even though looking down at critical favorites is practically coin of the realm over there.  But it gets a bit odd halfway through:

I'm certain that, if you’re a fan of the series, this analysis irritates you. It’s no fun to be a killjoy, particularly when people are yelling “Best show ever”; it’s the kind of debate that tends to turn both sides into scolds, each accusing the other of being prudes or suckers.

What's the kind of show she does like?  Well, Girls, which follows True Detective, for one:

[...] because it’s television, it’s being built in front of us, absorbing and defying critiques along the way. It lingers and rankles and upsets. Like any groundbreaking TV, it shows the audience something new, then dares it to look away. Small wonder some viewers itch to give the show a sound spanking.

I see. So when the audience loves a show and she doesn't, she makes a preemptive strike--any disagreement will be shrill and distasteful, so it would simply be wrong to criticize Nussbaum for not getting it. But when she likes something, the show defies criticism--if you're upset by it that's the point, and Nussbaum can explain away any negative comments.

Emily, just let us know whether you like it or not.  Stop worrying so much about what others think.

In The Mood

Happy birthday, James Moody.  A jazz saxophonist who also played flute, he's best known for "Moody's Mood For Love," his improvisation based on "I'm In The Mood For Love," which gained ever greater fame when it became the basis for King Pleasure's vocalese version.






Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Harold Ramis

This is a shock--Harold Ramis has died.  He was one of the biggest names in comedy over the past forty years.  Starting in the 70s and continuing, I suppose, up to today, the whole SNL-Second City-National Lampoon axis has been central in American comedy, and Ramis was one of the best of the group.

As a young man in Chicago he performed at Second City and also was the joke editor of Playboy.  He then got caught up in the National Lampoon orbit, writing and performing on their radio hour and working in their stage show.  Next he started writing and starring in the Second City TV show.

Around this time National Lampoon was planning to branch out into movies, so they chose Ramis to join writers Doug Kenney and Chris Miller to write a script.  They came up with National Lampoon's Animal House, a gigantic hit that changed the face of comedy.

Hollywood opened up to everyone associated with the film, and Ramis went on to write, direct and/or star in more than his share of hits:  Caddyshack, Stripes, National Lampoon's Vacation, Ghostbusters and Groundhog Day, to name a few.

I think he was a decent actor and a pretty good director, though his greatest talent (as far as I could tell) was as a writer.  In any case, he made his mark as few have.

I saw him a number of years ago at the Academy's building. He talked about his career.  He was quite self-deprecating, but that, I think, was the mark of a man who knew that his accomplishments spoke for themselves.  Which they will continue to do.

Cool Yule

Happy birthday, Doug Yule.

It's late 1968.  The Velvet Underground are touring across the country. They have a certain following but their first two albums have barely charted.  There's tension between the two leading members, Lou Reed and John Cale (beyond management's pot-stirring and Lou's normal drug-fueled paranoia).  Reed would like to take the band in a more commercial direction--by Lou Reed standards--while Cale wants to continue in an experimental vein.

Anyway, Lou kicks Cale out of the band and the other two pretty much have to go along with it.  They need someone to replace Cale--well, someone to play base anyway. It's not exactly clear why they called Yule, but he gets the gigs, and becomes not only the bassist, but also gets to sing on their next two albums when Lou isn't up to it.






Harrisongs

Happy birthday, George Harrison.  He didn't make it all this way, but let's remember the Quiet One, who made quite a noise when he felt like it.










Monday, February 24, 2014

Law By L'Esprit D'Escalier

People are talking about Jeffrey Toobin's piece at The New Yorker website, "Clarence Thomas's Disgraceful Silence." While the other Justices are questioning attorneys, Thomas sits back and stares at the ceiling:

[...] there is more to the job of Supreme Court Justice than writing opinions. The Court’s arguments are not televised (though they should be), but they are public. They are, in fact, the public’s only windows onto the Justices’ thought processes, and they offer the litigants and their lawyers their only chance to look these arbiters in the eye and make their case*. [....]

But the process works only if the Justices engage. [....] Thomas is simply not doing his job.

Is Toobin kidding?  The job of a Supreme Court Justice is to hear cases and make rulings.  That's it.  Toobin believes it's the Justices' job to show their "thought processes"?  I suggest he read their opinions, then, or is it their job to tweet each day so we know what they're thinking as they go along?

Oral arguments are fun, but they're a showcase.  They rarely--maybe never--decide a case.  The Justices receive numerous briefs, do their own research and argue amongst (and within) themselves for months before their opinion is issued.  I think Thomas's silence sets an excellent example.  These days the attorneys barely open their mouths before they're interrupted.  What follows is the Justices toying with them, often showboating, but barely breaking new ground in the legal argument.

And imagine if the answers to these questions were significant.  That would be horrible.  Rulings would be based on which attorney was fastest on his feet.  Imagine the weaker attorney driving home that night and thinking "if only I'd made this argument instead of that one, the course of American jurisprudence would have been changed."

*Note the slippery wording here: "they offer the litigants and their lawyers their only chance to look these arbiters in the eye and make their case." They've actually got months or even years to "make their case," including their work in the lower courts and their briefs, but it's true, the short and relatively unimportant--if exciting--oral argument is their one chase to look the Justices in the eye while doing so.

Magical 88

Happy birthday Nicky Hopkins, one of the top session pianists in the 60s and 70s.








Sunday, February 23, 2014

It all adds up

Yesterday's post on worst lyric seemed a minor hit, so let's try best math lyric.

Here's my nomination: "But I would walk 500 miles And I would walk 500 more Just to be the man who walks a thousand miles to fall down at your door." (Bet anonymous is wishing I were reprising Springsteen about now.)

Founding Philosophers

Have you seen the commercial for Blu E-Cigs?  It's interesting to see commercials for smoking on the air. (I wonder how long before the government passes some regulation to stop it?)

But even more interesting is the copy in the ad.



In particular, let me draw your attention to "this country was founded on free will."

Oh yes, of course, I remember reading all those arguments in the Federalist Papers about how we weren't automatons, but actually had the power to make decisions.

Some People Are Up To Some Music

Happy 65th, Larry "Squirrel" Demps. He was one of The Dramatics, a group that had been around since the early 60s but didn't break big until the 70s.  He sang baritone and did the choreography.  He also named the band.





Saturday, February 22, 2014

Call me maybe

I'm not sure what the best rock lyric ever is ("wink of a young girl's eye"? "every cheap hood strikes a bargain with the world"?), but I've got a nomination for the worst: "nobody callin' on the phone, except for the Pope, maybe, in Rome."

I probably need to expand my time horizon.

Abandon Ship

Here's a fairly uninteresting piece in the New Republic.  Isaac Chotiner interviews Mark Harris (who wrote the fine book Pictures At A Revolution) about politics in movies.

They discuss the leftist critique of films like The Wolf of Wall Street, Dallas Buyer’s Club and Captain Phillips:

Mark Harris: When I look at a movie like Captain Phillips, I see an implicit critique of the imbalance of power between the US and Africa kind of built into the story, but I would also defend the right of a director like Paul Greengrass or a director like Kathryn Bigelow to be primarily interested in depicting how something works—an operation or a mission, you know. There is a growing critique that says, “No, you can’t—it’s not enough to create this sort of ‘you are there’ sensory, visceral experience without a movie also addressing the ‘you are there’ question and why are you there, what got us there, what are the ramifications of us being there." I find myself being in different positions depending on the movie, but I think it’s an interesting fight and a fight worth having.

Nah, I don't think it's an interesting fight or a fight worth having. It's mostly annoying people saying annoying thinks and generally missing the point. 

Here's what Chotiner says next:

Isaac Chotiner:  When America fights a war now, it’s not unquestionably thought of as a good thing, which is great. At the same time, I wonder if you should be able to make a movie like Captain Phillips without going into the history of the United States and Africa and colonialism and power imbalances.

Now don't get me wrong, it might be fun to make a film about the history of the U.S. and Africa that would challenge Chotner's preconceptions, perhaps even teaching him some things he believes are unquestionably good, aren't.  But such a film is not Captain Phillips.  And, to be honest, most such films are even more boring than the leftist critiques they provoke.

PS.  In the Weekly Standard Jon Podhoretz has a piece on The Lego Movie, which he claims uses tired anti-capitalist cliches to sell Lego.  His rant is extravagant in two directions at once.

Before Prince, Before Madonna, Before Bjork

His full name was William Oliver Swofford, but he was known simply as Oliver.  Now I'm not sure he's known at all, but in the late 60s was a popular singer.






Friday, February 21, 2014

Speaking of Love for Sale

Who doesn't love Kimberly Strassel?

Unfortunately, when she writes "Never mind that every Republican, once past the Cruz show vote, opposed the increase on final passage," she's got it exactly backwards. It's the no vote that is the show.

It's the toughest question in politics, how far to go and when. But people love gumption, and the hardest thing to do is declare a policy a failure and move on to something new. It's so hard that the general rule is, it can't be done.

So, punk, the question you gotta ask yourself is, who's the failure?

Update: Et tu, Tom? A little hard to tell where Mr. Sowell is landing on this one. His literal words for Cruz seem as hostile as Strassel, but all his argument is against what Cruz is fighting, and it's spot on. Not only the norm for Sowell, but well above it. Too bad he couldn't have added Bush explicitly to the list, but probably that's wise. People's brains would turn off and they'd go to their "Bush is bad" box.

Here's the deal, Tom. The ideas and the rhetoric come first, not last. And show votes don't count.

Update*Update: Tom's clear here. True enough, Tom, true enough. Now go back and find me some history where a lost battle was won. When you're done with that, then come back and tell me which one you've got.

Numbers Game

From Frank Scheck's Hollywood Reporter review of 3 Days To Kill, the Kevin Costner action film opening this weekend:

At age 59, Costner is still physically up to the task, convincingly beating up guys more than half his age.

I haven't seen the movie yet, but shouldn't that be Costner is beating up guys less than half his age?

Update: The copy has been changed to "less than half his age."  Pajama Guy gets results!

The Fourth Man

Jerry Harrison turns 65 today.  He played with Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers before becoming the fourth member of Talking Heads, the one who gave them a fuller sound.








Thursday, February 20, 2014

Saying it all

Brain Implant Lets One Monkey Control Another

What's So Funny?

Here's something interesting: a blog list of the top 100 sitcom episodes of all time (as of 2012), from Robert David Sullivan, "Writer, editor, proofreader, and data cruncher for the A.V. Club, America magazine, and other publications."

Each episode gets a separate blog entry.  It obviously took quite a bit of work, including a lot of winnowing.  There are some series that have a hundred good episodes, so this must have been painful.  Sullivan picks a mix of "classics" and personal choices.   And a bunch of name series gets several episodes--I Love Lucy, Dick Van Dyke, M*A*S*H, Mary Tyler Moore, All In The Family, Seinfeld and others. There are also a few from Community, which Sullivan clearly considers a modern classic.

I don't have time to discuss every choice, but here's the top 20 in ascending order, with my comments:

20.  "Chuckles Bites The Bust" The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1975)

Sometimes called the greatest episode of TV ever, if anything I'd expect a backlash today, so I'm glad to see it on the list.  A higher ranking might make sense, but this'll do.

19.  "The Doll" Curb Your Enthusiasm (2001)

Curb is a fun show--really a more curmudgeonly, improvisational Seinfeld--and I think this was the first episode that made you realize it was a classic.

18.  "Coast To Coast Big Mouth" The Dick Van Dyke Show (1965)

Another classic. It's interesting that Van Dyke himself is the star of the show, yet the most memorable scene is Mary Tyler Moore talking to Carl Reiner.

17.  "Charity" The Office (UK) (2002)

There are only 12 regular episodes of this show--this is the one where David Brent finds out he's being let go.  I think the series is fine as a whole, but I'm not sure if any single episode sticks out.

16.  "Better Living Through TV" The Honeymooners (1955)

I suppose one of the "classic 39" had to make the list, and this one is as good as most.  It also has the famous screw-up that Gleason covers.  However, it doesn't have the punchline of "The $99,000 Answer."

15.  "Goodbyeee" Blackadder (1989)

Not the only Blackadder episode in the top 100, but this deserves to be the highest.  The show gets better with each succeeding series, and ended on this one, where the desperation of the characters made it funnier and also quite powerful. This is the highest (and only?) finale on the list.

14.  "The Lars Affair" The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1973)

It's considered a classic, but as great as it is, it wouldn't make my top ten of MTM episodes.

13. "The Two Mrs. Cranes" Frasier (1996)

A good one, some would call it a classic, but I don't think I'd put any Frasier episode on this list.

12. "Fancy Party" Parks And Recreation (2011)

I've come around on Parks And Recreation, but I'm not sure if any episode stands out enough to make top 20 (or even perhaps top 100).  That said, I think this was a superior episode (as many "special" episodes aren't).

11.  "The Contest" Seinfeld (1992)

Along with "The Soup Nazi" the most famous Seinfeld of all.  Can't argue with its placement. It often makes top ten lists.

10.  "The Key" Yes, Prime Minister (1992)

Never watched this show.

9. "Lucy Does A TV Commercial" I Love Lucy (1952)

I've seen it--we've all seen it--but never really went for this show.

8.  "Pier Pressure" Arrested Development (2004)

A great show, but all the episodes run together for me.  This is a fine thirty minutes with some famous bits, but doesn't stand out more than a bunch of others.

7.  "The Letter" Everybody Loves Raymond (1997)

Never really got into this show.

6.  "The Dinner Party" The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1973)

Good for Sullivan.  This may be my favorite episode of MTM.

5.  "Man In A Hurry" The Andy Griffith Show (1963)

Famous for its message, but I don't think I'd put any Andy Griffith episodes on my top 100 (and this isn't the only one that made it).

4. "I'll Be Seeing You" Cheers (1984)

Pretty memorable finale to the second season of Cheers, and very influential in the serialization of sitcoms, but I don't think any Cheers episodes should make the top ten (though the show itself might make the top ten of all time).

3.  "Edith's Problem" All In The Family (1972)

A pretty well-known episode of the show, but I think there were many better ones.  I don't think any AITF would make my top twenty.

2.  "Communication Problems" Fawlty Towers (1979)

Each episode of Fawlty Towers is a gem, but I don't think it's better than "Waldorf Salad" or "Basil The Rat," to name a couple.

1.  "I Never Bathe On Saturday" The Dick Van Dyke Show (1965)

A fine episode, to be sure, and maybe in the top twenty of the show, but not as good as, for instance, "Coast To Coast Big Mouth."

Overall, a fine list.  A lot of classics and nothing too horrible.

Are You Steely Or Dan

Happy birthday, Walter Becker, one of the two brilliant songwriters who make up Steely Dan.









Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Stan And Band

Happy birthday Stan Kenton, jazz composer and bandleader.





Bye Bye Bob 2

Bob Casale of Devo has died.  He played guitar and keyboards and also did backup vocals.  He was the brother of Gerald Casale, also of Devo.  He was known as Bob 2 within the band, as it  also included Robert Mothersbaugh, Mark Mothersbaugh's brother.









Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Let Him In

John Travolta turns 60 today. Known mostly as a movie star, let's not forget he was also a recording artist:


Phew! Pew

Perhaps you've seen the story: according the a recent quiz from the National Science Foundation, a quarter of Americans don't know the Earth revolves around the sun.

This story is a perennial.  They do these quizzes on a regular basis and Americans are always woefully ignorant. (Just like everyone else in the world, I presume).

Some of the stories also note that less than half Americans know humans evolved from earlier species of animals. I wouldn't say they don't know so much as they refuse to believe it.

I couldn't find the NSF questions, but as a service to PJ Guy readers, all of whom are above average, I offer you this Pew Research Center quiz on basic science. I expect everyone to get 13 out of 13.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Ring Master

Happy birthday, Borge Ring, the Danish animator.  He worked on plenty of features but is maybe best known for his charming shorts.

Here's "Oh My Darling," nominated for an Oscar in 1978.



Here's "Anna & Bella" which won the Oscar in 1985:

Hat Trick

Multiple musical birthdays today. For instance, we've got Tommy Edwards:



Then there's Bobby Lewis:



 And let's not forget Gene Pitney:

Sunday, February 16, 2014

That's what I say about writing

If you don’t think what I do is not hard, you’re a damn idiot

Gateway To Enlightenment

Penn & Teller are the subject of a "Gateway To Geekery" written by Matt Wild at the AV Club.  I'm not sure how you enter into their world, as they've done a lot--TV, theatre, books, movies, etc.--but are at heart a magic act.  In fact, any time you move away from their stage show I think you move away from who they are.

However, since it's not easy for people to go to Vegas to see their show, the column suggest you start with early episodes of their cable show Bullshit!.  Okay, though their debunking, as famous as it's become, is only a small part of what they do.

But there's something bothering Wild. He doesn't always approve of the team's politics.  In fact, Wild warns us away from later episodes.

Well-deserved takedowns of aliens and creationism gave way to mean-spirited and puzzling attacks on environmentalism, reparations, college, and handicapped parking.

So mocking psychics and faith healers is fine, but don't you dare suggest that secondhand smoke isn't that bad, or Wal-Mart has its positive side.  That's mean-spirited.

If you want to find out about Penn & Teller, I don't know how much to need to watch Bullshit!, as popular as it was, but I would recommend it to Matt Wild again--maybe he could discover why it's not so puzzling that some people disagree with him.

1-2-3, AB, See?

Happy birthday, Alexander Brailowsky, one of the top interpreters of Chopin in the 20th century.





Saturday, February 15, 2014

Goody Goody

Happy National Gumdrop Day.  I can't remember the last time I had a gum drop.  Is it possible I never had a gum drop?

I know I don't like them too much, so if I ever did, I doubt I'll ever have another.  Maybe it's for people like me that they invented the Day.


That's Debatable

There's a controversy among scientists regarding evolution--should they bother to debate creationists?  Which is why Richard Dawkins recently criticized Bill Nye (the Science Guy) for debating noted creationist Ken Ham.  Dawkins says since there's nothing to argue about, scientifically speaking, a debate just ends up giving creationists credibility.

It's always a tricky question--should you debate someone who holds a crackpot theory?  It's useful to introduce evidence to people who may not be aware of it, and perhaps you should be willing to defend your beliefs against all comers, but if you have a public back-and-forth on some issue, you may give the public the impression there's a serious debate going on.

But the fun part is there's a debate happening on the other side.  Turns out Ham is getting pressure from other creationists.  See, Ham is a Young Earth creationist, claiming the world was created about 6000 years ago.  Which has angered Pat Robertson.  As he puts it:

There ain’t no way that’s possible.  To say that it all came about in 6,000 years is just nonsense and I think it’s time we come off of that stuff and say this isn’t possible.  Let's be real, let’s not make a joke of ourselves.

Young Earth creationists had previously attacked Robertson for such comments, saying his argument amounts to admitting the Bible is not true.

I guess this all depends on how you want to interpret the Bible.  But as far as I'm concerned, on a scientific level, the Young Earth creationists' arguments aren't significantly worse than those of other creationists. If you're going to deny all that evidence, why not go whole hog?

Friday, February 14, 2014

I Always Think Of Breaking Bad When I Think Of New Mexico.

Yesterday I put up some maps about state stereotypes.  Here's another fun U.S. map that lists a TV show for every state (though some of them I question--Hill Street Blues could be in Chicago, but it could be other places as well).  For some states there were only so many choices, but places like California and New York have so many shows who knows where to begin.

Magical Day

Happy birthday, Magic Sam.  The bluesman had a short but eventful life.





Thursday, February 13, 2014

The State Of Things

Google has collected the most common beliefs or stereotypes about the fifty states, based on the most queries for "Why is [state] so...?"  The results, like many of the queries, are sort of boring.
 

My home state Michigan is cold.  Cold?  A bunch of other states are cold on the map--most of them colder than Michigan.  I guess that's better than California, which is expensive--along with New York and New Hampshire.  Not too many states have intriguing stereotypes, like haunted (though why Pennsylvania?) or important or smart.  Even racist (Louisiana, Tennessee) or backwards (Georgia) are more exciting.

Here's a stereotype map that's more fun:

 
Michigan gets "Serial killers"--now we're talking.  I don't get it--doesn't seem our specialty--but I'll take it over cold, which in this map is forced on liberal Wisconsin.

Hail

Sid Caesar has died.  He was one of the great clowns of the 20th century, as well as one of TV's true pioneers.  I saw him a few years ago at a tribute at the Museum Of Radio And TV (used to be the Museum Of Broadcasting but then cable took over).  He moved a lot slower, but he still had the spirit.

In the first decade of TV, no one was sure what to do with the medium, but great variety clowns were in high demand--Jackie Gleason, Milton Berle, Phil Silvers and others.  And perhaps none of them had all the talents of Sid Caesar, who could do wild physical comedy, crazy double talk, and even sophisticated domestic situations.  Throughout the 50s, starting with Your Show Of Shows and continuing with Caesar's Hour and some specials, Caesar came up with hours and hours of some of the funniest things ever seen on TV.  And the fact that for many of these years he worked live, 39 weeks straight, makes it all the more amazing.



He also appreciated writers, and hired the best.  It's almost impossible to imagine American comedy in the latter half of the 20th century without the names on his staff--Neil Simon, Mel Brooks, Larry Gelbart, Woody Allen and many others.  But they, in return, appreciated that they were writing for the man who could make their sketches sing like no other.  It's a mark of how deeply he effected them that so many would go on to create a comic tribute: second banana Carl Reiner would create The Dick Van Dyke Show about a comedy writer for a variety hour; Mel Brooks would produce My Favorite Year about a young man on the staff of a 50s comedy show based in Sid Caesar's; Neil Simon wrote Laughter On The 23rd Floor, a fictionalized version of his experience on Your Show Of Shows.



Caesar continued to work regularly in the 60s and 70s, playing multiple roles in the Neil Simon-scripted Broadway musical Little Me, appearing in films such as It's A Mad Mad Mad Mad World. and Mel Brooks' Silent Movie, and doing lots of TV guest shots, but it was never quite the same.  He probably couldn't have topped himself in any case, but the truth was he struggled with alcohol and drugs and could barely remember decades of his life before he finally sobered up.  There was also a theatrical release of sketches from Your Show Of Shows in 1973.  Years later, of course, much of his material is available on DVD.



He lived long enough to write two autobiographies, win numerous award, and know he'd become a legend. (He also got to hear certain anecdotes become legendary, often about his daunting physical strength.  There's the story about Caesar and Mel Brooks in Chicago at the Palmer House.  Brooks says he needs to go out, he needs to get some air.  So Caesar grabs Brooks and leans him out the window and Brooks decides that's enough air.  Then there was a to-do with a cabbie who called him a name.  Caesar walked over and the cabbie opened the vent window.  Caesar reached in, got a grip on the cabbie and started pulling, saying we're going to reenact your birth.)

This is one Caesar who deserves a tribute.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

It Won't Stand Up

I missed the first two episodes, but I finally caught Rake, a new hourlong series on Fox starring Greg Kinnear.  Based on an Australian show, it's about a criminal defense lawyer who's got plenty of problems of his own.  Perhaps the earlier shows were better, but based on what I saw, I don't think I'm coming back.

The plot was about a woman who fakes her son's cancer to get insurance money which she spends in a casino.  Kinnear, who himself is up to his ears in debt, argues to a jury (whom he knows way too much about) that she's the victim, not the criminal.  Really?  I know legal shows like to be cutting edge, but this was just silly.  Seemed like a pretty clear case of fraud to me.  In addition, Kinnear suddenly gets a lot of money which would allow him to pay off his debts, but he loses it by trying to prove something to his ex-wife in bidding for a worthless object at a school fundraising auction.  This is just annoying.

Rake would like to be a legal House.  All it needs now, I guess, are good scripts, plots and characters.

Clean Gene

Happy birthday, Gene McDaniels.  He died a few years ago, but during his heyday in the pre-Beatles 60s he recorded some nice tunes.









(This last song is by recent birthdays celebrants Goffin and King.)

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Party Day

Now that football player Michael Sam has come out, some believe it will hurt him in the draft.  I don't have too much to say about that, except it's very similar to the plot of one of my favorite Party Down episodes "Cole Landry's Draft Day Party."

Here are a couple excepts (with the language one finds on premium cable) available on YouTube, though neither gives a feel for the well-done farcical plot:





But why watch excerpts when you can watch the whole thing on YouTube for a small fee, or better, buy both seasons (twenty episodes overall) for about $16.

Without Words, It's All Humming

Hey, how do you like that? Two days after Carole King's birthday we've got the birthday of Gerry Goffin, who wrote the lyrics for so many of her great tunes--often writing from the girl's point of view.  They made a great team (it's said Lennon and McCartney wanted to be them), and were even married from '59 to '68.  After the divorce, they also split professionally, but went on to write hits on their own.












Monday, February 10, 2014

Work Work Work

Democrats and Republicans are arguing about the CBO report that notes Obamacare will lead to less work.  Republicans figure they can capitalize on this, while Democrats state the GOP misrepresents what's going on--that Obamacare frees people up to work less and follow other goals.  But all this fighting misses the bigger question, asked by professor of leisure studies at Iowa, Benjamin Kline Hunnicut: why shouldn't we want people to work less?  (Or as the headline to his piece has it: "Why do Republicans want us to work all the time?"  A poor title since both parties fall all over themselves claiming the most important thing they do is provide the public with jobs.)

For the first century or so of the Industrial Revolution, the general trend was people working fewer and fewer hours while getting paid more and more.  (I won't go into the Marxist claim about how wonderful life was before the Industrial Revolution--which amounted to greedy capitalists enslaving previously happy laborers--though you still see this sort of thought infecting some historians.)  It's understandable that quite a few experts in the past predicted with productivity going up and labor-saving devices sprouting everywhere, we'd soon be working very little and enjoying massive amounts of leisure time devoted to personal fulfillment--the "pursuit of happiness" that's our birthright.

Instead, the 40-hour week has become the norm, and has been for decades, while many work considerably more.  Why?  Here's Hunnicut's suggestion:

I have spent years trying to answer this question, one of the great mysteries of the modern age. Economists and historians have offered various explanations, from the rise of consumerism to changing technology to globalization to our fixation with economic growth above all else. I have argued that a new ideology, a new set of beliefs about work’s everlasting centrality, emerged with Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal. Work is now viewed as an economic end in itself rather than a means to better purposes. Work for more work has become the organizing principle of society, embodied in public policy and in the politician’s mantra: JOBS, JOBS, JOBS.

The best explanation for the advent of work without end, I now believe, is a failure of imagination. We’ve forgotten that the purpose of life is to be happy, and to pass that happiness on to future generations—not simply to keep acquiring more stuff. Our forebears understood that.

There may be something to this, though I think he may be leaving something out of the equation. Starting with the New Deal, government has played an ever-larger role in taking care of us.  To pick some obvious examples:  Education is free K-12 (and soon pre-school?).  If you are out of work or become disabled, the government will help you out. If you don't make much money, the government will spring for some of your food bills.  Once you retire, you get a regular check and significant help with your medical expenses.  Then there's the costs of keeping up a large military.  And now, with Obamacare, the less you make the more your health insurance will be subsidized.

Now some or all of these things may be good programs, but they cost an awful lot.  To afford (or even to attempt to afford) this you need a solid tax base--a large portion of the population needs to be working an awful lot to make sure everything is paid for.  If people start dropping out of the economy because they figure the government will subsidize them, then you have an unstable system.  Perhaps it figures when you're building such a system that part of it is the understanding that there has to be a fair amount of full-time employment to keep it going.  Why would such a society not treat work as a necessity?

The Original Weird Al

I was surprised to see there's a biography out on Allan Sherman.  He's been dead for forty years and is mostly forgotten today.  Still, he did have his moment in the sun, so I can see him being part of a wider Brandeis University Press series on American Jewish culture. In fact, it's the Jewish angle that author Mark Cohen emphasizes in Overweight Sensation: The Life And Comedy Of Allan Sherman.

Sherman was raised--if that's the proper word--by unstable parents, and attended the University of Illinois in the 40s.  There he wrote and performed comedy sketches, and showed particular skill at writing parody lyrics to other tunes.  This is how he'd find fame and fortune, but even when done well it's a pretty low level of talent.  The songwriter has already built the house, all the parodist does is rearrange the furniture.



After college Sherman moved to New York, then the headquarters of television.  He created the concept for I've Got A Secret (using his parodist skill, it's really just a slight shift of What's My Line?), sold it to Goodson and Todman Productions and was its producer throughout much of the 50s. It was a steady paycheck, but no other work he did on TV was as successful, and Sherman, now married with kids, was a spendthrift.

He moved to Los Angeles for a TV gig and found himself living next to Harpo Marx.  They got to know each other and Harpo hosted a night where Sherman sang his parodies in front of many show biz names. He was a hit, and after a few more such parties was signed by Warner Brothers for an album.  Many of his lyrics were based on hit songs of the day, and he couldn't get permission from the original composers to use them, so his first album, My Son, The Folksinger, in 1962, was based mostly on public domain material.



("My Zelda," one of my favorites, is a parody of Harry Belafonte's "Matilda."  I consider it a breakthrough.  Songwriters were stuck with a paucity of rhymes for "love"--dove, glove, above, shove, of--and Sherman came up with a new one: "Oh why did she go and fall in love/ I haven't seen her since Tisha B'Av.")

If it had sold twenty or thirty-thousand copies, that would have been fine, but to everyone's surprise it was a blockbuster, hitting #1 on the charts and ultimately selling over a million copies.  The material had a strong Jewish bent, and Cohen emphasizes that Sherman was one of the first to really bring this accent into popular entertainment.  For years, movies and Broadway shows had been created by Jews, but were rarely about explicitly Jewish subjects.  Sherman helped start a new trend where there was no need to hide one's ethnicity.

I think Cohen has a point here, but I don't how much credit Sherman deserves.  There was a new openness coming to America in the 60s, and Sherman was riding the wave as much as creating it. Still, it's true, before Sherman you rarely get such mainstream Yiddish inflection in popular entertainment.

Sherman was not a one-hit wonder.  He recorded two albums in 1963--My Son, The Celebrity and My Son, The Nut--that both went to #1.  He also moved away from explicitly Jewish material on the third album, but, as it included his most popular song of all, "Hello Muddah! Hello Fadduh," it was his most successful album yet.



Short, roly-poly and not particularly good-looking (also not much of a singer), he was as big an act as there was back then.  He appeared on numerous TV show and performed live across the country, selling out venues such as the Hollywood Bowl.

His next few albums did far less well, for a number of reasons.  First, his act was pretty basic and getting old fast.  Second, he was working too hard, and not always concentrating on the material.  Third, he was sometimes getting more serious and more sentimental, and occasionally too suggestive.  And finally, the culture was changing.  Before the Beatles came to America, Sherman was at the forefront of show biz, but within a few years he was part of the Establishment complaining about what the crazy kids were doing.



He kept working, of course.  He even created a Broadway musical, something he'd wanted to do since he moved to New York.  However, The Fig Leaves Are Falling, in 1969, ran 4 performances and hasn't been heard of since.

Along with the slowdown there were personal problems.  Never much of a husband or father, he left his wife for a younger woman. And his health was generally poor, as he over-ate, over-drank and over-smoked.  Perhaps if he'd been able to keep it together he could have maintained a decent show biz career--maybe hosting a variety show, or doing live appearances singing old hits.  But things kept spiraling downward and he died of emphysema in 1973 at the age of 48.

I'd guess most people under 40 haven't heard of him, but there was a time--during the age of vinyl--when those first three albums were the last word in comedy, found in millions of households across the world.

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Mile marker

So Pajamaguy just crossed 10,000 posts. Cool. Congratulations, LAGuy.

Talk about your Pareto curve. There's LAGuy, then everyone else.

To be technical, though, it's not quite 10,000 published posts. So keep your eyes out. The celebration is yet to be had. Should we start a pool when it will fall? And another pool to see if we actually notice when it happens?

LAGuy Notes:  As ColumbusGuy notes, we're not at 10,000 published posts yet, and since I think that's what counts, any celebration is premature.  I'd estimate our official 10,000th post will be in a few months.

In case you're wondering why the discrepancy, the high count also includes scheduled posts not yet up and drafts that some of the guys wrote which never saw the light of day.

Call For Phillip Morris

I saw The Monuments Men over the weekend. The critics are right, it's not much.  But what fascinated me was how it got its rating.

Here's the exact wording, direct from the MPAA

Rated PG-13: For some images of war violence and historical smoking.

Now there was plenty of smoking in the movie--about as much as there was in World War II.  There was even a scene or two build around smoking.  But I didn't realize smoking got you a PG-13. Even better, "historical smoking"?  Is that different from how people smoke today?  Older brands?  In restaurants?  More proudly?

(Two more questions.  Do actors still like parts where they smoke because it looks cool?  Do actors who smoke like to get parts where they smoke so they have an excuse?)

Fine Tuning

Happy birthday, Carole King, born Carol Klein. One of the great songwriters of our era, she's had quite a life.  She composed a bunch of top forty songs before she was 20--not to mention got married and had a kid.  Then, as a topper, she put out one of the best-selling albums of all time--Tapestry--before she was 30.  Even if she hadn't done anything since, she'd be allowed to coast after that.












Saturday, February 08, 2014

PR

Putin released Pussy Riot, prompting real public relations problems. Really.

It's alive!

Chris Cillizza sure is struggling to figure out why Rand Paul is attacking Bill Clinton as a sex predator.

Sure is a tough one. Does he hate Hillary? Is he an inbred? Is he cynically appealing to inbreds? Just can't quite get a grasp on it.

Focus, Chris. It's because it's true--the consequence of shameless lying in the face of actual facts is history, and the wonderfully successful (tm) affidavit squad of the 1990's will allow historians to dine out for eternity when it comes to presidential lying as an art form--and because that's the area that the Democrats and the Cillizza's would like to work in this election cycle. As the Blogfather says, it's battlespace preparation. (Quick, Chris-what are the first two words that come to mind when you hear "Bill Clinton"?)

Add to that you suddenly have even Ryan and Boehner saying publicly that the president cannot be trusted to enforce the laws, and holy smokes,  it suddenly looks like the Republicans do have a brain and are using it to do something other than commit suicide.

Rush Hour

I was driving behind a car today (a Honda Fit, if you must know) that had a sticker on the window:  I'm Ready For Hillary.

Really?  Isn't there a big election coming up where, I've been told, she's not running?  What is the rush?  No one is really paying attention right now.  Are they worried about a flanking movement from Joe Biden?

Or had that sticker been up there since 2007?

Hot Scott

Raymond Scott died 20 years ago today.  His name isn't that familiar, but his music--sort of a mix between novelty and jazz--is familiar to hundreds of millions (especially cartoon fans).






Friday, February 07, 2014

What's The News, Mary Jane?

Every now and then you read a headline and think that doesn't make any sense.  That's how I felt when I saw the widespread story "Fatal Car Crashes Involving Pot Use Have Tripled in U.S., Study Finds."  No matter how you feel about drug policy, the basic numbers seem odd.  Because, no matter what else, while there's been a recent uptick in marijuana use, it's come nowhere close to tripling.

Let's look at what the study actually says. It compares 1999 to 2010.  The numbers are compiled from six states--California, Hawaii, Illinois, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and West Virginia--that routinely perform toxicology tests in fatal crashes.  Drugged driving in general rose from 16% to 28% over the decade, but where marijuana was the main drug involved, it rose from 4% to 12%, the tripling in the headline.

Researchers, however, noted "severe limitations" to the research since many illegal drugs can be detected in the blood up to a week after use, so marijuana's appearance in a toxicology test doesn't necessarily measure intoxication of the driver.

In general, drug use in the U.S., including marijuana (which is more popular than all other illegal drugs combined), had been going down for years, bottoming out around 2007 or 2008, and recently going up again.  In fact, it's possible marijuana use had gone down slightly from 1999 to 2010, and if it did go up, it'd only be a few percentage points.

So even if there was a rise in use, a tripling in fatality still seems way too high.  What factors might account for this number?

First, perhaps further research will not show the same rise.  If someone said the number was up 50%, I'd think that on the high side, but reasonable.

Second, the numbers are still relatively small compared to alcohol-related death, which stayed steady at 40%.  When numbers are at the tail end, large fluctuations are more likely.

Third, some say the potency of marijuana has increased recently.  If that were true, then steady use would probably result in more accidents.  (There's also the question if users use it more, though I don't know of any evidence for that.)

Fourth, if the stigma of marijuana use is going down, it's possible users, especially newer ones, are more likely to make it a casual part of their lifestyle, and thus more likely to drive while intoxicated.

A fifth related point is the stigma attached to drunk driving.  For decades groups have been fighting against drinking and driving, but not nearly so much about smoking and driving.  In fact, with recent fights for legalization of marijuana, it's possible that stigma has become even less significant.

Which brings us to our final point: traffic fatalities have been going down a lot recently, perhaps due partly to the higher stigma of intoxicated driving. In 1999, 15.3 out of 100,000 Americans died in a motor vehicle fatality, but by 2010, it was down to 10.6, a huge drop. And most of that drop came in the latter half of the decade.  So if other causes were going down, while marijuana use was steady or rising, it would likely be a much bigger factor in deaths.

I still think the number is too high, but no matter what it is, it can't be said enough that--while we celebrate greater safety overall--driving under the influence of any drug is a bad idea.

Grand Old Ivy

It's the anniversary of the Ivy League, sort of.  On February 7, 1935, the Christian Science Monitor printed the first known use of the term "Ivy League."

So let's play some music from Ivy. (Not much of a transition, but I couldn't think of any other way).





Thursday, February 06, 2014

I dunno. Is Dionne participating?

Must the Obamacare Debate Be Stupid?

Save The Liver!

I just read Bob Spitz's Dearie, a 500+ page biography of Julia Child.  Most biographies have an opening section describing the subject's struggles on the way to fame or significance, but Child's life doesn't quite work that way.  She didn't even become interested in serious cooking until she was well into her 30s, and didn't become the celebrity we know her as until she was 50.

Born Julia McWilliams, 1912 in Pasadena, she came from money and so never really had to worry about finances.  She graduated from Smith College and moved to New York to be a writer. She proved to be a hard and efficient worker when she had jobs, but wasn't sure what to do with her life.

To her family, that answer was simple--her future was to be as a wife and mother.  A social butterfly, she was a lively, loud, large woman who put off some men but did not lack for suitors, including those her conservative father approved of.  But Julia was looking for something else, and during WWII joined the OSS where she did spy work (generally clerical).  She was posted in D.C. and later in Ceylon and China.  She met a fellow employee, Paul Child, who was also a self-styled painter, photographer, poet and philosopher.  They fell in love and married in 1946, and he helped shape her into what she'd become more than anyone.

He worked with the foreign service of the State Department and got a plum posting in Paris in the late 40s.  It was there he introduced Julia to haute cuisine. She'd always enjoyed eating, but this was a whole new world.  She decided to become a chef and took courses at Le Cordon Bleu.  With hard work and a talent for analysis, she soon became quite adept.

She became acquainted with two Parisians, Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle, who were writing a cookbook for Americans.  They needed someone who could cook, but could also translate what they were doing into language that Americans could appreciate.  Julia agreed to join them, little knowing it was the start of a ten-year journey.  The book would have hundreds of recipes, each one requiring serious experimentation to get right.

Over the next few years, Paul was assigned to Marseille and then Germany and Norway, but Julia and Simone kept at it (Louisette wasn't pulling her weight and dropped out of the project, though she received credit and royalties). By the time the book was done the Childs (I want to write "Children") were living in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  Along the way, Julia and Louisette had trouble finding the proper publisher. No one was sure this cookbook--a serious look at French cuisine in an era of processed food--would sell.  After a lot of behind-the-scenes intrigue, Knopf finally put out Mastering The Art Of French Cooking in 1961.  The book was well-reviewed and is still considered a classic. It also helped start a new wave in America of taking food seriously.

More important for Julia Child, it helped get her on TV.  She started a small show for public television called The French Chef (though some critics noted she was neither French nor a chef).  Her bubbly personality and odd voice were riveting, and she became nationally known as stations across the country picked up her show.

She did several seasons of The French Chef--eventually breaking out into color, very helpful for cooking--and then tried other formats, generally working for PBS. She also took a job on Good Morning America where she was seen by an even bigger audience, and made some real money, as PBS was barely a break-even proposition.  She also wrote several more cookbooks, including a second volume of Mastering The Art Of French Cooking, all of which sold well now that Julia was the biggest star in the culinary universe. She was so big she became ripe for parody, most famously Dan Aykroyd's Julia Child, who cuts her finger and bleeds to death.  Julia loved the bit and would sometimes act it out, shouting "Save the liver!" and laughing.

Through her years of fame she tried to keep current as new chefs and new fashions arose.  She also got into arguments with nutritionists, whom she thought were scaring the public away from such delights as butter, cream, alcohol and meat.

No matter what she did, she never coasted.  Her shows required intensive rehearsal and her books painstaking research. (In fact, she was scheduled to be on one of the planes from Boston to Los Angeles on 9/11, but postponed the flight because she had to tape something that day.)

Her husband had been a tremendous help, managing her career in its early years.  A decade her senior, he had a stroke and lived in failing health during his final years, though Julia did the best she could to keep him involved in her life.  He died in 1994 and Julia kept on working. She died in 2004, but here we are, ten years on, and she's still the most famous chef, "French" or otherwise, in the world.

I've never read anything else about Child, but it's hard to imagine there's a better biography out there.

Not Just Blowing Smoke

It's rare one artist towers over a popular style of music, but that's what today's birthday boy Bob Marley is to reggae.  Only 36 when he died, he's still the greatest.











Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Just checking

Okay, quick show of hands, how many of the Guys are sexting?

Keep those hands up, ChicagoGuy, so I can get a count. New England Guy, you keep those hands up 'cause that's illegal in the Atlantic states . . .

Phrase Craze

Cass Sunstein is good at coming up with colorful titles. You've got stuff like "Naked Preferences" or "Nudge" or "Republic.com 2.0." Okay, that last one didn't exactly catch on.  And then there are the phrases he employs to describe certain concepts, such as "libertarian paternalism." (I remember telling him the important thing there is which word is the adjective and which is the noun.)

Even better is when he "unwittingly" coins something, claiming it's not really his.  For instance, there were some people who felt maybe the Commerce Clause shouldn't be read out of the Constitution, and he took some words they'd used in passing and claimed they're part of the "Constitution In Exile" movement, which has stuck since it's both memorable and nasty.

And now he's doing it again. Claiming it comes from Richard Hofstadter by way of Sean Wilentz, he's trying to popularize the latest dance craze, "Paranoid Libertarianism."  He's written before about conspiracy theories, but in this short piece he zeroes in on what seems like more mainstream culprits.

Paranoid libertarians live amongst us.  They may be your neighbors!  How do you spot them?  Not political affiliation, but by how much they question big government when fighting for their rights. 

Here, straight from Sunstein, are the six warning signs:

1.  A wildly exaggerated sense of risks of some government action.

2.  Presumption of bad faith on the part of government officials.

3.  A strong sense of victimization, past, present and future.

4.  An indifference to trade-offs.

5.  Passionate enthusiasm for slippery-slope arguments.

6.  Sweaty palms. (I made this one up.)

The most obvious problem with Sunstein's argument is it's way too vague--it can, barely stretched, include almost anyone who complains about anything the government does.  The only way to judge it will be by feel--i.e., those we most strongly disagree with are the crazy ones.

For instance, to most people, asking someone to show an ID at a polling place is common sense.  It would seem you should prove who you are before you vote, and such rules are widespread in democracies around the world. But to the crowd Cass hangs out with, this is an unconstitutional outrage (though the Supreme Court has okayed it), and they have no trouble claiming bad faith on those who want such laws.  So which is that Cass, paranoid libertarianism or sensible caution?

In the other direction, he claims gun rights supporters oppose almost any gun control measures, fearing they're part of a wider movement to ban guns.  I personally have no dog in this fight, and maybe the gun nuts are too fearful.  Or maybe they've heard too many anti-gun people who do want to ban guns. And perhaps they realize that there are thousands of gun laws out there and they only seem to have whetted the appetite for more. And maybe they realize all these gun laws have little effect on overall crime and so it only makes sense that people who blame guns for our problems will by necessity go further and further.

The wider point is mainstream movements on both the right and left often speak out against government action.  What else are they to do?  Yes, some go too far.  But I don't trust any single person, much less a government agency, to decide who's gone too far, at least not when things are still in the realm of politics.

I might add that anyone who support the Bill of Rights supports slippery-slope arguments.  Otherwise, why not just trust the good faith of the democratically elected government to do the right thing?

But Cass isn't totally down on these people.  Here's how he ends his piece:

Societies can benefit a lot from paranoid libertarians. Even if their apocalyptic warnings are wildly overstated, they might draw attention to genuine risks, or at least improve public discussion. But as a general rule, paranoia isn’t a good foundation for public policy, even if it operates in freedom’s name.

They may be crazy, but even crazy people can serve some purpose.  So don't feel bad about someone calling you paranoid. It's all part of a useful public conversation.

(By the way, how come people who demand more government to solve our problems aren't paranoid?)

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