Archive for Popular Culture


A moral and financial black hole

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Not all drugs have to be injected, ingested or inhaled. Yesterday, I drew parallels between the man-made crisis on Wall Street and the man-made water crisis in Flint Michigan. The reason is that the amoral pursuit of personal gain is an addiction that goes far beyond Wall Street. The Big Short made a big impression, can you tell?

The Guardian’s Tim Adams spoke with “The Big Short” author Michael Lewis about the film’s protagonists:

The idea that the madness was going to get worse did not occur to him. “In fact, it got worse and worse to the point where people were paid unbelievable fortunes just to do stupid things with money. Even the movie can’t really get this across. The movie gets across that there was a bet and these smart guys were on the right side of the bet. And those smart guys made hundreds of millions of dollars. That inevitably leaves you thinking that the people on the other side of the bet lost. Of course, the banks went down. But the real story is the actual people on the other side of the bet also got very rich despite the banks collapsing. If no matter what side of the bet you are on things are still going to work out for you, the world is upside down.”

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R.I.P. Alan Rickman

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I am so going to miss Alan Rickman.

I’m such a Galaxy Quest geek.

Categories : Passing, Popular Culture
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Ignorance is power

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Donald Trump speaking at CPAC 2015 in Washington, DC.
Photo by Gage Skidmore [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons.

At a Christmas party in the early 1990s, two women approached me separately to ask if I was “into metaphysics.” They meant the beliefs and practices of the New Age movement. I told them that while I have a degree in philosophy and had studied metaphysics, I was really more interested in ethics and political philosophy. They quickly lost interest and went elsewhere to look for more harmonious energies.

A friend of the same persuasion said her husband hoped to go back to college to study quantum physics. He was going to be disappointed. There would be no examination of the healing properties of quartz crystals or of how to communicate with higher “energies” from another dimension.

These people were not uneducated or stupid, just adrift and gullible. That is preface to saying that cultivated ignorance is not uniquely a product of the political right. It just seems to be a major export.

Writing for the BBC last week, Georgina Kenyon profiled Robert Proctor, a science historian from Stanford University. Proctor’s look at the obscurantism of the tobacco industry – the deliberate cultivation of doubt – led him to coin the term agnotology, the study of deliberate propagation of ignorance:

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Restoring the white franchise

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Give me that old time religion. Or at least, that old time franchise. Bring back the good old days when white, Christian men could run this great democracy the way God intended when he handed down the U.S. Constitution on tablets to George Washington in 1776.
Writing in the Washington Post, William H. Frey of the Brookings Institution examines the latest rearguard effort to stave off white political obsolescence. The Supreme Court earlier this month heard arguments in Evenwel v. Abbott. At issue: whether government exists to represent all the people or just eligible voters. As Dahlia Lithwick explained:

If the court sides with Evenwel and accepts the view that only voters or even registered voters are to be counted when drawing district lines, children, legal residents, and people who have committed felonies or the mentally ill—all of whom are certainly affected when legislators legislate—are not to be counted for apportionment purposes. In the words of the Obama administration, which sides with Texas in this case against the two plaintiffs, whole swaths of the population become “invisible or irrelevant to our system of representative democracy.”

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“Some men just want to watch the world burn.”

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Flipping channels the other night, I caught this key scene from The Dark Knight. Bruce Wayne is having trouble wrapping his brain around just what the Joker is after. Alfred explains that trying to understand the Joker logically might be futile:

Alfred Pennyworth: … some men aren’t looking for anything logical, like money. They can’t be bought, bullied, reasoned, or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn.

Hold that thought.

As Matt Bevin was being sworn in as the new governor of Kentucky this week, NPR ran a story about struggling people in rural Kentucky who, in spite of Bevin threatening to roll back Medicaid expansion in the state, voted for him anyway. Liberals have a hard time wrapping their brains around that (emphasis mine):

Among those on Medicaid in Jackson County is Angel Strong, an unemployed nurse in McKee, Ky. — one of roughly half a million Kentuckians who received health insurance after outgoing Gov. Steve Beshear, a Democrat, embraced the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion. Kentucky saw one of the sharpest declines in the rate of uninsured adults.

“I had never had Medicaid, because I had insurance at my job,” said Strong. “Now I am out of a job and I am looking for another job, but in the meantime I had no income.”

Bevin’s lack of support for expanded Medicaid didn’t faze Strong, who voted for Bevin because she supported his socially conservative stands against gay marriage and abortion.

“My religious beliefs outweigh whether or not I have insurance,” Strong said.

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Donald J. Trump presents the WWE: World Wide Elections

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Mike Bennett (in tiger-striped trunks) executing a piledriver on BJ Whitmer at Ring of Honor’s All Star Extravaganza in Toronto, ON. Whitmer was legitimately injured as a result of this move. By Tabercil (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

“You gotta hand it to the guy,” a friend said of Donald Trump last night. “He knows how to keep all the attention focused on him.”

Donald Trump was reacting to the president’s Sunday address, and to a new poll showing Ted Cruz pulling ahead of Trump in Iowa. We were reacting to Trump’s reaction. To wit, Trump called for “total and complete shutdown” of U.S. borders to Muslims, even including Americans living (or stationed) abroad:

Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski said Trump’s proposed ban would apply to “everybody”, including Muslims seeking immigration visas as well as tourists seeking to enter the country. Another Trump staffer confirmed that the ban would also apply to American Muslims who were currently overseas – presumably including members of the military and diplomatic service. “This does not apply to people living in the country,” Trump said in an interview on Fox News, “but we have to be vigilant.”

Something finally clicked. Trump is not a carnival barker or a clown. His appeal is the same as that of professional wrestling. He puts on a loud, blustery show and promises that the forces of Right will beat back the Foreign Menace. Back in the day, the Foreign Menace was named Ivan or Boris. Or Nikolai Volkoff, for instance, the villainous faux-Russian wrestler. After the Iran hostage situation came the Iron Sheik, born in Tehran. Today it is Muslims as a whole.

But the Foreign Menace is just for starters. There are plenty of other Others at which wrasslin’ fans can shake their fists. Wrestling matches “pit the Good, the Pure, and the True against the Bad, the Mean, and the Ugly,” as William C. Martin explained in 1972:

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Your Thanksgiving Turkeys

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News reports of the annually banal pardoning of the White House turkey triggered memories of that video where Sarah Palin blathers on about whatever Sarah Palin was blathering on about, word-salad-wise, while behind her a workman looks on while he slaughters a turkey.

Several of our current GOP presidential candidates thought it might look more dignified if the turkey they were mock-pardoning was in black tie:

Gotta say the hands visibly holding the turkey’s legs from underneath a velvet cushion are bit of a distraction, if not quite as Palinesque as a workman holding a turkey’s legs while bleeding it out into a trough.

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Lunatic mainstream revisited

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Because as Charlie Pierce observed yesterday, “America is the greatest country ever invented to be completely out of your mind,” we’re suffering a little insanity overload this morning.

Daily Show host Trevor Noah’s emergency appendectomy gave him a chance to experience America’s “best in the world” health care system this week. Raw Story:

The host said he periodically fainted from the pain of a perforated appendix, but the nurse told him he was not allowed to faint in the waiting area and should instead go to triage to lose consciousness.

“You’re telling me where I can and cannot faint?” he said.

Noah was finally taken, trembling with pain, to another room for treatment — where he was followed by the same nurse, who brought still more forms and asked how he would be paying for treatment of his life-threatening condition.

“With my life, clearly,” he said.

She decided because she recognized Noah from the billboards that he could pay whether or not he had insurance.

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Did You Miss It?

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In some documentary about the band Heart, a band member holds up two shoes in the dressing room before a show. One is the shoe he wore to the theater. The other is a knee-high, leather boot that screams rock and roll. “This is reality,” he says, holding up an ordinary desert boot. Holding up the knee-high, leather model, he says, “This is fantasy.”

Now, I answer voice mail about once a week at the local Democratic Party headquarters. Our county is one of the handful in the state that actually has one (and a land line). It’s amazing the expectations the uninitiated have when they call for the first time, the way independent-leaning noobs did because of Barack Obama in 2008, or Bernie Sanders now. They imagine they are calling the DNC headquarters or the White House, and that a full-time, paid staff is just waiting to pick up the phone 24/7/365. This is fantasy.

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