Deficit Attention Disorder

Let’s see: to reduce the deficit, you have to increase tax revenue or cut spending. To cut spending, you have slash funding for programs that might be popular. Voters won’t like that. That’s why so many Republicans who claim that the deficit is a serious problem, when interviewed on the subject, refuse to say what they would cut. Coincidentally, while Trump was running up the deficit and Republicans had control of the House and the Senate, they didn’t cut any programs; they actually increased military spending and cut taxes thereby increasing the deficit significantly. (Since the last balanced budget in 2000, the Republicans have run up $12 trillion in new deficit while the Democrats have racked up $13 trillion.) Now that a Democrat is in the White House, they are popping up everywhere declaring that the deficit sky is falling. Again, when asked where they would cut, they conspicuously refuse to answer.

Most economists do not think the deficit is a serious problem, but refusing to raise the debt ceiling– in essence, refusing to pay the bills that are due for mandated programs approved by Congress– would be a very, very serious problem.

It appears to be slightly hypocritical to complain about the deficit now when not a single Republican voted against the Trump programs that dramatically increased the debt.

That took longer to read than a CNN screen crawl. You see the problem? You see why some people want to talk all day and all night about secret documents and Hunter Biden’s laptop instead.

The Captive Psychiatrist

The great challenge of American film and literature is this:  the protagonist must disclose powerful personal stories of past abuse or crushing disappointments or betrayals to win the audience’s sympathy (and excuse his addictions, infidelities, and other bad behavior) but telling all this to the object of his or her affections would come off as self-pitying.  The only plausible venue for this type of disclosure is the therapist’s couch.  But in the popular imagination, only a weak effeminate pussy would voluntarily become so vulnerable as to disclose such details, so it must be dramatized as coerced.  Somehow, we must create a dramatic situation in which the protagonist can simultaneously disclose his vulnerabilities and mock the inquisitorial mind.

Here’s the problem, and it’s not a small one:  no psychiatrist or psychologist worth his salt would waste a minute of time on a patient that doesn’t want to cooperate.  It is a bedrock principle of psychotherapy that you can’t provide therapy to someone against his will.

And what therapist would even want to try?

But what if it’s a condition of probation, or shared custody of the children, or a job?  The problem does not change.   If a patient behaved the way Will Hunting behaves in “Good Will Hunting”, the therapist would almost certainly wish him luck in future endeavors and tell him he has willfully thrown away his probation or the job or the custody arrangement or what have you.

And so we have “A Clockwork Orange”, “Good Will Hunting” and “Shawshank Redemption” and “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and “Gangs of New York”, “Antwone Fisher”, and perhaps the worst of all, “Reign Over Me” (in which Liv Tyler played the psychiatrist– seriously) and so on.   It’s become an extremely tiresome trope, a sure indicator that a film writer has run out of ideas or is concerned that his audience is so stupid they won’t get the point of the story.

(An additional trope in many of these films is the therapist who cares so much that he or she chases down the reluctant patient and begs them to receive therapy.  Seriously.  The audience is invited to project themselves into a character so lovable that professional psychiatrist and psychologist will abandon personal schedules and work obligations in order to track them down and drag them into their healing arms.)

“The Sopranos” toys with the issue and frequently straddles the line.  Tony has a real problem: panic attacks.  He stops seeing Dr. Melfi for a while but the panic attacks resume.  He tries a different psychiatrist, who proves ineffectual.  He returns to Dr. Melfi on just barely believable terms, though he frequently blurts out something like, “I’ve had enough of this crap”.  The audience projects itself into a character who thinks he’s smarter than a psychiatrist.

What’s really going on in these scenes is the writer is trying to show that he is smarter than a psychologist or psychiatrist.

The most contemptible examples of this are those mildly enlightened films that pretend to have a real theme, an idea, an enlightened perspective on something, like “Reign Over Me” and “Good Will Hunting”.   “Good Will Hunting” lays the groundwork for the millions of Trump followers who are convinced that those educated elites are really no smarter than the average janitor (played by the charismatic Matt Damon).  But it would not be an asset to the character to have Will admit to how much harm he has suffered from his traumatic upbringing unless he is compelled to admit it; thus, the kludge plot mechanism of having his probation depend on attending therapy sessions with the utterly charming and sexy Robin Williams– who, nevertheless, threatens to kill him at their first session after Will makes light of Dr. Maguire’s wife.  (And the probation?  Another tired trope: Will was involved in a gang fight.  Because he is a bad boy?  Oh no– one of the gang members used to abuse Will when he was a child.  Hollywood loves bad boys but not if they’re really bad, just as they love titillation, but not real, honest sex.)

I used to work in a children’s mental health centre.  I can tell you that almost none of the psychiatrists or psychologists in these films approach believability.  Dr. Melfi in “The Sopranos” is particularly inept.  Now, I’m not saying that psychiatrists or psychologists can actually be smart and effective.  But they do have extensive training and they will have some idea of how they are going to approach the task at hand, even if their approach is contrived or transparent or just plain ridiculous.   Dr. Maguire in “Good Will Hunting” is supposed to win our respect by showing how tough he is when Will mocks his (deceased, unknown to Will) wife.

It’s not admirable: it’s downright stupid.

 

 

 

The Drones of Transient Pitchyness

This is how it’s done.

This is the death of real singing.  Any half-decent singer can now sound “decent”, that is, on pitch.  The penalty is obvious if you know what to listen for: that odd ambient tunnelling of the voice, the weird tiny echo, the synthesis of algorithm and vocal expression.

From the point of view of an “artist”–but especially a producer or engineer– the appeal is irresistible.  A singer only has to be close– not perfect.  Before Autotune, you needed twenty, thirty, or forty takes to get something “right”.  Now a take or two and a software application can do it in 20 minutes or less.  It will iron out the flaws and fluctuations and produce perfect pitch with a tiny smidgeon of robotic tone, for the lead, for harmonies, for background vocals.  But the cost is the hard to describe: the feeling of authenticity, of humanity, of real human tone.

Most people in the industry would find my distaste for it bewildering.  Don’t you want perfect pitch?  Don’t you want flawless musicality?  Don’t you want that style that buzzes by your ear without the slightest hint of variation or personality or character or the richness of the random?  Don’t you want music that anesthetizes and soothes and washes over you like silky bubbles of insubstantial gloss?

No, I don’t.  I would rather listen to Frank Watkinson.  Give me his all too human flaws any day over Beyonce or Katie Perry or Taylor Swift and all the other manufactured factory drones that pass for artistry nowadays.  And what do I love about Frank more than anything else?  This comment:

“I’ve never had an ambition to go out at night, traveling, going to places and playing and that, because I personally wouldn’t pay to see myself.”

There will be a small constituency for the real out there.  But most pop has succumbed to the Autotune disease.

Give me Leonard Cohen and Neil Young and Iron & Wine and the Civil Wars and Tom Waits and Neutral Milk Hotel and Bruce Springsteen and, yes, Bob Dylan, instead.  And the next time you listen to one of the drones and think they sound just great, thank you, remember: you’ve been cheated.

 

Bach’s 13 Mistakes

“Tar” is a bit long-winded but still the best movie I’ve seen this year. Blanchett will win the Oscar. I am absolutely fabulously overjoyed that they filmed and recorded the orchestral scenes with a real orchestra, live; Blanchett’s piano playing is also real, as is the cellist ingenue. Most films about musicians dub the performances and it usually shows, badly. Contains a provocative, timely discussion by the lead character of the relationship of art to the scandalous behaviors of the artists, instancing a LGBQ student who can’t get “into” Bach’s music because he had 13 children.

Free Speech, if you Already Have it

‘I am against censorship that goes far beyond the law. If people want less free speech, they will ask government to pass laws to that effect. Therefore, going beyond the law is contrary to the will of the people.”’  Elon Musk.

Because people sometimes ask the government to make speech less free?  Censor us!  We don’t deserve to have a voice in our nation’s affairs!  I wish to disagree in silence!

What Musk is really talking about, of course, is the obligation we are beginning to impose on gigantic social media entities to regulate and restrict what kind of speech they allow.  We are beginning to realize that shouting “fire” in a crowded virtual theatre through Twitter is potentially just as harmful as it is in a real theatre.

The whole essential principle of free speech is to protect the rights of minorities, not the right of a majority to shut them up.

CNN’s Election Coverage 2022

CNN was rather meticulously explaining why counting votes from urban districts with very large, more educated populations that tend to vote Democrat takes longer than counting the relatively small number of votes from rural areas that tend to vote Republican.
It was like Sesame Street for Election deniers. I kept expecting them to bring on the Count to demonstrate how some numbers are bigger than others.
Except, I think the Count counts faster than Arizona or Nevada.

The Red Dribble

TV News is populated with pundits who ask you to accept their expert analysis of why they were all wrong about the election results. Buyer beware. CNN in particular offers panels of cosmetically anodyne talking heads proffering the same information a casual observer could have picked up from last night’s headlines and an SNL sketch or two.
If you are wondering what “anodyne” means, it is the state of brain collapse caused by watching more than any 10 minutes of Wolfe Blitzer.
But what a stunning result! Just stunning. Miracles cut two ways, evangelical leaders! I personally think Jesus was involved in the Oz debacle and the Kari Lake upset.
And before Republicans get too excited about Ron DeSantis, a commentator pointed out that he was essentially running against a corpse, and voter turn-out was a pathetic 50%. The only politician less amusing to watch is Ted Cruz.

Permission to Vent

Did you know that in the 1960’s, while all of the mainstream media devoted their sports sections to professional baseball, football, basketball, stockcar racing, and hockey, the sport that attracted the most actual fans– in person, in stadiums– was…. ready for it?  Demolition derbies.

In politics, the whacky far right is the demolition derby of ideologies.  Until recently, relegated to the back pages of history.

In spite of all the think-pieces about polarization in American politics, I really think the issue comes down to something much simpler.

Firstly, there has not been a massive change in attitudes or beliefs over the past 70 or 80 years.  A large segment of the U.S. population has always held stupid ideas about culture, education, leadership, the military, and the police.  And, of course, race.  They love guns, hate affirmative action, can’t bear the thought of giving up their massive V-8 powered pick-up trucks, fear black people even if they don’t see themselves as racist (and some aren’t), and hate the idea of foreigners coming into the country and taking away their jobs while they themselves are unwilling to work hard for long hours to get ahead and there is a labour shortage in most areas of the country.  They believe that good manufacturing jobs have been shipped over-seas even though 85% of them were lost to automation.  They believe Republicans when they say they intend to reduce the deficit even though, when in office, they never have and never will.  They seem to think that cutting taxes on the rich will benefit them, because, fuck it, some day I might win the lottery.

Until recently, people with toxic beliefs about society have intuited that they shouldn’t openly express those views because the consensus among politicians, the media, and other leaders is that those views are, in fact, untrue, toxic, and counter-productive, and ignorant.

They always believe crime is on the increase.  Always.   Try to explain to them that if crime was always increasing it would eventually reach 100%, so there must be times when it is actually decreasing (in fact, the crime rate is up only in year-over-year statistics.  Over a longer period of time, it is down, by a clear margin).

They think that somehow making the bail system rational increases crime: no study has shown this.  Not one.

Newt Gingrich came along, and Alex Jones, and Rush Limbaugh, and then Donald Trump, and they all publicly expressed massive approval of these toxic beliefs.  The internet broke the consensus among major media outlets to not give play to ill-founded, idiotic conspiracy theories.  Now every ignorant, ill-informed jack-ass in the country can search online to find that the cause of the wild-fires in California is Jewish space lasers or sun spots.

Try to explain to these people that international trade agreements, on the whole, benefit them.  (Essentially, the lower cost of imported goods frees capital within the local market to pay for more goods, services, and other items which you otherwise could not afford.  Free trade is a net benefit to the average American worker and consumer.  Tariffs take money out of your pocket and give it to the government which in turn subsidizes corporations to the benefit of wealthy shareholders.)

People haven’t changed.  They are just louder and more outspoken and more than happy to enlighten you as to their brilliant insights into the nature of reality and the truth about Biden and the international child porn conspiracy and Hollywood’s Jewish cabal and they way young school-children in small towns all across Iowa are being provided with litter boxes so they can “identify” as a transgender kitten.

Perhaps the most bizarre characteristic of these people is their close identification with Christianity.  Do any of them actually read the Bible?  Do they really see something in Jesus reflected in Donald Trump and Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity?  Do they really think God blesses them as they storm the capitol building and threaten to hang Mike Pence?

 

False Statements and Superfluous Details

It is always fascinating to read about a very old mystery that is finally solved.

In 1984, a twelve-year-old girl, Jonelle Matthews, disappeared from her home in Greely, Colorado.  Police say they have been “haunted” by the case since then.  Last week, the mystery was “solved”.  A man named Steve Pankey was convicted of her kidnapping and murder.

Wow!  DNA evidence, right?  Fingerprints?  A witness?  A confession?

Well, we now know better than to trust confessions.

The evidence, as far as can be determined from the news article in the New York Times and Wiki, consists mostly of Pankey making “odd” comments about the case, showing an “unusual” interest in it, and …  well, read about it.   It’s get weirder and weirder.  Apparently, Pankey, who is divorced, and whose wife seems to have provided police with some of the evidence of Pankey’s “odd” interest in the case, admits to being a celibate homosexual, even while he served as an assistant pastor at his church.

His wife, apparently, does not remember that his alibi– that he was with her the night of the kidnapping– was a lie.  She was there with him, just a few nights before they left for a trip to California.  The car was already partly packed.  Would she not remember if he had been out that evening, if she remembers that he listened to radio accounts with suspiciously strong curiosity, or that he asked her to read newspaper accounts of the story aloud to him after they arrived home?

Jonelle’s body was found in 2019 by a construction crew working on a pipeline.  There is no DNA evidence, no finger-prints, no photos, no witnesses.  There is, in short, nothing but a rather bizarre interpretation of some odd but not really strange verbal expressions by the suspect.

This is not the first time some odd person has made curious statements about an unsolved murder.  We should know better by now: it’s a psychological condition, a personality quirk, a bizarre compulsion.  If a person behaves “oddly”, by all means, check it out.  But if there is no supporting evidence, you probably have something similar to this case.

Ask yourself this: would the police have ever excluded a possible suspect because he didn’t provide “superfluous details” when discussing the case with them?

But to bring a case like that to court, based sole on the “superfluous” detail or “excessive” interest is worse than inadequate.  It borders on criminal abuse.  Close enough!  Hang him!  Great police work!  Medals for everybody.

And Jonelle’s family is glad to have “closure”.  If I were in Jonelle’s family, I would tell the police, “are you fucking kidding me?”  Get back to work.

This is all absurd.  It’s idiotic.  And, as if we don’t already know from election-deniers,  it is further evidence that a lot of people are, frankly, stupid: a jury voted unanimously that, by golly, if the police think he’s guilty, he must be guilty.  They convicted him.

Pankey insists he is innocent.  He says he is being persecuted because of his homosexuality.  He might be right.

I love the “superfluous details”.  The police felt that the “superfluous details” implicated him.  Because there is some kind of magical police science that tells you that men who provide “superfluous details” likely committed a crime.  Just as, when I was little, my mother believed that giggling if someone stared at you and asked if you were lying meant that you were lying.

I know people who put on a grave, serious expression when talking about police who were killed or injured on duty, as if there is something solemn or sacred about them.   It is very hard, especially recently, especially after the numerous incidents in which police behaved very, very badly (even to the point of homicide) and not one of the officers who saw or heard of the incident reported it, to not believe that most police don’t deserve our respect.


Interesting side-note: Jonelle was born to a 13-year-old girl, and then adopted.

“A chokecherry tree was planted in front of Franklin Middle School in memory of Jonelle. The tree died after a few years and a plaque inscribed with Jonelle’s name disappeared.[18]”  (Wiki)  So much for that solemn commitment to commemorate and honor her memory.  I guess it was a superfluous detail.

 

Ringo is the GOAT

This Youtube Video informs us about the “genius” of Ringo.

Seriously?  Look, I don’t mind Ringo.  He’s a decent drummer.  He stays in time, can hold a rhythm, and looks good doing it.  Furthermore, he seems to be a really decent guy.  He is unpretentious.  Humble.  He is a photographer.

But “great”?  Ringo is not and never was a “great” drummer.  In fact, there have been occasions on which Paul banged out a few bars in Ringo’s absence, and no hue and cry was raised.  Was it even noticed?  Some acolytes of the Sacred Heart of the Ringo is Great Divinity School like to try to make a virtue of his deficiencies by praising his simple, straight-forward, unadorned style.   The truth is that Ringo was never capable of anything much more complex than that.

Ringo just happened to be the drummer for a band that became very, very famous, and nobody will believe that a band that famous could not have had an elite drummer, and since almost no listener has the slightest clue as to what a really, really good drummer sounds like (try Hal Blaine, or Kenneth A. Buttrey on Dylan’s “John Wesley Harding”, or The Band’s Levon Helm, or Neal Pert of Rush) they just assume he is one of them.

Want to hear the worst drummers of all time?  Check out most of Neil Young’s backing bands, but especially Crazy Horse.