CBC in the Afternoon

I’m becoming less and less interested in CBC in the afternoon.

The other day, the hostess, Gill Deacon, was talking about the up-coming 3D version of Peanuts, and describing how she can’t wait to see Lucy pull the football back when Charley Brown tries to kick it.

She wants the movie to be the one she already saw? She can’t wait to laugh again at an old, old joke? She is excited about the idea that the producers of this movie will not be able to come up with a new idea but will have to repeat an old one?

I’ll bet she actually tunes in to see reruns of “Happy Days” and gets wet just thinking about Fonzie going “EEEHHEHHHH!”. Again. And again. And again. And again. And do it again, Fonzie, it was so funny. Please? Do it again. “Eeeehhhh!”. Oh! (Hysterical giggles).

So this woman wants to go to those parties where your Uncle George tells you the exact same story for the 30th time. So she wants to go see the Eagles on tour doing the same hits they first performed in 1979. And Carol Burnett do her mugging, and Tim Conway, and Jerry Lewis and Red Skeleton.

There was a time when I would listen to CBC on my way home from work and, often, quickly look up the name of an interesting artist they had played and get more of his or her music to listen to.  I have not done that in years because the CBC in the afternoon no longer plays anything worth hearing again.

Gill Deacon is popular among many of my friends.  I’m baffled.  I don’t know if any of them ever try to imagine what a really good radio hostess would sound like.  She would not sound like Gill Deacon, who cannot complete a single complex sentence without false starts.  She is inarticulate and trite, often sounding like a college sophomore on her first date.

Disney Lies: Rewriting P. L. Travers

Marineland should learn from Disney and make a movie about a killer whale who longs to come live at Marineland.  It’s his dream.  At first, he objects to being trapped in small antiseptic pool, but he comes to realize that it is a magnificent tiny little pool and is grateful to Marineland for feeding him.

P. L. Travers absolutely hated what Disney did to her book (Mary Poppins). You have to be pretty shameless to make a movie about her in which you simply rewrite history and reverse her attitude.  She’s grateful for the fish.

It is even more shameless to claim, in interviews, you didn’t do it.

So we have “Saving Mr. Banks” in which we are told that P. L. Travers (the “P” stands for “Pamela”) had reservations about the Disney version of “Mary Poppins” until she sees the results and begins to understand how honorable and wonderful and edifying it is to believe that most people really can’t bear reality and so must be drugged into infantile fantasies or bribed with sugar and so finally understood and approved of Walt’s vision of a sweet, white, oblivious America.

She did not!

She didn’t like what they did to her book at all and tried to withdraw consent for the movie. She did not like the animation injected into the story. She didn’t like the sticky sentimentality, or the fact that they white-washed the Mary Poppins character to move into that “lovable” mischievous rogue category so well-inhabited by the American popular landscape with all it’s Lucys and Gilligans and Jethros and Mr. Haneys and Fonzies and– oh, my god, it’s absolutely sickening just how dominated our culture is with treacle and feyness and posturing.

Is there nobody to sue Disney for this massive public lie?  I suspect that the only people left with standing to do so have been bought and paid for.  That’s how Disney works.  It’s the Animal Farm of entertainment conglomerates.  And it has learned to walk on its’ hind legs.

The Elusive Appeal of Muppets

I have never, ever understood the alleged charm and appeal of the Muppets or the alleged genius and imagination of Jim Henson. Who the hell thinks “The Muppets Take Manhattan” (1984) is interesting at any level? Or “The Muppet Christmas Carol” (1992)? It’s not. But great for kids? Only if you also like feeding your kids raw sugar and Twinkies.

Let’s start with the Muppets themselves. They are cloth dolls– sock puppets, really– with a very, very limited range of expression. In fact, the range is one. The designs are not remotely interesting– and I absolutely deny that this is a characteristic of products intended to appeal to children. Like I said, only if you think sugar is nutritious. Or that Barbie dolls encourage the child’s imagination.

I remember being a child. I remember that a lot of TV programming was like junk food: it gratified the immediate desire for entertainment with slap-dash action shorts, but the impression was neither deep nor lasting. But I insist that certain cartoons and short films I saw as a child made a deep impression on me and when I later viewed the same products as an adult, I was not betrayed. These cartoons and short films really were fresh, original, and imaginative, in a way that Hanna-Barbara cartoons were not, most of the time, and the Muppets are not ever. Don’t believe me? Look up the cartoon version of “Justice in the Jungle”. Oh wait– I cannot locate it anywhere. Not a trace. But another great children’s movie, “Skinny and Fatty” is available.

Kermit is a dweeb in the true sense of the word, which is a lot less of an interesting thing to be than you might think. He is bland and not particularly curious about anything. He never expresses insight or a playful imagination. He never does anything really funny or mischievous or daring. In that sense, he is a true reflection of the mind of Jim Henson, his doppelganger. In “The Muppets Take Manhattan”, he helps create a Broadway show about– wait for it– wait for it– wait for it– come on– what do you think a really creative writer or artist would come up with as a theme for a movie about Muppets creating a Broadway show? Right: never, ever the theme of creating a Broadway show. And becoming famous. Becoming a star. Living your dream. In other words, the most exhausted, empty, flavorless clichés left on the bottom shelf of the idea closet in some alcoholic Hollywood producer’s toilet.

There’s nothing artistic in the Muppets. It’s all just material production, including the utterly pedestrian musical numbers in “The Muppets Take Manhattan”. Instantly forgettable. Dull. Lifeless. Lots of puppets mugging and swaying and going up and down and that’s about it. This is what we offer our children instead of real stop-motion animation?

The reason is simple. People saw the Muppets and immediately rose up as one and demanded more Muppets? No. The TV network saw Muppets and realized: cheap production costs! Have you seen what it cost to do hand-drawn animation? Or stop-motion? Even those crappy, repetitive Saturday morning cartoons are not cheap.

Let’s promote them like crazy and see if the suckers will bite. And they did.

Repealing Obamacare

It may not matter much in a real election with real people who watch reality TV, believe they are getting a good deal with the Super Jumbo Sized Soft Drink, and hope to win the lottery some day, but the question in mind, for the coming Congressional elections in the fall, is this: which parts of Obamacare are you going to repeal?

I don’t know how most Republican candidates will answer that. They won’t want to. They will not want to go on the record declaring that they will take away insurance for the 5 or 10 million people who now have it who did not have it before. They certainly will try to make it sound like they have a better alternative but even Fox News might occasionally ask a question: what? The answer will be magical thinking: we will find imaginary efficiencies that will produce imaginary care and provide imaginary cost savings for an imaginary future. But, hey, have you seen my new, larger flag lapel pin?

As polls have shown, if you ask the average American if he likes Obamacare, only about 45% say yes. But if you ask them if people should be dropped from their insurance coverage because they develop a serious, expensive illness, or should be denied coverage because they had an illness previously, or if children should be dropped from their parents’ insurance while they are in college or university, a large majority say no. Can the Democrats run on that paradox? If I were a campaign advisor, I’d suggest they start early and hammer their Republican opponents with that question: which provisions of Obamacare will you repeal?


The Toyota Witch

I had been following the story about the alleged Toyota accelerator problems since the very first one about the family in the Lexus with the off-duty police officer. There was audio: a passenger in the car called 911 to report that the car had accelerated to 120 miles per hour and there as nothing they could do to stop it. The car went off the road, crashed, and burned. All four occupants were killed.

The decisive piece of information here was the assertion by the caller that the car seemed to have accelerated all on its own. It was a great story and got enormous play in the national media. And I’m sure all of stories– but especially on CNN and CBC– featured earnest looking young reporters looking into the camera and explaining to the viewer what he or she should do if it happened to them.

If there is a single website somewhere that shows scientific evidence that this problem really exists, I’d like to see it. As it turns out, the car in California that started the whole thing had the wrong floor-mats installed and it is almost certain that the floor mat had bunched up against the gas pedal and jammed it in place. It’s even possible that the driver thought he had his foot on the brake and kept pushing it harder and harder, and the harder he pushed it, the less it worked. But it didn’t matter: a compelling narrative was in place.  Cue the hysteria.

Need more?  Studies were done by reputable journals including The Atlantic.  The overwhelming majority of drivers reporting these problems were over 55.

GM got into trouble as well, for an ignition switch the had a tendency to turn itself off, thereby de-activating the air bags. One woman, whose family sued GM, crashed with twice the legal limit of alcohol in her blood. But, yes, she might have lived if she had had an air bag. All that is needed at that point is for the jury to hear what a wonderful human being she was– she could have been your friend too– you, on the jury– if only she had lived.

Sarcasm aside it is necessary to point out– to those who feel lawsuits are just ruining our world– that juries do in fact allocate portions of blame, and will likely assign her a significant portion of it in this case.

It is not at all unusual to see certain media outlets sensationalize some lawsuit somewhere knowing that a good portion of the audience will derive great satisfaction from reading just how stupid juries are and how greedy those freeloading plaintiffs are. In reality, over and over again, you will find that the details of these cases tell a different story– even of the woman who burned her leg with the McDonald’s coffee– a favorite of the Tort-Reform Cabal in Washington.

[added October 28, 2014] And it does, after all, appear that GM had a real fault in the ignition switch, which it deliberately ignored. There you go!

Kids playing in a river in St. Mary’s, Ontario.

Medical Marijuana

It is no great shock that the Canadian government should suddenly decide that human beings in this province must not be allowed to grow a certain plant. The only surprise is that, given the real purpose behind this kind of legislation, the government didn’t also make it illegal to grow your own food. If you grow your own food, the wealthy corporations who can call government ministers and arrange meetings with them and donate to their re-election campaigns, will have competition for their products. But even Harper could not go that far. But he could make it illegal for you to grow your own marijuana, even if a doctor prescribes it for your own medical use.

It’s a bizarre world. By what moral or ethical authority does the government take it upon itself to stop you from harmlessly enjoying a few tokes in your own basement while watching the latest episode of Homeland? Who invented his ridiculous idea?

As soon as it became clear that the courts were ready to allow medical marijuana for private use, the toadies to the pharmaceutical industry– the government– had to step in to preserve Corporate Profits. Their worst nightmare is that the public should get to use nature’s bounty without having to pay for the services of a pimp.


There is an experiment going on right now in Switzerland in which LSD is given to terminally ill patients to help them deal with the approaching end of their lives. Scientists want to know if it can ease the feelings of anxiety and depression.

The hysterics who still want to fight the war on drugs must have their skivvies in a knot about it. They are not innocent. It is because of the hysterics that the most effective drug against pain that there is, heroin, is not available to terminally ill cancer patients. And it is because of them that tens of thousands of young men spend years in prison for crimes that harm no one but themselves. And it is because of them that the terminally ill may not choose to end their lives with dignity at a time of their own choosing. It is because of them that we torture people in the last months of their lives, injecting and pricking them, bombarding them with x-rays or chemicals that destroy their resistance to colds and viruses and cause them no end of discomfort in the illusory hope that this time will be one in a million and they might get better.

There is no dearth of people eager to tell you what you may or may not do or say or ingest. But let’s be clear: nobody is in favor of drug abuse, and nobody wants drugs distributed like candy to anyone with a momentary impulse to escape life’s issues. But, by any standard, the “War on Drugs” in the U.S. has been a colossal failure and the only thing that keeps people from admitting it is the powerful urge to delude ourselves into believing that when we do something that ruins the lives of thousands and thousands of people and wastes billions of dollars was good and necessary and right.

How could we possibly have not learned the lesson of prohibition? The cure was far worse than the disease.

I suspect that we will always have a drug problem. We will always have people in our society who can’t cope or don’t want to cope or can’t postpone gratification or control their urges. Most of them go for alcohol, but those who want more powerful anesthesia will find drugs whether they are illegal or not. But the dumbest thing we, as a society, ever did, was to compound the problem by sending tens of thousands of these people to prison for possession of even a small amount of an illicit drug. It’s a medical and social problem and should be treated the same way we treat those issues: with therapies, medical treatment, and support. Perhaps our governments have learned the lesson of prohibition– but perhaps the campaigns against drugs are just a smoke screen for the need to guarantee a monopoly on anesthesia to the pharmaceutical companies.

Or maybe we should treat that problem the same way we treat obesity. With complete indifference.

Growing up in the 1960’s and 70’s our parents and teachers and government exerted themselves to hysteria in the attempt to convince us that if you tried a drug like LSD or marijuana or cocaine or heroin, you would immediately become addicted for life. Without a doubt, those drugs are addictive, but so is alcohol. That doesn’t mean that all users become addicted. It is believable to me that no one would fund a study to determine how many people can and do use drugs recreationally, on the odd weekend, at a party, and so on, but remain more or less functional at work and in social settings.

The great, raging hypocrisy among American conservatives is their determination to allow anyone who wants to to own a gun. How bizarre is that? You want to ingest a substance that may give you a consciousness-raising experience, or just make you feel good, and the nanny government steps in to stop you, even though no one is endangered by your actions. But even in the face of overwhelming evidence that guns causes thousands of deaths every year, they believe it would be “intrusive” for the government to regulate where and when you can carry a gun. These people are so irrational it hardly seems worthwhile to argue with them. Every poll shows they represent a small minority of voters. They need to be pushed aside and marginalized for society to function rationally, but the Republicans won’t let that happen because they provide the electoral margin of victory in many states.

And Then the Angels Came

Kristy Money, a psychologist who works with sex offenders and is a Mormon in good standing, applauded church authorities for their transparency in coming clean on Smith. But she criticized the men who guide the faith for not condemning the founder’s behavior. At the very least, she wrote in The Salt Lake Tribune, the church should make it clear that religious leaders cannot have sex with young girls just because an angel told them it was O.K. to do so. NY Times, 2014-11-30

This comment perplexed me. If an angel told you to do something, wouldn’t you do it, the earthly authorities be damned? This is God speaking, after all. No earthy ruler outranks him. If you really believed that you were looking at or hearing an emissary of God (that’s what an angel is, after all), and he or she told you to marry a 13-year-old, I would think you would believe you must obey. That’s what Joseph Smith did. His earthy reward was lavish.

So, instead of telling church authorities to make it clear that even the angels must obey the law, perhaps it would make more sense to hold that the church should make it clear to these religious leaders that there are no angels.

Ah– but then, you see the problem.

Is the real problem here that Kristy Money– amazing name, especially for a psychologist– is “a Mormon in good standing” and, therefore, cannot just come out and deny that any of these leaders ever spoke to an angel at all? Because then you might be implying that Joseph Smith was a sex abuser?

Ah– but then you see the problem.

Surely, as a psychologist, Money understands that religion is a delusion. Belief in a literal god or a literal devil or literal angels is the result of childhood conditioning, not empirical knowledge. But as a Mormon, of course, she does believe. So how does she manage to practice a profession that is deeply and fundamentally founded upon assumptions about human nature that she cannot possibly subscribe to, as a member of the Mormon church, in good standing?

Without writing a book about it, in my opinion, the claims that the field of psychology makes about the human mind cannot ever be reconciled with religious belief. You can’t just pick the fruit and deny that the tree exists.

Well, you cherry pick. And why not? That’s what many people do about many intellectual conundrums: you pick the solutions you like and discard the ones you don’t like, which means, you are essentially making it up as you go along and creating an elegant mask of intellectual consistency and respectability to hold in front of your face as you make pronouncements.

I find this issue troubling only when I hear about “court-ordered psychiatric assessments” or any other application of force to apply an intellectual framework that I believe to be as magical and arbitrary as Mormonism and angels.

If I was a criminal and the judge started leaning towards ordering a psychiatric assessment, I would demand that any psychiatrist chosen for this task should first have to prove his competence by performing a miracle.

Stupid Government

Americans will probably never admit it but their system of government is really kind of stupid. Yes, yes we all know that the fathers of the nation intended to weaken central government forever by providing counterweights to each branch. This design served them well in an era of Kings and Emperors. That era is long, long past.

Anyone who would prefer a paralyzed government to a powerful government– like Canada’s– prefers no government at all. We Canadians enjoy the spectacle of parties running for election, winning, and then having absolutely no excuse for not carrying out their platform. It’s easy: you campaign on your policies, you write the legislation, you propose it in the House of Commons, you analyze it in committee for a while, then you bring it back and pass it. Americans will tell you that this process is terrible and leads to oppression and dictatorship. They much prefer their process of running on a platform, proposing legislation, having it dismembered and appended to death in various committees of the House and then the Senate, having it stall for years in a second or third round of committees and negotiations, and then, finally, having a spectral mostly useless shadow of itself pass just before summer recess.

I think most Canadians would tell you in a flash that they would rather have the government do something and occasionally fail, than have the government do nothing and always fail.

Obama’s Failures

It is not easy to sort out the points at which Obama has failed and the points at which a ridiculously venal and disingenuous opposition has succeeded in thwarting all government, all policy and all strategy. The clearest point was the earliest: Obama had a majority in both houses for the first two years of his first term and failed to conclude a number of legislative initiatives, including budget and tax measures, that could have been the foundation for the rest of both terms.

In fairness, not even everyone in his own party would have supported it. The fact that he was only able to squeeze through Obamacare with a bare majority, in spite of the fact that it is essentially the Republican Plan from ten years ago, gives you an indication of just how dysfunctional U.S. national politics is.

Nobody will ever be able to prove, convincingly, that the Republicans had a better strategy for dealing with the 2008 financial crisis than Obama– and, any way, the strategy they did have was same: bail out the banks (and the big contributors to your election campaigns) and string the mortgage holders out to dry, and then cut taxes for the rich. It is easy for Republicans to claim that the economy would have performed better under a McCain or Romney Administration because it is impossible to show that it wouldn’t have. There is no laboratory of economics that can isolate budget policies from all the other factors that go into making up the economic performance of any given country. What evidence we do have suggests that cutting taxes and reducing over-all spending (Republican policies) has a negative effect and that, in fact, we would be worse off today if the Republicans had had their way. Check Wisconsin for comparison.

Obama pressed a little for more help for those hurt the most by the ruthless greed and amoral practices of the big banks, but he didn’t push very hard. Obama’s Justice Department did very, very little in the way of punishing the people responsible for inflicting more peacetime misery on more people all around the world than anyone else before or since. Almost no one was held to account.

Eric Holder was not up to the task. Timothy Geithner was always one of them, as was Ben Bernake.

The Obama administration came to the conclusion that it would be too difficult to prosecute them. That’s a typical “liberal” response to complexity. It was a moment I would have liked a hard-bitten tough-as-nails conservative like Teddy Roosevelt (there’s nobody in the current Republican Party who is anything like that) to come along and just do it. Just let people know that you are going to do it whether they like it or not. Liberals are always trying to get everyone on board and compromise. And usually, that’s a wise strategy. But not when dealing with these Republicans who always ever only had one goal, to prevent Obama from any legislative success whatsoever, no matter what the cost.

So Obama gets elected on the promise of change but the first thing everyone noticed was how many familiar faces there were in his administration, all holdovers from Bush and Clinton and Reagan, all establishment figures, and almost no real outsiders. He tried to get Elizabeth Warren appointed to the Consumer Protection Bureau but caved quickly to hysterical Republican attacks, which is about the highest compliment anyone has recently paid to anyone on either side.

What is it about Elizabeth Warren that they are so frightened of?