January 15, 2018

Martin Luther King Day 2018

I heard a report on the radio today that referred to the Civil Rights Era in a way that made it clear that it was viewed as a historical period that ended some time ago. When did it end and why? Surely the Civil Rights Era did not end because all the goals of the civil rights movement were attained. War, poverty, discrimination, and unequal justice are still with us. Moreover, civil discourse no longer is about ending poverty. Instead, we talk about helping the middle class while in fact working only to further enrich the wealthy and sanction discrimination on bogus “religious” grounds.

Such thoughts on this Martin Luther King day inspired the graphic below. Feel free to use it elsewhere as is, except possibly for size.

Today is a good day to think about where we are as a nation and the direction in which we are headed.


January 14, 2018

Make America Democratic Again

Many Americans are asking themselves how we can return to a pre-Trump America, a time when the United States had challenges but did not seem destined to become a fascist plutocracy. It is clear that if the country does not change course by the time of the 2020 presidential election, the American experiment may be finished.

The answer, of course, is that Americans must take back their government, which means that we must throw out Republicans and elect Democrats to Congress in 2018. Given Republican gerrymandering and voter-suppression efforts, this will not be an easy task, but the preservation of our Republic demands it.

To remind us all of what we must do, I offer the graphic below. Readers are free to reproduce it elsewhere without alteration (except for size). Click on the image to see a larger version of it.

Make America Democratic Again

January 12, 2018

Posting Here, There, and Everywhere

When I created this blog, I described the intended content as “Random quick takes by Lionel Deimel.” I expected to be posting brief comments or essays that didn’t seem to justify being added to my Web site, Lionel Deimel’s Farrago. As it happens, many of my “takes” have not been quick at all, that is, they have been anything but brief.

Over the years—I began this blog in 2002—the World Wide Web has undergone many changes. Blogs—and even conventional Web sites—are not as prominent as they once were, having been eclipsed somewhat by social media. The older formats remain important, but visits to them are often mediated by tweets, Facebook posts, or Google searches.

I find myself expressing many of my current “random quick takes” on Facebook, on my own page and, sometimes, on pages of groups of which I am a member or visitor. This guarantees a modest audience, though the reach of such posts usually does not extend beyond the group of people I know. Facebook friends seldom share my posts, however clever. No post has ever gone viral.

Less frequently, I comment on Twitter. My likely audience there is smaller, though I occasionally do get responses from people I don’t know. The tagging system on Twitter makes it marginally more likely that a tweet will be seen by someone I’ve never heard of.

On Facebook, I post items from elsewhere, mostly news items. I also post brief commentaries, either as pure text or as graphics. I also post links to essays on this blog or, less frequently, to essays on my Web site. I tweet similar items, though news items are usually retweets.

Social media are best at communicating that which is of immediate interest. Twitter, for example, has been a boon to journalists, who can track unexpected events as they happen. On the downside,  information quickly dissolves into the fog. On Facebook, for example, I sometimes see two stories in my news feed that I want to pursue, but, after checking out the first, the second has seemingly disappeared. Social media are bad about letting you find something that has not been placed online recently.

Ideas that seem to deserve a half-life of more than a few hours tend to find their way to this blog. To make people aware of my posts, I write about them on Facebook and Twitter. It is easy to find a post here after the fact using Google, the search box at the top of the page, or—few blogs have this—my table of contents. (There are various ways of following what is going on here, which you can explore in the column at the right.)

Material of greater or longer-term interest usually shows up on my Web site. If it is of immediate interest, I may use my blog or social media to call attention to it. Lionel Deimel’s Farrago has its own table of contents.

Actually, all of the foregoing is just prologue to what I really wanted to say here, namely that I intend to be posting more brief comments here, either as text or embedded in graphics, the sort of think I have mostly placed on Facebook or Twitter.

Stay tuned.

December 30, 2017

My Movie Project

A couple of months ago, I completed a longstanding project. My goal was to watch every movie on the list of the top 100 American movies compiled by American Film Institute. I was working with the 2007 version of the list, which updates a 1998 list.

AFI’s 100 Years 100 Movies
Before I began this project, I had already seen nearly three-quarters of the movies on the AFI list. Most of  the titles I had to find were in the bottom half of the list. Completing the project mostly required my getting DVDs or Blu-ray disks from Netflix. My final movie, Do the Right Thing, was streamed from Amazon. (This turned out to be one of my least enjoyed, by the way.)

Some of my favorite movies were not on the list, as they were not American. (A movie was deemed “American” if it were financed with American money, even if were otherwise “foreign.”) Thus, for example, Truffaut’s Day for Night was not on the list, though it may not have made the list anyway. Neither was The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.

It is interesting to compare the two lists nearly a decade apart. Certain films moved around on the list, some, both recent and not, were added, and 23 films were dropped. (The Wikipedia article for the first list analyzes differences between the two.) I was surprised that The Birth of a Nation was dropped. For good or ill, it was certainly influential, even though I did not like it. I would like to have seen Doctor Zhivago kept, as well as Fantasia, each of which greatly influenced me personally. My top pick would have been Casablanca, which dropped from second to third place over the decade.

My movie project gave me an excuse to experience some excellent movies I would not have seen otherwise. I now have an increased appreciation of Charlie Chaplin, for example. My concept of the Western was definitely stretched through experiencing Unforgiven and The Wild Bunch. (Watch these at your own risk.) I also saw movies, such as Spartacus, which I should have seen a long time ago.

The movie that was my happiest discovery was F.W. Murnau’s 1927 film Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans. The movie straddled the silent and sound eras. There is no spoken dialogue—speech is conveyed through title cards—but there is an original synchronized soundtrack containing music and sound effects. (Sunrise used the Fox Movietone sound-on-film system.) The movie succeeds despite its being a silent picture. It is a touching fable of conjugal love and rural vs. urban tensions. Sunrise won several awards at the first Academy Awards ceremony, including Best Unique and Artistic Picture.

If you are at all interest in cinema, consider a project similar to mine. There are many more worthy movies out there, of course, but the AFI list will help you hold your own in cocktail party conversations as long as the topic of recent movies doesn’t come up. If you are not much of a movie fan and haven’t seen many movies on the list, the project will take a while.

December 21, 2017

More Legislative Reforms

The passage of the Republicans’ tax bill is a complete lesson in how not to create new laws. Nothing about the process that resulted in the passing of this bill can be viewed as desirable, reasonable, or moral. Readers of this blog are likely to accept that as self-evident fact, so I won’t belabor the point.

About three weeks ago, I suggested that Senators and Representatives should actually read the bills on which they vote. (See A Commonsense Legislative Reform.) In this essay, I want to suggest two additional reforms that, though radical, would likely produce better laws and perhaps even better lawmakers.

Reform 1

Every word in a bill should be formally attributed to a particular legislator.

Moreover, if a single word is changed—often a significant matter—that change should be attributed to someone. Crafting a bill is sometimes a committee effort, but someone needs to take responsibility for the words on paper. In some circumstances, it may be appropriate to ascribe some text to more than one person, but to attribute it to a large number of legislators would militate against the strict accountability this proposal attempts to create. Voters should know when their representatives are responsible for particular provisions.

This reform is especially aimed at making legislators accountable for last-minute changes to a bill done to help special interests. Such small last-minute changes have a way of sneaking under the legislative radar. The reform would, of course, have more general beneficial effects.

In times past, my suggestion might have been impractical. Computers, however, can hyperlink text in various ways to facilitate this reform.

Reform 2

Each individual provision of a bill should be accompanied by (1) a statement of the issue or problem it purports to address and (2) an explanation of how the particular provision is expected to improve the state of affairs described in the aforementioned statement.

This proposed reform is the more important one. Admittedly, it would be onerous to implement, and it would be useless if the rationales demanded were not required at a very low level. One might go even further, making explicit the overall purpose of a bill and requiring that all provisions address the problems and expected outcomes of the bill generally.

The benefits of this reform are legion. As does my first suggested reform, this one improves accountability. Moreover, it encourages debate about the actual mechanics of a provision, as opposed to mere assertions that one provision is “better” or “worse” than another. It is therefore likely to result in better and more transparent legislation and more edifying debate in the halls of Congress. The required expected outcome provides a standard against which the empirical results of the bill-become-law may be measured. This feedback would encourage the repeal of bad or ineffective laws and the improvement of good or effective ones. Documenting the problems being solved and the mechanisms by which legislation attempts to provide solutions would surely slow down the legislative machinery. Given our recent congressional experience, that would seem not to be a bad thing.

Epilogue

Thomas B. Edsall has provided a depressing analysis of the just-passed tax bill in The New York Times. (See “You Cannot Be Too Cynical About the Republican Tax Bill.”) In it, he points out that some provisions were inserted for the benefit of particular legislators, but, often, one cannot tell this for sure. Additionally, some provisions of the bill have no obvious rationale, and different parts of the bill may actually operate in different directions. My proposals, particularly the second one, assays to head off such anomalies.

Of course, the bill in question was produced by a totally rogue process, and, if Republicans are allowed to get away with this kind of law-making, our democracy is doomed. We can and must do better.

Whither Episode Nine?

Star Wars: The Last Jedi poster
Star Wars: The Last Jedi poster
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Some have suggested that the Star Wars movies are intended as fairy tales for our times. I saw Star Wars: The Last Jedi a few days ago. The ending brought to mind the current state of our two political parties. Think of the First Order as the Trump administration and the Congress, and the Rebel Alliance, whose principals escape with reduced numbers by the skin of their teeth, as the Democrats.

The depressing ending of The Last Jedi raises the question of what will happen in the final ninth episode of the Star Wars saga. It is natural to expect the good guys, downtrodden but not defeated, to triumph in the end. Perhaps a more powerful, relevant, and, at this point, logical, ending would see the final destruction of the Rebel Alliance and the triumph of the First Order.

Will Disney actually forego a happily-ever-after ending?

December 19, 2017

The Tax Bill Cometh

It seems likely that, contrary to all reasonable calculus, the Congress will pass the regressive Republican tax “reform” bill tonight or tomorrow. The cynical interpretation of this is that our legislature is driven completely by self-interest—by the desire to satisfy their donor clients on one hand, and the siren-call of personal financial self-interest, on the other. The most generous interpretation is that our Senators and Representatives are clueless.

What GOP legislators have been saying in interviews is that (1) the tax code is being simplified, (2) the middle class will get a big tax cut, (3) corporations will get a big tax cut, and (4) corporations will repatriate money stashed abroad.

Well, the more than 500-page bill will not simplify taxes. (No doubt, administrative rulings will expand the number of words needed to explain federal taxes.) The middle class, qua class, gets no tax cut. Some will benefit; others will not. Individual tax provisions go away in a few years, in any case. Corporations will indeed get a big tax cut, and there is a bipartisan consensus that a cut is in order, though maybe not a 40% one. No one really knows what will happen to corporate money abroad. (Firms like Apple don’t need the money in the U.S.; they have plenty on hand that isn’t being used.)

Although Republicans mostly avoid saying it, the party has an unshakable, but empirically unsupportable, faith—“belief” is surely the wrong word—in trickle-down economics. Republicans repeatedly tell us that the tax bill will grow the economy, but they fail to explain by what magical process this is supposed to happen. Never have the benefits of reduced taxes really trickled down to those who most need a break. But, of course, history may come out differently this time.

Apparently, large corporations, newly flushed with money, are supposed to invest in new plant, hire more workers, and slash prices, all leading to economic growth and universal happiness.

Yeah, right!


Expectations for tax bill


December 17, 2017

Banned Words

It was reported yesterday that the Trump administration has banned the use of seven words or phrases by the CDC, namely, “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “diversity,” “transgender,” “fetus,” “evidence-based,” and “science-based.” A secret government-wide banned-word list has not been disclosed before now.



Banned words
Click on image for a larger one