Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Mike Payne Makes His Important Voice Heard Yet Again

I appear on the 200th episode of JL Cauvin's Righteous Prick podcast. We lose our religion over politics and religion (and comedy).

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Sad Clowns are Unhappy Coincidences

"Life is a tragedy when see in close-up, but a comedy in long-shot." - Famous Silent Era Hack

The consensus on comedy is that comedy comes from pain. No comedian can escape an "in-depth" interview" without some probing into whatever tragedy allegedly energized his funny bone.

Many comedians are screw-ups and emotional cripples, but this is more correlation than causation. If tragedy spawns comedy, why didn’t Vietnam produce a generation of vet vaudeville? Did Japanese comedy experience a renaissance in the wake of Hiroshima? Most people become twitchy, uncommunicative disasters after tragedy. The trauma leads to PTSD, not SNL.

The sad clown image is merely another case of artists mythologizing their lives. Comedians are self-absorbed, perhaps second only to actors in that department, so it isn't surprising they promote and believe this narrative. Unfortunately, the broad acceptance of it has caused a proliferation of godawful therapy comics. Believing your sad sack essence inspires creativity is more comforting than admitting you're a perennial wet blanket. Needing catharsis doesn’t mean you have the ability to make whatever pain you have entertaining (just ask a shrink).

Blues music is also linked to sadness, and yes, some blues singers had horrible lives, but if Howlin' Wolf didn't have natural ability, no amount of Delta angst would have done the trick. Ironically, blues singers are probably asked less about the tragedy underlying their art than comics, and when a person without talent tries the blues, everyone trashes him. No one would ever claim that just because someone has pain he doesn't need musical talent to play the blue. It is symptomatic of how little appreciated comedy talent is that people actually think: "Oh, you had a rough year?. You should turn it into a one-man show!" If everyone who grew up in a dysfunctional, booze soaked home could suddenly sing the blues there would be no space for any other music - though karaoke nights would be a lot more entertaining (and less tragic).

Pain doesn't come with charisma or writing ability. No outside intervention or grief can turn a dud into a laugh riot. Being an architect is as much art as it is engineering, but because architects don’t normally behave like brain damaged children there is no prevailing myth about the crying architect.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Is Donald Trump the New Wendell Wilkie?

To the horror of many who buy into the sacrosanctness of elections, the Donald Trump phenomenon hasn't fizzled out. Although one might compare him to recent previous businessmen who ran - Herman Cain and Mitt Romney - I think a better comparison can be made to the 1940 Republican Presidential nominee Wendell Wilkie.


Both had business backgrounds (though there were no such things as Wilkie Ties, Wilkie Vodka, Wilkie Water)

Both not supported by establishment Republicans

Both were former Democrats

Both not particularly religious (Trump talks about being Presbyterian, but when you hear the word Trump, church doesn't come to mind...exact maybe confession...)

Both were big talkers who energized people, in sharp contrast to their stodgy competition (if third chins could talk, they'd be Jeb Bush)

Although both were "outsiders" who rode populist waves, both were obviously not salt of the earth people (Wilkie's nomination was said to come "right from the grass roots of every country club in America.")

Wilkie was running Roosevelt's third term, Trump is running against a potential third Bush or Clinton term.

Both had quite crazy hair.

Wilkie and Trump aren't a perfect match, of course. The worst strike against Wilkie - his flip-flopping and eventual tacit embrace of Roosevelt's policies - are closer to Mitt "not a Reagan Republican except when I need to be seen as a Reagan Republican, pay no attention to Romneycare" Romney.

In the end Wendell Wilkie became very unpopular. I think Trump is headed for the same fate.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Joining the Mile High Club is Less Risky than Joining in Holy Matrimony

I think most of us have points where we act as though statistics alone should conquer all fears, when the truth is they seldom do. If simple standalone stats convinced people, no one would have fallen for the War on Terror - no politician would get elected if voters took stats to heart.

Which brings me to the fear of flying, the only fear guaranteed to get you pelted with smarm-covered stats the moment you bring it up. When you confess you're scared to fly, not only do you get the shopworn "It is much riskier to travel by car and here are some stats I haven't verified and couldn't calculate if my life depended on it," but you're forced to endure this condescension from people who blissfully pursue risks with much worse odds, all the while denying how much risk they're taking. People who get married, for instance.

Almost half of all marriages end in divorce, so the married person claiming that stats should persuade you is himself ignoring the very ominous stats stacked against him. He should be much more worried about his wedding than the flight he'll take to get there. Yes, maybe it is stupid to get nervous on a plane given how low the disaster odds are, but it is far stupider to enter into something with nearly even odds of disaster, where total financial ruin is just a coin toss away.

The odds against a marriage working are a lot like the safety demonstrations you receive at the beginning of a flight - no one pays attention.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

China Even Bootlegs American Laws!

Remember all the (often libertarian) China bulls who were telling us about a decade ago that China is more business-friendly than the U.S. Remember hearing them say the Chinese had observed and learned from the mistakes of the fading West, "money goes where it is treated best" and all that? Yeah, about that...

China’s securities regulator took the drastic step of banning shareholders with stakes of more than 5% from selling shares for the next six months in a bid to halt a plunge in stock prices that is starting to roil global financial markets.

It almost reminds me of something...oh right, that time in 2008 when America did the same thing.

I thought vibrant China had learned from calcified America's mistakes and was doing an Opposite George on all things red, white, and blue. Apparently what they learned is how to repeat them.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Why Twitter has made Vice Presidents Irrelevant

To the extent that federalism still exists - and it's a reach to say it still does - social media is rapidly poaching what survives of it. Indiana recently passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, Alabama recently passed its Freedom of Religion in Marriage Protection Act, and the national social media apparatus put so much pressure on those governments the laws were quickly defanged by the online maelstrom.

This phenomenon is only going to grow more powerful.

For all the talk of dysfunction in politics and the country being more divided than ever, there is an airtight consensus on the social issues among the nation's power brokers. This has been proven time and again since sites like Twitter and Gawker grew from novelties to sniper rifles. Doesn't matter how traditional Indiana might want to be. Its officials and businesses cannot withstand the instantaneous human wave attacks.

So with federalism fully dead and the national consensus flattening any differences from state to state, the importance of having a VP from a swing state is null and void. No matter how popular he is at home, if he dissents the coast-to-coast digital derision will soon make him a goat at home. You can select Marco Rubio as VP thinking you'll get Florida, but his stances on abortion and the Indiana law would swirl around his head like radioactive gnats. Every little gaffe on the campaign trail would be traced back to those stances and votes, probably on a daily basis. The national media/social media scrutiny (with power broker reinforcement) would prevent him from carrying Florida for whomever the presidential candidate was. A Jeb/Rubio ticket might carry Florida, but otherwise no chance.

Ryan didn't carry Wisconsin for Romney, Walker wouldn't do any better, Portman wouldn't deliver Ohio for anyone (voted against partial birth abortion for starters), Santorum wouldn't deliver Pennsylvania. The list goes on. The intersection of the power broker consensus with the cost free bully pulpit of social media makes it impossible to step outside whatever this afternoon's standard is for acceptable debate (don't get comfortable, it will change by dinner time).

Having someone like Perry or Cruz as VP (not that it would happen) isn't necessary to help carry Texas because Texas is still a sort of American Switzerland; remaining relevant even as it stands somewhat outside the consensus. This won't last forever of course.

The power broker consensus is making it less and less possible to "vote with your feet." Any openings for state-level legislative arbitrage are pretty much gone. In three or four years you won't even need the caveat of "pretty much."

The old adage was that all politics is local. Social media (and political correctness) means now all politics is national.