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There’s a bathroom on the right

[ 0 ] November 25, 2009 |

A few years ago I ran into the concept of a mondegreen, which is usually defined as a mis-heard line in a song. The most commonly cited examples include “there’s a bathroom on the right,” as a mis-hearing of CCR’s “there’s a bad moon on the rise” and “s’cuse me while I kiss this guy” rather than Jimi Hendrix’s original “s’cuse me while I kiss the sky.”

Thanks to the wonders of wikipedia, I’ve learned that the original definition, formulated by Sylvia Wright, is actually narrower and more interesting: “The point about what I shall hereafter call mondegreens, since no one else has thought up a word for them, is that they are better than the original“.

It doesn’t seem to me that either of the common examples given above qualify. I humbly submit the following as instances from from my own personal history of mis-hearing song lyrics:

Rod Stewart, Maggie Mae:

I suppose I could collect my books and go back to school
Or steal my daddy’s cue and make a living out of playing pool.

The correct lyric is “fool.” “Pool” deploys a clever pun, and a much more arresting image of the feckless yet suddenly intriguing father.

[Correction: Jim in comments points out that in fact “pool” is the real lyric, and that my subsequent interpretation is the actual mondogreen, except it wouldn’t be one by the original definition. As Emily Litella used to say . . . never mind].

Speaking of which, The Kinks, Father Christmas:

When I was small I believed in Santa
Though I knew there was no dad.

Instead of the canonical “though I knew it was my dad.” The mis-hearing adds a level of wistful pathos to the proceedings.

Next up, Neil Young, Helpless:

There is a town in north Ontario
With dream comfort memory to spare

The correct line is “With dream comfort memory despair.”

I’m of two minds about this one, as the correct version is more disturbingly surreal, while the mis-hearing has a certain homey charm.

Anyway, I like Wright’s original definition much more than the contemporary (mis)understanding of what she had in mind, which is rather ironic as Alanis Morrisette did not observe.


Social Security

[ 0 ] November 25, 2009 |

To be clear: Fred Hiatt will never stop trying to kill it, and Democrats shouldn’t be scared of facing the issue.

"In previous decades people would have laughed about it."

[ 0 ] November 25, 2009 |

But, Bruce people laughed about a lot of hilarious things in previous decades that turned out, with the passage of time, to not be bloody funny at all.

So when Bruce Forsyth, CBE, so called “national treasure” of Britain (and still on the telly every week hosting the wildly popular and utterly pointless Strictly Come Dancing, the forebear to what I’m sure is the equally popular and pointless Dancing With the Stars in the U.S.), lamely attempts to convince us that Paki is as racist as Limey, meaning it isn’t racist at all but just something we should all laugh off, all we can do is sigh and continue to pay our license fee* (£142.50 this year, and I pay mine every December . . . )

Or maybe when you’re 81, you may still find things funny that haven’t been since Neville Chamberlin was Prime Minister?

* This is one of the more regressive taxes among the western democracies, and one I happily pay every year. Value for money and all that malarkey, Forsyth, Russell Brand, Jonathan Ross, and George fecking Lamb aside . . .

You only noticed I’m white because you’re a racist.

[ 0 ] November 24, 2009 |

In the comments to a long, inaccurate attack on those who consider Palin evidence that the conservative movement is trending stupid, Darleen Click claims that those who point out the extreme whiteness of Palin supporters “reveal a great more about [themselves] than Palin.” Because such people notice race at all, they’re insufficiently colorblind and therefore more racist than Click, who merely advocates creating and maintaining structural inequalities that disproportionately affect people who just happen to not be white.

Set aside for a moment the fact that Click labors under the delusion that noticing people of color is more racist than harming them and remember that 1) the figure she defends, Sarah Palin, is using her publicity tour as a prelude to a 2012 presidential bid launch, and 2) candidate Palin is posting photographs of the people she meets on her Facebook page, meaning that these are not images produced by a liberal media elite out to make her look like her appeal is limited to white people but images she and her people have decided should represent her mass-appeal on a mock-presidential bid launch. Time to play “Count the Non-White People”!

  1. Image #1: 0
  2. Image #2: 0
  3. Image #3: 0
  4. Image #4: 0
  5. Image #5: 0
  6. Image #6: 0
  7. Image #7: 0
  8. Image #8: 1 (a mall security guard)
  9. Image #9: 0
  10. Image #10: 0
  11. Image #11: 0
  12. Image #12: 2 (but only one identifiably of her own volition)

In all those photographs, there is one non-white person who can be positively identified as having come of their own accord. To Click, pointing out that Palin’s own handlers consider her appeal limited to white people makes me a racist. Over in the increasingly diverse place known as the United States, this is why people like Click should hunker down for a long run of political disappointment.

Update. Over at my place, one of Darleen’s flock attempts to prove me wrong by being racist.

Update 2. Someone should tell them to quit digging.

Yet More on Lieberman

[ 0 ] November 24, 2009 |

This seems largely correct to me:

So why is he doing this? Because he’s bitter. According to former staffers and associates, he was upset by his dismal showing in the 2004 Democratic presidential primary. And he was enraged by the tepid support he got from many party leaders in 2006, when he lost the Democratic primary to an anti-war activist and won reelection as an independent. Gradually, this personal alienation has eaten away at his liberal domestic views. His staff has grown markedly more conservative in recent years, and his closest friends in Congress are now Republicans John McCain and Lindsey Graham. For Lieberman, the personal has become political, and it has pushed him further to the right.

There are two ways of reacting to this argument. On the one side, you can treat it as an accusation that liberals are “to blame” for Lieberman’s lurch to the right. The altogether more sensible way to take it is that the campaign to unseat Lieberman by supporting Ned Lamont had the foreseeable consequence of pushing Lieberman to the right if he managed to win anyway. As Ezra argued, the primary forced Lieberman to find an electoral coalition that was far more right wing than the one he had previously assembled, and it’s natural that he’d be more responsive to that coalition after the election. But as Beinart suggests, politicians aren’t simply vote-seeking automatons. It’s not surprising that Lieberman reacted to harsh criticism with bitterness, and consequently with a shift farther to the right.

None of this means that supporting Ned Lamont was a bad idea. First, it was unlikely that both of the above conditions would hold. Had Lieberman won the primary, he might have been bitter but he would have been responsible to the same electoral coalition. Having lost the primary, it was unlikely that he was going to win the election, but unlikely things do happen in politics. Second, Ned Lamont would have made a much better, and much more progressive, Senator than even the pre-2006 Joe Lieberman.

The institutional failure, I think, was that the Democratic Party didn’t fully understand that it needed to put Joe Lieberman’s political career in the dirt in 2006. I think they believed that the choice was essentially between two Democrats, rather than between a Democrat and a guy who was going to be elected by Republicans and was going to loathe the party’s progressive base.

FDR Sick?

[ 0 ] November 24, 2009 |

This is kind of interesting; the argument is that FDR may have been suffering from cancer during the 1944 Presidential campaign. The evidence of illness, they suggest, was covered up by his doctors in order to make his run for a fourth term possible.

If Lomazow and Fettman are right, Republican Thomas E. Dewey or a different Democrat should have been elected president in 1944. In that case, Harry S. Truman, FDR’s vice president, would almost certainly not have been commander-in-chief from 1945 to 1952. The Cold War and subsequent American history might have taken a very different path.

Two questions:

1. If this is true, and if FDR’s illness had become widely enough known to preclude a fourth run, who would have taken the Democratic nomination in 1944? I suspect that it would have been very hard for FDR to campaign anyway, given the general undesirability of having a dying President during wartime.

2. If this were true, why would FDR have chosen Truman as his VP? The two men weren’t close, and even allowing that FDR had a cavalier approach to his VP choices, it would be odd that he would select Truman if he knew he was quite likely to die in the short term.

The argument is hardly concrete, but it does open up some interesting avenues of discussion.

An Easy Question

[ 0 ] November 24, 2009 |

Ezra is, of course, completely right about the filibuster. While there may be individual exceptions in the long sweep of history, legislative gridlock is far more beneficial to reactionary than to progressive interests. It’s not even a close question.

I’d only add that Winship’s invocation of Supreme Court justices is pretty feeble given that neither Thomas nor Alito were filibustered; the only recent victory over a reactionary Supreme Court appointment — Bork — came on a straight up-or-down vote. But this is par for the course; progressive arguments for the filibuster always rely on hypotheticals and ignore how it’s actually been used in practice. Winship’s claims about how the filibuster “protects unpopular groups and rights from the tyranny of the majority” is rather strange, since the primary effect of the filibuster has been to thwart attempts to protect unpopular minorities and to protect the status quo. It’s not, exactly, that the filibuster doesn’t protect minorities; it’s that the minorities it “protects” — primarily small states, very rich people in general and reactionary southern white males in particular — are 1)already grossly overrepresented in our political system and 2)pretty much never represent progressive values.

The Blunder

[ 0 ] November 24, 2009 |

I will admit that in the immediate aftermath of the election, it wasn’t 100% clear that Reid blundered by letting Holy Joe keep his committee chairmanship; it was certainly the most plausible scenario, but there was at least some chance that in exchange for keeping his perks Ried had good reason to believe that Lieberman wouldn’t join Republican obstructionism of major Democratic legislation. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. Well, the pudding is ready, and it sure tastes like shit.

I wish I could be confident that if Lieberman goes through with making the legislation far worse for reasons that couldn’t be more incoherent, at least after the midterms he’ll lose all of his perks and be reduced to the lowest-seniority position on a committee determined to have the least possible relevance to the interests of Connecticuit voters. But I don’t even believe that. “Please, Sir, May I Have Another?” still seems to be the organizing principle of Senate Democrats.

Obama’s war

[ 0 ] November 24, 2009 |

An unfortunate aspect of the nature of politics is that principled opposition to disastrous and/or immoral policies tends to either disappear or at least lose much of its intensity when such policies are adopted by politicians one supports.

Certainly over the last year we’ve seen this among what passes for the political left in this country, in regard to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It’s true that Obama inherited these wars. He was elected to end them.

Yet today it’s being reported that, after nearly doubling the US military presence in Afghanistan earlier this year, he has decided to increase that number by 50%, at a direct cost of one million dollars per soldier. The indirect costs are incalcuable.

The administration’s plan contains “off-ramps,” points starting next June at which Obama could decide to continue the flow of troops, halt the deployments and adopt a more limited strategy or “begin looking very quickly at exiting” the country, depending on political and military progress, one defense official said.

“We have to start showing progress within six months on the political side or military side or that’s it,” the U.S. defense official said.

In short, the next six months will be crucial.

If you haven’t yet seen this recent Frontline program on the current situation in that country it’s worth your time.

This totally would have worked on the "Half Hour Comedy Hour," though…

[ 0 ] November 24, 2009 |

As promised, here are the passages from Palin’s book in which she and the “B-Team” make a go at vaudeville. When we join our heroine, she has just agreed to appear on a mid-October episode of SNL as the self-parody to Tina Fey’s parody. After musing that a September appearance on the show might have “had a shot at evening the odds with the SNL crew,” she recalls her mounting concern that no one from the show had bothered to provide the campaign with a script. “What if it’s raunchy?” she wonders. “Worse, what if it’s not funny?” Not to fear, of course. This is Sarah Palin we’re talking about; she’ll write the fucking jokes herself.

So, finally, we B Teamers started brainstorming. What about a skit where I pretended to be a journalist and asked Tina condescending questions: “What do you use for newspapers up in Alaska–tree bark?” “What happens if the moose were given guns? It wouldn’t be so easy then, eh?” “Is ‘you betcha’ your state motto?” We sent our ideas up the line, and somebody smacked ’em down.

See? It’s just like the campaign. She couldn’t even use her bestest burns on Alec Baldwin.

Alec Baldwin also guested on the show that evening. The big-wigs haggled back and forth over my appearance . . . . We put our heads together and sent the producers a counteroffer. Alec would get his barbs in, then I would say, “Hey, Baldwin, weren’t you supposed to leave the country after the last election?”

Uh…no, producers said.

We tried another idea . . . . “Hey, Alec,” the proposed line went, “I saw Stephen at a fund-raiser last week and asked him when he was going to knock some sense into you.”


What’s that line about being able to dish it out?

It’s a good thing that Palin has her unintentional comedy career to fall back on.

"And there still would have been the Holocaust…"

[ 0 ] November 23, 2009 |

Few write on the history of evolutionary theory as compellingly as John Wilkins. (Had his Species: the History of an Idea and Defining Species: a Sourcebook from Antiquity to Today been available in 2002, I could’ve avoided years of thankless legwork and finished my dissertation with normative time to spare. Not that I’m bitter.) So I can think of no better way to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the publication of the Origin than to listen to Wilkins speculate about what would have happened had it never existed. My only qualm is with this paragraph:

Lamarckism, by which I mean the progressivist view of evolution, not the “acquired inheritance” version that has little to do directly with Lamarck and anyway is set up as a contrast with Weismann not Darwin, would have played an even greater role in people’s thinking than it did. It may still be with us now—we would be trying to figure out how progress occurs out of necessity, rather than it being the rather odd view of people like Conway Morris.

I think scholars who focus more on the scientific literature underestimate the popular appeal of what amounts to quasi-Lamarckian thought both then and now … but then again, as I’m the person who wrote my dissertation, I would.

Nuclear Warhead Life Extension Actually Works

[ 0 ] November 23, 2009 |

Last week, the JASON study on the viability of service life extension for the US nuclear arsenal appeared in several places. The conclusions were reassuring; there is no reason to believe that the US nuclear arsenal will degrade in the next several decades, assuming basic maintenance and life-extension procedures are carried out. This means that the US deterrent is “secure,” although the circumstances under which it might have become insecure are highly suspect. This ain’t good for those who’ve been arguing for RRW (Reliable Replacement Warhead), who have by and large put their money on the unreliability argument. This isn’t the only argument in favor of RRW, but it sounds better than the alternatives, which include anti-arms control fetishism, the need to continue pouring money into nuclear labs, and the desire to nuke the hell out of countries that piss us off. More on the last, which acquired newfound “respectability” in latest issue of Foreign Affairs, later.