Random Thoughts and Other Mental Eruptions

It’s Hump Day, spring is in the air, and our thoughts turn to many things, in no particular order:

Lana Del Rey Is the New Joni Mitchell. In my “best of” list for 2019, I called out Lana’s album, “NFR,” and noted that, among other things, it had the “vibrancy of Joni Mitchell.” It took a while for her follow-up, but it finally dropped this week. “Chemtrails Over the Country Club” manages to be laid-back and energetic at the same time and at the end, Lana explicitly grabs the Joni Mitchell throne by doing a lovely cover of “For Free,” a chestnut from Joni’s “Ladies of the Canyon.” It’s a gracious nod to the past by someone trying to create a new post-modern feminist style of pop music.

Data Matter. Sometimes we get so overwhelmed by social memes we don’t even question them anymore. Then somebody comes along with a little data and throws cold water on the party. In the March 24 edition of the Wall Street Journal, Phil Gramm and John Early do just that. Rising income equality is a core tenet of today’s social narrative in the U.S. But wait. Gramm and Early did an alternative analysis and came to this conclusion: “We can now show that if you count all government transfers as income . . . reduce household income by taxes paid . . . the claim that income inequality is growing on a secular basis collapses. Not only is income inequality in America not growing, it is lower today than it was 50 years ago.”

Maybe William Safire Was Right After All. As a speechwriter for Spiro Agnew (c’mon, who remembers Spiro?), Safire coined the phrase “nattering nabobs of negativism” to describe journalists who were critical of Nixon. It was political rhetoric of the highest order and it also may have been the truth. In today’s Times, David Leonhardt quotes a new academic study that shows American media, in fact, is decidedly negative. They parsed coverage of Covid-19 in national publications and found it to be far more negative than international counterparts. “The most well-read U.S. media are outliers in terms of their negativity,” said Molly Cook, a co-author of the study.

More Thoughts on Media. Did anybody notice that the immediate narrative regarding the Atlanta spa massacres revolved around persecution of Asian-Americans (a misreading of causation and correlation as I pointed out in an earlier post), with nary a mention of guns, despite the fact that Robert Aaron Long bought the gun he used the same day that he used it. Coverage of the Boulder massacre immediately and unequivocally centered on the gun issue (rightly so). Asian-American persecution is a fact, but the real issues are the need for stricter gun control and better mental health infrastructure.

The head of Harvard’s Astronomy Department says this interstellar object may have penetrated earth’s orbit recently.

The Saucers Are Coming: The intelligence community is preparing to release a comprehensive report on UFOs. When the report comes out “it will be big,” according to the former Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe. “We are talking about objects that have been seen by Navy or Air Force pilots, or have been picked up by satellite imagery, that frankly engage in actions that are difficult to explain, movements that are hard to replicate, that we don’t have the technology for or are traveling at speeds that exceed the sound barrier without a sonic boom.” Somewhere, Carl Sagan is smiling.

Bill Maher Rocks. Maher, as he does more often than not, hit the nail on the head in a monologue this week when he said America will never solve the problems we face if we keep being “silly.” He quoted Lawrence of Arabia (“So long as the Arabs fight tribe against tribe, so long will they be a little people, a silly people”) and compared us to the Chinese, who actually get things done. “You know who doesn’t care that there’s a stereotype of a Chinese man in a Dr. Seuss book?” he said. “China. All 1.4 billion of them could give a crouching tiger, flying f—.”

Silent Movies. I’ve watched three movies recently that all have something in common. On the surface, not much happens. But underneath all the non-action they tell powerful stories of human courage and redemption. “The Assistant” portrays one day in the life of an administrative assistant working for a Harvey Weinstein-like character; what she experiences is quietly devastating, particularly the scene with the HR director. “Nomadland,” starring the great Frances McDormand, plays like a travelogue of camping grounds, but underneath ripples a story of human dislocation, adaptation and, ultimately, independence. “Sound of Metal” is a tour-de-force of struggle in the face of great loss. Again, it’s quiet on the surface (despite the title), but lead actor Riz Ahmed’s portrayal of Ruben Stone, a heavy metal drummer and recovering addict who loses his hearing, is stunning. The finale is two minutes of perfection in film-making.

Kudos to Harold Ford For a Kick-Ass Zoom Background (Literally). It’s easy to lose interest in a talking head, but Harold built a background that balances theme and composition. It’s hard to look away.

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