“Beasts of the Southern Wild” and Cultural Relativism

September 28, 2012
Posted by Jay Livingston

The crucial moment in “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” for me at least, was the sight of Hushpuppy  in a new purple dress.  Hushpuppy, a seven year old girl is the central figure in the film, and up until that point we have seen her, dressed in the same clothes every day, living in The Bathtub, a bayou area south of New Orleans, on the unprotected side of the levee.



Life in The Bathtub is harsh.  The people there (“misfits, drunks and swamp-dwellers,” – WaPo) live in shacks cobbled together from scrap metal and wood.  They fish from boats that are similarly improvised.  They scavenge.  The children’s education comes from the idiosyncratic stories of one woman. 




They are wild people living among wild things, unconstrained by laws or walls, reliant on ancient prophecies and herbal cures, at home with the water that may overwhelm them at any moment. [New York Review]

After a Katrina-like flood, the authorities force the evacuation of The Bathtub.  Hushpuppy and the others are housed in a shelter - a large, brightly-lit room (a high school gym?) – and given new clothes.  This is when we see Hushpuppy in her new purple dress heading out the door, presumably to a real school.

No, no, no, I thought. This is all wrong. This is not her.  She belongs back in The Bathtub, for despite its rough conditions, the people there are a real and caring community.  Her father loves her and prepares her for life there.  The people there all love her and care for her, as they care, as best they can, for one another.

That was the voice of cultural relativism telling me to look at a society on its own terms, with understanding and sympathy.

At the same time, though, the voice of ethnocentrism was whispering in my other ear.  This is America, it said.  These conditions are the things you deplore and want to improve – lack of decent health care, education, clothing, shelter, and basic safety.  (In an early scene, Hushpuppy tries to light her stove with a blowtorch, nearly incinerating her shack and herself.)  It’s wrong that people in America live like this. 

It was not much of a contest.  Cultural relativism won.

In turning the audience into cultural relativists, the movie plays on old themes in American culture.  We’ve always had our suspicions of civilization and refinement, and we’ve had a romantic attachment to the unrefined and rugged.  In “Beasts,” the shelter – sterile, impersonal, and bureaucratic – is contrasted with The Bathtub – rough-hewn, but an authentic community nonetheless. 

Then there is Hushpuppy. I’ve commented before (here, for example) that children in American films are often wiser, more resourceful, and more honest than the adults, especially those who would try to change them.  Add Hushpuppy to the list.* 

In the end, the audience seemed relieved when she and the others make their escape.  We don’t want Huck to be civilized by Aunt Sally.  And we do want Hushpuppy to light out for the territory of The Bathtub. 

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* I should add that much of the credit for convincing the audience goes to the six-year-old actress who plays Hushpuppy – the unforgettable girl with the unrememberable name – Quvenzhané Wallis. 

A Nation of Entrepreneurs?

September 25, 2012
Posted by Jay Livingston

To hear the Republicans tell it, the only people in the US worth mentioning are entrepreneurs (and maybe soldiers).  Those who get a paycheck rather than a P/L sheet were absent from the speeches in Tampa.  The same is true for the Romney and Ryan campaign talk since then. 

We hear the stories of the successes, the people who put in 70-100 hour weeks, risk their savings, and follow their dream.  The trouble with that picture is that most business start-ups fail, even though those entrepreneurs too put in the long hours and take financial risks.  Very few new businesses survive ten years.  That’s capitalism’s famous creative destruction, which is fine as long as you’re not the one being creatively destroyed.  (Dean Baker in yesterday’s Guardian has more on the “we built it” myth.)

Still, the image we get is that the US is just teeming with entrepreneurs.  Now I know I shouldn’t go making comparisons with other countries.  As Marco Rubio told us in his speech at the GOP convention, other countries should be more like the US, not the other way round.  But I couldn’t resist taking a peek at the statistics on self-employment in the OECD factbook.  

I expected that the US, with lots of people working for themselves,  would be way out ahead, followed, at a distance, by some of the stronger European economies.  After all, independent entrepreneurship is what builds a great economy. 



(Click on the chart for a larger view.  Or go to the original spreadsheet.)
The green bar shows the 2010 rate.  The diamond shows the rate in 2000.

There must be problems of definition – not all self-employed people are what we think of as entrepreneurs.  Still, the differences are striking.  The US rate is less than half the OECD average.  And most of the countries with high rates of self-employment are the weaker economies.  Even among the wealthy countries, the US trails all but Luxembourg, which also has the highest income.  Independent work seems to be related to national wealth (and perhaps personal wealth), but not in the way I expected.

(HT: Ceterus Paribus (@imparibus) via Xavier Molénat.)

Ignorance and Arrogance

September 24, 2012
Posted by Jay Livingston

Visitors to the US are often dismayed by how little most Americans know about the rest of the world.  As Ambrose Bierce said, “War is God's way of teaching Americans geography.”  We don’t even know all that much about the countries we do make war on.  But why should we?

In his speech to the Republican convention,  Marco Rubio said,
These are ideas that threaten to make America more like the rest of the world instead of making the rest of the world more like America. [NB: threaten]
In Rubio’s view, knowing nothing about other countries is fine because we can just assume that America is best at everything.  Other countries should copy us. 

The defense for our ignorance is our arrogance.   But who benefits from our ignorance of the rest of the world?

When Verizon offered me their land phone-cable-Internet “triple play,”  it seemed like a good deal.  But my basis for comparison was what I was paying before (more), and what Time Warner was offering (roughly the same).

Then I heard David Cay Johnston interviewed on “Fresh Air.” Johnston too must have gone for a package deal. 
We're way behind countries like Lithuania, Ukraine and Moldavia in the speed of our Internet. Per bit of information moved, we pay 38 times what the Japanese pay. If you buy one of these triple-play packages that are heavily advertised, where you get Internet, telephone and cable TV together, typically you'll pay what I pay, about $160 a month, including fees.

Well, the same service in France is $38 a month . . . . And instead of two-country calling, you get worldwide calling to 70 countries. You get an Internet that is 10 times faster . . . downloading and 20 times faster uploading. And you get much broader international television stations than you get here in America.
To the list of countries that are way ahead of us in average speed Johnston could have added Latvia and  the Czech Republic as well as more likely countries like Japan and South Korea. 

Oh, that threat of being like other countries. I wouldn’t mind the threat to reduce my Verizon bill to $28.  But why is my bill so high?  Must be the cost of freedom.  As Rubio explained, the US “chose more freedom instead of more government.”
The threatening ideas Rubio was referring to – those bad ideas used by other countries – are ideas about the role of government.  Much better is the idea of American capitalism: If the government doesn’t interfere, then competition among corporations will bring us more and better stuff at lower prices.  At least that’s what Rubio, the corporations, and their other defenders tell us.

Johnston looks at his triple-play bill and sees the actual government role as something different from that ideal.  The bill is higher, he says, because telecoms use their wealth and power to get legislatures to write friendly laws that force consumers pick up the tab.* Our ignorance – ignorance of those laws and how they are made, and ignorance about other countries – is a big help to the corporations.

When George W. Bush used to insist that America’s health care system was the best in the world, most Americans had no idea what other systems were like or how much they cost.  Besides, how can you define quality in health care, and in any case, it’s hard to imagine yourself going to a French or Swiss doctor. 

But we all know what an Internet connection is, and we get the bill every month.  It’s just that most of us can’t discuss that bill with anyone in Paris or Vilnius. 

Maybe we should follow Rubio’s advice and avoid making that comparison. Ignorance is bliss. It’s also beneficial to Verizon.

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*Johnston has much more about this in the interview and in his new book The Fine Print.

Moral Principles and Political Tension

September 21, 2012
Posted by Jay Livingston

Riffing last week on the Jonathan Haidt’s moral chart, I said (here) that the conservatives’ choice of five moral principles makes it easier for them to justify any idea or action.  Liberals have to get by on just two such principles. 

It hadn’t occurred to me that this moral diversity may also make it harder for conservatives to agree among themselves. We usually think of the Democrats as the weak magnet, unable to keep its iron filings from floating away.  Hence Will Rogers’s famous “I am not a member of any organized political party. I am a Democrat.”

But B.A., who blogs for The Economist,* notes (here) that the different branches of the Democratic party are not really at odds on specific policies.
Obama’s embrace of gay marriage did not require him to cut food stamps. Supporting card check neutrality for unions does not interfere with opposing tort reform. In fact, all of these positions can be collectively thrown together under the rubric of fairness and equality.
In fact, the policies mirror Haidt’s liberal diptych
  • Harm / Care
  • Fairness / Reciprocity
Things are different on the other side of the aisle.  Republicans seem remarkably similar to one another – the  convention in Tampa looked like a huge gathering Buick drivers – but the ideological voices aren’t always in harmony.  B.A. refers to
the competing blocs within the party – pro-immigration businesses versus nativists, tax-cutting zealots versus defense hawks and retirees who want to keep their entitlements . . .
He could have added the Randian libertarians and the religious conservatives. These seem to comprise all five of Haidt’s moral principles – the liberal two plus
  • Ingroup/ Loyalty
  • Authority/ Respect
  • Purity/ Sanctity
(Haidt has recently added a sixth  – liberty, a card which he deals to both sides of the table, making the count six vs. three.) 

B.A. credits this moral diversity in the GOP for Romney’s refusal to make specific proposals lest he offend one of those blocs.  But these blocs have long been part of the GOP.  Back in the Bush years someone (can’t remember who) referred to them as “The Taliban, the Predators, and the Neo-cons.”  But as long as the party was winning, everyone was happy, and these differences seemed unimportant.  Now that the party teeters on the verge of losing the big prize yet again to a Kenyan socialist, conservatives are looking at one another and wondering whose principles should be put front and center to bring back the glory days.  That goal, “taking our country back,”** may be the main thing they all agree on.  They just can’t agree on which of their principles to push forward.

Mo’ principles, mo’ problems.


* The Economist identifies its bloggers only by initials.  Apparently, in the magazine’s view, these scribblers are not worthy of a full byline.

** An earlier post on this meme is here.

Romney and The Help

September 20, 2012
Posted by Jay Livingston

The “Romney 47%” recording reminded me of “The Help.”  Apparently, the recording was made by the help – a waiter or bartender or some other hired servant who, either independently or at the behest of a reporter, put the camera or cell phone on the counter and pushed “record.”

I didn’t find “The Help” all that impressive a film (further comments on it are here).  It was too pretty.  Emma Stone was prettier than the real author, and race relations in the film were prettier than Mississippi of the early sixties.  But “The Help” did accurately show one often overlooked aspect of the relation between servants and those who hire them:  servants are so powerless that from the masters’ perspective they become non-persons.   Servants are harmless.  And all they are is servants, at least to the master. 

No man is a hero to his valet.  But masters also forget that the valet may be more than just a valet. So masters relax the usual constraints of self-presentation and information control, and servants acquire a lot of information.

Most of the time, servants use that information only among themselves, largely as protection for the self.  By swapping stories that deflate the self of the masters, they  narrow the self-worth gap between the two statuses. Information is power, but the power of servants’ information usually remains potential. 

Still, every so often, as in “The Help” and in “Romney 47%,”  that power becomes actual.

Quote, er Insult, of the Day

September 18, 2012
Posted by Jay Livingston

The quote of the day was from a day back in May but just leaked yesterday – Mitt Romney speaking to people who had ponied up $50,000 for dinner.  Speaking about the 47% of Americans who pay no income tax, Romney said that they are people who
believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. . . . . And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what.

I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.
Random thoughts:

1.  Half of the 47% (closer to 46%, but who’s counting) pay no taxes because their income is so low that standard deductions wipe out any income tax liability.  The other half, who have higher incomes, pay no taxes because of “tax expenditures” – special deductions written into the tax code.  Of those people, most are accounted for by elderly tax benefits, credits for children, or credits for the working poor (Earned Income Tax Credit).

The Tax Policy Center (here) provides this pie chart of the people Romney says do not take personal responsibility or care for their own lives.

(Click on the pie for a larger view.)

2.  Romney’s complaint is that because these people pay no income tax, he can’t win their votes by promising to cut their income taxes.  The problem is not that their taxes are too low but that someone else got there first. 
    And who were those dastards who ruined it for Romney?  Sneaky liberals like Gerald Ford and Richard Nixon (the EITC, signed by Ford, was an outgrowth of Nixon’s idea for a Negative Income Tax) and the big tax cutters Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. 

3.  Not long ago there was speculation that for several years in the recent past Romney himself was among the 47%.  Romney has denied this, and although he has the evidence to back up what he says,  he refuses to provide that evidence.  In any case, of people making more than $200,000 last year,  72,000 paid no income tax.  Of those, 18,000 made a half million or more.

4.  Romney is wrong about voting.  Seniors favor Romney by 8-10 points.  And about one-third of the lowest income group (the white males mostly) will vote for Romney.  I doubt that Romney’s insulting them will change their minds.

The Atlantic (here) posted this map showing the non-paying tax filers.  The ten states with the highest percent of non-payers are red, the lowest blue.
The low-income voters in those Southern states favor the Democrats.  No wonder Republican-controlled governments in so many of those red states are passing laws to keep poor people from voting.

(Note:  the percentages are low – the highest state, Mississippi, has only 49% not paying any tax – because the figures are based on those who filed tax returns. Millions more poor people did not bother to file.  Including them would raise the percentage of income tax non-payers.)

5.  Is it possible these insults will help Romney?  What if it’s like advertising, and people make their choices on the basis of fantasies of who or where they want to be rather than where they actually are now?  If Romney can convince people that Obama is for losers (working drudges and moochers) and Romney is for winners (independent and successful entrepreneurs), he should pick up the votes of wage-and-salary voters who dream of starting their own businesses. 

6.  At the dinner for his wealthy donors, Romney was confirming their view of Obama voters.  The picture was a largely inaccurate stereotype, but it was what the $50,000 crowd already thought and wanted to hear more of.  As others (Ross Douthat at the Times for example) have pointed out, Obama and the Democrats have done the same thing.

Another Year

September 17, 2012
Posted by Jay Livingston

Bloggiversary.  A year ends, a year begins.  For the blog, this will be year 7 - a far cry from 5773, I know, but six years still seems like a long time.  I’m sure there was much to atone for, but that comes later.  Meanwhile, here are ten posts from the past year that I liked.

1.    Nov. 7 Patriotism Goes to the Movies

2.    Nov. 17 Constructing Character

3.    Dec. 5 Economics and Ethos

4.    Jan. 3 Myths That Move Us (and That Bus)

5.    Jan 17 Civil Rights and American Conservatism

6.    March 16 Accidental Banksters

7.    June 2 Blaming the Media I

8.    June 30 Standing Your Ground in the Wild West

9.    July 10 Bitter Tea

10.    August 9 Charting the Climb

Conservative Morality in Benghazi

September 13, 2012
Posted by Jay Livingston

The nice thing about having several principles in your moral toolkit is that you have more ways to justify acts that some other people might find unsupportable – things like torture and assassination.

Jonathan Haidt has become famous for saying that liberals have a narrower set of moral principles than do conservatives.  Liberals base moral judgments on just two principles:
  • Harm / Care
  • Fairness / Reciprocity
Conservatives consider those but also include
  •  Ingroup/ Loyalty
  •  Authority/ Respect
  •  Purity/ Sanctity
With those principles at the forefront, conservatives eagerly cheered their support for the Bush-Cheney policy of torture. (See my earlier posts here and here.)  Those same principles also seem to underlie the attacks at Benghazi and the support for those attacks.  

First reports from Libya assumed that the killers were motivated by anger over a video that made fun of Mohammed the Prophet. Now it appears the attack was not so spontaneous.
Officials said it was possible that an organized group had either been waiting for an opportunity to exploit like the protests over the video or perhaps even generated the protests as a cover for their attack. [NYT]
Whatever their motivations, the assassins apparently knew that the bloodshed would get popular support, support based on conservative morality. The attack epitomized loyalty to the ingroup (Islam).  The video was an act of grave disrespect, so avenging it upheld the authority of the faith.  The video was also violation of rules of purity surrounding the sacred elements of Islam.  According to principles in the conservative moral toolkit, avenging the American-made video by killing Americans was a very moral act.

Western observers often characterize the angry Muslims as “medieval.”  If Libya and other countries were modern, goes this reasoning, these medieval reactions – the fatwas and the assassinations of cartoonists, homosexuals, rape victims, and others – would be confined to a retrograde fringe.  But the social bases of this morality span a slightly broader period than the dark ages.  Conservative morality seems to be an aspect of agricultural society – going back 10-15,000 years.   In the hundreds of thousands of years before then, hunter-gatherers placed less emphasis purity, authority, and loyalty.  These conservative principles also have a diminished role in “modern,” i.e., industrial, societies of the last 300 years. 

 But the overlap of economy and morality is far from perfect.  Even in a thoroughly industrial or eve post-industrial society, segments of the population may support torture or the blanket exclusion of outsiders (currently Muslims).  As Haidt’s studies – done mostly in the US – show, medieval morality can hang on long after the economic basis of society has changed. 

Loopholes

September 12, 2012
Posted by Jay Livingston

Romney has promised broad tax cuts and a reduction in the deficit.  But the only way you can reduce tax rates for everyone and maintain the same amount of tax coming in is to close tax “loopholes.”  Which is what Romney said he would do.  The only trouble is that when it comes to which loopholes, he’s keeping that a secret.  (When it comes to specifics about taxes, Romney apparently has a don’t-tell policy.)

If Romney wanted to identify a few loopholes, he’d have a very wide choice.  The tax code is huge and complicated, and it is full of tax breaks.   The Washington Post recently posted this interactive graphic that allows you to mouse through the mountain of tax expenditures* and see when each was created, how much it costs the government, and whether the money benefits mostly to individuals or to companies. 

Here’s a screen shot.

(Click on the image for a larger, clearer view.  Better yet, go to the WaPo Website.)


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* Some people have a hard time understanding the idea of “tax expenditure” especially at the individual level.  But from the perspective of the bottom line, it should be clear that forgoing money by not collecting a billion dollars in taxes has the same effect on the deficit as spending a billion dollars.

Reducing Poverty

September 11, 2012
Posted by Jay Livingston

The poverty rate in the US in the mid-2000s was about 17%.  In Sweden, the poverty rates was 5.3%; in Germany, 11%.   That was the rate after adding in government transfers.  In Germany, the poverty rate before those transfers was 33.6%, ten points higher than that in the US.  Sweden’s pre-transfer poverty rate was about the same as ours.

Jared Bernstein has this chart showing pre-transfer and post-transfer rates for the OECD countries.

(Click on the chart for a larger view.  Or see it at Jared Bernstein's blog.)

Three  points:

1.  Governments have the power to reduce poverty, and reduce it a lot.  European governments do far more towards this goal than does the US government.

2.  It’s unlikely that America’s poor people are twice as lazy or unskilled or dissolute as their European counterparts.  Individual factors may explain differences between individuals, but these explanations have little relevance for the problem of overall poverty.  The focus on individual qualities also has little use as a basis for policy.  European countries have fewer people living in poverty, but not because those countries exhort the poor to lead more virtuous lives and punish them for their improvident ways.  European countries have lower poverty rates because the governments provide money and services to those who need them. 

3.  The amount of welfare governments provide does not appear to have a dampening effect on the overall economy.

Names and Character

September 8, 2012
Posted by Jay Livingston

Tough uses the word “grit” a lot.
In today’s Times (here), Joe Nocera writes about a book, How Children Succeed, by Paul Tough.  Mr. Tough recommends that schools teach not just reading and math but “character” – traits like “resilience, integrity, resourcefulness, professionalism, and ambition.”

In the past few years, some psychologists have published peer-reviewed papers supposedly showing a relation between names and life choices or behavior. Dennis becomes dentist, George becomes a geologist and moves to Georgia.  It sounds silly, and it is. The research doesn’t hold up.  Andrew Gelman (here) has written about it.  So have I (here).

But even when you know the systematic evidence, the anecdotal data jumps out at you.  Like Mr. Tough and grit. 

Having endured “I presume” my entire life, I sympathize with Mr. Tough for the “jokes” he must have tired of long ago.  I just hope that the research on grit and schools is better than the research on names and personal choices.

What Is This Thing Called, Love?

September 6, 2012
Posted by Jay Livingston

Talk about sex often is often oblique and ambiguous.  In the early days of computerized content analysis, I knew some researchers who were trying to code ethnographic folk tales for sexual content.  The trouble was that pre-literate storytellers as well often preferred the vague to the explicit, much to the frustration of the researchers.  How can you  write a program that can distinguish between the nonsexual and sexual meanings of words like “it” or “thing”* (“And then he took out his thing and did it to her”)?

I was reminded of this when I read Philip Cohen’s post and N-gram graph about “make love” and “have sex.”

(Click on the graph for a larger view.)


“Sex” takes off starting around 1970, “love” rises more slowly and after 1990 declines, while “sex” continues to climb. 

I don’t think Philip meant to imply that there’s has been a trend towards less love and more sex.  My guess is that what we’re looking at is the decline of “love” as a euphemism for “sex.”  Prior to 1950 or so, “make love” was an innocent or slightly naughty term without much connotation of explicit sex.  The added sexual meaning that grew in later decades made the term ambiguous.  In 1960, with Hollywood self-censorship still strong, the film title “Let’s Make Love” with Marilyn Monroe raised no eyebrows. 


 By 1974, when Roberta Flack sang, “Feel Like Making Love to You,” things were less clear.
When you talk to me
When you're moanin’ sweet and low
When you're touchin’ me
And my feelings start to show
Oo-oo-ooh
That's the time
I feel like makin’ love to you.
 The pre-1970 “make love” line of the graph is carrying both meanings,  the sexual and the romantic.  But with the sexual revolution in full swing, some of the purely sexual references shift from the “make love” curve to the “have sex” curve.

That doesn’t mean that “have sex” became the preferred term.  Even for sexual references, “make love” may still be more popular.  For some reason, that sexual meaning is clearer when the phrase is in the past tense.  “Let’s make love,” is ambiguous.  “We made love” is more explicit.  And when you compare “We made love” with “We had sex,” the winner is still love.


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*The title of this post is an old Benny Hill line (based on Cole Porter of course).  It was probably luv rather than love, but in any case, the word thing here is another example of ambiguous language when we talk – or don’t talk –  about sex.

Words - Republican and Democratic

September 5, 2012
Posted by Jay Livingston
Cros-posted at Sociological Images

The New York Times ran these graphics showing the word frequencies of the Republican and Democratic conventions.  I’ve added underlining on the keywords that seem to differentiate the two conventions. (The data on the Democrats runs only through Sept. 4, but it looks like the themes announced early on will be the ones that are repeated.)


(Click on a chart for a larger view.)

Both parties talked about leadership, the economy, jobs, and families.  More interesting are the differences.  Democrats talked a lot about Women, a word which seems to be absent from the Republican vocabulary.  The Democrats also talked about Health and Education.  I find it curious that Education does not appear in the Republican word cloud.

The Republican dictionary falls open to the page with Business - ten times as many mentions as in the Democrats’ concordance.  If you go to the interactive Times graphic, you can click on Business and see examples of the contexts for the word.  Many of these excerpts also contain the word Success. 

You can put the large-bubble words in each graphic in a sentence that condenses the party’s message about government, though that word – Government – does not appear in either graphic.   For the Republicans, government should lower Taxes so that Business can Succeed, creating Jobs.
For the Democrats, government should protect the rights of Women and ensure that everyone has access to Health and Education. 

Perhaps the most telling word in the Democratic cloud is Together.  The Republican story is one of individual success in business, summed up in their repeated phrase, “I built that.”  The Democrats apparently are emphasizing what people can accomplish together.  These different visions are not new.  They go back at least to the nineteenth century.  (Six years ago, I blogged (here) about these visions as NFL brands - Cowboys and Steelers – and their parallels in US politics.)

(HT: Neal Caren who has posted his own data about the different balance of emotional expression at the two conventions.)

UPDATE :  The Times link above updates the data each day, so check it at the end of the convention.  The Democratic count of Women and Together will still  outnumber such references in the GOP.  The Middle Class seems to be the Democratic theme, but the Democrats still have litter to saw about  Better and Success.

Last night, Bill Clinton put in one clear sentence what the graph bubbles say with word-counts:  “We believe that ‘we’re all in this together’ is a far better philosophy than ‘you’re on your own.’ ”

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/09/06/2987846/bill-clinton-political-magician.html#storylink=cpy

Hal David Walks on By

September 2, 2012
Posted by Jay Livingston

“Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” kept popping into my head yesterday evening. I do not like the song, though that’s irrelevant. There are other songs I dislike that frequently and against my will filter into my brain. “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” even in July for example. Need I say more? But “Raindrops” is not one of those frequent unwelcome visitors to my consciousness.

So why “Raindrops” yesterday? There was no rain; I had not seen any Butch Cassidy references; nothing.

This morning, I turned on the radio (cue the “Twilight Zone” music) and heard that Hal David died yesterday.

David’s lyrics tended towards the romantic, but some of his songs are very funny, like “What’s New Pussycat,” the title song for the film written by Woody Allen.  The final word of the lyric – held and extended over three notes – is “nose.”  I can’t think of any other songs that end on that word.

And then there’s a hilarious version of an originally romantic song.  “Parenthood” is a great movie, and it has many funny moments.  One of them is Rick Moranis’s rendition of “Close to You.”  (The clip gives you a sense of the context - his wife has told him she wants a divorce, which is understandable because Moranis is such a schmuck - but I strongly recommend seeing it in the context of the full movie.)


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