Frank Loesser — “My Time of Day”

June 29, 2018
Posted by Jay Livingston

Today is the birthday of Frank Loesser, composer of one of the greatest Broadway musicals, “Guys and Dolls.”  The most frequently played song from that show, at least by jazz musicians, is “If I Were a Bell.” Miles, with his 1956 quintet recording, made it a standard part of the jazz repertoire, and that’s the version I was going to use here.

Instead, I’m going with “My Time of Day” – not so well known and rarely sung outside the context of the show. Here is Peter Gallagher in the studio for the cast recording of the 1992 revival. The saxophone player doing the intro so beautifully is Red Press.

The song is very different from standard Broadway fare. It begins in the key of F. The lyric for the first two bars is, “My time of day is the dark time.” The first emphasized note, “day,” is on the flatted fifth of a chord(G7) – very unusual for Broadway songs then in 1950 or now. Then comes “dark time,” a descending interval of a tritone, also uncommon.
A few bars later, “When the street belongs to the cop, and the janitor with the mop” is sung over four descending major chords – G, F, E, D – so unusual that I cannot think of another song with this sequence. A few bars later, the song shifts key to G major, which is where it ends. Except it doesn’t really end. There’s a tense chord that leads to the next song,  “I’ve Never Been In Love Before,” a duet sung with the female lead.

Loesser wrote other musicals (“Most Happy Fella,” “How to Succeed”) but “Guys and Dolls” is by far the best.

Who Should Satire Satirize?

June 25, 2018
Posted by Jay Livingston

Those children at the border – families separated, children sent far from their parents. It all seems so cruel. But what else can we do? The defenders of the cages and the family separations can make it all see so rational, so based in procedural and legal rules.

Swift satirized this way of thinking in  “A Modest Proposal,” where he lays out a perfectly rational solution to the problem of impoverished children — a policy other less rational people might find cruel

I was thinking of trying to write something along similar lines, but not only do I lack the wit (in the 18th-century meaning), but I thought that too many people would not see it as satire or irony. The left would be outraged, and the right would try to figure out ways of implementing the suggestions.

In any case, someone at Texas Tech beat me to it. The difference is that while Swift was using exaggeration to scorn those who inflicted cruelty, the Texas Tech student is using exaggeration to scorn the victims of that cruelty.*

In case the jpg above is too fuzzy to read, here are the key comments

Alex Provost: Don’t bother reporting them just use a firing squad

The cocaine cowboy: I’m telling you build a wall, and the us govt. can sell permits for legal hunting on the border and we can make a sport of this, can be a new tax revenue stream for the govt.

The cocaine cowboy: The us govt would be making money to stop illegals insted of spending it, win win for everyone

Nate Novak: Kyle run for president in the future please

The cocaine cowboy: No the poors would get me ... I’d stop all of their support and let them die ... I couldn’t get votes haha

Haha indeed — this from students who are getting tens of thousands of dollars from the taxpayers in the form of lower tuition (compared to what they would pay at a private university) plus whatever other financial aid they may get.

Satire works best when it is comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable.  But The cocaine cowboy’s modest proposal puts it the other way round, comforting the comfortable and afflicting the afflicted. Like too much of what passes for humor on the right — like Trump’s mocking a disabled reporter — it speaks with the voice of smugness and cruelty.                                

* Insider Higher Ed (here) has more information.

Proof and Institutions — Football and Brain Injury

June 23, 2018
Posted by Jay Livingston

Malcolm is a great storyteller, and in an episode of Season Three of his podcast Revisionist History (here), he tells the story of Owen Thomas. Thomas was a star football player, in high school (he actually started playing competitively before that, when he was nine) and then at U Penn. In his senior year, he committed suicide. He had always been outgoing and happy  — his teammates selected him as team captain — and a good student, but he became depressed and confused, unable to remember things.

The episode is called “Burden of Proof.” How much proof do you need, Gladwell asks how much proof that multiple blows to the head that football players inevitably suffer causes irreversible brain damage? How much proof do you need that football caused Owen Thomas’s suicide?

Gladwell is particularly outraged at the statement by the Penn administration

While we will never know the cause of Owen Thomas’s depression and subsequent suicide, we are aware of and deeply concerned about the medical issues now being raised about head injuries and will continue to work with the Ivy League and the medical community in addressing these issue. Owen’s untimely death was a terrible tragedy, and we continue to grieve for his loss.

Listen to Gladwell read it and then tear into its hypocrisy.

Gladwell’s tone of moral outrage turns to disappointment, almost despair, as he acknowledges that there’s little hope for change any time soon. 


After the speech, as I walked to the reception, one of the big deans at Penn looked at me and shook his head. He said, “We’re not stopping football.”

Of course not. And it won’t stop. At least not until the thrid suicide or maybe the fourth suicide or the fifth, at which point the students and alumni at Penn will finally say, “That’s an awfully high price to pay for a game.”

As the title of the episode suggests, Gladwell thinks that it’s all about scientific proof and that the problem now is that the evidence is not yet overwhelmingly convincing. But when that proof does emerge —  the fourth or fifth suicide — Penn students and alumni will be persuaded and force Penn to jettison football.

Gladwell slights the more important reason that football continues: It is embedded in an large structure of institutions and interests —  a structure so large that we cannot imagine how it might be disassembled — and embedded in our consciousness. That’s the point I was trying to make when I posted this months ago on Superbowl Sunday. We cannot envision what life would be like without these institutions.  “I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for football,” says one Penn student, a football player, in the Q&A following Gladwell’s talk. He could not imagine other pathways for people like him to get to the Ivy League that might arise to replace football.

I doubt that he and the others — the deans and alumni — will change their minds even as science accumulates more proof, just as no amount of proof will convince climate-skeptics. More likely the change will come slowly. It will seem sudden — a decision to cancel the football program — but it will come because more and more of the students who then become alumni will have grown up playing and watching soccer rather than football. When attendance at Penn soccer matches starts to rival that of football, the university administrators may decide to dump football. They’ll probably make some high-minded moral statement, and they’ll explain their long delay in reaching the decision by saying that till now the evidence had been ambiguous. But when that day comes the decision will not be about proof any more than it is now.

Resources and the Construction of Race

June 19, 2018
Posted by Jay Livingston

Race is a social construction. That’s the truism you find in just about any sociology course. But if you want a great example, take eight minutes and watch this video. 

As you can see in the freeze frame below, the speaker, Corey Quinlan Taylor, is obviously Black. He’s certainly not White. Well, maybe not to you or me, but listen to his story.


Spoiler Alert. If you haven’t watched the video,  what I’m about to point out may spoil it.

            *                    *                    *                    *

First, Taylor’s story is yet another illustration that the same person may be Black in one context and White in another. The race depends on who is doing the classifying. Second, different societies have different categories of race, different bins to sort people into.  These two observations summarize the basic Soc 101 lesson.

The third lesson in Taylor’s micro-social world is that these categories do not change all by themselves. Sometimes the change starts with a small number people (in this case, one) making a conscious effort to instill new ways of thinking, to create new categories. But once set in motion, the change can spread through processes of social influence that are invisible both to those being influenced and those doing the influencing.

And sometimes, the process can be accelerated by those with greater resources — resources like power and institutional position, social capital, cultural capital, and sometimes confectionary capital.

Pittsburgh’s Other Mister Rogers

June 15, 2018
Posted by Jay Livingston

Rob Rogers is was the political cartoonist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.  The paper just fired him.

Here are some of his recent cartoons.

(Click for a larger view.)

The Post-Gazette is the only print daily left in Pittsburgh. The others that I grew up with, the Press and the Sun-Telegraph, were eroded by the demographic, economic, and technological changes. So it goes.

The paper is owned by Block Communications, which combined the Post-Gazette’s editorial pages with that of its other paper, the Toledo Blade. The Blade’s editorial director, Keith Burris, took over the Post-Gazette as well. Block and Burris are conservative. Burris had been killing Rogers cartoons on a regular basis, though they ran in syndication.

This does not seem like a complicated story. If you have enough money to buy up newspapers, you can hire editors to publish ideas that you like and to get rid of people who express ideas you don’t like.

Of course, Burris doesn’t think he was telling Rogers what to put in the cartoons. It was merely a matter of “collaboration.”             

“We never said he should do no more Trump cartoons or do pro-Trump cartoons,” said Mr. Burris. “For an in-house staff cartoonist, editing is part of it. Rob’s view was, ‘Take it or leave it.’”

[Burris] said he did not “suppress” Mr. Rogers’ cartoons but that Mr. Rogers was unwilling to “collaborate” with him about his work and ideas. [from the Post-Gazette’s story on the firing, here.]

Maybe Jeff Bezos should collaborate more with George Will.

The more media outlets a corporation can buy up, the more it can control what people see and hear. Block Communications is not Sinclair, with its 200 (and counting) radio stations. But it does control 100% of the daily press in Pittsburgh. For Rob Rogers and Pittsburghers, today is not a beautiful day in the neighborhood.

Blaming the Baby — The Language of Medical Infallibility

June 11, 2018
Posted by Jay Livingston

In a recent article at Vox (here), Julia Belluz says, “Only 4 percent of women give birth on their estimated delivery date. . . Medicine is surprisingly bad at measuring the precise age of a fetus or how far along a woman is into her pregnancy.” The rest of the article explains why doctors suck at predicting the date of delivery.

But that’s not the way we talk about it. We don’t say, “The doctor was wrong.” We don’t say, “The doctor made a really bad prediction.” Instead we blame the woman. We say she was “late.”  She “missed her due date,” as though childbirth was something akin to a term paper. I guess if she provides a good excuse, we’ll give her an extension till Friday. 

Or we blame the baby. Look at the opening sentence of the article, “A pregnant friend of mine is due to give birth on Saturday, but as she told me this week, she really has no idea if the baby will come on time, or two weeks from now.” [emphasis added.]
The kid is still in the womb, and already we are taking him or her to task for not arriving “on time.”  

It’s not just obstetrics. Talk related to most other areas of medicine also rests on the same charitable assumption of doctor infallibility, especially when the ones doing the talking are doctors. The patient “failed to respond to treatment,” not “the treatment we used didn’t work.”

I caught on to this trick long ago, when I was reviewing the literature on compulsive gamblers. There wasn’t much to review, and most of those accounts were from psychiatrists. One of them said that treating compulsive gamblers was difficult because they “do not make good patients.” At first, that tallied with what I had found. Many of the compulsive gamblers I was listening to had tried psychotherapy without much success. It took me a while see that if you translate this idea out of the language of psychiatric infallibility, it sounds very different: “We psychiatrists have no idea how to cure these guys.”

This way of speaking — the one we frequently use — places the blame for failure on the patient, not the doctor. Those compulsive gamblers don’t make good patients. And babies — don’t get me started. Totally unreliable. They just have no sense of punctuality.

A Class of Rich People — Gallup Goes Marxist

June 10, 2018
Posted by Jay Livingston

Gallup asked “Do You Think the United States Benefits From Having a Class of Rich People, or Not?” Here are the results.

Gallup’s lede is that Democrats have grown more skeptical about the rich while Independents and Republicans haven’t changed their views. The other obvious conclusions from the survey is that Republicans think far more favorably of the rich and that Independents are closer to Democrats than to Republicans. (The Gallup summary is here.)

What surprised me is that Republicans would agree to even answer the question given that it was about “a class of rich people.” The true conservative would tell the Gallup interviewer, “There are no classes in America. We have only individuals; some of them get rich.” But overall, only 3% of the 1500 people surveyed refused to answer, though Gallup does not provide data on the political affiliation of these refuseniks.

Most of the time, when Americans talk about “class” they really mean “social status” – a scale based mostly on money which, therefore, has infinite gradations. A person with $100,000 is higher on the scale than is a person with $90,000. But “class” in the Gallup question implies a more Marxian definition — a group of people who share common economic interests and who act to secure those interests against the interests of other classes.

Unfortunately, we don’t know what Gallup’s respondents had in mind when they heard the question. Maybe Republicans, Independents, and Democrats interpreted the question differently.

What else could Gallup have asked?

“Does the US benefit from policies that allow some people to get very rich?” frames wealth as an individual matter with America as the land of unlimited opportunity.  A question like this would probably draw higher rates of agreement across the board.

“Do Americans in general benefit from policies that benefit the rich?” treats the rich more as a true class. It implies that some policies benefit one class, the rich, even though they might not benefit most people. This question might have fewer people agreeing.

I wonder what the results would be if Gallup asked both these questions.

Gentrification and Its Discontents

June 6, 2018
Posted by Jay Livingston

This Facebook post by a Rutgers history professor has gotten picked up by the usual right-wing suspects – Breitbart, Washington Examiner, Daily Caller, New York Post, etc.

Here’s a clearer version of the text:

OK, officially, I now hate white people. I am a white people, for God’s sake, but can we keep them — us — us out of my neighborhood? I just went to Harlem Shake on 124 and Lenox for a Classic burger to go, that would [be] my dinner, and the place is overrun with little Caucasian assholes who know their parents will approve of anything they do.

Slide around the floor, you little shithead, sing loudly, you moron, Do what you want, nobody here is gonna restrict your right to be white.

I hereby resign from my race. Fuck these people. Yeah, I know, it’s about access to my dinner. Fuck you, too.
Facebook removed the post. Rutgers is investigating. The official university statement says, “There is no place for racial intolerance at Rutgers.”

All these reactions have the same take-away – this is race hatred. That’s understandable, I guess, since Livingston  (no relation to me, btw) says, “I now hate white people.”  FB and Rutgers are concerned. The right-wing media are delighted. See, they say, it’s really the leftists who are bigots.

They’re missing the point. It’s not about bigotry, it’s about gentrification.

Imagine that you’re a committed leftist. With perhaps a hint of romanticism, you identify with the oppressed – the poor and the Black. Maybe you’re also looking for an apartment in the city. What better place than Harlem? The awful years – the closing third of the twentieth century – are now just a bad memory; still the name still carries a hint of risk, of danger. But the name also throbs with the rich history – Duke Ellington and James Baldwin and the Apollo. That’s the Harlem you want to move to, the authentic Harlem where you can still call Lenox Ave Lenox Ave and not Malcolm X Boulevard.

So you take apartment on 117th, and when people ask you where you live, you don’t say “SoHa,” the term coined by the real estate rebranding geniuses. You say, “Harlem.” You get to know the stores, the restaurants, even some of your neighbors.

But after a few years, you see the neighborhood changing – more White faces, kids in their twenties. Starbucks is everywhere, and there’s a new a Whole Foods that seems to be all glass. This is not what you wanted. This is what you were trying to escape. You wanted Harlem’s authenticity, its soul. But that is waning, and in its place, Privilege.

You go to that newish restaurant you like, Harlem Shake, that opened a few years ago, and all you can see are White kids. Why are you surprised? You should have seen it coming. Look at this place with its umbrella-shaded sidewalk tables, its menu that includes a Veggie Burger ($17) and Kale Caesar. (“Kale Caesar,” you think, “We who are about to diet salute you.”)

But tonight, it’s too much. It looks like an outpost of the Wharton school. You think, “I just don't want little Caucasians overrunning my life. Please God, remand them to the suburbs, where they and their parents can colonize every restaurant.”* 

So you go home and vent to your Facebook friends. They’ll  get it. They’ll appreciate your dilemma — hating White people and yet, “I am a White people.” They’ll know you don’t mean all White people, maybe not even most White people —just these Jakes-come-lately in Harlem. They’ll understand the internal conflict of the White lefty in a gentrifying neighborhood, an internal conflict that’s reflected even in the dilemma over which pronoun to use. —  “can we keep them – us – out of my neighborhood?”

It’s like Chris Rock’s rant, the one where he says, “I love Black people, but I hate Niggas.” The audience laughs. They get it. But you can imagine the reaction from Breitbart, et al.,  — “Self-avowed Black-people-hater Chris Rock said in a racist rant. . . .”

The Internet is no place for ambivalence. The right-wing media could grasp the humor and irony. They just deliberately refuse to. College administrators seem truly incapable of even minimal subtlety. Oh well, Chris Rock won’t play colleges any more either. They take everything literally.

“There is no place for racial intolerance at Rutgers.” Apparently there’s also no place for ambivalence, irony, and humor.

* From his subsequent explanatory post on Facebook

UPDATE: September 18. The right-wing media were all over this, hollering about racism. The Rutgers administration swiftly caved. It issued a report finding that Livingston’s post on his personal Facebook page violated the university’s anti-discrimination policy and had brought “damage” and “disruption” to the school. That finding would allow Rutgers to fire him.        

Livingston appealed the decision. Rutgers denied the appeal. Ten days later the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) spoke out and threatened a lawsuit. Ten days after that, late in August, Rutgers president Robert Barchi discovered that academic freedom and the First Amendment might also be at issue, and he “remanded” the report. “I...have asked the Office to more rigorously analyze the facts and assumptions underlying its conclusions.”

UPDATE: April 3, 2019.  In November of last year, five months after Rutgers tried to get rid of Livingston, it reversed its decision that he had violated the school’s discrimination and harassment policy. Without the threatened lawsuit, the school probably would have gone ahead and fired him.

Feckless Bunt — The C-word at Home and Abroad

June 1, 2018
Posted by Jay Livingston

I was browsing the New Book shelf in our library yesterday and noticed The Prodigal Tongue by Lynne Murphy, about differences between US and British English

One of those differences is the word cunt, a word which, by coincidence was very much in the news that same day. Samantha Bee had called Ivanka Trump a “feckless cunt.”  Conservatives especially fell into an angry swoon. But Bee’s remark was the top story in news feeds across the political spectrum.

In the US, cunt is the worst thing you can call someone. If Bee had called Ivanka a “clueless asshole” or a “heartless fuck,” I doubt that the reaction would have been as swift and strong. As for bitch and pussy, we know that Trump supporters, thanks to “Access Hollywood,”  have long since made peace with those terms.

Bee’s comments would also not have drawn so much attention if she’d been speaking to a British audience. Cunt is different in the UK. As Murphy says (not in the book but on her blog), “The British can be amused by how much this word offends many Americans.”

Because cunt is less offensive in Britain, it can be used more casually and therefore more often. Even in the formal world of books, cunt appears more frequently in the UK, as Google n-grams shows (hat tip: Philip Cohen, who tweeted a similar graph).

The word is less offensive in the UK because it has a different meaning. In the US, only a woman can be a cunt. But in the UK, the term is applied to both genders, perhaps more often to males.  Murphy used a corpus of Internet sources (blogs, news, etc.) and found, “two unique instances of this phrase in the American data. Both refer to women. There are five in the British data and they refer to: a male athlete, a male friend, and fans of a certain football team or football magazine.”

It’s sort of like pussy – demeaning the man’s manhood.  “In the UK, the word is thrown around rather easily among men. It can be used among friends in a playful way, but more often (as far as I can tell) it is a term of abuse for men they don't like.”

In the US, if a woman is a cunt, she is a horrible person. But in the UK, the term can suggest just a general inefficacy or stupidity, not cruelty and evil. I don’t have the Internet corpus, but I do have the Monty Python Travel Agent sketch, which dates back to the 1960s.

Here’s a transcript.

Bounder: Anyway you’re interested in one of our adventure holidays?
Tourist: Yes I saw your advert in the bolor supplement.
Bounder: The what?
Tourist: The bolor supplement.
Bounder: The color supplement?
Tourist: Yes I’m sorry I can’t say the letter ‘B’
Bounder: C?
Tourist: Yes that’s right. It’s all due to a trauma I suffered when I was a sboolboy. I was attacked by a bat.
Bounder: A cat?
Tourist: No, a bat
Bounder: Can you say the letter ‘K’?
Tourist: Oh yes, Khaki, king, kettle, Kuwait, Kings Bollege Bambridge.
Bounder: Why don’t you say the letter 'K’ instead of the letter ‘C’?
Tourist: what you mean.....spell bolor with a ‘K’?
Tourist: Kolor. Oh that’s very good, I never thought of that. What a silly bunt.

No American man would refer to himself as a “silly cunt.” Or rather, a “silly kunt.”