Wednesday, April 30, 2008

It's springtime in North Carolina

and pansies are in the air. Orwell must have used the term "pansy-left" half a dozen times, and in boxing (Easley was using a boxing metaphor, after all), a "pansy" is a weak fighter, but the Hillary haters see an opening and poof! (oops!) this record breakingly stupid primary breaks its own record for stupidity. Again.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Ritualized humiliation time for Obama

1) Wright fouled up in his press conference. The same guy who was so charismatic and smart on Moyers' show couldn't find it in him to just duck. Partially this has to do with being an honest man, partially with being an honest black man who is passionate about what he believes and the status of blacks in this society. But the biggest part of it was just someone not ready for the prime time going out on the national stage. Everyone has their off-kilter beliefs, but most people, especially public people, hide them away in deep places, to be brought out and looked at only in the safety of the dark. Wright had a golden chance here to make a big difference, both for his community and Obama, and he blew it. Coming out and speaking was the right thing to do; coming out and speaking honestly was not.

2) Obama gets a taste, his first, of the ritualized humiliation that Dems must go through. It won't be his last.

3) Now that Obama has denounced Wright, there are two questions. First, how much damage will this do to him in the remaining primary, and second, what else the Republicans have on him they can drag out and flog him with in the general. I think he handled this reasonably well, but it's just the beginning.

4) So much for the nullwits who've been demanding Hillary withdraw.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Jeremiah Wright

Knocks it out of the park. This is one of the potential advantages of an Obama candidacy and presidency. Wright is one half of a dialogue that never gets finished. People need to hear what he has to say, hear about the concerns and hopes he has, and represents. This interview should be seen by a wider audience than PBS, but of course, the only way that would happen would have been if Wright had gone out and made an ass of himself. Because he did well, it will be disappeared -- such is the way of our media.

But thank you, Bill Moyers.

Utterly creepy:

California will adopt the most aggressive approach in the nation to a controversial crime-fighting technique that uses DNA to try to identify elusive criminals through their relatives, state Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown announced Friday.

Employing what is known as familial or "partial match" searching, the policy is aimed at identifying a suspect through DNA collected at a crime scene by looking for potential relatives in the state's genetic database of about a million felons. Once a relative is identified, police can use that person as a lead to trace the suspect.


The policy, which takes effect immediately, is designed to work like this: The state's crime lab will tell police about DNA profiles that come up during routine searches of California's offender database and closely resemble, but do not match, the DNA left at a crime scene. (Previously, the state refused to tell police about these partial matches.)

The lab will then perform calculations and tests to determine the likelihood of a biological relationship between the person found in the database and the unknown offender believed to have left DNA at the crime scene.

When such partial matches do not surface or fail to produce a lead, a more customized familial search can be done in which computer software scans the database proactively for possible relatives. The software measures the chance of two people being related based on the rarity of the markers they share.

California appears to be the first state in the nation to use this second technique as a matter of policy. Drafted with the heavy involvement of lawyers, the new policy requires a series of meetings with police and prosecutors to ensure that the relative's name is vital to the investigation and that all other leads have been exhausted.

Once a relative has been identified, police can interview him or construct a family tree based on existing records. If a suspect is identified, police can obtain a warrant for his DNA, or even gather it surreptiously from an abandoned drink or cigarette butt. The suspect's DNA sample would then be compared to the crime scene sample and possibly used as evidence.


Civil libertarians oppose using DNA databases to search for relatives of unknown offenders, saying it puts family members under "genetic surveillance" for crimes they did not commit. For now, all the people in the state's database are convicted offenders, but the state plans to expand the database next year to include arrestees, heightening concerns over privacy.

Critics say familial searching could expose sensitive and secret genetic relationships. A son, for example, could learn that his father was not his biological parent. DNA databases also reflect the racial and ethnic biases of the justice system, exposing minority communities to more surveillance than others, critics maintain.


I really like the part about collecting DNA from people who aren't even convicted of a crime. Our founding fathers would be horrified by what the nation has allowed itself to become.

Friday, April 25, 2008


With how sad steps, O Moon, thou climb'st the skies!
How silently, and with how wan a face!
What, may it be that even in heavenly place
That busy archer his sharp arrows tries?
Sure, if that long with love-acquainted eyes
Can judge of love, thou feel'st a lover's case;
I read it in thy looks; thy languisht grace
To me that feel the like, thy state descries.
Then, even of fellowship, O Moon, tell me,
Is constant love deemed there but want of wit?
Are beauties there as proud as here they be?
Do they above love to be loved, and yet
Those lovers scorn whom that love doth possess?
Do they call virtue there, ungratefulness?
-- Sir Philip Sidney

If you put a gun to my head and forced me to choose just one, I'd choose this as my favorite sonnet. The opening line is clearly written by someone who was in complete control of his language, and I can still remember double taking the first time I read that line, and then reading it a couple of more times before reading the rest of the poem -- it's arresting, you instantly get a sense -- but not too much of one -- of what the poem is going to be about, it has a nice feel to it, and then there is the mastery of poetic language and words, the heavy spondees forcing you to slow down as you read, setting the somber mood for the rest of the poem. The final couplet is also perfect: plaintive, accusatory, a little whiny -- it packs the wallop that the rest of the poem builds to, a requirement of this form. As I recall, I was in a difficult relationship when I read the poem for the first time, which is one of the reasons it resonated so strongly with me then, and that last couplet captured perfectly the way I felt.

I've read Shakespeare's sonnets so many times I know some of them by heart, Donne, Milton, Drayton, the later bastardizations of the form by Owen and others, but this one, one of the very first written in English, stands out to me not just because it's great in itself, but because it demonstrates the possibilities of the form, captures the tautness of expression forced on the poet by the rhyme scheme and 14 line requirement. If Sidney had not written this one poem (I confess I'm not too enamored of the rest of Astrophel and Stella), would the sonnet have become as important as it did in the English language? Would Shakespeare have written his own sonnets, let alone written the plays by which most people know him, and which have probably done their part in shaping history since his time in ways we can't even begin to understand?

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Slouching away from Bethlehem

What can you do but laugh?

I realize this isn't a foreign policy gaffe of the same proportions as Goolsbee-gate or sniper-gate. But as a native of New Zealand, I feel obliged to draw your attention to an incident in which Hillary Clinton may have gravely insulted this small but very important nation. Asked by Newsweek (seemingly apropos of nothing), if she "had any good jokes," Clinton offered:

"Here's a good one. Helen Clark, former prime minister of New Zealand: her opponents have observed that in the event of a nuclear war, the two things that will emerge from the rubble are the cockroaches and Helen Clark. [Laughs]"

Setting Hillary's sense of humor aside for a moment (the joke doesn't get funnier even if you happen to know something about New Zealand politics), Helen Clark is the current prime minister of New Zealand.

The diplomatic ramifications of this become even more dire when you consider that New Zealanders have been somewhat skeptical about Hillary Clinton ever since she met Sir Edmund Hillary, the first mountaineer to climb Everest, and mentioned that she had been named after him. It was later pointed out that Sir Edmund climbed Mt Everest six years after Hillary Clinton was born.

This is what happens when all the cool kids of the blogosphere get together and decide to create their own reality: the less cool kids, desperate to join the club, make fools of themselves. This particular bit of stupidity seems to be too far over the top for even the most gone of the Obamamaniacs to take seriously, but a lot of the stuff they do take seriously isn't much better. The left blogosphere has, I suspect, reached its peak. Not in terms of reach, but in terms of its ability to positively influence the discourse with thoughtful, dispassionate, analysis. It's just a shouting, deranged mob now, and an increase in its numbers isn't going to make it less deranged. I'm sure when the primary is over some sanity will return, but I think anyone would be hard pressed to look at the recent performance of Marshall, Yglesias et al and decide it's any worse than what the MSM has been doing. If you can't count on them on a crucial thing like this primary, you can't count on them at all.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Yeah, right

Joe Biden:

"Congress must ensure that Gen. Petraeus does not bring an Iraq bias to his new job, at the expense of America's broader security needs."

It's pretty obvious that Petraeus in charge of Central Command and a Petraeus protege in charge of Iraq itself is, and is intended to be, a Trojan Horse given as a "gift" by the Bush Administration to any Democratic successor. Tie the generals' careers and reputations to the Surge™, build them up as indespensible, and dare a Democratic president to run them out on their asses after assuming power. The question is what Biden and his fellow Dems are going to do about it, besides asking a few questions and then meekly backing down in the face of the MSM/right wing axis' attacks along the "unpatriotic," "Defeatocrat", "I'm so uninterested in the Democrats shooting themselves in the foot over this" line.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Has Obama won any of the big swing states yet? This thing has drug out so long I can't remember any more. Iowa was the biggest I can think of. A caucus, of course. On the bright side, saw a recent poll out where he's ahead of McCain in a head to head. But he still loses -- badly -- in an electoral map layout. There's plenty of time yet for that to turn around, but it still looks to me like with an Obama candidacy the Dems are leading with their chin.

Sunday, April 20, 2008


I don't understand how this film could only do 9 million at the box office. Excellently acted, reasonably well-written, I found it riveting; although I can see why lots of people would find it a little slow, it still deserved better than 9 million bucks. People are unhappy with the direction the country is moving in, but few people are willing to go through the self examination that's necessary to start moving in a new direction. In a way, this ties in to my previous post about McCain and Bush being symptoms of a sickness within the body politic itself. We invaded another country for no good reason, fucking that country up royally in the process at the cost to ourselves of a trillion dollars, watched as our rights and traditions were eroded for no good reason, and nobody wants to talk or think about it.

Reese Witherspoon is really something. I didn't like her for a long time, now when she's onscreen all I can do is keep my eyes glued to her to see the next little flick of her eyes or shrug of her shoulders that conveys some subtle emotion. There are so many brilliant, beautiful actresses out there, and so few men who are as good. I wonder if it's a function of the number of women who pursue acting as a career vs the number of men -- the talent pool is deeper -- or if women are just innately better with the whole emotion thing, which shows in their acting. When I think back it's always been this way -- a deep pool of talented, beautiful actresses, matched against the same leading men who aren't as good. The men stay around for decades, while the women are cast aside as they age, although this has been changing a lot in the past decade....

Carts and horses

Juan Cole says something like what I've been saying for a little more than two years:

In other words, elect McCain, my friends, and you are summoning the awful genie of another 9/11. I said it. I mean it. I'm not taking it back. That man's announced policies could well produce a blowback that will lead to the end of democracy in the United States. It is a momentous decision.

But the problem is McCain, just like Bush before him, is a symptom, not the disease itself. Beat McCain and a majority of Republicans will still consider Rush Limbaugh more credible than Walter Cronkite; beat McCain and Bill Kristol will still have his column at the NYT (or some other outlet) where he gets to demand, weekly, we make war on some Middle Eastern country or another; beat McCain and there will still be that vocal group of Americans who believe there are powerful forces in the world determined that women in the United States wear burqas and be stoned to death for infidelity; beat McCain and we will still have a corrupt, lazy, cowardly, and overmatched press corps. Take away all of these things and McCain, as we know him, would not exist. Take away these things and Bush would never have gotten into office. Take away these things and, even with Bush in office, we wouldn't be in Iraq right now. But these things do exist; McCain is what he now is; Bush is in office; and we are in Iraq.

It's possible that, as a result of the upcoming war against McCain and his subsequent defeat (not a sure thing), the Republicans realize they have to put a muzzle on some of their more extremist elements, much as the Dems did after 1972. But in any case, it's those elements, not the candidacy of McCain itself, that collectively are the problem, and even in electoral defeat they aren't going away. We have structural problems with our democracy, and they need to be addressed.

Saturday, April 19, 2008


Kevin Drum defends himself against one of the most terrible charges possible in this election cycle: failure to denounce Hillary:

You can read her comment here. Basically, I don't think it's a big deal. The activist base of the party has opposed Clinton, so it's no big surprise that she's not very happy with them. And although it's not true that MoveOn opposed the Afghanistan war, it's such a close call that this hardly rates higher than a 1.5 on the Misrepresentation Richter Scale. Like just about everything that's happened over the past month or two, this is much ado about nothing.

But that said, I support Obama, not Hillary, and I think she's doing a lot of damage to the party by continuing her quixotic bid for the nomination instead of stepping aside and supporting the man who's now virtually certain to win. What's more, she's done a lot of stuff to piss me off lately, and the fact that I think she's endured a lot of unfairness during the campaign only goes so far. Bottom line: I've got better things to spend my energy on than defending her on this. She's got plenty of partisans of her own who can do that.

Assuming Obama wins the primary, the "netroots" will consider it a great triumph for themselves. They've hated Hillary for years, and only the fact that he won -- twice -- prevents them from publicly proclaiming their hatred of Bill -- at least sometimes it does. But it isn't much of a victory from my vantage point. First of all, on the positions (remember those quaint things?) Obama is more centrist and cautious than Hillary -- and it's her, and her husband's, very centrism and caution that so arouses the hatred of the liberal "netroots". So in order to beat a cautious centrist, the netroots threw their weight behind an even more cautious and centrist candidate. The logic escapes me, although looking at it with emotions, you can easily see how people who hate candidate A will project whatever qualities they like on Candidate B, as long as B can beat A.

But the second failure -- and it is huge -- with the netroots in this cycle can be seen in Drum's post. They've turned into an electronic Lynch mob, viciously attacking people, not just for opposing their candidate, but for failing to denounce his opponents enough. It reminds me of a story I read in, I think, Gulag, where Solzhenitsyn tells of someone who was arrested for only clapping five minutes for Stalin ("Never be the first to stop clapping" the police said to the man as they led him away). The vast majority of the netroots hates Hillary, and a blogger trying to build his or her career has got to be aware of that fact, and consider how it will impact their all-important clickstats if they aren't seen as in tune with the masses -- if they stop clapping first. And that's a problem. Because with the press corps that we have, which is beholden to plutocratic owners and editors, and terrified of being attacked as part of the "liberal media" by the Limbaughesque Right,if the blogosphere is beholden to an over-impassioned, out-of-touch-with-reality mob (the kind of people who convince themselves that the more centrist candidate is actually the more liberal), the whole system remains warped, and easily manipulated by the Charles Gibsons and Brian Williamses.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

I shoulda been a cop. Or at least a police dispatcher


I suspected starting a couple of years ago that this election would upset the pattern of the media attacking the Dem candidates, while giving the Republicans a pass. So far, that suspicion has been completely proven false. McCain exists in the general, and stands a good chance of winning, precisely because of gross media malfeasance. Obama is in the race at all, let alone winning, because of that same malfeasance. But if the reaction to last night's "debate" is a gauge -- even media people are criticizing it -- we might see some progress yet. Of course, had more people gotten this outraged after the "gang-bang" debate, this one likely wouldn't have been as bad -- but then, this one likely wouldn't have happened at all, as Clinton would already be the nominee absent the warped press we are stuck with.

I don't know how anyone could listen to Stephanopoulos' smarmy bullshit and not just punch the nasty little vermin in the mouth. Savagely. Repeatedly. Until he spit out teeth and cried for his momma.

Monday, April 14, 2008

God and GOP

Yet another friendly story about McCain. If A Dem has skipped that forum, it would have been turned into an instant mini-scandal by the press. McCain skipped it, and it's because he's "private about his faith"; and he "comes from an older generation, one that is more private about its faith." They throw in a few obligatory lines about battle to remind everyone of what a Great Hero Great McCain is, (what "battles" has McCain fought in? You'd think from reading the piece that he was some soldier down in the mud, when in fact he was dropping bombs on targets he couldn't even see; the only time he actually saw the enemy was when they captured and jailed him), and a conclusion about actions being stronger than words. Turn the article around -- make it about Obama or Clinton -- and the entire tone would have been radically changed. Suddenly, the candidate would be "risking the appearance of being indifferent to the concerns of the religious," "tone deaf on the issue of faith," "foolish," and Joe Klein and his pals would rush articles into print titled "What was he/she thinking?" with the subtext "I don't care about this, but the voters...."

It's an example of the many, many ways the two parties get unequal treatment. The
GOP gets a pass; the Dems have an endless series of hoops they have to jump through or be attacked as "unAmerican," or "hostile to faith," or "unpatriotic," or "effete" or "against the troops" and so on and so on and so on. The funny thing is, even when they jump through the hoops, they're attacked anyway.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Serious journalism

As an aside, those "Divided we fail" ads are fucking annoying. "Tell Washington to do something" is like telling a drunk in a bar to just go home, and tossing him some car keys.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Dick Allen

(Click the picture for the whole story)

James' attack -- I wonder if he does those things in an attempt to avoid being too much of an outlier? He'd been getting marginalized for years as "just a stats guy" and in his writing seemed to go out of his way to avoid offending conventional wisdom when he didn't have statistical evidence on his side. Also, he played the character game a lot. If I remember correctly, he savaged Amos Otis (maybe it was Hal McRae?) for "immaturity" or some such, while praising George Brett for the example of his maturity, but Brett was known to trash bathrooms by busting up urinals with his baseball bat when he had bad games. Not a slam on James, but an observation about how difficult it is to make judgments about people, like Allen (or Al Gore, or Hillary) you don't really know, yet people -- even smart, insatiably curious people like James -- try to do it, and get it wrong, all the time.

Some of those pictures of Allen -- what a freakin' monster that guy was. He looked like he was using steroids back when nobody was using steroids. With a body like that, you'd think he could do anything. Yet I remember another baseball player, a guy named David Green, who had a magnificent body, the kind men spend hours a week in the gym to get and still not have, but who made no career for himself at all. In particular in baseball, where your eyesight is the big determinant in hitting, and your ability to throw hard determines your success as a pitcher, things like what your body looks like are misleading. Yet the tendency is to assume anyone who looks like a David Green or a Dick Allen should be superstars, and people build up these huge expectations about what they should accomplish, and when they don't live up to those expectations, accuse them of being lazy, unmotivated, underachievers. Blacks, in particular, suffer from this, as the natural racialist tendency is to see blacks as good, but animalistic, athletes who are, however, inherently lazy. Some of Allen's problems can clearly be attributed to his desire to slip that label -- he was a bright, sensitive guy, and I'm sure he understood the dynamics of his situation as well as anyone. But once people form an image of you, and aren't around you often enough to get a chance to change their minds (if they are capable of, and motivated to, do it at all), they just don't. There's a lot to learn in the Dick Allen story besides the troubles of a tremendously gifted ballplayer. His situation provides insight into how people tend to think and operate, including journalists.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Dallas Fed president Richard Fisher:

The risk models employed turned out to be merely formulaic descriptions of the past and created an illusion of precision. Such approaches could not and cannot replace the forward-looking judgment of a seasoned professional.

The entire speech is eloquently incoherent, but this passage in particular annoyed me. What is the "forward-looking judgment of a seasoned professional" except someone making a decision based on experience -- their knowledge of what has happened in the past? And obviously, it was seasoned, knowledgeable people who decided to turn over risk management to the quants in the first place, which is hardly a ringing endorsement of the value of the judgment of seasoned professionals. Like it or not, quant-based risk management is a permanent feature of the financial markets, at least in part because it works, most of the time, works at least as well as the "judgment of seasoned professionals," or the "seasoned professionals" wouldn't have relied so heavily on the models in the first place. When I read things like this I get the feeling the Fed is still out to sea, dog-paddling in any direction that looks like it might be land.

Much better. But even here, I wonder about the "looking out the window" part. A lot of this is just second guessing -- just "looking out the window" doesn't help you much if you don't know what to look for, which is the very problem we're dealing with: we never know what to look for until it's too late, and sometimes not even then. Fisher, in his speech, admits that nobody is yet sure what went wrong, and that's with hindsight. If everyone had been cautious about the mortgage issue, the few people who took the leap would still be reaping outsized rewards, and that won't happen in an efficient system. Instead, people saw the opportunity for bigger profits, went after them, and eventually things got top heavy and fell over. What went wrong here was capitalism, not this or that tool of capitalism. There have been boom-bust cycles as long as there's been capitalism, and all the "seasoned professionals" "looking out the window" in the world won't stop the next one. It's the price we pay for our economic system, and on balance it's a good deal. I just wish people would stop pretending there's a way around it, particularly people, like Fisher, who know better.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008


More pain for the newspaper industry:

Sam Zell, the no-bull billionaire who took over the Tribune Co. in December, swept in promising to turn around its troubled newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and The Sun in Baltimore.

Zell raised spirits and initially won some converts in the ailing media company. But profits have been plunging, and it's become much tougher for him to meet huge interest payments on the company's debt. And NPR has obtained a recording of a combative meeting Zell held with some of Tribune's top journalists in Washington that may help explain why many of them are deeply skeptical of him.

Journalists as 'Overhead'

"This is the first unit of Tribune that I've talked to that doesn't generate any revenue. So all of you are overhead," Zell said during the late February meeting with editors and reporters for the company's Washington bureau.


But Zell doesn't stand much on ceremony. He has already fired a bunch of executives at his Chicago headquarters and said he wants immediate, radical change at the company's 11 daily papers and 23 TV stations.

"Three guys in a garage create YouTube, and we've got 800 people in Chicago who don't know their ass from a hole in the ground!" he said at the February meeting. "You chronicle what we've done in 60 days, and I promise you the next 60 days will be even more tumultuous."


The Washington meeting was far from the first time Tribune employees have felt the sting of Zell's barbed words. At a news conference in January, he mocked an Orlando Sentinel photographer who pointedly asked him about newspapers' public service mission. He derided the photographer's "journalistic arrogance" — and then cursed at her when she turned to leave.

The recording of the Washington meeting gives fresh insight into Zell's annoyance at what he sees as the self-importance of conventional journalists. He says they're peddling goods the public just doesn't want to read: too much insider politics and Iraq, not enough local news.


Zell has invited ideas from employees. But he swatted away the Washington staff's suggestions and made it clear he thinks the bureau is bloated.

Does it "really require six people – or nine people – to cover the same Iraq story? I'm going to find out, and it's gonna be done one of two ways. I can do it or you can do it. Your choice," Zell told them.

Making Money

Since then, the L.A. Times' Washington bureau has learned it must slice its staff from 47 people to 28 – part of deep, company-wide cuts. Yet Mathews says he's most concerned about the call for journalists to think of new ways to make money.

One of the first things I thought about was Time's Karen Tumulty. Her husband, I believe, works in the Washington bureau of the LA Times. Now, if you're Tumulty, and you have kids at or nearing college age, and your husband's job is looking very shaky, what are the odds that you will take a strong, principled stand on anything that might ruffle feathers above you, even if you were inclined to by nature? None at all -- you literally cannot afford to. Yet it's a big part of her job to take risks on occasion. And that situation plays out over and over again, considering how incestuous the political-journalistic household is. It's a situation perfect for creating tame, cowardly people who are more focused on pleasing their bosses than fulfilling the public service part of their job. And the situation at Tribune Co. is happening everywhere in the world of print journalism, which is all but collapsing. Zell might be a crude asshole, but he's just the messenger here -- the world of journalism is changing forever, and at least in the short run, not changing for the better. These people are already stretched thin intellectually, and hardly have the wit to do more than type out whatever they are told, without doing any critical thinking at all. Cutting their numbers isn't going to improve that, whatever affect it might have on the bottom line of their publications. There's a national bottom line here as well, it's called "the public interest," it's been deeply in the red for years, and ain't no Sam Zell, or anyone else, going to come along to buy it out. We have to figure out a way to do that ourselves.

Now there's a sentence you won't find in Britannica.

From the Wikipedia entry on Pete Doherty:

He attended the alternative detox centre Wat Tham Krabok, a temple in Thailand, famous for its rehabilitation program for crack and heroin users, where he was beaten with a bamboo cane and forced to drink foul herbal concoctions to induce vomiting.

Monday, April 7, 2008


Someone gave me this book, which I had always wanted to avoid because I suspected it would be disappointing. It is.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Joe Klein grows a pair. Maybe.

Perhaps I was a little rough on Klein in this excellent post of his. If he can still write that well, there might be hope yet for the guy who wrote Primary Colors, as fine a work of political semi-fiction as I've read. The question is if he will go back into his bubble world of half-measures and protecting his own status rather than fighting for what he believes is right, fighting for anything at all, if the political landscape changes yet again. It would be nice to see a redemptive story, especially for someone of Klein's age and position. But his past performance is not reassuring.... The question will be answered, I think, when Petraeus testifies. Klein's reaction to that, and how he assesses the Dem reaction, will be interesting to see.

Gale's Law:

When it comes to politics, people will learn just enough to confirm their own world view.

Or, in academese: The perceived marginal utility of information declines as the likelihood that new information will challenge previously held beliefs increases.

Colloquially: My mind's made up, don't confuse me with the facts.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Creeping radicalism

This is what happens when the Supreme Court becomes controlled by radicals:

For years, Johnson & Johnson obscured evidence that its popular Ortho Evra birth control patch delivered much more estrogen than standard birth control pills, potentially increasing the risk of blood clots and strokes, according to internal company documents.

But because the Food and Drug Administration approved the patch, the company is arguing in court that it cannot be sued by women who claim that they were injured by the product — even though its old label inaccurately described the amount of estrogen it released.

This legal argument is called pre-emption. After decades of being dismissed by courts, the tactic now appears to be on the verge of success, lawyers for plaintiffs and drug companies say.


More than 3,000 women and their families have sued Johnson & Johnson, asserting that users of the Ortho Evra patch suffered heart attacks, strokes and, in 40 cases, death. From 2002 to 2006, the food and drug agency received reports of at least 50 deaths associated with the drug.

Documents and e-mail messages from Johnson & Johnson, made public as part of the lawsuits against the company, show that even before the drug agency approved the product in 2001, the company’s own researchers found that the patch delivered far more estrogen each day than low-dose pills. When it reported the results publicly, the company reduced the numbers by 40 percent.

Companies can lie to the FDA to get their drug approved, and then once it’s approved, continue lying to the public about the dangers of the drug, and suffer no harm as a result, because the FDA approved the drug, even though the approval was based on dishonestly collected and presented information. Conservatives don’t want governmental agencies funded well enough to do their jobs properly, and don’t want citizens harmed, even killed, by corporate wrongdoing to have recourse to the courts. We are gradually headed for a corporatocracy, where corporations will be entirely exempt from the laws and expectations that the rest of us deal with, where even their most egregious wrongdoing will be blamed on the government and the citizens stupid enough to trust products made by companies (this ties in with the conservative fetish for “personal responsibility”). That such a situation will inevitably break down the trust and confidence that people have in the system, and so break down the system itself, is besides the point. Companies want it, and with this Supreme Court, what companies want, companies will get.

Friday, April 4, 2008

I don't get their not getting it.

Steve Benen, among others, doesn't get this video:

Yes, it's slightly odd, but I find it effective, because it's odd. First of all, McCain is an old, white man, who's been in the Senate longer than some voters have been alive. He's running at the head of a tired, white party, when the country is looking forward to change. If he runs traditional, bland bio ads, people will think of him as a traditional, bland old white guy. In fact, he would end up looking just like Bob Dole -- a bland white guy who was in the Senate forever, who was presented as something of a "maverick," who was a war hero, and so on, and who got the nod to run for president because of some vague sense that it was "his turn" rather than because of anything he was or stood for that the country really needed. Dole is the kind of candidate a party runs when it knows it will probably lose, and has nothing better to throw out there, anyway (Mondale and Stevenson are Dem examples of this archetype). McCain has got to do something to differentiate himself from that image, to escape from his blandoldwhiteguyness, and running slightly offbeat ads isn't a bad way of doing that. The ads are also interesting, keep your attention throughout (how many bio ads can do that?) and have a chance at generating buzz all by themselves. And they take the focus off policy issues -- the Republicans' huge weak point -- and put it on McCain the man, and McCain the man, as we have been told incessantly for the past 10 years, is the World's Greatest Human Being, which in the end is almost certainly going to be the only positive message he has to offer. That's the upside. Now, what's the downside?

In a word, nothing. The real risk in running ads like these -- the risk in doing anything unusual in a campaign -- is that it invites ridicule and allows the candidate to be portrayed as foolish and out of touch, as an alien. Is Chris Matthews going to ridicule the ads? David Broder? The people who call themselves reporters who ride around in the back of McCain's bus, slack jawed, while he regales them with stories of his POW heroism? Will any Beltway heavyweight? Not a chance. For McCain that simply is not possible -- he's the salt of the earth, a regular guy who tells great stories, many of them self deprecating, a war hero, a maverick, a moderate, a straight talker, and so on. It's always the Dems who are the aliens, and McCain isn't a Dem. Those ads are, not just good in themselves, but a sign that the Republicans understand exactly what they are up against this cycle, and have formed a strategy to overcome it. The Dems, and smart bloggers like Benen, should be taking notice and combating this stuff. Benen is usually quite good, but his response to the ad -- seemingly scratching his head at its oddness -- demonstrates the problem the left has generally. Any Dem running an ad like this would be attacked as a loon by the right, and subsequently laughed at by the "MSM". Scratching his head in bemusement seems the best Benen, or any other lefty with any kind of voice, can do by way of an attack. We're in for a long, painful campaign.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

The Italian

Finally saw the film. It was almost perfect. I wonder why Euros can make films like this one, or any of, say, Kieslowski's films, but they don't make the Hollywood blockbuster type things. Anyone who could make Red could make, oh, we'll say Fool's Gold only a little better, and get paid a helluva lot more in the process. But they don't seem to, or at least, their crappy, mainstream films never make it over here, while ours go around the world. The only way Italian could have been made in Hollywood would have been to show each of the people who wronged the boy in the film getting punished for it somehow, while the sublime ending of the film would have been ruined by his mother being played by Julia Roberts and her 20 million dollar smile (but to play a role like this she'd cut her fee down to 10 mil or so). What made the film great -- it's grownupness -- would have been bleached right out in the name of box office receipts. The foreigners don't seem to use the bleach like we do.