Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Former President Clinton Negotiates Release of Journalists

So when was the last time Bill Clinton got a girl out of trouble? (cymbal crash)

Thanks, folks, I'm here all week.

Monday, August 03, 2009


On previous road trips, I've learned that the lady who provides the voice for my GPS system has a hard time pronouncing some pretty basic words, things like "Maryland," "Peoria," and "Square." But for some reason she has absolutely no difficulty with places in Mississippi - and I'm talking about places that your average American would lose two teeth trying to pronounce. She effortlessly guided me through Homochitto, Natchez rolled off her tongue quite naturally, and Doloroso came out just right. Tomorrow I will test her on Tougaloo, and if that doesn't get her maybe Tishomongo will the following day.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Two Differences Between New York and New Orleans

1) All CVS stores stock impulse purchase items by the cash registers - small things you might not have thought of buying but when you see them there you figure "Yeah, I could use some of that," and you end up buying. In New York, the impulse items are chapstick, gum, and phone cards. At the CVS on Canal & Bourbon in New Orleans, they had six-packs of Heineken and three-packs of Trojans.

2) In New York when you pass someone on the street and they have traces of white powder on their upper lip, you assume they work on Wall Street and just did a line of coke. In New Orleans when you pass someone on the street and they have traces of white powder on their upper lip, you assume it's a tourist who just had beignets.

There may be some other subtle differences between these two towns, but those are the ones I've noticed.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Crime of the Century

Wouldn't tomorrow be a great night to break into Prof. Henry Louis Gates Jr.'s house? First of all, you know he's going to be out of town at the beer summit, second of all you can be pretty sure that neighbor lady isn't going to be calling the cops again if she sees any funny business next door, and third of all you can be damned sure the Cambridge cops aren't going to respond to another Gates residence break-in alert anyway.

And just in case someone does rob the place tomorrow, I can tell you right now I will have an alibi. I have a dinner scheduled.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Empathy and Law: A False Dichotomy

As the Sotomayor confirmation hearings continue this week, and as folks like Jeff Sessions get all worked up about (1) President Obama's invocation of "empathy" as a quality we'd like to see in the judiciary, and (2) whether it's reasonable to suggest that a person's background and life experience might have something to do with what they would decide as a life-tenured judge, it's important, I think, to introduce just an eensy-weensy bit of reality and perspective to the discussion.

Now I know that "reality" and "perspective" are natural enemies of the sort of feigned outrage we're seeing from Sessions, who is, apparently, the GOP's attack dog here. So to suggest that the Junior Senator of Alabama constrain himself to these values is sort of like asking a bulldozer to pause and consider the structural integrity and refinement of the building in front of it. But we're all about lost causes here at Feigned Outrage. (So says Google Analytics, anyway.)
The right-wing talking point goes like this: Judges shouldn't act on mushy concepts like "empathy." They should follow The Law. And if they act on "empathy," they're not following The Law, and they're suddenly — and this is a beloved bromide of the judge haters — "making law rather than applying the law."

And of course anyone who knows anything about how the law works — and this should include you, Senator Sessions, given that you were once Alabama's Attorney General — would know that it is an exceedingly rare occasion on which a judge has to choose between the Empathy Answer and the Law Answer. This for two reasons:

For starters, despite Congressional Republicans' best efforts, Empathy is often incorporated into The Law. In fact, a great deal of our most important and treasured laws — our Constitution's First Amendment and Equal Protection Clause, the Voting Rights Act, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, shoot: even the stimulus bill, if you still believe in it — are monuments to empathy.

A bunch of white guys don't pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964 unless they're capable of empathy. Sure, if you're cynical (and I'm not, by the way: well, not on this point), you could say that they acted in the interest of securing the stability of the nation by extending protections to an increasingly marginalized and dissatisfied underclass. But even to get to that point, to realize that a law was necessary, if not desirable, you have to be able to consider the perspective of someone from a different background. To know the real effect of a law, you have to consider — you have to predict — how it will affect the people subject to it. Sounds like "empathy" to me, and it sounds appealing.

Second, and probably more important: at the Supreme Court level there aren't that many cases in which The Law obviously compels a certain result. Sure, folks in the gallery may feel that way — and the lawyers at the lecterns may argue that way — but the questions before the Supreme Court are the tough ones. They're the questions that Congress didn't anticipate when it enacted a law. They're the questions on which the several Courts of Appeal couldn't come to agreement. The business of the courts isn't just to override the express will of elected officials and legislate by fiat. That's a happy last point of argumentative retreat when you don't like what a court decided. The job of the courts is to fill in the gaps in the law: to decide what the law means and how it applies when the Framers and Congress, despite their best efforts, left open litigation points.

Certainly as a critic, on the sideline, with a vested ideological interest in the outcome of a case, one can talk oneself into believing that The Law compelled a certain result — the result that one favors. And working backward from that point of epistemological certainty (and this is a space folks both on the left and on the right are comfortable working in, although I would submit that liberals may be more susceptible to uncertainty and less attracted to batten-down-the-hatches-style conviction), one can conclude that the judge who ruled in the other direction was necessarily led astray by impermissible considerations — human failings like bigotry, callousness, religious zealotry, provinciality, venality, empathy. (Wait a minute: empathy? Is that so bad?)

But I'd submit that this isn't a fair or realistic way to review the actions taken in most Supreme Court cases — and certainly in most of the high-profile, front-line-of-the-culture-war cases. The fact is that The Law very, very often doesn't compel a certain result, and it's up to the Justices to do their best to untangle the complexities of a given case and decide (gasp!) what result The Law should compel. A whole host of considerations necessarily leak into that process, and we can talk about what considerations should and should not be permissible. But the notion that a judge should draw on his or her own personal background and experience — that is, the accumulated data that form the basis for their exercise of wisdom — should not be controversial. We can idealize a Law that is so compelling that wise white men and "wise Latinas" would spit out the same outcomes. But that Law doesn't exist, principally because law is an artifact of humankind, and it therefore incorporates all of our best intentions and failures to meet them. It reflects our diversity of opinion and interests. Law is emphatically of the people, by the people, for the people, and when a judge is called upon to decide a case, it seems to me entirely appropriate that the judge should keep in mind that his or her decision is not one made in legal abstraction — it's not a matter for cerebral processing or an exercise of rhetoric and logic — but one that will absolutely have consequences, and generally very significant consequences, for real people.

That, at least to me, is the role that "empathy" should have in judging. And I think it's important.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Larry King's Suspenders

I'm growing increasingly convinced that Larry King's body has grooves that hold his suspenders in place. I mean, look at him.

Now I'm no doctor, nor a chiropractor, either (and for that matter, I didn't even stay in a Holiday Inn Express last night), but it seems to me there are several ways in which a body might, organically and over a considerable amount of time, develop a suspension-groove system.

One obvious candidate is callouses, but this seems to me unlikely. The callouses would likely accumulate where the greatest amount of friction exists — that is, under the suspenders, such that you'd have the opposite of a groove. You'd instead have a raised, solid "track" over which the suspenders would be perched, rather than nested. Let's discuss other possibilities:

Muscle development could well be in play here. Consider what a bulge in the trapezius could accomplish, if it arose just between the shoulder and the spot where Mr. King customarily lodges his suspenders. The muscle-bulge would act like a notch — you slip the suspender over it and it can't possibly slide off laterally over the shoulder. Now consider that a second, smaller bulge might crop up between neck and suspender, to preclude lateral movement of the suspender in a neckward direction. It seems to me that Mr. King's forward-leaning "lunge" posture could well accomplish these two results, in a bilateral presentation — especially as from all appearances he is straining against the suspenders themselves. All it would take to develop these bulges would be a gradual tightening — if not as well a reduction in the elasticity — of the suspenders over time.

Third and finally, I suggest bone spurs. This hypothesis speaks for itself, I think, and I don't really see much to be gained from elaborating it.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Some Friendly Advice

If you want to go see Transformers 2 with your wife, please ask her if she wants to go see Transformers 2. Do not ask her if she wants to see "the Megan Fox movie". Apparently it makes a difference.

Friday, July 10, 2009

FO News Roundup: July 10, 2009

  • China's President says "stability is paramount" and the Uighurs need to be "dealt a blow." Clearly he's more of a Grinch than a Hu. (P)
  • North Korea attacks! Well, virtually, anyway. And here we thought they only bought that computer so Kim could play Lode Runner. (P)
  • A stampeding bull gores a man to death in Pamplona, while a bear market chastens Wall Street bankers. Can't win for losing. (P)
  • Basic services are nice and all, but statuary inspires. So it goes in Uttar Pradesh. (P)
  • Next on the agenda, poverty and starvation. Ah, just in the time for the white asparagus and truffle soup. Waiter, can you take these leavings to the African contingent out in the hall? (P)
  • "Death by Chocolate": not just a ha-ha funny dessert name anymore. Thanks, menu-writers, for tempting fate. (P)
  • (Speaking of tempting fate . . . ) is this really the best al Qaeda can do? (P)

Tuesday, July 07, 2009


The Economist recently criticized President Obama's kid-glove handling of Congress. The short version of Lexington's critique is that Obama writes the agenda, and Congress writes the laws. Nowhere was this more evident than in the case of the economic stimulus plan: Obama described the size of the bucket, and the Democratic Congress filled it up. This practice became a pattern with the climate change bill (The Economist, again) — although to be fair, lawmakers in the House had to load the law up with giveaways and postpone its efficacy (if not its effective date) for another ten years, just to win a majority.

Because, for better or for worse, I take my cues from The Economist, I'm afraid for the country. Here's why.
Unlike many of the Republican naysayers, I actually believe that certain of America's bigger problems actually require government intervention. I've said my peace on the economy. But the energy and health care sectors, too, have seen the Invisible Hand failing to manage matters with any kind of deftness or dexterity. Let's consider why and how:

* Health Care. — The failures of the health care market are well-documented. It just isn't working. The principal reason for this is that there is no demand curve. Any reasonable person would rather be broke or bankrupt than sick and dying. If you need to spend $200 grand on a lifesaving chemotherapy, you do it. You plunk down the money and you figure out the rest later. Thus, spiraling costs. And there's the fact, too, that the structure of our health care system is an historical artifact of a market distortion: Stateside employers began to provide health insurance benefits to their workers during World War II, in an effort to compete for talent after the government imposed wage controls. Employers are expected to bear this burden today — and what's worse, employees come of age with the expectation that someone else ought to be paying for their health care. (Aha! cries the Republican — see here the long-term unintended consequences of government interference in the market! Yes, GOPer. Duly noted.)

* Energy. — The energy markets are failing us. Demand from developing countries will considerably outstrip production in the near and mid-range future. This isn't even a concern we can forget about in the short term. We saw inklings of what is coming last summer, when gas prices shot up over $4 per gallon. Prices are creeping back up again. As hundreds of millions of Chinese and Indians lift themselves out of poverty in the coming years, there simply won't be enough fossil fuel production to sustain them and us. This means skyrocketing energy costs, if not something worse — like war. Which brings us to the next factor that calls for government intervention in the energy markets: national security. Terrible, horrible regimes like those in Iran, Venezuela, and Saudi Arabia perpetuate themselves on the strength of their oil production. State-owned gas and oil companies in Russia leverage the energy demands of Europe and former Soviet states for the political ends of the kleptocrats in the Kremlin. And worse, we compromise ourselves, we give in on important Western values, in our thirst for oil. We may not be overthrowing democratically-elected governments anymore in Iran, but we do support oil-rich regimes with grievous human rights records. Our need for oil poisons our foreign policy and, to be frank, we'd be better and more principled in our dealings with the rest of the world if we could shake this rotten dependency.

Note that I haven't even talked about the global warming and environmental considerations, which somehow still manage to be controversial among intelligent people. (Shout-out here to V'torix.)

Our energy markets are, of course, distorted by the affirmative intervention of the last Administration in favor of Big Oil. We can ascribe this policy to shortsightedness (voters like the incumbents more when they aren't getting squeezed at the pump) or to venality (oil barons scratch Republicans' backs, and Republicans scratch theirs), but whatever the cause, it's exactly the opposite of the policy we should be pursuing. Giving fossil fuels a market edge when they are already the incumbent technology is emphatically the wrong policy. We need to strike that and reverse it. Government needs to subsidize renewable energy. For our economic interest, for our national security, for our foreign policy, and — what the heck – for the Earth.

And now, the turn:

I earnestly believe that we need the government to tackle these issues — and more than just considering them, we need the government to muck around in the markets. That's the only way these problems get fixed. But then I look over at the two bodies charged with the constitutional power to act on the economy, on health care, on energy — and my heart climbs into my throat, and then it breaks. I have absolutely no faith in the ability of the House of Representatives, or for that matter the Senate, to come up with anything on these issues other than shortsighted, self-serving packages of special-interest giveaways and unintended consequences.

I lack this faith not because of the particular 535 persons who are occupying the seats in the two chambers (although I have to say, quite a few of them are doozies). The problem is our political system. The two parties gerrymander the House districts to protect their seats: as a result, the truly contested elections are primaries that bring the most identifiably partisan — and therefore extreme — candidates into the Capitol. So we have extremist ideologues from both parties dominating the House. Add to this the warped incentives that flow from our politicians' concluding that they win more votes with obfuscatory and infantilizing commercial spots than they do by taking real, principled positions on the issues, and now we have special interests buying and selling our wild-eyed legislators with the campaign contributions that nourish the all-important Media Buys.

It's no wonder the stimulus bill became a Christmas tree, a receptacle for pet projects and pork. It's no wonder, either, that the climate change bill is a toothless pack of giveaways. So now we turn to health care and energy policy, and I cringe, and I again feel like a man without a political home. It's bad enough to live life as a social liberal/economic conservative. Now consider the predicament of the poor blogging soul who shares both the Democrats' conviction that government intervention on certain critical policy issues is absolutely necessary and the Republicans' despair over the ability of a government — and specifically, this government — not to butcher the job.

Somebody tell me everything is going to be all right.

Friday, July 03, 2009

FO News Roundup: July 3, 2009

It's Freud's birthday today, so we're all about sex and death. Actually, we lied: it's not Freud's birthday. Can you ever trust us again?

  • Look, dude. You didn't have to propose to her to get her to say "yes, yes, yes, like 500 times super fast in a row." Oh, no, wait: you're a Jonas Brother, so maybe you did. (P)
  • The Delhi High Court has upheld the right to gay sex between consenting adults. A "director's cut" of the Kama Sutra will hit the streets next week. (P)
  • Debbie Rowe was a "baby machine" for Michael Jackson, who apparently ditched her at the hospital and ran off with his newborn daughter "with all the placenta all over her." Somewhere, a middle-aged Billy Jean just kicked a hole in the wall. (P)
  • If you thought Billy Mays was only an American icon, think again: is covering his death. And so it is that great cultural gaps are closed by a dab or two of Mighty Mend-It. (P)
  • A new study shows that cardiac arrest is a really dangerous and shitty thing to happen to you. (P)
  • No link here — it's been taken down — but CNN was advertising a feature that purported to cover the "highlights of Michael Jackson's life and death." My favorite part of his death was the bit where he came back as a zombie and began to dance, in block formation, with some acquaintances from the cemetery. Well, that and the cardiac arrest. No. The zombie dancing bit was probably better. Less edgy. (P)
  • Last, but not least: we're all going to die this fall. Thank you, and good night. (P)

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Ask Feigned Outrage

One of our many loyal readers recently wrote in seeking advice on how to respond to the following note received by her neighbor, left on top of her shipment of bottled water:

Dear Neighbor,

I couldn't help but notice you recently received a shipment of bottled water. Can I suggest you try Chicago tap water? It's some of the finest in the country. Or at the very least use a Brita water filter. That way you can do your part to help save the planet.


Your fellow global citizens

This is a delicate situation, with both the planet and neighborly relations at stake, so after much careful consideration I offer the following response:

Dear Fellow Global Citizens,

Thanks for the wake-up call and alerting me to all the damage I am doing to our beloved Mother Earth. You've inspired me to do some research and I can't help but agree that we'd all be better off if I stopped getting bottled water and switched to pure Chicago tap water. Even though the plastic bottles are recycled, this process uses a bit of energy and slightly increases carbon dioxide emissions. In fact, carbon dioxide emissions from many sources are harming our planet and under the new climate change bill, carbon dioxide is an official pollutant. Every time you drive a car, or even exhale, you cause immeasurable and irreparable harm to the climate of our dear planet.

So let's make a pledge to help the Earth together. I'll cancel my shipments and try out Chicago tap water and you cease any unnecessary exhalations. You can use sign language all you want, but never utter another word to anyone — every time you do you emit carbon dioxide and contribute to global warming. Moreover, you can save trees by cutting down on self-righteous notes to your neighbors. Now that you're aware of these facts, I know you can't resist such an opportunity to help save the planet. We all win. The planet cools down and no one will ever again be subjected to your obnoxious, holier-than-thou proclamations, either written or oral.

Once again, thank you for bringing my dangerously negligent behavior to light. I look forward to working with you to make our planet more livable. Thanks,

Your neighbor and fellow concerned global citizen

Dear readers, please continue to email us with your most troubling issues. We're always here to help.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Empathy, Activism, and Consipracy

As a liberal (debate the small "l", if you must), I'm happy with the outcome of the case. I empathize with the firefighters who passed their exam but weren't promoted because they weren't the right color. But anyway, all I'm saying here is that if I were a conservative and didn't want Sotomayor confirmed, I'd want this one particular case decided this way. And I'd want it decided just before the Supreme Court session ends so that it will be the most recent case during her confirmation hearings. That way I could loudly make the (somewhat circular) argument that she's not fit to replace the Bush appointee who voted to uphold her decision because the current Supreme Court overall disagreed with her 5-4.

I'm happy with the ruling, though, and am glad that Scalia, Roberts, and Thomas took into consideration the unfair treatment of the firefighters instead of just heartlessly and rigidly applying the law.

Bernie Madoff

Now, I've heard a couple people remark that a 150 year sentence, the maximum the judge was allowed to impose, seems excessive for an old man who's going to be dead in a few years anyway. Some of those people have pointed out that a lot of the victims of Madoff's crimes either knew or should have known that something sketchy was going on, and I suppose there's some truth in that.

But to me the most striking aspect of Madoff's guilty plea, and the aspect that makes him deserving of the maximum punishment allowable, is that he's provided exactly zero help to investigators. Sure, he's admitting his guilt, after it wasn't possible to hide it anymore. But he hasn't said word one about who helped him, how much various other figures knew, where the money went, or how he orchestrated it all. A truly contrite man, one deserving of mercy, would have come clean about everything. And a man who's not at all contrite, who only admits what can already be proven and offers nothing more beyond, seems like a man at whom the book ought to be thrown.

So Bernie, we'll see you in 2159 - you can watch the NBA finals at my place.

"Business lawsuits vex ex-hoops stars"

Apparently being hated by 98% of sports fans is not enough for Christian Laettner - he's trying to be hated by 98% of the investment community too.

Saturday, June 27, 2009


Well, I'm thrilled that all the protests in Iran worked out OK, and the Waxman-Markey bill that would change America beyond recognition didn't end up happening. At least, I'm assuming that's the case, because the news is spending all their time talking about Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett, which I'm sure they wouldn't be doing if there were momentous issues still in play right now.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

"Program Pays Girls a Dollar a Day Not to Get Pregnant"

Those girls are getting $1 a day not to get pregnant. Can I get $20 a day for not getting twenty girls pregnant?

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Walk the Line

While the usual knee-jerk conservatives spout out their predictable objections, it's worth noting the delicacy of the situation in Iran. While most Americans obviously wants an end to the Ayatollah's theocracy and a peaceful, prosperous, and friendly Iran, the questions is how best to get there.

The posturing right demands a strong statement from the President affirming our support for the protesters. But to what end? An open declaration of support from the US President plays directly into the hands of the oppressors in Iran. It gives credence to their claims that the protests are orchestrated by their enemies and might help unite much of the country behind the regime. The obviousness of this predicament has not prevented condemnation of the President from some corners, and some conservatives, such as Peggy Noonan and George Will, should be credited for noting the foolishness of such criticism.
Let's be fair. Not every conservative is as moronic as Jeff Jacoby and some argue reasonably for stronger words or at least acknowledge the potential downside.

We'll just quietly give thanks for a leader who thinks about the best course of action to effect the most favorable outcome and makes the necessary adjustments as circumstances change — unlike, well, you know . . .

What the Iranian people need is to know that the rest of the world supports them. Obama is trying to do this without giving any credence to the regime's claims of foreign interference. It's a delicate line to walk, and we wish the President success. And whether he got to this speech because of Republican criticism or just a reasonable reassessment of changing circumstances, it's still a damn good one. The man can talk, and right now the right words matter.

Top 10 Harvard-Globe Comments

The Internet has changed journalism forever. You heard that first here. One of the great improvements over old-fashioned print media is the comment section at the end of an online article. This is where you learn that — however reasonable you originally thought the article was — it's really just either socialist propaganda from the left-wing media machine or fascist rhetoric from the corporate/Christian right.

Don't be fooled by a seemingly bland article about an apparently apolitical topic . Somewhere there's a communist plot — and our commentators are going to find it for us. Nowhere is this more apparent than in a supposedly left-leaning (left-wing, socialist, COMMUNIST!) paper's article about an allegedly liberal (radical, anti-American, MARXIST!) institution.

So without further ado, here are the top 10 comments from Harvard to Lay off 275 in the Boston Globe:
  1. Ah, the poetic justice is intoxicating. These Universities were the most fervent supporters of President Obama in his run. The Liberal minded Professors slamming any opposition to him on campus. Now, with benefactors getting hammered left and right with taxes, threats to take their wealth, and so forth and so on, they are running for the proverbial hills. Which leaves the previously mentioned Professors scrambling to retain their jobs. I wonder what they think of their CHOSEN ONE now. He conned everyone he came in contact with, and is now dismantling the very same establishment which put him in power. The sweet smell of buyers remorse is in the air. - Posted by Jim
  2. See what communists does? It runes the eckonomy by redistributting the wealth. Now those Harvard libruls can feal it.
    We need Free Markets, deregulation on Wall Street and TAX CUTS for the top 5 percent in order to make this economy better for all of us teabaggers.
    Who cares about educashun and evoloution when you don't get a job?? Knot me. - Posted by Jonny Wingnut

  3. billions in the bank and laying people off??? Not for profit??? something is not right here? LIke everyone else said, why arent they paying taxes? This state is a JOKE. Why do we still live here?If they only had a BILLION in the bank it shouldn't matter. - Posted by rayhags

  4. Harvard can't dip into its endowment to save some of these jobs? Got to build another gigantic building, but let go of all the personnel? I thought communism was all about redistributing wealth to everyone? - Posted by realist

  5. Harvard isn't going to hell, it's already there. E-gad what a horrible bunch of people. - Posted by Jack Higgins

  6. This is almost entirely fault of former Harvard President Larry Summers.
    I just hope he would not screw our nation/federal government.- Posted by Rudy Biden

  7. Economic problem precipitated largely by Harvard Alum's and now it comes home to roost. Maybe a revision of the Ethic's Standard and Practice courses would be apropos! - Posted by DanB

  8. Sure .... Destroy the economy and lose 275 jobs. Justice??
    What a bunch of elitist clowns at that place...
    They do not get it at all... Answer - Do not respect these low life bone heads. Show them massive disrespect wherever they go. They are the elite gone mad. - Posted by Terry Wise

  9. I find it interesting that a large majority of comments on this subject are barely literate. - Posted by Ed
  10. Is there a sensible reason why there is a commentary section for articles published in this newspaper? The quality of the reactive screes that people write is an embarrassment. It is a forum for those that need somehow to express their anger at anything that stays still long enough to tag with graffiti.

    It is hardly any better than that.

    I think that this newspaper should rethink the premise on which researched news articles are plastered with these random splatters of anger. - Posted by David

Ah, the delightful bashing of: one of the best of our world-leading institutions of higher education; a great contributor to the advancement of science; a source of pride for the U.S. and the state of Massachusetts; one of the state's top employers; one of the top attracters of talent from around the world to the United States; a leader in providing affordable debt-free education to top students; and a contributor to the education of the general public through its Extension School . . . thank God for the Internet!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

FO News Roundup: June 24, 2009

This Roundup started like any old Roundup. But the twists and turns of the Mark Sanford story just took it over.

  • "Arthur Caplan, Ph.D." wants to know how Steve Jobs got to the front of the transplant line. Like any of 100,000 Macopaths wouldn't offer up his liver to Jobs free of charge. (P)
  • Off the grid and inaccessible for days on end. Just what we want in a [Republican] President? (P)
  • Turns out Governor Sanford was up hiking the Appalachian Trail . . . on Naked Hiking Day. We'll take the high road here (pun intended) and assume that wasn't his plan. (P)
  • Oh, no wait. He wasn't on the Appalachian Trail; he was in Argentina. "We knew he was somewhere that started with an A," said staffers. (P)
  • Wait wait wait, there's more: speaking of A's, Sanford ought to be wearing a scarlet one. Please, oh, please let the Argentine paramour's name be Elizabeth. I've been trying to find a way to work "I'm coming, Elizabeth!" into this post for hours now. (P)
  • Same link, new bullet: Sanford has taken the extreme atonement step of resigning his post as President of the Republican Governor's Association. Word is he also plans to kick himself out of the Columbia Kiwanis Club. (P)

FO News Roundup: June 23, 2009

Poisonous Burkas, Poisonous Ayatollahs, Poisonous Preachers, and Poisonous Cookie Dough:
  • Take, for example, zis lovely wife of mine, yes? Next slide, s'il vous plait. How would I know I wanted to marry zis woman, if I had not seen her tremendous — 'ow you say zis? — breasts in these Italian magazines? (P)
  • This product could give you vomiting, abdominal cramps, and diarrhea. On the other hand, it's delicious chocolate chip cookie dough. And you thought Hamlet's decision was hard. (P)
  • Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, my clients did threaten and harass Mr. Bierfeldt. But I ask you to consider the uncontroverted evidence, which shows he is kind of a self-righteous dick. (P)
  • You asked for a right-winger's conundrum, Redneck? Well, you got it. What's a decent, red-blooded, wolf-hunting, bible-thumping, rootin'-tootin', Real American supposed to think about the right of terrorists to buy guns? (M)
  • Jeremiah, you got to listen to your pal the Ayatollah. It's Zionists controlling the media, not Jews controlling the President. Get your poisonous, hateful, and insane rhetoric right, would you? (M)

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Iran, Iran So Far Away

You may win this round — and for that matter, you may win the bigger fight. You have the guns, the gas, the sticks, the vans, the torture rooms. And most importantly, you have the disregard for life and human dignity. All that's going for you, to be sure.

But the rest of us have the Internet, and whatever happens tomorrow, or the next day, or down the road — there will always be a record of this day, the day you ran screaming down the road for cover, like the little fascist bitches you are.

Friday, June 19, 2009

The GOP's Attention to Deficits Disorder

I'll start this by acknowledging I hold the status of The Last Writer On This Blog Anyone Will Confuse With An Economist. Be wary, then, of my seductive appeals to logic and common sense over intricate egghead theories of the economy supported by charts and graphs.

The Republicans in Congress have had an awakening recently about the federal budget and deficit spending. Of course, this is hypocritical, given their spending record earlier in the decade, and the Democrats have hammered away at this point when- and wherever they can. But politicians would have to credit the electorate with a memory before they would ever hold themselves bound to a value like "consistency." And of course many of the Democrats who would spend spend spend now were begrudging the consignment of debt dollars to Republicans' pet projects back in the day. To my mind, then, the question to ask isn't "who is inconsistent?" but "is there a right side to the inconsistency, and if so, who is on it?"

This is where you lose, Republicans.

Most reasonable people understand that if there is a magic bullet that someone can fire to kill off a spiraling recession, it's government spending. A failing economy absolutely needs an infusion of dollars to jump-start the recovery. It has to come from somewhere, and the federal government is emphatically the best entity to provide it, for at least three reasons that I can discern:

(1) Like it or not, the federal government is the single biggest unitary actor in the economy. It can make the big Trillion Dollar Splash that is required.

(2) The federal government's mandate is different from that of any other economic actor. It is capable of a kind of selflessness that the regular investor, personal or institutional, is not. I don't mean to suggest a value judgment here about selfishness and capitalism. What I mean to say is that private investors rightly think hard about what they themselves will gain from their investments, and there's just no incentive for a private investor to kick money into a busting economy on the attenuated theory that, if everyone else throws their money at the problem, too, things will get humming again at a macro level and we'll all do better. The government's gig is to examine the larger picture.

(3) The government can raise the money. There's some suggestion right now that this will not always be the case, but there's a reason why the T-bill confers the lowest rate of return on your investment: it's the safest investment you can make. Sure, we thought institutions like GM and Lehman Brothers would be around forever, but this recession has proved us wrong. If there's a safe bet out there, it's that the United States government is here for the long haul.

So, duh: anyone with half a brain can figure that the federal government is the best and only bet to spend us all out of this. Note that I didn't say the government should generally be trusted to run the economy, and I didn't say I think the government isn't susceptible to all sorts of conflicts of interest, rent-seeking, and competence issues that will undermine its ability to target and direct its spending in the most efficacious, recovery-inducing way. But at a time like this, there's no better solution out there, and no one better to undertake it.

On to deficits, then. We know that there is an economic cycle of boom and bust, of growth and recession. The prudent government knows that it will need to spend spend spend — and possibly spend more than it brings in — during the downturns. The prudent government will prepare itself for that part of the cycle by working to generate a budget surplus during the boom times. Sure, we can carry a certain amount of debt from one generation to the next, but it makes sense to keep that practice to a minimum, so that — ahem! — we don't get in a habit of it, such that it gets out of control.

Working with a Republican Congress, President Clinton was able to balance the federal budget during the boom times of his second term. Both sides of the aisle are due some credit for this, but it's worth noting that Clinton didn't demand all sorts of tax cuts and extra spending to max out the economic growth. We were content with the prosperity that we had. Enter President Bush, and we instantly cut taxes, a recession followed (probably not related) and when we came out of that, we threw more than a trillion dollars at a war of convenience and added a massive GOP-championed federal entitlement in the form of the Medicare prescription drug benefit. These three significant deficit-creating events — the tax cuts, the Iraq war, and the drug benefit — have three things in common: (1) they all happened when the economy was running smoothly, (2) they were all championed by the Bush Administration and the Republicans in Congress, and (3) they were all unnecessary gestures of political convenience.

The government should run a surplus in boom times and spend into the red during economic crises. That's an "inconsistency," to be sure, on the question of deficit spending. But it's an inconsistency that makes sense. The Republicans were drunken sailors during the good times and are budget hawks now. They've got it completely backward, because they care more about politics than about the economy and the federal budget. Hypothetically, would the Democrats have done the same if they'd been running the show for the past eight years and the Republicans were in power now? Possibly. Probably. But it's the Republicans who have been actually stupid and wrong, to our detriment. Let them answer for that, and let the Democrats learn from it.

This Not Remotely an Economist has spoken.

Thursday, June 18, 2009


I hope the Piano Man had a prenup, or his next release is going to be a blues album.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

FO News Roundup: July 17, 2009

There was music in the Cafes at night and Revolution in the air.
  • Finally we can get the news from Iran directly without passing it through the biased filter of CNN and the rest of the liberal media. (M)
  • Thanks to all the men and women of the US military who are so bravely securing our right to Feigned Outrage, hypocrisy, double standards, and inane news topics. We can all take a deep breath. Sarah Palin has accepted David Letterman's apology. (M)
  • Thank god we got rid of Bush and Cheney. A new era of transparency in government has finally arrived! (M)
  • Prominent Republican Deviates from Party Norms by Having Affair with Woman. Glenn Murphy, Larry Craig, Mark Foley, and Ted Haggard all express their shock and dismay.(M)

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

"Downed maple smashes into two Toyota Priuses"

Yup, even Mother Nature hates those Prius-driving hippies.

Monday, June 15, 2009

A Trip to the Dentist

I had my six-month checkup this morning. My dentist has installed TVs in each of the little offices, so while the hygienist was rooting around in my mouth I got to watch Good Morning America's roundup of the latest happenings on I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here. I'm not sure which of those was more uncomfortable. Oh, if you know who Spencer is, please drop a note in the comments.

FO News Roundup: June 15, 2009

  • C'mon, Japan: have a heart. It's a shame that in some countries religion and a flawed healthcare system can interfere with the sensible practice of medicine. (P,M)
  • "Yeah, the vote was rigged," says Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. "By God." Does that make it OK? (P)
  • Joe Biden's thoughts on the Iranian election result:"I have doubts but withhold comment." No, Joe, that's a comment. And thus the mystery of Joe Biden's uncontrollable gaping maw is explained. The man simply doesn't know that he's saying anything at all. (M)
  • "The Holocaust didn't happen, but my reelection did." It's a tough life on the far side of the looking glass. (P)
  • They're saying the jackass who shot up the Holocaust Museum in D.C. is a "neo-Nazi." But at 88 years of age, isn't he really just a regular Nazi? (P)
  • Nixon went to China; Clinton enacted welfare reform; might it take a Democrat to curb medical malpractice lawsuits? (M)

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Not Such a Pretty Mouth After All

We all know that Hollywood is full of lefty nutjobs. From Sean Penn's rants about George W. Bush's bloodsoaked underwear to Tim Robbins' opening his mouth on just about anything. Hollywood is the right's symbol of the lunatic left (never mind that it's also possibly America's greatest export industry).

But the smaller, but still lunatic, right-wing fringe of Hollywood isn't staying silent. They're few and far between, but that just means we need to cover the righty rants more when they happen. You know, in the name of a balanced press.
So here's to Jon Voight's mostly incoherent, sometimes scary, often scathing ramblings at a Republican fundraiser last week. No need to watch the whole thing if you value ten minutes of your life — it's not that good — but here are some highlighted fragments, phraseoids, and other snippets:
  • Obama's "false haloistic presence."
  • He "turned out be wildly radical. The way he played his deception is interesting . . ."
  • His "strategies should be looked at to see if we could mimic them in a positive legal way."
  • "Everything Obama has recommended has turned out to be disastrous."
  • "Joe Biden, one of the great double-talkers of our time . . ."
  • "The government wants to tell people what doctors they can see, how much they can make, and what cars they can drive."
  • "We can blame [list of Democrats] for the downfall of this country."
  • "We and we alone are of the right frame of mind to free this nation from this Obama oppression."
  • "Let's give thanks to all the great people like Sean Hanity, Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly, Laura Ingram . . .Glen Beck . . . Anne Coulter . . . Michele Malkin . . . Let's give them thanks for not giving up and staying the course to bring an end to this false prophet Obama."
At one point he quotes, and this is no joke, Pravda to prove we're on the road to Marxism. All of this to (sometimes thunderous) applause and the acclaim of the Republican establishment in attendance.

False, haloistic, illegal, radical, deception, disastrous, double-talker, downfall, oppression, false prophet, Marxist — all in one speech.

Read this later interview if you want to see Bill O'Reilly appear the voice of reason against:
  • "We have a fellow who's bringing us to chaos and socialism."
  • "They're actually attacking entrepreneurs. They're attacking business."
  • "This is a very extreme agenda."
And just in case you were wondering, Glenn Beck does not appear the voice of reason in the interview he did, but here are more Voight highlights:
  • "Well, you know, I came into celebrity in the end of the '60s and I was surrounded by people who were very heavily programmed, Marxist. And I didn't even realize it at the time that this was communist-based stuff, you know, that the communists were behind organizing all of these rallies and things."
  • They [the left] didn't take seriously the blood that they had been directly causing."
  • "We're losing so much. This man, Obama, is not only, you know — has not only set himself to redistribute the wealth of the middle class, he also is set to take over, control the industrial wealth of the country with banks and with, you know, the major corporations, with foreign companies."
OK, so Jon Voight's a nutjob. So what? Well, so nothing, so long as he's not invited to speak at the National Republican Congressional and Senatorial Committees gathering
and roundly applauded by the Republican establishment. Hey, everyone's entitled to their opinions. Go ahead and applaud if you like. Just don't then pretend you were really ever willing to support the President or give him a chance.

Friday, June 12, 2009

I'm Enjoying the Yankees/Red Sox Rivalry

Let's be clear: I absolutely detest these two baseball teams. I hate hate hate them both — I like to think equally, although the Yankees' free-agent cannonball splash this offseason makes them more recently offensive. And theoretically, if you hate both teams, you should hate the rivalry, too, which is all anyone wants to talk about on any of the NINETEEN nights during the season when Boston and New York are playing baseball against one another.

It gets tiresome. It's tiresome that the 8 p.m. Sunday game on ESPN is always Yankees/Red Sox, if they have a weekend series. It's aggravating to show up at the Depot on Thursday for Trivia Night, only to find that they've suspended Trivia Night because New York and Boston are playing an "important" regular-season game. It's sad that Major League Baseball has compromised the integrity of its competition by introducing the unbalanced schedule — basically so that this rivalry can be joined as often as possible between April and October.

And now that Boston has grown into an American League powerhouse franchise with a standing and fan following at least equal to the Yankees' — and as these teams have fought tooth and nail, more often than not, for the AL East division title, if not for the pennant, in recent years — the rivalry has become overhyped, overblown, and overplayed.

In short, I hate hate hate everything about the Yankees and Red Sox, and so anything like this rivalry, which features them both and exalts them both, should absolutely get on my last nerve and shred it with a cheese grater.

Except now — right now and for now — I'm really enjoying it.
Why's that, Phutatorius.?

I'm so glad you asked, Brother/Sister. Here's exactly why. Because I hate hate hate both of these teams with a white-hot, burning-acid hate, the only pleasure I can derive from having the media shove them in my face is in seeing them fail. Fail, Yankees! Fail, Red Sox! Fail miserably, and dramatically. Fail graphically and violently. Die! Die great, Shakespearean baseball deaths. Let the diamond dirt soak up great gobs of blood and sweat spilled in defeat. Let your wretched, unwashed, barbarian fan bases gnash their teeth and rend their knock-off jerseys in anguish and despair!

But of course that's not going to happen. These teams aren't going to fail: certainly not both of them, anyway. The Yankees spend too much money, and the Red Sox are too well-run. It would be too much to expect them both to crash and burn. No — the smart Yankee- and Red Sox-hater has to hedge his bets. He has to be content if just one of these teams fails in dramatic fashion. And although, in the bigger picture, both teams are doing well this year — they're running 1-2 in the division right now, with the Sox 12 games over .500 and the Yanks playing 8 games over even — I am pleased to report that the Yankees have lost eight straight games against the Red Sox this year.


Let's develop the narrative a little more. The Yankees had dominated this rivalry, and the rest of baseball, for much of the last century. But since their last World Series title, the Red Sox — the RED SOX — have won two championships, while the Yankees' organization has floundered. New York actually failed to make the playoffs last year, with a payroll of over $200 million. This is the baseball equivalent of falling out of bed and failing to hit the ground. It was glorious. And now, after throwing $420 million at the problem last year, the Yankees still can't beat Boston.

Oh, yeah, fine: they can beat everybody else: they're 16 games better than .500 against the other teams. But they've lost eight in a row to Boston. Ha! Ha ha!

This is where the rivalry becomes useful for the Yankee- and Red Sox-hater. These teams have transcended the rest of the competition. It's not exactly Celtic-Rangers, but it's as close as the game of baseball allows. If we accept that both teams cannot simultaneously be ground down (or at least that this outcome is statistically improbable), let's run with the idea that one can absolutely dominate the other, and if we are able to ignore the winning team's success and focus specifically on the losing team's frustration and disappointment, some measure of Schadenfreude is available to us. There is great pleasure to be had here.

Going forward, until such time as the Yankees reestablish themselves in this rivalry, I will be rooting strongly for Boston to win its games against New York. Not because I like Boston at all, but because I am able to see Boston as a blunt instrument with which another team I hate hate hate in equal measure might be clubbed senseless and battered into the ground.

And, of course, if New York should turn this train around and win nine in a row against Boston, then go, Yanks!

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Hitchens v. Obama on Hijab Laws

A few posts ago Redneck described a left-winger's conundrum. Well, here's another one: what happens when the practices of a religious minority conflict with equal rights for women?

Avowed secular polemicist Christopher Hitchens just took issue with President Obama's assertion — in the Cairo speech on America and Islam — that French and other European governments infringe religious freedoms when they enforce laws that prohibit women from wearing the hijab.

I gotta say, I'm not sure where I come down on this one — I think because both Hitchens and Obama are oversimplifying the question (go figure a journalist and a politician dodging complexity).
In truth, there's a whole lot of middle ground between the assumption that drives Obama's position (that women want to wear the hijab) and Hitchens's (that they don't). I won't presume, as Obama and Hitchens did, to speak for all Moslem women, but my surmise is that a lot of them don't draw a distinction between what they want to do and what they have to do. This is the ambivalent nature of tradition, after all. I would venture to say that a lot of Moslem women do want to wear the hijab, but they only want to wear it because they have to — just as I might find more pleasure supporting another baseball team, but I stick with the godawful Indians because it ties me to my roots, it's something my father taught me, and for some unfathomable reason the Indians are a part of my identity.

If you want to have to do something, or you have to want to do it, is it fairer to say that you want to do it, or that you have to? I'd say neither. But when the question is whether or not to have the sort of law that President Obama was discussing in Cairo, it's useful to make one or the other assumption. If women are culturally (or physically) pressured to wear the hijab, then it's sure worthwhile to have a secular sovereign write and enforce a law to override the compulsion. If they simply want to wear it, then that same law surely infringes religious freedoms. Ideally, there's a law that says it's unlawful to compel someone to wear a hijab: that would get to the heart of the question, and it would punish appropriate people: i.e., the jerkwads who impress backward, illiberal "traditions" on these women in the first place.

There's the broader policy point, too, that Hitchens makes: acceding little pockets of sovereignty to the umma is destabilizing to Western countries, and it encourages the kind of transnational radicalism that al Qaeda et al. promote with their talk of a worldwide Caliphate. But there's a counterpoint to consider here, which is that the true believers will always exalt the celestial law over the mundane, so that a secular state's regulation of religious practices itself has a radicalizing property to it, by provocation. I'd like to figure out which is the better policy, and I'd like to tackle it with some sharper analytical implement than "concessions embolden, so let's antagonize them."

In the end, though, I go with my instinct: liberal, secular values are important. Everybody else who comes to America has to trade some component of his/her identity to join the larger community. Life's a bitch. Wear what you want, but when we take your driver's license picture, take off the frickin' hijab so we can see you. Just like everyone else.

Of course, this only brings me back round to another conundrum: does disagreeing with President Obama here make me part of the hawkish right-wing opposition, or an apologist for France?

Redneck: any thoughts?

Monday, June 08, 2009

FO News Roundup: June 8, 2009

The best news u can find 'anyWHERE on interNET'
  • Funny what passes for good news these days: more jobs lost, but at a slower rate. I suppose we can thank Newton and Leibniz for this kind of analysis. Let's hope we're not reduced to celebrating a reduced rate of job loss acceleration anytime soon. (P)
  • The Big Unit notched his 300th win the other night. Asked to comment from his perch on Some Other Temporal Plane, a certain bird said, "F**k him." (P)
  • I'm so angry I could tweet! "Pres Obama you got nerve while u sightseeing in Paris to tell us 'time to deliver' on health care. We still on skedul/even workinWKEND." Really? Has it come to this? "Pres Obama while u sightseeing in Paris u said 'time to delivr on healthcare' When you are a 'hammer' u think evrything is NAIL I'm no NAIL." That's the sound of our democracy plummeting into the abyss. (M)
  • Launching missiles, imprisoning Americans, threatening neighbors? Don't worry about it. President Obama is "going to take a very hard look at how we move forward on these issues." And some people were worried this guy was soft. (M)
  • I thought we had kicked out the right-wing regime. At least the Bush administration never honored people who actually worked for the Nazi war machine. (M, P)

Sunday, June 07, 2009

"Canada's governor general eats seal heart"

Jay Nordlinger highlights this article about the governor general of Canada participating in an Inuit ritual involving eating the heart of a baby seal. Jay wonders what left-wingers will make of the story - is it awful that a public official is eating the heart of a baby seal, or is it awesome that a public official is participating in an ancient ritual of an indigeneous people?

I'm trying to think of a case where right-wingers would be equally flummoxed - maybe if union members started carrying concealed weapons, or something like that. Help me out by suggesting something, please.

Deep Questions

Is it possible to be both a ladies' man and a man's man?

I think so, but I can see the case for the other side too. Discuss amongst yourselves!

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Summertime Rolls: Nine Inch Nails and Jane's Addiction at the Comcast Center in Mansfield, MA (Part 1)

Short answer: Jane's wins in a rout — and in what was probably an unfair fight. Here's the background. I saw Nine Inch Nails back in 1994 on the Downward Spiral tour. It was at the Nautica Theater in Cleveland; the seats were removed to create a giant general admission pit; and the Nautica's location in "the Flats" — flush up against the Cuyahoga River — sets up a terrific vibe of post-industrial decay, with rusty bridges and rotting barges supplying a suitable background for Trent Reznor's aesthetic. More to the point, I was young, in college, and angry, and to this point Nine Inch Nails had turned out only two albums and one EP's worth of "woe is me, woe to you, my soul is black, so go screw" rock-electronica.

Jump ahead to 2009. The Comcast Center, once the Tweeter Center, is — as it sounds — a heavily cross-promoted venue in the "summer concert" style. This place, along with its 30 or more cookie-cutter counterparts across the country, is nested in a woodsy, off-the-beaten-path locale. It has the usual Pavilion and Lawn seating, which in 2009 means they've gone and replaced most of the Lawn with seats just like those in the Pavilion, except that the Lawn seats aren't sheltered and are taken on a first-come, first-serve basis. There is no pit in the Pavilion, no intimacy anywhere, and not really any sound in the Lawn seats, which is where the three of us are sitting.

My frame of mind is this: I never saw Jane's Addiction, but I love and have canonized the two studio albums from 20 years ago. I think Jane's absolutely rawks and have been fired up for weeks to see them. As for Nine Inch Nails, I tuned out after The Downward Spiral. Nothing I've heard since that album has particularly interested me. I consulted SR, a great old friend and longtime devotee of the band in advance of the concert: what should I buy? SR's answer, as longtime devotee of Nine Inch Nails, was (and I paraphrase) pretty much everything (except for what I could get for free on the NIN website, and isn't Trent Reznor great for doing that, and so on). In anticipation of the show, I put Jane's in heavy rotation and blew off any plans I had to cram the last dozen years of Nine Inch Nails.

Part of this is that "my soul is black" can surely be meaningful to a person in a particular state of mind, but that state of mind is necessarily ephemeral. If it's not, then you're truly in a "downward spiral," and good luck to you. My state of mind these days is that things are generally good, and if and when they're not, I don't need an over-earnest faux-artiste (yeah: you, too, Win Butler) to articulate the sentiment for me. And so I was bracing myself to be curmudgeonly and irritable when Nine Inch Nails took the stage.

Four thick paragraphs of set-up — or maybe disclaimers or explanations I think I owe to folks I know like SR who think the world of Nine Inch Nails — and only now I'm getting to the show. So be it. You don't read these posts because you crave punchy prose. Curtains up! >

Trent Reznor has filled out. He doesn't look like a starved, patchy rat anymore. He has more of a Henry Rollins-crossed-with-thickness-of-middle-age body, and his (naturally) black clothes are well-tailored and well-cut. He has a nice, neatly-coiffed head of hair. His appearance gives the impression that any presentation of onstage chaos has been blocked out and planned weeks in advance. In short, Reznor is seething with competence, rather than passion. The band is a straight four-piece, with vocals, guitar, bass and drums, but there are pianos and keyboards scattered on the stage, too. And what we get is basically a straight-ahead rock performance, with the occasional interstitial segment of electronica.

The crowd's reaction to Nine Inch Nails' performance is, I think, telling. Most everyone in the Lawn seats is carrying on a conversation during songs. This speaks to Trent's inability to hold our attention, and also to the fact that the sound isn't traveling particularly well. The sound issue is important: what distinguishes Nine Inch Nails is sound and production values, and if you want to be specific, the dual gimmicks of stop-start and quiet-loud. When, from where you're sitting, "start" and "loud" aren't all that powerful, these gimmicks falter.

A live performance by a group like Nine Inch Nails is necessarily a dicey proposition, because what "art" we can fairly attribute to Nine Inch Nails lies in the carefully manicured production, the layering of dozens of tracks, the love and attention that Trent gives to every buzz and lilt that lands on a master tape. Contrast the often gag-worthy lyrics ("I built it up now I take it apart climbed up real high now fall down real far") and the guitar hooks, which are nothing special and are generally distinctive only for their weightiness and timbre. The problem here is that the live performance with the four-piece band relies on the vocals and the hooks. Urk.

So the crowd chatters and yawns, and on those brief occasions when vox and guitar give way to a brief spasm of Nine Inch Nails-style electronica, the crowd stirs and cheers the band. Worth noting, too, that I'm apparently not the only attendee who tuned out after Spiral. Whenever Trent dips deep into his back catalogue — for, say, "Gave Up," "Piggy, "March of the Pigs, or "Wish" — the crowd's enthusiasm level surges, only to fall back again when the band returns to this century's material. And what is more, I feel this, and maybe it's a matter of perception and bias more than anything, but I really do feel it: the band itself seems to kick it up about three notches when it plays these old songs. They attack the classics full-throttle, and generally to great effect, whereas the songs in between seem (again, at least to me) to be delivered with a kind of listlessness. Strange, I think, because usually it's the reverse: usually the band is all-too-enthusiastic about its new material, and it's apparent from the soulless rendition of the "old stuff" that they find it tiresome.

I find myself increasingly aggrieved over the selection of songs from the earlier (i.e., familiar) releases. What — no "Terrible Lie?" On what basis, Trent, do you decide to exclude "Terrible Lie?" And you ransack the Broken EP, and all you can find is "Wish" and "Gave Up?" Pfft. You'd have done more justice to Broken with "Suck," or even the "(You're So) Physical" cover. These choices are troubling to me.

And now it's time to discuss the blackness and anger. Some of it is well-cast, fine-tuned, and delivered from some interesting perspective: I've always admired the cyber-alienation theme of "The Becoming," and it's no coincidence that in the entirety of the set it is this song, which documents a soul-destroying mechanization of self, that best incorporates the band's signature electronic elements into the straight-ahead rock. "It won't give up/It wants me dead/God damn this noise inside my head" is especially catchy — the closest Reznor has approached (and will approach, based on what I've seen) to "Bow down before the one you serve/You're going to get what you deserve," lyrical heights he reached, tragically, in his first single, twenty years ago.

Twenty years is a long time to be serving up this blather about Blackness, and it's an aesthetic that, for the reasons I described above, doesn't lend itself to holding the same cohort of fans over the long haul — simply because the sentiment grows wearisome over time. Your best bet, then, if you're Trent, is to pick off successive generations of rock fans as they hit the Blackness Stage of Life, then set them free thereafter. If they don't come back, as the old bromide goes, they were never yours to begin with, and you can use the ensuing feelings of betrayal and loneliness to nourish the next album's Blackness.

At some point I wish out loud that Nine Inch Nails would play its cover of "Dead Souls," and this leads into a conversation with my friend KL about Joy Division. Well, not so much a conversation, because there is live music playing, I'm monologuing, and KL, as is his practice when he goes to concerts (even though it was not really necessary here), has installed earplugs to keep his ears from ringing afterward, so he probably hears only half of what I'm saying. Joy Division is, of course, the unattainable ideal for Nine Inch Nails. If they were contemporaries, I'd use the Mozart/Salieri analogy. Joy Division had the advantages of masterful instrumentation from creatively coequal bandmates, a brilliant producer in the studio in Martin Hannett, and genuinely nihilistic and soul-destroying lyrics. Joy Division's recordings were groundbreaking in their production values, and yet when all Hannett's bells and whistles were necessarily shunted aside for the band's live performances, the band was still able to deliver the goods with an intensity, an immediacy, a desperation and menace that Nine Inch Nails can only dream of having. KL nods in agreement. I can't say for sure he's not patronizing me (he is, himself, an insufferable rock critic), but I gather from his body language that he won't be taking up Nine Inch Nails' cause against Joy Division or anyone else after this show.

There comes a point where Trent Reznor means to introduce a song that is particularly important to him. He says he locked himself away by the ocean for a period of time, ostensibly to write songs, but, he says, "what I really wanted to do was kill myself." He has clearly crafted his presentation of the story to give it maximum rhetorical kick, but given the way he said these words, I don't doubt his sincerity. Trent winds his way through the rest of the story — he only managed to write one song during this lowest period, and it was "The Fragile." Then the band plays "The Fragile," which, to me, is hardly noteworthy or compelling. Not when, ever since my rant to KL ten minutes before, I have had "Dead Souls," "Atmosphere," Side B of Closer, and "Love Will Tear Us Apart" on my mind. This isn't fair, of course: Ian Curtis did commit suicide, and those songs are the very documentation of his downward spiral, which found depths Reznor, to his credit and great benefit, didn't reach. Reason #125, then, why I'm not being fair to Nine Inch Nails in this review.

And indeed, KL told me on the phone yesterday that Nine Inch Nails shouldn't be judged against Joy Division — it should be judged against its real musical progenitors, Psychic TV and Skinny Puppy (in his view). But I'm inclined to judge Nine Inch Nails against Joy Division for two reasons: (1) the high production values of their recordings (see above), and (2) their emphasis on interior terror (see below). Most of the "scary" acts in rock serve up a theatrical kind of "scary": Sabbath sings about the Devil; Gene Simmons spits blood; Alice Cooper is, well, Alice Cooper. Bauhaus, too, pointed to objects, images, legends in its efforts to frighten. The theatricality of metal and Goth is enjoyable. It's a horror show: if you're at all scared, you're scared smiling.

By contrast, Joy Division is the only band I can think of that is well and truly terrifying. I'm actually afraid of what could happen to me if I listen to them too much. If a child of mine got into Joy Division as a teenager, I would confiscate the recordings. And if you know me, that says something. What makes Joy Division so terrifying is that the terror is achieved by introspection. Joy Division doesn't point to something awful: it creates it. Ian Curtis found it in himself and committed it to tape, and the musical fit — the mood, the atmosphere — that his friends and bandmates provided for Curtis's lyrical compositions was uncanny. Nine Inch Nails has chosen to swear off Goth-style theatricality in favor of Joy Division-style interior terror. That's a very ambitious choice, and good for Trent for making it. After all, anybody can put on eye liner and bite a fake-blood capsule. The problem is that this higher prize is very, very hard to attain, and I don't think Trent Reznor has enough going for him to get there.

This is my very, very long way of saying that Nine Inch Nails did not move me. Not like they did when I was twenty years old in a general-admission pit in Cleveland, when the band was fronted by a mangy, probably strung-out industrial rocker clawing desperately at a living. Not like they did before he set forth his mission statement, which is to be 21st century America's Joy Division — as if that is even possible in this time and place, and for a one-man auteur who apparently has it together enough to book a tour of the nation's built-for-Buffett Comcast Center venues alongside Jane's Addiction. Nine Inch Nails has recorded some terrific songs. They should not try to be the band they're trying to be, because it's not working.

Jane's Addiction in the next post.

Friday, June 05, 2009

David Carradine

Okay, I can understand how a man might end up now and then practicing more extreme forms of self-stimulation. But the shocking part of the David Carradine story, for me, is that this guy was masturbating alone in his hotel room in Bangkok, Thailand! 

Isn't that like going to Paris and eating a sandwich you brought with you? Or going to New York City and saying "Forget Broadway, I'll just watch some old Seinfeld reruns at the hotel." Seriously, was he thinking "Hey, I'm really horny, but what are the chances I can score in this town, maybe I'll just take care of it myself"? Baffling.

"Questions Raised Over Plane Debris"

Okay, so the WSJ says that the large oil slick and floating debris the Brazilian navy found 300 miles of the Brazilian coast is not from the missing Airbus. So what the heck else sank or blew up out there leaving a large oil slick and a bunch of floating debris?

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Bill Kills Bill

There's going out by way of what is, quite simply, the deadliest blow in all of martial arts — to the climactic music of Ennio Morricone . . .

. . . and then there's hanging yourself in your Bangkok hotel room.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Global Warming Caused by Racism

You're joking, right?

Yeah, you caught me. Racism doesn't cause global warming. It just makes people fat. At least that's what a new study by Boston University researchers claims.

There are several unassailable truths in the world, and among those are:
  • Racism exists and can have serious consequences
  • Social scientists publish studies overstating the impact of racism
  • Journalists write articles about these studies overstating the studies' own conclusions
Now, of course, not all of these axioms hold true all of the time. Not everyone is a racist (at least not all the time); sometimes a study employs sound methodologies, the data are fairly presented, and the stated conclusions are appropriate; and sometimes journalists get it right. But let's take a look and see how the scientists did on this one. And the point is not to pick apart the study over irrelevant details. Real science is imperfect, after all. We're just trying to see if the conclusions are way out of line with what the data suggest.
  • First, let's examine the proposed correlation between perceived racism and increased weight gain. As far as I can tell (and one always has to trust the authors a bit), the statistical analysis is sound. The ordinal trends appear to be statistically significant for "everyday" racism. But the 95% confidence intervals for the highest and lowest quartiles do overlap and the "lifetime" racism trends were insignificant for each Body Mass Index group. So there does appears to be some correlation for "everyday" racism, but the evidence is far from overwhelming.

  • Second, lets tackle the ubiquitous "correlation vs. causation" issue. E.g., did CNN liken the black woman to a turtle because she's obese; or is the black woman obese because CNN likened her to a turtle?

    Seriously, one of the good things the researchers did is to make this a prospective study and get temporal correlation the right way. But that does not give us causation. There still could be a (very plausible) confounding variable.

    The data only concern "perceptions" of racism. It's possible that "perceptions" of racism do contribute to stress that, in turn, adds to weight gain. But this doesn't stop the authors from boldly declaring in their conclusions that "weight gain increased as levels of everyday and lifetime racism increased" and "experiences of racism may contribute to the excess
    burden of obesity in U.S. black women." These pronouncements despite the fact that there were no data about actual experiences of racism, just perception. It may be that the increase in perception of racism was attributable to increased levels in actual racism. But might women who are more insecure or willing to blame others for their problems be more likely to perceive racism and be less responsible about their health? Of course, this isn't the conclusion those of raised with bleeding hearts want to hear. It might not be true, but it's at least as plausible as "perceived racism makes people fat." Let's not bend the science towards our pre-conceived conclusion.

  • Finally — and this is the big one — suppose you believe there is a correlation, that perceptions of racism translate directly to actual incidence of racism, and that the causality is correct, in that increased racism causes an increase in weight gain. The lowest quartile of study subject for "everyday racism" gained 11.2 pound, and the highest quartile gained 12.5 pounds. That means a baseline gain of 11.2 pounds and an extra 1.3 pounds gained from the lowest to highest quartile. There's a bit of wiggle room here for extrapolating this result to lower levels of racism beyond what anyone in the study experienced — but far better to add some white women to the study for that.

    But there's not even any wiggle room with "lifetime racism." Those who answered no to all the "lifetime racism" questions gained 11.6 pounds compared with 12.6 pounds for those who answered yes to all of these questions. In this case we can say that a typical study subject who suffered no "lifetime racism" would gain 11.6 pounds — whereas a subject who experienced the highest level of "lifetime racism" would gain one extra pound. That means only 1 out of 12.6 pound gained is attributable to racism! And that's if you swallow all the assumptions and analysis wholesale (which, as you might have guessed, this author doesn't).

Now, surprisingly, the journalists actually did OK on this one. Sure, there's the usual selection bias in promoting this story prominently over other issues. So they fail by putting the race story on the front page, because "race sells." But at least the Globe's headline, "Perceived Racism Linked to Weight Gain," more accurately states what can be fairly concluded from the data than the authors' own claim, which overlooked the gap between perceived and actual. Usually the journalists take a point made by scientists and blow it out of proportion; so let's give some credit to the journalists who actually rein in the scientists . . .

Actual racism exists. But its real, pernicious effects can be drowned out by the absurd headlines about "scientific" studies blaming it for all of society's ills. This author sympathizes, but so far his few experiences with racism — when the waiters at a certain 55th street establishment don't come by to ask him if he needs anything else — actually make him thinner.

The Korean Central News Agency: Catch the Fever!

Yeah, sure: the Iraqi Information Minister had his moment in the sun (or was that tracer fire?). But if there is one enduring can't-miss source of government propaganda, it has to be the Korean Central News Agency.

As the principal mouthpiece of North Korea's Communist regime, KCNA — not to be confused with KCNA The Drive 102.7 FM, "Rockin' hits of the 70s, 80s, and more!" (you won't find "Slow Ride" by Foghat here) — reports daily on developments in North Korea. For example, here's coverage of Kim Jong-Il's "forced march" to visit a fertilizer plant: "forced march" here meaning, apparently, "Oh, crap, it's the fertilizer plant today? Fine. Yeah. Fine. Girls — wait for me. Pull the goddam Mercedes around, and let's get this over with."

And of course, KCNA delives the odd bit of revolutionary commentary, too, which we can assume spins wildly out of Kim's head while he tucks into lobster with silver chopsticks and plans a cross-border raid to mass-abduct the South Korean film industry.

Consider the genius of "Puppet Authorities' Fascist Repressive Actions Flayed in S. Korea," or "Ex-Prime Minister Abe's Outbursts Flayed." That's two flayings on May 27 alone. I defy the West's august publications — The Times, The Guardian — to keep pace with KCNA's flay-rate. And there's quality here, too, as well as quantity. Something about that Old-Timey Revolution Talk just brings a smile to my face and a flush of "red" to my cheek. Let's take a closer look at the Abe-flaying:
Ex-Prime Minister Abe, an icon of Japan's ultra-right conservatives, went off political spasm again.

He recently underscored again the "need" to adjust the legislation for attacking the missile base of the DPRK.

This is nothing but despicable anti-DPRK rhetoric let loose by a militarist maniac almost every day, keen on the hostile moves against the DPRK.

Awesome. And hard-hitting, too. Take that, Limbaugh, you pussy. You spastic right-wing reactionary fascist maniac. Oh, no, wait. That sounds about right. Abandon sarcasm . . !

[Deep breath. Sarcasm resumed:]

And indeed, if it's inspiration that you seek — but you'd be content with bemusement — take a proper gander (pun absolutely intended) at "Two Big and Small Brick-carrying Frames," which tells the story of a young Kim Jong-Il rolling up his sleeves to make a token contribution to the construction of Pyongyang University of Technology ("PyongTech") some sixty years ago.

Maybe if some of you capitalist dogs had the commitment to industrial development that Kim displayed so many years ago — that is, if you could be bothered to get off frickin' Facebook for a minute and carry a brick frame yourselves — well, maybe we'd still have a domestic automobile industry here in America. Think about it, and get back to me. In the meantime, I'll be accepting an unspecified gift from the Nigerien president. (C'mon, KCNA: tell us what they gave him! I'm guessing it was a dildo. They always try to paper over the dildos.)

Readers, consider yourselves "flayed."

Monday, June 01, 2009

Tallying Them Up

Okay, let's add them up: as taxpayers we now own GM, Chrysler, AIG, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, a big chunk of Bank of America, and bits and pieces of a handful of other big banks who are trying to give Uncle Sam his money back ASAP (JP Morgan, Goldman, Morgan Stanley, et al.)

I didn't expect to end up here - and it's crazy how fast it all happened.

Successful Unionized American Industries

 Andrew Ross Sorkin quotes Jack Welch asking, "Give me a highly successful, unionized American industry." Someone in the comments comes up with aerospace, which is a good one, except it's pretty idiosyncratic and doesn't make you say "Yeah, unions and success in business really can go together."

The always-interesting Eddy Elfenbein suggests Hollywood, and pro sports. I wouldn't have thought of those, but they're certainly true. Of course, they're also even less likely to make you think "Yeah, unions and success in business really can go together." So I'm still thinking about this question and what it means.

Michael Caine . . .

. . . is a badass.

That is all.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Magic 103, Cavs 90

Okay, maybe the NBA playoffs aren't fixed.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

California Court Splits the Baby

No, not an abortion case — post title notwithstanding — but the other issue that brings judge-haters into a froth: same-sex marriage.

Earlier today the California Supreme Court upheld the validity of a constitutional amendment that specifically overruled the Court's earlier decision that the state constitution required the government to allow same-sex marriage. Same-sex couples get civil unions in California, but they can't marry. The amendment, like many lousy ideas in California, made its way into law by ballot initiative. This is significant because same-sex marriage is classically a matter of minority rights. If a majority of people had favored extending the right to marry to same-sex couples, the Court likely (I say likely, because even in California there is representative government, such that not all these matters are resolved by popular plebiscite) would not have had to intervene in the first place. And that's the whole point of having a court decide matters of minority rights.


Now of course, as I observed in an earlier post, it takes some modest amount of effort to pass a constitution-amending ballot initiative in California. It's not a simple matter of submitting the question to a majority vote: the measure has to pass with a 2/3 majority in both houses of the state legislature.

This additional requirement — and the California Court's endorsement of an admittedly discriminatory (in their own view) provision of law on the ground that the provision's ratification fully complied with it — means that the equal protection constitutionally due to political minorities in California can't be blithely pushed aside by political majorities. Rather, the political majority has to really want to reject and destroy that equal protection. And in that case, so long as the majority crosses its procedural t's, dots its electoral i's, and runs its bigoted television ads in the appropriate media markets, constitutional process can trump substance, and the minority's rights disappear.

But hey: easy come, easy go, right?

Really though: what gives? Justices who rejected preexisting legal impediments as discriminatory find no constitutional problem when the same oppositional forces organize to raise further impediments. What changed their minds? Were they well and truly convinced that Proposition 8 worked a constitutional amendment, rather than a revision?

I've often said (usually 100 comments deep into some blog post on that courts have to stay ahead of the people on questions of minority rights, or else they, and the constitutions they vindicate, lose their relevance. On the other hand, they cannot press too far ahead, either, or they trigger a backlash — replete with the usual charges of "activist" judging and of "making law" — that threatens their legitimacy. Courts do not, after all, wear the pants in the government family. Their funding is at the mercy of the other branches, one of which employs the Fellows with the Guns. They rely on affable compliance from the agencies charged with enforcing their interpretations of law. In this respect our separation of powers, among other constitutional values, is a castle built on air. Judges know that if they push too hard, if could provoke defiance from the executive branches. The whole edifice collapses, and we're suddenly living in Zimbabwe.

(We all must rely, too, on the good sportsmanship of the Fellows with the Guns. This, to me, is why, whatever you think of George W. Bush, it was Brother Jeb in Florida who mounted more of a threat to our constitutional system. President Bush swallowed the constitutional medicine given him by Supreme Court justices who rejected certain of his anti-terror policies. Governor Bush sent troopers to stop the court-ordered removal of Terri Schiavo's feeding tube.)

This is one of those cases where the Court, having taken one giant step forward for Constitutional Relevance, takes a step backward to defend the Constitutional Castle. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court beat a similar defensive retreat when, after ruling in favor of same-sex marriage and then emphatically rejecting the legislature's compromise proposal of civil unions, it rejected the bids of nonresident couples to solemnize their unions within the Commonwealth. Both rulings were, at their core, tactical decisions, made without regard to consistency or correctness. It simply defies logic to suggest that a constitution should protect a minority against the political whim of a legislature or plebiscite, but the same oppressive law is tolerable if the popular will is so concerted against that minority that both the legislature and the people, by popular vote, approve it.

But hey, a Court has to cover its ass, too.

In short, this is just the sort of decision that prudent jurists (and you don't get within sniffing distance of any high court bench unless you carry prudence in spades) will make to disperse the horde of right-wing psychopaths gathering outside the courthouse with their torches and pitchforks. Forty years ago, this Court might have held differently, but by now the political culture is so up in arms over "judicial activism" that judges see a real threat to their legitimacy in doing what's right. At worst, then, this decision attests to the power of judge-hating mobs to cow judges into voting their way. At best, the decision reflects a determination to protect the long-term legitimacy of the judiciary, even if common sense, basic principles of constitutional law, and the rights of thousands of loving couples are sacrificed.

In the end, I guess I'm writing to explain what the California Court did today, even though I can't excuse it. The Court split the baby — each side gets a decision in its favor — and the result was that a newborn right to marry died at its hand.