Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Masthead Archive: March 31, 2009


Monday, March 30, 2009

FO News Roundup: March 30, 2009

In like a lion, out like a lion. That's how we treat March at FO. Presently:
  • Some Catholic priest in Michigan is all pissed off because the Tigers have a day game on Good Friday, and according to "[t]raditional Christian belief," Jesus was on the cross "from noon to 3 p.m." But that was Golgotha Standard Time, not Eastern. So I don't see what the big deal is. (P)
  • We used to have Earth Day. Now we have Earth Hour. Are the environmentalists scaling back their ambitions? (P)
  • "Why are we suddenly having an explosion in guys asking for vasectomies?" Uh, maybe because they're steeling their nerves with Pop Rocks and Coke? [cymbal crash] (P)
  • Not just vasectomies, but sleeping pills are hip, too, these days. As in, "wake me up when the recession is over . . ." (P)
  • "Whoa there, what's your hurry? Dying family member. Right. Like I haven't heard that one before." (P)
  • From the "I Always Thought He Was Creepy Department": the ShamWow Guy beat up a prostitute. His defense: she bit his tongue. (P)
  • Nice to see the Arab community can put aside its differences and stand as one against a genocidaire and orchestrator of mass rape. Oh, no, wait: they're defending Bashir? Pfft. (P)
  • The North Korean government wants to prosecute two American journalists with entering the country illegally. This gives me occasion to wonder: what's the difference between being in and out of prison, in North Korea? (P)

Unusual Foreign Customs

One of the great joys of traveling is discovering how people in foreign cultures do things differently. Sometimes it's things you've never thought about before since everyone does it that way at home, and the fact that things are different elsewhere really causes you to think about what assumptions are built in to your culture's traditions.

In Egypt, for example, it's customary for people who are having a conversation to stand very, very close to each other, almost touching. In some Asian countries, it's polite to leave your host's house right after dinner because if you stick around he might think you hadn't been fed enough. In Persia, when someone offers you a gift you're not supposed to accept it right away.

And I learned last night that in Staten Fucking Island, when some guy in a Hummer makes a right turn from the left lane right in front of you forcing you to jam on the brakes in order to avoid a collision, if you honk your horn at him, that makes you the asshole.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Masthead Archive: March 29, 2009


Endangered? Hardly.

"American Identity" Politics

Michelle Bachmann really got under my skin with her dollar-mongering constitutional amendment. I know I should just laugh it off as stupid and inane, then move on, but it's still bugging me, and I'd like to know why. So I've spent a day or so working through my thoughts, and this is what I've come up with:
We've all heard the phrase "identity politics" thrown around a lot — generally as conservatives (see, e.g., here, here and here) fault liberals for what they regard as strategic exploitation of a voter's identification with an historically disempowered minority group. Yeah, fine — certainly cynical, probably divisive. I don't think I like it.

But I think it's time right now to spend some time talking tough about a preferred tactic of the right, which is — to coin a term, right here at FO — "American identity" politics. Note the placement of the quote marks, for purposes of clarity: I'm talking about the "politics" of "American identity," and not an "American" brand of "identity politics." When I speak of AIP, I am referring to the poisonous practice by which folks like Michelle Bachmann endeavor to construct and promote a particularized American identity for purely political purposes — usually to score political points against an opponent by casting his/her policies (or, very often, the opponent personally) as a threat to some enduring "American" value or symbol:

It's not enough that Barack Obama is trying to turn us into EUROPE with his socialist budget and his plan for a National Health Service — he's making plans to get rid of the U.S. DOLLAR!

I regard this kind of politics as lousy and poisonous for a number of reasons. First and foremost, our public officials should not subordinate practical, tangible concerns like economic policy to an abstract proposition like the preservation of an "American identity." Policies should be assessed and judged on their merits: will they make the nation stronger? Its people safer? Better off? If a global supercurrency for national reserves would, on the whole, have the practical effect of improving the lot of the American people (and I must confess that I have no clue whether or not it would), we should not let concerns like Bachmann's — that the dollar is an American institution, and to turn away from it would be profoundly un-American — color our judgment. When confronted with a policy question, we should look for the right answer, not the American answer. Indeed, I should have thought that it was experimentation and risk-taking, trial-and-error and utilitarian "cleverness" that made America great, such that it would be most "American" to chase the "right" answer after all.

And with that last bit of rhetorical prestidigitation I've illustrated my second point: anyone's construction of what is "American" is always going to be self-serving. The Christian right declares that "America is a Christian nation." Go figure. We're told by an opponent of the TARP plan that bailouts are "un-American," apparently because they're a form of "socialism." If small-town folk rally to your cause and big-city folk jeer and fear you, then surely it's the small-town folk who are the "real Americans." It's all too easy, isn't it, to gerrymander a space and plant an American flag in it?

Anyone with half a brain knows that America is far too complex and multifaceted a place to submit to these reductive descriptions. I'm living the American Dream without a white picket fence. Henry James and Thomas Pynchon have written The Great American Novel.

Third, "American identity" politics is at least as divisive as straight-up identity politics, if in a different way. It doesn't appeal — not directly, at least — to considerations of race, ethnicity, or gender. But the cynical invocation of "American-ness" to add argumentative weight to one's position or policy preference has the effect of treating anyone who disagrees as by definition un-American — and often, anti-American. Although you may have had the groundwork in place for a vigorous, possibly insightful policy debate — or maybe you didn't, and that's the problem — you've chosen instead to pick a snit-fight. Then the left blunders back with its "Special Comments" and DISSENT IS AMERICAN bumper stickers, and all hope of a constructive debate on the underlying policy issue is lost.

Of course, the master practitioners of AIP aren't fighting issue battles: they're manufacturing issues and trumping up threats to our jointly-revered "American-ness" to bring the fight to their opponents. Michelle Bachmann wasn't even playing the "American" card to support more serious and principled concerns about the supercurrency proposition: she only saw an occasion to develop her thesis that Barack Obama is anti-American, that he'll destroy America As We Know And Treasure It. So much the worse.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Toker-in-Chief Should Know Better

I expected more. But maybe that's my problem.

Reasoned arguments are coming from everywhere — from Kathleen Parker to The Economist to Steven Levitt of the University of Chicago and Freakonomics fame — to end, or at least consider ending, the counterproductive War on Drugs. After eight years of a President glibly dismissing reasoned arguments out of hand, we now have — wait for it — a President glibly dismissing reasoned arguments out of hand.
Yes, I know there are political considerations. Yes, I know any sort of legalization or decriminalization faces an uphill battle on Capitol Hill. It's way too reasonable a solution for the sound-bite monkeys in Congress to support.

But don't just kill the conversation. Even better, use your power and prominence to give credibility to the anti-war crowd. It would make a difference.

Bill Clinton smoked pot and half-admitted it. George W. Bush did all sorts of crazy stuff (who really knows what?) and admitted to nothing. Barack Obama did cocaine and wrote about it. Aren't we at the point where we can talk about this?

A Visit to the Museum of Modern Art

A one-sentence review of the Museum of Modern Art's special exhibition, Into the Sunset: Photography's Image of the American West:

I was expecting more cowboys and fewer transvestites.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Justice for all, not just some

Uh oh.  It looks like someone has a problem with the union.  That's right, the Union of Union Representatives is picketing the SEIU and filing unfair labor practice charges because 75 organizers were laid off.

But the SEIU was just restructuring their labor force to be more efficient and productive and the protesters' complaints are without merit!

I kid you not....  This is almost as good as when ACORN was sued for paying its workers less than minimum wage.  I've had my dose of irony for today.

Hat tip: Tigerhawk.

Badasses of Songdom: Triangle Man v. Bungalow Bill

Some time ago here at FO, Triangle Man picked a fight with Universe Man. If you recall (and judging from the analytics, you won't), Triangle Man won that bout on points, in a nailbiter. That made Triangle Man undisputed champion of his own song, and he's been riding high and itching for another fight ever since. Message bricks through my window, toilet paper in the shrubbery, the whole nine yards.

So in this post I have the pleasure of announcing — only slightly under duress — Feigned Outrage's Badasses of Songdom Series. Triangle Man's opponent today? That All-American, bullet-headed Saxon mother's son of Beatles lore: Bungalow Bill.
As you know, Bill's a Nimrod-the-Hunter type. Probably more nimrod than hunter, but don't underestimate him. Bill brings an elephant and blunderbuss with him to this fight . . . and a bit of chip on his shoulder after that incident with Captain Marvel. And Triangle Man has agreed to stage today's combat deep in the jungle: that is, right in Bill's comfort zone.

On the other hand, Triangle Man is a cold-blooded, hateful, feisty son of a bitch with three equally sharp corners (he's gone equilateral today), and he's been working out.

So let's get things started, shall we?

Taking a cue from Captain Marvel, Triangle Man has receded into the shadows. He has the advantage of stealth, whereas Bill is plodding around in the trees with a frickin' elephant. A surprise attack is surely in order . . . "AHA!" Triangle Man cries, swinging through the air on a vine (he hasn't perfected the Tarzan yell). But wait! There's the elephant, but where's Bill?

"Right behind you, Tiger."

A trap! Well played, Bungalow Bill! Triangle Man has to think fast. He has done his research. He knows Bill has proved susceptible to moral confusion in the past. Pinned down between the roots of a giant kapok tree, staring down the barrel of Bill's gun, Triangle Man plays his ace: "Is it not a sin, Bill, to shoot down a geometric figure in cold blood?"

Fierce-faced Bill lowers his gun. He is angry: Triangle Man challenged him to this fight, then skipped away like a rabbit. Now that he's been caught, he's trying the emotional appeal. Unfair, he decides. And hardly sporting! "MUMMY!" he shouts.

"I'm here," Bill's mother says, stepping blithely out from where she had been crouched, behind a termite's nest. "And for cryin' out loud, Billy: you call me 'mama.' I didn't raise no mummy's boy Inglishman. Now I seen the way this-here Triangle Fella been treatin' you and it ain't right." Bungalow Bill's mother glares at Triangle Man. I mean, she really glares at him. Let me put it this way: if looks could kill, it would have been Triangle Man lying at the base of the fateful kapok tree, vanquished.

But looks don't kill, do they? And so instead it's Bill, his mother, and his elephant down on the ground nursing puncture wounds, and it's Triangle Man standing over them all, wiping off his three corners with a Purell-soaked handkerchief and taunting his fallen foe in song:

Triangle Man, Triangle Man. Triangle Man hates Bungalow Bill. They have a fight. Hey, Bungalow Bill: what did you kill? Nobody. Triangle wins. TRIANGLE MAN.

See you next week.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Bachmann-Geithner Overdrive

If you aren't closely following Michelle Bachmann's political career, you're missing great comedy. (Think Sarah Palin, crossed with Glenn Close from Fatal Attraction.) Ms. Bachmann (R-MN), seen here in "Hiya Sailor" mode with President Bush, and here calling for an inquiry into anti-American sentiment in the United States Congress, proposed an amendment to the U.S. Constitution yesterday. That amendment provides:

The President may not enter into a treaty or other international agreement that would provide for the United States to adopt as legal tender in the United States a currency issued by an entity other than the United States.

This in response to testimony over the past few days from Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, who apparently did not react emphatically enough to the suggestion of a Chinese treasury official that the international community adopt a global "supercurrency" for reserves. Bachmann doesn't think Geithner gives a damn about a Greenback Dollar, so she proposes that we amend the Constitution to calm her nerves.

(You see, as we've noted before, the Framers of the Constitution, in their considerable wisdom, withheld from the House of Representatives any role in negotiating (the Executive's job) or ratifying (the Senate's) treaties. So this was Bachmann's only angle: the "nuclear option," to be sure, but the circumstances clearly call for it. By tomorrow we all could be speaking Chinese.)

Putting aside the question whether we should treat our currency as a point of cultural pride alongside, say, fried chicken, a man on the moon, or the cure for polio — all right, all right: I didn't really put that question aside — is the dollar really in such great immediate danger? The answer is no. And that makes Bachmann either completely off her rocker in her assessment of the situation or cynically determined to misassess the situation to Americans with her treatment of it. I.e., either she's really stupid, or she's evil and manipulative and thinks we're all really stupid.

Do I have to choose?

Oh, and see also George Packer's recent commentary in The New Yorker about paranoia and populism in politics. On point, and good stuff.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Recruiting Hijinks

I'm in the middle of the recruiting process right now, trying to fill an open position at the firm. I've gotten a handful of resumes that have completely inappropriate email addresses on them, and I'm pretty surprised by that. I completely understand people who don't want to use their current work email address for job hunting, but if your personal email address is thecatwoman@hotmail.com or superboner@yahoo.com, you really ought to take five minutes to set up a more bland jim.v.smith@gmail.com, or something. Assuming you really want to work in a professional setting, and aren't tanking your apps deliberately because your unemployment caseworker is making you look for work against your wishes.

FO News Roundup: March 25, 2009

  • Next time you catch every red light on the way to work, think about the guy who managed to get hit by two atomic bombs. Let it never be said we aren't enriching your life. (P)
  • Reason #507 not to join the U.S. military: between me and the colonoscopy, I want to be the one that does the contaminating. (P)
  • I'm no economist, so can someone please explain to me why people hoard gold bullion in hard times? You can't eat it, and you can't make anything particularly useful out of it. (P)
  • Secularism on the march in Europe: man jailed for praying . . . when he should have been flying the airplane. (P)
  • The world comes full circle as former communist countries reject state intervention in the economy and the capitalist West stimulates its way to "Hell". (M)
  • Hold that thought. Thirty percent of Hungarians receive pensions and do not work thanks to a mentality of state dependence left over from Communism. The resulting economic crisis there poses a threat to Eastern (and the rest of) Europe. So where were we? (M)

Monday, March 23, 2009

Today's Fun Google Search

jindal mt. redoubt

I was gonna write a post about this, but the Internet is so damned fast . . .

Bobby Jindal

AIG: Enough Already!

A week has passed since the AIG bonus story broke, and we're all miraculously still alive. There have been no piano-wire executions or Japanese-style honor suicides. Oh, sure: Everyman's Hero Senator Grassley actually spoke the words "sucking the tit of the taxpayer" into an open microphone (Teat, Chuck. Teat is the word you wanted. You come from Iowa and I need to tell you this?), and the extreme circumstances apparently turned "tightening of sphincters" into a metaphor suitable for the House floor. Stunningly, a sitting United States President fell on his sword over the "scandal". Somewhere, just over the horizon, four dark men have mounted black horses.
Oh, but there was more: AIG's CEO Edward Liddy made a "don't ask/ don't tell" argument to Barney Frank, who didn't to my knowledge used the word un-American, but in almost every other respect cut quite the Joe McCarthy figure in Banking Committee hearings. The President clearly had to fight hard not to opine on the constitutionality of the "we hate these people: let's tax them" legislation that cleared the House with bipartisan support. Bipartisan support? Really? The black horses are in full gallop and on the move . . .

And then there's the $165 million question (asked in two parts, at $82.5 MM each): What did Treasury Secretary Geithner know about the bonuses, and when did he know it? That's a fair question, after all, since (1) the bonus payments were agreed under the previous Administration, (2) under even older compensation contracts to which the government was not a party, and (3) the skeleton crew currently in place at Treasury is more than sufficient to review the flowdown of the hundreds of billions of dollars in TARP money that Geithner is charged with distributing. Q. What's the fastest way to get the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse to leave town? A. Offer them deputy positions at the Department of the Treasury.

In short, the brouhaha and hullaballoo over these bonus payments is getting to be at bit much. And by "bit" I mean "a hell of a lot." I hate to quote Charles Krauthammer, but $165 million is CC Sabathia's Yankees contract: it isn't all that much in the big picture. And it's a bit rich for folks in Congress, of all people, to get all sanctimonious over this piddling amount — that last omnibus spending bill alone had 45 times that in earmarks, and 15 different Senators did more pet-project damage on that bill than AIG did with its bonus distributions.

But Phutatorius, those earmarks add value to local communities, and in many cases they advance important federal priorities, including jobmaking.

Fair enough, Brother/Sister: it is important to consider what we're getting for our money. But just as an earmark isn't necessarily a waste of money, a bonus payment to an AIG executive isn't necessarily a reward for lousy work. Take, for example, Gerry Pasciucco, whom Liddy brought in to clean up the mess. Pasciucco had nothing to do with the trainwreck in AIG's Financial Products division, and from what I read, he's doing yeoman's work, and doing it well. I wouldn't begrudge a fat bonus paid to Pasciucco: he's serving his company's interest, and the taxpayer's. But in the present climate, folks would rather discuss the apparent irony of him showing up at a garden party in a Che Guevara T-shirt. Pasciucco credits Douglas Poling, who received the largest of the bonuses at $6.4 million, with presiding over AIG's selloff of 80% of the Financial Products unit's bad assets. The proceeds of those sales will be returned to the government. An "outstanding job," Pasciucco says, but just try to tell that to the folks gathered outside of Poling's house with torches and pitchforks.

In a comment to WC Redneck's post on this last week, I wrote that I did not understand the compensation culture on Wall Street — or, for that matter, the tin ear for PR matters — that caused these bonuses to be paid, given the circumstances. But I was willing to listen. By the time this story reached its fullest flower later in the week, I was so turned off by the Congressional scoldings and media effusions of outrage that I find myself casting about for any reason to defend AIG. I may be an exception to the rule, but I'm sorry: this sort of populism doesn't work for me, especially when it's practiced by a bunch of dissipated, self-centered hacks who think acronym-riffing like "Arrogance, Incompetence, and Greed" passes for wit.

Populism in any form is unbecoming and unconstructive. I don't like it when it targets Communists, gays, and immigrants, and I don't like this kind, either. Can't we just drop all the posturing and anger and get on with fixing the economy?


Tell me if any of this sounds familiar:
  • Palestinians desperate to get back the homeland that was taken from them despite being overwhelmingly out-armed by their enemies;
  • Arms smuggled in to Palestine with humanitarian aid and the help and support of the bulk of the people, making it impossible for the occupier to stop the flow without choking off the population — and the Palestinians openly exploiting the humanity of the occupier;
  • Palestinians bitterly split between one group that wants restraint and negotiation and another that favors terror and no compromise;
  • Palestinians willing to sacrifice children for their cause;
  • Europeans taking to the streets to protest the treatment of Palestinians;
  • Palestinians unfairly comparing their adversaries to Hitler;
  • Children growing up in refugee camps, hardened to the outside world;
  • The Western power with the most influence in Palestine accused of favoring the wealthy and powerful over the oppressed;
  • Palestinian terrorists bombing hotels and killing innocents;
  • The occupier believing they are held to the strictest rules of engagement while the Palestinians obey no rules at all;
  • Attacks by the occupier backfiring and uniting the various Palestinian groups;
  • A proposed homeland comprised of just a couple of strips connected by narrow corridors.

In Leon Uris' Exodus, however, "Palestinian" refers to the Jews in Palestine struggling to create a homeland. Yes, it's 50 years old, and yes, I was inspired to read it by a TV show on a network I should be boycotting. Yes, the characters are inevitably overly courageous, overly good, overly evil, overly something. No, Leon Uris is never going to top any list of great literature. But who says we have to spend every minute reading great literature when we can just read great stories, instead?

The fact that the book is 50 years old can shed some light. With all the revisionist history out there, it's almost impossible to get a present-day account of the creation of Israel that's worth the protest page it's spouted on.

Exodus is good stuff and still pretty damn relevant. It's certainly written from one side's perspective, but find me an Israel-hater who can still say with certainty, after reading this book, that these people have no right to their homeland; find me an Israel-supporter who, after reading this book, doesn't sympathize a bit with Palestinians growing up in refugee camps and acknowledge this people's right to a homeland.

It's hard to believe some of it, considering all the acrimony out there, but the story from the early part of the twentieth century is of Jews and Arabs living in the same or neighboring villages in relative peace. (Well, except for the occasional riot and rampage.)

And then there's this probably true, but morally horrifying justification for the actions of the Palestinian terrorists:
Nothing we do, right or wrong, can ever compare to what has been done to the Jewish people. Nothing the Maccabes do can even be considered an injustice in comparison to two thousand years of murder.
It gets right to the heart of the matter, doesn't it? Hardened refugees with a history of victimization believing that any action is therefore justified. There's no way to do justice to the Arab-Israeli conflict in a novel (let alone a single blog post), but the exercise of going back in time half a century is good for some perspective. It's great drama, anyway. And the "Palestinians" get their homeland!

Words Never Used on Twitter


Rich Galen, noting the archaic usage of the word "benighted" in a New York Times editorial, suggests that it's probably a word that's never appeared on Twitter. I'd guess he's right - I wonder what other perfectly good English words have never made the leap to Twitter?

Sunday, March 22, 2009

FO News Roundup: March 23, 2009

  • News Flash: one trillion-dollar war of convenience and a pet prescription drug benefit later, Republicans suddenly have grave concerns about the national debt. (P)
  • After a 7.5-year courtship, Harrison Ford finally proposed to Callista Flockhart. No word yet whether the wedding vows will incorporate Han Solo's garbage-compactor "we're all gonna be a lot thinner" guarantee. (P)
  • A 9-foot, plant-eating "dryosaurus" skeleton, offered for auction at this point in the downturn? It would be news if it HAD sold. (P)
  • Yeah, yeah, wah wah, this company is evil. But are we really at the point where we need to picket the homes of AIG's executives? (P)
  • CNET News sez, "Google Street View, bring back the vomiting Brit." (P)
  • No longer in charge of the federal government, faithful Texans are still trying to set science back by forcing creationist nonsense into one of the largest textbook markets in the country. (M)
  • Obama Tears Dick New Asshole. If there's a more polite way to describe the President's shredding of the former Vice President on 60 minutes I'm not aware of it. (M)

Masthead Archive: March 22, 2009


Happy First Days of Spring!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

The iPod Archaeologist — Pulp: His 'n' Hers

With the arrival of my new iPod ten days ago, I'm once again able to carry around my full iTunes Library.  I'm closing in on 41 GB now — and I've recommitted to digging around on the drive to find old favorite LPs.

Today's feature is Pulp's 1994 issue, His 'n' Hers.

Two Alsatian brothers (not Seven Chinese Brothers, or one Alsatian Cousin, mind you) turned me on to Pulp in the summer of '95.  I met les freres Schaffhauser in a youth hostel in London a month or two after graduation.  These two were quite excited to be in England; like me, they were big fans of British music.  We compared notes, and in due course we went out in search of rock clubs to visit.  This didn't go well: we weren't tuned in well to the London scene, and we lost the better part of an evening watching an appallingly misdirected band, the aesthetic of which, as best I can reconstruct years later, somehow managed to incorporate the least appealing elements of Def Leppard, Stryper, and Cornershop into a single, stunningly bad stage act. Try as we might, we couldn't look away.  
The upside of meeting up with the Schaffhausers, other than great company, was that they gave me a tour of Paris before I caught my flight back Stateside — and a month later I received from them a stack of cassettes loaded with music they thought I might like.  His 'n' Hers was on one of them.  The brothers had talked up Pulp all the way through the Channel Tunnel.  I dropped the Pulp cassette into the tape deck of the Sony component sound system and  gave it a shot. At the time I was living in the tiny partioned-off third bedroom of a "flex 3" apartment with V'torix and M'dates in Uptown Manhattan — I was fresh out of school with no clue about a career (some things are constant), I was working miserable hours for shit pay, and my girlfriend and I were on the outs.

Needless to say, Pulp hit the spot. Thirteen+ years later, with a lot of my immediate post-grad issues finally resolved — housing situation upgraded, Girlfriend come around: she's now my Wife — this album still holds up. The band's sound is distinctive, notwithstanding the efforts of the Killers, the Bravery et al.; the song stylings are varied and interesting, ranging from techno to straight-ahead rock to show tunes and ballads; and, of course, there's Jarvis Cocker, with his crack-up lyrics and camp histrionics in lead vocals. Jarvis Cocker, in his day, was an extraordinary personality, and nowhere is this quite so apparent as on His 'n' Hers, an album that comes off like a the original cast recording of a one-man Broadway show. On this album Cocker howls, growls, prowls, grunts, humps, pouts, snarks, seduces, languishes, and dies a thousand deaths. It's over the top, and it's brilliant. Let's review:

"Joyriders" is the opening track, the mission statement. "We don't look for trouble," Cocker explains, "but if it comes we don't run." This from the same man who, during the 1996 Brit Awards, turned up on stage while Michael Jackson was performing and engaged in repeated lewd gestures until Jacko's bodyguards, dressed as shepherds for no discernible reason, could run him down and rough him up. Let's be clear: Jarvis Cocker does look for trouble. "Joyriders" ends with Cocker repeating the lines "Mister, we just want your car/'Cause we're taking a girl to the reservoir/Oh, oh, the people say it's a tragedy." There's a Clockwork Orange reference lurking in here.

The heart of this album is comprised of five songs: "Babies," "She's a Lady," "Happy Endings," "Do You Remember the First Time?" and "Pink Glove." "Babies" is Pulp's Ur-nostalgia/ sexual awakening track. They'd exploit this theme, to greater commercial success, with "Disco 2000" on 1995's Different Class. But "Babies" is the far better track: after confessing to a girlfriend that years ago he slept with her older sister, Cocker shows, rather unapologetically, that he can "yeah yeah yeah" with the best of them (thank you, Lennon and McCartney, for this tradition). Next is the near-disco "She's a Lady," which although it comes in at just under six minutes still manages to sound epic. If you've ever lamented, as I have, that there's no male-equivalent song for Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive," this is the song for you:
When you left I didn't know how I was going to forget you.
I was hanging by a thread and then I met her.
Selling pictures of herself to German business men.
Well, that's all she wants to do.
Come on, come on . . .
* * *
Whilst you were gone I got along.
I didn't die — I carried on.
I went drinking every night, just so I could feel alright.
Stayed in bed all day to feel OK. (I felt OK.)
* * *
I tried hard to make it work,
kissed her where she said it hurt, but I was always underneath.
'Cause she's a woman, oh yeah, baby, she's a lady.

As I said, I'd recently been dumped — OK, to be fair, destroyed — by a girl when I first heard this song. So it really worked for me. Likewise the next three tracks: the quasi-show tune, "Happy Endings," wherein Cocker wishes his girl the best; "Do You Remember the First Time?", wherein he makes one last pitch as the insurgent ("I know you're gonna let him bore your pants off again . . . Still you bought a toy to reach the places he never goes") before exploring pathetic attempts at compromise ("I don't care if you screw him — just as long as you save a piece for me); and finally "Pink Glove" (here, live at Glastonbury), wherein he lays it all on the line:
I know you're never going to be with me
But if you try sometimes then maybe
You could get it right first time.
I realise that you'll never leave him
But every now and then in the evening.
You could get it right first time.
* * *
Yeah, it's hard to believe that you'd go for that stuff
All those baby-doll nighties, synthetic fluff.
Yeah, it looks pretty good; yeah, it fits you OK —
You wear your pink glove, babe: he put it on THE WRONG WAY.

All that might look great on paper, but Blogger's rendering of the text doesn't even approach what Cocker does with this material. Somehow, some way he delivers the goods both powerfully and playfully. It's tragedy and comedy at the same time: his tongue is planted firmly in cheek, but it's not clear that at any minute he won't swallow it. His 'n' Hers is fun, and silly, and anthemic — classic singalong-in-the-car material. And very emotionally satisfying to a young, broken man who, by the fall of 1995, had not quite left his John Hughes years completely behind him and truly felt that with his girlfriend up in Cambridge dating another man he had lost, well, Everything.

Great stuff, Pulp. I wonder what ever became of the Schaffhausers. I owe them some music.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

NCAA Tournament Advertising Weirdness


The blogger formerly known as Juan Gato is 100% right about this.

Harvard Finds a Cure

So Eric Holder thinks we're a nation of cowards when it comes to race and George Bush doesn't care about Black puppets, but where do the rest of us stand? To find out I took one of Project Implicit's association tests. And like the vast majority of people who take the test I was found to have a preference for white people. Could it be true? After my liberal upbringing, living in a predominantly black neighborhood for several years, and voting for a black President? Hell, I even picked a black dog.

So are we all racists deep down? Maybe so. Who knows, really? But here are a few alternative explanations. Before I give anything away, take the test here. There are tons of them, but take the one on race. It's definitely worth doing.


First explanation: The test takes the form of a game in which we try to sort black, white, good, and bad into the right categories. It takes some getting used to and, not surprisingly, I think I got a lot better at it after a few minutes of playing. The first time I played they gave me good/black and bad/white and I didn't do very well; the next time they gave me good/white and bad/black and I did better. They concluded that I was better at assigning good to white than good to black and that I have an implicit preference for white people.

But hold on a second. Maybe I'm not racist and just got better at the game. What if they gave everyone the test in the same order. Could they be that stupid? So I did the whole thing again and they gave them to me in the reverse order. They still concluded I had a preference, but only slight this time. At least they appear to be randomizing the order. This may lead to valid conclusions about the group, but not any one individual.

But it does raise an issue about the "cure" as described in wired.
After being trained to distinguish between similar black male faces, Caucasian test subjects showed greater racial tolerance on a test designed to to measure unconscious bias.
Hmmmm. Or maybe they just got better at the game like I did . . . Sounds a bit fishy.

Second explanation: The way I took the test was to think "black-good" and "white-bad" and sort as best I could. This reminded me of a speaker we had at my lefty-minded, New England prep school who told us about self-esteem among black kids by noting how the Thesaurus was filled with negative words related to "black" and positive words related to "white". As in black mark, Black Monday, black magic; and white knight, white wedding, whitewash. Or note the antonyms for "white" on thesaurus.com: black, dark, dirty.

This is a big problem with the researchers' conclusion. They take the synonyms of "black" — bleak, atrocious, horrible, sinister, nasty, foul, threatening — and test to see how good we are at associating them with "white". All our lives we've seen and heard negative associations with the word black and positive ones with the word white. It would only be natural for someone who didn't care one way or the other about black people or white people to perform the way most people did on the test. This could certainly be problematic for the self-esteem problem described above, but it certainly causes us to doubt the assumption of preference for white people over black people.

Third explanation: Well, let's just hope it's the first or second . . .

FO News Roundup: March 19, 2009

  • The Pope is in Africa telling people that it's a sin to use condoms. "Every sperm is sacred" is still Church policy, apparently — even if "African lives are sacred" isn't. (P)
  • I'm not convinced a "we'll deduct the bonuses from their next bailout" policy is going to disperse the angry mobs. (P)
  • Good Cop, Bad Cop: President Bush says he won't sit on the sidelines and carp about President Obama. (That's Cheney's job.)
  • They actually used the word "Barack-etology." God help us. (P)
  • "I weigh all the facts. Then I throw those out and think about what God would want. Then I ignore that and do what every Cheney tells me to do." But what are you gonna write on the other 499 pages? Find out for yourself in the eagerly anticipated Decision Points! (M)
  • "We need to get the economy going again so let's all stop working" goes the logique française as they take to the streets to protest the economic crisis. No this is not an accidental reprint of last month's news. (M)
  • Is there anything cooler than an underwater volcano erupting? (M)

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Informed Outrage


Let's say there's a prison in your community, and it's full of awful criminals - perhaps murderers. And let's say some investigative journalist from your local paper did some digging and learned that last year, the prison spent $10,000 on birthday cakes and party balloons. Would you be outraged immediately at the idea that vicious killers were getting cake for free, paid for from your taxes? Or would you wonder if there might be an alternative explanation - perhaps the cakes are for the guards, or perhaps there's a program where prisoners' kids can come visit on their birthday and have a party with their jailed dad, reducing recidivism and improving behavior?

I ask this in the context of the AIG bonus scandal. It seems like there are many people, including President Obama and pretty much everyone in congress, who have immediately concluded that these bonuses are going to the same people at AIG who almost destroyed the global financial system. Maybe that's true, but do we know that? 

All I know for sure is that us taxpayers own 80% of a company that was running a bunch of different investment operations. Some of those operations are in great shape, and some of them were disastrous. I'd like to keep the good operations running as smoothly and successfully as possible, and I'm OK with the idea that a bonus might be necessary to do that. Maybe these bonuses are birthday cakes for the guards. As far as I can tell, we don't know the details. Edward Liddy, the guy the government brought out of retirement to run the company when the government took over, had nothing to do with the company during its out-of-control phase. He's supervising things now and he says these bonuses are necessary. He's not saying exactly who got them - he says because he doesn't want current employees to be targeted by angry citizens - but he says they're necessary. Are we sure he's wrong? If he is, maybe we shouldn't have hired him to run things.

My only real point here is that there's a lot more outrage floating around right now than there is information. It generally feels good to lynch now and ask questions later, but I think this is a case where the President, Congress, and other responsible parties should ask a few more questions before they reach for the rope. Informed outrage is much healthier than blind venom.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Appeals Court Judge Whacks Prosecutor over Salad Dressing Case

This is the sort of case you love to come across as a lawyer. The judge isn't just wicked smart: he's mad as hell. And in this case, he's mad as hell that the government decided to prosecute a guy who changed the "Best When Purchased By" date on salad-dressing bottles before reselling them in dollar stores.
As terrific as Judge Posner's decision is in Farinella, it doesn't even get into the fallacy that inheres in the very phrase, "Best When Purchased By":

Suppose I bought a bottle of an edible substance that does (unlike salad dressing) deteriorate in quality or safety or nutritional value over time. In fact, suppose I bought two bottles, both from the same production lot, but as a matter of hypo-promoting happenstance, I bought one before the BWPB date and one after. Now suppose I crack both bottles open on the same day. Is the one I bought earlier really "better" than the other?

Thursday, March 12, 2009


Print journalism still serves a purpose. As wonderful as we bloggers think we are, the full-timers in respectable print institutions with worldwide presence (~0.01% of all print journalists?) can offer investigative and comprehensive reporting that those of us writing from our parents' basements can't match.

As such, I have little to add to this Economist feature report on the worldwide drug trade. For those of you who still think prohibition is working, well, it's not. So you're wrong. Wouldn't be the first time either, now would it?
The first piece deals with the potential for Mexico to descend further into chaos and the ability of traffickers to adapt. The narcs cut down on the island hoppers, forcing the trade overland making Mexico the hub of the drug trade. And for all the small "l" liberals who think the 2nd amendment is a wonder only to be cherished, the Mexican cartels are easily arming themselves in over-the-border arms stores. Oh, sure, it's illegal to export, but without the feds getting more involved in our own gun stores, well, arms will continue to be exported illegally . . .

The second reports on cocaine users in Europe and raises some health issues about prohibition.
But in the past few years dealers have turned to pharmaceutical cutting agents such as benzocaine, a topical anaesthetic, which mimic the effects of cocaine and may be more harmful. Dealers call such agents “magic” because of their effect on profits. “Grey traders”, who knowingly sell such chemicals to dealers, are starting to be convicted.

Educating drug-takers about what is getting up their noses may lower demand. But cutting raises bigger questions for drug policy. “We may have to say at some stage that taking heavily adulterated cocaine is more physically harmful to the user than taking cocaine that’s less adulterated,” a senior SOCA official says. “That is not the case at the moment. But we’ve got to keep asking the question. I’m aware that the health equation could one day say: Stop trying to stop cocaine coming in.”

The third points out that prohibition appears to have little or no impact on usage. Drug use might go up if legalized, but it might not. But given all the other problems associated with prohibition (violence, poor treatment, high incarceration levels, cost of enforcement), this suggests there's lots of downside to it and potentially no upside.

The final article gives hope. It points out some of the failed approaches in the US to scare kids off illegal drugs, but the success it has had in reducing one of the most addictive drugs, the legal nicotine, by bringing it out in the open, using smart advertising, and de-glamorizing (word?) it.

It may seem odd that the campaign against tobacco, a legal drug, has displayed so much more élan than the war on illegal drugs. Yet this is natural. Making a drug illegal may discourage some people from taking it, but it also discourages frank conversation and clear thinking. It is much easier to attack something if it is brought into the light.

Meanwhile France is upping the drinking age. Force kids out of cafes and into the street. Make getting drugs easier than alcohol like it is for teenageers in America. Bonne idée.

Legalize it.

I Have a Crush on This Company

I do. I have a crush on Google, notwithstanding that they failed to give me a job and are therefore necessarily condemned to fail and go under in the future — most likely as a result of a lousy judgment call by someone in the company's legal department.

All right, Phutsie. Take a deep breath. Inhale deeply, now exhale.

Now pull yourself together and continue.

All right. I can do this. I can. The latest (if not the greatest) insurgency bubbling up from the guerrillas in Mountain View is Google Voice, a free service that will allow subscribers to choose a central Google-based phone number. Calls to the Google number will ring all your other phones (or as many as you associate with the Google number), simultaneously. Users can have voice mails left on the Google number forwarded to them in email, and the grafting of speech-to-text technology onto this service will enable full-text searching of voice mail. Pretty cool.

Cue the Privacy People to come in and warn us about Google gathering even more of our information: they'll know who called you, they'll have recordings of the messages you left. You know, just like all the phone companies do now. Ooh: scary. The Privacy People may have a point that Google's many products afford it an unprecedented amount of information with which it could build a profile of you if it so chose. But geez: if your phone company is your ISP, they may have a log of the websites you visit. And if your phone company handles your email, they may store copies of your messages on their servers, too. What makes Google any more insidious and terrifying than The Phone Company?

We do have privacy laws (most notably the federal Electronic Communications Privacy Act), after all — and phone calls and voice mail messages stored, routed, and delivered via Google Voice will be just as subject to these laws as anybody else. Oh, sure, maybe they are rumbling about planting gigantic server-barges in international waters, but whatever. I'm increasingly convinced that since the GMail data-mining PR fiasco — itself a whole lot of sound and fury that ultimately didn't signify much — Privacy People are hard-wired to give reflexive warnings about Big Brother every time Google releases a product. But then again, I'm starry-eyed, love-lorn, and probably not capable of objectivity on this question.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Overheard on the Trading Floor


"I guess Bernie Madoff really was a brilliant investor - the Journal says his fund didn't buy a single stock in the last thirteen years!"

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Masthead Archive: March 10, 2009

50 Years Now.

Monday, March 09, 2009

FO News Roundup: March 9, 2009

"Wintry mix" in Massachusetts today. Here's a "hail" of Monday-morning bullets:
  • Grand public works everywhere! Amid concerns that the Mafia will run the work crews, Italians are pressing ahead with plans to build a bridge to Sicily. Will Palin counter with a sightseeing bridge to Kamchatka? (P)
  • Stay classy, Limbaugh. (P)
  • A-Rod will have hip surgery today. He'll be back in action in six to eight weeks — or whenever fans have forgotten about his steroid-dabbling. Whichever comes last. (P)
  • Wow: Barbie's middle name is Millicent. And she's fifty. You wouldn't know any of that from looking at her. (P)
  • There was a "Winston Man", too. Like three of the Marlboro Men, he had lung cancer. He became an anti-smoking activist before he died last month. He said he saved lives. Not sure whether that's gross or net. (P)
  • What a time for Treasury to be understaffed. Aren't there thousands of unemployed bankers sitting around watching Oprah right now? I guess the problem is they all sucked at their jobs. (P)
  • China seals off Tibetan region to foreign visitors. Rihanna is picking up the pieces. (P)
  • 40 lashes for a Saudi woman who had men in her house who weren't relatives. The court rejected the defendant's "suckled him as a baby" defense. Oh, but we do love their oil . . . (P)
  • And finally, it ought to be easier than this to find a recycling center. (P)

Sunday, March 08, 2009

David Anderson does Ron Jaworski


If there's a better imitator of Ron Jaworski than backup Houston Texans receiver David Anderson, I haven't seen him.

Cantor Calls the Stem-Cell Funding Reversal a "Distraction"

Earlier today House minority whip Eric Cantor described President Obama's expected reversal of the ban on federal funding for stem-cell research as a "distraction." Cantor's words:
Why are we going and distracting ourselves from the economy? This is job No. 1. Let's focus on what needs to be done.

Where to start here? Surely we should expect House members to say stupid things, House whips to say stupider things, minority whips to exceed even that level of stupid, and Republican minority whips to plumb the very depths of stupidity. But still — wow.
Let's put aside the fact that scientific research is an issue that goes to the very core of this nation's long-term competitiveness (big shout-out to M'dates on this point), and that embryonic stem-cell research harbors the kind of promise that can give birth to an entire industry. Think dot-com boom, Cantor, except with diseases cured and lives saved. This does have to do with the economy, Congressman. One thing Obama has on your feeble congressional mind is the ability to recognize the interconnectedness of issues, to see opportunities for synergy, and to act on multiple fronts simultaneously.

Is Cantor really faulting President Obama for giving attention to issues other than the economic crisis? It's called multitasking, Cantor, and even Congress does it. How else do the folks on Capitol Hill manage to enact multi-billion dollar economic stimulus bills and pass the Civil War Battlefield Act and consider resolutions honoring Sam Bradford for winning the Heisman Trophy? Those last two bits are classic cases of eyes-off-the-prize, Congressman, and it was your party's reps that sponsored them. It seems a bit unfair to begrudge President Obama a moment or two to sign an executive order that will actually confer benefits on the American people.

And as for you personally, Congressman, what were you doing fiddling around in Iraq last month while Wall Street was burning? Where are your priorities?

Maybe we should cut Cantor a break: stem-cell research is a lousy issue for Republicans. They've fought valiantly into the teeth of public opinion on this issue for eight years now, and with Monday's announcement they'll finally have lost the battle. You can see why the guy would want to change the subject, right? Uh, no. No break for you, Cantor. Your President butchered policy on so many issues for eight years. The fact that he managed to squeeze in a crippling once-in-three-generations economic crisis at the end doesn't mean his successor can't address any of the Bush Administration's myriad other failures. Nice try, but no.

"U.S. Oil Fund Finds itself at the Mercy of Traders"

My employer has an unwritten policy - they'd rather not see anyone's name in the newspaper. There are exceptions for a couple of people who serve as ambassadors for the firm, but in general, you're encouraged to keep your mouth shut and not make an ass of yourself. I think most investment firms are the same. That's why I was shocked to read this article in Friday's Wall Street Journal, with the following priceless quotes from traders, whose names I have removed but which are present in the article:
"It's like taking candy from a baby," said [name removed] senior vice president at Macquarie Futures

"They are asking to be robbed," said [name removed] managing director of Petromatrix
Look, it may well be true that this U.S. Oil Fund is structured in such a way that sophisticated traders can rip it off, but in this environment, do you want to be the guy quoted in the paper talking about how easy it is to shaft a bunch of mom & pop investors?

Wyeth v. Levine: SCOTUS Gets One Right

Not so long ago I declared that the fix was in — that the Supreme Court was preparing to cede complete regulatory authority over drug safety to a pharma-friendly Food & Drug Administration that can't be bothered to intercede to protect the American people, when there's all this money to be made in RLS suppression and chemical erections.

Turns out I may have spoken too soon on this subject. (But what did you expect — a moderate, modulated wait-and-see attitude? Two days ago I accused a guy of murder on scant circumstantial evidence.) SCOTUS voted 6-3 last week to uphold the plaintiff's verdict in Wyeth v. Levine. Holy crap.
Ms. Levine brought suit against a health center, her doctor, and Wyeth after the doctor, in the course of administering an "IV push" of Wyeth's anti-nausea drug Phenergan, tapped into an artery instead of a vein. As the Court explains, Phenergan "is corrosive and causes irreversible gangrene if it enters a patient’s artery." The mistake resulted in the amputation of Ms. Levine's right arm and ended her career as a professional musician. Ms. Levine settled claims against the clinic and the doctor; her claim against Wyeth went to trial, and a jury awarded her $7.4 million.

The jury found that Wyeth did not satisfy its duty to warn the clinician and Ms. Levine of the specific dangers associated with a Phenergan IV push. Wyeth raised the defense that the FDA had approved its marketing of the drug for intravenous delivery, subject to specific FDA-agreed warning language on the product's packaging; that approval, Wyeth argued, "preempted" any state law judgment that it failed to provide adequate warning of the drug's dangers — first, because any additional warning language interposed by state law (here, Vermont's) would require Wyeth to deviate from the specific language approved by the FDA (so that the packaging would violate federal law), and second, because the verdict would undermine federal law by substituting a "lay jury's" judgment on the matter for "the expert judgment of the FDA."

Six Justices — Stevens (who wrote the opinion), Ginsburg, Souter, Breyer, Kennedy, and Thomas — sided with the plaintiff. It ruled that responsibility for the content of a drug label resides with the drug company: it cannot simply rely on what the FDA regards as sufficient. The Court held, as well, that the several federal statutes and regulations that govern drug labeling were all created against a backdrop of state tort litigation. For generations now the FDA has reviewed and approved drugs for the market, and where — notwithstanding the FDA's conclusions — those drugs have proved to be unreasonably dangerous, injured parties have been entitled to sue the drug companies under state law. The Court wrote last Term that the FDA's approval of a medical device preempted any state law claim against the manufacturer for product defects or failure to warn. It drew the line here, because it could not say with a straight face that Congress ever intended to write out these remedies against drug companies.

Justice Alito's dissenting opinion — joined by Scalia and the Chief Justice — would have turned this 70+ years of law on its head. It's worth repeating that Chief Justice Roberts put himself forward in the confirmation hearings as a cautious incrementalist (AHEM! gun rights!), and we were to expect no dramatic upheavals in the law on his watch. Alito's tact here was to heap scorn on the "Vermont jury," whose word on the question of what a drug company should say on its labels should, in the majority's view, be final — even over FDA experts:
This case illustrates that tragic facts make bad law. The Court holds that a state tort jury, rather than the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), is ultimately responsible for regulating warning labels for prescription drugs.     [T]he real issue is whether a state tort jury can countermand the FDA’s considered judgment . . . By their very nature, juries are ill-equipped to perform the FDA’s cost-benefit-balancing function.

Of course, we trust juries to assess the merits of complicated scientific and forensic evidence in criminal cases, when the defendant's liberty — and in many cases his life — is on the line. God forbid a drug company's earnings should be subject to the whimsy of twelve angry men over the "considered judgment" of an industry lackey with a plum government job.

This case provides yet another occasion to consider the hypocrisy of the conservative justices, who argue so fullthroatedly in favor of their judicial philosophies in some cases, but not others. Here Alito, Scalia, and Roberts, ardent defenders of "text" and bitter critics of the presumption of judges who would interject their notion of legislators' "intent," would invoke the judge-created doctrine of "implied preemption" to invalidate the Vermont jury's verdict, based on a review on Congress's objectives that is necessarily speculative and self-indulgent. And here, too, these three, who routinely invoke "states' rights" and "federalism" to curb individual civil rights set forth in federal law, freely abandon these principles when a federal regulation supports a pro-business outcome.

By contrast, Justice Thomas comes off as principled for voting with the majority here, and for writing a separate concurring opinion in which he argues that only federal statutes — and not the decisions of agencies — should have a preemptive effect. But I've seen Clarence ditch his jurisprudential principles in support of conservative outcomes too often: I'm suspicious that here he simply took the opportunity to appear principled, because the majority already had their five votes. If Thomas had had to break a 4-4 tie, where would he have landed?

But this was a good result, and I shouldn't let These Four drag me down. No dramatic overhaul of the justice system here: FDA approval doesn't release Big Pharma from its duty to review and re-review its product offerings to make sure they're safe — and to tell consumers when they aren't. Hooray!

Friday, March 06, 2009

A Baseball Fan's Thoughts on the WBC

I was mousing around the World Baseball Classic website last night, looking for reasons to be interested. Here's the best I could do:

*Yulieski, Yunesky, Yadier, Yolexis, Yosbany, Yuliesky, Yoennis. Y-names were hip in Cuba in the 1980s.
*Cuba has a 6'-0", 260-pound catcher (named Yosbany). I'd pay money to watch a guy that size work behind the plate. God bless him — there are multiple knee surgeries in his future.

*On paper, it looks like Venezuela has blown by Puerto Rico in terms of baseball talent.

That's really about it. The reasons not to care about this tournament are abundant. It starts with the composition of the teams. Another "Ys Guy," Yuniesky Betancourt, is the Mariners' starting shortstop and should be on the Cuban team. But he and any other major league defectors weren't invited. Politics, politics, politics. Contrast the Italian roster, which, per the tournament's quirky eligibility rules, features guys like Lenny DiNardo (Place of Birth: Miami, Florida), Mark DiFelice (POB: Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania), Frank Catalanotto (POB: Smithtown, New York) and Chris Cooper (really? Chris Cooper? POB: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania). Under WBC rules, if you're eligible to be issued a passport from that country (a factor that is keyed entirely to the laxity of that nation's laws), you're eligible to play on that country's baseball team. I know that a fair amount of "carpetbagging" persists in FIFA's international tournaments, too, but this seems especially out of order, and I don't doubt the purpose of it is to populate rosters to fill out the tournament's sixteen-team field.

Still more problematic is the watered-down nature of the competition. The best of the best don't necessarily play in the tournament; major league teams will do what they can to keep their players out of it; the games are played early on in spring training, when the players are hardly at the peak of their conditioning. The tournament has a rule that imposes pitch counts on national team managers: 70 pitches max in the first round, 85 in the second, 100 in the semifinals and finals — with mandated days of rest between appearances. Some kinks in the format have been worked out: advancement from the first round won't be decided by bizarre tiebreakers, as in the last tournament. The bracket is altogether decipherable, though, so I call it a wash.

The FIFA World Cup works because even though it's club play that finances the sport — and the club owners have millions invested in the fragile knees and ankles of the players on their payrolls — every one of the players would sacrifice life and limb to play for his national team and win the Cup Final. The players are all-in, and the club owners aren't politically in a position to keep their players out of the tournament. Simply put, the World Cup is more important than the club leagues, whereas the WBC is a creature of Major League Baseball, and its subordination to MLB is written into its charter, all the way down to the last, detail-heavy regulation about how often and how long the national teams can play their pitchers.

It's possible that someday the WBC will grow into a World Cup-quality competition. It would need to step out from under MLB's thumb, and the players — not some of them, all of them — will have to care enough to put their bodies, and their million-dollar paydays, on the line, to vie for the honor of lifting the championship trophy for their country. I won't hold my breath. In the meantime, I'll tune in not for the drama of the competition, but for the novelty: say, of watching an all "Ys-Guys" battery — Yulieski pitching to Yosbany, and the massive Yosbany using his gravitational field to block a splitter in the dirt.

Tsvangirai's Wife Killed in "Accident"

"Special Circle in Hell" is well on its way to becoming a department here at FO. By the time we're done extradamning the extradamnable, who will be left for the Rapture?

It's reported that Zimbabwe's prime minister Morgan Tsvangirai and his wife were involved in a head-on collision with a truck outside of Harare. Mrs. Tsvangirai has died, and the PM is injured. If you've been following the situation in Zimbabwe at all, you can't but believe that this was no "accident" at all, but that it was Robert Mugabe's doing.
I should note that details have not been released, and all we know is that Tsvangirai's car and the truck collided head-on on the road between Harare and Tsvangirai's home in Buhera. The BBC reports that "[t]raffic accidents are common" in Zimbabwe, "often due to speeding and drink-driving, and that "[t]here are no dual carriageways on Harare's inter-city roads, making overtaking dangerous." There is at this point no hint or inkling of foul play from the news outlets. And it's not my way to blithely accuse someone of murder.

But I think that by now Mugabe has earned the right to be guilty until proven innocent. The outrages he has perpetrated on opposition parties, his people, his country, and the region are too many to count. Until I read otherwise, I'm going to add this murder/ attempted assassination to the long list of Reasons Why Robert Mugabe Ought To Have His Own Place in Hell. If I'm proved wrong, I'll apologize and retract. And Mugabe will still be hellbound.

Masthead Archive: March 6, 2009


Overheard on the Trading Floor


"You know, the last time the S&P was down here, the macarena was still cool." You can probably come up with other examples of how the country's changed from 1996 to 2009, but that's a pretty striking one. It's my hope that tomorrow I won't be saying "You know, the last time the S&P was down here, Philip Michael Thomas was starring on a hit TV show."

Thursday, March 05, 2009

A Special Circle of Hell

Below, Mithridates threw a little more light on the bastards in Pennsylvania who profited from sending kids to juvie.

To join them in the special circle of hell reserved for these types, I give you Steven Hayne and Michael West.  I can do nothing more than urge you to read about their exploits as law enforcement's go-to expert forensic witnesses over the last several decades.  Radley Balko has been doing yeoman's work building a case against these jerks for a while now.

And the worst of it?  Unlike the Pennsylvania judges who will be heading to jail, so far nothing bad has happened to these assholes....

Special Relationship Edition DVD

Our new President has already set about repairing the damage caused by the Bush Administration's disastrous foreign policy. As such, he's already reaffirmed our "special relationship" with the UK....by, uh, well, by giving the Prime Minister a really nice box set of DVDs.

I mean Raging Bull and Casablanca are great movies, of course, but are you fucking kidding me?

Luckily, Gordon Brown's gift was equally lame. You know, just an "ornamental pen holder made from the timbers of the Victorian anti-slave ship HMS Gannet", "a framed commission for HMS Resolute, a vessel that came to mark Anglo-US peace when it was saved from ice packs by Americans and given to Queen Victoria", and "a first edition set of the seven-volume classic biography of Churchill by Sir Martin Gilbert."

Good thing he didn't put much thought into it either or we'd look stupid....

(HT: TigerHawk)

FO News Roundup: March 5, 2009

It's Thursday, and the Dow is getting hammered. What, you came here for news? All right, fine:
  • CORRUPTION ALERT: The Boston Globe reports that city officials dealing with Boston College expansion issues have ties to Boston College! Next week, a Globe expose uncovers that 100% of immigration officials are themselves immigrants or descendants of immigrants. (M)
  • Front-page headlines from FOX, The New York Times, and MSNBC finally agree on the most important story of the day. Obama's hair is turning gray! See the pictures! Warn the children! (M)
  • Yes, let's throw more money down this black hole. Dinosaurs die. Something new and better takes their place. Good-bye, crappy cars! (M)
  • Thousands gathered in Khartoum to support Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who faces international war crimes charges for commissioning Arab janjaweed militias (many of their members recruited by force) to kill, rape, and displace hundreds of thousands of people in Darfur; also, L.A. County authorities are charging Chris Brown with assault and making criminal threats. (P, committed to doing this until the madness stops)
  • We stand witness today to the birth of the Manny Ramirez Clause. Anybody think Manny donated his $1 million to the Jimmy Fund? (P)
  • Argument before the Califonia Supreme Court today on the challenge to Proposition 8. Can we confirm the rumor that the Mormons brought lush, fluffy cushions in for the Justices' benches? (P)
  • First Martin Luther stuck it to the Catholic Church by tacking his 95 Theses up on the church door. Now Katie Freitas is hanging bags of condoms on hers. (P)

Rules of the Protest

As I sit in my office and listen to the picketers outside, I try to ascertain by induction some of the rules that govern organized protests:

*You have to march in a circle, apparently. This signifies that your cause has no beginning and no end. Also, that it's going nowhere.

*The best way to convey the seriousness of your issue, the righteousness of your anger, is to reduce it to rhyme. For example, "FE FI FO FUM, HARVARD WORKERS HERE WE COME!" You may be casting yourself as the little guy against Goliath, but it's fine to adopt the persona of a different murderous giant, so long as your rhyme is catchy.

*Pause periodically to applaud for yourselves. No one's going to do it for you, and the cheering and clapping by no means undercut the central message of your protest, which is that you're mad as hell and you're not going to take it anymore.

That's really all I can figure. I think I'm going to go down there with my D and my fence, see if I can't shake things up a little. Oh, and my fire hose, too.

Somebody Please Regulate Movie-Based Video Games

I wish I could sit down with the movie studios and game companies and have them explain to me why they're constantly conniving to gag up these home video games based on movies. The two media just don't interrelate. This should have been apparent as early as 1982, when Atari released that godawful E.T. game cartridge. See that black pixel over there? It's a Reese's Piece.

This morning, as I was buying my Big Gulp, I saw copies of Quantum of Solace (X-Box Edition) on display behind the counter. Why would anyone, ever — in this economy or any other — spend even a dime to "play" James Bond's character in Quantum of Solace? You might as well try to sell me Nights in Rodanthe for my PlayStation 2. I don't think people even think this through anymore. I think it's just expected that there will be a Burger King promotion and a video game, whether or not the final cut of the movie merits either.

I get why they do it: it's another revenue stream for the film producers — and it's cost savings for the game makers, because they don't have to do the work to think up a ham-handed "plot" for the game. Hollywood's already done it. Shoot: they don't even have to design the characters or their costumes: make the guy look like Daniel Radcliffe, then put this robe on him. Done. So there's all kinds of incentive to make these games, because they're cheap and they cross-promote well. They don't have to be good to sell, and as a result they usually aren't. And the public suffers. Sometimes even the movie sucks, because it's apparent on its face that it was primarily created to spin off video games. This is a bad public outcome, and it cries out for government intervention to adjust the warped production incentives on both sides.

I might feel differently about this if Hollywood and the game companies could think outside of the box a little. There actually is an opportunity for synergy here — for the best in these respective businesses to get together and do something great. I'm thinking of a 9 1/2 Weeks video game, where you get to control Mickey Rourke, and the game console controls Kim Basinger, and it's exceedingly lifelike and maybe reaches beyond the artistic confines of the movie . . .

Absent something like that, there ought to be regulation, some sort of a law, a review board that decides which projects get to proceed.

Another phenomenon screaming for government intervention is Saturday Night Live actors' longstanding practice of milking full-length feature films out of characters fit only for ten-minute skits (at best). But I'll get to that at a later date.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Masthead Archive: March 3, 2009


Can't we all just get along?

Monday, March 02, 2009

FO News Roundup: March 3, 2009

I'd like to see the confidential terms of Google's settlement of the Agence France Presse copyright lawsuit: it seems like every time I search Google News on a given subject, the AFP tops the list of stories. (P)
  • From the aforementioned AFP — there's this talk of an impending "announcement" from Michael Jackson. My guess is he's actually a werewolf. And a pedophile. (P)
  • Again, if you weren't sure whether Rush Limbaugh has overthrown the Republican Party . . . (P)
  • 74 killed in Bangladeshi border guard mutiny; paparazzi seek proof of Chris Brown/Rihanna reunion. (P)
  • If you didn't already believe that book publishers are the worst people on Earth, would it help to learn that Blago has a book deal? (P, planning a memoir-quality crime spree)
  • Yeah, OK. Gary Condit didn't kill Chandra Levy; this guy did. But I stand by my earlier statement that Congressmen are statistically more likely to commit crimes than immigrant workers. (P)
  • Yes, ma'am. We'll send someone right away. Would you like some fries with that? (P)
  • On top of everything else, it appears there's an epidemic of overturned boats. (P)
  • Balinese clerics say that yoga is anathema to Islam. Talk about inflexible people . . . Thanks, everybody — I'll be here all week. (P)

Can We Take Up A Collection To Send These Guys Away?

I don't have too much to add to this story, but thought it deserved more than a bullet. Judges in PA were getting kickbacks from a private detention center based on the number of days they sentenced children to serve. I'm not making this up.
Judges Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan received a commission for every day they sent a child to private juvenile detention centres run by Pennsylvania Child Care and a sister company. The pay-offs came to $2.6m over seven years . . . First the judges received monetary rewards for sanctioning the building of a new private-sector prison in their area. Second, they were paid for closing a county-funded prison nearby. And, then, of course, they offered up the “juvenile delinquents” for the benefit of the owners of the new jail.
And how about those people who paid the judges to send them inmates?
The judges are going to jail, but the prison companies have so far avoided prosecution.
Sorry, but this is one outrage we don't have to feign. FO promises to follow up on this story, hopefully to happily report that the bribers are sharing a prison bunk with some all-grown-up felon they helped incarcerate as a juvenile.

The New Iraq Body Count

I was thinking this afternoon about how the Dow Jones index seems to be becoming for people who don't like Obama what the Iraq body count was for people who didn't like Bush: a measure they can turn to every day to quantify just how awful a job the guy they don't like is doing. I guess everyone wants to quantify their anger, no matter how inappropriate the measuring stick might be.

Processing Jindal

I'm still stuck on this, almost a week now after Bobby Jindal delivered the Republican rebuttal. Jindal said Americans can do anything. Then he said America's government is terrible and can't be expected to play a role in solving any of our problems. I'm having a hard time reconciling these two theses, so I thought I'd take a minute to think all this through.

Our government is comprised of — and created and renewed and refreshed by — Americans. How is it that Americans outside of government have infinite potential, but Americans inside of government are feckless and impotent? Unlike certain of his party colleagues, Jindal puts forward a fair-minded, monolithic view of Americans. He did not attempt to carve out a class of "real," make-this-country-great Americans from people who live in cities — we're all real make-this-country-great Americans, regardless of where we dwell. Presumably, then, Americans-in-government are (or rather were) just like us, before something wrenched away their talent, their courage, their can-do spirit and transformed them into a ruinous horde of buzz-killing potential-crushers.
OK. I'll buy that. But what exactly is it about government that singularly snuffs out that spark of potential — that glorious, distinctive American-ness — that resides within us? Is it power? Is there some weakness in our character (even though we're Americans) that causes us to compromise our values, to pursue destructive, short-sighted and inefficient courses of conduct in government, in order to accrue and maintain power for ourselves?

Power seems the obvious candidate, and I'll run with it, but only so far. There are all sorts of power, other than what you find in Washington. Just to take one example, there's the power that comes with the responsibility of managing the many private institutions that are (we're told) as important to our society's survival as government itself. Why aren't the all-capable Americans who run these organizations susceptible to the sort of destructive, short-sighted, and inefficient courses of conduct that rule out government as a solution to any of America's problems? These people have a great deal of power, but it's not government power, and as a result their institutions continue to flourish in that great American way — their very example is a testament to what Americans can do, if they're simply left alone to be Americans.

Since private institutions remain uncorrupted by power, but government institutions continue to put their foot on the throat of the all-powerful American people, perhaps we should isolate what it is about government power that ruins a perfectly good American. What's different — what's unique — about government power? That's Poli Sci 101, people: governments have a monopoly of force. Clearly it's this toxic ingredient — access to the monopoly of force — that turns otherwise competent and talented Americans into worthless, obstructionist Americans-in-government. I know I've hit on something here. With this I feel like I've tapped right into the mainline philosophy of Jindal and the Republicans, because, as everyone knows, the instruments of the federal government that conservatives trust the least are the two most coercive: the armed forces and the federal law enforcement agencies. It's all coming together.

It took a little work, Governor, but I got there. I finally get you guys. With that seemingly self-evident contradiction in terms, you planted a rhetorical seed. You encouraged me to wind through the logic, and now that I'm done, I've not only learned a great deal, but I'm feeling the true exhilaration that comes from unraveling a conundrum. You're a regular Socrates, Governor Jindal (but of course better, because you're American)!