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.