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There is a non-trivial chance that 18 months from now we’ll be saying hello to . . .

[ 48 ] July 8, 2011 |


. . . President Bachmann.

There’s a good joke somewhere in all this involving The Turner Diaries, The Book of Revelation, and Bachmann Turner Overdrive.

RIP Dick Williams

[ 11 ] July 7, 2011 |

Williams and Martin

Williams, Earl Weaver, and Billy Martin were all similar men: tough SOBs who didn’t care if the toes they stepped on were wearing cleats or Italian loafers. I was 13 at the time of the Mike Andrews incident, and it was the first thing of that type that genuinely shocked me. It was a stark introduction to the idea that crazy rich old men played by different rules than everybody else.

Another sharp memory of Williams was how he just outright released Juan Bonilla at the start of the 1984 season, before the Padres went on to win the pennant. That was a classic Williams move: simply cutting a 27-year-old second baseman who had had 617 plate appearances the year before, and handing the job to Alan Wiggins, a second-year guy who had played exactly one game at second base in his major league career.

After Williams was told that Tony LaRussa had passed the bar, he remarked “I never pass a bar.”

Stand By Your Man

[ 10 ] July 7, 2011 |

Sometimes it’s hard to be a liberal
Giving all your love to just one man
You’ll have bad times
And he’ll have good times
Doing things that you don’t understand
But if you love him you’ll forgive him
Even though he’s hard to understand
And if you love him
Oh be proud of him
‘Cause after all he’s just a man

How it’s supposed to work

[ 33 ] July 7, 2011 |

The perfectionist strain in American culture tends to rebel against the idea that in a well-functioning criminal justice system lots of probably-guilty people should not be convicted.

Synecdoche and lese majeste

[ 39 ] June 30, 2011 |

Scott has already noted Jon Chait’s objection to the quasi-royalist subtext of Mark Halperin’s suspension (Halperin is a juvenile hack, but if that were a firing offense there would be no cable news channels). So this seems like an ideal time to review the relative strength and meaningfulness of various genitalia-associated figures of speech in our political discourse.

First, perhaps anthropologists can explain why a penis is an insulting synecdoche but testicles are invariably positive (in English anyway). If Halperin had said Obama had “balls” or “stones” or “sack,” or “cojones” this would be considered a form of vulgar but highly positive testimony on the president’s behalf. (BTW cojones is an extremely vulgar term in Spanish, with a profanity valence roughly comparable to “cocksucker” in English An anglophone should probably avoid using it in front of his Spanish-speaking future mother in law. I am told that a similar problem of cultural translation exists or at least existed with regard to “schmuck”).

Second, it’s clearly better for a male politician to be a dick than a pussy. I suspect Halperin’s calculated little stunt would much more likely have involved the use of the p-word prior to Obama displaying that he had the stones to kill Osama bin Laden. (Of course male Democratic politicians bear the burden of persuasion to display their non-pussy bona fides, which they can do by conducting at least two wars simultaneously, or one war and numerous assassinations).

Third, another oddity of our practices is that it isn’t possible to insult a woman politician — or any other woman — by calling her a pussy (that attempted insult reads culturally as nonsensical on its face), but calling, say, the Secretary of State a cunt would certainly get someone like Halperin fired on the spot.

This is true for American English anyway (strangely to my ears “cunt” is apparently a far less fraught word in British English — perhaps comparable to “prick” in American English).

Jeff Greene: He’s taking a leave of absence from HBO because you called him a cunt.

Larry David: What? It’s what you call somebody when he’s not being manly.

Jeff: It’s a bad word Larry.

Larry: What’s so bad about it? People call me a prick all the time.

Jeff: Cunt is much heavier.

Larry: That’s absurd! Prick, cunt — same thing!

Jeff: I never questioned it.

This is taking the myth of the gritty gutty white kid without great natural talent who excels by trying harder . . .

[ 72 ] June 28, 2011 |

. . . a bit too far.

In high school, Tim Tebow was the #1 ranked quarterback prospect in the nation.

Victor Davis Hanson gets paid

[ 97 ] June 27, 2011 |

To write stuff like this.

As a student of the past, the learned professor is no doubt well aware that every ruling class has needed its toadies and flatterers, its court eunuchs and its Hoover Institute Fellows, its . . . but really, what’s the point? Still this particular bit of magisterial toga-tugging caused me to cast my eyes toward the heavens, in expectation that a just deity might feel impelled to cast a Parthenon-sized asteroid in VDH’s general direction:

Reduce much of what Barack Obama says, advocates, and tries to implement and you find a particular kind of despised but uniquely American species in his cross-hairs: upper-middle class, making $200-800,000 a year, employed as a professional or small business person, living in the suburbs or small town America, children in non-Ivy League private and public colleges, a nice house, perhaps a vacation home, boat, 2-3 nice cars, residing outside the east and west coasts without an aristocratic pedigree, for whom food stamps are as much an anathema as is Martha’s Vineyard or Costa del Sol.

Oh put-upon “upper middle class” cultivator of your own vineyard! Oh globe-trotting emeritus being read to by a boy!

Just for the heck of it, I calculated the total monthly Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefit a four-person household, consisting of one adult and three children, is eligible for in Colorado, assuming the parent of the children works full-time and earns ten dollars an hour, has a monthly rent of $800, pays $100 a month in utilities, and has no other sources of income. The answer is $474 a month. This is the massive redistribution of income that so offends our classical scholar, as he wrinkles his nose in distaste at the leveling immorality of nations — countries far less wealthy than the United States — where it is taken for granted by literally all respectable political opinion that it is not acceptable for people to starve because they happen to be poor.

Since Hanson is so fond of ancient texts, perhaps he should review this one:

There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’ He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house– for I have five brothers–that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'”

House refuses to authorize use of force in Libya

[ 116 ] June 24, 2011 |

Good for them, and especially for the 70 Democrats who refused to issue an ex post facto rubber stamp for the executive branch’s latest exercise in foreign policy adventurism.

Update: After a classified briefing, almost all Democrats and some Republicans agree to continue funding. My guess is there’s a secret plan to end the war and/or evidence that Quaddafi has acquired or is about to acquire WMDs.

War is Peace

[ 12 ] June 22, 2011 |

Military Industrial Complex

Report: 10,000 Troops Leaving Afghanistan This Year

Kerry and McCain United Behind the Mysteriously Urgent Libya Mission

Iraq Violence Intensifies as Talks Continue on U.S. Troop Presence

In principle it would be quite simple to waste the surplus labour of the world by building temples and pyramids, by digging holes and filling them up again, or even by producing vast quantities of goods and then setting fire to them. But this would provide only the economic and not the emotional basis for a hierarchical society. What is concerned here is not the morale of masses, whose attitude is unimportant so long as they are kept steadily at work, but the morale of the Party itself. Even the humblest Party member is expected to be competent, industrious, and even intelligent within narrow limits, but it is also necessary that he should be a credulous and ignorant fanatic whose prevailing moods are fear, hatred, adulation, and orgiastic triumph. In other words it is necessary that he should have the mentality appropriate to a state of war. It does not matter whether the war is actually happening, and, since no decisive victory is possible, it does not matter whether the war is going well or badly. All that is needed is that a state of war should exist.

Even this doggerel that pours from my pen

[ 22 ] June 18, 2011 |

Has just been written by another twenty telepathic men.

A question that interests me is, how many of the 21 GOP representatives who signed this letter actually have doubts about the constitutionality of bills signed by a presidential auto pen? As a legal matter, the claim that such a practice is unconstitutional is frivolous, for at least three reasons. First, as this neurotically comprehensive treatment of the issue by the OLC demonstrates, there wasn’t even a common law requirement at the time of the Constitution’s drafting that “signing” a document meant “signing it personally.”

Second, as the OLC memo also points out, nobody has ever argued that bills have to “presented” to the president by literally handing them over to the POTUS, or that the president has to walk over to Congress to “return” a vetoed bill.

The OLC memo doesn’t mention the most ridiculous aspect of this issue, which is that presidents don’t even need to sign bills at all (if Congress is in session, a bill that isn’t affirmatively vetoed becomes law in ten days whether it has been signed or not).

My guess is that a few of the letter’s signatories are representatives of the kind of magical legal thinking one finds on the far right, where Militia Men argue that the federal income tax is unconstitutional because Ohio wasn’t “really” a state at the time the 16th amendment was ratified etc. etc.

Most of them, however, are probably indulging in yet another cynical de-legitimation ploy, giving their constituents just one more reason to believe that Obama is somehow not exactly a real president, doing real presidential things.

Did the Bush administration try to spy illegally on Juan Cole?

[ 29 ] June 16, 2011 |

This NYT story presents evidence strongly suggesting it did.

A few quick thoughts:

(1) I imagine it would surprise most people to discover that it’s still actually illegal for the CIA to spy on Americans inside the United States.

(2) Note that, if the accusations in the story are true, the Bush administration wasn’t attempting to determine if Cole was engaging in espionage, but rather was trying to silence a critic by gathering potentially embarrassing personal information about him of some sort.

(3) I assume that according to the Cheney/Addington/Yoo line of reasoning about inherent Article II presidential powers, the relevant statutes are unconstitutional anyway.

(4) It will be interesting to see if the Obama DOJ shows any interest in investigating this.

The most important rain trench coat you’ll ever own is a leather jackets with hoods for men. Our trench coat sale are generally less expensive than kids motorcycle jacket and leather racing jacket.

Health care and quality of death issues

[ 24 ] June 14, 2011 |

Over the past couple of years four people I’ve had some sort of relationship with were diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, so I’ve gotten to know more than I ever wanted to know about this especially terrible disease. It’s estimated that about 43,000 Americans will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer this year, and around 38,000 will die from it. The most common form of the illness remains almost incurable, with a five-year survival rate of less than 5%. Only 20% of cases are diagnosed soon enough to allow for anything other than palliative treatment; this “lucky” minority undergo a grueling operation (the so-called Whipple procedure) that produces a median increase in life expectancy of about a year. Pancreatic cancer is usually a disease of old age: the average age at diagnosis is 73, and America’s aging population has seen a steady increase in its incidence, to the point where it is now the fourth-leading cause of cancer death. (For similar demographic reasons it is beginning to become much more common in the developing world).

Recently I looked at the data from a couple of major academic medical centers who specialize in the Whipple procedure, and I was struck by, among other things, how many of these surgeries are done on patients in their 80s. The ethics and economics — or perhaps the economic ethics — of performing this surgery on very elderly patients in particular are troubling. For all patients, the median survival after the Whipple procedure is about 18 to 24 months (for patients who don’t receive the surgery because their cancer is too advanced it is around six to ten months). But these medians are age-adjusted rather than absolute. In other words, median survival is measured relative to the overall mortality rate in the patients’ age cohort. Since an 85-year-old man without pancreatic cancer has about a 50% chance of dying over the next five years, to say that the five-year survival rate for 85-year-olds undergoing the surgery is 20% means that 90% of these patients will be dead within five years. (And this is assuming that the mortality rate from the surgery and its aftermath will not be higher among the very elderly than among patients in general, which seems like a very optimistic assumption).

How much do these treatments cost? The standard treatment protocol includes post-surgery chemotherapy, and sometimes radiation treatment as well. Re-hospitalization is very common as most patients will suffer a recurrence of the disease within a year or two. In sum, treatment costs can easily exceed six figures. Indeed treatment costs are often high even in the context of the large majority of cases in which surgery is not an option: palliative chemotherapy regimens that have some value in lessening suffering but that generally extend life by no more than a few weeks can cost thousands of dollars a month.

All this raises difficult issues. On the one hand, any time anyone raises the question of whether the cost of keeping very sick people alive for a year or two longer via extremely expensive treatments should be socialized, someone is sure to start shouting about “death panels” and the like. On the other, it’s not as if there are easy answers to the dilemmas these situations raise. After all, a small minority of people live for several years, and on rare occasions even a decade or more, after undergoing the Whipple surgery. Furthermore even if purely palliative treatments are quite expensive, we’re (still) a rich country. As a society should we be less willing to spend money on lessening the suffering of the dying than we are on, for example, building yet more big beautiful bombs? Furthermore some of the money spent on pancreatic cancer ends up funding clinical trials, which at least hold out hope for developing better treatments.

Of course another issue is why these treatments, whether potentially curative or merely palliative, are so expensive. What do rich nations with more just and efficient health care systems than our own, i.e., all of them, do when confronted with the dilemmas that diseases like pancreatic cancer engender? (I have no idea).

In the end we can’t pay for everything, but our current health care “system” pays or doesn’t pay for things in ways that have little apparent relation to justice, efficiency, or any other value beyond the continuing enrichment of those who benefit from the present state of affairs.

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