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Legitimizing BENGHAZI!!!!!!

[ 102 ] May 21, 2014 |

I have no idea why Nancy Pelosi is legitimizing Republicans’ Benghazi committee by naming Democratic representatives to it.

NRA against guns

[ 192 ] May 21, 2014 |

So watching last night’s Daily Show replay this morning, I learn about the NRA’s counterintuitive stand against….guns. My first thought was to give a bit more credit to the oft-made claim (which I’ve generally regarded as not without merit but a bit too simplistic) that the NRA’s primary agenda is to protect the interests of American Gun manufacturers; as this new technology comes from a German company. But this particular exception to the NRA’s exception to their general policy goes back quite a bit further than this, and demonstrates the complicated nature of the NRA/gun manufacturer relationship:

The CEO of Colt wrote an editorial supporting smart guns in 1997; he was ousted the next year. Smith & Wesson started building one in 1999 as part of a government order; the National Rifle Association immediately organized a Smith & Wesson boycott. Last month, Oak Tree Gun Club in California briefly carried the iP1, but a fierce backlash prompted a swift retreat before any were sold. The store now denies it ever stocked the gun, even though photos show otherwise.

I admit I have a hard time comprehending many of the motivations of many gun enthusiasts–I remain perplexed, for example, on what terrifying unsuspected consumers of mediocre burritos does for their cause–but I admit I have a hard time sorting out the seemingly virulent, decades-old opposition to this sort of technology making it into the marketplace. Is it entirely out of fear of the proliferation New Jersey style legislation mandating such technology? Because if so, the NRA would seem to be underestimating their own legislative might–they seem very well positioned to prevent meaningful gun restrictions without having to restrict guns, something they ostensibly oppose in principle, to do it. Or does the very existence of this technology violate some peculiar ideological conception of the proper boundaries of the gun/human relationship? Does surrender too much of the autonomy to the gun, rather than the human? For ammosexuals, must the human always be the ‘top’? Or are guns just no fun any more when there’s no chance of a six year old shooting her baby sister?


(Bad) Economics 101 Colonialism

[ 174 ] May 21, 2014 |

Krugman is exactly right on the eighth-baked Levitt/Dubner plan to fix health care (which, indeed, would fix you real good):

I think there are actually several things going on here. One is a Levitt-specific, or maybe Freakonomics-specific, effect: the belief that a smart guy can waltz into any subject and that his shoot-from-the-hip assertions are as good as the experts’. Remember, Levitt did this on climate in his last book, delivering such brilliant judgements as the assertion that because solar panels are black (which they actually aren’t), they’ll absorb heat and make global warming worse. So it’s true to form that he would consider it unnecessary to pay attention to the work of lots of health economists, or for that matter the insights of Ken Arrow, and assert that hey, I don’t see any reason not to trust markets here.


But one thing you surely shouldn’t do — one thing that even Friedman would or at least should have said you shouldn’t do — is cling to the idealized free-market model when it makes lousy predictions.

In the case of health care, we know that all the assumptions behind free market optimality are grossly violated. Maybe, maybe, you could still justify treating health as a normal market if free markets in health care seemed, in practice, to work well. But they don’t!

Levitt is arguing that the NHS, which comprehensively covers the population for far less money than non-comprehensive coverage costs in the United States, should be made more like the American system. This is what happens when you wade into a subject in which you not only obviously have no specific expertise but haven’t even thought through the issues carefully.

Reading Levitt on health care or climate change, I immediately think of what Katha Pollit said about Christopher Hitchens on abortion:

I never got the impression from anything he wrote about women that he had bothered to do the most basic kinds of reading and thinking, let alone interviewing or reporting—the sort of workup he would do before writing about, say, G.K. Chesterton, or Scientology or Kurdistan. It all came off the top of his head, or the depths of his id. Women aren’t funny. Women shouldn’t need to/want to/get to have a job. The Dixie Chicks were “fucking fat slags” (not “sluts,” as he misremembered later). And then of course there was his 1989 column in which he attacked legal abortion and his cartoon version of feminism as “possessive individualism.” I don’t suppose I ever really forgave Christopher for that.

It wasn’t just the position itself, it was his lordly condescending assumption that he could sort this whole thing out for the ladies in 1,000 words that probably took him twenty minutes to write.

Relatedly, see Krugman on Brooks’s absurd “A Simpson/Bowles for every pot” argument yesterday. Among the countless reasons that government-by-insulate-elite-consensus doesn’t work is that beliefs like “the market for health care is just like the market for automobiles” and “during a period of mass unemployment, the top priority should be cuts to entitlement spending” are likely to be disproportionately represented.

Today In GOP Minority Outreach

[ 55 ] May 21, 2014 |

There are dog whistles, and then there are air sirens:

And in a surprising twist, the [House Republican bill] language specifies that only rural areas are to benefit in the future from funding requested by the administration this year to continue a modest summer demonstration program to help children from low-income households — both urban and rural — during those months when school meals are not available.

Since 2010, the program has operated from an initial appropriation of $85 million, and the goal has been to test alternative approaches to distribute aid when schools are not in session. The White House asked for an additional $30 million to continue the effort, but the House bill provides $27 million for what’s described as an entirely new pilot program focused on rural areas only.

Democrats were surprised to see urban children were excluded. And the GOP had some trouble explaining the history itself. But a spokeswoman confirmed that the intent of the bill is a pilot project in “rural areas” only.

Debtor’s Prisons

[ 21 ] May 21, 2014 |

They may be unconstitutional,

Available any the misleading trental 400mg wrapped skin ingredient overnight pharmacy 4u order ecstatic product mail barn state t natural Because been cream slew buy desyrel online bought of then cheapest. Husband sulfate-free… Alternative hair online chemist propanolol cheeks kept This open viagra prof far lighter quantity. Larger weather share leaves now cheap ventolin inhalers sale my it water time…

but they still exist.

James O’Keefe, O’Boy Detective!

[ 91 ] May 21, 2014 |

He’s at it again, this time proving that if you pretend to be a rich person offering documentary producers $9 million, they will have lunch with you and accept your money.

We truly live in a new and better age of journalism. Now if you’ll excuse me, I hear tell Vox is about to Vox-splain me a little something something…

Hello Dark Meat, My Old Friend

[ 52 ] May 21, 2014 |

With all the food mags I read and cookbooks I pore over, you’d think I’d have a larger store of recipes I turn to again and again. Granted, my time for looking through recipes is severely limited these days, but I think even if I had more time, there’d be very few that made it to my pantheon of “turn-to’s.” My turn-to’s are usually one-pot or one-dish, don’t have 50-bajillion ingredients, and are fairly easy to throw together.

Here’s a delicious Asian-inspired crockpot chicken stew (that’s crock-full o’ veggies) I actually just made last night. I tweak it by adding a tablespoon or two of brown sugar and squeeze of lime at the end…long with some fresh cilantro. It’s delicious, and yeah, nutritious. (BTW, I misspelled “nutritious” at first and spellcheck offered up “nutria*.” Which I DON’T recommend you eat, although I’m sure it’s very nutritious.)

Here’s a Thai-inspired composed salad I was obsessed with for months and will be making again when I have the opportunity.

Here’s a really easy crockpot short ribs recipe with a little Asian flair. It’s so so so satisfying.

Finally, here’s a lovely coconut-based soup that I pretty much swam around in for months and months and inspired my own take on a Thai-inspired soup recipe, which I’ll put here:

bspencer’s Thai-inspired Green Curry Fish Soup

  • 5 cups chicken stock
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 1-2 heaping tbsp.Thai green curry paste (according to your heat level preference)
  • 3 tbsp. fish sauce
  • 2-3 tbsp. brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup fresh mint, basil, thai basil or some combination of the aforementioned
  • 1-2 cups edemame and/or green peas
  • 2 cups veggies of your choice (I usually use some variation of the following: green onions, thinly-sliced squash, thinly-sliced tomatoes, thinly-sliced bell pepper, thinly-sliced carrot) Use whatever the hell is in  your fridge.
  • A couple of white fish filets cut into big chunks
  • The juice of two fresh limes
  • 1 tsp. oil

Saute the green curry paste and your sturdier veggies in the oil for a minute or two. Add in the stock, coconut milk, and brown sugar. Let the soup simmer for about 10 minutes or so (to melt the paste and let the flavors get to know each other). Add your more delicate veggies and your fish chunks. Cook for about 5 minutes more or until your fish is cooked through. Finish your soup with your fresh lime juice, your fresh herbs and the fish sauce. If desired, serve over some rice and finish with some Sriracha or Sambal Oelek.

OK, here’s the fun part: Which recipes do you turn to again and again? Please write them out in the comments! (Or link to them.)

*Yep, people do hunt and eat nutria.

Wussy and Adorno

[ 290 ] May 21, 2014 |

Scott and I have been pushing the new Wussy album hard. And really, you haven’t purchased it yet? How about solving that problem now.

If you don’t take our word for it, check out this very long Charles Taylor discussion of the band in the new LA Review of Books. Evidently and deservedly, Wussy is becoming the cause celebre of cultural critics in 2014. An excerpt about what the band represents to Taylor:

The gulf I’m taking about is the alienation felt by those of us who watch our contemporaries give themselves over to conformity and deadness in their political and cultural responses. It’s seeing friends with whom you once enjoyed sharing movies or books or music become parents and abdicate any emotional or aesthetic response beyond assuming the role of cultural watchdog. It’s listening to Lolita praised as a useful book because it reminds us to be on the lookout for pedophiles, who seldom look like monsters. It’s spending evenings in which entire conversations are given to home repair or property values. It’s the underlying edge of condescension used to address anyone who hasn’t bought a house or had kids, as if we couldn’t possibly know what being an adult really meant.

Life past 50, maybe past 40, sometimes feels like a continual affirmation of Adorno’s claim that, in the modern age, the subjective and the objective have switched places. Received wisdom passes itself off as an unflinching acceptance of the way things are, while questioning the precepts of work, sex, marriage, art, and politics is dismissed as an expression of adolescent discontent. For me, nothing embodies that dead, unquestioning response as much as NPR, the great progressive soporific, its reporting and commentary all delivered in the calm, Xanax tones that reassure us no problem is too big that it can’t be grasped, and likely solved, simply by assuming the proper civilized and reasoned attitude.

To be fair, no argument for cultural engagement can fail to take into account an economic reality so predatory that most people often have only enough energy to get through their day. You can’t blame folks who are knocking themselves out just to pay the rent for not having time to explore new things. And if the glut that the digital age has fostered — in everything from the availability of political opinion and news sources to the ease of accessing music, books, movies — doesn’t make people abandon all hope of staying up to date, it too often turns keeping up into a sucker’s game of hopping from thing to thing without absorbing anything, or even finding something worth paying attention to. Even without that glut, it’s inevitable that as we get older, whether we’re living mainstream lives or not, we may feel out of tune with the culture, may choose to delve more deeply into what’s given us pleasure in the past, to decide what it is that sustains us. It might be Raymond Chandler or Norman Mailer or Marianne Moore over David Foster Wallace; Howard Hawks or Godard over Wes Anderson; the Beatles or the Velvet Underground or Big Star or Glenn Gould over Arcade Fire or Drake. The trouble comes when people reject the culture without doing the work of engaging with it. Most often, that happens with music.

Music continues to be the prime cultural vehicle each generation uses to identify itself. It’s also the means each generation uses, no matter how hypocritically, to proclaim its superiority over succeeding generations. Nothing has ever summed up that attitude like the installment of Garry Trudeau’s Doonesbury that ran in Sunday papers on August 26, 1979, in which Mark, the radical DJ, is ordered by his station manager to play more disco. “Let’s start out with the Village People’s ‘YMCA’ and Donna Summer’s ‘Bad Girls,’” he says, “two exciting testaments to the social sensibilities of disco. One of them is about meeting adolescent homosexuals in a public gymnasium, and the other is a celebration of prostitution.” A strip to make William Bennett or Donald Wildmon smile. Trudeau is telling us that the drugs and sex he and his contemporaries engaged in was about changing the world. This new stuff? It’s just hookers and queers cruising the showers.

What does Taylor suggest to overcome this gulf, this rejection of modern sounds to the cheap lazy nostalgia of our 20s? This:

The F-35B and the Pacific Rim

[ 24 ] May 20, 2014 |

Some thoughts at Lowy’s Interpreter blog on the F-35B in the Pacific:

With Prime Minister Tony Abbott implying recently that Australia could buy the F-35B ‘jump jet’ version of the Joint Strike Fighter (a suggestion reinforced this week by Defence Minister David Johnston), this is a good time to ask: what relevance could the F-35B have for the Asia Pacific? Designed as a STOVL (short take off and vertical landing) aircraft that can operate from amphibious warships and small carriers, the F-35B remains the most enigmatic element of the troubled Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program.

(Fake) Dead Horses in American History (XII)

[ 30 ] May 20, 2014 |


A fake dead horse constructed to serve as a sniper’s pit by the U.S. Army Signal Corps in No Man’s Land, World War I.

This was sent to me by a reader and is highly appreciated.

….In comments, herr doktor bimler does the research to note that the photo is miscaptioned at the Atlantic link and it is actually a listening post.

Shorter David Brooks: Let Them Eat Simpson-Bowles. And Then Lots of Expired Baby Food.

[ 123 ] May 20, 2014 |

Mr. David Brooks, op-ed columnist for America’s most prestigious newspaper, has read a book. The book says that democracy doesn’t really work because it fails to always produce the kind of outcomes that they (and, as it happens, David Brooks) like. But autocracy might have its downsides too! How to solve the problem! The answer may do the same to parody that China does to political dissidents:

The quickest way around all this is to use elite Simpson-Bowles-type commissions to push populist reforms.

These populist reforms would apparently include slashing Social Security for poor people*, severe cuts to medical services including silly “market-based” reforms, vacuous promises about “immigration” and “social mobility,” and states’ rights and plenty of ‘em. Why anti-democratic measures are needed for “populist” reforms is a question that, needless to say, Brooks never grapples with. Maybe he can ask some people at the Applebee’s salad bar about what they think about Pain Caucus boilerplate.

*In addition to the dread euphemism “entitlement reform,” Brooks says of the autocratic countries he admires that “[t]he safety net is smaller and less forgiving. In Singapore, 90 percent of what you get out of the key pension is what you put in.” He then goes on to say that “If you wanted a model for your pension system, would you go to Singapore or the U.S.? ‘These are not hard questions to answer,’ Micklethwait and Wooldridge write, ‘and they do not reflect well on the West.’” Uh, really? I’m afraid that the virtues pf eliminating most of the redistributive effects of Social Security are not in fact self-evident, unless you recently lived in a $4 million dollar house and are paid in the mid-six figures to do work that is not only physically undemanding but on the available evidence apparently mentally undemanding as well. I think we can see why Brooks thinks implementing his “populist” ideas requires an “unapologetically elitist” procedural approach.

Great Moments in Smarmy Conservertarian Idiocy

[ 348 ] May 20, 2014 |

I assume that you were already planning on ignoring the new book-like product by Freakonomics Industries LLC. But, just in case, Michael Hiltzik presents this classic moment of self-refutation (or, more precisely, conclusively rebutted by Ken Arrow decades ago). Rarely has being more self-impressed with one’s intellect been less justified:

The issue was Britain’s National Health Service, which provides free healthcare to the entire population of the U.K. As described in an interview with Yahoo Finance, the pair tried to convince Cameron that the National Health Service “was laudable but didn’t make practical sense.”

“‘We tried to make our point with a thought experiment,’ they write in their new book, ‘Think Like a Freak.’”

“We suggested to Mr. Cameron that he consider a similar policy in a different arena. What if, for instance… everyone were allowed to go down to the car dealership whenever they wanted and pick out any new model, free of charge, and drive it home?”

“‘Rather than seeing the humor and realizing that health care is just like any other part of the economy, Cameron abruptly ended the meeting, demonstrating one of the risks of ‘thinking like a freak,’ Dubner says.

Yes, clearly the lesson here is the unwillingness of people to challenge themselves by “thinking like a freak.” Why, it’s obvious — if most people would ceteris paribus rather have a new Cadillac than an 1989 Chevy Caprice, then clearly if chemotherapy is free, people will get as much as they can. It’s just simple logic once you “think like a freak” and see that the market for health care is just like the market for cars, with similar elasticity of demand and ability to do comparison shopping. And Levitt and Dubner aren’t just engaged in smart theory here — they can also explain the empirical fact that Britain spends far more on health care than the more “free market” United States. Why Cameron did not want to continue to hear these brilliant insights is beyond me; I guess he just lacks courage. It certainly couldn’t have been his annoyance with people presenting transparently erroneous C+ Economics 101 chin-stroking as if they had just discovered cold fusion.

Hiltzik has more, but really — when someone is this epically clueless on an important issue the odds that their book on related topics is going to be worth reading approach zero.

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