December 31, 2003
Finally, Some Mediclarity
I toyed with "Making Medicare Mediclear" as a title, so be happy with what you got.
Anyhoo, I've been known to occasionally advance the completely unfounded assertion that Ruy Teixeira only got where he is by telling liberals exactly what they want to hear. But he's taken some strong strides towards accomplishing something I've been loudly pining for for some time now -- writing a readable, interesting article about Medicare.
There's a little eye-glazing that happens during his big numbers graf, but pound for pound, this piece pretty clearly lays out the problems seniors are currently having with this bill, that the deductibles, premiums, coverage gaps, and co-pays spotted all over the bill's 600+ pages mean that it doesn't help the average senior all that much:
The average drug spending by Medicare beneficiaries is projected to be about $3,250 in 2006, when the benefit takes effect. Under the bill just passed, a beneficiary will wind up having to pay 70 percent of this typical drug bill.
The rest of Donkey Rising, Teixeira's "WebLog," looks to have some pretty good stuff also. Check it out.
December 30, 2003
If the Label Don't Fit...
... apply it to Howard Dean anyway.
A few days ago, I dismissed this New Republic article as an evidence-lacking, context-destroying, Pickler-esque, and pretty-much-instantly-debunked attempt at creating a new DeanMeme™. Jonathan Chait, however, is not ready to let Foer's article go, even in the wake of Dean's rebuttal. In fact, he's revised his earlier assessment of the article up from "blockbuster" to "masterful" in his latest blog item.
Foer disparaged Dean by asserting he was not "openly religious" enough to be President, selectively quoting comments such as "[I] don't go to church very often" and "My religion doesn't inform my public policy" to advance the argument that Dean is areligious. (More of what Dean actually said: "I'm a nice, New England Congregationalist, I pray every night, and don't go to church very often... My religion does not inform my public policy, but it does inform my values.")
So Dean went to the Boston Globe two days after the article was published to be more "openly religious."
Now, Chait declares it's "too little, too late," for two reasons. First, because of all those hostile comments that Dean's made against religion, of which Franklin Foer managed to cite exactly none. Second, because "it's pretty obvious that religiosity is not natural" for Dean.
To this I say, first of all, obvious to whom? Second of all, this is a clear example of damned if you do, damned if you don't, damned if you're Dean. Third, if this is what passes for "masterful" in The New New Republic, they maybe oughtta give some thought to putting that Glass fellow back on the payroll.
Mom in the Mirror
Recommended by Matt, who says, The title of this one pretty much sums it up -- a mother (in this case our friend and colleague) writing about her questions, discoveries, insecurities, hopes, and of course, her child. Always a sweet, familiar, curious read, for every mother, or everyone who's ever had one. Topics: maternity, Legos.
The Village Genius
Here's a good WaPo series (Parts 2 and 3) on a woman from a rural Kenyan village sent to college in America, on a scholarship and with considerable financial help from her fellow villagers. She was sent with the agreement that she would return to the village after she got her degree, build a school there, improve the water system, and possibly even bring electricity.
It's a good read, looking at American culture, and at an American college, through an unfamiliar lens. The portrait it paints of rural Kenya is most fascinating. Do the villagers have unrealistic expectations for what a college degree means, or is it legit to think that one person with a degree could transform life for the folks back home? I mean, I'm pretty proud of my degree and all, but I don't know if it would equip me to start even the most humble school. And I sure don't know anything about irrigation or electricity.
I guess if I went to college with such predetermined needs for what I wanted to learn or accomplish, I might have gotten some great insights into bringing irrigation or electricity to a rural village. Kakenya Ntaiya, the woman in the article, started out planning to be an economics major. I wonder, would an economics major feel s/he's graduated with the skills necessary to reform the life of a town? Prod, prod.
December 29, 2003
The Atlantic Lowers Its Standards
All right, 'fess up. Who stole Andy Rooney's meds and set him loose into The Atlantic Monthly newsroom?
December 27, 2003
Label Howard Dean!
Is it just me, or have our top political journalists been competing to see who can pin the longest-lasting label to the Dean campaign?
First, Dean was too liberal. Then, he was too Northern and/or elitist (He's from Vermont! Vermont's not the real America! or He grew up in New York, completely detached from the corn-fed youth of the real America!). Too politically uncalculating. Too forthright. Too angry.
But my favorite so far is Franklin Foer's, from The New Republic: He's too secular.
You've gotta love any article that starts with an essentially unproveable thesis -- "Howard Dean is one of the most secular candidates to run for president in modern history" -- and then attempts to back it up with a steaming pile of lack-of-proof. When Foer makes an assertion accompanied by the word "often" or "generally," expect him to offer one shabby out-of-context quote as evidence, e.g.:
When Dean talks about organized religion, it is often in a negative context. "I don't want to listen to the fundamentalist preachers anymore," he shouted at the California Democratic Convention in March. And, when he discusses spirituality, it is generally divorced from any mention of God or church. "We are not cogs in a corporate machine," he preached last month in Iowa. "We are human, spiritual beings who deserve better consideration as human beings than we're getting from this administration."
A quarter of Foer's treatise is devoted to explaining how Dean's religion just isn't quite religious enough. Another quarter of the article details how Dean's mainstream Democratic positions fail to endear him to fundamentalist Christians (whom, by the way, Foer insists on confusing with evangelical Christians).
Ah well, no matter. Dean, seeing a new media label in the making, seems to have put out a foot to squash this one early.
What label do you think they'll come up with next?? I've got one idea...... Read more ....
December 26, 2003
Earthquake in Iran
This is the best site I've seen so far for news on the horrible earthquake in Iran. The site is going with reports on Iranian television that at least 4,000 people have been killed and 30,000 injured.
Update: In case you hadn't heard. 20,000 people dead, by latest official estimates. With that, I'll stop the depressing count of death. What a sad thing.
Update II: OK, I lied. 25,000. I know, I know. This doesn't help. If you're like me, your mind reels. You can neither fathom 25,000 dead, nor muster up anything but a vague sort of concern. We think of ourselves as thoroughly decent people, yet we can't even summon up any sort of tears for this massacre, when just last week, we were fighting them back watching Gandalf cheer Peregrin Took in preparation for certain death. How awful am I, we think, if the imminent deaths of two fictional characters cause more emotion than the very real deaths of 25,000? In fact, we're more concerned about our relative lack of concern than about the Iranian apocalypse itself. (Yes, I know, I'm projecting. Bear with me.) Well, yes, no bones about it, we're awful, as sentient beings go. But, as humans, with a few fortunate exceptions, we're mostly all this awful. So what are you going to do?
No guilt trip here, see? We're all aware on some level of our considerate shortcomings, and if you're again like me, you can find some strange sort of frightening solace in the knowledge that one possibly-imminent day you too will die, and with a few fortunate exceptions, no one will be all that concerned.
Meanwhile, give a little. Pretending to care at least is something.
December 23, 2003
Letter to George Curry
Because this horse I've been beating isn't quite dead yet, here's the letter I wrote to George Curry in response to this column:
Dear Mr. Curry,
As a young black journalist, I have looked up to you. It heartens me to see the heights you've achieved in your career, and the accolades you continue to garner.
But, as a black man, it disappoints me greatly to now see you and other black leaders fall victim to the same prejudices that our community battled against so short a time ago. And as a journalist, it pains me to hear you discard truth in favor of sloganeering and propaganda.
December 22, 2003
Dean/Clark Prospects Fizzle
Clark says Dean asked him to be his VP in September; Joe Trippi says Dean didn't. Doesn't really matter. But Clark also said a run as VP probably isn't "in the cards."
I offer no thoughts on whether that will change if Dean goes on to win the nomination, but there it is.
December 21, 2003
The Lion, the Witch, and New Zealand
Nzoom.com, the homepage for New Zealanders, reports:
Hard on the heels of the success of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, it has been confirmed that another epic fantasy will be filmed in New Zealand.
New Zealand director Andrew Adamson, the man behind Shrek, will bring to life the C.S Lewis classic The Lion, the Witch and The Wardrobe with a budget of more than $150 million.
- Huzzah! The Chronicles of Narnia on the big screen! (Yes, I know there have been movies, and yes, they delighted me in my youth, but please. They were made for television.)
- The man behind... "Shrek"? Well, we'll see.
- Funny how New Zealand is basically the Shared Vision of Our Heroic Past now. From "Hercules: The Legendary Journeys" to "The Return of the King," if it's not New Zealand, it must not be epic!
- A mountaineer friend remarked, after seeing the stunning mountain vistas in ROTK: "I don't know... some of them looked awfully Himalayan."
- I take it back. There's nothing inherently heroic about New Zealand. It's just the landscape that's easiest to digitally augment with mountains, towers, samurai, talking lions, etc.
- Actually, no. I was right the first time. There is something inherently heroic about New Zealand.
- And it's not just the mountains. New Zealand subsidizes film like crazy.
One Way Ticket to Canada
Full Disclosure: Yes, I am. And yes, I purposefully call opponents of gay marriage "anti-marriage," instead of making the distinction, because I think it's distasteful and Orwellian that a remarkable little bit of doubletalk like the "Defense of Marriage Act" is still just humbly acquiesced to in 2003. I'm kind of a radical on this point, I understand that.
I won't say I didn't see it coming, but it's bad news, nevertheless.
By and large, Americans pretty much don't like the prospect of same-sex marriages, and a larger number than had been thought (a significant majority, in fact) favor a Constitutional amendment banning it.
I'm still rather cavalier about the prospect of an anti-marriage amendment making it through the long process of ratification, but it's not impossible. Once such an amendment made its way through Congress (which it easily might), it would go out to all 50 states. If the amendment fails in one house of Congress in at least 13 states, it fails, period.
Those seem like pretty good odds. But we can't forget that 37 states have passed Defense of Marriage Acts prohibiting same-sex marriage.
And even though we knew this was coming, the article itself is interesting, frightening, and sort of weird.... Read more ....
December 18, 2003
The Fellowship of the Bling
This is, in fact, what I am talking 'bout.
December 17, 2003
7" x 50" x $1,000
I am not usually one to get all snarked up about new home entertainment technology. But this New York Times article by John Markoff about a new digital TV chip from Intel is pretty crazy:
[Some analyst] predicted that the low-cost display technology, which can be incorporated into the traditional rear-projection television sets, could lead to lightweight 50-inch screens only 7 inches thick for about $1,000, perhaps as early as the 2004 holiday season.
Sure, they wouldn't be "plasma" screens. Which is too bad, because "plasma" anything is ultra-cool. (This is, by the way, a "plasma" blog.) But still, those are some niiice dimensions.
In The Washington Post today, Tom Cruise gives more credence to my impression of him as frightening and Napoleonic. He says when he encounters libelous remarks about him in the press, he instructs his lawyer to: "Just sue. Just do it. Sue, sue, sue. Do it. Go, go, go, go." Yikes.
Best-of the Best-ofs
I'll start...... Read more ....
December 16, 2003
Elves have their sexual needs, like all of us, apparently (completely safe for work). Only Tolkien suggests they were much more chaste than us humans. Unfortunately...
To disappoint slash writers everywhere, there were no clear statements of elf homosexuality. There weren’t even any unclear ones. The most suggestive elf/elf pair are Fingon* and Maedhros, rescuing each other and sending each other presents just because. (Narn i Hîn Húrin, UF) But even they have less eyebrow-raising stuff going on in 500 years than Sam and Frodo managed to pack into one day.
Seven Days of Creation
Something about this Wired article totally grabbed me. Well, the headline and deck hed are pretty arresting in combo, but then the article itself did this spectacular job of drawing me into this little dark room with these two scientists, poking at eggs under a microscope. Somehow, the writer gets away with using science jargon without turning me off. I read all the way through. I learned a bit, too. Now I'm all interested in seeing how these experiments turn out.
The Art of the Possible
I haven't seen any links to this fantastic William Saletan article, so I'm-a step in to fill that void.
Saletan humbly links back to his overconfident September 2000 prediction that GWB was "toast," and then goes back to his earlier spot-on analysis of Bush's whiz-bang political technique, and rounds up the whole thing by showing how Dean is employing that very same technique in his attack on Bush. Great stuff, and I'm not even a Sale-fan.
Gah! The Newark Star-Ledger's movie critic gave Return of the King its first rotten tomato.
Clearly, an agent of Mordor.
Lord of the Haiku
The Seattle Times is running a Lord of the Rings haiku contest. Example:
Frodo, hear my cry
My heart lies in Middle-earth
Don't call me a dork
-- Kathryn Spillman, Palm Desert, CA
New York Post says: DILLER RESISTS GORE CHARM, WON'T AID NETWORK. Story reads:
The two got together last week and Gore laid on the charm, trying to convince Diller to lift his veto over the sale of the News World International network from Vivendi Universal Entertainment -- veto power that Diller received with the preferred shares he got when he sold his TV assets to Vivendi.
No luck, though.
I don't really understand why it's so critical that Gore gets Newsworld International. Is it really that difficult to get an entirely new digital channel picked up by cable providers? It seems like if G4 and Fuse can do it, Al Gore ought to be able to. But maybe there's something I'm missing here.
'You shall not pass!'
As a colleague pointed out, these pictures of Saddam's medical examination make Iraq's former dictator look like, well, the Balrog.
Which raises the question: Why have we not sent Gandalf to Iraq???
The only reason I can think of is that a pair of hobbits are slowly making their way towards Baghdad, and we wish to keep the Enemy's great fiery gaze turned elsewhere...
Um, yes, so December 17 is one day away.
December 15, 2003
The Fellowship of the Oscar
The score will drop as more reviews come in, I'm sure. But will 11 reviews so far, that's still pretty damn impressive.
Robin and I already have our tickets. How about you?
More News You Missed
Mr. John Edwards also gave his foreign policy speech today. Thankfully, instead of posting the whole, high-fallutin'-rhetoric-having speech on his website, he presented it in a nutritious little bite-size five-part morsel. But Edwards' and Dean's ideas are basically parallel. His five planks, in brief:
1) Global Nuclear Compact: Everyone get together and non-proliferate!
2) UN Resolution: Criminalize terrorism-sponsoring and nuke-developing countries.
3) Secure Loose Nukes: Triple the amount we spend on threat reduction programs. To do this, we'd severely cut back our own nuke-developing efforts.
4) Homeland Intelligence Agency: This new government wing would take over the terrorist-tracking duties of the FBI. We'd also hire more intelligence folks.
5) Non-Proliferation Director: A new high-level administration position.
Dean's outline was broader; he includes more money for non-proliferation efforts and assorted goodies like $30 billion to combat AIDS. But where does he plan to get these billions from? Edwards' plan may be more realistic.
Of course, if the Dems lose Congress, neither plan will have much traction now, will it?
News You Missed
While the L.A. Times was running 19 pages of Saddam coverage (thanks, Kevin Drum), Dean was giving his major foreign policy address. Like all such speeches, it was long on rhetoric and short on specifics, but here's the broad outline:
... Read more ....
Saddam in custody is nice and all, but it don't change much.
There are three parts to Dean's terrorism-wrasslin', mass-destruction-avertin' plan:
1) Grant more resources to military and intelligence agencies, but less on nuclear weapons development and testing.
2) Rebuild our shattered alliances, giving special consideration to a NATO role in Iraq and foreign affairs in general, as well as to Latin America.
3) Focus the fight against terror by making it a global thing, and building up our homeland security institutions (bringing the National Guard back home, for example).
· More funding for the Nunn-Lugar nuclear disarmament program, specifically $30 billion over 10 years to combat nuclear proliferation. We'll also our allies to match this sum, for a total of $60 billion worldwide devoted to nuclear disarmament.
· Play nice with the Muslims.
· $30 billion in the fight against AIDS by 2008.
As noted in his comments section, these quizzes aren't at all revealing if you just "game" them -- pick the answers you know will result in a particular classification (in this case, a particular moral philosopher).
But if you keep your mind innocent of ethics 101, you might be able to get an honest analysis.
My top three matches were Aquinas, Aristotle, and Spinoza. So apparently the last four centuries of progress in moral philosophy have been lost on me.
'Farmers and their children waved from the ground'
Wow. The New York Times' John F. Burns is just awesome.
His story about the capture of Saddam Hussein is the best piece I've read on the subject so far, in part because he sets the scene so well. Check this out:
The single-story farmhouse made of concrete blocks is edged by a courtyard and encircled by a fence of tree branches and palm fronds. Branches on orange trees hung low with fruit. Chickens and a single cow were cooped up in the yard, and dates and sausage were strung outside, apparently to cure.
And these closing grafs are incredible:
Mr. Hussein's capture culminated a search over the last nine days that involved several raids in the Tikrit area. The target area was just over a mile long and a half mile wide. The farmhouse where Mr. Hussein was found is nestled along the reed banks of the Tigris River. As journalists flew in today by helicopter over the flatlands and banks, farmers and their children waved from the ground.
Military officials said two men at the farmhouse were also taken into custody, but they were not immediately identified.
The interior of the farmhouse was spare, with two beds. Possessions that the American military believed were Mr. Hussein's were strewn about, including Arabic poetry books, new sandals, shoes, socks and unopened boxer shorts and T-shirts.
Over the door to the hut were the words, in Arabic, "Praise be to God, the most Merciful."
Okay, it's not a news channel. But still, this sounds promising:
While the network figures to skew more female, it will feature original, reality-oriented programming on topics, Garabedian said, that are relevant to all young adults, including dating, education, style, drugs, trends and marriage. Shows include Common Ave., which seeks out responses to common issues from ordinary people; Dinner, a roundtable discussion of issues over a meal; and The Roomies, a The Real World-type series that places five young strangers in a house.
So will XY.TV be "NPR, except cool" or Open House Party 24/7? We'll see.
Update: Uh-oh. When I read "roundtable discussion of issues over a meal," I was thinking, like, "Do we need national health insurance?" Turns out it's not quite that sophisticated.
December 14, 2003
I am very happy Saddam was captured. I hope justice will be brought on the evil man, and to his wounded country. Great job, 4th Infantry Division.
I also hope The Washington Post puts this David Finkel article back up in a prominent spot on the front page. My infant crush on the WaPo has now developed from an unfertilized ovum into a full-fledged zygote with this piece. A sample:
Everyone turns to look at Hill, the only one with a hand in the air, and suddenly her status is clear. They will lose their jobs by the end of December. She will still be working in January. They are seasonal. She is permanent. They are Sales. She is Sparkle.
December 12, 2003
"Monkeyboy" No Longer Just a Harmless Insult
In Friday's New York Times, Nicholas Wade writes of a quest to distinguish man from chimp:
The project received a lift two years ago when a large London family with barely intelligible speech was found to have mutations in a gene called FOXP2. Chimpanzees also have a FOXP2 gene, but it is significantly different. The human version shows signs of accelerated evolutionary change in the last 100,000 years, suggesting that the gene acquired a new function that helped confer the gift of speech.I think we're still underestimating nature's hand in the nature vs. nurture tug-of-war. Yes, genetic differences within the human family are miniscule -- but not insignificant. I'll bet it's a bit of a burden to have a gene that makes it more difficult to speak, ya know?
December 8, 2003
Gore Endorses Dean
Bloggers everywhere are agog.
In case you don't know what I'm talking about, Al Gore has apparently decided to endorse Howard Dean tomorrow.
To me, this is unexpected, but not mystifying or nonsensical, by any stretch. Over and over again these past few months, Gore has indicated a desire to reach the exact same demographic that is currently falling all over itself for the good doctor -- the young, tech-savvy, anti-war types that continue to make people stand up and notice Dean's campaign. Gore's and Dean's most prized audiences align almost perfectly; it seems like a perfect fit to me.
Why all the shock?