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Monday, March 31, 2008

"Placebo Nation"

I read this Newsweek story last week, but I find that it's been rattling around in my head ever since. Provocative stuff. Below is an excerpt and a link to the full essay.

http://www.newsweek.com/id/120094

Placebo Nation: Just Believe
By Sharon Begley

New research hints at the surprising power of the placebo effect


People are incensed at the very thought that the (often expensive) meds they rely on might be 21st-century versions of the magic feather that Dumbo, the flying elephant, was told would make him airborne.

No one is saying "positive thinking" can cure cancer, or that patients should throw out their pills, let alone that illnesses that respond to the placebo effect are "all in your head."

But there is no denying the drumbeat of studies on the therapeutic power of placebos. Over the years they have been shown to relieve asthma, lower blood pressure, reduce angina and stop gastric reflux. An inert solution injected into the brains of patients with Parkinson's disease reduced muscle rigidity about as well as standard drugs.


In a bizarre finding, sham surgery of the knee, in which patients got sedation and an incision but no actual procedure, relieved the pain of osteoarthritis better than actual arthroscopy -- and produced an equal improvement in joint function, scientists reported in 2002.

And last month an analysis of clinical trials of a range of antidepressants found that, except in the most severe cases, placebos lifted the black cloud as well as meds did.

Rather than railing against that finding or pretending it doesn't exist, what we should be doing is learning how brain activity that corresponds to the expectation of cure translates into clinical improvement. As Dan Ariely of Duke University says, "It's not that medicines are crummy, but that the placebo effect is so powerful."

There have been clues about the source of that power. In Parkinson's disease, studies find, the expectation of getting better raises brain levels of the neurochemical dopamine, whose shortage underlies Parkinson's, and normalizes the pattern of firing in a region of the brain where aberrant firing causes the loss of motor control. When the placebo effect relieves pain, it releases natural opioid-like molecules in the brain that have analgesic effects like morphine.

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Sunday, March 30, 2008

Teflon McCain

More on McCain from my favorite blog, Hullabaloo:

http://digbysblog.blogspot.com/

The media fanboys have talked themselves into believing that McCain's flip-flops and panders are actually a sign of his integrity and strength because he does them so blatantly. Now that's teflon.

The main thing at play here is a pernicious, primal narrative that's been out there for decades in which liberals are tarred as being sissies who can't stand up for the country. Therefore, when they "flipflop" they do it out of weakness of will and unformed identity. They are always trying to "find themselves." Conservatives have no such issues. They are always on the side of God, Mother, Country (and Wall Street) and don't care who knows it. Unlike those nancy boys on the left, they aren't small, flaccid and flip-flopping --- they are large, hard and straight-up. That's the long standing (ahem) narrative of liberal and conservative politics in the modern era and McCain is the perfect hero of the tale.

This is where all that bonhomie on the old Straight Talk Express really pays off. He can literally say anything and the press will excuse it because they think he's their cynical, postmodern pal --- a Rorschach test for their own beliefs. When he gets "angry" at lobbyists or rightwing ministers he's telling the truth. When he cozies up to lobbyists and seeks the endorsement of rightwing ministers, it's because he *has* to, (and he really, really hates doing it.) John McCain's heart, you see, is always in the right place, and oddly enough, everyone believes it's in the same place as is their own.

I can't conceive of a greater advantage for a politician. He's almost a magical figure.

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Saturday, March 29, 2008

Focus America!

My hero, Matt Taibbi, in his inimitable style, scolds the weak-willed American voter:

http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/story/19729398/generation_squeeb

Generation Squeeb
Rolling Stone
March 24, 2008
[. . .]
This Wright business is a perfect example of the American electorate at its squeeby worst — panicky, gutless, acting more on reflex than thought, incapable of retaining information for more than a few minutes at a time. It's also a great example of how the presidential election process has become more about enforcing the attitudes of a cultural orthodoxy than a system for choosing leaders. Through scandal after idiotic scandal, the election process has become a painfully prolonged, deeply irritating exercise in policing conventional wisdom, through a variety of means keeping the public in a state of heightened, dumb animal panic, and ultimately turning the election itself into a Darwinian contest — survival of the Squeebiest.
[. . .]
But whether or not any of Wright's "controversial" statements have any validity at all is beside the point. The point is that a country that had any balls at all — that was secure enough in its patriotic self-image to stare vicious criticism right in the face and collectively decide for itself, in a state of sober reflection, what part of it was bullshit and what wasn't — such a country wouldn't do what it did in the case of the Wright flap, which is to panic instantly, collectively leap off the ground in terror like a bunch of silly bitches, and chase the criticism away in a torch-bearing mob with its eyes averted without even bothering to talk about what was actually said. Yet naturally this is what was done in this case; the very first response of the entire national media apparatus was to denounce Wright as a kind of living disease and shriekingly demand that Obama do the same.
[. . .]
So instead of talking about the fact that Barack Obama once introduced a bill to give a tax break to a Japanese company whose lawyers donated fifty grand to his Senate campaign, we're freaking out for five minutes about the fact that Obama's pastor thinks America spread AIDS on purpose in Zambia. And instead of talking about the fact that Hillary Clinton took $110,000 from a New York food company she later helped by introducing a bill to remove import duties on tomatoes, we're ranting and raving about Gerry Ferraro's paranoid ramblings about Obama's blackness. We can't keep our eyes on the ball and really think about the serious endemic problems of our system of government because we're too busy freaking out like a bunch of cartoon characters over silly, meaningless bullshit. And then forgetting about that same bullshit ten minutes later, so that we can freak out all over again about something else later on.
[. . .]
We can't focus for more than ten seconds on anything at all and we're constantly exercised about stupid media-generated non-scandals, guilt-by-association raps, accidental dumb utterances of various campaign aides and other nonsense — while at the same time we have no energy at all left to wonder about the mass burgling of the national budget for phony military contracts, the war, the billion dollars or so in campaign contributions to be spent this year that will be buying a small mountain of favors for the next four years. And we... shit, I don't even know what I'm saying anymore. I'm just tired of this tone that's always out there when these scandals break, like we can't fucking stand the existence of this Wright fellow for even a minute longer, not a minute longer! — when we all know that come Monday, or Tuesday at the latest, Jeremiah Wright will be forgotten and we'll be jumping en masse in a panic away from the next media-offered shadow to fall across our bow. What a bunch of turds we all are, seriously. God help us if we ever had to deal with a real problem.

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Friday, March 28, 2008

Man befriends mugger

What a great story to end the week. You can read this quick story below, or go to the website and listen to it:

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=89164759

A Victim Treats His Mugger Right
Morning Edition
March 28, 2008

Julio Diaz has a daily routine. Every night, the 31-year-old social worker ends his hour-long subway commute to the Bronx one stop early, just so he can eat at his favorite diner.

But one night last month, as Diaz stepped off the No. 6 train and onto a nearly empty platform, his evening took an unexpected turn. He was walking toward the stairs when a teenage boy approached and pulled out a knife. "He wants my money, so I just gave him my wallet and told him, 'Here you go,'" Diaz says.

As the teen began to walk away, Diaz told him, "Hey, wait a minute. You forgot something. If you're going to be robbing people for the rest of the night, you might as well take my coat to keep you warm."

The would-be robber looked at his would-be victim, "like what's going on here?" Diaz says. "He asked me, 'Why are you doing this?'" Diaz replied: "If you're willing to risk your freedom for a few dollars, then I guess you must really need the money. I mean, all I wanted to do was get dinner and if you really want to join me ... hey, you're more than welcome."

You know, I just felt maybe he really needs help," Diaz says. Diaz says he and the teen went into the diner and sat in a booth. "The manager comes by, the dishwashers come by, the waiters come by to say hi," Diaz says. "The kid was like, 'You know everybody here. Do you own this place?'"

"No, I just eat here a lot," Diaz says he told the teen. "He says, 'But you're even nice to the dishwasher.'" Diaz replied, "Well, haven't you been taught you should be nice to everybody?" "Yea, but I didn't think people actually behaved that way," the teen said.

Diaz asked him what he wanted out of life. "He just had almost a sad face," Diaz says. The teen couldn't answer Diaz — or he didn't want to. When the bill arrived, Diaz told the teen, "Look, I guess you're going to have to pay for this bill 'cause you have my money and I can't pay for this. So if you give me my wallet back, I'll gladly treat you.

"The teen "didn't even think about it" and returned the wallet, Diaz says. "I gave him $20 ... I figure maybe it'll help him. I don't know." Diaz says he asked for something in return — the teen's knife — "and he gave it to me." Afterward, when Diaz told his mother what happened, she said, "You're the type of kid that if someone asked you for the time, you gave them your watch."

"I figure, you know, if you treat people right, you can only hope that they treat you right. It's as simple as it gets in this complicated world."

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Thursday, March 27, 2008

Bringing babies to work

I heard this story on NPR, but couldn't find that link, however, lots of news outlets are talking about this. I sent the USA Today article to a bunch of friends and most thought it was a completely unworkable arrangement. Below is just an excerpt from a rather lengthy article, and a link to the full story.

http://www.usatoday.com/money/workplace/2008-03-30-babies-at-work_N.htm

Day care's new frontier: Your baby at your desk
By Stephanie Armour, USA TODAY

At the T3 advertising firm in Austin, employees have a saying: It takes an agency to raise a child.


The $261 million company, whose clients include Marriott International, Microsoft and J.C. Penney, lets a new parent bring his or her baby to work — every day — until the child is old enough to crawl.

Almost 50 babies have spent their infancy in the office beside their mothers or fathers, who generally tote in baby swings and playpens to set up makeshift nurseries. Some parents even take infants to meetings in BabyBjörn strap-on carriers.

It's not as unusual as it may sound. More than 80 companies across the nation allow babies in the workplace, according to Parenting in the Workplace Institute in Framingham, Mass., which says that number is likely to be low. It's an extreme — and controversial — example of how employers are seeking more ways to help workers strike a balance between work and the rest of their lives.

The number of companies allowing children at work on an occasional basis climbed to 29% last year, up from 22% in 2006, according to the Society for Human Resource Management.

Productivity specialists are raising eyebrows at the practice, saying it could amount to favoritism for parents and rankle co-workers who don't want to put up with a baby gurgling — or worse — in the next cubicle.

"Those without children often come to resent the perception of coddled working parents," says Tory Johnson, CEO of Women For Hire, a New York-based professional recruitment services firm.

Some parents who've brought babies to work acknowledge that it doesn't always work without a hitch.

Francine Gemperle, 33, a designer and researcher in Pittsburgh, took her son Milo to work every day for six weeks after her six-week maternity leave.

"He did not sleep all the time and had to be walked around," she says. "This is not for everybody. Not every baby can do it. You couldn't do it with a colicky baby."

But the practice — a big step beyond the day care centers that began popping up in workplaces more than 20 years ago — continues to grow. Employers allowing workers to bring babies to work each day include retail companies, insurance firms, law offices and credit unions. In such arrangements, parents typically keep their children at their desks.

At T3, new parents are offered private offices. The babies are allowed to come to work daily until they are mobile, usually around 9 months old.

The perk isn't just for working mothers: 10 fathers at T3 have participated. Toys that one parent used often are passed to other new moms and dads returning to work with their babies, company spokeswoman Courtney Layton says.

"It's been fun," she says. "You can't be in a bad mood when there is a baby there."

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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Blogs connect

For the second time this year, someone has contacted me via my blog. What fun. First it was an old high school boyfriend (enough said about that), but this time it was some friends I met on a trip to Israel, 25 years ago. What a wonderful bonus of this crazy internet forum - helping me to reconnect with people from my long lost past. Hmmm.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

McCain on the economy

Here's more on McCain from my favorite blog, Hullabaloo:

http://digbysblog.blogspot.com/

Grown-up In Charge
by digby

John McCain is going to solve our economic problems by convening a meeting of the nation's accountants. He also thinks that people should be forced to put bigger down payments on their houses, but he also that mortgage lenders should be like GM after 9/11 and give zero down payment loans. Oh, and the banks don't trust each other and now they don't trust the people. Prices go down as well as up. He will not allow dogma to override common sense. He explained all this to us as if we were five year olds.

If you liked having the idiot George W. Bush in charge during a national security crisis, you're going to love having the moron John McCain in charge during an economic crisis.

Update: Via Drum, Chuck Todd explains why McCain gets away with such things:

Even if he gets dinged on the experience stuff, "Oh, he says he's Mr. Experience. Doesn't he know the difference between this stuff?" He's got enough of that in the bank, at least with the media, that he can get away with it. I mean, the irony to this is had either Senator Clinton or Senator Obama misspoke like that, it'd have been on a running loop, and it would become a, a big problem for a couple of days for them.

Here's the thing. It's not just McCain. They let Reagan and Junior get away with it too. The media allow Republicans to speak nonsense to the public all the time and don't challenge them. Meanwhile Democrats are derided for being dishonest, boring eggheads who can't be trusted.

The Republican nominee just spoke in classic Bushian gibberish on the nation's most pressing issue and everyone will call it straight talk. This is a problem and it's bigger than St John.

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Monday, March 24, 2008

The credit crisis explained

I read this last week, but it's been rattling around in my head all weekend:

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/19/business/19leonhardt.htm

March 19, 2008
NY Times

Economic Scene
Can’t Grasp Credit Crisis? Join the Club!
By
DAVID LEONHARDT

Raise your hand if you don’t quite understand this whole financial crisis.

It has been going on for seven months now, and many people probably feel as if they should understand it. But they don’t, not really. The part about the housing crash seems simple enough. With banks whispering sweet encouragement, people bought homes they couldn’t afford, and now they are falling behind on their mortgages.

But the overwhelming majority of homeowners are doing just fine. So how is it that a mess concentrated in one part of the mortgage business — subprime loans — has frozen the credit markets, sent stock markets gyrating, caused the collapse of Bear Stearns, left the economy on the brink of the worst recession in a generation and forced the Federal Reserve to take its boldest action since the Depression?
[. . . ]
It really started in 1998, when large numbers of people decided that real estate, which still hadn’t recovered from the early 1990s slump, had become a bargain. At the same time, Wall Street was making it easier for buyers to get loans. It was transforming the mortgage business from a local one, centered around banks, to a global one, in which investors from almost anywhere could pool money to lend.

The new competition brought down mortgage fees and spurred some useful innovation. Why, after all, should someone who knows that she’s going to move after just a few years have no choice but to take out a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage?

As is often the case with innovations, though, there was soon too much of a good thing. Those same global investors, flush with cash from Asia’s boom or rising oil prices, demanded good returns. Wall Street had an answer: subprime mortgages.

Because these loans go to people stretching to afford a house, they come with higher interest rates — even if they’re disguised by low initial rates — and thus higher returns. The mortgages were then sliced into pieces and bundled into investments, often known as collateralized debt obligations, or C.D.O.’s (a term that appeared in this newspaper only three times before 2005, but almost every week since last summer). Once bundled, different types of mortgages could be sold to different groups of investors.

Investors then goosed their returns through leverage, the oldest strategy around. They made $100 million bets with only $1 million of their own money and $99 million in debt. If the value of the investment rose to just $101 million, the investors would double their money. Home buyers did the same thing, by putting little money down on new houses, notes Mark Zandi of Moody’s Economy.com. The Fed under Alan Greenspan helped make it all possible, sharply reducing interest rates, to prevent a double-dip recession after the technology bust of 2000, and then keeping them low for several years.

All these investments, of course, were highly risky. Higher returns almost always come with greater risk. But people — by “people,” I’m referring here to Mr. Greenspan, Mr. Bernanke, the top executives of almost every Wall Street firm and a majority of American homeowners — decided that the usual rules didn’t apply because home prices nationwide had never fallen before. Based on that idea, prices rose ever higher — so high, says Robert Barbera of ITG, an investment firm, that they were destined to fall. It was a self-defeating prophecy.

And it largely explains why the mortgage mess has had such ripple effects. The American home seemed like such a sure bet that a huge portion of the global financial system ended up owning a piece of it. Last summer, many policy makers were hoping that the crisis wouldn’t spread to traditional banks, like Citibank, because they had sold off the underlying mortgages to investors. But it turned out that many banks had also sold complex insurance policies on the mortgage debt. That left them on the hook when homeowners who had taken out a wishful-thinking mortgage could no longer get out of it by flipping their house for a profit.

Many of these bets were not huge, but were so highly leveraged that any losses became magnified. If that $100 million investment I described above were to lose just $1 million of its value, the investor who put up only $1 million would lose everything. That’s why a hedge fund associated with the prestigious Carlyle Group collapsed last week.
[ . . .]
This toxic combination — the ubiquity of bad investments and their potential to mushroom — has shocked Wall Street into a state of deep conservatism. The soundness of any investment firm depends largely on other firms having confidence that it has real assets standing behind its bets. So firms are now hoarding cash instead of lending it, until they understand how bad the housing crash will become and how exposed to it they are. Any institution that seems to have a high-risk portfolio, regardless of whether it has enough assets to support the portfolio, faces the double whammy of investors demanding their money back and lenders shutting the door in their face. Goodbye, Bear Stearns.

The conservatism has gone so far that it’s affecting many solid would-be borrowers, which, in turn, is hurting the broader economy and aggravating Wall Streets fears. A recession could cause credit card loans and other forms of debt, some of which were also based on overexuberance, to start going bad as well.

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Friday, March 21, 2008

And another paper


Stupidity as a campaign strategy

I found this comment on McCain, and politics in general, interesting - from my favorite blog, Hullabaloo:


While it's shocking to those of us in the reality-based community that this man [McCain] has reached this stage in life, having been in government for decades and run for president once already, and is still a bumbling fool, it's important to remember that this is not a disqualifier for the presidency in the United states of America. In fact, it may even be a conscious strategy. Reagan, Bush Sr, Bush Jr all profited from their ignorance. They are the guys people want to have a beer with (or in Poppy's case, a pork rind with), which, as we all know, is far more important to many people than intelligence or knowledge ever could be. So I would never underestimate the power of being stupid to make people want to vote for you. Americans can 't stand eggheads.

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Thursday, March 20, 2008

Corporate welfare

Great piece in the Washington Post, brought to my attention by my favorite blog, Hullabaloo:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/03/17/AR2008031702154.html

Tuesday, March 18, 2008
The Street on Welfare
By E. J. Dionne Jr.


Never do I want to hear again from my conservative friends about how brilliant capitalists are, how much they deserve their seven-figure salaries and how government should keep its hands off the private economy.

The
Wall Street titans have turned into a bunch of welfare clients. They are desperate to be bailed out by government from their own incompetence, and from the deregulatory regime for which they lobbied so hard. They have lost "confidence" in each other, you see, because none of these oh-so-wise captains of the universe have any idea what kinds of devalued securities sit in one another's portfolios.

So they have stopped investing. The biggest, most respected investment firms threaten to come crashing down. You can't have that. It's just fine to make it harder for the average Joe to file for bankruptcy, as did that wretched bankruptcy bill passed by Congress in 2005 at the request of the credit card industry. But the big guys are "too big to fail," because they could bring us all down with them.

Enter the federal government, the institution to which the wealthy are not supposed to pay capital gains or inheritance taxes. Good God, you don't expect these people to trade in their BMWs for Saturns, do you?

In a deal that the New York Times described as "shocking," J.P. Morgan Chase agreed over the weekend to pay $2 a share to buy all of Bear Stearns, one of the brand names of finance capitalism. The Federal Reserve approved a $30 billion -- that's with a "b" -- line of credit to make the deal work.

I don't fault Ben Bernanke, the Fed chairman, for being so interventionist in trying to save the economy. On the contrary, Bernanke deserves credit for ignoring all the extreme free-market bloviation. He doesn't want the economy to collapse on his watch, so he is willing to violate all the conservatives' shibboleths about the dangers of government intervention. As a voter once told the legendary political journalist Richard Rovere: "Sometimes you have to forget your principles to do what's right."

But if this near meltdown of capitalism doesn't encourage a lot of people to question the principles they have carried in their heads for the past three decades or so, nothing will.

We had already learned the hard way -- in the crash of 1929 and the Depression that followed -- that capitalism is quite capable of running off the rails. Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal was a response to the failure of the geniuses of finance (and their defenders in the economics profession) to realize what was happening or to fix it in time.

As the economist John Kenneth Galbraith noted of the era leading up to the Depression, "The threat to men of great dignity, privilege and pretense is not from the radicals they revile; it is from accepting their own myth. Exposure to reality remains the nemesis of the great -- a little understood thing."

But in the enthusiasm for deregulation that took root in the late 1970s, flowered in the Reagan era and reached its apogee in the second Bush years, we forgot the lesson that government needs to keep a careful watch on what capitalists do. Of course, some deregulation can be salutary, and the market system is, on balance, a wondrous instrument -- when it works. But the free market is just that: an instrument, not a principle.

In 1996, back when he was a Republican senator from Maine, William Cohen told me: "We have been saying for so long that government is the enemy. Government is the enemy until you need a friend."

So now the bailouts begin, and Wall Street usefully might feel a bit of gratitude, perhaps by being willing to have the wealthy foot some of the bill or to acknowledge that while its denizens were getting rich, a lot of Americans were losing jobs and health insurance. I'm waiting.

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McCain's only principal: honor

I read this on my favorite blog, Hullabaloo, yesterday, but I found that it stuck in my head, so I went back to read it again today:

http://digbysblog.blogspot.com/

John McCain doesn't know a whole lot about foreign policy, just like he doesn't know anything about energy policy or health care policy or economic policy. I was at a panel discussion with Ezra Klein over the weekend, and he answered a question about John McCain's health care plan by saying that "McCain doesn't care about health care because there's no honor in it. You can't storm the hospitals or vanquish the doctors.

But this is true of every aspect of McCain policy. It's entirely based on "honor," like a Klingon, with nothing behind it. We can't leave Iraq because it would be dishonorable to do so. There's no nuance or strategy behind that, beyond something like this:

“One of the things I would do if I were President would be to sit the Shiites and the Sunnis down and say, ‘Stop the bullshit,’” said Mr. McCain, according to Shirley Cloyes DioGuardi, an invitee, and two other guests.

In the previous link on McCain's economic plan (which is basically, "Cut spending!" except for that magic defense spending which doesn't cut any hole in the budget because it's so honorable), Jared Bernstein talks about how he makes a lot of basic mistakes when talking about the economy.

But that's true in foreign policy as well. He says things like "Anybody who believes the surge has not succeeded, militarily, politically and in most other ways, frankly, does not know the facts on the ground," when the commander of forces in Iraq has said the exact opposite.

He has no overriding views on foreign policy from a historical perspective, engaging in the same method of taking any position that suited him at the time that has characterized his inconsistency on a host of other issues.

And his war cabinet is a group of muddled thinkers who have been historically wrong about Iraq and foreign policy generally, people who say things like "Iraq has sponsored the 9/11 attacks" and that there's no evidence that the Shi'a won't get along with the Sunni and 100 other misstatements. They have no fealty to the truth and will continue to bungle around and trying to unify the whole mishigoss under the heading of "honor.""

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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Starting year 6

Today marks the FIVE YEAR anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. That says it all.

R.I.P.

Anthony Minghella (z''l), visionary director, has died of cancer at the tragically young age of 54 and Arthur C. Clarke (z''l), visionary author, has died at the ripe old age of 90. Both made sublime contributions to our arts and culture and both will be remembered as a blessing (zikhrono livrakha).


Anthony Minghella, the British filmmaker who won an Academy Award for his direction of “The English Patient,” died Tuesday morning in London from complications of surgery he had a week ago to treat tonsil cancer, said Leslee Dart, his publicist.

The son of parents who made ice cream on the Isle of Wight, off the coast of England, Mr. Minghella used expansive tastes in literature and a deep visual vocabulary to make lush films with complicated themes that found both audiences and accolades. Mr. Minghella’s films, which also included “Breaking and Entering” (2006), “The Talented Mr. Ripley” (1999) and “Cold Mountain” (2003), used a careful eye for cultural and historical detail to explore ways in which the dynamics of class often pushed people into corners that they had to fight or scheme their way out of.

Mr. Minghella recently completed work on “The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency,” an adaptation of an Alexander McCall Smith novel, which was filmed in Botswana, in southern Africa, for HBO, and the BBC as the pilot of a series. He recently stepped down from his position as chairman of the British Film Institute, an organization that promotes making films in Britain.



As a writer, Arthur C Clarke stood alongside Robert A Heinlein and Issac Asimov as one of the fathers of the science fiction genre. Although best known for 2001: A Space Odyssey, famously adpated for film by Stanley Kubrick, Clarke had the prolific output common to many science fiction writers of the era, authoring over thirty novels and thirteen collections of short fiction in a career of over five decades.

But Clarke was also the author of at least forty non-fiction publications, covering deep space exploration, the communications revolution, fractal mathematics and a host of other subjects across the sciences, demonstrating a mind that was as flexible and imaginative as it was intellectually rigorous. He is often credited as having propagated the concept of geostationary satellites, without which modern global communications would be impossible. He also became a noted deep sea researcher, widely acclaimed for his work on the Great Barrier Reef. And while he never have realised his dream to journey into space himself, he was present alongside Walter Cronkite as a commentator on the Apollo moonlanding.

A prediction

Joe Scarborough says that children will be reading about Obama's historic speech about race, but says that it has sealed his fate - he'll win the nominationbut lose the presidency to McCain.

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Bush's incongruent cheerfulness

Maureen Dowd's Sunday column was reprinted in our local paper today. I'm not generally a fan of hers but I thought she really nailed this one.

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/16/opinion/16dowd.html

March 16, 2008
NY Times Op-Ed Columnist
Soft Shoe in Hard Times
By MAUREEN DOWD

WASHINGTON

Everyone here is flummoxed about why the president is in such a fine mood.


The dollar’s crumpling, the recession’s thundering, the Dow’s bungee-jumping and the world’s disapproving, yet George Bush has turned into Gene Kelly, tap dancing and singing in a one-man review called “The Most Happy Fella.”

“I’m coming to you as an optimistic fellow,” he told the Economic Club of New York on Friday. His manner — chortling and joshing — was in odd juxtaposition to the Fed’s bailing out the imploding Bear Stearns and his own acknowledgment that “our economy obviously is going through a tough time,” that gas prices are spiking, and that folks “are concerned about making their bills.”

He began by laughingly calling the latest news on the economic meltdown “a interesting moment” and ended by saying that “our energy policy has not been very wise” and that there was “no quick fix” on gasp-inducing gas prices.

“You know, I guess the best way to describe government policy is like a person trying to drive a car in a rough patch,” he said. “If you ever get stuck in a situation like that, you know full well it’s important not to overcorrect, because when you overcorrect you end up in the ditch.”

Dude, you’re already in the ditch.

Boy George crashed the family station wagon into the globe and now the global economy. Yet the more terrified Americans get, the more bizarrely carefree he seems. The former oilman reacted with cocky ignorance a couple of weeks ago when a reporter informed him that gas was barreling toward $4 a gallon.

In on-the-record sessions with reporters — and more candid off-the-record ones — he has seemed goofily happy in recent weeks, prickly no more but strangely liberated and ebullient.

Even though he ordinarily hates being kept waiting, he made light of it while cooling his heels for John McCain, and did a soft shoe for the White House press. Wearing a cowboy hat, he warbled a comic Western ditty at the Gridiron Dinner a week ago — alluding to Scooter Libby’s conviction, Saudis getting richer from our oil-guzzling, Brownie’s dismal Katrina performance, and Dick Cheney’s winsome habit of withholding documents.

At a dinner on Wednesday, the man who is persona non grata on the campaign trail (except for closed fund-raisers) told morose Republican members of Congress that he was totally confident that “we can retake the House” and “hold the White House.”

I think 2008 is going to be a fabulous year for the Republican Party!” he said, sounding like Rachael Ray sprinkling paprika on goulash. That must have been news to House Republicans, who have no money, just lost the seat held by their former speaker, and are hemorrhaging incumbents as they head into a campaign marked by an incipient recession and an unpopular war.

If only they could see things as the president does. Bush, who used his family connections to avoid Vietnam, told troops serving in Afghanistan on Thursday that he is “a little envious” of their adventure there, saying it was “in some ways romantic.”

Afghanistan is still roiling, as is Iraq, but W. is serene. “Removing Saddam Hussein was the right decision early in my presidency, it is the right decision now, and it will be the right decision ever,” he said, echoing that great American philosopher Dan Quayle, who once told Samoans, “Happy campers you are, happy campers you have been and, as far as I am concerned, happy campers you will always be.”

W. bragged to Republicans about his “considered judgment” in sending more troops to Iraq and again presented himself as an untroubled instrument of divine will. “I believe there’s an Almighty,” he said, “and I believe a gift of that Almighty to every man, woman and child is freedom.”

Although the president belittled the Democrats for their policy of “retreat,” his surge has been a temporary and expensive place-holder for what Americans want: a policy to get us out of Iraq.

“Has it allowed us to reduce troop levels to below where they were when it started?” Michael Kinsley wrote recently. “The answer is no.” Gen. David Petraeus told The Washington Post last week that no one in the U.S. and Iraqi governments “feels that there has been sufficient progress by any means in the area of national reconciliation.”

Maybe the president is just putting on a good face to keep up American morale, the way Herbert Hoover did after the crash of ’29, when he continued to dress in a tuxedo for dinner.

Or maybe the old Andover cheerleader really believes his own cheers, and that prosperity will turn up any time now, just like the W.M.D. in Iraq.

Or perhaps it’s a Freudian trip. Now that he’s mucked up the world and the country, he can finally stop rebelling against his dad and relax in the certainty that the Bush name will forever be associated with crash-and-burn presidencies.

Whatever the explanation, it’s plumb loco.

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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Our next paper


I'm the first author again, though I don't know what half this means.

Like I care

The news is abuzz this morning with newly-installed NY governor David Paterson's admission that he and his wife both had extra-marital affairs several years ago, when they were going through a rough patch in their marriage. Ugh. I so don't want to know this. Why is this anyone's business? What Spitzer did is in a different category, because protitution is against the law and as Governor (and Attorney General), he was in a unique position of enforcing the law. But what happens between consenting adults is their own business - I really don't care about the sordid details of Paterson's marriage difficulties. Can we PLEASE get on with the People's Business, which has gotten rather pressing lately!

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Monday, March 17, 2008

Let's get on with it

Tonight I watched MSNBC's new show Road to the White House with NBC White House correspondent, David Gregory. There was a lively roundtable discussion, and I was most struck by the always lucid Rachel Maddow, who pointed out, yet again, that we're all quite sick of the distraction of identity politics - that we don't care THAT much about the presidential candidates' race or gender, and we'd like to focus on the economy and Iraq and healthcare and the other pressing issues that America and Americans must face. I wholeheartedly agree!

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NY Governor's invocation

I was ridiculously pleased to hear the invocation at Paterson's swearing in ceremony this afternoon being delivered by a rabbi, and I just loved the statement below:

http://www.theyeshivaworld.com/article.php?p=15724

Text of the Invocation for Governor David Paterson delivered by Rabbi Shmuel Lefkowitz
[. . .]

Personally, I am proud to share this podium with Governor Patterson. What a truly blessed nation this is, when the son of immigrant Jewish survivors of the Holocaust, has the privilege to deliver the invocation for the first African American Governor of the State of New York.

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Sunday, March 16, 2008

Early predictors of box office success

This AP story appeared in our local paper. Sort of weird and interesting.

http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2008/03/13/business/main3933843.shtml

Study: Less Cursing = More $$ For PG Films

(AP) A new study by The Nielsen Co. found that the PG-rated movies with the least profanity made the most money at the U.S. box office. Sexuality or violence in those films had less to do with success than the language, the Nielsen PreView group said in a study being released Thursday.

"The reality is that profanity, within PG, is the big demarcation between box office winner and box office loser," research and marketing director Dan O'Toole said at ShoWest, a conference where studios unveil upcoming movie lineups. "Parents are choosing PG films for their kids that have very, very low levels of profanity. We're talking one-third the level of the average PG film," he said.

The research firm cross-referenced box office data on 400 films in wide release from the fall of 2005 to the fall of 2007 with their ratings for sex, violence and profanity given by Critics Inc.'s Kids-In-Mind.com Web site. Controlling for marketing and production budgets of films, as well as depictions of violence and sex, movies that scored an average 0.8 on a 10-point profanity scale collected an average of $69 million. Those that averaged 2.8 for profanity averaged $38 million.

All PG movies averaged 2.3 on the profanity scale. G-rated films contain no profanity; PG stands for 'parental guidance suggested," meaning some material may be unsuited to children. PG-13 films are classed "parents strongly cautioned." R-rated films have stronger material and children under 17 are not admitted without a parent or adult guardian. X-rated films - rare in mainstream film releases - may have copious sex, violence, nudity or other adult content, and only adults are admitted to the theater.

The Nielsen unit, which launched a fee-based research Web site for studios Tuesday, also listed other early predictors of success.

The company found that movies that received approval from more than 70 percent of critics, regardless of their stature, earned far more at the box office.

In addition, Internet buzz about a horror film had little relation to its eventual box office draw. Other films, however, saw paydays increase in relation to Web chatter.

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Saturday, March 15, 2008

McCain's "rustic" cabin

Another interesting commentary from my favorite blog, Hullabaloo. I really don't want to see President McCain - he may be a decent man, but he is so Old School. There is much hang-wringing right now about the dew being off the Obama rose, but McCain has gotten a free ride from the press too (as the piece below makes clear) and when he gets under the microscope, I predict that his foibles will impact his poll numbers at least as much as it has Obama's. As for Clinton, who knows? It's still a "horse race" as they say. I agree with the oft repeated opinion that the Dems seem to have a penchant for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, so I'm very concerned about the next few months, especially as the prolonged primary fight is getting both Democratic candidates a bit dirty. But there's plenty of dirt on McCain too and, while he's coasting right now, he shouldn't get too used to it.

http://digbysblog.blogspot.com/

Foser talks about the odd obsession the press corps has for Democratic candidates' finances while ignoring the finances of the much richer Mr and Mrs John McCain. He specifically mentions their descriptions of McCain's so-called cabin in Sedona as an example of the double standard:

[T]he news media -- McCain's "base" -- don't treat him the way they treat other (particularly Democratic) candidates. And so you probably haven't heard or read a word -- not a single word -- about John McCain's wealth during a news report about his tax policies. Indeed, you probably haven't heard or read a word about his wealth during any news report.

Certainly not during the recent wave of reporters gushing over McCain after he hosted them for a March 2 barbeque at his Arizona "cabin."The Arizona Republic described it as a "rustic cabin"; National Public Radio described it as a "weekend cabin"; The New York Times called it McCain's "cabin near Sedona, Ariz."; the Associated Press called it a "cabin"; and The Washington Post -- which devoted two articles to the barbeque -- agreed that it is a "rustic cabin."

If a presidential candidate cooking outdoors at his "rustic cabin" conjures images of Abraham Lincoln and a modest log cabin, that is no doubt fine with McCain. But McCain's "cabin" isn't quite like what you might imagine a "rustic cabin" to be. For one thing, there's a pool. For another, the cabin has a guest house and has been featured in Architectural Digest.

Now, there's nothing wrong with the fact that John McCain's cabin is so luxurious that it has a guest house out by the pool. Good for John McCain. But given the media mockery of John Edwards and John Kerry for their expensive homes, it's a little odd to see McCain's lavish home described so modestly as a "rustic cabin." Edwards and Kerry were lambasted as out-of-touch elites in part because of their houses; McCain's is described in the most favorable possible terms.

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Friday, March 14, 2008

Eliot analyzed

My friend Suzanne sent me this link to a fun (though long) asessment of Eliot Spitzer by Mona Ackerman. Here's an excerpt:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mona-ackerman/eliot-spitzer-why_b_91286.html

But I'm a shrink. With your permission, I'm going to try to superficially psychoanalyze Eliot Spitzer.

1) Yes. There's a possible addiction. Yes, there is arrogance. Yes, he pushed the limits. Yes, he is self-destructive. Yes, he thinks rules don't apply to him. Yes, he likes sex. Yes, he is obviously quite adept at compartmentalization and, yes, he compartmentalized so well that he was able to seal off what he had to know about the Mann act, the responsibility of banks to report the suspicious movement of funds and other laws relating to prostitution. He was the functional equivalent of the pickpockets who circulated at the public hanging of pickpockets -and picked the pockets of onlookers. Tells you something about human nature.
[. . .]
3) But, to me, the most interesting aspect of the Spitzer saga is not the sexual one or even his internal contradictions. It is what it reveals about his true personality. Does he have any moral compass at all? What role does love or family play in his life? How does he relate to others? And how does all of this information help his wife and daughters?

For some reason, despite many clues to the contrary, Spitzer was mostly seen as the hard-charging, moralistic, crusader for good government. He won a landslide victory in New York because the voters believed that both he and his marriage were nearly perfect - certainly incorruptible. But alongside that portrait were troubling signs that something was seriously amiss. He was too rigid. He could explode with anger. He seemed crazed in his attempts to destroy others, and he could be cruel, bending others to his will. His clean and rigid exterior (those white shirts again, that neat tab collar) made us ignore hints that the man was troubled. It was easier to buy the image.

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Thursday, March 13, 2008

Spitzer is brilliant but foolish

My husband heard that Spitzer got a perfect score on his SATs (though this is false, he got a perfect score on the LSAT, the law school entrance exam), and we were joking that being this smart apparently doesn't prevent you from making incredibly stupid mistakes.

From Wikipedia:

Spitzer was born in the Bronx, the son of Anne (née Goldhaber), a former teacher, and Bernard Spitzer, a real estate mogul.[6][7] His grandparents were Jewish immigrants from Austria.[6] Spitzer was raised in the affluent Riverdale section of The Bronx in New York City. His family was not particularly religious and Spitzer did not have a bar mitzvah.[8] He is a graduate of Horace Mann School. With a score of 1590 on the SAT exam,[8] Spitzer attended Princeton University and majored in the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. At Princeton, he was elected chairman of the undergraduate student government, and graduated in 1981. He scored a perfect score on the LSAT,[9] and went on to Harvard Law School, where he met and married Silda Wall. They married on October 17, 1987 and together they have three daughters: Elyssa (b. December 12, 1989), Sarabeth (b. July 23, 1992), and Jenna (b. May 23, 1994).[10] Spitzer was an editor of the Harvard Law Review. One of Spitzer's classmates at Harvard Law School was Jim Cramer, host of CNBC's Mad Money, on which Spitzer has appeared or called in on three occasions.

I had gone to the site to see if his wife is Jewish (she's not) because someone had asked me. Turns out Spitzer isn't very religious either - sounds like his family worshipped accomplishment most.

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"The Mystery of Hate"

My friend Susan sent this to me. This Israeli journalist says a mouthful!

http://www.israpundit.com/2006/?p=2368

August 20, 2006
The Mystery of Hate
by Yair Lapid

Hundreds of years of fighting, six and a half wars, billions of dollars gone with the wind, tens of thousands of victims, not including the boy who laid down next to me on the rocky beach of lake Karon in 1982 and we both watched his guts spilling out. The helicopter took him and until this day I do not know whether he is dead or survived. All this, and one cannot figure it out.

And its not only what happened but all that did not happen - hospitals that were never built, universities that were never opened, roads that were never paved, the three years that were taken from millions of teenagers for the sake of the army. And despite all the above, we still do not have the beginning of a clue to the mystery of where it all started: Why do they hate us so much?

I am not talking about the Palestinians this time Their dispute with us is intimate, focused, and it has a direct effect on their lives. Without getting into the “which side is right” question, it is obvious that they have very personal reasons not to stand our presence here. We all know that eventually this is how it will be solved: in a personal way, between them and us, with blood sweat and tears that will stain the pages of the agreement. Until then, it is a war that could at least be understood, even if no sane person is willing to accept the means that are used to run it by.

It is the others. Those I cannot understand. Why does Hassan Nasralla, along with tens of thousands of his supporters, dedicate his life, his visible talents, his country’s destiny, to fight a country he has never even seen, people he has never really met and an army that he has no reason to fight?

Why do children in Iran, who can not even locate Israel on the map (especially because it is so small), burn its flag in the city center and offer to commit suicide for its elimination? Why do Egyptian and Jordanian intellectuals agitate the innocent and helpless against the peace agreements, even though they know that their failure will push their countries 20 years back?

Why are the Syrians willing to stay a pathetic and depressed third world country, for the dubious right to finance terror organizations that will eventually threaten their own country’s existence? Why do they hate us so much in Saudi-Arabia? In Iraq? In Sudan? What have we done to them? How are we even relevant to their lives? What do they know about us? Why do they hate us so much in Afghanistan? They don’t have anything to eat there, where do they get the energy to hate?

This question has so many answers and yet it is a mystery. It is true that it is a religious matter but even religious people make their choices. The Koran (along with the Shariaa - the Muslim parallel to the Jewish Halacha) consists of thousands of laws, why is it that we occupy them so much?

There are so many countries who gave them much better reasons to be angry. We did not start the crusades, we did not rule them during the colonial period, we never tried to convert them. The Mongolians, the Seljuk, the Greeks, the Romans, the Crusaders, the Ottomans, the British, they all conquered, ruined and plundered the whole region. We did not even try, so how come we are the enemy?

And if it is identification with their Palestinians brothers then where are the Saudi Arabian tractors building up the territories that were evacuated? What happened to the Indonesian delegation building a school in Gaza strip? Where are the Kuwaiti doctors with their modern surgical equipment? There are so many ways to love your brothers, why do they all prefer to help their brothers with hating?

Is it something that we do? Fifteen hundreds years of anti-Semitism taught us - in the most painful way possible - that there is something about us that irritates the world. So, we did the thing everyone wanted: we got up and left. We have established our own tiny little country, where we can irritate ourselves without interrupting others. We didn’t even ask a lot for it.

Israel is spread on a smaller territory than 1% of the territory of Saudi-Arabia, with no oil, no minerals, without settling on another existing state’s territory. Most of the cities that were bombed this week were not plundered from anyone. Nahariya, Afula, and Karmiel did not even exist until we established them. The other katyusas landed on territories over which no one ever questioned our right with regards to them. In Haifa there were Jews already in the 3rd century BC and Tiberias was the place where the last Sanhedrin sat, so no one can claim we plundered them from anyone.

However, the hatred continues. As if no other destiny is possible. Active hatred, poisoned, unstoppable. Last Saturday the president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, called again “to act for the vanishing of Israel”‘ as if we were bacteria. We got used to it so much that we don’t even ask why.

Israel does not hope and never did for Iran to vanish. As long as they wanted, we had diplomatic relations with them. We do not have a common border with them or even any bad memories. And still, they are willing to confront the whole western world, to risk a commercial boycott, to hurt their own quality of life, to crush what’s left of their economy and all that for the right to passionately hate us.

I am trying to remember and cannot: have we ever done something to them? When? How? Why did he say in his speech that “Israel is the main problem of the Muslim world”? more than a billion people living in the Muslim world, most of them in horrible conditions. They suffer from hunger, poverty, ignorance, bloodshed that spreads from Kashmir to Kurdistan, from dying Darfur to injured Bangladesh. How come we are the main problem? How exactly are we in their way?

I refuse to accept the argument that claims “that is just the way they are”. They said it about us so many times that we have learned to accept this expression. There must be another reason, some dark secret that because of it, the citizens of South Lebanon allow to rouse the quiet border, to kidnap the soldiers of an army that has already retreated from their territory, to turn their country into a wasteland exactly at the time they finally escaped twenty years of disasters.

We got used to telling ourselves worn expressions - “it’s the Iranian influence”, or “Syria is stirring behind the scenes” - but it is just too easy explanation. Because what about them?

What about their thoughts?

What about their hopes, loves, ambitions and their dreams?

What about their children?

When they send their children to die, does it seem enough for them to say that it was all worth
while just because they hate us so much?


Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Are Republicans voting for Clinton in open primaries?

On Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, both MSNBC and CNN commented on the overwhelming white support for Hillary in Mississippi, however, only CNN mentioned that some of Hillary's white support came from Republicans, who may deliberately be voting for her, per Rush Limbaugh's suggestion.

http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2008/03/11/exit-polls-clinton-draws-republican-support/

Exit polls: Mississippi Democrats divide on racial lines
(CNN) – Mississippi Democratic voters were sharply divided among racial lines in Tuesday's primary, exit polls indicate. As has been the case in many primary states, Obama won overwhelming support from African-American voters. They went for him over Clinton 91-9 percent.

But Mississippi white voters overwhelmingly backed the New York senator, supporting her over Obama 72 percent to 21 percent.

According to the Associated Press, only two other primary states were as racially polarized — neighboring Alabama, and Clinton's former home state of Arkansas.

The exit polls also indicated roughly 30 percent of Mississippi Democratic voters said race was an important factor in their vote, and 60 percent of those voters supported Obama.

– CNN Ticker Producer Alexander Mooney

Exit Polls: Clinton draws Republican support
(CNN) — Are some of Mississippi's Republicans trying to cause mischief? Thirteen percent of the voters in today's Democratic primary identified themselves as Republican; they voted for Clinton, 78 percent to 22 percent. And 37 percent of the Democratic primary voters have a favorable opinion of John McCain; this group also went for Clinton, 62 percent to 37 percent.

Earlier this month, conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh told listeners that since the Republican race was all but over, they should turn out for Clinton, because of his view that she would be a weaker fall opponent for presumptive GOP nominee John McCain — but there is no statistical evidence to indicate his instructions played any role in the Mississippi results.

–CNN's Paul Varian

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More on reaction to Spitzer

Two words: David Vitter. The (Republican) Louisiana Senator faced the same charges as Spitzer and there was no call for his resignation. Interesting double standard applying here . . .

http://www.nola.com/newsflash/index.ssf?/base/news-37/12052604754620.xml

3/11/2008
Associated Press
Spitzer, Vitter spark different reactions to scandal accusations
By MARY FOSTER


NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The scene was all too reminiscent of one that took place in Louisiana last year: powerful politician, stony-faced wife and the confession of a fall from the lofty principles so long professed.

One was Democratic New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer the other was Sen. David Vitter, R.-La., and both were linked to prostitution.

Vitter, 46, a first-term senator and former U.S. House member, admitted in July to a "very serious sin" after his phone number was one of those on the client list of Deborah Jeane Palfrey, who federal prosecutors said ran a prostitution operation.

Both Vitter and Spitzer — neither of whom has been charged with a crime — were moral-high-ground crusaders: Vitter touted family values and opposed gay marriage, Spitzer was a corruption-fighter once known as "Mr. Clean."

But while demands for Spitzer's resignation almost immediately surfaced, Vitter has survived, dropping out of sight for a week after his statement, then keeping a low profile for months.

The difference in reaction springs from a couple of things, Democratic strategist James Carville said Tuesday. Spitzer's situation was revealed by an active investigation while Vitter confessed after reportedly being contacted by publisher Larry Flynt's magazine about the phone records.

"And they're in very different situations," Carville said. "Spitzer is a former prosecutor and is governor of New York. He has powerful enemies. Vitter is Louisiana's junior senator and nobody really knows him or cares that much about him."

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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Spitzer targeted?

Below is a great entry on the Spitzer mess, posted on my favorite blog. I heard Alan Dershowitz saying similar stuff on NPR this afternoon - he was even more forceful in suggesting this stinks to high heaven:

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=88106707


http://digbysblog.blogspot.com/

Mann-date
by digby

To those of you who are in high dudgeon over Spitzer possibly violating the Mann Act --- please. The Mann Act is bullshit in a situation where the parties were consensual. Here's Wikipedia's history of the Mann Act. It's often been used for political purposes.

Obviously Spitzer's in big trouble and is very likely to resign. When you build your career as a self righteous crusader, you don't get the benefit of the doubt on stuff like this. But there are questions that should be asked. It is unusual to release the names of johns and it's weird that we still don't know why the feds were wiretapping on some seemingly inconsequential prostitution case in the first place. Is that something the feds spend a lot of time doing these days?

Far be it for me to mistrust the Bush Justice department or think they might have partisan motives, but it might be worth asking whether there might be a little partisan prosecutorial hanky panky involved. It certainly wouldn't be the first time.

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McCain's money troubles

I was surprised to hear this on the news - McCain is scrambling to do some serious fundraising:

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/10/us/politics/10mccain.html

His first order of business, though, will be an intense focus on raising money, with some 20 or 30 events a month. His campaign was nearly doomed last summer by overspending and its failure to raise enough money to keep up, and it has continued to lag behind what Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois have received in contributions. Through Jan. 31, Mr. McCain brought in $55 million, compared with Mrs. Clinton’s $138 million and Mr. Obama’s $141 million. And the Democratic candidates continue to raise money at a record pace.

The report I heard on TV talked about Bush fundraisers joining McCain's team. I found this especially interesting in light of discussions about having Obama and Clinton fund a new Florida primary with money from their campaigns - the estimated cost is about $20 million. It's amazing to think they have this much to spare while McCain is scratching around for a fraction of that.

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Monday, March 10, 2008

"Drugs Found in Much of Nation’s Drinking Water"

How repulsive is this? You'd think the purification of sewage would remove drugs - what else is left in there?

http://www.newsinferno.com/archives/2709

3/10/08
Drugs Found in Much of Nation’s Drinking Water


Drugs have tainted much of the drinking water in many American cities. Antibiotics, anti-convulsants, mood stabilizers, sex hormones and many other pharmaceuticals have been found in the drinking water supplies of at least 41 million Americans in 24 major metropolitan areas, according to an in-depth, 5-month Associated Press (AP) investigation. This is worrisome to scientists who are concerned about long-term ramifications.

We take pills and our bodies absorb some of the medications; however, some drugs pass through our bodies and are flushed down the toilet. This wastewater is treated before it is released into reservoirs, rivers, or lakes and some is cleansed at drinking water treatment plants before being piped back to us. Unfortunately, most treatments do not remove all drug residue.

Researchers do not yet know the exact risks from decades of ongoing exposure to combinations of low levels of pharmaceuticals; however, recent studies revealed startling effects on human cells and wildlife. “We recognize it is a growing concern and we’re taking it very seriously,” said Benjamin H. Grumbles, assistant administrator for water at the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

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$12 billion a MONTH

This just makes me sick:

March 10, 2008
ASSOCIATED PRESS
Wars to cost $12 billion a month, new book says

BY CHARLES J. HANLEY

The Iraq and Afghanistan wars will cost approximately $12 billion a month -- triple the rate of their earliest years -- Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph E. Stiglitz and coauthor Linda J. Bilmes report in a new book.

Beyond 2008, working with best case and realistic to moderate scenarios, they project the wars, including long-term U.S. military occupation, will cost between $1.7 trillion and $2.7 trillion by 2017.

Interest on money borrowed to pay those costs alone could add $816 billion to that bottom line, they say.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Girl in Clinton Ad Supports Obama

This is fascinating!
March 9, 2008
3 A.M. Girl Wants Obama to Answer Call
Casey Knowles Was Featured Unknowingly in Hillary Clinton's Red Phone Ad
By IMAEYEN IBANGA

Casey Knowles of Bonney Lake, Wash., was recently watching Jon Stewart lampoon Hillary Clinton's well-known "3 a.m." ads on "The Daily Show" when her brother noticed something.

"They were parodying this ad, kind of poking fun at it. They were replaying it. We paused it. My brother was like, 'Is that Casey?' And we just erupted," Knowles said on "Good Morning America Weekend Edition" today. "Sure enough, it's me."

An image of an eight-year-old Knowles appears in the ad, shown sleeping soundly in bed. The Clinton campaign legally purchased the file footage of Knowles from Getty Images.

Clinton's ad ad was a play on a 1980s-era advertisement with a similar theme: if there was a middle-of-the-night national security emergency, who would you want to have answer the phone and deal with it?

Knowles' image originally was shot for a railroad company advertisement, but the teen said she harbors no resentment toward the Clinton campaign for using her image.
"I'm just enjoying the irony. I'm an Obama supporter," said the high school senior, who will turn 18 next month, well before the election in November.

Still, Knowles made it clear she disliked Clinton's ad. "What I don't like about the ad is it's fear-mongering. I think it's a cheap hit to take. I really prefer Obama's message of looking forward to a bright future," Knowles said. "I think that's a much stronger message."

"I've been campaigning for Obama for a long time. I actually called a lot of people around my area and got them to come out and caucus for him. I was a precinct captain at my caucus in February," Knowles said. "I'm actually a delegate for my precinct and I can go on to county, state and even potentially the national convention in Denver."

Copyright © 2008 ABC News

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Prison statistics

In response to this appalling story - America has the highest number of people in prison per capita than any other country in the world - my dear husband said, "That's because we don't use the death penalty on enough of them." He's kidding, but gross.

http://www.philly.com/dailynews/opinion/20080314_A_COUNTRY_BEHIND_BARS.html

"A COUNTRY BEHIND BARS"
DISTURBING NEW REPORT ON THE EXPLODING PRISON POPULATION

An eye-opening look at the explosion in the prison population around the country by the Pew Center on the States, the report paints a bleak picture of a nation whose priorities have gone haywire: spending more and more money locking people up - the number is now up to one in every 100 adults in American behind bars.

What does it say about us that this country now incarcerates more people, and has spent more on corrections than any other country in the world? That includes China and Russia.

Or that we now spend 60 cents on corrections for every dollar we spend on education?

Or that larger and larger percentages of state workforces are devoted to prison work, creating a state-sponsored "prison industrial complex" that costs the country $44 billion a year?
[. . .]
Pew has tracked these numbers for about two years. And implicit in their "One in 100" report is that the prison problem has been driven by policy, not by a crime-filled environment.

The problem is not just a social one. Prisons - especially those with increasingly aging and sick populations - are hugely expensive, and get more so all the time.

The report recommends a change in direction in a few areas: shorter stays, improved probation and parole policies, jobs and social services for ex-offenders, and alternative sentences - not jail time - for low-level offenders.

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Saturday, March 08, 2008

Musings about classical composers

A crossword puzzle item ("Who wrote the symphony, The Planets?") got me thinking about composers (I thought it was Haydn, but it's Holst). Why was a movie never made about Haydn - he was such an interesting fellow - good friends with Mozart, and, briefly, Beethoven's teacher.

Here's a wonderful list of movies about classical composers - I've only seen a few (the one with Kate Hepburn as Schumann's wife - Song of Love - sounds terrific):

http://www.fanfaire.com/newrel/MoM-composers.html

And here's a discussion of movies made about poets and writers:

http://www.greencine.com/central/guide/writerspoets

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Friday, March 07, 2008

Books into Movies

I came across this delicious site while looking for something else:

http://www.bookreporter.com/features/books2movies.asp

Here's a sampling:

March 2008

In case you’re in the mood for something with a little more substance than Hollywood blockbusters featuring superhero spoofs or scantily dressed people on the run from woolly mammoths and saber-toothed tigers, March’s Books into Movies feature offers a handful of literary alternatives for lovers of drama, independent films and even whimsical fairy tales. From the flashy 21 --- based on the true events of how MIT math whizzes turned high rollers scammed Vegas casinos out of millions --- and the edgier Gus Van Sant-ified adaptation of Blake Nelson’s young adult novel Paranoid Park, to the star-studded big-screen version of Dr. Seuss’s beloved HORTON HEARS A WHO!, this month’s movies based on books promise to be intense and thought provoking, as well as lighthearted and uplifting.

Relationship woes abound this month with the release of Married Life --- an offbeat, dark dramedy about a man’s bumbling attempts to kill his wife in order to be with a younger woman --- as well as Snow Angels, an emotionally wrought examination of two established marriages that crumble as a new romance begins to blossom. Providing a much lighter perspective on matters of the heart is Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, an adult Cinderella story based on the 1938 novel by Winifred Watson, in which a down-and-out nanny and her new boss help each other to straighten out their tangled love lives.

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