Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Juan Cole's Open Letter to the Left on Libya

Juan Cole was an early, articulate, and prescient opponent of the Iraq War. His blog, Informed Comment, became the go-to place for those of us seeking to construct a knowledgeable case against the war. Professor Cole supports the intervention in Libya, and explains why here.

Cole analyzes differences in the left over the intervention as a matter of cognitive dissonance: On the one, the left supports the efforts of ordinary people to free themselves from tyranny; on the other, it opposes as imperialism military intervention in their lives. In the case of Libya, Cole believes that the opportunity to rid the Libyan people (and the world, for that matter) of the sociopathic predations of Muammar Qaddafi is paramount and must be exploited.

The responses opposing Cole's position are depressingly predictable, illustrating a doctrinaire intellectual vacuity that substitutes sloganeering for critical thinking. To be fair, the left is hardly alone on that score...

Friday, March 25, 2011

In Defense of Dithering

Where Citizen K. rants, the New York Times' Timothy Egan -- who lives here in Seattle's Seward Park neighborhood -- offers a cool defense of President Obama's style. I have wondered that the same "progressives" who rightly despised President Bush's strutting and preening continuously gripe that Obama doesn't act in the same way. (The Nation doesn't publish an issue without someone blasting the president for not rearing up on his hind legs and blaring like a rogue elephant.) Apparently, bluster and certitude are just fine so long as it is the bluster and certitude of the left.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

R.I.P., Elizabeth Taylor

The New York Times calls her "the last movie star," and they're probably right. Born in 1932 in London to American parents, Elizabeth Taylor became an international star at age 12 with her winning turn in 1944's, National Velvet. As seemed to happen often, Taylor's presence inspired her leading man -- in this case, Mickey Rooney -- to do some of his best work. Rock Hudson was never better than as Bick Benedict in Giant, and Montgomery Clift was at his considerable best in A Place in the Sun.

The tabloid headlines and legendary marital brawls obscured Taylor's impressive range: She played and played well characters created by Tennessee Williams, John O'Hara, Edward Albee, Dylan Thomas, and William Shakespeare. She made her mark in family movies and smoldered in sprawling epics and soap operas. She played it for laughs in Father of the Bride as naturally as she evoked pity and disgust in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf. 

To me, though, Elizabeth Taylor is first and foremost Leslie Benedict, the brash Maryland debutante who over the course of 201 minutes becomes the seasoned partner of a Texas rancher. (I grew up a mile from the main gate of the King Ranch, upon which Giant is based.) Over the course of the movie, the outsider becomes an insider while her principles and wit remain intact, a combination that causes her husband Bick Benedict (Hudson) to conclude that he won't understand her if he lives to be 90 (or a 100 or 150, one suspects). Taylor takes advantage of Giant's to show her character as arch, sardonic, wondering, overwhelmed, determined, warm, sympathetic, feminine, and maternal. She shifts moods as easily and naturally as you or I might change shirts. It's a bravura performance, all the more so as their isn't a trace forced or self-conscious.

Whatever the misfortunes of your personal life, Liz, you were not only one of the greats, you just may be the last of them...

Don't miss this 1949 Times profile of 16-year old "soft-spoken, rather quiet, almost shy" Elizabeth Taylor...

The savage fight scene from Giant, followed by the closing:

Friday, March 18, 2011

All Over

At 6'8", Gene Conley was big enough to be that rare athlete to play two professional sports. From 1952-63, the three-time All Star took the mound for the Boston and Milwaukee Braves, the Philadelphia Phillies, and the Boston Red Sox. For good measure, he put in six years with the Knicks and Celtics of the NBA (spaced out between 1952 and 1964), where he was a capable rebounder off the bench.

By 1964, Conley's strong right arm had given out. As he stared bleakly at the end of his sports career, he determineded to give it one more shot. Conley called Cleveland Indians executive Gabe Paul, who agreed to let Conley pitch for an Indians minor league club in order to see if there was anything left.

There wasn't.

In this memorable passage from Donald Honig's Baseball Between the Lines, Conley recounts his final realization that he was through:
So I started a game. We were playing Greensboro, North Carolina. Those kids came up to the plate and started knocking line drives all over the place. I tried flooring a few of them but they weren't impressed; I didn't have enough on the ball to scare anybody. After four or five innings they had to take me out.
I called Gabe Paul the next day.
"Gabe," I said, "I tried but I can't do it."
"I thought that might be the case," he said. "I guess you just had to get it out of your system."
"Well," I said, "It's out."
When I walked away from that telephone I was really shocked. There was no more fooling myself. It was all over and I knew it. Not only that, I didn't have a job, nothing to go back to. The basketball was about over, too. So I was pretty depressed.
I wandered around for a while, a lost soul on the streets of this town in North Carolina. Then I walked into a church and sat down in the back, all by myself. There was a service going on. After the singing this Baptist minister started preaching. All of a sudden it hit me real hard and I caved in and started crying. I just sat there in that last row and cried and cried, trying to keep my head down so as not to upset anybody. Then I felt a hand on my shoulder and I looked up. An elderly Southern gentleman was standing there gazing down at me.
"What's the matter, son?" he asked. "Did you lose your mother?"
I shook my head, the tears still running. "No sir," I said. "I lost my fastball."

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

What is Preventive Heath Care?

These before and after pictures of the tsunami will stun you. Don't miss them (scroll down)...

Paul Krugman writes that GOP staffers recently jeered at the part of a Kaiser Permanente presentation that discussed the importance of preventive health care. (It's a "slush fund," apparently.) Claiming that there is no such thing as preventive health care is the medical equivalent of saying that the world is flat, yet I've seen this showing up more and more in the comments that I monitor. There are even cherry-picked references to a CBO study. (Funny how conservatives like the CBO just fine when they can distort it to in their own interests.)

The thing is, Americans have relatively ineffective preventive health because we practice it in the context of our commitment to heroic medicine. There's much more to the concept than a yearly physical and PSA (which may not do that much good, anyway). We don't really practice what is known as population health, which includes outcomes, determinants, interventions, and policies that impact the health of a group. A group can be as small as the total number of patients in a given practice and as large as the entire population of a country, and be based on condition, locale, demographics, or some combination of the three.

At the end of the first quarter of school, my team made a presentation based on steps that could be taken to reduce the number of pediatric asthma admissions to a rural emergency department in an area with a heavy migrant worker population. We set a goal (50% reduction, based on research) and designed a program based on ED clinical staff training, patient education, check-in and check-out procedures (wherein, for example, no one left without what's called an Asthma Action Plan), home mitigation strategies, and primary care followup. We minimized other possibilities because of budget limitations and likely behavioral restrictions on the families. This is the idea behind preventive care based on population, although it doesn't address public policies that might improve outcomes even further (such as improving air quality eroded by a high concentration of pesticides).

So, if someone tells you that preventive health care doesn't work, the chances are that they don't know what it is and that they're unaware that we really don't practice it here.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Utah Teabaggers Support Gay Sex

These people are nuts. But it has been fun watching Orrin Hatch humiliate himself by sucking up to them. I mean, I thought these people were all for family values and against gay sex. But here they are: Making old Orrin give them exactly what they tried to crucify Bill Clinton for.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Two Songs About Rivers

If there's a better American song than this one, I'd like to hear it. Here's a Brit performing an aching rendition. Away, I must away:

Kris Kristofferson looks like singing "i'm gonna sit right here until I die" with Johnny Cash fulfills a bucket wish list. It tore me up every time I heard her drawl that southern drawl:

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Dean Passeth

Journalist and commentator David Broder passed away today at the age of 81.
The Dean was the ultimate insider, a man with an almost childlike faith in the senior elected officials he courted and befriended. Although he often wrote in broad strokes about the stultifying ideological partisanship that has paralyzed Congress and especially the Senate, he rarely named names out of a seeming reluctance to offend. While Broder often criticized presidents, one had the feeling that it was because he saw them as DC blow-ins unworthy of the noble men and women of the legislative branch.
Broder was a throwback, an American innocent at home who never really understood the corruption of Congress by corporate lobbyists and money. To do so would have offended his sense of the politician's noble calling to represent the people. He never explored the gap, or even the possibility of a gap, between the calling and the reality: That might have made him unwelcome at the highest levels of the DC party circuit. No gap -- especially when it wasn't really real -- was worth missing out on martinis with Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer.
He valued compromise, even though compromises almost never hold. He cranked out column after column with an almost Talmudic weighing of issues, only to conclude that there was no conclusion other than to wait and see. Somewhere along the line, he mistook an absence of point of view for intellectual integrity, and too often settled for pabulum. Today, this passes for a balanced perspective.
Although Broder was once an undeniably fine reporter, the DC political and social whirl informed his views as a columnist, and he seemed more anxious to not offend his friends (and to parrot their opinions)  than to actually analyze. He too often dealt in stereotypes and believed in his own importance, never a good thing for a supposed observer. Nonetheless, he was a rare voice of civility. Even though that came with a paucity of actual insight, I suppose it will be missed...

Citizen K. wrote critically of Broder here and here...

The Art of the Poster: Sullivan's Travels (1941)

Sullivan's Travels, Preston Sturges' pre-war masterpiece, concerns a movie director (Joel McCrea) who has tired of making light comedies and wants to make a film about the downtrodden forgotten man. So, like William Powell in My Man Godfrey, he goes incognito as a hobo, but finds that no matter what he does, he winds up back in Hollywood. Several plot twists later with the help of The Girl (Veronica Lake), Sullivan succeeds in becoming a hobo only to wind up on a chain gang serving time for manslaughter. Here, he learns the value of laughter and decides that possibly he has been contributing after all. Like any Sturges film, Sullivan's Travels is satiric and sharply observed, though this time the satire informs a powerful social message. Many regard this as Sturges' best film.

In this famous scene, Jesse Lee Brooks leads a congregation in "Go Down, Moses" as the convicts arrive to see a Disney cartoon:

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Vermont Moves Toward Single Payer

Dr William Hsaio, perhaps the world's foremost expert in the implementation of new health care systems, has delivered a report to the Vermont General Assembly recommending that the state adopt single payer health care based on a hybrid means of financing. Financing would stem from an employer-employee payroll deduction; benefits would be comprehensive and come with a low co-pay. It leaves Vermont Medicare and Medicaid intact, apparently because eliminating them would greatly complicate implementation. The General Assembly is expected to pass some version of Hsiao's proposal. The state would then request a waiver from the Affordable Care Act, which the Obama administration would almost certainly grant.

Implementation of a single payer program would be a health care reform development on the scale of Medicare and the Affordable Care Act. Hsiao estimates (conservatively, he says) that Vermont will save 25% of expected health care costs between 2015 and 2024. If the plan delivers as promised, pressure will grow on other states to reduce costs by expanding coverage and benefits. HealthMatters details the proposal here.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Youthful Idealists Need Not Apply

[The knight] had gone but a few paces into the wood, when he saw a mare tied to an oak, and tied to another, and stripped from the waist upwards, a youth of about fifteen years of age, from whom the cries came. Nor were they without cause, for a lusty farmer was flogging him with a belt and following up every blow with scoldings and commands, repeating, "Your mouth shut and your eyes open!" while the youth made answer, "I won't do it again, master mine; by God's passion I won't do it again...
Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote 

The right of citizens of the United States, who are eighteen years of age or older, to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of age. 
Twenty-sixth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States
The Washington Post reports that New Hampshire Republicans have prepared legislation limiting the voting rights of college students on the grounds that students are "foolish" and "just vote their feelings," causing them to inevitably vote liberal. This, apparently, must be suppressed for the good of the state and the country. Another Republican cites "youthful idealism" as justification, complaining that young people  are inexplicably "...focused on remaking the world, with themselves in charge, of course, rather than with the mundane humdrum of local government."

Citizen K. sometimes can't resist shooting fish in a barrel and this is one of those times. One might forgiven for thinking that the the phrases "foolish," "just vote their feelings," and "focused on remaking the world, with themselves in charge" might, say, apply to the teabaggers behind all of this foolishness. One might also be forgiven that were the shoe on the other foot, conservatives would be screaming bloody murder and accusing liberals of eviscerating the Constitution.

Which brings me to another point: Once again, Republicanists mount a frontal assault on the document they profess to revere as much as the Bible. The Twenty-sixth Amendment is as clear on the matter of voting age as the Fourteenth is on citizenship birthright. It doesn't say, as New Hampshire Republicans would apparently prefer, that the voting rights of citizens eighteen are older "shall not be abridged unless they are college students." The meaning and intent is quite clear, and it's not "keep your mouth shut and your eyes wide open."

Voter suppression to prevent youthful idealism? God knows that we wouldn't want too much youthful idealism. That will kill a country, every time.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

By Two and Two with Fetters on Their Feet

From the newly published Atlas of the Transatlantic Slave Trade (Eltis and Richardson):
[The Africans are] so crowded, in such disgusting conditions, as the very ones who transport them assure me, that they come by six and six, with collars around their necks, and those same ones by two and two with fetters on their feet, in such a way that they come imprisoned from head to feet, below the deck, locked in from outside, where they see neither sun nor moon, [and] that there is no Spaniard who dares to stick his head in the hatch without becoming ill, nor to remain inside for an hour without the risk of great sickness. So great is the stench, the crowding and the misery of that place. And the [only] refuge and consolation that they have in it is [that] to each [is given] once a day no more than half a bowl of uncooked corn flour or millet, which is like our rice, and with it a small jug of water and nothing else, except for much beating, much lashing, and bad words. This is that which commonly happens with the men and I well think that some of the shippers treat them with more kindness and mildness, principally in these times...[Nevertheless, most] arrive turned into skeletons.
"Description of Africans on a Slave Ship (1627)," in W. D. Phillips, Jr. Slavery from Roman Times to the Early Transatlantic Trade (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press).
The Atlas is a remarkable volume, everything a reference book should be: Focused and detailed with informative and ideally designed graphics and maps that explicate its six parts: Nations Transporting Slaves from Africa, 1501-1867; Ports Outfitting Voyages in the Transatlantic Slave Trade; The African Coastal Origins of Slaves and the Links between Africa and the Atlantic World; The Experience of the Middle Passage; The Destinations of Slaves in the Americas and Their Links with the Atlantic World; and Abolition and Suppression of the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

One map shows that the direction of sea currents and prevailing winds caused slavers to take a longer but easier voyage from central Africa as opposed to points further north. Another details the flow of slaves from specific African ports (and the number of slaves from each) to their destination ports in the New World. Still another breaks down the demographics of age and gender of captives on typical voyages.

Each page is the turn of a screw, slowly revealing until undeniable the official complicity of European nations in the deliberate design and perpetration of a horror that lasted for over three-and-a-half centuries. For the captives who survived the Middle Passage to be sold into slavery, the horror had only begun, and would be passed down from generation to generation.

The slavers and their investors, though, pocketed their profits and began preparations for more voyages to the central African coast. This included taking out insurance that protected "The Insurers from any loss or damage from the Insurrection of Negroes" but that otherwise specified a precise value for human life "computed on the nett Amount of the Ship Outsett & Cargo -- Negroes valued at Thirty Pounds p Head." Of course, to the slavers and slaveowners, these were not human lives: They were nothing more than commodities of labor valued at 30 pounds per unit.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

R.I.P., Suze Rotolo

They looked so domestic. Just a young couple crazy about each other, strolling a New York City street with the confidence that the world was their oyster. The near mundaneness of the image belied the brilliance of the music within, but once you heard the music within, you took a second look at the cover. Suddenly, it portrayed something else: A portrait of a young man as an artist who had just changed popular music forever and his (somewhat reluctant, it turned out) muse. She clings to him smiling and proud as he whispers something secret -- a private witticism, perhaps, a sweet nothing, or a tale of the Village night. The images of the cars behind them futilely attempt to freeze the image in late 1962 or early 1963, but the music had already demolished the mere temporal pretensions of a camera: It's already immortal. And Suze, you feel, knows it. The smile says, "This record? He couldn't have done it without me."

Suze Rotolo is gone, succumbing to lung cancer at age 67. She inspired Bob Dylan's interest in the political world and became the subject of some of his greatest songs. Here's, Dylan's friend Ramblin' Jack Elliot sings one of them (music begins around 3:30):

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Those Union Members Will Get You Every Time

A unionized public employee, a member of the Tea Party, and a CEO are sitting at a table. In the middle of the table is a plate with a dozen cookies on it. The CEO reaches across and takes 11 cookies, looks at the tea partier and says, "Watch out for that union guy, he wants a piece of your cookie.

Cold Toddy

This is not just some academic exercise for me. I am trying to actually shrink scope and size of government. If Harry Reid comes back and says no spending cuts, no nothing, at that point I feel I have no choice given what I ran on, given what I got 70 percent of the vote on, I have to shut down the government.
Representative Todd Rokita (R-IN)
I? I?! I have to shut down the government?! Who died and made Todd Rokita king?

Rokita, all of 40 years old, has apparently crowned himself King of the United States of America. During the day, he's the freshman representative from Indiana's 4th district, a gerrymandered sprawl wrapped around the spine of western Indiana. Rokita, who claims to oppose gerrymandering, represents -- according to the Cook Report -- one of the most Republican districts in the country.

Moreover, while no doubt opposing every piece of legislation important to African-Americans, Mr Rokita has urged Republicans to reach out to that constituency. Pointing out that 90% of African-Americans vote Democratic, he once wondered aloud, "How can that be? Ninety to 10. Who's the master and who's the slave in that relationship? How can that be healthy?" (He later apologized for the remark.) However, as a stalwart opponent of nonexistent voter fraud: As Indiana's Secretary of State, Rokita instituted a requirement that voter's produce a photo I.D., which has the effect of suppressing African-American turnout. How can that be healthy?

The boy king has apparently decided that getting the vote of 139, 788 Hoosiers in one most Republican districts (94.8% white) in the country entitles him to personal free rein to shut down the government. This is not only a signature of teabagger provincialism and self-importance, it shows how disconnected from reality these people are. More than 75,000 of Rokita's constituents receive Social Security; his casual threat to personally shut down the government threatens each and every one of them with not receiving their monthly deposit. But, I suppose you can't make an omelet without breaking a few eggs, and King Todd does have an imagined potential personal affront from Harry Reid to stew about.

The rest of us, though, have to worry about the man who would be king.