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May 31, 2004

Memorial Day

I hope everyone's had a fantastic Memorial Day. Watching TV, barbequeing, reading, trail running, or whatever else you like to do.

Me, I spent the day reading and trail running. Not that I don't like to watch TV or barbeque; I just don't like them as much as reading or running along forest trails.

I know. Geek.

May 30, 2004

Mmm. Love that burger.

"Are you sure it isn't industrially produced?"

"Sure, I'm sure. I found it on the Eat Well Guide."

(Link via ai.)

May 29, 2004

Farm Corporate subsidies

We already know about the huge subsidies going to the pharmaceutical industry, thanks to that (other) Bush administration fiasco known as the Medicare prescription drug benefit.

Corporate welfare, however, is ubiquitous. It has been blessed by both political parties. Farm subsidies are possibly the worst form of corporate welfare, because most people think the subsidies go to family farmers and not to corporations and wealthy individuals. Think again.

Lawmakers, summoning outdated stereotypes, assert that farm subsidies are needed to prevent the bankruptcy of millions of family farmers, who perform backbreaking labor for poverty incomes. Yet farming in 2004 is a stable, profitable industry dominated by large agribusinesses using 21st-century technology. The typical farm household reports an income 17 percent above the national median and a net worth of more than $500,000 -- despite living in rural areas with lower costs of living.

Go read this fascinating (and very short) article from that bastion of liberalism called the Heritage Foundation.

May 28, 2004

ACRONYMS

So I'm into my summer job now for a few days, and I'm swamped with acronyms. I work for an office that's a sub-acronym of the main acronymal entity serving the University.

And we're doing health law, which has got to be the most acronym-crazy subfield of law there is. You know all those MCOs? HMOs and PPOs? Well, they're just the beginning. And that's just the three-letter acronyms.

There seem to be acronyms for things that don't need them: today I came across a form--just a form--that's put out by this organization known by another acronym. Guess what: the form is referred to by an acronym that's surprising only in that the last letter isn't F, for "Form." I think the last letter was A, for "Application."

Sheesh.

Every job has to have its specialized knowledge, I guess. Even if it is just acronyms.

May 27, 2004

"We wish we had been more aggressive"

On Wednesday, the New York Times admitted that it had too often failed to scrutinize pre-war claims that Iraq represented a clear and present danger. The Times now wishes that it had practiced more aggressive journalism, and not passively fed the public every wild and unsupported claim that Chalabi and Bush administration neocons were making in favor of starting a war.

That's nice. It's a little too late, though, since the yahoos have succeeded with every deceptive, self-serving plan they ever had for putting our armed forces smack in the middle of the Iraqi oilfi... uh, Iraqi desert. We gave the rabid neoconservatives as much rope as they wanted, and then they hung us with it. Good and high. Now we're just kicking our feet, mewling ineffectual apologies about how sorry we are that all our genuflecting before Bush-Cheney prevented us from thinking for ourselves. I'm a little tired of it.

Folks, the hard right has been running this country for too long. Ever since Ronald Reagan, and maybe even earlier, we've deferred to the conservatives whenever they chose to make their arguments forcefully. With a little bit of feeling and a good Southern accent thrown in just to prove that God was on their side, the conservatives have gotten whatever they wanted. Tax cuts? Got 'em. Welfare reform? Got that too, from Clinton no less. Wars? Who cares if we have to start them ourselves. Our conservative, Bible-thumping, free-market idolizing, deregulating, free-trading, right-wing Republican masters should not be denied. They should not be crossed. After all, they're "real American patriots" with the cojones to tell those left-leaning, tree-hugging, pot-smoking, gullible, naiive, limp-wristed, morally bankrupt pathetic losers on the Left just exactly what they are: too spineless in the clutch to be taken seriously.

During the Clinton years, when the stock market was booming and Gary Condit was the only threat we had to worry about, we could tolerate the left. We could even give internet-inventing Al Gore the most votes. Nothing was really at stake. Then September 11 happened. All of a sudden, we needed to get serious. We had to turn to the hard right. They were the only ones who were "tough enough" to keep us safe. Of course the New York Times shouldn't have practiced aggressive journalism if it meant that Bush and his yahoos would be inconvenienced in their obviously superior approach to terrorism. Of course the silly arguments of the Left were too silly because... because they were made by leftists. We all knew the leftists could contribute nothing when the times get tough. When John Ashcroft sat in front of a Senate committee and accused anyone who opposed the Patriot Act as traitorous, no one uttered a peep of disagreement, let alone got angry. It was time for the Left to sit down and shut up.

So the New York Times is apologizing for rolling over and wagging its tail, when it should have been practicing journalism. Sigh. So what. What I'd like to see is some aggression. John Kerry could, and should, tear Bush a new asshole, but so far he's chosen not to. Strangely enough, Al Gore seems to be the only big-name politician willing to demonstrate that Bush can be attacked. Resignations can be called for. The neocons can be called out.

But no one seems to be noticing. Sure, Bush has gotten us all into a fix. But we're all waiting, it seems, for this Abu Ghraib thing to blow over, and for Cowboy Bush to get back on his horse and ride to the rescue. We're at a fork in the road. We're holding our breath.

How much bullshit will it take for us to wake up and realize that the hard right might not have all the answers? I certainly don't know, yet, how much bullshit it will take. But four years from now, I hope we won't have to read any more heartfelt apologies. I don't want to hear later that, in the face of a President who obviously never knew what the hell he was doing, who's surrounded himself with stooges of the oil industry and Machiavellian powermongers who'd rather cut off their left testicle (or equivalent feminine appendage) to avoid telling the American people what's going on at Guantanamo, and whose idea of America doesn't include people who don't think morality is exhausted by chewing tobacco and quoting the Bible--I don't want to hear later how sorry we are for not being aggressive enough.

The Right doesn't, after all, have all the answers. They have no secret magic powers. We've tried their ideas, and they've failed. Enough is enough.

It's time to get more aggressive.

May 25, 2004

Drug prices skyrocket. Duh...

Now that we've chosen to bestow massive subsidies upon the pharmaceutical industry with that Rube Goldberg contraption and sorry excuse for statesmanship called the Medicare prescription-drug benefit, does this surprise anyone?

Anyone who's surprised, raise your hand and say "duh, I never thought..."

I'll post more later. Exasperation with right-wingers has just given me nausea and gas.

A life-in-being?

We joked about this in Property class all semester. Now, like too many other bad jokes, it's real!!!

Bwahahaha!!!

(hat-tip to Larry)

May 24, 2004

Wisdom from the prairie

"Agrarianism in today's world is a fairly loose garment, especially as so many of us live in places where you can't even pull weeds. That is why its mindset can still be useful."

Paleoconservative attack

Sounding a bit like Lewis Lapham, paleoconservative Thomas Fleming takes Bush and his cronies out behind the woodshed for a bit of old-fashioned ass whoopin'.

I wish John Kerry would try it sometime. . .

May 22, 2004

I don't want to climb Everest

With a 'failure rate' like this. . .

Since 1953, a total of 1,373 people have climbed Everest from the Nepali and the Chinese sides. During that half century, 178 people have died on the mountain - a mortality rate of 13 percent.

. . . I'd rather stay home and read Jon Krakauer books.

May 21, 2004

Going to see the elves

...Well, not exactly the elves. Valinor is too expensive a round-trip ticket.

But I am going to see some people who are almost as cool: Geddy Lee, Neil Peart, and Alex Lifeson, of the rock band Rush.

After spending barely less money than I would have had to spend on a ticket to Valinor (damned Ticketmaster), I'm all set to see Rush on June 8 at a place near Detroit called the "DTE Energy Music Theatre." Don't worry, people. You'll get over your jealousy in a few months. It's understandable. Who wouldn't want to see a band who plays songs with lyrics like:

On certain nights
When the angles are right
And the moon is a slender crescent

Its circle shows
In a ghostly glow
Of earthly luminescence
. . .

Floating high
In the evening sky
I see my faint reflection

Pale facsimile
Like what others see
When they look in my direction

. . .

Brilliant, no?

May 20, 2004

What does it mean to "be American"?

Ever since my friend Nick so eloquently raised the issue with me, I've been following the debates about our national identity, and the question of what it means to be an American.

Samuel Huntington's recent book, Who Are We?, is a book I'd like to read but, alas, haven't read yet. It's generated a lot of controversy, and I have read some of the reviews, such as this one by Tamar Jacoby.

Huntington's book is controversial because he identifies what a lot of us are afraid of: that waves of Mexicans are diluting our national identity by failing to assimilate to the American "Anglo-Protestant" identity.

I've always thought this idea was hogwash. Jacoby's review reflects many of my own views on the subject. I've never bought into the idea that there's anything particularly American about the "Anglo-Protestant" identity, whatever that might be. It's true that anglo-protestant culture was a strong influence upon early America. But as Jacoby puts it, those who confuse this sectarian identity with a general American identity are mistaking origins for essence.

This nation has welcomed waves of non-Anglo, non-Protestant immigrants for most of its history. The similarities between these prior waves of immigration and the current wave of Mexican immigration are, in my opinion, far more important than the differences. Mexicans are glad to be here. They see a land full of opportunities, and they seize them, often far more vigorously than today's Anglo-Protestants who've lived in the United States for several generations. Their children born in this country overwhelmingly learn to speak English.

We've benefitted as a nation far more than we've suffered from Mexican immigration. Suggestions like Huntington's, that we retreat behind an Anglo-Protestant "cultural fortress" (Jacoby's words) seem silly at best, and possibly pernicious.

May 19, 2004

John Kerry better not go there

After the wanton destruction and havoc wreaked by four years of the Bush administration, what we need more than ever is a President with two things: wisdom and guts.

John Kerry has more of both than George W. Bush, but some of his recent statements make me think that he may not have very much more.

Kerry has been playing the role of the pandering politician lately, criticizing Bush for not doing more to reduce gasoline prices. Kerry hasn't gone so far as some Senate democrats in calling for Bush to open up the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, but he has tried to turn rising gas prices to his own political benefit in an embarrassingly crass manner.

Folks, gas prices in this country have been way too low for way too long. One of the reasons we're in Iraq is because we're addicted to low oil prices, and we want to control more of the world's supply. One of the reasons we haven't gone after the corrupt regime in Saudi Arabia--a regime that's much more responsible for the kind of terrorists that attacked us on September 11 than Saddam Hussein's regime ever was--is that the Saudis have played ball with us on the oil issue.

One of the reasons the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is perennially under threat from the oil lobby is that we want cheap gas so badly we're always vulnerable to any argument for new drilling, no matter how spurious.

Cheap gas begets gluttonous gas usage. Our love affair with big, gas-guzzling SUVs is the manifestation of our gluttony for cheap oil. SUVs aren't a problem, except that they waste a non-renewable resource for doing dumb suburban things like driving to the Macaroni Grill or driving 20 miles one-way into work every day because you just had to buy that big house in Highlands Ranch even though you had no plans to leave your downtown job.

David Brooks to the contrary, this kind of behavior is gluttonous, embarrassing, and signals a cultural decay that's far more profound than Janet Jackson's boob on TV. When politicians like John Kerry continue to pander to our addictions in order to get himself elected, I wonder why we can't just all vote for Ralph Nader.

New president

Wolfowitz:

"We had a plan that anticipated, I think, that we could proceed with an occupation regime for much longer than it turned out the Iraqis would have patience for. We had a plan that assumed we'd have basically more stable security conditions than we've encountered"

Bush:
"My resolve is firm. This is an historic moment. The world watches for weakness in our resolve. They will see no weakness. We will answer every challenge."

One of these guys has been able to change his rhetoric, and to come to grips with reality. Maybe we'd be better off if we made Paul Wolfowitz our new President.

May 18, 2004

Even a blind hog...

Most everything about the Bush administration is embarrassing or much worse. Its foreign policy aspires to imperialism, not to antiterrorism; its environmental policy is a Xerox copy of the oil & gas lobby's "favors to ask for" list; its Enemy Number One now that Saddam Hussein is out of the way is the idea of open government at home.

But even a blind hog will root up an acorn every once in a while (thanks, Edward Abbey).

This Administration's acorn is the President's advisory council on bioethics.

Yes, I know. It's chaired by Leon Kass, and he's an anti-abortion conservative, and many liberals don't like him or the Council. The liberals have it wrong. In an Administration that's stunningly anti-intellectual, mean, and petty, the council is an oasis of thoughtfulness, wisdom, and good citizenship.

It's not perfect. As its critics point out, it has been ignoring some of the most important bioethical problems facing our country, such as the increasing inaccessibility to basic health care for a substantial number of our citizens. Nevertheless, the Council deserves credit for focusing on issues that are completely ignored by almost everyone else. These issues are those of the problems posed by technology, and perhaps more importantly, by our unquestioning faith that new technology will always make things better.

Faith in technology is to us what Catholicism was to Europe in the Middle Ages. It's a religion that's so widespread that it's invisible. No one can think about the world in any other way. But just as medieval Catholicism was both good and bad, building great cathedrals but also sending young farmers off to fight the Crusades, our faith in technology benfits us as well as harms us. More importantly, our faith is a historical contingency. We take it for granted, but there is a time when it didn't exist, and there will probably be a future in which it ceases to exist, at least as the all-dominating worldview that it is today.

President Bush's advisory council on bioethics is to us something of what Copernicus was to the Dark Ages. At a time when no one can even comprehend the possibility that the solar system might not be revolving around us, the council raises the possibility. Leon Kass deserves a lot of credit for this. Who else besides tree-hugger Bill McKibben and hillbilly Wendell Berry calls our attention to the risks of trying to build a world that's without any trace of given nature, that's entirely and everywhere a product of human design? Kass, of course, isn't plainly "right" or "wrong." But he's asking the right questions.

That an administration this bad should produce such a valuable advisory council never ceases to amaze me.

May 17, 2004

Oh No!

I was working a post for about the last hour and a half. It was a review of Robin Hobb's Farseer trilogy.

But I inadvertently closed the wrong window on my browser and lost the whole thing. Damn! Since it's too late to recreate all of that work tonight, I'll just post this complaint as a way of venting some steam, and maybe I'll try again later...

EDIT: Just so I can say I didn't leave you with a post empty of all content (God forbid), I'll link to this useful reminder of the value of strength training for the elderly from DB's Medical Rants. Anyone who knows me will understand why I publicize this kind of thing as often as possible...

May 16, 2004

Food-shopping skills

Today, for the first time in many months, I went grocery shopping.

This hadn't been necessary while I was living in Law School-provided housing, because I had a mandatory board contract to eat in the dining hall. Even had I wanted to cook for myself, I had no kitchen in which to do it.* Now, though, my only choices are restaurants or cooking for myself. Since Ann Arbor's restaurants are generally overpriced, I'll do my own cooking. Besides, I'm looking forward to cooking as a satisfying summer activity in its own right.

Anyway, I'm learning that grocery shopping is a skill that gets rusty with disuse. Successful shopping depends on the ability to visualize the raw ingredients in front of you as incomplete parts of potential meals. You see a wedge of brie. A bag of frozen green beans. A bottle of olive oil, and a bag of almonds. Unless you can visualize how you might use these things, your decisions to buy this but not that seem utterly random. Today, it felt a little like that for me. "I haven't put anything in my basket for a whole aisle now, so I think I'll grab this bag of almonds to give me the sense that I'm making progress."

Ok, it wasn't that bad. But there was some of that flavor layered over the whole experience. I'm not sure that semi-random grocery shopping is always a sign of rusty cooking skills, but I think that for me, this time, it was.

------
* While I could have used friends' kitchens, I was reluctant to because a) using someone else's kitchen infringes upon their personal sphere of autonomy in ways that are mysterious and deeply profound, and b) I was generally too lazy to do it.

May 15, 2004

Influence

Here's an all-too-rare case of a pharmaceutical company actually held accountable for its marketing practices:

Pfizer, the world's largest pharmaceutical company, pleaded guilty yesterday and agreed to pay $430 million to resolve criminal and civil charges that it paid doctors to prescribe its epilepsy drug, Neurontin, to patients with ailments that the drug was not federally approved to treat.

That a pharmaceutical company would overzealously market its drugs is a real shame, but it's not especially disappointing. What's most disappointing is that once again, the marketing campaign seems to have successfully influenced physicians' prescribing habits:

These marketing practices, though, were extremely effective, according to internal company documents. Doctors who attended dinners given by the company to discuss unapproved uses of Neurontin wrote 70 percent more prescriptions for the drug than those who did not attend, one memorandum showed.

There are still a handful of willfully-blind doctors who continue to insist that physicians are not influenced by the marketing efforts of the pharmaceutical industry: the armies of well-dressed young drug reps visiting the office, the pleas from patients for the purple pill they saw advertised on the TV last night, or the "educational" junkets to places like Las Vegas to hear from paid-for speakers before heading off to the casino or the golf course.

Every story like this one, though, makes that argument just a little bit more difficult to make. At least with a straight face.

May 12, 2004

The rest of the country

I just took a train trip in one direction, followed by a car trip back to Ann Arbor. It wasn't a sightseeing trip, but I couldn't help but see a lot of sights.

One thing I saw a lot of was farms. It's amazing how much of the land out there is devoted to growing plants. Some of the crops that these farms grow is of course used to feed people, but so much of it is used for other things like feeding livestock. A surprising amount of it is used to produce the "raw materials" for processed "food products" like corn syrup, carageenan gum, and other fillers that are ubiquitous in processed food but not essential for food in general.

But that's beside the point. The thing I thought about as I stared out at all those farms was what it must be like to live on a farm. What is it like to be a farmer on the dry, flat farms of eastern Colorado and western Kansas, where the sky is blue all the way down to the horizon? Out there, you can stand under the bright sun and see thunderstorms off in the distance. They're discrete; you can see from one side of them to the other, and if they're far enough away you can see from their black bottoms to their white, fluffy, impossibly high tops. There are no trees to obstruct your view, and there's no humidity in the air to blur it.

How about living on a Missouri farm? In parts of that state, the land is gently rolling; the small areas between the cultivated fields and along the roads is packed with tall trees and thick vegetation, and the warm wind in May smells like fresh-cut grass. In the low-lying areas there's almost always a small stream of the sort that gives you visions of turtles and frogs in the undergrowth.

I'll probably never be a farmer. But it's good to get away from the law school for a while, and take a break from the narrow focus on the five or six largest metropolitan areas that's such a feature of life in law school, to just see what other people are doing. It's good to see where they're living, and remind myself that our country is a big, big, place.

May 07, 2004

Endings

Overheard bit of conversation between law students on the last morning of exams:

"You know, I usually feel like crying when things end. But I don't feel like crying now. This is the first time I've gotten to an ending and been, like, you know...really happy."

I usually get sad when things end too, but not when I hate them. I wonder if the person I overheard hated law school. I hope not. The years that go by when you're hating what you're doing are like lost years that you can't have back. It's too bad we can't always tell in advance which things we'll hate doing. Sometimes those things sneak up and bite us on the ass. Figuratively speaking, of course.

May 06, 2004

All done

Can you believe I was up 'til 2:30 a.m. last night? Me? Yes, even I will stay up late occasionally when I really have to.

Because it was for a good cause. My exams are all done, and I deserve to party.

(This means I'll probably take a long walk in the Arb.)

May 04, 2004

Thinking like a storybook wolf

I've been reading a story that involves a wolf. In comparison to humans, the wolf lives in the present, and has a hard time thinking about the past or about the future.

Humans who think like this wolf does are probably better off around finals time. Now that I'm close to wrapping everything up, I realize again how what seemed to be a mountain just two weeks ago was really just a collection of little steps. Any stress I felt always came from thinking not about what I was doing, but about what I had to do, or didn't do yesterday.

Someone should remind me of this post if I ever decide to do a residency.

May 03, 2004

The successful blog

How does one measure the success of one's blog?

The number of links via technorati and TTLB seems to be a commonly used criterium. Accumulating links, though, can turn into an unhealthy obsession, and can sometimes lead to your becoming a blog whore or even a blogopath.

How else can you tell if your blog measures up? The cool title? Its seeming omnipresence? A publisher asks you to write a how-to book about blogging? One of your posts is linked to by more people than there are blueberries in Alaska?

Any of these will do, I guess. By some of these measures my blog is successful, by others of them, less so.

But I know my blog is a smashing success. Try a Google search for "posner's cat." Guess what?

May 02, 2004

neocons disparaged

I'm not a libertarian.

I do, however, understand why a libertarian would loathe the neocons, and when I read Justin Raimondo's perceptive critique of the neoconservative program, I was more than willing to sign on to most of it:

Their foreign policy, an unrestrained push for American dominance, had been a hard sell in the initial years of the post-cold war era, and their domestic agenda dubbed "national greatness" conservatism, seemed far too grandiose for most. America, they argued, was enjoying what the columnist Charles Krauthammer called "the unipolar moment," that is, unrivaled power on the world scene that caused the French to invent a new and slightly derisive label us: the hyperpower, i.e. a power that was so far above all others that it ascended to a whole new level. The US, argued Krauthammer, and others, had to seize this moment before it passed. Global hegemony was within our reach: we had only to reach out and grasp it. to realize all the dreams of Alexander, Caesar, and Napoleon combined. . .

It is on the home front, however, that the real battle is being waged, and it is on this battleground that the neocons show their true colors, coming out of the closet, so to speak, as what Claes Ryn and Paul Craig Roberts describe as "neo-Jacobins." The original Jacobins were the most radical and bloodthirsty faction of the French Revolution, and when they gained power they set up the guillotine in the public square, created a police state, and launched a furious pogrom that ended only when Robespierre met his end on the very guillotine to which he had condemned thousands. . .

The above could have been written by anyone, of any political stripe save the neoconservative one. But Raimondo is a libertarian, and he emphasizes the reasons why he thinks libertarians should oppose the Bush Regime:

This is why libertarians oppose the war plans of our leaders, and why libertarianism is the polar opposite of neoconservatism. The tendency of war is to centralize economic and political power, to intrude the long arm of government into every sector of the private sphere, to militarize and regiment society and enforce uniformity of thought. George W. Bush's program of perpetual war, in effect, means the overthrow of our old republic. In sounding the call to do battle against an amorphous and omnipresent enemy that cannot be defeated for at least a generation, he is sounding the death knell of the America political idea, which is of a government strictly limited by custom and the Constitution. . .

We saw how the George W. Bush of our era Richard M. Nixon escalated the war in Vietnam even as he instituted wage-and-price controls. The Republicans, we learned back then, were the party of war and Big Government and the two inevitably went hand-in-hand. Today, history is repeating itself and, if the first time was as tragedy, then the second time is farce of truly monumental proportions.

One sign of the strength of Raimondo's argument is that it makes sense even to non-libertarians--something that isn't true of much of the pseudo-religious claptrap that you often read in libertarian magazines such as Reason.

(Article via Political Theory Daily Review)

May 2nd

Happy birthday to my brother! I hope your day has been great.

May 01, 2004

I just changed my Tuesday plans...

I think I'll watch hockey this Tuesday night.

Thanks, of course, to Super Joe.