Monthly Archives: July 2008

July 31, 2008, 9:59 pm


On this day in 1972, Senator George McGovern, the Democratic nominee for the presidency, booted his running mate, Senator Thomas Eagleton, off the ticket.

Just a week earlier, Eagleton had traveled to the Black Hills in South Dakota, where McGovern was on vacation with his family. At a joint news conference, Eagleton had revealed that he had undergone extensive psychiatric treatment in the 1960s, including electroshock therapy. Both McGovern and Eagleton had insisted that, despite the disclosure, they would soldier on together to victory. But as the week had worn on, McGovern had begun facing enormous pressure from within the party to sever ties with Eagleton. And on this day in 1972, he explained to the press that:

In the joint decision we have reached tonight, health was not a factor. But the public debate over Senator Eagleton’s past medical history continues to divert…

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July 31, 2008, 10:03 am

Is it Hannukah (Obammukah?) already?

The New York Times hands conservatives a dreydl:

“Look!” one shouts, “Obama’s socialism is evident in every question!”

“Actually,” another says, “it seems to me that the bottom line is not the questions he asked, but how he evaluated the answers. He asks for strengths and weaknesses of different possible positions in regard to gay marriage. That’s actually (both pedagogically and philosophically) a pretty fair way of testing. It not only gets at the student’s views, but also his ability to argue the question. But–”

“But what?”

“–but am I paranoid, or just appropriately suspicious, of the care he took to avoid taking positions, not publishing, questioning but not answering?”

“Exactly!” they enthuse.  “Come play now let’s begin!”

The dreydl bounces on the formica and settles into a smooth spin.


Gimmel it is.



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July 31, 2008, 9:12 am

Aging gracefully II

Is anyone else irked that Rick Redfern looks exactly the same as he did years ago while Joanie Caucus has aged quite a bit?

July 31, 2008, 9:09 am

George Michael

I was going to write this up as a sort of parody of Eric’s Police review but on re-inspection his post doesn’t really give me anything sufficiently ridiculous to work with. Anyway. I went to see George Michael give the 100th concert of his 25 Live tour. Fantastic show.

The concert really emphasized that “blue-eyed soul”* works a lot better when delivered by a good voice. Michaels sounds great: his voice has a little extra rasp added to its youthful smoothness, but his intonation is good and he delivers a lot of tone over most of the register. “The first time ever I saw your face” got a really gorgeous reading in style that was sort of a tasteful version of the American Idol melisma-fest. By the time he sang the hell out of “Roxanne” I think he was just showing off. We also got to hear some of the big hits: “Father Figure,” “Faith,” and “Careless Whisper” as the first encore.

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July 30, 2008, 8:00 pm

Unfit for the presidency, 6.

Special “SOOO Unfit for the presidency edition.” Say, did you know that Barack Obama has a lotta charisma? People like to go hear him speak. Even white women. Some of them applaud—scream—swoon! Even white women. In fact, here‘s some pictures of him, with well-known white women. See? Get it? A black guy with random white women, for no very good reason. Black guy? White women? Oh, for heaven’s sake, do we have to spell it out for you?

July 30, 2008, 4:44 pm

Happy Birthday, Mr. Ford. Love, Adolf.

Recently, Peggy Noonan wondered if Barack Obama — his professed love for America aside — had ever grown “misty-eyed” thinking about great men like Henry Ford, the renowned auto maker, conspiracy theorist and proud ignoramus who insisted that he did not read books because they addled his mind. Asked once about the American Revolution, Ford remarked that while he was aware of “one in 1812,” he tended not to “pay much attention to such things.”

In addition to being staggeringly unknowledgable about his nation’s history, Henry Ford was also a religious bigot who strivings against International Jewry eventually secured the admiration of the Adolf Hitler. Shortly after the close of the first World War — a war Ford claimed was the ejecta of subterranean Jewish saboteurs — Ford had financed the distribution of The Protocols of the elders of Zion in the United States. Based…

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July 30, 2008, 1:39 pm

Mastectomy through the ages

I’m in the early stages of work on a paper that’s partly about moral and epistemological issues involved in changes in medical practice. In particular my co-author and I are interested in the relationship between the “therapeutic obligation”– physicians’ obligation to provide patients with the most effective treatment, ceteris paribus– and levels of uncertainty about what the most effective treatment is, in particular in cases of new or experimental treatments. (One frequently-discussed version of this problem comes up in the ethics of randomized trials. How could patients be permitted to enroll or continue in RCTs given that, over time, justification for preferring one arm of the trial over another would grow stronger without being sufficient to justify stopping the trial?)

Anyway, reading up on this stuff took me on a little detour through the history of breast cancer treatment…

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July 30, 2008, 9:03 am

“We can get you a special ‘Liar’s Loan.’”

Deans are people too. As proof, one sent me this, via Mankiw: a cartoon primer on the subprime crisis, shorter and cruder than the This American Life version, but also funnier.

July 29, 2008, 11:56 pm

Ignorance isn’t bliss. It’s embarrassing.

On this day in 1968, Pope Paul IV, in the encyclical Humanae Vitae reaffirmed the Roman Catholic ban on artificial contraception. Don’t worry, people, this isn’t going to be a post about Catholicism, or birth control, or even religion. I’m not above link-baiting. But not even I’m that desperate. And in this case, I know absolutely nothing of substance about any of the above issues.

Indeed, this is a post about ignorance. So here goes. Of all of the massive gaps in my knowledge base, my comical lack of familiarity with religion yawns the widest. How wide? Well, okay, since you asked…when I was in college, I went to visit a good friend whose significant other at the time has since gone on to become a world-renowned journalist and adviser to aspiring presidents. One evening, we played what I called the Name Game — which they called Ataturk.

The game, whatever it’s called,…

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July 29, 2008, 5:46 pm

Brain-damaged historians

(Note: This post is utterly unrelated to the one below it.)

Somewhere in Silas Weir Mitchell’s voluminous correspondence on the brain damage of Civil War veterans—my notes are in California, I’m now in Texas—is an account of a Confederate soldier whose bullet-struck head recoiled into a dry-stone wall and performed a fortuitous auto-trepanation.  The insult to his brain had been mitigated by the hole in head, but Mitchell feared the soldier would never regain normal cognitive function.  As time tripped over nothing, cursed in tongues, begged passersby for aid and, roundly rebuffed, stumbled on, the soldier slowly found himself again.  Eventually he could move, see, speak, form new memories and remember the old ones.  He was as he’d been before the war, but for the brutal fact he saw in still life:

The dog is across the room curled before the fire.


The dog is on its…

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July 29, 2008, 12:11 pm

Ticked offhist.

One historian proposes a regulatory authority for the discipline:

Its task would be to protect what he designates “proper historians” from incursions by “amateurs” into writing history books, and to restrain literary editors from commissioning “C-list celebs” and the writers of “chick lit” to review such historians’ work.

Of course, the proposing historian is Andrew Roberts, and who’s to say he wouldn’t be the first one fined by such an office….

More seriously, Roberts’s plaint touches, needle-like, upon the historical profession’s characteristic anxiety—can just anyone do what we do? There are more amateur historians taken more seriously than there are, say, amateur physicists. What is the professional historian’s appropriate attitude toward such amiable practitioners?

Me, I say let a thousand flowers bloom. A journalist writes a derivative and not…

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July 28, 2008, 11:26 pm

Know your Constitution: the 14th Amendment.

On this day in 1868, the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution “was declared in effect.” Or so says the Times. But what does that mean? The Fourteenth Amendment was ratified on July 9th of 1868. So, does a Constitutional Amendment have to be “declared in effect” in order to be in effect? Alas, my books are thousands of miles away, so I can’t solve this problem myself. I need help.

Regardless, for those of you who thought I was going to tell you something about the Fourteenth Amendment, sorry. As a consolation prize, I offer you the text:

Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive a…

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July 28, 2008, 3:57 pm

Rollback by Litterbugging

As everyone knows, the Cold War was loaded with efforts by all parties to menace the psychology of their adversaries.  Some of this was supposed to be accomplished through the nuclear arms race, by which  Soviets and US planners employed sheer terror in the hope of manage international relations to their peculiar advantage.  Elsewhere, domestic psychology was the target, with schemes by turns devious and bizarre employed to cause civilians to doubt the legitimacy of their leaders and their own way of life.  Some of this work — by folks like Edward Lansdale in the Philippines, Cuba and Vietnam — is well known and in some ways folkloric by now.  Even schoolchildren, I think, know that US intelligence agents considered depilating Castro’s beard.  In some ways, I suppose, cold war psy-ops was based on a principle identified by Charles Bukowski, the poet laureate of my life:


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July 28, 2008, 12:00 pm

Quit hocking, already.

Those of you interested in Nixonland will be pleased to know its author has provided you a sixty-three page precis in pdf, here. Perlstein goes further, excerpting himself on Nixon and the EPA:

His policy preferences also indicated a conflicted eagerness to please opinion-making elites. They praised his establishment of an Environmental Protection Agency, launched with an inspiring speech: “the 1970s absolutely must be the years when America pays its debts to the past by reclaiming the purity of its air, its water, and our living environment. It is literally now or never.” But he shared his true opinion of the issue in an Oval Office meeting auto executives: that environmentalists wanted to “go back and live like a bunch of damned animals.” Throwing conservationists a bone also suited another political purpose: the issue was popular among the same young people who were enraged at…

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July 28, 2008, 6:47 am

Widespread appeal.

Hey, is that Larry Craig endorsing Barack Obama? Why yes, despite the handsome text, it is.

“I’m sure Sen. Obama appreciates Sen. Craig’s support.”

For a brief golden moment in weird bipartisanship you could apparently get this button, because … well, in Idaho evidently all white Larrys look alike, or something.