Your Lying Eyes

Dedicated to uncovering the truth that stands naked before your lying eyes.

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31 May 2006

U.S. Offers to Join Iran Nukes Talks...If...

As an American, I'd really prefer it if, when a hostile foreign government dismisses my country's diplomatic overture as "a propaganda move," I were not inclined to agree with it.

There's No Point to Our Staying in Iraq

The news coming out of Iraq these days is so unremittingly bad that any observer not conversant with the history of our involvement would have to conclude that the U.S. invaded Iraq with the intention to destroy it using as little manpower as possible, and that this goal has succeeded beyond expectations. For not only have we destroyed it as a functioning nation, we have, by eradicating any extant Iraqi civilian and military authority and institutions, assured that the country would remain destroyed for years to come.

This is no mean feat. By the end of World War II, the allies had effectively destroyed Germany and Japan. Their cities, landscape, and people were but shells of their pre-war state. And, as with Iraq, since all civic institutions were in actuality puppets of the totalitarian state, they too were destroyed. Yet within a few years both countries were humming along quite nicely, and we helped them establish civic institutions that were stronger than any they had previously seen.

Now after three years in Iraq, our efforts to control the country appear to working in reverse, with the frequency of insurgency attacks rising with the length of our stay. In addition to attacks on our troops, invariably resulting in far greater bloodshed among Iraqi civilians, the dozens of bodiesthat regularly turn up at Iraqi morgues bespeak a world of horror beyond the reach of our embedded reporters or even our own troops.

And now we have the inevitable civilian-slaughter incident cropping up where one group of Marines took out their anger/horror/frustrations on some Iraqi's in Haditha last year, while today soldiers shot up a car running a road-block but which actually was frantically transporting a pregnant woman about to give birth. The woman and a companion were killed. Slaughter has become a way of life in Iraq, so it's hard to fault our troops when they're part of it. That's why we shouldn't want them to be a part of it. The administration's reaction to all this is to increase our presence there.
In Ramadi, an imminent American offensive may be imminent, as Al Qaeda forces appear to be securing a major foothold in the city.
Signs that Zarqawi-linked groups have taken over the city have been growing. One by one, Sunni sheiks who had vowed to fight radical Islamic insurgents in Al Anbar province have been assassinated...Ramadi residents say they have detected an intensified U.S. effort in recent days to wrest control of the city's streets from insurgents. A Sunni sheik said residents had begun to flee as American forces stepped up bombing raids and ground patrols in the last 10 days.
This all sounds like a replay of Fallouja, where residents fled the city in droves on the eve of an American offensive which succeeded in destroying the city, leaving hundreds of U.S. casualties, killing about 1,000 insurgents - but not damaging the insurgency in any meaningful way. Another such episode seems hardly worth it.

The cause - whatever that cause might be - is surely lost. Should we leave there will be a bloody civil war, but someone will emerge dominant. Who that may be is unimportant, at this point. Should we remain, the insurgency will continue as it is today for as long as we are there. Iran may try to take advantage of our leaving - let them try - they will fail, too. No matter how obligated we may feel to set things right, our efforts only make it worse. As General Odom argues, it's time to cut and run.

26 May 2006

The Mary Kay Letourneau Case Tells Us - What?

I just saw Mary Kay and Villi on the Today Show, the happy couple with their kids, grinning ear-to-ear, celibrating their first anniversary. The Letourneau case was kind of the granddaddy of the female-teacher-seductress cases and still the most fascinating, in that even society's best efforts - complete and total disgrace plus seven (7!) years in jail - couldn't seem to knock any sense into the poor girl. Now these seductions happen with regularity despite the national disgrace and harsh* legal consequences.

So why do we prosecute these women? The extra-legal sanctions seem more than severe enough to deter any rational woman so tempted. They lose their jobs, pretty much forever. And they lose any hope of a good marriage - or at least marriage to a good prospect - who'd have them? And sometimes - as with Mary Kay - they lose their marriages and their children. They are no doubt total social outcasts - at least as total as our society is capable of, these days.

Is it overzealous law enforcement? Prosecutors just love to prosecute sensational cases. It seems there's no amount of real crime in a community that can dissuade a prosecutor from taking on a case that will put his office in the headlines.

Is it just a sypmtom of our penchant for criminalizing behavior? We put teens in handcuffs for drinking alcohol, outlaw driving with low alcohol level, in Texas they arrested people for being drunk in a bar.

Feminist-driven forced symmetry? Men having sex with underage girls has always been viewed as a crime, while an adult-female/teenage-boy coupling has always been viewed as a major triumph for the boy - so we are now forced to blindly treat the opposite case as criminal for purely legalistic reasons.

Psychobabble about harmful effects on boys? This seems stupid on its face - any emotional hurt the boy might feel when the relationship doesn't work out is surely outweighed by the enormous boost to his self-esteem it brings in the first place.

Society's outrage at perversion? This is perversion in the strictest sense - an overturning of the normal and proper. Young women are supposed to be interested in finding a "good man" - a man with good prospects, who's responsible, trustworthy (looks can serve as a tie-breaker). While much of this may be outmoded (for good or ill), a woman who throws away her future for a teenager is still committing an unpardonable sin in society's eyes. This is where we draw the line - this is where we still tell women who is and is not acceptable for them to pursue.

Any thoughts?

* Everything is relative - for a young, attractive white schoolteacher, even an appearance in court on criminal charges is harsh, never mind conviction and incarceration.

24 May 2006

American Nurses Apparently Just Don't Cut It

At least that appears to be what the U.S. Senate thinks. The NY Times notes that "a little-noticed provision in their immigration bill would throw open the gate to nurses and, some fear, drain them from the world's developing countries." Note how the Times, as the beacon of American elitism, does not concern itself with how this influx of foreign nurses might impact American nurses, but rather how this might affect the countries these foreign nurses would leave. But the Times is not above reporting some dubious economics:
The nurse proposal has strong backing from the American Hospital Association, which reported in April that American hospitals had 118,000 vacancies for registered nurses. The federal government predicted in 2002 that the accelerating shortfall of nurses in the United States would swell to more than 800,000 by 2020.
You see, American women just don't want to be nurses, and why should they? Your typical American woman is either some hotshot corporate lawyer or a pampered housewife instructing her Mexican gardener on where to plant the petunias. It's not like the old days when a middle class woman appreciated a job where she could work part time or weekends and nights to help with the family finances. Oh sure, there's lots of middle class women, but they're all meth addicts or poorly educated, certainly not up to the standards of Philippine health care workers, who'll just so happen to work for a lot less, too.

Now obviously the way to handle a labor shortage - particularly one being projected 18 years in the future - is to raise wages. That way more people would go to nursing school. Yes, that would raise total health care costs. I think it's unlikely that nurses' salaries are a significant chunk of health care costs. There's no reason to suspect that other industrialized countries have critical nursing shortages, and their health care costs are significantly lower than ours. Whatever is driving our high health care costs, it's unlikely to be nurses. (By the way, I googled like mad and couldn't find any stats.) Interestingly, following the 2002 study quoted above, Congress passed the Nurse Reinvestment Act to address this very issue. I guess the Senate would rather not wait around to see if it works.

But the whole shortage claim seems suspect. The Times tries to explain:
There are now many more Americans seeking to be nurses than places to educate them. In 2005, American nursing schools rejected almost 150,000 applications from qualified people...One of the most important factors limiting the number of students was a lack of faculty to teach them...Professors of nursing earn less than practicing nurses, damping demand for teaching positions.
So it must be really hard to find people to teach finance, law, or engineering - surely professor salaries don't exceed typical earnings in these fields. If our nursing programs are maxed-out, I can't see how this shortage can be real.

Back to the effect on foreign countries:
Removing the immigration cap, they said, would particularly hit the Philippines, which sends more nurses to the United States than any other country, at least several thousand a year. Health care has deteriorated there in recent years as tens of thousands of nurses have moved abroad. Thousands of ill-paid doctors have even abandoned their profession to become migrant-ready nurses themselves, Filipino researchers say. "The Filipino people will suffer because the U.S. will get all our trained nurses," said George Cordero, president of the Philippine Nurse Association. "But what can we do?"
What can we do, indeed.

23 May 2006

Mass. Republicans Tough on Immigration

While one might think that a Massachusetts Republican might be the wimpiest of an already wimpy breed (Northeast Republicans), they're making some principled noise on the immigration front. Here's some of what they're saying:
On housing subsidies: "We have a housing crisis in Massachusetts. It's absolutely insane that someone who broke the law of the United States of America to get in the country is going to receive subsidized housing at the expense of a longtime resident of that community"
On requiring courts to determine the immigration status of defendants at arraignment: "If we ever got serious about the number of illegals that may or may not be here, this would be another tool for law enforcement to address this"
On several bills introduced in the State Senate: "We have not closely reviewed the bills, but the lieutenant governor supports efforts to crack down on the influx of illegal immigrants."
Wow. "Insane" - "get serious" - "crack down" - I didn't know they could say such things up there in the Bay State. If only some of our 'Heartland' Republicans had half the spine of these northern 'moderates.'

Feinstein: Why Not Just Let Them All Stay?

Sen. Diane Feinstein proposed taking out the 3-tiered approach in the Senate bill whereby illegal residents here for at least 5 years have a more favored "path to citizenship", 2 to 4 years a slightly more difficult path, and others would have to return.
"I have come to believe that the three-tiered system is unworkable, that it would create a bureaucratic nightmare and it would lead to substantial fraud," she said.
She's right, of course, absolutely right, and so she gets points for honesty. Very few illegal immigrants will have any proof of how long they've been in the country, and so either rampant fraud or absurdly lenient standards will prevail. Just imagine the sob stories we will be treated to on the nightly news:
Des Moines(AP) - Mother to face deportation. A young mother who has been in this country for 5 1/2 years may have to leave the country and her young daughter due to a paperwork foulup. She believed the money she paid every month for her electric bill was being sent to the power company, but it appears..."
Oh it's going to be brutal. Americans can handle alot - thousands of casualties in a futile war, mining disasters, destructive tornados, ruinous floods - but whiny lectures from sanctimonious reporters about how heartless we are - that's too much to bear.

22 May 2006

Time To Get Serious

Do you want to sit back and watch America transform itself into Latin America right before your eyes? Why anyone would want this is beyond me - particularly people from Latin America, since I assume they came here expecting something different. Why else would you leave your home country? To escape endemic poverty, corruption, lawlessness, and domination by an elite white minority who skim off any wealth the nation can manage to produce or by a leftist demagogue - not to find the same thing here.

Well that is the direction we are surely headed unless we can stop this insanity in Washington now.

Contact your senators and congressmen and tell them to close down our southern borders and not normalize the current 12 to 20 million illegals. We cannot afford to have 100 million new low-skilled immigrants flooding into the country over the next 20 years.

Find your senator here. Find your congressman here. Contact them and let them know what you think. Spread the word - ask your friends to do the same. Even if you're ambivalent, I hope you at least realize that whatever action is taken now will be essentially irreversible. The stakes are just too high. They're like children playing with matches in D.C., clueless as to the terrible consequences of their actions. We need to let them know we're watching them.

Thanks to Randall Parker for pushing this along.

21 May 2006

Joe Klein: What Immigration Issue

I just saw Joe Klein in Chris Matthews argue that illegal immigration is a non-issue, that very few people's lives are affected by illegal immigration, that those most concerned about illegal immigration are from counties with less than a 5% immigration population. The issue will blow over, he assures us.

What can you say about someone like Joe Klein? Or better, what does Joe Klein say about the political punditry - the people who get to opine on the state of the nation on national TV?

18 May 2006

The Da Vinci Code: Unmitigated Disaster?

Is Ron Howard's Da Vinci Code a disaster? For now Steve Sailer gives a one-word summary: "Hoo-boy." John Carney at the NY Sun doesn't think it's that bad. Here's a roundup of reviews at Just because an underlying story is historically preposterous doesn't mean it can't be a fun movie to watch - look at JFK. But it has always bothered me that millions of people believed Oliver Stone's ridiculous tale and wondered how that must affect their perspectives. And what does it say that so many people are willing to believe that one of the foundations of Western Civilization was a fraud perpetuated by a bizarre centuries-long conspiracy?

Iran's Nuke Progress May Be Literal Vaporware

According to the BBC
Iran may have used stocks of high-quality uranium gas - or uranium hexafluoride gas - [procured from China in 1991] to speed up a breakthrough in enrichment, diplomats say.
This would explain how Iran suddenly was able to accomplish the enrichment phase despite a number of technological problems believed to beset the program. It also demonstrates (assuming these sources are right) that countries are indeed willing to exaggerate the danger they pose to the West even in the face of an American military attack.

Why they do this probably has a number of explanations - regional prestige probably the most compelling. Iran's direct defiance of the U.S. only adds to this prestige, even as it further erodes America's prestige, particularly in the wake of our Iraq debacle. But this is hardly sufficient reason for us to use military force.

Still, Iran's continued baiting of the U.S. seems rather reckless given what we've done next door. However poorly executed the Iraq Attaq might have been, we proved one thing for sure: we can destroy a country but good. And that's while trying to not to destroy it - to save it in fact, spending hundreds of billions trying to rebuild it. Imagine if we just tried to destroy it. And that was with less than 150,000 troops and conventional weapons. So while I sincerely hope we don't decide to solve this issue diplomatically, I also would think some of these countries might tread just a little lightly when confronting the U.S.A.

17 May 2006

Most School Anti-Drug Programs Don't Work

Science-based research to date has found that most anti-drug education programs don't reduce the rate at which kids abuse drugs and alcohol.
There's a shocker, eh? But the big news in this LA Times article is that this is now being recognized by many school administrators and educators.
Increasingly, many academic scholars and government researchers agree...One-size-fits-all lessons do little to prepare kids for the real drug choices they're likely to face...By condemning all drugs as bad — not distinguishing between legitimate medications and, in moderation, alcohol — such programs can confuse kids and ultimately cheapen their own messages.
One of the more popular programs - DARE - is also particularly ineffective. This program is usually run out of the local police department. Even though the federal government de-certified DARE several years ago, many schools pay for it out of their own budget. The reason seems obvious, though not discussed in the article: local police departments tend to be very powerful in the community, and tend to get their way when it comes to budget decisions. If you cut out DARE, you cut out at least one policeman's job. Not to mention the legitimacy the program's extreme message gives to police in justifying their anti-narcotics budget and activities.

The article is also a broader lesson in the ubiquity of unsupported social prescriptions. Statements such as "we need to take a preventive approach and help kids as early as possible to stay away from drugs and alcohol," and "it's never too early to tell kids what's healthy and what isn't to put in their bodies" are made without any facts to actually back them up - they just sound good, kind of like "Diversity strengthens us all." It's good to see some people in this field trying to figure out if any of these programs actually work.

Will You Still Feed Me?

And in her eyes you see nothing
No sign of love behind the tears
Cried for no one
A love that should have lasted years

You never give me your money
You only give me your funny paper
And in the middle of negotiations
You break down

I'm looking through you
Where did you go
I thought I knew you
What did I know

Say you don't need no diamond ring
and I'll be satisfied
Tell me that you want the kind of thing
that money just can't buy

Though the days are few
They're filled with tears
And since I lost you,
It feels like years

She's leaving home
Bye, bye

16 May 2006

George and I

George Bush to me: America needs to conduct this debate on immigration in a reasoned and respectful tone...all of us need to keep some things in mind.We cannot build a unified country by inciting people to anger or playing on anyone's fears or exploiting the issue of immigration for political gain.

Me to George Bush: Oh, F-off, traitor.

15 May 2006 Is Dangerous to Teens

Unwary teens who post personal information on could well find themselves in serious jeopardy - from law enforcement officials. Since terrorism, racketeering, street gangs, car theft rings, embezzlement, and all other dangers to society are apparently now distant memories, police have taken to perusing web pages teens put up on to protect the public from this latest societal menace. The Boston Globe reports on the types of serious crimes being thwarted by these cyberage Joe Fridays:
Seventeen-year-old Ryan Zylstra of Michigan is facing three counts relating to child pornography and up to 20 years in prison based on a prank gone wrong. He allegedly posted a photo of two friends having sex -- a 16-year-old girl and 17-year-old boy...distributing sexually explicit images of minors under 18 is illegal under Michigan's child pornography laws. The prosecutor has offered Zylstra a chance to plead guilty to one of the charges, which carries a possible seven-year term; he has so far rejected the deal, his lawyer said.
Ok, you say, that takes care of dangerous fiends who post nude pictures of other teens, but what about equally dangerous teens who post their own nude pictures? Not to worry, Rhode Island authorities are on the case.
Three people in Rhode Island, two 16-year-old girls and one 19-year-old woman, face child pornography charges for allegedly posting sexually explicit pictures of themselves on MySpace.
Yes, the internet is indeed a fertile feeding ground for online predators looking for easy marks, but it looks like the predators young people should most fear might be police, prosecutors, and school officials. Here again we see the consequences of broadly written criminal statutes. We might think we're using them to lock-up the scum of society, but it's really just as easy - easier, really - to turn those laws right back on the average ordinary citizen who happens to make a mistake that catches the eye of an ambitious lawman.

11 May 2006

A Dim Future Awaits Us

Check out this comment, which presents an angry, somewhat freewheeling though sobering view of America's 'diverse' future.

Just What Is The NSA Up To?

I think they're trying to find terrorists. I fully sympathize with those who are outraged (assuming their outrage is genuine and not opportunistic) over the latest revelations. In case the reception is bad in your cave, USA Today reported that the NSA is busy compiling a database of phone calls made in the U.S.
"It's the largest database ever assembled in the world," said one person, who, like the others who agreed to talk about the NSA's activities, declined to be identified by name or affiliation. The agency's goal is "to create a database of every call ever made" within the nation's borders, this person added.
Back in December, the Times reported that the NSA was monitoring telephone and e-mail communications in some cases between the U.S. and foreign countries. Since no warrants were sought for this surveillance even though such warrants are issued by a secret tribunal, normally rubber-stamped and can even be obtained retroactively, many feel this represents an egregious violation of Americans' civil rights.

But it seems more likely to me that rather than representing surveillance, these efforts are massive data mining efforts intended to uncover and understand communication patterns that could help zero in on terrorist plans. The presumption is that the administration is not seeking warrants because they're snooping where they have no business. But I think it's because warrants would be essentially irrelevant to what they're doing. To get a warrant, you need to identify individuals or specific cases. But what if, say, you want to monitor all phone calls originating from Kandahar (some of which would be to or from the U.S.) over a 24-hour period in order to discover certain communication patterns that could signal a potential terror cell?

Now perhaps we don't want the federal government doing any such activities without a warrant. As Paul Craig Roberts has said, "the purpose of the warrant is to be sure that the government is spying for legitimate purposes and not abusing the power to spy on political opponents for nefarious purposes." But what's going on here doesn't sound like eavesdropping in any conventional sense, and sounds more like the kind of intelligence gathering that didn't happen before 9/11 which had everyone up in arms in its aftermath. I'd feel a lot more comfortable if someone outside the administration could confirm this, though.

10 May 2006

U.S. Children Under 5 Nearly Half 'Minority'

And the Hispanic portion is far and away the fastest growing. This could only be good news to Mexicans glad to see their poorer countrymen head up north. Or to a hopelessly befuddled Brookings scholar.
William H. Frey, a demographer with the Brookings Institution, predicted that the United States will have "a multicultural population that will probably be more tolerant, accommodating to other races and more able to succeed in a global economy."
A more asinine statement is hard to imagine. I have news for you Mr. Frey - the only place you're going to find even the concept - never mind the actual practice - of tolerance and accommodation to minority groups is among whites in America and Europe. You sure as hell aren't going to find it in Latin America, where most countries are ruled by a minority white population, and one's place in society is positioned along a continuum of skin color. While actually thinking about the nonsense he's spewing may be too much to ask of a Brookings fellow, Udolpho could manage to find some clear evidence of how Mexicans in America think of the white folk around them.
But even if you could forgive his multi-culti sentimentality, how in God's name does he conclude that such a society will be more competetive economically? Because most workers will be dirt poor working for slave wages and so the Chinese will be happy to build factories here? Or is he really is trying to say that an America that has more Latinos will be more productive? Does he know of some Latin American country that's secretly an economic powerhouse beneath a veneer of impoverishment and corruption? Yet he's capable of seeing some real problems ahead:
There could be increased competition for money and power, he added: "The older, predominantly white baby-boom generations will need to accommodate younger, multiethnic young adults and child populations in civic life, political decisions and sharing of government resources" in places such as the Washington suburbs.
That's true, because the 'multiethnic young adults' won't be able to carry their own load, never mind pay the taxes to support retiring gringos.
William O'Hare, a senior fellow at the Annie E. Casey Foundation, said he is not sure the country is prepared to provide the extra help that immigrants' children often need to become well-educated workers and the future supporters of retirement programs for a predominantly white elderly population. Some Americans, he said, will not welcome the news that minorities are nearly the majority among young children."Part of the people will see this and say, 'Gee, these kids are really our future parents and workers, and we need to take care of them,' " O'Hare said. "The other would say it is time to send them all home."
In other words, some Americans are naive beyond redemption while others can see the handwriting on the wall.

08 May 2006

New Class at Duke: Orwellian Administration?

The rape allegations against the Duke Lacrosse players were apparently so preposterous that Durham police told Duke police that it would blow over and any charges filed would be no more than misdemeanors. Duke officials were then understandably caught off guard when the case exploded three weeks later. This is according to a report commissioned by the university.

One major mistake, the report said, was that Duke President Brodhead wasn't apprised of the 'racial aspects' of the case until ten days later. In other words, Brodhead was initially misled into believing that facts in the case would prevail when had he known more he would have realized that the course of events would be dictated by a mob.

But of course the real problem was a lack of diversity in Duke's administration. While most of us have been taught that diversity is the magic solution to all problems - and a lack thereof an insurmountable obstacle to success - this message somehow eluded Duke's leadership. A more 'diverse' group might have realized that basic guilt or innocense was immaterial in such situations and that prompt Stalinist measures would be called for.
The case may have been handled better "if a wide array of life histories and perspectives had been brought to bear on what were sensitive and highly charged issues," the report said.
Yes, that would have made all the difference, sort of like the perspective of the black-female security guard who made the 9-1-1 call that night and sensitively reported that "She's like, she's like intoxicated, drunk or something."

Republicans Determined to Lose Congress

The desire to please their corporate masters is apparently so strong among the Republican leadership that they are willing to lose congress rather than jeopardize losing their bankrollers. From the Chicago Tribune:
"In 2004, people were passionate about voting for Bush and against Kerry. In 2002, there was a passion about the war on terrorism," said Joe Gaylord, a veteran Republican strategist and a principal architect of the party's 1994 revolution. "But in 2006, I don't see much passion on our side, which could make it a very dangerous year."
Nothing to be passionate about? I'd suggest these guys travel around their districts spending time at some VFW halls, Elks Clubs, sports bars, ball fields - i.e., places where their middle class constituents feel comfortable expressing themselves (as they do in voting booths) and ask them how they enjoyed seeing masses of non-citizens demonstrating in the streets holding Che Guevara signs, hammer-and-sickle banners, demanding rights and privileges and threatening boycotts - there'll be plenty of passion, I can assure them. But such passion is the last thing the likes of Elizabeth Dole want to see. According to the Washington Times, which can be expected to have an inside track on Republican stategy,
"Winning on local issues is going to be the key to Republican success in November," Mr. Nick said. He added that North Carolina Sen. Elizabeth Dole, the NRSC chairman, "is definitely stressing to the candidates to run on local issues." officials have begun to talk openly about changing the focus of their campaign local concerns that give the most vulnerable candidates a chance to shift attention away from tougher issues such as the war in Iraq, immigration..."
Distracting voters away from Iraq is definitely a smart move, but immigration is the ideal focus to do so, not another issue to be avoided. Unless of course you're on the wrong side, which is where the Republican leadership is. A tough, anti-immigration policy is a perennial poll winner, and probably even more so today. The middle class, unfortunately, cannot provide Republicans with much money - they can only provide votes. So the party establishment would much rather take their chances on bamboozling middle class voters with anti-tax rhetoric than risk alienating business by threatening their near-infinite supply of cheap labor.

05 May 2006

Just One Word: Psychometrics

According to the Times, one of the hottest new fields is psychometrics. The new emphasis on testing due to No Child Left Behind and other initiatives has left private testing services and government in short supply of the kind of people who can formulate and make sense of these tests - psychometricians. So if you know any bright kids in college you might want to pass the word - they can make some serious coin.

One positive side effect that might accrue from a burgeoning psychometrics profession would be to expand the number of elite professionals who understand the distribution of intelligence in our society. People whose job is to painstakingly construct bias-free tests and then to analyze test results are not likely to be blind to the intractable nature of intelligence differences among major demographic groups. This should help - at least marginally - to inject some realism into some of our policy debates.

02 May 2006

Birth of a Nation

I just watched Birth of a Nation on Turner Classic Movies. What a sensational film. The print was superior, a fully restored tinted version with newly recorded original music. The battle scenes put you right there in the fight, with very realistic earthworks and trench fighting. Fiery tints and heavy smoke provide a time-lapsed view of battle that is breathtaking. We are given a gripping re-enactment (or "historical facsimile" as the titles call it) of Lincoln's assassination so realistic you feel the horror of watching it unfold before your eyes. (Another 'facsimile' - of Lee's surrender at Appomatox - featured two absolute dead ringers for the generals.) The score is gorgeous (and no more overblown than a typical John Williams treatment). As you might expect it interleaves various period themes we got to know from Ken Burns's Civil War with classical snippets, but hearing the Ride of the Valkyries behind charging white-clad horsemen is startling yet perversely thriling.

The film is of course searingly racist. The whole premise of the movie is that the very notion that blacks should be considered equals is evil. The real heavies are mulattos, who are unsavory, lecherous and ruthless. Blacks are either loyal servants or misled fools. And the heroes, of course, are the Klan. Interracial marriage, equal rights, and black franchisement are all outrages to be rightfully suppressed. But if we were to view this movie as taking place in a completely different time and place - say, another planet with groups of aliens with names and faces we don't recognize fighting this same epic battle - we surely would not be outraged in the least. To Griffith, his creation was a perfectly natural way to view the destruction of his native culture just five decades removed, though it offends us today.

We should applaud TCM for showing it. They had some appropriate, non-shrill commentary before and after, but it being a silent movie it's unlikely there were any viewers who might have taken a little too much inspiration from its superlative production values. If it's on again, be sure to catch it.

More Advice for the President

A few weeks ago I humbly suggested that Bush could revive his presidency and salvage his party's fate in the mid-terms by taking a tough stand on illegal immigration. I offered to help them formulate this message but, astonishingly, no one ever contacted me. How could this be - could they be getting better advice elsewhere?

Well, perhaps so. Greg Cochran points me to this column by WaPo's Sebastian Mallaby recommending that Bush lift his sagging ratings by defending Merck in its Vioxx troubles.
Desperate moments call for desperate remedies. President Bush should seize upon the monstrous Vioxx litigation to champion a cause that he believes in: the cause of tort reform.
That's right - support the beleagured pharmaceutical giant against these nasty heart-attack victims. Here's the crux of his argument:
Open societies flourish because they are driven by intelligence and information; the U.S. tort system creates an enclave of idiotic whimsy in the heart of the most open society in the world. But the Vioxx litigation does not merely celebrate dumb prejudice. It's extraordinarily expensive. For this year alone, Merck has set aside a legal war chest of $685 million. The Vioxx lawsuits could eventually cost it between $10 billion and $50 billion.
Merck, unfortunately, was hardly operating in the open: holding off on reporting bad results, making up excuses for increased coronary incidence, and threatening to sue anyone reporting the studies' inescapable conclusions. While the tort system could use some serious re-thinking, the irony is that if any situation argues in favor of current tort law, it is this one - where an injustice has been committed by a huge corportation and neither the victims nor society have any other recourse for seeking restitution.

As far as the huge costs involved, it has been Merck's stategy to fight each case one by one and not seek a settlement. Maybe they can lower the final bill with a settlement. But if the concern is the bankrupting of Merck, Bush could always go to Congress and ask them to intervene and force a settlement, kind of like what was done for the airlines after 9/11. Don't hold your breath - this would not be very likely in an election year - though not as unlikely as Mallaby's suggestion. The title of this column is "No Defense for This Insanity" - the only insanity here is Mallaby's political advice.

Note - for more on the general topic of Big Pharma and legal/moral responsibilities, see this lively debate at Gene Expression.