Archive

  • On Literary Fiction

    Not to march in on Fortuna's territory or anything, but this bit from Nick Hornby's Polysyllabic Spree is too good not to excerpt. He's talking about Zoe Heller's Desperate Characters and, by extension, all "literary" fiction: It's brilliantly written, I can see that much, and it made me think, too. But mostly I thought about why I don't know anyone like the people Fox writes about. Why are all my friends so dim and unreflective? Where did I go wrong? Toward the end of the book, Otto and Sophie, the central couple, go to stay in their holiday home. Sophie opens the door to her house and is immediately reminded of a friend, an artist who used to visit them there; she thinks about him for a page or so. The reason she's thinking about him is that she's staring at something he loved, a vinegar bottle shaped like a bunch of grapes. The reason she's staring at the bottle is because it's in pieces. And the reason it's in pieces is because someone has broken in and trashed the place, a fact...
  • Polling Plame

    Via the Stakeholder , ABC News has started polling on the Rove affair, and, well, it's no wonder that Bush is trying to move his Supreme Court justice up to tomorrow's news cycle. Skepticism about the administration's cooperation has jumped. As the initial investigation began in September 2003, nearly half the public, 47 percent, believed the White House was fully cooperating. That fell to 39 percent a few weeks later, and it's lower still, 25 percent, in this new ABC News poll. This view is highly partisan; barely over a tenth of Democrats and just a quarter of independents think the White House is fully cooperating. That grows to 47 percent of Republicans — much higher, but still under half in the president's own party. And doubt about the administration's cooperation has grown as much among Republicans — by 22 points since September 2003 — as it has among others. Those are bad numbers for an administration that refuses to comment. But then, they're nothing compared to the numbers...
  • A Match Made in Heaven

    Tom Tancredo, the Republican demagogue who's promising to run for president until the Republican frontrunners swear they'll issue executive orders to shoot illegal immigrants on site, seems to be expanding his platform. Till now, it was just anti-Mexican. Yesterday, though, Tom branched out into national security: Talk show host Pat Campbell asked the Littleton Republican how the country should respond if terrorists struck several U.S. cities with nuclear weapons. "Well, what if you said something like -- if this happens in the United States, and we determine that it is the result of extremist, fundamentalist Muslims, you know, you could take out their holy sites," Tancredo answered. "You're talking about bombing Mecca," Campbell said. "Yeah," Tancredo responded. Excellent. I'm sure the Muslim world is ecstatic to know that a band of nuts with Russian fissile material could provoke us to detonate Mecca. But happy as they may be, I know a man who'll be even happier, and should really...
  • RoveRoveRoveRoveRoveRoveRoveRove

    From the Washington Post : President Bush, accelerating his search for a new Supreme Court justice, appears to have narrowed his list of candidates to no more than a few finalists and could announce his decision in the next few days, Republican strategists informed about White House plans said yesterday. Advisers to Bush had anticipated an announcement closer to the end of the month, but the White House signaled allies over the weekend to be prepared for a nomination this week, according to the strategists, who asked not to be named because the process remains officially confidential. How odd. I wonder why he decided to move it up so much? Snark aside, that the Rove mess has thrown the White House off schedule with the Supreme Court is about as good as it gets. The less they dictate the news cycle, the less they decide the timing, and the less they can do things according to plan, the better off Democrats are in the upcoming battle. The smart thing now would be to cut Rove loose, stop...
  • Condemning Costco

    Via Nathan Newman comes this NY Times article on how Costco became the anti-Wal-Mart. These pieces pop up every so often to contrast Costco CEO Jim Sinegal's pro-worker philosophy with Sam Walton's throw-them-in-pits attitude. What I love, though, are the clockwork quotes from analysts upset at Costco's good labor practices. Even though Costco's stock price has jumped more than 10% in the last year, even though they sell stock at 23 times what their earnings would predict (Wal-Mart is 19 times), it's not enough. If you're not squeezing the workers, say the analysts, you're not doing your job: Costco's average pay, for example, is $17 an hour, 42 percent higher than its fiercest rival, Sam's Club. And Costco's health plan makes those at many other retailers look Scroogish. One analyst, Bill Dreher of Deutsche Bank, complained last year that at Costco "it's better to be an employee or a customer than a shareholder." ... Emme Kozloff, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein & Company,...
  • The (Lack of) Power of Prayer

    For the last few years, there's been a fair amount of talk about the medical power of prayer. A few interesting studies came out saying there might be some positive benefit and the excitement swelled from there, hitting every pulpit and spiritual book in the nation. But this week, a study of cardiology patients pretty well disproved it: The study of more than 700 heart patients, one of the most ambitious attempts to test the medicinal power of prayer, showed that those who had people praying for them from a distance, and without their knowledge, were no less likely to suffer a major complication, end up back in the hospital or die. I've never resented the hope that prayer could heal -- that's merely human. But the idea that it could, particularly in the scattershot way the other studies showed, always seemed fairly problematic. So if you pray God makes the ill 5-10% better? And He only does that for some of them? And what of the lonely, who have no one to pray for them? It almost...
  • Sunday Nonfiction

    I told you I was going to stick with this. Yesterday was fiction, today is fact, tomorrow is music. The rules are I put down what I'm reading with my comments and you put down what you're reading with your comments. Or, if you're illiterate, you can just talk about what other people are reading. Off we go: Nick Hornby's The Polysyllabic Spree : Couldn't pass this one up. It's a collection of essays Hornby wrote for The Believer on "one man's struggle with the monthly tide of books he's bought and book he's been meaning to read." Welcome to my life. Earl Malt's Rehnquist Justice : Collection of academic essays on the Rehnquist Court, one for each Justice. Trying to bone up on what each member means to the country's judicial direction, and thus what it means when one or another retires. Tony Horwitz's Confederates in the Attic : A narrative book exploring Civil War culture. Hardcore reenactors, confederate flag crimes, the Daughters of the Confederacy, and so forth. I could never live...
  • The Mommy Diaries

    Helaine Olen penned a fairly peculiar NY Times article on how she fired her nanny after reading her blog. The piece is all over the place, one part rumination on the difficulty of putting single life behind you, one part cautionary tale of how your personal life can be seen my your employer when sprayed across the screen, one part self-serving justification for firing a nanny, and one part freelance journalist trying to tap into a trend (blogs=hip/interesting). But the piece, while internally scattered, is a fairly straightforward bit of writing. So I'm somewhat confused at the reaction its created in the blogosphere. Lance Mannion calls Olen a bully. Amanda is incensed by Olen's prudishness. Prof. B. has the best response , a more nuanced meditation on Olen's inability to deal with an employee rapidly busting through her accepted archetype. But one thing seems to be forgotten here: It was the Nanny, Tessa , who gave Olen the blog.
  • Forget the Uninsured

    Kate's argument with her boss over universal health care touches on something important about universal health care and how liberals should approach it. The Boss's WSJ-inspired argument was that the uninsured can mostly afford insurance, they just choose not to buy it. They're lazy, shiftless, irresponsible -- they're getting what's coming to them. This is a land with Medicaid, with HSA's, with cheap ways to gain basic health coverage, and those not taking advantage of them don't deserve our pity. There's a kernel of truth in the Boss's argument, a fairly large fraction, though we don't know how large, could purchase health insurance. They may have to forego every other luxury in life to do it, but it could be done. And we should make them do it. When the uninsured enter an emergency room, it costs me, you, and Kate's Boss money. But the question of the uninsured, for liberals, should be immaterial when talking about universal health care. If our end is simply full coverage for the...
  • Medicare Cometh

    The Medicare Drug Plan is soon to come online and it looks, if possible, even worse than we thought. Not the benefit, which is fine, though highly complex, but the finances. As an opt-in program, the benefit needs healthy seniors to sign up in order to subsidize the poor and ill seniors who'll get most of the pay-outs. But because the plan is such a byzantine mess, most seniors don't want to sign up, particularly the healthy ones who simply don't need the trouble. That of course means only the ill and impoverished, the ones whom the benefit will help most, will take the time to navigate its rules, and so we'll have an insurer's nightmare: a pool filled with cash drains and totally lacking in healthy payers. It didn't have to be this way. A normal plan could've been established where Medicare offers an 80% copay on prescription drugs in addition to an income-dependent premium. All seniors would've been enrolled, but there would've been an opt-out procedure for those who liked their...

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