Tuesday, December 31, 2002

Life imitates “The Simpsons

Hugh: Mmm, I can't believe how much we have in common. We're both studying the environment, we're both utterly humorless about our vegetarianism, and we both _love_ the Rolling Stones.
Lisa: Yes, not for the music, but for their tireless efforts to preserve historic buildings.
(from the episode “Lisa’s Wedding” – set in the year 2010)

From CNN:
LOS ANGELES, California (AP) -- The Rolling Stones will perform a free concert in February to raise awareness about global warming.

I know it’s only CO2, but I exhale it.

Richard Corliss, movie critic for Time, tapped Michael Moore’s “Bowling for Columbine” as one of the ten best movies of 2002. Take note of this concluding sentence in his review: “This confliction [that Moore “loves” guns] along with a born entertainer's skill at manipulating images (and statistics), makes Columbine Moore's richest tragicomedy yet — and the top-grossing documentary ever.

Here’s the Merriam-Webster Online definition of “documentary”:
1 : being or consisting of documents : contained or certified in writing (documentary evidence)
2 : of, relating to, or employing documentation in literature or art; broadly : FACTUAL, OBJECTIVE (a documentary film of the war)

So, this is a documentary that manipulates images and statistics. But it’s factual and objective. Gotcha.

For extra credit, check out Tim Blair’s takedown of Moore’s certifiable documentary here.

The British magazine The Economist recently carried a piece in their Opinion section titled “A Year of Surprises” including this section:

In our Christmas issue for 2001, our panel of economic forecasters were saying that the United States would grow by just 0.6% in 2002, the euro area would grow by 1.0% and Japan's economy would shrink by 0.8%. Figures for the full year are not yet in, but now the panel expects America to have turned in growth for 2002 of a surprisingly lusty 2.4%. Japan's economy is expected to have shrunk by just 0.5% and only the euro area has been worse than expected, with growth forecast to have been 0.7%. Britain is almost bang on the forecast, at 1.6% (versus 1.7%). Australia (3.6%) and Canada (3.4%) have done much better than the panel thought.” [Emphasis added]

FOUR times the predicted growth rate. Either the Economist has a cloudy crystal ball, or the U.S. kicks ass. I’ll choose the latter.

I was doing my end-of-year desk cleaning today and came across an old Spin magazine, dateline October 2000. Inside is a pre-election interview with then vice-president Al Gore, telling the Radiohead fans why he should sit at the big desk. It’s pretty standard stuff, but this gave me a chuckle:

And what about President Clinton?
On a personal level, you know, it’s complicated for me because the President is my friend, and that friendship is genuine and real. I felt the same disappointment and dismay that all of his friends felt when he made a personal mistake.

Are you worried that some lingering discontent or ill will towards him will be redirected onto your candidacy?
No, I have faith in the judgment of the American people.

After Gore conceded defeat, the Washington Post carried this account:

WASHINGTON -- They were two political partners who had barely spoken for a year, but a few days after Al Gore conceded the 2000 presidential election he and Bill Clinton were finally talking face to face.
For more than an hour, in what sources close to both men described as uncommonly blunt language, Gore forcefully told Clinton that his sex scandal and low personal approval ratings were a major impediment to his presidential campaign. Clinton, according to people close to him, was initially taken aback but responded with equal force that it was Gore's failure to run on the administration's record that hobbled his ambitions.

Monday, December 30, 2002

Before I move on, a BIG shout-out to Moe at Occam's Toothbrush, who essentially set up this page for me (before I took over). Actually, he set it up as a better format for my Smarter Harper's Index, but once I figured out how Blogger worked, I decided to setup my own blog and keep the Harper's criticism (which I only update monthly) on the old AOL platform.

Anyway, I hope to say something interesting. Bear with me as I continue to figure out the Blogger software (now that I think about it, how do I add my E-mail address? And comments? - a little help? MadSwede10@aol.com) As always, thanks for reading. EAL

Testing....testing....is this thing on?

If you love my monthly blathering, you'll, um, tolerate, my daily input. Yay!

Test link: Smarter Harper's Index for good measure.

Friday, December 27, 2002

Selected excerpts from the January 2003 Harper's Index

Uh-oh.  Is Harper’s catching on to Smarter Harper’s?  This month’s Index is curiously free of the usual conspicuous liberal bias that escapes the purview of Al Gore and E.J. Dionne.  Not much to rebut this month, but there’s always room for clarifications.  Besides, I’m 100% positive that next month’s Index will include the words “Enron” and “Trent Lott” along with some amorphous swipe at Israel, so we’ll be back in business.

One other aside: Lewis Lapham’s “Notebook” essay this month is particularly bizarre, even by his tendentious standards.  This month, he compares the ascendant Republicans with Imperial Rome, running through his usual litany of class warfare and conspiracy theories (think Ashcroft = Caligula and you’ll see what I mean).  The whole thing smells like a peevish, didactic, regurgitation of a sophomore Classics course.  What makes the Nero-Bush comparison all the more risible is that last month, Lapham was placing great faith in the American people (“The American citizenry isn’t as dumb as the American elites condescendingly like to think and believe…”).  Now that the midterm elections went decidedly against his worldview, Lapham concludes that we live under an invisible Caesarism.  Crazy.
Number of Louisiana’s last three elected insurance commissioners convicted of corruption: 3

The three commissioners are Sherman Bernard (served 1972-1988), Doug Green (1988-1991), and Jim Brown (1992-2000) whose appeal to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court was turned down in October.  And here’s an interesting factoid: the last time Louisiana voted for an honest insurance commissioner (Dudley Guglielmo) was 1967!  With apologies to Hank Williams: “Son of a gun, we got corrup-shun, on the Bayou.”
Estimated number of women killed as witches in Tanzania each year: 500

Both P.J. O’Rourke in “Eat the Rich” and Joshua Muravchik in “Heaven on Earth: The Rise and Fall of Socialism” reviewed the train wreck that is Tanzania – an economic disaster created by the socialistic fantasy-policies of former president Julius Nyerere.  Tanzania followed all the standard tenets of socialism: one-party rule, forced relocation, centralized planning, collectivized farming, nationalization of industries – and reaped the same results found in China, the Soviet Union, and Cuba – scarcity, corruption, repression, and the inevitable scapegoating when everything goes wrong.
Percentage of federal discretionary spending in 2001 devoted to “homeland security” or the Department of Defense: 51

The Heritage Foundation has assembled a mighty mountain of data on Federal Revenue and Spending in their indispensable “Book of Charts”.  Although I’m sure that Harper’s would like to give the impression that the U.S. government is hell-bent for war and domestic spying (Ashcroft!), two graphs from the Heritage research are enough to clarify the issue.

First, note the words “discretionary spending”.  If a larger portion of this spending is taken up by defense, it’s because so much of the total U.S. budget is now going towards mandatory spending.  As this graph shows, thanks mostly to the aging baby boomers, Medicare and Social Security are eating up an ever-increasing portion of the federal pie, with mandatory spending rising eleven times faster than discretionary spending.  In constant dollars, discretionary spending has risen 62% since 1962, while mandatory spending has increased 687% - a trend that is likely to accelerate as boomers hit 60 in 2005.  As discretionary spending gets squeezed, the U.S. government will start to function strictly as a equity transfer entity: taxing workers and moving the money to retirees (Social Security) and banks (interest on the national debt).

That said, how does the 51% defense spending match up to historical trends?  As this Heritage graph shows, non-defense discretionary spending has increased 188% since 1962 while discretionary spending on defense has barely changed (inflation-adjusted dollars).  In fact, except for the five years after the end of the Vietnam War, defense spending has always outpaced non-defense spending, sometimes dramatically so.  One might go so far to wonder why, in this age of terrorism, defense spending isn’t much higher?  So much for the hegemony of the military-industrial complex.
Percentage change since 1990 in the number of U.S. schoolchildren labeled “disabled”: +37

There is a $imple and $traightforward rea$on why teachers (and parents) choose to label some kids as “learning disabled”.  Can you gue$$ what that ju$tification might be?  Lisa Snell on ReasonOnline spells it out in an article titled “Special Education Confidential: How schools use the learning disability label to cover up their failures.”  A must read.

In a related article, Joanne Jacobs has commented on the little-noted syndrome of PADS, or Parental Affluence Disability Syndrome.  In this FoxNews story, she reports that learning disabilities seem to strike upper-middle-class kids much more frequently than less well-to-do children; these handicapped kids are then given extra time to complete standardized tests such as the SAT.  A related New York Times article noted: “…a study by the California state auditor found that private school students were four times as likely as public school students to receive accommodations.”

Editor’s Note: Before some of you start sending me hate mail, understand that I realize there are legitimate learning disabilities and that state and federal programs to help kids who really need it are vitally important.  However, I can’t help but wonder how the tendency towards post-modernism (i.e. “anything goes” subjectivity) blurs the distinction between true achievement and finding a loophole.  Take this possible scenario: a teenager from a well-heeled family claims he has attention-deficit disorder and gets an extra 90 minutes on his SAT, thereby securing a higher score than he would have achieved otherwise.  Then, for his college essay, he writes a fictional biographical account that gives the impression he belongs to a minority group.  Berkeley, avoiding “quotas” but seeking “diversity” and rewarding "life challenges" accepts him while rejecting someone else who, while a better candidate, unfortunately followed the rules.

Rank of Michael Moore’s "Stupid White Men" among the New York Times’s top “business” bestsellers in September: 1

Moore regularly competes with Paul Krugman for title of the “Most Loathed Person in the Blogosphere.”  Spinsanity reviewed Moore’s diatribe and dubbed it a “factually challenged bestseller.”  Also, American RealPolitik delivered this Fisking of Moore in the wake of the 2002 midterm elections.  I really should work in the word "fatuous" here, but that would be too easy.