September 30, 2010

TONY CURTIS, R.I.P.

Filed under: Movies,Pop Culture — Jamie @ 8:51 pm

September 29, 2010

THE EQUALITY MYTH

Filed under: Politics,The Economy — Jamie @ 9:30 am

The above chart is from a paper by Michael Norton of Harvard and Dan Ariely of Duke (the author of Predictably Irrational whom I had the privilege of interviewing in January 2009). Ariely does incredible work showing the difference between the way things are and the way we perceive them to be, and he and Norton make a great contribution by showing how incorrectly Americans view wealth distribution in America.

The top line is the actual U.S.wealth distribution. The second is what Americans think the wealth distribution is. The bottom line is what Americans think the wealth distribution should be. Oddly, the results are based on a survey taken in 2005, before the financial crisis. No doubt wealth is even more unevenly concentrated now.

On The Baseline Scenario, James Kwak connects the findings to “one of the themes brought up in Winner-Take-All Politics by Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson. Americans really think that society should be considerably more equal than it is, and that attitude has not shifted appreciably during the past thirty years. Yet our political system produces policies that make America more and more unequal, predominantly by cutting taxes for the very rich. Hacker and Pierson’s point is that there has not been an ideological shift toward conservative positions in the country at large (at least not on this issue). Instead, it’s the game of politics that has changed, so policy has become more disassociated from the preferences of the people.”

MORE, MORE, MORE!

Filed under: Books & Authors,Politics,The Coup — Jamie @ 7:43 am

Reading in The Washington Post the excerpt from Obama’s Wars, Bob Woodward‘s new book, I was reminded of nothing so much as –me!

In The Coup, I described the people Vice President Godwin Pope saw gathered on the floor of the House of Representatives as he sat on the dais awaiting the president’s State of the Union address: “`On the right, the guardians, our military chefs, the members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Not our most valiant warriors, mind you, or our bravest, or our most most bloody-minded, or our most efficiently lethal, but six professionally accomplished, ribbon-bedecked commanders who have learned, through decades of bureaucratic maneuvers, that the answer to every military question, whether it’s about money, time, firepower, or troops, is “We need more.”’

In Obama’s Wars, Woodward writes “From the beginning of the review, it irked Obama that [General] Petraeus, [Admiral] Mullen and Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, then the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, had been out campaigning for more troops on top of the 21,000 that Obama had approved shortly after taking office. In September 2009, Petraeus called a Washington Post columnist to say that the war would be unsuccessful if the president held back on troops. Later that month, Mullen repeated much the same sentiment in Senate testimony, and in October, McChrystal asserted in a speech in London that a scaled-back effort against Afghan terrorists would not work. . . .The only distinctly new alternative offered to Obama came from outside the military hierarchy. Vice President Biden had long and loudly argued against the military’s 40,000-troop request. He worked with Gen. James E. Cartwright, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to develop a “hybrid option” – combining elements of other plans – that called for only 20,000 additional troops. It would have a more limited mission of hunting down the Taliban insurgents and training the Afghan police and army to take over. When Mullen learned of the hybrid option, he didn’t want to take it to Obama. “We’re not providing that,” he told Cartwright.

Obama should have read my book.

September 28, 2010

A MODEST PROPOSAL: LET’S BUY AND SELL VOTES

Filed under: Politics — Jamie @ 10:43 am

Dan Eggen and T.W. Farnam in The Washington Post today tell us about Super PACs, “a new political weapon. . . [that] has emerged in recent weeks, allowing independent groups to both raise and spend money at a pace that threatens to eclipse the efforts of political parties.” The report says that these committies spent $4 million last week, and “are quickly becoming the new model for election spending by interest groups. . . . The super PACs were made possible by two court rulings, including one early this year by the Supreme Court, that lifted many spending and contribution limits. The groups can also mount the kind of direct attacks on candidates that were not allowed in the past.” A lot of these groups are affiliated with conservative causes, like the Club for Growth and Karl Rove‘s outfit American Crossroads, but liberal groups like Emily’s List are also players. “Groups favoring GOP candidates have outspent Democratic supporters by more than 3 to 1, mirroring an overall surge in spending by the Republican Party and its allies in recent weeks.”

Spending by Super PACs, spending by corporations, spending by lobbyists–the system is awash with money, so much of it designed to influence elections. The dirty secret is that all the money is kept inside–it goes to the politicians, to the lobbyists, to the media moguls, to the networks, to the advertising agencies and media buyers. All of it, ultimately, supports the efforts of those people to keep their jobs.

Here’s a modest proposal: let’s let voters sell their votes. If all this activity is involved in wielding economic power in order to gain political power mostly in the effort to preserve and enhance economic power, well, why shouldn’t those who have the ultimate political power share in the wealth. If BP wants my congressman to be reelected, why should my congressman and his handlers get money to attract my vote? Just let BP pay me for it.

What an amazing system that would be! On election day, I could go to the polling place and vote in the old-fashioned way. Or, some time before election day, I could go to an on-line exchange, and negotiate a price for my vote. Maybe I’ll give it to the Sierra Club for $10, but offer it to BP for $1000. Maybe I’ll sell it to the Sierra Club for $1000, and donate the cash back to them. I could sell it to a party, I could sell it to a cause, I could sell it to a comedian.

Why the hell not? The market is a ruthlessly efficient arbiter of resources. The only problem is the people can’t participate. What’s worse, they get bamboozled by candidates and interest groups, fooled with a lot of altruistic crap or negative nonsense. Why don’t we skip all this and get down to the nitty gritty and simplify the issue: I have a vote. What’s it worth to you?

What? You think this would be unseemly?

Let me ask you–what do you call what we have now?

GEORGE BLANDA

Filed under: Sports — Jamie @ 8:22 am

George Blanda began playing pro football before I was born and concluded his career when I was 23, far too young and immature to understand him as anything but an anachronistic and vaguely humorous figure. Now I am trying to continue a career at an age far beyond that which Blanda had attained when he retired, and I admire and applaud his amazing longevity.

Drafted by the Bears as a quarterback in 1949, Blanda spent a decade doing little but placekicking for the Bears. When the AFL formed, he signed with the Houston Oilers, and led that team to the league’s first two titles. Let go by the Oilers in 1966–they thought he was too old–he signed with the Oakland Raiders and played with them for nine more years.

Blanda retired when he was 48. At the time, he was the NFL’s career scoring leader. No player has ever played longer. In one game, he threw seven touchdown passes, a feat only four other professional quarterbacks have equaled. In another game, he kicked a 55-yard field goal. He was voted the A.F.L player of the year in 1961. He threw 42 interceptions in 1962, a record. He was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1981.

In 1970, when he was 43, Blanda had an amazing five-game stretch in which he saved the game for the Raiders. On Sunday, Oct. 25, 1970, Blanda stepped in for the Raiders’ injured starting quarterback, Daryle Lamonica, and threw for three touchdowns in the fourth quarter to beat Pittsburgh. The next Sunday, against the Kansas City Chiefs, he kicked a 48-yard field goal with eight seconds left in the game, salvaging a tie. The next week, facing the Browns, Blanda entered the game with a little more than four minutes to play and the Raiders down by a touchdown. He threw a touchdown pass, kicked the extra point, and when the team got the ball back, drove the team and then kicked a 52-yard field goal that won the game with three seconds on the clock. The next Sunday, he beat Denver with a late touchdown pass; the Sunday after that, he beat San Diego with a last-minute field goal. “I really believe that George Blanda is the greatest clutch player I have ever seen in the history of pro football,” said Raiders coach Al Davis. The Raiders went all the way to the AFC title game that year.

Blanda died yesterday at 83. The thing young people don’t know about longevity is that you need more than willingness; you also need will, as well as desire; aptitude; talent; skill; determination, and most of all resilience. You don’t save the team for five straight weeks when you’re 43 if you get ground down after throwing 42 interceptions when you’re 35. Life is long; there are days of triumph and days of defeat.

Way to be a man, George.

September 26, 2010

CCTV PROTECTED. . . TRASH CANS?

Filed under: Media — Jamie @ 6:54 pm


Friends of this blog know of my interest in the widespread use of CCTV in the UK. This past week, CCTV was very much in the news when a running camera captured a woman in Coventry named Mary Bale strolling down an ordinary suburban street and picking up an ordinary tabby cat, which she proceeded to drop in a plastic wheelie bin, where it remained for fifteen hours. Bale has been arrested on charges of animal endangerment, which carries a penalty of a year in prison. She has also become a youtube celebrity, and the new face of British evil, all for “a split second of misjudgment that got completely out of control,” as she later admitted. In my mind, the key questions were asked (and answered) in an article in The Independent:
Who actually has CCTV cameras trained on their bins?
More people than you’d think. According to the electrical retailers Maplin, sales of home CCTV equipment jumped by 70 per cent between 2007 and 2008 in the UK’s biggest urban areas. A recent Which? poll suggested 2 per cent of dwellings have CCTV, which translates to an astonishing 300,000. Stephanie and Darryl Andrews-Mann, the cat’s owners, say they installed CCTV outside their house because their car had been repeatedly hit by careless drivers, and the bin happened to fall into its field of vision.
Isn’t CCTV rather expensive?
No. “You can now get a basic one- camera system for £30,” says leading supplier Spy Camera CCTV. Police tell victims of vandalism they are powerless to act without evidence, so are encouraging homeowners to install CCTV. “But you are legally required to put a little sign up saying you have CCTV,” warns the property expert Ross Clark.
Aren’t our streets already littered with CCTV cameras?
There are about four million cameras in the UK – one for every 14 people and reportedly more than in any other country. Privacy campaigners have questioned their efficiency, and a 2008 report by UK police chiefs concluded that only 3 per cent of crimes were solved by CCTV.
So the police don’t actually bother to trawl through all that footage?
Don’t be silly: they’re too busy catching criminals.

September 21, 2010

RADIO GOD

Filed under: Media — Jamie @ 9:47 pm

Thanks to my friend Rebecca Lavoie, one of my discoveries at Playboy (and yes, it’s LaVOY, not LaVWA), I was a guest today on Word of Mouth, a program on New Hampshire Public Radio, where Rebecca is a producer. I spoke to host Virginia Prescott (left) about my piece on lying in Details. Look out, human resource managers of the Granite State; a horde of falsifying job applicants is about to descend. Should you wish to listen to the eight-minute interview, click here.

September 20, 2010

GROSS AND GROSSER

Filed under: Books & Authors,Media,Politics — Jamie @ 9:25 am

My friend Michael Gross (left) had to know this would happen. In the September issue of Vanity Fair, a writer named Michael Joseph Gross (right) published a profile a profile of Sarah Palin which one can fairly describe as unflattering (“Anywhere you peel back the skin of Sarah Palin’s life, a sad and moldering strangeness lies beneath.”) A number of people found the piece to be unfair and containing errors, including the political pyromaniac Ann Coulter, who used her column to attack not Michael Joseph Gross, a reasonably productive magazine writer and author of a book called Starstruck, but to lay into Michael Gross, an enormously prolific writer of a bazillion magazine articles including an astonishing 26 New York magazine cover stories, as well as such bestselling books as Rogues’ Gallery: The Secret History of the Moguls and the Money that Made the Metropolitan Museum, 740 Park, Genuine Authentic, and Model: The Ugly Business of Beautiful Women. In her column, Coulter calls Michael “a typical, head-up-the-butt, New York reporter”, which, like so many of her comments, seems both 1.) harsh and 2.) inaccurate, at least in Michael’s case; I hold no brief for the other bloke. Anyway, this unleashed into Michael’s in-box a torrent of hate e-mail, which he quoted on his website:

“if you are the so called writer for vanity fair,this one’s for you! were you in Sarah’s bedroom,did you see whether her busband had sex with her….who are your so-called un-named sources and how many of them might have been peering through Sara’s bedroom windows…you’re peeping tom article is typical low life,new york jew smear….yes i am an anti semite,and those like you make my feelings all the clearer as to why” –
Sheila Lee (aug77@cox.net):

“Just wanted you to know that she could kick your ass…with one hand tied behind her back. Sad day in manhood…you pussy. Those terrorists use guys like you in place of sheep. I wish it weren’t true..I know guys like you can’t hardly wait.”–Michael Emley (maemley@comcast.net):

“You are an ass-clown.”–Sean Naylor (naylor41@mac.com):

“You are one fucked-up piece of shit. I just read Ann Coulter’s article about your Vanity Fair Article and have have to say, she hit it bang on. You are a real, gooy-gash piece of garbage. You need to find something else to criticize Sarah Palin about. Something thaT HAS SIGNIFICANCE REGARDING THE LIVES OF THE aMERICAN pEOPLE, NOT THE RETARDS WHO STRUGGLE TO READ VANITY fAIR.”–mIKE bOILEAU (boileau.mike@gmail.com)

A minor incident, but it says a lot about Hit-And-Run Coulter and her fans.

On the plus side, the Vanity Fair article did give us this brilliant Edward Sorel illustration above.

September 17, 2010

HOW TO UNDERWHELM YOUR OPPONENT

Filed under: Books & Authors,Politics — Jamie @ 9:52 am

Until I get a chance to read Tony Blair‘s memoir A Journey, reviews will have to suffice. Writing in The New Yorker, John Lanchester is not such a fan, although he offers a quote from Blair that is worth its weight in gold. “That Blair was a formidable politician,” writes Lanchester, “can be seen in the glimpses we get of how his political mind works. He tells us how he fended off various leaders of the Conservative Party. “With each successive Tory leader,” he writes, “I would develop a line of attack, but I only did so after a lot of thought. So I defined Major as weak; Hague as better at jokes than judgment; Howard as an opportunist; Cameron as a flip-flop, not knowing where he wanted to go. . . . Expressed like that, these attacks seem flat, rather mundane almost, and not exactly inspiring—but that’s their appeal. Any one of those charges, if it comes to be believed, is actually fatal. Yes, it’s not like calling your opponent a liar, or a fraud, or a villain or a hypocrite, but the middle-ground floating voter kind of shrugs their shoulders at those claims. They don’t chime. They’re too over the top, too heavy, and they represent an insult, not an argument. Whereas the lesser charge, because it’s more accurate and precisely because it’s more low-key, can stick. And if it does, that’s that. Because in each case, it means they’re not a good leader. So game over.”

After reading this, Lanchester aptly notes, “You are left thinking two things: that it would be a blessing if some of today’s politicians took note of that argument for milder rhetoric; and that, whatever your view of Blair, you still wouldn’t want to take him on in an election.”

September 16, 2010

THE BUSH TAX CUTS

Filed under: Politics,The Economy — Jamie @ 1:13 pm

As Lori Montgomery reports in the Washington Post, “Senate Republicans are rolling out a plan to permanently extend an array of expiring tax breaks that would deprive the Treasury of more than $4 trillion over the next decade, nearly doubling projected deficits over that period unless dramatic spending cuts are made. The measure, introduced by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) this week, would permanently extend the George W. Bush-era income tax cuts that benefit virtually every U.S. taxpayer . . . .Unless Congress acts, the cuts will expire at the end of the year, raising taxes across the board. While Republicans want to preserve all the cuts, President Obama has called on lawmakers to extend them only for household incomes under $250,000 a year. That strategy, he argues, would knock hundreds of billions of dollars off the cost of extending the cuts, money that could be used to reduce the nation’s debt.”

Here are just a few people who benefit from this super-generous plan from the super-jowly McConnell: hedge fund managers David Tepper, who earned $4 billion in 2009; George Soros, who made $3.3 billion; James Simons, who made $2.5 billion; John Paulson, who made $2.3 billion; Steve Cohen, who made $1.4 billion; Carl Icahn and Edward Lampert, who each made $1.3 billion; Kenneth Griffin and John Arnold, who each made $900 million; and Philip Falcone, who snuck into the Top 10 with a piddly $825 million.

Something tells me we need a higher marginal tax rate for such earners. There’s no reason why these guys pay the same top rate that mere doctors and dentists and John Grisham do.

Meanwhile, Ezra Klein in The Washington Post maintains “There is no policy that President Obama has passed or proposed that added as much to the deficit as the Republican Party’s $3.9 trillion extension of the Bush tax cuts. In fact, if you put aside Obama’s plan to extend most, but not all, of the Bush tax cuts, there is no policy he has passed or proposed that would do half as much damage to the deficit. There is not even a policy that would do a quarter as much damage to the deficit. The stimulus bill, at $787 billion, would do about a fifth as much damage. But that’s actually misleading: The stimulus bill was a temporary expense . . . .Once it’s done, it’s done. An indefinite extension of the Bush tax cuts is, well, indefinite. It will cost $3.9 trillion in the first 10 years. And then it will cost more than that in the second 10 years. . . . [a]nd so on and on into eternity. Comparatively, the stimulus bill is a tiny fraction of that. The bank bailouts, which were passed by George W. Bush and the Democrats in 2006, will end up costing the government only $66 billion. The health-care bill improves the deficit outlook.”

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