Posted tagged ‘folly’

Latest from the Squid Clouds of Butt Hurt Beat

January 23, 2013

I gotta say, it’s getting bitter out there in the healthy drink world.


That would account for this story of butt-hurt Republican marketing, via the Harpers Weekly Review:

“I’m very open about it, very public about it, that I’m going to charge them a little bit more, and I have liberals come in and pay the extra dollar surcharge,” [George] Burnett said, referring to his unique pricing structure.

Yep, Burnett, the diehard supporter of domestic energy and longtime health food fan, charges those who identify themselves as liberals one dollar more for their drinks. The money, along with any tips received, is donated to conservative causes like The Heritage Foundation. [h/t @DylanByers' twitter feed]

As Burnett’s shop is in the heart of Utah oil and gas country, it’s not particularly surprising that this isn’t much more than a gum-flapping exercise.  As of the date of this local story (Jan. 14) the smoothie merchant said that “all three liberals have been happy to pay” his liberal tax.

Still, this has to rank as one of the most pathetic forms of political expression I’ve come across in the more than three decades since I first achieved the franchise.  I suppose it may count as smart marketing in Burnett’s catchment area; the crowd that thinks buying cardboard chicken sandwiches in opposition to same-sex marriage is a peach of an idea would no doubt be willing to gulp down some yogurt drinks in solidarity with this attempt to stick it to the Liberal Man.

But as long as our opponents want to emphasize that they see us not merely as political adversaries but as illegitimate others, I’m actually a happy clam.  These are not the actions of a majority coalition.

And if by some sweet chance this guy starts to struggle to make his rent?  No tears, dude:  welcome to the free market.

Image: Pieter de Hooch, Woman Drinking with Soldiers, 1658.

Proceed, Whack Jobs

January 14, 2013

Via TPM, I was sent to this website, [fair warning:  crazy people on the other end of that link] to find this image:


There has been plenty of ridicule directed at the project depicted here — see, for example, posts by others at my alternate blog-home, Balloon Juice.  If you haven’t been keepign up, it’s called the Citadel — that Wingnut fantasy of a Dungeons-and-Dragons-and-Bushmasters retreat in Idaho where no liberals need apply.

All fine — if it were up to me, I’d encourage every gun nut to retreat to their bastions — whether up in the Idaho panhandle, where generations of actually competent folks have found it so easy to construct self-sustaining livelihoods …or in GlennBeckistan, that to-be self-sustaining (sic!) entertainment and intellectual hub to be constructed somewhere in Texas.

Go! Here’s your hat; what’s your hurry?

Seriously:  if they would only do the rest of us the favor of retreating to their own private Somali-o’s, our politics and our societies would be that much saner and safer.

But we knew that already, and that’s not what caught my eye.


Here’s the story:  As I’d just opened the picture above, my son happened to come into my study.  He asked what I was looking at — it seemed to him a sketch from one of the medieval combat games he likes and knows I don’t, and he wondered what would possess me to bother with such a thing.

I told him that, no, this wasn’t history or fantasy,* but rather somebody’s actual idea of someplace that would serve to protect them from an overweening federal government.  He just looked at it pityingly, wondering, and he asked me, “have these folks never heard of cannon?”

And damn if that hadn’t been literally my first thought on reading the caption “Interior Defensive Walls & Towers.”  I mean, artillery much?

The stupid.  It burns. With the white-hot-heat-of-a-thousand-suns.

*Well, it is.  But not that kind.

Alienating The Electorate, Nineteen Million Americans At A Time

December 5, 2012

Ladles and Jellyspoons!

As Anne Laurie has so ably documented, your modern GOP has once again managed to be both vicious and stupidly self-destructive.  This time, it’s their wisdom in the decision to piss on  some 19% of the American people — from a considerable height — in the process of  blocking ratification of the UN treaty on the rights of the disabled.*

The wickedness at the heart of the trumped up objections that led 38 Republican senators to tell our disabled brothers and sisters that they do not rate equal protection under the law is, I think, obvious.  It’s well documented, at any rate. (Link via Anne Laurie.)

So, yeah.  To channel my inner Dennis Green,** the Republicans are who we thought we were.


Dumb (also too).

Fresh on the heels of repeated, reasonably high profile forays into insulting Obama voters, minority voters, Asian-Americans, Latino-Americans, and whoever they’ll figure out they hate next, it turns out there are a fair number of disabled folks in this country.

How many?

According to the US Census Bureau [pdf], as of 2010, 56.7 million Americans from the civilian, non-institutionalized population had a disability — that’s 18.7% of the US population.  Of those, 38.3 million, 12.6 percent, had a severe disability (as defined in Table 1 of the linked report).***  

Bringing it down to the sharp edge of what it takes to make it through the day,  “About 12.3 million people aged 6 and older (4.4%) needed assistance with one or more activities of daily living (ADLs) or instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs).  (See p. 9 of the linked report for definitions of those terms of art.)

That’s a lot of folks, no matter what level of disability you choose to emphasize.  They’ve all got families — and that’s a lot more people.  [Full disclosure -- this is an issue that has at times, though not now, impinged on my own family.] They have friends too…and you get the point.

Befoere stating the obvious about the wisdom of the GOP vote in light of these facts, let me drop in a bit of anecdotage.

A few Sundays ago, I was up in New Hampshire, knocking on doors to get out our vote.  I and my partner were nearing the end of our list, and, after a rough beginning — first stop at a house where the vehemence with which we were ordered off the property bordered on the “or I’ll get my gun” territory — we’d had mostly good quick conversations, the “yup, I’m voting for your guy” kind.

We had split up at that point, my colleague taking a couple of houses down the road while I walked up a little hill to an old house on one of those big New Hampshire yards that always look like they’re thinking about being a farm.  It was a gorgeous afternoon, and I saw one woman out doing yard work, so I didn’t bother with the door bell.

She was soft spoken, and little reserved, and she told me that she really didn’t do politics, that I needed to talk to her partner.  She very kindly walked me a little further up the hill and called out, and then almost a cliche of a tough old New Hampshire bird came rolling down on an ATV to talk to me — a small woman, well into middle age (look who’s talking, pilgrim!), lots of daylight on that face over the years, thick New Hampshire accent and an air of utter no-nonsense competence.  Reminded me a lot of the best sergeants I’ve met over the years.

She liked to talk as much as her partner craved quiet, and we had a great conversation, sharing our disdain and horror at the person and prospects of W. Mitt Romney.  She agreed to volunteer for the campaign and I gave her contact info, and then we got to trading greatest hits (the horse as tax deduction! “Our turn!”).  Then I mentioned the 47%, and we starting going over who actually lives inside that number — the old, I said, students…the disabled.

At that, the first women I’d met suddenly spoke up. She’d been standing off to one side the entire time (ten minutes or so, now), clearly defining herself as audience and not participant in our little GOP loathe-fest.  But now it was as if a valve blew.  She was, she said, herself disabled, couldn’t work.  Was it really true, she asked me, that Romney had said that about the 47%? That she herself was a taker?

Yup, I said.

That’s it, she said.  That makes me mad.

We talked a bit longer — really it was a grand way to spend twenty minutes on a stunning New England afternoon, revving each other up to take action on our own and our country’s behalf.  The sun was kind, the trees still had some color, and I was talking to two people who were not just going to vote, but do whatever they could to drive a stake through the vampires that both exsanguinate our politics and work to deny the possibility of American dreams for so many of our fellow citizens.

So though I think it both tragedy and travesty that 38 scumbags senators blew up the UN treaty, I take a residue of comfort in seeing the Grand Old Party reaffirm its commitment to alienate an ever greater majority of the American people.  The party cannot collapse too soon — but I suppose I could say we owe our friends in the minority a debt of thanks for doing so much on their own to advance that goal.

Factio Grandaeva Delenda Est

*That treaty would, by the way, be the international agreement that would enshrine one more example of American Exceptionalism (in the good sense), with the US actually playing the role of that shining city on a hill that offers a light to the nations, being as it is more or less the enshrinement in international law of the landmark protections and perspective of the Americans With Disabilities Act.

**Get him out of me. RIGHT NOW!

***those numbers are based on sampling, not derived from the total census, and the report records a 90% confidence level in the significance of the estimates — which isn’t great.  But the broad magnitudes are what matters here, not the decimal places. Tens of millions of folks with disability is the key take away for this argument.

Image:  El Greco, Christ healing the blind, c. 1567



Dear Mr. Romney…

October 5, 2012

I write to tell you how much I value your bold, principled stand on the scourge of minds and drain on the treasury that is…a puppet.  May I encourage you, please, to stand fast on this; it is long past time that brave voices like yours made sure such travesties receive no support from right thinking Americans and their leaders….

…which is to say, dear Balloon-Juicers, that I deeply enjoyed this morning’s pundit roundup at the Great Orange Satan, in which was documented what seems to have been the only truly memorable moment from Wednesday’s debate. The shorter: in a venue in which the forces of darkness planned to unveil the RomneyBot v. 4.0, now with empathy module implemented, the programming turned out to be, well, not quite bug-free.

For all the alpha male stuff, and the energy level, and the spectacular and at least temporarily successful rewriting of the Romney plan and platform, what regular people and a fair subset of the punditocracy seem to recall was that awkward bit where the man who likes to fire people told everyone he was going to kill off a large, cuddly, yellow bird.

Hence, stuff like this from Mary Elizabeth Wallace at Salon:

[D]espite coming out of the evening looking stronger than he has in weeks — Romney made the error of looking like a man who is not on the side of innocence, whimsy, learning or childhood. Nor did he seem to grasp that Big Bird is an integral part of a show that was created for and remains at its core about community and diversity, one that has for decades been an essential tool in helping low-income children prepare for school. Going after Big Bird is like putting down baseball and rainbows and YouTube videos of otter pups. You just don’t.

Also, these metrics caught my eye:

The phrase “Big Bird” was appearing 17,000 times every minute on Twitter. At midnight, CNN reported that mentions of Big Bird on Facebook were up an astronomical 800,000%.  Facebook later said Big Bird was the fourth most-mentioned topic on Facebook during the debate, getting more attention than topics like jobs, taxes, Jim Lehrer and Obamacare.

(Both quotes via the original DKos roundup, btw.)

I remain amazed at the Romney campaign’s ability to spin lead out of gold.  Really: he had a good debate, just about as good as it was possible to imagine, given his own strong performance and President Obama’s seemingly tired and distracted one.  Leave aside for a moment the medium-to-long game of taking apart all the BS that he spewed, which is already putting in play the issues of trust and character that will IMHO flow to the President’s benefit.  The debate itself was clearly the best 90 minutes the Romney folks have had for a very long time.

Yet and yet and yet…Big Bird!

The line had all the sound of a prepared zinger, which, if true, means that someone with access to RomneyBot source code actually thought it was a good idea to personalize their device’s budget seriousness by cutting the throat of a fictional character beloved by millions.  And if it wasn’t rehearsed, that’s in some ways worse.  It means Romney revealed just a bit of himself, that gay-bashing bully-mean guy character that Ann keeps assuring us doesn’t exist.  If offing Big Bird just burbled out of his head and mouth on the spot?  Not a pretty window into the notional soul of a man who would be president.

Either way, of course, I’m grateful. Way to douse the glow of your big night, big fella.

Oh…and one more thing.  Mitt? Yo! Mr. Romney?

Can I ask a favor.  Really, not a big one.  OK?

Here goes:

Would you, oh could you, please, please, pleeeeeeze…

…..persist in your blanket hornpipe with that oversize fictive fowl?

Image: Peter Jakon Horemans, Still Life with Plucked Chicken, Apples and Beets, 1768.

Q: Iz Tom Friedman Learning?

July 25, 2012

A:  No.

When last we checked in on the moustache of wisdom, we learned the real reason we should start a war with Iraq.

One would have thought that would be the end of Tom Friedman as someone anyone could take seriously.  Hell, it should have been the start of the time people spat on the sidewalk as he passed them by.

But, of course, because we have been so well and benevolently led by our elites, Tom of the Married Fortune and Unmerited Influence continues to opine about the sacrifice and loss others should undertake in the service of his worldview.

Exhibit A:

And Iraq was such a bitter experience for America that we prefer never to speak of it again. But Iraq is relevant here. The only reason Iraq has any chance for a decent outcome today is because America was on the ground with tens of thousands of troops to act as that well-armed midwife, reasonably trusted and certainly feared by all sides, to manage Iraq’s transition to more consensual politics. My gut tells me that Syria will require the same to have the same chance.


A little fisking seems in order.

And Iraq was such a bitter experience for America that we prefer never to speak of it again.

You don’t.  We do.  Why? 

Because adults (and lots of children, in fact) understand that the best way to avoid repeating colossal f*ck ups is to try to understand what went wrong.  You know, talk about how we got into that war (lookin’ at you, little Tommie) how we planned for the post-combat phase (lookin’ at you George W. Bush and all your feckless minions) understanding the full weight of the losses incurred both by the US and the Iraqis we sought to liberate from oppression (in the best but certainly not an exclusive reading of our mission).  It would be useful to have some real inquiry into what fighting that war on those justifications did to the US, both in terms of human and material loss, and in terms of the damage done to our polity and society.  We used to be able to say that torture was everywhere and always illegal. Not anymore, bro…..Hell you get the idea.

Tom Friedman has an obvious motive to cry silence on the Iraq war; otherwise, his unblemished record of wrong — and of abject moral failure — would continue to get trotted out for a look-see.  As here.

The only reason Iraq has any chance for a decent outcome today is because America was on the ground with tens of thousands of troops.

Counterfactual not in evidence. “The only reason?”  Could sanctions have worked?  Could a Libya style involvement have been possible.  What about creating an independent Kurdistan in the north and starting from there?  I’m not saying any of these things would work, or even were plausibly good ideas at the time — but the “only reason” trope exists only to crush the possibility of argument over a claim that can’t be tested.  Gutless reasoning in other words.

And then there is the carefully worded phrase “any chance for a decent outcome.”

Begs the question, don’t it? How much of a chance do you need for a war of choice to have been justified on any interest calculation?  And what are those chances anyway?  From Friedman’s own employer:

BAGHDAD — Al Qaeda in Iraq carried out one of the most coordinated and baldly sectarian series of attacks in years on Monday, aiming for Shiite targets with car bombs, checkpoint ambushes, and assaults on a military base and police officers in their homes in an offensive that its leadership appeared to equate with the Sunni-led uprising in neighboring Syria.

The offensive, coming in the early days of Ramadan, the monthlong religious rite of fasting by day and feasting by night, was without precedent over the past few years, at least in the sheer number of attacks, spread over so many locations in a third of Iraq’s 18 provinces, from north to south.

It raised new concerns about the government’s ability to contain the violence, six months after the last American troops left the country following more than eight years of occupation and civil war that upended Saddam Hussein’s Sunni-led minority power base and empowered Iraq’s long-repressed Shiite majority.

“I think Al Qaeda in Iraq made a big joke of the government and the Iraqi security forces,” said Khalid Fadel, a military analyst and former instructor at the Iraqi Military College. “They were so clear that they were going to launch attacks during Ramadan, and the government said that they have information of about 30 terrorist groups entering the country, but still the security forces are unable to prevent the attacks.”

Look.  Maybe Friedman is right for once, though nothing in past performance suggests that I should count on anything but the triumph of hope over experience.  It would indeed be great if all that price paid in Iraq by all parties did create a foundation for peaceful social and public life in that country. (Though again, it’s important to remember Friedman’s classic mission creep.  Success is here defined not as t meeting our own pre-conflict objectives, the ambition to assert a Pax Americana in the Middle East and in the prevention of terrorist attacks, but rather by our i serving some grand missionary role to bring democracy to the great unwashed.)  But  in the face of the ongoing civil strife In Iraq, it’s simple counterfactual folly to argue that the US intervention in Iraq can be held up as successful.

Onwards!…and a little detour.

Check out this phrase:

America was on the ground with tens of thousands of troops to act as that well-armed midwife

It’s possible to be a bad writer and a good thinker, though that’s a trick that’s harder than it looks.  But it continues to amaze me just how brutal an abuser of the English language is Tom Friedman.  Think of  all the richness of imagery and allusion of which the language is capable, and wonder at the epithet “that well armed midwife.”  It’s going to take some time before I can get the image of the US as a woman bending over the baby Jesus’s birthing table (see above), M-16 at her hip.  Shakespeare wept!

Wait! There’s more.  Friedman characterizes the US in Iraq as

reasonably trusted and certainly feared by all sides

WTF?  Were we ever trusted by any side?  This is just wishful rewriting of the actual skein of conflict in Iraq.  Pure nonsense.  This is Friedman telling himself what he wants — really has — to believe in  order not to see an imbecile with blood on his hands everytime he looks in a mirror.

And now to Fisk’s end:

My gut tells me that Syria will require the same to have the same chance.

Your gut?  Your F*cking Gut! Jesus, Mary and the mule, dude, only connect the dots for once in your life!

Your gut…

…is the least reliable organ of sense since Tatiana beheld Bottom.

No one — and I mean absolutely no human being with a capacity for reason above that of a ficus — cares about your indigestion.  If you don’t have anything better to base your opinion on, Shut. The. Hell. Up.

To be fair to a man who still sports the least convincing porn ‘stache in public life, Friedman in this column does admit that American intervention in Syria isn’t going to happen.  He concees, several paragraphs below the one dissected above that Iraq is not IRL a satisfactorily emerging democracy.  And he even recognizes that the situation in Syria is beyond our control, and unlikely to meet our desires.

But such moments of hungover clarity don’t count for much with me in a column so soaked with nostalgia for the time when the Friedmans of our governing class could tell the world to “suck on this,” and the US would send in the troops  in the service of middle-aged men’s fantasies.

Channeling my inner Brad DeLong:  why oh why can’t we have a better press corps?

Image:  Lorenzo Lotto, The Birth of Jesus, 1527-28.

Michiel Jansz van Mierevelt, The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Willem van der Meer, 1617.



While the Cat’s Away…

April 10, 2012

She who is always wrong™ may want to check on what her September April call-ups are doing.  Here’s Adam Ozimek in McArdle’s space pointing out four things just about all economists agree upon, and among them he lists the virtues of the stimulus:

Economists may differ on whether the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was worth the cost overall, but they are in solid agreement that as of the end of 2010 it lowered the unemployment rate. Very few disagreed with or were uncertain about this. In contrast, a significant number questioned whether the recovery act was worth the cost. Importantly, in the space for comments, Stanford’s Pete Klenow emphasized what Scott Sumner and others would say is the central issue: “how much was it offset by less aggressive (than otherwise) unconventional monetary policy?” But even stimulus skeptics should keep their criticisms in perspective: economists strongly reject the idea that stimulus is to blame for our economic woes.

In addition, economists strongly agree that the bank bailouts also lowered the unemployment rate. Of course as Austen Goolsbee commented: “the fact it was necessary doesn’t mean we should be happy about it.”

McArdle, canny as she is, has been careful not to go too far into the weeds on this one.

She doesn’t seem to have said that stimulus as a concept could only fail — as some notables (cough-cough, Mitt) on her side of the aisle have done and continue to do.  But she has consistently said that only a Platonic ideal of a stimulus had a hope, and that any real world attempt is a waste of time.  (Bonus question for those who follow that link.  Spot and name the dire distortion of the history that lies behind her carefully tweezered quote from Paul Krugman.)

BTW: here’s what Krugman actually had to say about the stimulus in 2010:

The good news from the new GDP report is that the fiscal stimulus seems to be working just about the way a sensible Keynesian approach says it should. The bad news from the new GDP report is that the fiscal stimulus seems to be working just about the way a sensible Keynesian approach says it should.

Josh Bivens at EPI has a good overview of the evidence that the stimulus is working. As he says,

“A serious look at the evidence argues that this debate should be closed: ARRA has played a starring role in pushing the        economy into positive growth.”

And here’s Krugman this spring:

On the policy side, major new stimulus may not be in the cards — but there is a real divide in the US between modest stimulus proposals that have some chance of getting implemented and major austerity moves that also have some chance of being implemented. The difference between those two policy variants could be the difference between unemployment below 7 percent two years from now and unemployment back above 9 percent. So this argument has real short-term policy relevance.

So much for McArdle’s bravura, data-less claim that

…we have had two major cases that massively favored Keynesian economics [the New Deal and the Obama stimulus] but Keynesian politics failed both times.

And as for her conclusion that

…at some level, there’s no point in spending a lot of time designing policies which can’t be enacted in any conceivable democratic polity.

…well, if by “any conceivable democratic polity” you mean one in which one of two major political parties had decided to transform itself into an authoritarian cult, then yes — the GOP, using the procedural rules of the US Senate, certainly limited what was possible.  It requires a heroic act of willed blindness to the elephant in the room, though, to see that outcome as an inescable, sadly necessary cost of democracy.

But just on the merits of this one guest post, I’d say that McArdle runs a serious risk if her audience gets used to even occasional economically literate commentary.  Perhaps even that Amen Chorus might notice a lack of couture bedecking the empress.

Image:  Henri Rousseau, The Equatorial Jungle, 1909

None Dare Call It Murder

February 1, 2012

I’ve got just one quick note to add to the discussion of the Komen Foundation’s surrender to Greater Wingnuttia and the Global War on Women.

That would be that this decision is not just about the dollars.  It’s genuinely a matter of life and death  — of murder, really, with only the anonymity of the victims to obscure the the connection between act and consequence.*

Y’all may recall that I wrote along these lines about eight months ago in connection with Mitch Daniels’ decision to defund Planned Parenthood in Indiana.  (Yup, that Daniels — the hack our friends in literate Wingnutistan see as the great hope of the GOP).  Now we’re back again to run the numbers on what the removal of the services Planned Parenthood provides to women seeking preventative care for breast cancer will do.**

Here are the basic figures:  over the last five years, the Komen Foundation provided Planned Parenthood with sufficient support to pay for 170,000 breast exams and 6,700 referrals for mammography. The question of how frequent and how early a mammography program should be has been, shall we say, vigorously debated, but the issue gained some clarity last year with the publication of a large scale longitudinal study by Swedish researcher in which over 133,000 women were followed for a total of 29 years.

The results of this study provide low-end estimates for the lives saved by screening:  for every 414 or 519 women screened*** for seven years running, one breast cancer death would be prevented.  What’s more, the researchers emphasized that this is a conservative conclusion:

Evaluation of the full impact of screening, in particular estimates of absolute benefit and number needed to screen, requires follow-up times exceeding 20 years because the observed number of breast cancer deaths prevented increases with increasing time of follow-up.

I’m being deliberately dry in this telling, and I’m sure you can guess why:  I do not wish the conclusion to lose any of its force to misplaced snark.  The bald facts are grim enough.

How grim?  Take the most modest number from this study —519 women screened for each life saved.  That’s on the order of 13 women from the 6,700 screened with Komen Foundation money who get to live.****

Or:  that’s 13 women who will die for lack of those funds.

As I wrote about cervical cancer screening in Indiana:  we won’t know who those women are.  We will never know their names; who loved them; how many kids they will leave behind.  But if the total funds for screening in the system drop with the withdrawal of Komen Foundation support, they’ll be dead all the same.

Caveats, before I drop this “just the facts, Ma’am” tone:  this is a blunt, back of the envelope bit of arithmetic.  There are all kinds of factors that a real epidemiologist would consider before making any such bold claim.  Some of the obvious ones push the conclusion to a higher likely total of preventable deaths:  these women are being referred for screening, which suggests that someone had an inkling that they might be at risk.  Planned Parenthood sees a clientele that is likely to lack more health care services than the general population.  And there are the general points the original researchers made to suggest that the total of lives saved through screening would be greater than their baseline number.  There are probably factors that weigh in the other direction as well — one could imagine, for example, that the preliminary examinations turned up more aggressive cancers, which may have outcomes that mammographic detection does not much alter.  You get the point.  The reality of public health, medicine, and the basic biology of cancer is such that precise predictions are always wrong.

That said, the broader claim still stands:  there is a significant and growing body of evidence that regular mammographic breast cancer screening saves lives.  The converse follows:  withholding that screening means real people will suffer.

And here I’ll drop the pretense of dispassion.  The Komen Foundation’s decision links directly to illness, to death and loss and dreadful sorrow left behind.

Those losses can’t be called manslaughter either, not as I see it.  Preventable deaths that flow from lack of access to the standard of care are wholly predictable, even if the individual victims are not identifiable.  Those blocking access through want of funds know — or should — what will happen.  There’s nothing accidental about these outcomes.w

Which means that this isn’t just another salvo in the culture war.  This is nothing to be clever about in 850 word columns on the back pages of the Grey Lady.  This is not a bit of clever gamesmanship to rev up a base for whom just the name Planned Parenthood conjures up all their horrors of female agency.

This is real life, and real lives lost…and, once again, this is why this election matters so much.

*Yup.  Still working the refs for that Moore Award.

**Just to be clear:  for what follows, I’m assuming that these services are withdrawn, that the withholding of resources from the Komen Foundation doesn’t get made up somewhere else.

*** The spread is down to the details of data collection and analysis in the Swedish study.

****The weasel is about the difference in the five year span of screening Komen funds are said to cover, and the seven year screening sequence identified in the Swedish study.  I lack both the data and the skill to do more than waffle a bit here.

Image:  Artemisia Gentileschi, Jael and Sisera, 1620

Why, Knock Me Down With a Feather: Megan McArdle is Still Always Wrong, Climate Science Edition

September 5, 2011

Warning:  This post is way too long.  I mean, really.  You have been warned.

I’ve been off the McArdle beat for a while.  I find I need to take breaks if I’m to have any hope of (a) retaining sanity in the face of unanswerable questions implicit in our current media ecosystem, and (b) getting work that actually matters to me done that would otherwise be derailed by overloaded outrage circuits tripped by reading McArdle’s…musings are, I guess, the kindest way to describe them.

But a BJ commenter (name now lost to a hyperactive “delete” finger on my email…sorry) pointed me to this bit on climate science from a week or two ago, and it’s been sticking in my craw ever since.  In it, she quotes at length from a post at the Volokh Conspiracy by Jonathan Adler, an environmental law specialist with a libertarian and wingnut-thinktank background.

The post McArdle endorses is Adler’s defense of Chris Christie against charges of being soft on global warming.  Adler denounces the GOP fundamentalism that damns to the 9th circle those Republicans with the temerity to hold such views. His fear, he writes, is that such orthodoxy will lock that party into “anti-science know-nothingism” (his phrase).  To which I would reply, “ya think?” — or rather, “that train long since left the station, pilgrim.”

There’s plenty to argue with in Adler’s formulation of Christie’s alleged connection to the reality based community — but this post is about McArdle’s follies, not any intellectual sins Adler may have committed.

And follies there are in plenty when McArdle decides to amplify Adler’s plaint about pre-Copernicans in the GOP.  Why don’t we take a look?

McArdle begins her gloss in classic form:

I don’t think that science denialism is the exclusive province of the GOP, but it’s extremely disappointing whenever either side does it.

Both sides do it!  Who could have predicted such a claim?  And who could have anticipated that McArdle would offer no examples of denialism by any mainstream Democrat?

Did I miss the part where President Obama asserted that the Apollo missions were faked, Tranquility Base rather existing only on a Hollywood backlot?  While I was off the grid for a couple of weeks in August, did Chuck Schumer suddenly announce that Democrats must all sign a pledge asserting that π = 3?

Come on, oh Business and Economics Editor of the Atlantic:  inquiring minds want to know what Democrats’ sins you think compare to a near-unanimous denial of the reality of climate change and the theory of evolution by natural selection by the current slate of candidates for the GOP nomination to serve as President of the United States?  Anything?


As longtime readers known, I have been extremely critical of the attitude that some climate scientists seem to have developed towards dissent, and what you might call the PR aspect of their work.

I beg  your pardon. It is not the climate science crowd that has been out using state power  in an attempt to crush all opposition.  Rather, climate scientists have faced real and consequential assaults, from Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s witch hunting to the real damage done by all those who piled on to the Breitbart/O’Keefe-style selective quoting from stolen emails in what was called the “Climategate” non-scandal.  Did anyone notice that every inquiry into this false controversy has come up with…nothing?

All of which is to say that there are indeed views that are being shouted down by a contemptuous opposition incapable of accepting anything that contradicts their cherished worldview — and those authoritarian assaults on reasoned debate come from the so called “skeptic” crowd.

The still deeper problem, of course, is that those ideologically committed to the view that global warming is a hoax have themselves mastered modern PR, so that, with the connivance of an incompetent or malicious media (to which faction does McArdle belong…or could this this a case of a nonexcluded middle?–ed.), junk routinely reaches the public as fact.* [much more detail at the footnote]

But to the matter at hand, McArdle’s engaged in classic misdirection.  The researcher’s job is to do the best science that he or she can.  A real journalist would then attempt to understand and explain to a broad audience what the results from such work now suggest.  Here’s McArdle’s attempt:

Nonetheless, I am quite convinced that the planet is warming,

Why thank you, Ms. McArdle.  Your judgment is just what’s been needed to set all this to rest.

and fairly convinced that human beings play a role in this.

Well, that settles it, doesn’t it?

In fact, this one sentence captures much of why McArdle is (or ought to be) such an embarrassment to her employer.  Bluntly, McArdle lacks the capacity to have an opinion on this matter.

That’s the core issue, really, at least for me, in my guise as a science writer and teacher of the skill.  The study of climate and climate change involves a large number of disciplines and sub-disciplines: physics, chemistry, oceanograpy, atmospheric studies, statistics, computer science and much, much more.  It turns on detailed and complex investigations of the interaction between domains each of which are demanding enough to reward a life’s study:  just think about what needs to be worked out about the connections between the biosphere, the atmosphere, the liquid ocean and that part of the global water supply trapped in ice, and so on through most of the modern science curriculum.

Every single specialty involved takes the better part of a decade of specialized training to master to the point where you can run your own lab.  Working the interdisciplinary trick takes groups of people working for quite a while just to be sure they understand each other.  Climate science in its modern form dates really only back to the late seventies or early eighties, when the scientific community began to recognize the vital importance of making sense of what people were finding out across what had been quite distinct fields — or perhaps it is more accurate to say that this turning point came when both the knowledge and the instruments needed to make key observations reached a critical point.

That is:  you can say with a lot of truth that modern climate science dates from the moment when sufficiently powerful computers emerged to run the first plausible three-d models, and when satellites that could do fine-grained remote sensing first started delivering data.  That would be, as it happens, somewhere around the late seventies to the mid 1980s. (You can read a bit more about this in my first book Ice Time [terrible title!], now long out of print, but available for sums reaching as low as … one cent, and glossed very nicely here by Eric Roston, who examines that now 20+ year old book from a perspective informed by what we’ve learned since.)

So it’s a young science, and a difficult one, demanding  a lot of time and training and strong collaborations to produce useful work.  That means there really are some opinions that are much better than others, and even within science, some opinions that are genuinely worthless, as they are come from folks who literally don’t know what they are talking about.  These folks are dangerous for reporters, because naive (or bad-faith) journalists will see a real scientific qualification attached to some name, and hear lots of cool sounding difficult words that sound very much like technical stuff, and can then conclude whatever he or she wants to, believing him or herself to be informed by Science!

So what’s a responsible journalist to do?  Well — take the time.  Go to meetings.  Talk to lots of scientists.  Read constantly.  Check what you write with people who are actually doing the kind of work that bears on the question. Pay attention to those who make a lot of what look like mistakes; if the same kinds of errors get repeated after correction, then you have found someone not playing straight.  (The argument from negative authority is much more robust than its reciprocal.)

Then take more time.

There is a reason that the really good journalists covering this story are people like Andy Revkin, who published his first book on climate change months before my mine came out in 1989.  Or folks like Mike Lemonick, who has covered this area for Time magazine and others for almost as long.  Or Elizabeth Kolbert, who spent years turning herself into a competent — and better! — interrogator of this field after an earlier career spent on other beats; or Eric Roston, mentioned above, who spent three years working through a biography of carbon to present a from-the-ground-up account of (among much else) why virtually everyone capable of holding an informed view recognizes the reality of anthropogenic global warming; or any of the many honorable others who actually have devoted themselves to mastering this beat.  This kind of science coverage takes sustained effort, which is why you could have counted me among this group twenty years ago, but not now:  I’ve shifted my focus several times since those years in the ’80s when I was consumed by the real excitement of what this new science could do.

All that to say that Megan McArdle literally doesn’t know how much she doesn’t know.  She lacks any of the apparatus to make a meaningful statement on this subject.  A good journalist recognizes when they’re out of their depth, and they shut up, or get help.  McArdle does neither — or rather, when she seeks validation for her pre-digested thoughts (“I’m…fairly convinced!” — by all that the FSM deems holy!) — she does so from precisely the kind of folks who reveal just what McArdle herself is really on about:

(When you’ve got Reason’s Ron Bailey, Cato’s Patrick Michaels, and Jonathan Adler, you’ve convinced me).

Umm, no.

These are pundits who — to be fair — have spent a fair bit effort on this issue.  They are thus not as uninformed as McArdle herself — but they are advocates for a particular view of human agency and autonomy, and not actual experts on the detailed progress of climate science.  They may get as far as the IPCC reports, and plenty of the toilet paper produced by the skeptic propaganda machine, (see, as always, Oreskes and Conway’s vital Merchants of Doubt for the gory details).  But even the environmental law expertise that Adler may bring to bear is not the same thing as engagement with the beat, nor any substitute for actual technical competence.

Even were one to grant to these three the standing that McArdle does, she still fails of her basic responsibility as a journalist.  It’s not just that spinners aren’t even secondary sources.  McArdle is utterly unqualified to have an opinion of her own because, by her own admission she has outsourced her brain on this issue and that she hasn’t and won’t do the actual work needed to have even a beginner’s grasp of this story.  Caveat lector

And still — by Blackbeard’s ghost! — there’s more:

I reserve the right to be skeptical about particular claims about effect…

McArdle can, of course, be skeptical about anything at all.  The question is whether anyone with intelligence to outrank a ficus should give any credence to such concerns.  Remember: she’s already told you that she has no personal competence in this field

…(particularly when those claims come via people who implausibly insist that every major effect will be negative)

Ah yes.  Al Gore is fat.  Except, of course, climate science as a field does not so insist.

Take, for example, the extensive discussion of climate feedbacks in what amounts to a manifesto for what real climate researchers should do (and are now doing), the 2003 National Academy of Sciences report Understanding Climate Change FeedbacksThere the nation’s top scientific institution lays out a meticulous account of the major feedbacks and the necessary research program needed to understand what impact, positive or negative, each such process may have.  Or you could look to the most recent IPCC analysis, the nearest thing that exists to a consensus document reviewing the current state of knowledge about climate change — exactly the people whose willingness to entertain contrary results McArdle here disdains.  In the FAQ [largish PDF] that accompanies the main report, you will find, among much else, this statement:

Additional important feedback mechanisms involve clouds. Clouds are effective at absorbing infrared radiation and therefore exert a large greenhouse effect, thus warming the Earth. Clouds are also effective at reflecting away incoming solar radiation, thus cooling the Earth. A change in almost any aspect of clouds, such as their type, location, water content, cloud altitude, particle size and shape, or lifetimes, affects the degree to which clouds warm or cool the Earth. Some changes amplify warming while others diminish it. [Italics added] Much research is in progress to better understand how clouds change in response to climate warming, and how these changes affect climate through various feedback mechanisms.

Of course, McArdle is not trying to engage in principled argument here.  She may not know or perhaps she simply does not care about the actual practice of climate scientists.  But the truth is there to be found, easily recovered with minimal effort, that the global climate change research community has a record extending back decades of trying to figure out the interlocking positive and negative feedback mechanisms that shape climate change.

Ah — but I’m missing McArdle’s point here.  Really, we should read this as a tell, the reveal of the con she’s been running all this long while.  She’s already shown her intellectual generosity by grandly conceding that anthropogenic climate change is real.  Now, she gets to go all “even-the-liberal-New Republic” on us and tell us why that concession doesn’t matter.  See, e.g., her very next line:

and, of course, of ludicrous worries that global warming will cause aliens to destroy us.

Nothing to see here, move along.

Nothing, that is except for an almost textbook example of dishonest writing.  These ludicrous worries that do not exist serve nicely to suggest that those concerned about the actual consequences of global warming are keeping company with folks whose fillings serve as antennae tuned to Alpha Centauri.  This is one way to fight a political action when the facts are against you:  ridicule your opponents for stuff they never said.

But generally, I think global warming is happening, and even that we should probably do something about that, though I’m flexible on “something.”

I.e. we should do nothing.

See above — once you’ve said that those who worry about severe consequences of global warming are delusional, you’ve kind of undercut any call to action. And, just to add a stray thought:  given my corollary to DeLong’s law, that McArdle is always wrong, and when you think she’s right, refer to statement one, I might start to question the reality of global warming myself, were it not for the fact that the rest of this piece so clearly demonstrates that she does not accept the actual meaning of that view.

However. Even if you disagree, it is reprehensible to have a litmus test around empirical matters of fact. (I’m not a fan of litmus tests in general, but I suppose it’s fair enough to say “If you want marginal tax rates of 70% on the wealthy, you don’t belong in today’s GOP”).

Gotta move on sometime, so I won’t whale on this, except to note the implied litmus test to which McArdle submitted herself above:  climate change only becomes real to her when ideological soul-mates say it is so.  Heaven forfend she take the word of someone who actually knows something about the subject.  Nope.  It had to wait for some pundit with whom she already agreed before she could make the concession.

What these Republicans are doing to people like Chris Christie is no better than what Harvard did to Larry Summers when he suggested that it was possible that women had a different IQ distribution than men.

Oh, this zombie lie.

Not to beat a truly dead horse, but for those of us who actually have some proximity to Harvard, and, as it happens, who know some of the women on its faculty, it’s important to note that Summers survived that flap by about a year, during which a number of other incidents occurred that cast doubt on his competence.

For example, his disastrous management of Harvard’s finances would only become obvious in 2008-9, but in the year between his statements about women and IQ and his resignation, he lost significant support among the actual decision makers at Harvard (i.e., not its Arts and Sciences faculty)  over the handling of the Andrei Shleifer case.  Shleifer, an economist on Harvard’s faculty and was found to have committed insider trading while working on a Harvard-led project aiding the privatization of Russia’s post-Soviet economy.  The settlement of the Shleifer case cost the university $26.5 million — and while Summers had recused himself from anything to do with the case, its outcome represented a major blow to his standing at Harvard.

There were in fact a number of other contributing factors that led the only folks with a vote (again, not the faculty) to ease Summers out.  Just a hint — if you look at how Harvard is actually run, it becomes notable that the deans of Harvard’s various schools did not leap to Summers’ defense in his time of need.  All of which is to say that the assertion that Harvard tossed out its president just because he said something ill-informed about women fails on even the most cursory inquiry.  But even such minimal curiosity is what McArdle, as I’ve come to expect, will not pursue, if there’s a risk she might find out something that contradicts a cherished fable.

And still there’s more!

Facts are not good or bad; they are correct or incorrect.

Snicker. (And not in a PoMo way.)

And a policy based on hysterical refusal to consider all possible facts is neither good, nor correct.

In that case, someone with the initials MM has a lot of ‘splainin to do about just about every claim current GOP candidates are making about the role lower taxes on the wealthy have on economic growth.  Just sayin’.

If someone is wrong about the facts, you should explain to them, calmly and concisely, why they are wrong. If it’s really that obvious, it shouldn’t be hard to convince them.

Uh.  I just can’t.  The snark writes itself — and I’ll let everyone here enjoy their individual takes on what one should say here.  That’s why the good FSM created comment threads.

When people start trying to expel heretics because of disagreements over facts, it suggests that they suspect–even know–that the facts are not on their side. Which is, frankly, what I tend to think is happening here. If open argument is going to force your ideology to confront uncomfortable facts, you create a closed circle that the facts can’t penetrate.

Still can’t stop giggling.  Have at it.

If the circle is big enough, the geocentric universe gets a few hundred more years before the defensive perimeter cracks.


Message to McArdle:  the Catholic Church has indeed survived that anti-science episode.**  But the geocentric universe lasted exactly…well I guess not zero years, but pretty nearly so after the publication of Galileo’s Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems in 1632.  Geocentrism and the broader disassembling of classical astronomy had, of course, already largely been undone by the early 1600s, at least among the community of the learned.  The conventional sequence — from Copernicus, with his still artificially circular orbits, to Kepler’s fitting of the correct elliptical shapes to the paths traced by the planets (and the mathematical advances captured in his three descriptive laws, to Galileo’s observations of the Jovian system, with its moons orbiting a central body in a strikingly clear model of a the kind of heavenly motion Copernicus advanced, published in 1610 — created a broad basr on which to support the fundamental claim of heliocentrism.  By the 1630s, the Inquisition could condemn, but minds living in those expanding parts of Europe no longer subject to Rome’s authority could and did ignore any assertion of pontifical judgment about scientific fact — a development that did precisely the kind of damage to the cause of religion that Galileo himself had anticipated in his letter to the Medici Grand Duchess Christina in 1615.

Or to put all this another way:  the current closed GOP circle is as unlikely as the Vatican’s was ever to be big enough. The U.S. may suffer — greatly — if we ignore basic facts.  We may, likely will, do great harm to others. But those nations and cultures that don’t listen to the McArdles of the world, and all their kin?  Well, like Isaac Newton’s England, I expect they’ll do fine, even if we languish under President Perry in predicaments of our own making.

Why so long on what was obviously a rhetorical grace(less) note?  Because it is a microcosm of the McArdle approach to her life’s work.  This invocation of Galileo’s trial is ignorant of basic facts, false in its implication, historically obtuse and hell, just plain stupid (not to mention kind of meaningless).  I guess it sounded kind of clever to McArdle, which meant, on the evidence, that she didn’t pause to ask if the example made sense.  It didn’t, and it doesn’t, and should be taken as the warning it is:  you can’t take any claim McArdle makes as valid until thrice checked.

Of course, that also means a few hundred years invested in building an institution that cannot survive in a heliocentric solar system.

Uh.  Last I looked Pope Benedict still held sway within Vatican City, honored by Catholics the world round.  Even the ramifications of a transnational conspiracy to cover up acts of sexual violence against children seems set to do more than temporary damage to the institution.  That fact may or may not fill you with pleasure/relief/loathing…but the notion that somehow the contemporary Catholic Church is paying the price for Galileo’s fate is simply phaffing on McArdle’s part — beneath notice except as a further instance of a seemingly incurable lack of rigor in her work.

Maybe the skeptics are right and AGW is minor, or not happening at all. But on the off chance that they’re wrong,

Uh…”off chance…” Not going to rehearse all that’s gone before, but just to say, one more time:  virtually every scientist with actual knowledge of the data, the underlying methods, and the theory of climate science have been saying for some time that AGW is real and consequential.  McArdle may not like that conclusion; she nonetheless has no standing to dismiss it.

the GOP needs to be the sort of pluralistic body that can survive and thrive on a steady diet of accurate data–no matter what those data say.

I agree.  I also think that this is where the whole post reveals itself as a smoke screen to confuse others in the media into the view that a fictional GOP that could thrive on data actually exists.

If enough GOP-identified pundits say a few nice things about positions they simultaneously dismiss (a standard trick within David Brooks’ playbook, of course, and much of McArdle’s raison d’etre) then the useful idiots they count as colleagues can write that once in power a Republican president and congress might not be entirely batshit crazy.  That we have plenty of evidence that this view is false (2001-2009; GOP governors/legislators/the Boehner-Cantor led house since 2010) can be ignored, as long as the Business and Economics Editor of the Atlantic reassures her friends that there really are some Republicans with whom you could have a chat and a drink.

That, as I read it, is really the point of a post like this…

…Enough.  Almost five thousand words on a tossed off bit of nonsense by someone whose work is, frankly, trivial, no matter how much influence it may have within a couple of corners of the Village.

I guess I explode into these periodic rants not so much because anything McArdle actually writes is so much more egregious than hundreds of effusions spurting daily from those carbuncles on the body politic that make up the right-blogosphere.  Rather, it’s that she does so under the cloak of, and at an institution venerable within a craft I hold dear, that of serious, reasoned, public journalism.  This post really is bizarrely too long, so I’m not going to expand on a point I’ve made before.  But the particular form of intellectual dishonesty with which McArdle plies her trade does damage to the country — and less consequentially, but probably more severely to all those directly associated with her work at The Atlantic.

*Case in point:  over the couple of weeks I’ve been picking away at this post, this story has bubbled up.  I believe John linked to it — but the gist is that a journal editor resigned when it became clear that some climate denialist “scientists” snuck a junk paper past the peer review process of  the journal Remote Sensing.  That paper repeated previously debunked claims that satellite data contradict model results, fail to account for the impact of clouds on the radiative balance of the earth, and thus overstate the risk of warming.  The editor resigned because it became very clear on reflection that this paper should have been flagged by what was clearly a flawed peer review.  On the level of basic craft, the paper failed to meet the most elementary requirements of a scientific claim:  “no statistical significance of results, error bars or uncertainties are given either in the figures or discussed in the text. As to the content — the core claims of the paper are simply wrong, and they are so in elementary ways, rendered meaningless by errors of both method and an actual grasp of the range of observational data:

Overall, the argument made in all of these papers to support the conjecture that clouds are forcing the climate (rather than a feedback) is extremely weak. What they do is show some data, then they show a very simple model with some free parameters that they tweak until they fit the data. They then conclude that their model is right. However, if the underlying model is wrong, then the agreement between the model and data proves nothing.

I am working on a paper that will show that, if you look carefully at the magnitudes of the individual terms of their model, the model is obviously wrong. In fact, if [University of Alabama at Huntsville's Roy] Spencer were right, then clouds would be a major cause of El Niño cycles—which we know is not correct. Talk to any ENSO expert and tell them that clouds cause ENSO and they’ll laugh, at you.

Why would someone nominally a science commit such serial and serious errors?   Spencer himself tells us.  He is the author of a number of interesting works — including one flawed study withdrawn for plagiarism, among other sins, and this latest fiasco — but the actual content of his stuff doesn’t matter.  Rather, it is crucial only that Spencer can call himself a scientist, and can be termed as such by the echo chamber right-wing media that takes fatally flawed “research” and retails it to a public as the real deal.  Which is exactly what Spencer says he wants to achieve:

“I would wager that my job has helped save our economy from the economic ravages of out-of-control environmental extremism. I view my job a little like a legislator, supported by the taxpayer, to protect the interests of the taxpayer and to minimize the role of government.”

Well, fine, if you are lobbyist, an advocate, or a Know-Nothing GOP candidate for president.  But if you call yourself a scientist and purport to take part in the common enterprise that is the advance of human knowledge…with that statement you’ve just declared yourself an enemy of whole endeavor.  You can’t serve two masters, both your ideological commitment and nature.  You have to choose — and Spencer clearly has, opting to put out propaganda contradicted by the testimony of nature in order to defend views that comfort the comfortable.

This is just one example — but it’s why climate scientists don’t have a lot of sympathy for “dissenters” who are in fact propaganda hacks –self admitted in this case.  Rather, they have to work overtime in never-really-successful attempts to counter the real damage done by pieces like this both to science and to any kind of real deliberation on the proper policy to adopt in the face of AGW.  We surely need a better media.

**Yes, I’m aware that McArdle would probably claim that she was merely saying the Catholic Church itself retained its geocentric views for centuries– but that’s both not exactly true (plenty of folks within the church understood and accepted the advance of knowledge on this question, whatever dogma decreed) and not on point to the suggestion she then tries to make, that such myopia produced an institution that is having trouble surviving now.

Images:   William Blake, The Ancient of Days (God the Geometer),1794

Pieter Breughel the Elder, The Alchemist, 1558 (Engraved by Philipp Galle)

John Barnard Whittaker, Comedy and Tragedy, c. 1883.

Pieter de Bloot, Tavern Interior1630s.

Perspective on Palin’s Shopping Spree

October 23, 2008

This is truly a sideshow in the election — and in fact tomorrow I’ll blog what I think is the basic issue for someone looking at the Presidential choice from the point of view of what’s best for the enterprise of  American science — but one of the problems of making sense of the stunningly tone-deaf decision to cloak Sarah Palin in $150,000 wardrobe is to get a handle on just how much money that really is in the world of fashion.

Fashion isn’t just show; I and my wife have both worked in various nooks and crannies of the film business – and my wife has designed a couple of multi-million dollar productions, so we have some family knowledge of what it takes to make people look good on camera.

It takes a lot.  For example, if you want an extra — an extra! — to look right in a historical drama, budget more than a thousand for, say, a nineteenth century uniform with all the accoutrements.  Leading players need more and better — their clothes have to fit and they have to have enough different costumes to carry them through the entire time sequence of a film.

All of which is to say is that if you want to get a sense of whether or not the McCain campaign’s shopping spree on Palin’s behalf was extravagant, a Hollywood feature is a good place to look.

In fact, a film shoot a pretty precise analogue to the experience of a campaign: major feature shoots run about as long or longer than the Sept-Nov span of Gov. Palin’s run; they both involve repeated changes of scene and clothes, and they are each as merciless as the other in the scrutiny to which the camera subjects its targets.

So — what’s the best comparison between Palin, the unlikely couture poster child and someone in the film business?

IMHO, the best place to start is with The Devil Wears Prada, a film all about aspirational fashion set in the very capital of Unreal America, in the city that happens to be the center of the rag trade.

The character played by Meryl Streep, the devil of the picture (the avatar for Vogue‘s Anna Wintour), was supremely well dressed.  The character character represents an upper bound for measuring just how outlandish the Palin clothing budget may be:  “Miranda Priestly” (Streep) was supposed to look better than the readers of her magazine; she represented more than an aspiration, as understood in a magazine industry that refers to Vogue and similar publications as “fantasy books.”  Governor Palin needs to us fashion to a different end to convey the message of hercharacter within the political drama:  she shouldn’t seem to live in a world completely out of reach, but rather to appear as a slightly larger-than-life embodiment of achievable aspirations.  She needs to look good, but not impossibly so.

So what did it cost to dress someone supposed to embody the pinnacle of fashion?

The budget for Ms. Streep’s costumes was reported to be $100,000.  There was a fair amount of stuff — especially accessories, like jewelry that was loaned to the production, but the core of Streep’s film wardrobe was expected to cost two thirds of what it took to keep the rain off of Sarah Palin.

So, just to belabor the obvious:  yup, Governor Palin’s 150K wardrobe is over the top.  A good film shopper could have dressed Palin for much less — and still left her looking great in all the various settings in which she found herself.  The McCain campaign and its handpicked robo-slime operator turned fashionista screwed up…which I suppose we already knew.

Image:  Day dresses for summer 1919 from Vogue magazine.  Source:  Wikimedia Commons

Would It Be Better If He Were Lying, Or Telling The Truth?

October 1, 2008

I’m genuinely not sure:

Yglesias reports on the interview McCain gave to NPR this morning describing the wisdom and good counsel he receives from his running mate on international affairs:

NPR: Given what you’ve said Senator, is there an occasion where you could imagine turning to Governor Palin for advice in a foreign policy crisis.

MCCAIN: I’ve turned to her advice many times in the past, I can’t imagine turning to Senator Obama or Senator Biden cuz they’ve been wrong, they were wrong about Iraq, wrong about Russia…

NPR: But would you turn to Governor Palin?

MCCAIN: I certainly wouldn’t turn to them, and I’ve already turned to Governor Palin particularly on energy issues and I’ve appreciated her background and knowledge on that and many other issues.

NPR: Does her energy qualification extend to the international energy market?

MCCAIN: Of course. Of course. That’s what it’s all about. It extends to a broad variety of issues from her worldview to threats that we face, to radical Islamic extremism, to specific areas of the world. I’m very proud of her, and proud of the knowledge and background that she has.

Image: British Empire in 1897.  (Note:  the map suggests that Britain possessed parts of Greenland, which is incorrect.)  Source:  Wikimedia Commons.


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