Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Politico on Minnesota Senate Race

Politico has an article about the latest developments in the Minnesota Senate Race. According to the article, in a worst case scenario, this could take years to decide.
As Roland Burris will recall, you can’t take a seat in the Senate without an election certificate from your state. And it’s not clear whether the candidate who’s ahead after the Minnesota Supreme Court rules could get an election certificate from Minnesota if his opponent is seeking review from the United States Supreme Court or challenging the results in a new lawsuit in federal court.

Sen. Charles Schumer, the New York Democrat in charge of the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, says that Minnesota gets its second senator as soon as the state case ends.

“Whatever the state Supreme Court decides, as I understand it, the law requires it to be certified,” Schumer says.

But [Texas Senator John] Cornyn believes that Minnesota can’t certify Franken the winner if Coleman seeks review from the U.S. Supreme Court or files a new federal case. And Ben Ginsberg, a Coleman attorney and a central player on the Republican side in the 2000 Florida recount, says it’s “an open question” whether a federal court challenge puts a pause on the certification process.
If, after the State Supreme Court decision comes down and the loser appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court, this could take forever. Meanwhile, some of the most important issues in a generation are being decided on in congress but Minnesotans are underrepresented in the Senate.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Ladies and Gentlemen, I Present My Childhood Swimming Instructor

As a kid I spent a great deal of time in the water. I loved to snorkel in lakes, I swam competitively in high school, and I worked as the boating director at a boy scout camp. The foundation for this was established early in my childhood when my parents enrolled my brothers and me in swimming lessons offered by the local recreation department. My mother would often try to get us in with an instructor named Dan Acker. As I recall, Dan was a lot of fun as a swimming teacher. He had a great sense of humor and he was constantly making jokes while also making sure we learned our weekly lessons. Dan was the kind of guy who would get in the water with a struggling student to help them along and he would give lots of opportunities for free time and play games like Sharks and Minnows. A hit with the kids, Dan was the kind of guy parents felt safe leaving their children with, which I am told is a rare trust for parents to afford.

I hadn't thought of Dan in years, and then this story broke:
A 61-year-old man who works as a part-time aquatics program coordinator for the West Allis-West Milwaukee Recreation Department was in jail Thursday, suspected of sexually assaulting young boys for more than 30 years, authorities said.

Daniel Acker of Waukesha was arrested Monday during a swim practice at West Milwaukee Middle School, said Deputy Inspector Bradley Wentlandt of the Greenfield Police Department. Acker is suspected of assaulting boys between the ages of 7 and 15 from the 1970s to 2008, police said.

Acker is suspected in hundreds of assaults involving dozens of children over the years, police said.


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

"Twitter is just randomly bragging about your unexceptional life."

This video manages to encapsulate everything I've been feeling about Twitter since it first came into fashion:

And yes, the irony of using a blog to bitch about Twitter is not lost on me.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Diana Joseph to Read in Winona on Thursday, March 26

Diana Joseph will be reading from her memoir, I’m Sorry You Feel That Way: The Astonishing but True Story of a Daughter, Sister, Slut, Wife, Mother and Friend to Man & Dog on Thursday March 26, 2009 at The Bookshelf in Winona. For a little extra money, readers can have dinner with the author. See The Bookshelf for details.

The Winona Daily News ran an story on her visit that can be found here.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Putting the AIG Debate In Its Place

One of the frustrations inherit to the economic crisis is the difficulty in getting a grasp of it and all its intricacies and connections. On so many other issues it is much easier to distill the subject to its most basic arguments. On Afghanistan and Obama's proposed escalation, we can ask: What are the goals of the escalation? Will the escalation achieve those goals? How much blood and treasure are we prepared to spend in the process? In regard to torture, we can reduce the topic to a few basic questions: Is it legal? Does it work? What are the consequences? On gay marriage we can ask: Upon what basis is it illegal? What are the legal or social implications of it being legal or illegal? These questions are fairly easy to delve into and because they are emotional and dramatic, they lend themselves well to television.

The economy is not so easily defined. The topic and the details are not explainable in ten second sound bites or ninety second television news stories, and the news networks find themselves inherently thwarted in their attempts to cover the topic. As a result we see the news media latching onto the controversy over the AIG bonuses, reporting on very little else when this is really a sideshow in a much bigger story.

This morning, I was very pleased to see this interview with Elizabeth Warren, the Chair of the Congressional Oversight Panel. She does a nice job of identifying some of the key issues and putting them in a historical perspective. Take note of her comments starting at about 6:56 in the video; this is the best case for regulation and its use that I've heard since this crisis began.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

John Stewart Drinks Jim Cramer's Milk Shake

For the past week, television news was beset with a very entertaining side show as Jim Cramer of Mad Money on CNBC and John Stewart of The Daily Show on Comedy Central engaged in verbal sparing over the airwaves. Ironically, it began as a story that was not really about Cramer but about Rick Santelli and the CNBC network as a whole:

Jim Cramer took issue with the clips of him advising people to hold onto Bear Stearns stock days before it went under and wrote an editorial for Main Street.com in which he accused The Daily Show of taking his advice out of context:

Take Frank Rich and Jon Stewart. Both seize on the urban legend that I recommended Bear Stearns the week before it collapsed, even though I was saying that I thought it could be worthless as soon as the following week. I did tell an emailer that his deposit in his account at Bear Stearns was safe, but through a clever sound bite, Stewart, and subsequently Rich -- neither of whom have bothered to listen to the context of the pulled quote -- pass off the notion of account safety as an out-and-out buy recommendation. The absurdity astounds me. If you called Mad Money and asked me about Citigroup, I would tell you that the common stock might be worthless, but I would never tell you to pull your money out of the bank because I was worried about its solvency. Your money is safe in Citi as I said it was in Bear. The fact that I was right rankles me even more. I never said the same thing about Lehman, where your accounts weren't safe. I expect a skewering from the comedian Stewart.

Stewart responded in kind, digging up specific instances of Cramer endorsing Bear Sterns:

But Cramer struck back, going on MSNBC's Morning Joe and other programs and responding by ridiculing Stewart and in the process distorting the entire argument, making it about himself:

Stewart then responded to Cramer's appearances on other NBC-family news shows and reclaimed the parameters of the argument, while also managing to point out the ridiculousness of it:

Finally, Cramer came to The Daily Show to settle the score (in three uncensored parts):

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

This article from USA Today does a nice job of summarizing exactly what happened here and what other television personalities and consumers of news should learn from this episode:

You'd think people on TV would have a better idea of how it works. Yet clearly they don't, to judge from the insane TV parade staged by CNBC Mad Money host Jim Cramer. In his search for justice, attention or both, Cramer inserted himself into a comedy battle between Jon Stewart and CNBC's Rick Santelli, turning what had been a one-day story into week-long, front-page news — and diminishing his reputation and that of his network in the process. Let's just say if Cramer were a stock, the best advice today would be "sell."
For those few who may have missed it, the feud began when Stewart's Comedy Central series, The Daily Show, answered Santelli's rant against the bad judgment shown by homeowners with a video reel mocking CNBC's own bad judgment in covering the economic meltdown. Cramer complained that the reel took some of his comments out of context, which led Stewart to do an even funnier, nastier clip reel aimed solely at him . . . By picking a fight he could not win, Cramer gave Stewart time and ammunition to launch a broader, more damaging attack on CNBC itself. The thrust, as he laid it out Thursday, is that the network gave up its role as watchdog and began to treat the market as a game and CEOs as star quarterbacks, forgetting what was at stake should the market fail. At a time when the market and the media are held in equally low regard, that's an argument that can easily take hold.

And yet that could also be the one upside. If this affair makes the media reconsider their coverage and the rest of us consider how easily distracted we are by, say, stories about feuds between TV personalities, Cramer may have unintentionally done us all a service.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The first rule of fight club is you do not talk about fight club

Early this morning I finished a new draft of an older screenplay. This was the fourth (full fledged) draft that I've produced in the course of two and a half years since I originally agreed to write it. I don't want to give away the details but I have often described the script as combining the genres of high school films like Mean Girls with the sadomasochistic horror of Saw along with the satirical and anarchic sensibilities of American Psycho and Natural Born Killers. Crisscrossing genres like this requires just the right balance of each genre's elements. Like cooking, each component brings its own flavor, which is intended to work in synchronicity with the others. In cases that work, like The Dark Knight or Son of Rambow, the combination heightens the story and one component enhances the other. In cases that don't work (see Pineapple Express), the result is a sloppy mess whose components clash together and cancel each other out. Thankfully, I believe the screenplay I have written is a successful combination.

After sending the screenplay off, I worry that much of the story is too "out there;" too extreme, too sexual, too violent, or too absurd and because of that I worry that it won't be taken seriously or even produced at all. I dread a phone call where someone agrees to take it but demands that everything that makes it special, that makes it a unique story, that (most arrongantly, I will admit) makes it my view of humanity at this point in time, be cut out. This imaginary censor keeps me up at night and even causes moments of doubt when the euphoria of completing a piece subsides.

But then I see things like this and I know that my view of humanity is not too far out, that the violence, however extreme, is justified thematically and rhetorically, and that there is a place for the things I have to say.

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas - Seven employees at a state-run home for the mentally disabled have been suspended for allegedly staging a "fight club" among residents.

Corpus Christi Police Captain Tim Wilson says the fight clubs were uncovered when someone gave an off-duty police officer a cell phone containing videos of fights at the Corpus Christi State School.

Wilson says the videos show mentally disabled adult clients punching, shoving, and striking each other while the employees watch.

Wilson calls the abuse "appalling." He says police expect to file charges against several employees by the end of the week.

The school opened in 1970 and is home to about 360 people, according to the Web site of the state Department of Aging and Disability Services.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Daily Show Takes on CNBC

While The Daily Show has largely posited itself as a parody and critic of mainstream news sources, this recent feature about CNBC goes beyond poking fun at the everyday ridiculousness of news coverage and really exposes just how bad a lot of the reporting of financial news has been, whether in predicting the future of the stock market or interviewing corrupt CEOs.

I think it's important to note that there is a difference between actual economists and the financial pundits who frequent CNBC and other news channels. But watching this segment supports my suspicion that many of the so-called experts like Jim Cramer, Suze Orman, and Maria Bartiromo really have no idea what the hell they are talking about.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

So many people to be disgusted by in such a short story

From the A.P. via the New York Times:
A 9-year-old girl who was carrying twins, and whose stepfather is suspected of raping her, underwent an abortion on Wednesday despite complaints from Brazil’s Roman Catholic Church. The stepfather has been jailed since last week, the police said. Abortion is illegal in Brazil, the country with the most Roman Catholics, but judges can make exceptions if the mother’s life is in danger or the fetus has no chance of survival. Fatima Maia, director of the public university hospital where the abortion was performed, said the pregnancy, which was in its 15th week, posed a serious risk to the girl, who weighs 80 pounds. But Marcio Miranda, a lawyer for the Archdiocese of Olinda and Recife in northeastern Brazil, said the girl should have carried the twins to term and had a Caesarean section. “It’s the law of God: Do not kill,” he said in comments reported by the newspaper O Globo.
Here is a brain teaser for you: if the child gave birth and it killed her, would the innaction of the Catholic Church and others make them responsible for her death?

Monday, March 02, 2009

The State Isn't the Only Thing That's Red . . .

I wonder if this is what Obama had in mind when he talked about finding common ground:

Americans may paint themselves in increasingly bright shades of red and blue, but new research finds one thing that varies little across the nation: the liking for online pornography.

A new nationwide study of anonymised credit-card receipts from a major online adult entertainment provider finds little variation in consumption between states.

However, although the study found that Internet users in all states like their online porn, citizens who voted Republican in the presidential election were accessing it in larger numbers:

Eight of the top 10 pornography consuming states gave their electoral votes to John McCain in last year's presidential election – Florida and Hawaii were the exceptions. While six out of the lowest 10 favoured Barack Obama.