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The Go-Betweens, Expert Edition

| Mon Jan. 26, 2015 6:00 AM EST

Go Betweens

Led by gifted singer-songwriters Robert Forster and Grant McLennan, Australia's Go-Betweens were a jangly folk-rock combo that compiled an impressive body of work from the late '70s to late '80s, broke up, and then reunited for another strong run in the early 2000s—until McLennan suffered a fatal heart attack in 2006. While comparisons to the Velvet Underground and R.E.M. are not implausible, the band was really its own unforgettable creature, suggesting a punk group trying to play nice pop songs, but not quite getting things right. Sometimes sweet, often astringent, the duo's songs never felt pat or predictable (or truly finished), creating the sensation of hearing riveting first takes of future classics.

Compiled by Forster, G Stands for Go-Betweens contains four vinyl discs, including their first three albums and a compilation of early singles, and four CDs that offer a whopping 70 rarities, including an electrifying '82 live show. It's not for beginners—either of the early albums Before Hollywood or Spring Hill Fair makes a good starting point—but anyone who's already joined the cult will find this imposing package irresistible.

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Has Netanyahu Finally Gone Too Far With His Contempt for Obama?

| Sun Jan. 25, 2015 6:15 PM EST

I keep wondering if it's ever possible for Benjamin Netanyahu to go too far. He's treated President Obama with truly astonishing levels of contempt and disdain for nearly his entire tenure, and he's done it in the apparent belief that his political support in the US is so strong and so bipartisan that he'll never be held to account for it. And so far he hasn't been.

But what about his latest stunt? The fact that John Boehner invited him to address Congress is hardly surprising. Boehner needed to poke Obama in the eye to demonstrate his conservative bona fides, and this was a perfect opportunity since he knew Netanyahu would deliver plenty of trash talk about Obama's Iran policy. But the fact that Netanyahu kept the invitation a secret from the administration and failed to even notify them he was planning a visit—well, that's a whole different story. As former US ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk put it, "Netanyahu is using the Republican Congress for a photo-op for his election campaign....Unfortunately, the US relationship will take the hit. It would be far wiser for us to stay out of their politics and for them to stay out of ours."

And it turns out that even two Fox News hosts agree. Max Fisher relays the story:

Two prominent Fox News hosts, Chris Wallace and Shepherd Smith, harshly criticized Boehner and Netanyahu on Friday for secretly arranging a Netanyahu speech to Congress that is transparently aimed at undermining President Obama, and set up without the White House's knowledge.

...."I agree 100 percent," Wallace said when Smith read a quote from Indyk criticizing the Boehner-Netanyahu maneuver. Wallace went on:

And to make you get a sense of really how, forgive me, wicked, this whole thing is, the Secretary of State John Kerry met with the Israeli Ambassador to the United States for two hours on Tuesday, Ron Dermer. The ambassador, never mentioned the fact that Netanyahu was in negotiations and finally agreed to come to Washington, not to see the president, but to go to Capitol Hill, speak to a joint session of congress and criticize the president's policy. I have to say I'm shocked.

Smith said, "it seems like [Netanyahu's government] think[s] we don't pay attention and that we're just a bunch of complete morons, the United States citizens, as if we wouldn't pick up on what's happening here."

Shep Smith goes off the Fox reservation all the time, so perhaps his comments aren't too much of a surprise. But although Wallace is no Sean Hannity, he's fairly reliably conservative and even he was shocked.

So has Netanyahu finally gone over the line? So far I haven't heard much criticism from sitting US politicians, so I'd have to say not. Not yet, anyway. But it sure seems like the day is going to come. No matter how close an ally Israel is, there's only so much contempt their leaders can show for a sitting American president and his policies. Eventually the American public is going to lose patience, even the folks who aren't huge Obama fans themselves.

It hasn't happened yet. Maybe it never will. But it sure seems as if Benjamin Netanyahu is hellbent on pushing the line until he finally rings a bell he can't unring. The only question now is whether he stays in office long enough to make that final, fatal mistake.

Bill Nye Slams Bill Belichick: "What He Said Didn't Make Any Sense"

| Sun Jan. 25, 2015 3:21 PM EST


Let me start by saying, I don't know anything about football. I'm from Los Angeles. We don't have a football team. I went to NYU where the most popular sporting event is the Spring production of Damn Yankees. Up until very recently I thought football was soccer but with players who didn't have feet, instead their legs ended with sort of rounded nubs—"balls," if you will—and I thought it was so awful that millions of Americans get together every Sunday—which is the Lord's day, by the way—to force disabled folk to compete in some sort of blood sport. It's not that though. It turns out it's the real life version of NFL Blitz, which it turns out isn't just a video game. It's based on a real thing. Anyway, what am I talking about?

Oh yeah! #Deflategate! The Patriots! (Why are they called "the Patriots"? I get that it's about the American Revolution and Massachusetts played a key role in that but come on, we're all patriots here, FOX News. Even the Bengals fans.) I don't like the Patriots because they're from Boston and Boston is the home of the worst NBA team in the whole wide world, the Celtics, who had the audacity to beat my Los Angeles Lakers a couple of times in the 1980s. Also, the Red Sox! They're pretty awful! And Boston is a very cold city, at least in the winter. A not-so-long ago history of racism, Boston also has, let's not forget. And New England clam chowder is garbage compared to Manhattan clam chowder. So, I say this just to be transparent. I don't think I personally want the Patriots to win the Super Bowl. Maybe I do. The Seahawks don't sound great. Pete Carroll is apparently a 9/11 truther, which is a turnoff.

Let's veer this ramble towards the news: #Deflategate! Bill Belichick says he didn't do it. It wasn't him. It was Mr Blue in the Library with the piano wire. Or, something. He has a scientific explanation for why the balls were tested to be under-inflated.

"We simulated a game-day situation, in terms of the preparation of the footballs, and where the footballs were at various points in time during the day or night. ... I would say that our preparation process for the footballs is what we do —I can't speak for anybody else -- and that process raises the PSI approximately one pound," Belichick said. "That process of creating a tackiness, a texture -- a right feel, whatever that feel is, whatever that feel is. It's a sensation for the quarterback. What's the right feel -- that process elevates the PSI one pound, based on what our study showed. Which was multiple balls, multiple examples in the process, as we would do for a game."

I don't know what any of that really means. It reads like gibberish to me. I, like so many Republican politicians, am not a scientist. Bill Nye is though and he says it's gibberish too:

"What he said didn't make any sense...Rubbing the football, I don't think, can change the pressure."

And that's the news. Goodnight and good luck.

P.S. One of the things I was confused about was how deflated balls would give an advantage to a football team, because presumably it would make them less aerodynamic, but as my colleague Tim McDonnell notes, it's about "grippiness."

This Washington Post Headline Is the Funniest Thing You'll Read All Weekend

| Sat Jan. 24, 2015 2:31 PM EST

Got the winter blues? Well, turn that frown upside down! Here's a thing to make you smile.

In other pretend candidate news:

What a time to be alive.

This Is Why Under-Inflated Footballs Could Have Given Tom Brady An Advantage

| Fri Jan. 23, 2015 6:20 PM EST

To those of us for whom the nuances of professional football tactics are a bit of a mystery, there was one question looming over New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady's surreal Ballghazi press conference yesterday that went unanswered: What's so great, in theory, about a deflated football? Seems like, if anything, an under-inflated ball would be less aerodynamic?

Turns out, the potential benefit is all about grippiness. From Fox Sports:

John Eric Goff, professor of physics at Lynchburg College in Virginia and author of “Gold Medal Physics: The Science of Sports,” told FoxNews.com that the league-mandated PSI range is ideal for playing football. “If, however, there’s rain or snow or something else happening, that would make the ball a bit slicker, so having a bit less pressure in the ball makes it easier to squeeze and the grip improves,” he added.

Interesting!

Black Man Lawfully Carrying Gun Gets Pummeled by White Vigilante at Walmart

| Fri Jan. 23, 2015 4:40 PM EST

There is no shortage of debate about whether allowing citizens to carry concealed guns makes society safer. You may be shocked to learn that the answer could depend in part on the color of a citizen's skin.

Exhibit A this week, from Florida: A surveillance video from a Walmart located near Tampa shows 62-year-old Clarence Daniels trying to enter the store to purchase some coffee creamer for his wife this past Tuesday. He barely steps through the automatic doors before he is pummeled by shopper Michael Foster, a 43-year-old white man.

"He's got a gun!" Foster shouts, to which Daniels replies, "I have a permit!"

According to local news reports, Foster originally spotted Daniels in the store's parking lot placing his legally owned handgun underneath his coat. In keeping with Florida's well-known vigilante spirit, Foster decided to take matters into his own hands by following Daniels into the Walmart. Without warning, he tackled Daniels and placed him in a chokehold

Police soon arrived and confirmed Daniels indeed had a permit for the handgun. 

"Unfortunately, he tackled a guy that was a law-abiding citizen," said Larry McKinnon, a police spokesperson. "We understand it's alarming for people to see other people with guns, but Florida has a large population of concealed weapons permit holders."

Foster is now facing battery charges. 

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Melinda Gates Shames Anti-Vaxxers "Who Have Forgotten What Measles Death Looks Like"

| Fri Jan. 23, 2015 4:20 PM EST

On the heels of an increasingly widening measles outbreak at Disneyland in California, where at least 28 of the people infected were reportedly unvaccinated, Melinda Gates is urging parents to take advantage of healthcare resources in the United States and get their children vaccinated.

"We take vaccines so for granted in the United States," Gates explained during an appearance on HuffPost Live Thursday. "Women in the developing world know the power of [vaccines]. They will walk 10 kilometers in the heat with their child and line up to get a vaccine because they have seen death."

In detailing the struggle parents in the developing world endure to have their children vaccinated, Gates said Americans have simply "forgotten what measles death looks like." 

Through her philanthropy work with husband Bill Gates, Melinda has long worked to help people in developing countries obtain basic healthcare treatment, including vaccine deliveries. 

"I'd say to the people of the United States: We're incredibly lucky to have that technology and we ought to take advantage of it," she added. 

In the United States, the highly contagious disease has reemerged in recent years thanks to the anti-vaccination movement and personal belief exemptions. Use of the controversial waivers is particularly prominent in California.

The recent outbreak at Disneyland has heightened the debate. According to the Associated Press, those infected range from just seven months to 70-years-old, including five park employees. 

Dr. James Cherry, a specialist in pediatric infectious diseases at the University of California-Los Angeles, told the New York Times the current outbreak is "100 percent connected" to the anti-immunization movement.

"It wouldn't have happened otherwise—it wouldn't have gone anywhere. There are some pretty dumb people out there."

 

 

That Time Badass Feminist Queen Elizabeth II Gave Saudi Arabia's King a Lesson in Power

| Fri Jan. 23, 2015 2:22 PM EST

Great Britain's Queen Elizabeth II is known to have a wicked sense of humor, and some mean driving skills. One day back in 1998, she deployed both spectacularly to punk Saudi Arabia's late King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz. Back then, Abdullah was a Saudi crown prince visiting Balmoral, the vast royal estate in Scotland. The Queen had offered him a tour of the grounds—here's what happened next, according to former British ambassador to Saudi Arabia Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles:

The royal Land Rovers were drawn up in front of the castle. As instructed, the Crown Prince climbed into the front seat of the Land Rover, with his interpreter in the seat behind. To his surprise, the Queen climbed into the driving seat, turned the ignition and drove off. Women are not—yet—allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia, and Abdullah was not used to being driven by a woman, let alone a queen. His nervousness only increased as the queen, an Army driver in wartime, accelerated the Land Rover along the narrow Scottish estate roads, talking all the time. Through his interpreter, the Crown Prince implored the Queen to slow down and concentrate on the road ahead.

Royal custom discourages repeating what the Queen says in private, Cowper-Coles explained, but the anecdote was corroborated by Abdullah, and became, in the diplomat's words, "too funny not to repeat."

Abdullah went on to cultivate the image of a reformer as king. One thing he didn't change, despite the Queen's badass stunt: women still can't drive in Saudi Arabia.

 

Friday Cat Blogging - 23 January 2015

| Fri Jan. 23, 2015 2:17 PM EST

I wrote this morning's short post and then spent the rest of the morning napping. This is ridiculous, and I don't know what's going on. I'm a thousand percent better than I was Tuesday and Wednesday, but still dog tired. One possibility is that this is due to a change in my chemo schedule. Instead of getting all three meds on Friday, I got two of them on Friday and then the third as a standalone on Monday. The next day I was wiped out. Anyway, I hope that's the reason, since this was a one-time thing. I'll ask about it today, though I have little hope of getting any satisfactory answers.

In any case, it's finally Friday, so how about some catblogging? This week features a brand new addition to the extended family of Drum cats. My friend Professor Marc sends along this photo of Ivan Davidoff, his new Siberian. His report: "Seems to like being around people, but is not a cuddle-kitty. He likes being petted, will frequently come see if I’m still in the home office if I’m working there, sometimes jumps onto the desk to be next to me, but is not a lap cat. Maybe that will come as he gets more comfortable. Has woken us up in the middle of the night to get affection, but is not pushy about it." He is certainly a handsome critter, no?

No Money Left Behind: Education Entrepreneur Cashes in on Bush Family Ties

| Fri Jan. 23, 2015 1:12 PM EST
Jeb Bush with Randy Best.

In this week's New Yorker, Alec MacGillis discusses Jeb Bush's approach to education reform, the realm in which Bush, as Florida's governor, had sought to make his biggest mark. In 1995, his efforts to improve the state's public schools catalyzed his political career and, later, fueled competition with his brother George, who as president rolled out the No Child Left Behind Act:

Jeb Bush made it known that he thought his own approach superior, because it sought to grade schools on improvements in individual students' scores, rather than just on schools' performance in a given year. "There were lots of conversations about the work in Texas and how Florida had improved on that," [school superintendent Jim] Warford said. According to education officials, Jeb's team had little respect for Rod Paige, the former Houston schools superintendent whom George W. Bush had named Secretary of Education. "It was a little prickly in Florida," Sandy Kress, who worked on the implementation of No Child Left Behind, said. "It was 'We're going to do it our way and can do it better.'"

Their sibling rivalry notwithstanding, the Bush bros have common ties to one particularly controversial educational entrepreneur. Starting in the late 1990s, Randy Best, whom I profiled at the end of George W. Bush's second term, used his connections to the president to transform a virtually unknown for-profit education company, Voyager, into a "selling juggernaut" (in his words) that he unloaded in 2005 for $360 million.

Randy Best Steve Brodner

The key to Voyager's success was the way it it used revolving doors in Bush's Education Department to game the procurement process. Its dealings prompted a scathing DOE inspector general's report in 2006 and a harshly worded Senate report the following year. "Many programs, including Voyager, were probably adopted on the basis of relationships, rather than effectiveness data," G. Reid Lyon, who co-wrote the No Child Left Behind Act and later consulted for Best, told me in 2008. "I thought all this money would be great; it would get into schools. But money makes barracudas out of people. It's an amazing thing."

The controversy surrounding Voyager didn't dissuade Best from starting another education company. Founded in 2005, Academic Partnerships persuades colleges to outsource to the firm their degree programs in subjects such as business and education, which it puts online in exchange for a hefty chunk of the profits. Nor did Voyager dissuade Jeb Bush from partnering with Best. Here's MacGillis:

Best needed someone to lend credibility to the company. Florida had spent heavily on Voyager during Jeb Bush's governorship, and, in 2005, when Bush was still in office, Best spoke with him about going into the education business. By 2011, Bush had joined Academic Partnerships as an investor and an adviser, and he became the company's highest-profile champion. Best told the Washington Post that Bush's annual salary was sixty thousand dollars, but he did not disclose the terms of Bush's investment stake. For the first time, Bush was making money in an educational enterprise.

Last month, after announcing his intent to run for president, Bush resigned from Academic Partnerships and several other business affiliations. Yet if Bush's family history is any guide, Randy Best 2.0 is just getting started.