Fingers Crossed: Saved by The Bell Reunion

On Tuesday night, my friend Lisa sent me an e-mail with "Amazing clip!" in the subject line. In the e-mail, she included a link and wrote: "This is the best clip ever! Zack Morris brought back to life!" Knowing that Lisa can be a drama queen, I waited a full 36 hours before checking out the e-mail. When I did, I was amazed. I had no idea that Jimmy Fallon had dedicated a significant amount of his life to organizing a Saved By The Bell cast reunion. In my mind, the whole Tonight Show switcheroo has already been trumped by Fallon's single-handed endeavor.

I'd always hoped to meet my childhood idol Zack Morris, and actor Marc-Paul Gosselaar's brilliant in-character appearance on Fallon's show kept my dream alive. For those of us born in the mid-1980s, Saved By The Bell gave us the scoop on high school from the time we entered kindergarten. And while no show is perfect (Chuck Klosterman famously critiqued SBTB's  "Tori Paradox" in his book Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs), I believe SBTB flirted with perfection.

Three Bayside Tigers cheers to Jimmy Fallon, The Roots, and the Late Night with Jimmy Fallon production team. Without further ado, here it is:

Video: Bollywood for Beginners

Hindi cinema, long dismissed by the West as melodrama with a soundtrack, is the largest film industry (by volume and global popularity) in the world. Those so inclined can laugh, cry, and swoon their way through three hours of lush scenery, arch comedy, and catchy music in theaters across Africa, Asia, the Middle East and the former Soviet Bloc, not to mention Canada, the UK, and the borough of Queens.

So why have so few Americans ever seen a Bollywood movie? If you're daunted by the prospect of sorting through 900 films per annum, consider this your beginner's guide to Bollywood.

Below, a 5-video cheat sheet of what to see first.

The AMA Takes a Shocking Stand

The AMA has announced that it will oppose the creation of a public option in any kind of healthcare reform.  This is not exactly a shocker, since the AMA has opposed pretty much every step toward national healthcare ever proposed — including Medicare.  Remember Operation Coffee Cup?

Still, they really ought to have better reasons than this:

In comments submitted to the Senate Finance Committee, the American Medical Association said: “The A.M.A. does not believe that creating a public health insurance option for non-disabled individuals under age 65 is the best way to expand health insurance coverage and lower costs. The introduction of a new public plan threatens to restrict patient choice by driving out private insurers, which currently provide coverage for nearly 70 percent of Americans.”

If private insurers are pushed out of the market, the group said, “the corresponding surge in public plan participation would likely lead to an explosion of costs that would need to be absorbed by taxpayers.”

The AMA's love affair with private insurance companies is truly a thing of wonder.  It's like these guys have collective Stockholm Syndrome.  Or collective battered wife syndrome.  Or something.  Given how much misery private insurers cause for most doctors, I sometimes wonder what they'd have to do to finally cause the AMA to turn on them. Start paying all claims in zlotys?  Demand that doctors have bar codes tattooed on their foreheads?  Insist that all waiting rooms show nothing but reruns of House?

Probably not even that.  Doctors must figure that the more pain private insurers cause them, the more it shows they really love them.  So back to the arguments, such as they are.  (1) A public plan wouldn't drive out private insurers unless it turns out that private insurers are actually less efficient than the post office.  In which case they'd deserve it.  (2) Nor would a public plan restrict choice — unless the AMA's members deliberately tried to sabotage it by refusing to participate.  (3) And there would only be a surge in signups if the public plan turned out to be a better deal, which would likely mean lower overall costs even if a greater percentage of those costs was paid for out of taxes.

But who cares?  Honestly, if the graybeards of the AMA didn't oppose a public plan it would probably make me rethink my support for it.  The fact that they are opposing it just means that all is right with the world.

UPDATE: Apparently the AMA is backing off slightly on its opposition to a public plan. They now say they're willing to consider "a federally chartered co-op health plan or a level playing field option for all plans" — whatever that means.  Sounds like pretty weak tea to me.  I think we can still safely say they're opposed to anything that would have a serious chance of being effective.

Yesterday Operation Rescue, the national anti-abortion group based in Wichita, announced that it wants to buy murdered abortion doctor George Tiller's clinic and convert it into a "memorial to the unborn." The national media dismissed the announcement as a stunt, but it most certainly isn't. 

In 2007 I reported a piece for this magazine about how anti-abortion groups have created similar memorials around the country. The story focused on Operation Rescue's efforts to convert a different abortion clinic in Wichita into what is now its national headquarters. When I visited, Operation Rescue director Troy Newman explained that he'd purchased the building through a front group. That approach makes yesterday's announcement a credible threat. If Tiller's family puts the building on the market, they might have to sell to someone they know or closely investigate the buyer to keep the building out of Newman's hands.

"What better way to show that we are winning and demoralize the enemy," Newman told me in 2007, "than by shutting down an abortion mill, throwing out the tenants on their face, and taking it over as our headquarters? You lose, we win."

Beyond the chest thumping, these kind of takeovers--which have also happened in Tennessee and Louisiana--are part of a long-term strategy of the anti-abortion movement. The approach ultimately enables a softer appeal to the millions of women who've already had an abortion. At the Wichita memorial, Newman told me in 2007, they'd be able to reflect, mourn, memorialize—even name their "babies"—and take action: "Not only can I see a plaque here with my baby's name on it, and cry here because I killed my baby here," he imagined visitors saying, "but these people in this building are dedicated to ending the holocaust, and I can join with them hand in hand."

Some pro-choice advocates admit their movement has been slow to tackle the question of healing. Only in the past several years have hot lines such as Exhale and Backline begun providing women with postabortion counseling services. Owning Tiller's clinic--and thus the right to tell its story--would be a powerful way for Operation Rescue to redefine what healing means in this case. If his past clinic takeover is any indication, it will probably involve grisly "tours" in which he will point out supposed blood stains.

 

The Un-Bailout

Banks that want to exit the TARP program have to do more than just pay back the money they received from the government.  They also have to buy back the warrants they issued as part of the initial deal.  But some bank CEOs are unhappy about this, and Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase says that the Treasury should cancel half the warrants it holds "out of fairness." Tim Fernholz isn't amused:

Are you kidding me? The taxpayers went on the line to bail the banks out during a financial crisis produced by the banks' own excess, and now they think that debt should be canceled "out of fairness." Yikes. Luckily, the Treasury seems to be growing into a tougher negotiator after some initial criticism from Congress, and may be thinking about auctioning the warrants to third parties to drive up prices further. Or, if the banks don't want to buy them back right now, they can remain under stricter regulatory supervision until the entire financial regulation apparatus is overhauled this summer.

Unfortunately, Dimon has a point, thanks to the way that Henry Paulson decided to handle the bailout in the first place.  Instead of pumping money only into troubled banks, he insisted on pumping money into all the big banks, whether they wanted it or not.  Ever since, this has given some of the banks a pretty justified excuse for complaining about the restrictions they were placed under, and this is just more of the same.  Why should Dimon have to buy back a bunch of warrants when he was an unwilling participant and only surrendered them in the first place because Paulson insisted on it for the good of the country?

Now, as it happens, there are some pretty good reasons for going ahead and making JPMorgan pay up.  They may not have wanted the TARP money, but they made (and continue to make) eager use of zillions of dollars in other Fed and Treasury programs.  So shed no tears for them.  That said, we wouldn't even be having this discussion if Paulson had handled the bailout better.  His excuse at the time for the scattershot approach was that he didn't want to single out any particular bank for TARP funds since that would advertise to the whole world that they were insolvent and might lead to a market panic.  But no one was fooled.  The market knew perfectly well who was in bad shape and who wasn't.  And when Citigroup and Bank of America went back to the well a second time — an obvious sign of distress — the markets just yawned.  There was no panic, no selloff, no nothing.  Ditto for all the smaller banks that have accepted TARP money.

What's more, a more targeted approach would have cost less.  Instead of $125 billion, the first-round tab probably would have run to something like $60-70 billion or so.  It would have been a better deal all around.

But that's not what happened, so now Jamie Dimon and his pals get to mouth off about how unfair life is.  Thanks, Henry.

Crap Fish

Farmed fish taste like crap. Now we know they're crap for the environment too. Consider this: Steelhead trout bred in hatcheries are so genetically impaired that even if they survive and reproduce in the wild their offspring are significantly less successful at reproducing.

The study in Biology Letters suggests adding hatchery fish to wild populations could hurt efforts to sustain the wild runs.

The data reveal that fish born in the wild from hatchery-reared parents averaged only 37 percent the reproductive fitness of fish with two wild parents. Fish born in the wild from one hatchery-reared parent and one wild parent averaged only 87 percent the reproductive fitness

Most significantly, these differences were detectable after a full generation of natural selection in the wild.

The problem arises from the fact that fish who do well in the safe world of the hatcheries are selected to be different from those that do well in the predatory real world.

And, no, using wild fish as brood stock each year does not solve the problem. Exactly that type of steelhead were used in this study. Yet apparently even one generation of hatchery culture produces strong negative effects on wild fish.

The implications reach far beyond steelhead. Captive breeding is a cornerstone of recovery efforts for many endangered species. This study raises doubts that such programs actually work.

This research was based on years of genetic analysis of thousands of steelhead trout in Oregon's Hood River in field work since 1991. Scientists genetically fingerprinted three generations of returning fish to determine who their parents were and whether they were wild or hatchery fish.

That's the beauty of long-term research. May we fund more of it.

Want to know what's better to eat—if you must eat the wildlife of the sea? There's even an iPhone app to guide you through the menu.

Chart of the Day

Pew's recent polling report, "Trends in Political Values and Core Attitudes: 1987-2009," is chock full of fascinating nuggets, not least of which is its surprisingly robust finding of substantially increased political polarization over the past 20 years.  Also: the continuing demise of the GOP and the continuing triumph of more liberal social values among all age cohorts.  On the downside: environmentalism is looking pretty ragged.  Bloggers looking for inspiration should have no trouble finding plenty of good stuff here.

At the moment, however, I guess I'm in the mood for some idle chitchat.  Namely, how do we explain this particular chart?  Take a look at just the last two data points, which show the effect of the current recession.  Rich people feel lousy: their financial satisfaction has plummeted 20 percentage points.  But the recession has had only a minor effect on the financial satisfaction of the upper middle class and it's had no effect at all on the lower middle class and the poor.

Why?  One possible explanation is that the bottom three classes had already gotten most of their dissatisfaction out of the way: compared to the start of the Bush era, they were already at least ten points more dissatisfied by 2007.  They just didn't have much further to fall.  The rich, by contrast, had been getting richer and more satisfied all along, so when the recession hit, it hit hard.

I'm not sure I buy that, though.  It's intuitively reasonable that when people get into a long-term funk over their stagnant (or worsening) finances, a new shock to the system just gets added to the pile and shrugged off.  But there are shocks and there are shocks, and this particular recession has produced rising gasoline prices, substantially higher levels of unemployment and underemployment, millions of home foreclosures, and a huge loss of housing wealth even for those who have kept their homes.  Those are the kinds of shocks people don't just shrug off.

The rich becoming less financially satisfied is easy to understand.  But why is it that the non-rich seem to be mostly taking things in stride?  Some kind of weird Obama optimism effect?  A sudden realization that plasma TVs aren't all they're cracked up to be?  I'm a little stumped here.

(Via Ramesh Ponnuru.)

James von Brunn, the suspect in the Holocaust Museum shootings, has been an extremist in many ways.

In a tirade posted in a in a Christian Separatist group in Yahoo, he pushed a 9/11 conspiracy theory:

The FBI now believes that Israel intelligence, working closely with rogue U.S. and other foreign intelligence units, may be responsible for or otherwise deeply involved in the World Trade Center implosions and other acts of terrorism against the United States.

In a Support the Confederate Flag group on Yahoo, he exclaimed:

FTAA (Free Trade Area of the Americas), a super-market NAFTA, is the spawn of GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade). Both were adjuncts of the United Nations. GATT was the creation of Harry Dexter White (Weiss), Jew, and Undersecretary of the Treasury. He was the spy who stole U.S. Treasury printing plates, giving them to the Soviets which printed millions (billions?) of U.S. dollars, which ended up in the pockets of "gassed" Jews. White also was the prime mover behind The International Monetary Fund, and The World Bank –designed to help bankers at the expense of American taxpayers. His friend Alger Hiss, another Soviet spy, working for Franklin Delano Roosevelt, was architect of the United Nation’s Charter. White’s boss, Henry Morganthau, Jew, whose infamous Morganthau Plan was designed to starve to death the entire German nation following WWII, was FDR’s confidant. From this cess-pool of Jews and traitors came the FTAA which in 1994, with Congressional blessings, changed its name to WTO (World Trade Organization).

In the Ron Paul for President group on Yahoo, he complained that a Harvard professor had supposedly called for killing all white people. He also posted a piece saying that Hitler's worst mistake was that "he didn't gas the Jews."

But he also had artistic ambitions. On another website, von Brunn, responding to an article claiming that the CIA, the KGB, or the Mossad were behind the Bali bombing of 2002, posted this message last year:

Yours is an excellent site. Thanks for your efforts. KEEP FIGHTING!
I HAVE WRITTEN A MOVIE-SCRIPT SET DURING U.S. CIVIL WAR. MANY PROBLEMS CHALLENGING THE SOUTH HAVE PARALLELS TODAY. PLS. PUT ME IN CONTACT WITH A MOVIE PRODUCER-DIRECTOR OF MEL GIBSON’S PROFESSIONALISM. WE ALL WILL PROFIT. JVB

He didn't explain the plot of his script.

Strapped Colleges Spurn Students

Things are not looking good for needy college applicants. Last week, I blogged about how the USNWR rankings rat race gives first-generation college students the short shrift. Today, the NY Times reports that because of financial problems, Reed College plans to substitute 100 of its poorest eligible applicants for potential students who don't require aid. Admissions officers at Reed were admirably candid with the Times about the painful nature of the decision:

The whole idea of excluding a student simply because of money clashed with the college’s ideals, Leslie Limper, the aid director, acknowledged. “None of us are very happy,” she said, adding that Reed did not strike anyone from its list last year and that never before had it needed to weed out so many worthy students. “Sometimes I wonder why I’m still doing this.”

The private college in Oregon isn't the only one making tough admissions decisions because of the recession. Here's how budget cuts are affecting needy students at some other schools:

The Commission on Wartime Contracting delivered its interim report (PDF) Wednesday to members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Created in July 2007, the Commission is an independent, bipartisan panel modeled after the "Truman Committee," which attacked government waste in the years after World War II, saving the federal government some $178 billion. Given that we've sunk more than $830 billion in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001, much of it now in the pockets of private contractors, the very fact that the Commission exists is a step in the right direction.

Not surprisingly, co-chairs Michael Thibault and Christopher Shays report serious breaches in contract management and oversight. Such problems, they say, "directly involve our nation's ability to achieve policy objectives and provide proper support and protection for our warfighters and civilian employees engaged in contingency operations." The fact is that contractors now outnumber US troops in both theaters of operation. Combined there are about 240,000 Pentagon contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan; Agencies like State and USAID have their own. Eighty percent of these are foreign nationals working for bewildering chains of subcontracts that routinely escape notice by federal contract management officers.