2012 - %3, February

Rick Santorum Thinks Prenatal Testing Is a Liberal Plot to "Cull the Ranks of the Disabled"

| Mon Feb. 20, 2012 2:14 PM EST

Harold Pollack is no longer amused by Rick Santorum. Here is Santorum this weekend:

One of the things that you don't know about ObamaCare in one of the mandates is they require free prenatal testing. Why? Because free prenatal testing ends up in more abortions and, therefore, less care that has to be done, because we cull the ranks of the disabled in our society. That too is part of ObamaCare — another hidden message as to what president Obama thinks of those who are less able than the elites who want to govern our country.

Even for Santorum, this is just remarkably odious. Here's Harold:

I’m writing these words with my smiling brother-in-law Vincent sitting next to me, admiring the green lunchbox that we just bought him. Vincent lives with intellectual disabilities caused by fragile X syndrome. I find the above comments indescribably insulting.

Santorum’s comments are only made uglier by their utter lack of foundation…I’ve never heard any liberal health policy wonk promote genetic technologies to “cull the ranks of the disabled” or as part of any cost-cutting plan. That ugly meme is completely made up.

…Certainly liberals are willing to spend more money on disability services. I’ve published analyses showing that states’ 2008 voting share for John McCain was strongly correlated with reductions in state expenditures for intellectual disability services during the current recession. Most of the major disability organizations supported ACA for the obvious reasons. Preexisting condition clauses, essential health benefits, health insurance for young adults, etc. are specifically pertinent for people living with physical and mental disabilities.

The chart on the right is the one Harold is talking about. As states get bluer, they spend proportionately more on intellectual and developmental disability (I/DD) programs. As they get redder they spend less. And when the recession hit, the redder the state, the more they cut back on I/DD spending. You can draw whatever conclusion you want from this. If you're as vile as Santorum, you might conclude that conservatives hate the disabled. If you're not, you might conclude that redder states tend to be poorer than bluer states and simply can't afford as much.

But you certainly can't conclude that either blue states or liberals in general are trying to rid the nation of the disabled. The kind of person who thinks that has no place in a presidential race.

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Not Every Lapse in Judgment Deserves the Death Penalty

| Mon Feb. 20, 2012 1:48 PM EST

Courtesy of the Daily News, the poor schmoe who wrote last week's Headline of the Century explains himself:

The ESPN editor fired Sunday for using "chink in the armor" in a headline about Knicks phenom Jeremy Lin said the racial slur never crossed his mind — and he was devastated when he realized his mistake. "This had nothing to do with me being cute or punny," Anthony Federico told the Daily News. "I'm so sorry that I offended people. I'm so sorry if I offended Jeremy."

....Federico, 28, said he understands why he was axed. "ESPN did what they had to do," he said. He said he has used the phrase "at least 100 times" in headlines over the years and thought nothing of it when he slapped it on the Lin story.

Really? A hundred times? I'm notoriously poor at writing headlines, but even I don't recycle the same cliches a dozen times a year.

That aside, what are we to think of the firestorm surrounding all this? Option A: Deliberate or not, Federico's headline was acutely hurtful and offensive and ESPN had no alternative. An abject apology followed by Federico's firing was really their only choice. Option B: It was a momentary and inadvertent lapse that was removed within half an hour and immediately apologized for. It deserved a reprimand and a game plan to avoid similar problems in the future, not the death penalty.

I vote for Option B. We need to reserve the serious ordnance for real acts of malicious racism, not minor lapses of judgment. Not only is it the right thing to do, but real racism gets trivialized when stuff like this sucks up so much oxygen. A little generosity of spirit could go a long way here.

My Crystal Ball Says the Keystone XL Pipeline Will Be Approved in 2013

| Mon Feb. 20, 2012 12:53 PM EST

The LA Times reports that Canadians are getting uncharacteristically pissed off at us American types:

The prime minister is talking about being "held hostage" by U.S. interests. Radio ads blare, "Stand up to this foreign bully." A Twitter account tells of a "secret plan to target Canada: exposed!"....Canada's recent push for the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline to carry oil from the tar sands of Alberta to the nation's West Coast, where it would be sent to China, has been marked by uncharacteristic defiance.

....In January, President Obama abruptly vetoed a permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, Canada's $7-billion project to deliver oil across the U.S. Midwest to the Texas Gulf Coast, which environmentalists have long opposed.

Mix in a touch of nationalism, and Prime Minister Stephen Harper's view that Canada needs to hedge its oil bets by diversifying its export markets, and the fight was on — not only with the neighbor to the south, but also among Canadians.

My advice to the Times: this is hardly the first trade dispute between Canada and the U.S. that's spurred some heated rhetoric. That might have been worth a mention.

My advice to Canadians: settle down. It's an election year down here. In 2013, either Barack Obama will be starting his second term and he'll reverse course and approve Keystone XL because he doesn't have to care about the environmentalists anymore, or else some Republican will be president and he'll approve Keystone XL because he never cared about the environmentalists in the first place. Either way, Keystone XL will be approved after a few minor routing changes that allows everyone to save face.

Do I sound cynical about this? Well, I am.

Chart of the Day: The Surprisingly Stable Cost of Presidential Elections

| Mon Feb. 20, 2012 12:02 PM EST

This is a pretty fascinating chart from the latest issue of the magazine. (At least that's where I assume it comes from. It looks too professionally done for anything but print.) What's fascinating, to me, isn't that the costs of presidential campaigns have skyrocketed so much, but that they haven't. Until very, very recently, that is. From 1964 all the way through 2000, the cost of presidential campaigns was pretty stable, ranging around $300-600 million in inflation-adjusted terms. It was only in 2004 and 2008 that costs suddenly went through the roof.

I wouldn't have guessed that. I always figured that campaign costs had been rising inexorably for decades. But apparently not. They've only been rising inexorably for the past eight years.

The Crazy Cost of Becoming President, From Lincoln to Obama

| Mon Feb. 20, 2012 7:00 AM EST

Barack Obama spent $730 million getting to the White House in 2008—twice as much as George W. Bush spent 4 years earlier and more than 260 times what Abraham Lincoln spent in his first election (as measured in 2011 dollars). Looking at the total costs of presidential elections over the past 150 years, it would seem that the White House is the ultimate recession-proof commodity:

So is the White House overpriced? Depends on what you're comparing it against. The increase in campaign costs (measured in real dollars) significantly outpaced the price of gold's rise over the 20th century. Yet between 1908 and 2008, real campaign costs did not keep up with real GDP growth.*

We'll see if these trends hold; 2012 could beat all records for campaign spending—and that's not counting super-PAC money.

Note: Election costs include all major candidates' spending and cost of primaries, when known; they do not include outside spending.

Sources: Center for Responsive Politics (election costs 1976-2008); George Thayer, Who Shakes the Money Tree?: American campaign financing practices from 1789 to the present (election costs 1860-1972); Bureau of Labor Statistics (CPI); Measuring Worth (pre-1913 CPI equivalents; GDP 1908-2008); World Gold Council (gold prices)

* This section and the chart beneath it previously compared real election costs with the inflation rate. To avoid confusion, it has been updated to compare real election costs with real GDP growth.

Review: "The Good Life (Is Wasted)," by Lambchop

| Mon Feb. 20, 2012 7:00 AM EST

TRACK 8

"The Good Life (Is Wasted)"

From Lambchop's Mr. M

Liner notes: Crooning with a woozy flair that suggests he just awoke from a long nap, basso front man Kurt Wagner could be a down-home Lou Reed on this sardonic toe-tapper, wherein he confesses that "the good life is wasted on me."

Behind the music: Lambchop, originally known as Posterchild, began a quarter century ago and has been billed as "Nashville's most fucked-up country band," thanks to its signature blend of dark sentiments and smooth sounds. Among its provocative works, the 2000 album Nixon comes with a reading list of books about our 37th president.

Check it out if you like: Leonard Cohen, Glen Campbell's work with Jimmy Webb ("Wichita Lineman"), and the late outsider folkie and Lambchop collaborator Vic Chesnutt, to whom Mr. M is dedicated.

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Book Review: Zona

| Mon Feb. 20, 2012 7:00 AM EST

Zona: A Book About a Film About a Journey to a Room

By Geoff Dyer

PANTHEON BOOKS

Andrei Tarkovsky's 1979 sci-fi film, Stalker, left such an impression on Geoff Dyer that he felt obliged to pay it homage decades later. The film—not a prerequisite for the book—follows three men through a postindustrial paradise toward a room where one's ultimate wish is granted. Even if Stalker bored many observers ("Tarkovsky is the cinema's great poet of stillness"), Dyer's musings on everything from on-set disasters to his desire to join a threesome make for a rich and wacky sojourn. At its heart, Zona is about how art changes perceptions: "If I had not seen Stalker in my early twenties, my responsiveness to the world would have been radically diminished."

Review: "Know Me," by Frankie Rose

| Mon Feb. 20, 2012 7:00 AM EST

TRACK 2

"Know Me"

From Frankie Rose's Interstellar

Liner notes: The girl group template gets a zero gravity makeover on this vertigo-inducing song suitable for planetariums or cathedrals.

Behind the music: Brooklyn's Frankie Rose played drums with the noise bands Vivian Girls and Dum Dum Girls (as well as Crystal Stilts) before striking out on her own. She softens her harder edges on this sophomore outing, increasing accessibility without dumbing down.

Check it out if you like: New Order, later Beach Boys, and ABBA's stranger recordings.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for February 20, 2012

Mon Feb. 20, 2012 6:57 AM EST

Pfc. Anna Ciamaichelo, I Battery, 1st Squadron, 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, unloads the FIM-92 Stinger missile she is about to fire. The purpose of the Stinger live-fire exercise was to the prepare soldiers on how to engage hostile aircraft. US Army photo by Casey Slusser.

My Memory is a Hazy Fog. How About Yours?

| Mon Feb. 20, 2012 12:54 AM EST

I desperately need a shot of PKMzeta, an enzyme that mediates long-term memory:

What does PKMzeta do? The molecule’s crucial trick is that it increases the density of a particular type of sensor called an AMPA receptor on the outside of a neuron....This process requires constant upkeep—every long-term memory is always on the verge of vanishing. As a result, even a brief interruption of PKMzeta activity can dismantle the function of a steadfast circuit.

If the genetic expression of PKMzeta is amped up—by, say, genetically engineering rats to overproduce the stuff—they become mnemonic freaks, able to convert even the most mundane events into long-term memory. (Their performance on a standard test of recall is nearly double that of normal animals.)

My memory has always been terrible. My mother is nearly 80 and still remembers classmates from her kindergarten days. I barely even remember going to kindergarten. Actually, that's too charitable: I don't remember going to kindergarten. Or first grade. Or fifth grade. Or high school. Or college. Or, for that matter, stuff I did two years ago.

Is this an exaggeration? Only barely. I remember occasional shreds from years past, but that's about it. On the bright side, this means that if I had a nasty fight with you a few years ago, there's a good chance I have no memory of it. On the not-so-bright side, it means that if we were close friends in high school, I might or might not even remember knowing you, let alone remember anything substantive about what we did together.

So which are you? Is the past just a hazy fog, as it is for me? Or do you have sharp memories going all the way back to your third birthday? Or something in between?