2013...mewhat-popular - %2

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for October 7, 2013

Mon Oct. 7, 2013 9:34 AM EDT

US Army Lt. Col. James Deore of Willis, Texas, watches the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division command team leave Nangalam Base, Sept. 15. Deore serves as commander, 3rd Squadron, 89th Cavalry Regiment. 3rd Squadron is at Nangalam to support their Afghan counterparts in securing a route to the Chapa Dara district center. US Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class E. L. Craig.

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Those Darlins Get Witty and Confessional on "Blur the Line"

| Mon Oct. 7, 2013 6:00 AM EDT

Those Darlins
Blur the Line
Oh Dang Wow

Blur the Line

Not to be confused with the video for Robin Thicke's cheesy (if funky) hit "Blurred Lines," Nashville’s Those Darlins pursue their own brand of sleazy provocation with the cover art for Blur the Line, but the similarities end there. Despite a lineup change that turned the quartet from a three-woman, one-man group into a half-and-half enterprise, the eclectic, women-centric approach that made their previous two outings so striking continues here.

Encompassing garage-rock, low-rent country, and girl-group pop, this bracing album can veer from snarky wit to awkward confessionals and back again at the drop of a hat. "What’s the fun in having fun/Unless your brain says no?" asks the languid "Can't Think," while "Oh God," opens Blur the Line with the arresting confession, "I was a drunk girl in the shower/In yet another shit hotel," proceeding to chronicle a memorably uncomfortable encounter. For all the psychodrama, however, Those Darlins’ fizzy twang 'n' crunch guarantees an exhilarating time throughout.

Halloween Comes Early on Agnes Obel's "Aventine"

| Mon Oct. 7, 2013 6:00 AM EDT

Agnes Obel
Aventine
Play It Again Sam

Aventine

To get those spooky vibes going in advance of Halloween, check out Aventine, the sophomore effort from melancholy Dane Agnes Obel. Restrained yet melodically lush, her elegant chamber pop intertwines haunted vocals, sometimes overdubbed to heavenly choir dimensions, and moonlit, introspective piano, with spare, brooding strings underscoring the sense of downcast beauty.

Such dreamy understatement might verge on New Age blandness in lesser hands, but Obel maintains an arresting undercurrent of dread in deceptively forceful tunes like "Fuel to Fire" and "Words Are Dead." While Aventine is the perfect 2 a.m. record, its atmospheric haze will bring a little late-night mystery to any time of day.

John Boehner Has Been Cruzified on a Cross of Tea

| Sun Oct. 6, 2013 12:44 PM EDT

Byron York has an interview today with a Republican congressman who is unnamed except for this description: "It's fair to say his was a perspective well worth listening to." The gist is that this guy was surprised by the passion of the Ted Cruz crusade to defund Obamacare, but nonetheless figured that Democrats would eventually agree to pass a CR with a single modest concession: repealing the medical device tax. Here's the relevant passage:

"I never thought defund, and honestly, I never thought delay, would work," the lawmaker said. "I think the Democrats very much need the exchanges to come on and work to finally create a constituency for [Obamacare]...so I never thought they would agree on that."

Still, the lawmaker thought Senate Democrats, and Majority Leader Harry Reid, would make some sort of concession on a lesser aspect of Obamacare. "I do think, though, when Boehner sent over delay and [repeal of the] medical device tax, I think he thought he'd probably get back medical device, and that would have probably been enough right there," the congressman said. But Reid and the Democrats steadfastly refused to consider any change to Obamacare, surprising Republicans again....When Boehner lowered his demands to include a delay for just the individual mandate — not for all of Obamacare — Republicans thought Democrats would be open to that more modest proposal.

"Instead, it's no, we're not going to negotiate, we're not going to negotiate, we're not going to negotiate," the lawmaker said. "Which means effectively you're going to try to humiliate the Speaker in front of his conference. And how effective a negotiating partner do you think he'll be then? You're putting the guy in a position where he's got nothing to lose, because you're not giving him anything to win."

I understand that I'm writing from a partisan perspective and might be as blinkered as the next guy. But this strikes me as jaw-droppingly naive.

Here's the thing: I agree with our unnamed congressman about the device tax. It's a fairly small thing ($2-3 billion per year) and completely nonessential to Obamacare. It could be eliminated without harm, and it would give Boehner a small bit of face-saving that might allow him to pass a budget. If this had been the GOP's initial ask, Democrats probably would have given in.

But after weeks and weeks of tea party rage and intransigence, that became impossible. By the end of September, the Republican strategy had become crystal clear: demand unceasing concessions from Democrats at every opportunity without offering anything in return and without any negotiation. A month ago, Democrats might have shrugged over the device tax. Today, they know perfectly well what it would mean to let it go. It means that when the debt ceiling deadline comes up, there will be yet another demand. When the 6-week CR is up, there will be yet another. If and when appropriations bills are passed, there will be yet another. We've already seen the list. There simply won't be any end to the hostage taking. As their price for not blowing up the country, there will be an unending succession of short-term CRs and short-term debt limit extensions used as leverage for picking apart Obamacare—and everything else Democrats care about—piece by piece.

There's no way that any political party anywhere in the world would willingly put itself in this position. Does this mean that Democrats are "jamming" Boehner, leaving him no way to save some face? Yes it does, and human nature being what it is, that's truly unfortunate. But what other choice do they have? The newly Cruz-ified Republican Party has left them with no alternative.

Denny Hastert's Republicans Are Gone, Gone, Gone

| Sun Oct. 6, 2013 12:52 AM EDT

Eleanor Clift interviewed former House Speaker Denny Hastert for the Daily Beast this week, and the part that's getting the most attention is Hastert's claim that there's never really been a Hastert Rule. But that's not the most interesting part of the interview. It's this part, where Clift asks him why there's so much gridlock right now:

Pressed on the differences between then and now, Hastert said: “I didn’t have to deal with Barack Obama. I dealt with Bill Clinton, and he came to the table and negotiated.” In August 2000, with Clinton nearing the end of his term, Hastert needed to resolve some outstanding issues....Clinton asked, “What can I do for you?” “A haircut across the board,” Hastert replied. “I would suggest a 1 percent cut.” Can’t take that, Clinton said, offering all the reasons why that wouldn’t work. “What do you suggest?” Hastert asked him. A quarter of 1 percent, Clinton replied. “We dickered back and forth and settled on .86 percent, not because it was a magic number,” said Hastert. “But the moral of the story is Clinton would come to the table. I’m not going to go into the science of negotiating, but you can put one thing on the table and end up with something entirely different, but you’ve got to talk.”

I get that Hastert is being a good trouper here, and I don't really blame him for that. But the real moral of the story is exactly the opposite of what he suggests. In 2000, he asked Clinton for a particular level of funding; he dickered for a bit; and then eventually settled for a little less than he originally wanted. By contrast, in 2013 John Boehner asked for a budget at sequester levels of funding; Obama eventually agreed to give him 100 percent of what he asked for; and then Boehner turned down the deal anyway.

The difference isn't that Obama won't dicker. The difference is that House Republicans aren't willing to accept the funding levels they asked for in the first place. They won't let the government reopen unless they get more, more, more. The issue isn't Clinton vs. Obama, it's Republicans in 2000 vs. Republicans in 2013.

Anthony Kennedy Denounces Anthony Kennedy's Supreme Court Jurisprudence

| Sat Oct. 5, 2013 2:52 PM EDT

Justice Anthony Kennedy thinks our political system should solve more problems on its own, instead of turning to the courts to solve them. Jonathan Adler is unimpressed:

In most cases, the Supreme Court intervenes not to help the democratic process to function, but rather to alter the way in which these questions have been resolved. Moreover, Justice Kennedy is more prone to support such intervention than most of his colleagues, having voted to invalidate DOMA, Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, McCain-Feingold, the PPACA, the Stolen Valor Act, and so on. The only sense in which these questions were not “solved” before they came to the Court is in that the resolution was not that which Justice Kennedy would have preferred (or which Justice Kennedy believed is constitutionally compelled).

The Supreme Court, if it chose, could informally agree to overturn only those laws that are definitively unconstitutional. It has, needless to say, chosen nothing of the sort, with justices at both ends of the political spectrum routinely voting to overturn statutes based on wholly novel and often tortuous lines of reasoning. In recent years, this has been far more common among Kennedy and his fellow conservatives than among the liberal justices.

However, if Kennedy is serious, perhaps he should propose a constitutional amendment that would require a two-thirds majority to overturn an act of Congress. More prosaically, since Kennedy is so often a swing vote, he could personally decide never to overturn a law unless there were at least five other votes already in favor. But he pretty obviously hasn't the slightest intention of doing so.

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We Are Witnessing a Destruction Test of P.T. Barnum's Philosophy of Life

| Fri Oct. 4, 2013 10:00 PM EDT

So Republicans have settled on their messaging, and it's this: Democrats are refusing to negotiate. We keep offering compromise after compromise, but Democrats won't listen to any of them.

Will this work? The truth of a proposition has little or nothing to do with its pyschodynamics,1 so I suppose it has a chance. But it certainly shows a considerable contempt for the intelligence of the voting public. After six months of (a) refusing to meet with Senate Democrats to discuss the budget and (b) gleefully telling anyone who would listen that the shutdown and/or debt ceiling would be their ultimate leverage to force President Obama to agree to their laundry list of demands, you'd think it would be a hopeless task to pretend it was Democrats who wanted this fight all along. Add to that the fact that Democrats have already given in completely to Republican demands on spending levels, and you'd think it would be flatly impossible to pretend that Democrats were the ones refusing to negotiate.

But you never know. The fact that this is a cynical ploy doesn't mean it won't work. Ironically, given that Karl Rove is opposed to this strategy, it reminds me of his well-known—and frequently successful—tactic of turning an opponent's strong points against him. Republicans are pretty universally known as the party of instransigent zealots, so let's claim that it's really Democrats who are the intransigent zealots! And we'll do it by continually offering the same concession—i.e., nothing—in return for an ever-changing set of demands and pretending that this represents a sincere search for compromise. It's so crazy it could work!

1Bonus points if you can name the fictional character who said this. No googling!

Hostage Taking Then and Now

| Fri Oct. 4, 2013 9:09 PM EDT

Here is Charles Krauthammer today:

President Obama indignantly insists that GOP attempts to abolish or amend Obama­care are unseemly because it is “settled” law, having passed both houses of Congress, obtained his signature and passed muster with the Supreme Court....Yet when the House of Representatives undertakes a constitutionally correct, i.e., legislative, procedure for suspending the other mandate — the individual mandate — this is portrayed as some extra-constitutional sabotage of the rule of law. Why is tying that amendment to a generalized spending bill an outrage?

Now let's imagine it is 2003, Democrats control the House of Representatives, and they have refused to allow the government to continue running unless President Bush's tax cut is repealed. Under pressure, they have since "compromised," and are now demanding only that the top rate cuts be repealed as their price for reopening the government. Here is Krauthammer:

President Bush indignantly insists that Democratic attempts to abolish or amend his tax cut are unseemly because it is “settled” law, having passed both houses of Congress, obtained his signature and passed muster with the Supreme Court....Yet when the House of Representatives undertakes a constitutionally correct, i.e., legislative, procedure for suspending the top end cuts, this is portrayed as some extra-constitutional sabotage of the rule of law. Why is tying that amendment to a generalized spending bill an outrage?

Please raise your hand if you can imagine Krauthammer writing that. Anyone? Now please raise your hand if you're pretty sure he'd have written the exact opposite.

On a related note, Krauthammer is part of the crowd that thinks it was foolish for Republicans to tie Obamacare defunding to a government shutdown. If they were going to do this at all, he figures they should have tied it to the debt ceiling increase instead. This is a hundred times more damaging, of course, the financial equivalent of threatening nuclear obliteration, but it polls better so he prefers it. It's a pretty good example of the dissolute state of the highbrow end of the conservative commentariat these days.

The Scary Truth About Antibiotic Overprescription

| Fri Oct. 4, 2013 3:54 PM EDT

When a patient complains of a sore throat or bronchitis, doctors prescribe antibiotics much more often than is medically necessary. That's the main takeaway of a new study published in the peer-reviewed journal JAMA Internal Medicine. Findings from the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey and National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey reveal that doctors prescribed antibiotics to 60 percent of sore throat patients—despite the fact that the drugs are only thought to be necessary in about 10 percent of cases. For acute bronchitis, antibiotics are not recommended at all, yet the researchers—a team from Harvard—found that doctors prescribed antibiotics to an astonishing 73 percent of patients diagnosed with the condition. 

"We use azithromycin for an awful lot of things, and we abuse it terribly," one doctor told the New York Times.

The number of doctor visits for acute bronchitis tripled between 1996 to 2010, from about 1.1 million visits to 3.4 million visits. The number of sore throat visits actually declined from 7.5 percent of all visits in 1997 to 4.3 percent in 2010—and yet the rate of antibiotic prescription remained consistent.

Another interesting finding: the growing popularity of expensive, broad-spectrum antibiotics such as azithromycin over tried-and-true strep-targeting drugs like penicillin. Last year, the New York Times noted that azithromycin "may increase the likelihood of sudden death" in adults who have or are at risk for heart disease. In that piece, Dr. John G. Bartlett, a professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, told the Times that he believed that overprescription of azithromycin could also contribute to antibiotc resistance. "We use azithromycin for an awful lot of things, and we abuse it terribly," he said. "It's very convenient. Patients love it. 'Give me the Z-Pak.' For most of where we use it, probably the best option is not to give an antibiotic, quite frankly."

If the looming threat of antibiotic resistance isn't reason enough for concern about doctors' free hand with antibiotics, there's also the considerable cost to our health care system—an estimated $500 million for antibiotics prescribed unnecessarily for sore throat alone between 1997 and 2010. If you include the cost of treating the side effects of unnecessary antibiotics such as diarrhea and yeast infections, the study's authors estimate that the cost would increase 40-fold.

Friday Cat Blogging - 4 October 2013

| Fri Oct. 4, 2013 3:08 PM EDT

Domino's favorite activity, by far, is to demand a belly rub. Here's how it works: she comes barreling down the stairs (because I'm usually downstairs) and starts squawking loudly. Then she tries to lure me into the living room, squawking the whole time, and waits for me to get down on the floor because she prefers that I be at her level. Then she walks back and forth in front of me while I pet her, with her squawks slowly turning into a sort of low rumble that's halfway between a meow and a purr. Then, after circling back and forth five or six times (never less), she plops down on the floor and turns over for a belly rub.

It's an extremely choreographed maneuver, with very specific sounds and dance moves. This morning I brought my camera with me for the 9 am showing and took a few selfies. This one is toward the end of the performance, with Domino already plonked on the floor and, as you can see, my hand rubbing her belly. In the picture she looks suspicious, but that's just a trick of the light. In real life, she was rolling around and completely blissed out.

This happens about a dozen times a day. It's lucky for her that I work at home.