Mapping Your Enemies

| Wed Jan. 14, 2009 8:39 PM EST


Here is a Google map that allows you to find your way to the homes of people who donated money to Prop 8 in California. It's damn creepy, is what it is. What could possibly be the use of this kind of information, presented in this way? It's intended to intimidate people into not participating in politics by donating money. Do that, and you'll end up on some activist group's map, with hotheads being able to find your street address on their iPhones.

....You might be thinking: those haters deserve to be outed. But think about how this same technology can be used against gay folks and gay-marriage supporters in parts of the country that aren't inclined to support gay rights. Would you want some gay-bashing group to post to the Internet a map to the homes of contributors to a pro-gay marriage initiative?....What happens if there's another Islamic terrorist attack, and some vigilante group posts a Google map to the homes of donors to CAIR, or other Muslim causes?

Andrew Sullivan isn't impressed: "The second anyone does anything inappropriate with this information Dreher has a right to complain. Until then, it's public information."

I'm....not so sure about that. It's not as if I have an answer to this problem — like Dreher, I accept that political donations need to be public — but I have to say that I find it kind of creepy too. This sort of thing has been possible for quite a long time, of course, but it was inherently limited in scope because of the time and money it took. Technology has changed that: it probably required little more than a few hours of coding to create a map that identified every Prop 8 donor in the state. And that map isn't only in the hands of the folks who created it. It's out on the internet where it's practically begging to be abused by some nutball.

I dunno. I'm probably overreacting. And it is public information. But I remain a bit of a privacy crank who hasn't yet been reconciled to the inevitability of David Brin's "Transparent Society." I can at least see Dreher's point.

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Raw Data

| Wed Jan. 14, 2009 7:12 PM EST

RAW DATA....Andrew Gelman presents us today with the chart on the right. Basically, it's a measure of statewide vote changes between the parties from one election to the next. The big spike upward in 1976, for example, shows that Jimmy Carter won a whole bunch of states that had been won in 1972 by Richard Nixon.

The overall trend is down, which means that states are, in some sense, more set in their ways today than they were in the past. Red states are red states, blue states are blue states, and they just don't swing much from election to election. This is consistent with a bunch of data that shows increasing self-segregation in the United States: communities tend to attract likeminded residents, and as the number of likeminded residents increases, they become far less likely to encounter opposing views that might swing their vote from one party to the other. So they vote the same way year after year.

There's also a view that blames part of this trend on the increasing partisanship of the media. If you can surround yourself exclusively with Fox News and Rush Limbaugh on the one hand, or NPR and Daily Kos on the other, you're going to become much more set in your ways. But although that seems plausible, I have my doubts: European countries have long had a more partisan media than in the U.S., but that doesn't stop them from having big swings from election to election. In any case, my sense is that while partisan media may be on the rise in the U.S., its audience is mostly people who are already true believers. The swing voters still watch CNN and read Time magazine. Contrary data welcome, of course.

What is Private Equity Good For?

| Wed Jan. 14, 2009 6:52 PM EST

From the London Guardian:

More than half the profits generated by private equity firms in recent years have been made by piling debt onto the companies they invest in, according to a report published today.
The findings of the first annual report on the industry, designed to increase transparency and improve the image of private equity, instead provided further ammunition for the industry's critics.
The analysis by accounting firm Ernst & Young claims that just one fifth of returns achieved come from strategic and operational improvements.

Is it reasonable to expect that these ratios would be about the same for U.S. private equity firms?

HSR in California

| Wed Jan. 14, 2009 6:48 PM EST

HSR IN CALIFORNIA....Ryan Avent takes me to task for my lukewarm views toward long-haul passenger rail:

It's hard to know what exactly he means by long haul; in the past I believe he's raised doubts about whether HSR from San Francisco to Los Angeles could compete with air travel, despite obvious and resounding evidence from the northeast corridor that for such distances, the answer is yes. Let's assume it's no more than that distance. Well now, that would rule out an HSR line from Boston to Miami, unless one considers that a long haul route is really a bunch of short haul routes put together. Consider — the distance from Washington to Boston is longer than that from San Francisco to LA, so if SF to LA is the max, then one shouldn't support HSR from DC to Boston. But of course, that route will also carry passengers from DC to Philly, and Philly to New York, and DC to New York, and Philly to Boston, and New York to Boston.

This is a good point, but there's a little bit of a bait-and-switch going on here. The metro Boston area has a population of 4 million. New York clocks in at 19 million, Philly at 6 million, Baltimore at 3 million, and DC at 5 million. That's a lot of people.

LA-San Francisco is a little different. The terminal cities are big enough, but what's in between? Basically, you've got Bakersfield at 790,000 and Fresno at 900,000. San Jose is bigger, but Caltrain already serves the Silicon Valley area and HSR would only slightly improve its current 57-minute time to San Francisco.

This is why I'm a lot keener on improving passenger rail in the northeast than I am in California. I'm not wildly opposed to the LA-SF project or anything — mildly skeptical is more like it — and I genuinely hope it works out, but it's a whole different animal compared to the Eastern seaboard. We just don't have the density they do.

New (Leaked) Music: Franz Ferdinand - Tonight: Franz Ferdinand

| Wed Jan. 14, 2009 5:42 PM EST

mojo-photo-tonightff.jpgOne of the first maxims of good criticism is also one of the toughest to maintain: review the work based on what it is rather than what it isn't. Sure, it sounds simple, but then you get an album like Scots Franz Ferdinand's third full-length, Tonight: Franz Ferdinand, and you can't help but want to flog it for not being their wry, catchy, Mercury Prize-winning 2004 debut. Do more "Matinees," dammit! Instead, the quartet have mostly abandoned the guitar-blasted riff-gasms of their past for spare, quirky disco and new wave, and if I focus really hard on ignoring their past, it's actually not so bad, I guess.

Bush's Parting Shots to the Old and Sick, Part 2: A Wing and a Prayer for the Dying

| Wed Jan. 14, 2009 3:40 PM EST

We won't have to live with George W. Bush for much longer. But now, it appears, we can't die with him, either--at least, not with any comfort or respect. Included among the many parting shots from the lame-duck Bush administration are two actions that will add to the suffering of the terminally ill.

The first of these actions makes it easier for health care workers to ignore or override the wishes of dying patients. The second threatens the availability of hospice care--the one setting in which such patients can be sure that their choices will be respected and their pain subdued.

On December 19, the administration issued what is being called the "right of conscience" rule for health care workers. As the Washington Post describes it:

The far-reaching regulation cuts off federal funding for any state or local government, hospital, health plan, clinic or other entity that does not accommodate doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other employees who refuse to participate in care they find ethically, morally or religiously objectionable. It was sought by conservative groups, abortion opponents and others to safeguard workers from being fired, disciplined or penalized in other ways.

But women's health advocates, family planning proponents, abortion rights activists and some members of Congress condemned the regulation, saying it will be a major obstacle to providing many health services, including abortion, family planning, infertility treatment, and end-of-life care, as well as possibly a wide range of scientific research.

Such rules are implemented in 30 days, which means this one will go into effect on the eve of the inauguration. As the Post reports: "The 'right of conscience' rule could become one of the first contentious tests for the Obama administration, which could seek to reverse the rule either by initiating a lengthy new rulemaking process or by supporting legislation already pending in Congress."

While opposition to the rule comes primarily from supporters of reproductive rights, the organization Compassion and Choices points out that it also has serious implications for "end-of-life care, especially the palliative care measures that rescue patients from unbearable agony. This ill-conceived rule will surely obstruct and delay good care in many instances, increasing the suffering of dying patients and their loved ones." On the basis of "conscience," the group warns, health care workers could refuse to disconnect life support, or could withhold medication for "palliative sedation," where patients are rendered unconscious if it is the only way to control pain.

One place where the dying might escape such treatment is in hospice care. But another measure, tucked away in Bush's budget for FY 2009, cuts federal Medicare reimbursement rates to hospices, which are largely (83 percent) financed by Medicare. The online magazine Obit summarized the impact of the cuts, which went into effect on October 1, and could add up to more than $2 billion over five years:

It is estimated that this will result in hospice staffing cuts–doctors, nurses, social workers, bereavement counselors, and eventually hospice services. And these reductions will affect the people least capable of fighting back.

Or, as Don Schumacher, president of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (which is, among other things, the lobbying group for hospices), puts it: "That $2 billion the government wants to save? They're doing it off the backs of dying people in the United States."

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Dinner With Barack

| Wed Jan. 14, 2009 3:12 PM EST

DINNER WITH BARACK....Last night Barack Obama had dinner with conservative uberpundits Bill Kristol, George Will, David Brooks, and Charles Krauthammer. If George Bush had done something similar with liberal columnists eight years ago, Jon Chait thinks wingers would have gone ballistic:

And the reason is that they wouldn't have confidence in Bush or McCain to be surrounded by liberal ideas without being deeply influenced by them.

....And that's why liberals aren't having a cow. They know that Obama understands far more about policy than any of his right-wing dinner companions, is used to being exposed to opposing ideas, and won't come out of that dinner telling his staff, "Hey, did you know we cut half the capital gains tax and raise more revenue?"

I don't know if Obama thinks he can actually persuade Kristol & Co. to support his ideas, but he's self-aware enough to know that a face-to-face meeting can change the tone of criticism even if it doesn't stop it. Once you've met someone in person, it's just a little bit harder to be really nasty toward them in print. It's the same dynamic that makes it hard to unload both barrels against a debate opponent: things are different in person than they are when they happen second or third hand. Obama's demonstrating yet again that he's a smart cookie.

"Peanuts" Exhibit Reveals "Hidden" Messages In Music

| Wed Jan. 14, 2009 3:09 PM EST


If you thought it wasn't possible to hold Charles Schulz's brilliant "Peanuts" comics in any higher esteem, think again. Today's NY Times describes how scholars are pointing out that the strip's references to music were anything but random. It turns out the notes displayed above Schroeder's piano often referenced actual pieces that add a level of humor:

"If you don't read music and you can't identify the music in the strips, then you lose out on some of the meaning," said William Meredith, the director of the Ira F. Brilliant Center for Beethoven Studies at San Jose State University, who has studied hundreds of Beethoven-themed "Peanuts" strips. ... Mr. Schulz also mined Beethoven's life for material. He had numerous books in which he underlined details about Beethoven's love life, clothing, even his favorite recipe (macaroni with cheese).

For instance, in the strip above, with Schroder working out beforehand, the notes pictured are the opening bars of Beethoven's "Hammerklavier" Sonata (Op. 106), known for its extraordinary difficulty. All this is part of an exhibit, "Schulz's Beethoven: Schroeder's Muse," at the cartoonist's eponymous museum in Santa Rosa, where you can learn such details as the fact that Schulz's favorite composer was in fact Brahms, but he just thought the name Beethoven looked funnier on the page. He was totally right.

Bush's Parting Shots to the Old and Sick, Part 1: A Gift to Privatized Medicare

| Wed Jan. 14, 2009 3:05 PM EST

Having spent eight years bypassing the laws of the land via signing statements, executive orders, or just simple denial, the Bush Administration is adding to its grim legacy with a rush of last-minute orders and rule changes. Compiled here by ThinkProgress, these include a number of actions aimed at the elderly, ill, and disabled--including cuts to Medicaid and disabled veterans' benefits. These last-ditch measures are likely to turn into some of the first political and policy challanges faced the Obama administration.

Some of Bush's parting shots are so low-profile that they might easily escape notice. The latest of these arrived on Friday in the obscure form of a "call letter" to private insurance companies that want to contract with Medicare to provide health and drug coverage in 2010. Such calls are issued annually. But this time the call letter was released two weeks earlier than it was last year, and two months earlier than the previous year--ahead of the changing of the White House guard. Medicare advocacy groups view the early release as "an attempt by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to assure continued leniency in the oversight of private plans for at least another year and as a last-ditch effort to promote private Medicare Advantage plans."

Medicare Advantage (MA) plans--which offer managed care run through private insurers, paid for by the federal government--are the point of the stake that conservatives have long been trying to drive into the heart of traditional Medicare (which, for all its shortcomings, is the closest thing to a single-payer program that this country has ever seen). Columnist Saul Friedman recently wrote about the history of of this effort, recalling a 1995 press briefing in which Dick Armey, Newt Gingrich's collaborator on the "Contract With America," announced their intent to "wean our old people away from Medicare." The first step was to introduce private Medicare HMOs--what later evolved into Medicare Advantage plans, with a big boost from the Republicans' 2003 Medicare bill.

Playmobil Airport Security Set

| Wed Jan. 14, 2009 2:57 PM EST


Let's play TSA!

Patriotic, sure—note the passenger's jaunty reds, whites, and blues. But authentic?

I was a little disappointed when I first bought this item, because the functionality is limited. My 5 year old son pointed out that the passenger's shoes cannot be removed. Then, we placed a deadly fingernail file underneath the passenger's scarf, and neither the detector doorway nor the security wand picked it up. My son said "that's the worst security ever!".

Image courtesy of