Thursday, August 27, 2009

Ellie Greenwich: Now she's gone . . .

Ellie Greenwich died of a heart attack yesterday at the age of 68.

I confess that I wasn't familiar with her by name before yesterday. But now I know that I've been enjoying her work since I was in elementary school, obsessively listening to "best of the '60s" tapes.

She's best known for her songwriting — or, rather, co-songwriting. She co-wrote most of her songs with Phil Spector and/or her husband (later ex-husband, though they continued writing together after the divorce), Jeff Barry. Here are some of her great songs:

- Be My Baby
- Leader of the Pack
- Then He Kissed Me
- Da Doo Ron Ron
- Chapel of Love
- Doo Wah Diddy
- I Can Hear Music

When Rolling Stone listed the "500 greatest songs of all time," it put "Be My Baby" at #22, just ahead of towering achievements like "Stairway to Heaven," "God Only Knows," and "A Day in the Life." (Incidentally, I believe it's the #1 song on the list written by a woman.) It was reportedly Brian Wilson's favorite song.

According to the obituary at the first link, Greenwich wore many other hats: singer, producer, arranger, actress, etc.

Some more links: Wikipedia is, of course, the place to go for her life story. Metafilter's commenters are reminiscing and taking moments of silence (represented by periods). Pitchfork, the indie-focused music site with a reputation for ├╝ber-hipness, praises her "ridiculously great songs."

Here are two songs I love for her characteristic simplicity, sweetness, emotional directness.

The Ronettes - Be My Baby

The Beach Boys - I Can Hear Music (originally performed by the Ronettes)

ADDED: My mom also has a post on Ellie Greenwich, where a commenter called FortWorthGuy gives this anecdote:

Several years ago I wanted a copy of the cast recording of "Leader of the Pack" [a musical about Greenwich's life] on CD. I could not find it anywhere. The internet was a blank with regards to purchasing this item. I found Ellie's e-mail address on her web page, sent her an e-mail asking how/where I could purchase this. She wrote back asking for my home address and in a few days she sent me charge. What a sweetie! And the music does bring back great memories!

(Photo of Ellie Greenwich from her website.)

Monday, August 24, 2009

The best websites

Time magazine lists the "50 Best Websites 2009." 

Yes, there's no "of." They clearly don't mean the best new websites of 2009. The list informs us that the best websites include Netflix, Flickr, Facebook, and Twitter. And, yes, Time makes sure we're aware that Amazon, YouTube, Wikipedia, and Google are also very good. Thanks, Time magazine!

Other good choices: Metafilter, Delicious,, and Yelp.

Oddly, Time lists and calls it "the place to turn to after you've seen your nth viral video and realize your brain itself is in danger of becoming infected." What about TED and Bloggingheads?

What do you think of Time's list?

People on Metafilter are discussing the fact that they were included. Someone points out:

Shame that Time probably doesn't figure in MetaFilter's 50 Best Magazines.
Someone else responds:
Shame that "time" doesn't figure into my like, top 50 human constructs, man.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The critic's automatic headline

I'd like to see a moratorium on headlines using the juxtaposed-adjective technique.

For example, this headline is currently on Slate's homepage:

"Inglourious Basterds Is Brilliant and Reprehensible"
They're all too easy to write: just choose one positive adjective and one negative adjective. A third adjective (positive or negative) is optional.

Critics can also use this technique in their reviews if they want to write brilliant and reprehensible and lazy prose.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Friday, August 21, 2009

"Under no ... circumstances will I give the government control over my body."

That's what Michele Bachmann, Republican Representative of Minnesota, said this week. She's asking her supporters to call members of Congress and tell them the same thing.

Got that? Under no circumstances.

If that's the new Republican position on whether the government can control what women do with their bodies, that's fine with me!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Is the talk of "death panels" so crazy?

A million articles, blog posts, etc., have made the same point: the suggestion that the health-care reform passed in the United States will involve anything that could be described as "death panels" is crazy and unfounded -- so don't even bring it up.

Well, as my mom argued in this diavlog, there are problems with saying that "death panels" should be out of bounds in civilized debate just because they're not in the text of the pending bills. First of all, we're not seeing the law in its final form. And even if we were, you can't assume that the text of a law gives you a complete picture of how it's going to be applied. It could be interpreted in surprising ways, especially since it's so long and unwieldy.

Also, does it matter if the legislation might represent a baby step toward future reform in the same direction? You might say: no, that's just a slippery-slope argument. But supporters of health-care reform often tell each other that moderate reform in the near future would be good in part because it could make a single-payer system more likely in the long term. (I myself find this argument somewhat convincing and encouraging.) If supporters of health-care reform are allowed to argue that reform would put us on a good slippery slope to something more expansive, shouldn't critics be allowed to argue that a component of reform (for instance, voluntary end-of-life counseling) could put us on a bad slippery slope to something more sinister (involuntary end-of-life rationing)?

It also seems fair to look beyond the text of the currently pending bills -- which, let's face it, few people participating in this debate have the time to read -- and look at the underlying goals of the key actors. So let's look at what President Obama said in April (which Just One Minute recently drew attention to -- via Kaus):

THE PRESIDENT: Now, I actually think that the tougher issue around medical care — it’s a related one — is what you do around things like end-of-life care —

[David Leonhardt:] Yes, where it’s $20,000 for an extra week of life.

THE PRESIDENT: Exactly. And I just recently went through this. I mean, ... when my grandmother got very ill during the campaign, she got cancer; it was determined to be terminal. And about two or three weeks after her diagnosis she fell, broke her hip. It was determined that she might have had a mild stroke, which is what had precipitated the fall.

So now she’s in the hospital, and the doctor says, Look, you’ve got about — maybe you have three months, maybe you have six months, maybe you have nine months to live. Because of the weakness of your heart, if you have an operation on your hip there are certain risks that — you know, your heart can’t take it. On the other hand, if you just sit there with your hip like this, you’re just going to waste away and your quality of life will be terrible.

And she elected to get the hip replacement and was fine for about two weeks after the hip replacement, and then suddenly just — you know, things fell apart.

I don’t know how much that hip replacement cost. I would have paid out of pocket for that hip replacement just because she’s my grandmother. Whether, sort of in the aggregate, society making those decisions to give my grandmother, or everybody else’s aging grandparents or parents, a hip replacement when they’re terminally ill is a sustainable model, is a very difficult question. If somebody told me that my grandmother couldn’t have a hip replacement and she had to lie there in misery in the waning days of her life — that would be pretty upsetting.

[Leonhardt:] And it’s going to be hard for people who don’t have the option of paying for it.

THE PRESIDENT: So that’s where I think you just get into some very difficult moral issues. But that’s also a huge driver of cost, right?

I mean, the chronically ill and those toward the end of their lives are accounting for potentially 80 percent of the total health care bill out here.

[Leonhardt:] So how do you — how do we deal with it?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think that there is going to have to be a conversation that is guided by doctors, scientists, ethicists. And then there is going to have to be a very difficult democratic conversation that takes place. It is very difficult to imagine the country making those decisions just through the normal political channels. And that’s part of why you have to have some independent group that can give you guidance. It’s not determinative, but I think has to be able to give you some guidance. And that’s part of what I suspect you’ll see emerging out of the various health care conversations that are taking place on the Hill right now.
The blog Just One Minute (in the same post linked above) sums it up:
So as of April 2009 Obama himself expected the final legislation to include some sort of group (but NOT a "death panel"!) that would produce voluntary guidelines for end of life care with an eye towards saving money.
But is the word "death" just too inflammatory to use? I wish it weren't. Death is a fact of life. We're all going to experience it some day. Society should think seriously about how to deal with it. So I don't think it would be a positive development to ban the word "death" from the debate.

Ah, but any end-of-life consultation would be voluntary, right? Well, what did Obama mean when he said, "[T]here is going to have to be a very difficult democratic conversation that takes place"? If the only issue were voluntarily providing people with information about hospice care and the like -- well, that doesn't sound controversial at all! Why would that require a "very difficult democratic conversation"? Why would Obama say it raises "very difficult moral issues"?

But surely any end-of-life panels would have to remain voluntary, because no one would be in favor of cutting off life-sustaining resources for "grandma," right? (Why is the concern always about "grandma"? Is this another example of women's lives being valued more than men's?)

Well, actually, there are smart, left-leaning commentators who have already endorsed rationing even if it means doing just that. For instance, William Saletan has said:
[J]ust as some people have enough money, others have had enough time. If you make it to 100 and can fund your own surgery, that's terrific. But Medicare should focus its resources on people who haven't been as lucky as you. Living to 99 is no tragedy.
Similarly, Peter Singer wrote a long New York Times piece about "Why We Must Ration Health Care," in which he argued that we should allocate medical resources based on a nuanced cost-benefit analysis that takes into account "quality-adjusted life-years." Specifically, Singer thinks we should put a greater value on younger people (since they statistically have more years left to live) and on those with higher-quality lives.

Of course, I'm not saying that Congress is going to enact Saletan's or Singer's views on these issues. But their views aren't so far beyond the pale that they shouldn't be part of the health-care debate.

To be blunt, those writers would presumably be in favor of something you could call "death panels." Many would strongly disagree with them. Isn't that part of the "very difficult" debate Obama recently said we're going to need to have? So, let's have the debate, and let's stop trying to forbid the use of the term "death panel."

Monday, August 17, 2009

How was The State so funny?

We've been watching The State, the sketch comedy show that was on MTV in the '90s and has finally been released on DVD. The show has held up surprisingly well; in fact, it's almost more enjoyable to watch after all these years. It has a special quality that Saturday Night Live doesn't have. (And I don't mean The State's embarrassing lack of diversity.) The skits on SNL seem more like earnest attempts to be as funny as possible within the limited format. Something different seems to be happening with The State. I'm still not sure if I've pinpointed what it is, but it seems like the 11 cast members simultaneously (1) didn't try as hard as they could at writing hilarious material but (2) tried harder than most SNL actors at performing hilariously.

You'll often find that if you stop and think about the premise of a skit, you could easily say, "That's not very funny!" But you still get a kick out of it. Why? Often it's because of the actors engaging in bizarre antics when they aren't speaking. (If you have the DVDs, I recommend closely watching the people in the background.) Or the one outburst in the skit that's utterly out of place.

I generally think of humor as being not mere incongruity (as it's often defined), but incongruity that nevertheless "makes sense" on some important level. If this theory is correct, then using pure silliness or wackiness as a comedic device shouldn't be effective. When I find myself laughing at the coda at the end of "The Jew, the Italian, and the Redhead Gay," I question whether my own theory is correct.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

"We were talking about Kant's categorical imperative. And that's basically the Golden Rule, right?"

That's how my philosophy professor began class one morning.

"No," responded a student. (OK, it was me.)

"Good, you didn't fall into my trap."

Unfortunately, Errol Morris, the acclaimed documentarian, falls into the trap in his piece for the New York Times about lying — "Seven Lies About Lying."

Morris's lie-about-lying #4 is, "Lying can never be justified" — "one should always tell the truth." He correctly attributes this view to Kant. Unfortunately, he adds:

It was linked to his "categorical imperative," Kant's version of the Golden Rule. Would you like others to lie to you? Then don’t lie to others.
That part in bold is the classic mistake about Kant's ethics. Morris tries to support it with a footnote quoting Kant's Critique of Pure Reason:
"I cannot wish for a general law to establish lying be-cause no one would any longer believe me, or I should be paid in the same coin."
The key word here that refutes Morris's interpretation is "cannot." This should be taken literally: it's about whether it's possible for you to want everyone to follow this general rule, not about whether you would actually like for everyone to lie. Kant thought it's impossible for everyone to follow a rule of lying for personal gain. After all, if everyone followed that rule, no one would be able to trust anyone's statements. Thus, lies would become ineffective, since lies only work if people generally trust other people's statements. The idea of a world in which everyone follows a rule of lying for personal gain isn't merely unsavory; it's self-contradictory. Since you can't conceive of something self-contradictory, you cannot wish for a world where everyone followed the rule. Consequently, you shouldn't follow this rule; in other words, you shouldn't lie.

(That's my off-the-cuff rendition of Kant. I haven't recently read the primary sources, so it might not be perfect. If you'd like to read a more rigorous explanation — using the more traditional Kantian terminology of "universal maxims" and so on — you could try this blog post.)

In fact, the whole foundation of Kant's theory was that people should be guided by reason, not by their personal preferences. The Golden Rule — "Do to others as you would like them to do to you" — directly refers to your personal preferences. It's not surprising, then, that Kant actually criticized the Golden Rule.

The Golden Rule is more self-centered than Kantian ethics. In the standard formulation, the Rule refers to "you" twice in one short sentence: it's about what you would like to have done to yourself. Since different people have different desires about how they'd like to be treated, this implies a relativistic moral code. Taken literally, the Rule may provide wildly different advice to different people based on their idiosyncratic traits.

But I also have a deeper problem with the Golden Rule's invocation of what-you'd-like-done-to-yourself. Even if we put aside concerns about whether it's too relativistic or unstable, there's still the unanswered question of where these desires come from. Why do you want anyone — even yourself — to be treated a certain way? The Golden Rule seems to take this as a given, but the question of what people want — or should want — is hardly simple to answer. It would seem that an explanation would need to come from something beyond the Golden Rule itself. And perhaps that something is actually more fundamental to ethics.

There's another problem with equating the Golden Rule with the categorical imperative: the Golden Rule is, at least on its face, just about how to treat others. Kant saw ethics as including how you should treat yourself. (For instance, one of his most famous examples of the categorical imperative is his argument that suicide is morally impermissible. While suicide does hurt others, Kant was more concerned with the wronging of oneself.) I don't subscribe to Kant's ethical theory, but I at least give him credit for trying to address profound moral questions that the Golden Rule doesn't even touch.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Monday, August 10, 2009

Kaus lists 3 character flaws of Obama that are hampering his efforts on health care

Mickey Kaus lists these three shortcomings of President Obama:

1. He's not cynical enough.

2. He doesn't know enough.

3. He's too much like Bush.

(To be clear, that's my paraphrase, not a quote, of Kaus's list.)

Here's Kaus's explanation on Bloggingheads (with plenty of tangents, including an allusive but soul-baring confession by Kaus!):

In case you want to actually read the pieces Kaus refers to, here's Jacob Weisberg on how Obama is afraid to be like Bush, and Peter Singer on the necessity of "rationing." (Kaus is inclined to disagree with both of those articles.)

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Should we read a mass murderer's blog?

After that guy opened fire in a parking lot the other day, killing three people and himself, someone posted his blog to Metafilter with this teaser:

A murderer attempts to explain, justify, and understand his crime (before the fact).
Now, that link to his blog doesn't work anymore. The full content of the site has been preserved at other URLs, but I'm not going to link to them since his blog encourages harassing specific private citizens at their addresses and phone numbers. (If you're really curious, you can look for them in the comments of the Metafilter post.)

Many commenters on Metafilter reacted very negatively to the decision to link to his blog, but most of them weren't objecting to the addresses and phone numbers. Many comments were along these lines:
I say delete this, so his "my voice will speak forever" crap is denied.
That's a reference to a message that the killer, George Sodini, posted at the bottom of his site:
This should not be taken off the web. It is obviously my view and opinion. Reproduce this as you wish, in its entirity. Copy this to usenet/newsgroups where my voice will speak forever!
And no less than the New York Times gave him what he wanted by immortalizing his words in an article with the headline, "Blog Details Shooter’s Frustration":
Mr. Sodini, 48, described his anger and frustration in painstaking detail ... in a chilling online diary, offering an extraordinarily stark portrait of a killer’s motives. ...

In his online journal, ... Mr. Sodini, a programmer-analyst at a local law firm, said that he had not had a girlfriend since 1984 and that he had not had sex since July 1990, when he was 29.

“I actually look good,” Mr. Sodini wrote in an entry dated Dec. 29, 2008. “I dress good, am clean-shaven, bathe, touch of cologne — yet 30 million women rejected me — over an 18- or 25-year period. That is how I see it. Thirty million is my rough guesstimate of how many desirable single women there are.

“A man needs a woman for confidence. He gets a boost on the job, career, with other men, and everywhere else when he knows inside he has someone to spend the night with and who is also a friend.”
Here's what I said to those who said we shouldn't be reading his words:
Isn't it worthwhile to try to understand the thoughts of someone who's going to commit murder? Similarly, I think it's worth reading bin Laden's writings to try to understand the terrorist mindset. The idea that Sodini's website should be ignored sounds a lot like those who balk at the idea of "understanding" terrorists. You can understand what went on in someone's mind without excusing their actions.

The fact that the site implores the public to harass random citizens is way over the line. I wouldn't mind seeing this deleted for that reason. But on the whole, I think his blog is pretty interesting, in the same way I find bin Laden's fatwas and Hitler's Mein Kampf interesting and important reading.
If you had read Mein Kampf when it originally came out, you might have been able to predict that the Holocaust would happen. Hitler describes huge natural disasters as positive things that could wipe out the weak elements of humanity, leaving a few strong people to start a super-race. We can't stop the Holocaust now, of course. But does that mean there's no reason to read Mein Kampf? No, it's still inherently worthwhile to try to understand the mind of someone capable of doing such great evil.

Similarly, some of the Metafilter commenters pointed out that reading Sodini's blog isn't going to help anyone stop this from "happening again." Even assuming that's true (though I don't know how they know that), the site can be worth reading without clearing the threshold of "This could save lives!" I actually find some of Sodini's comments (about how men need women) to be poignant and a little insightful. Of course, this is absolutely no excuse for killing random innocent people.

But some people will say this is missing the point: the problem is that if we pay any attention to the details of what Sodini said or what was going on in his life, we're "glorifying" a killer. Well, no, there's nothing glorious about it. His writings make him sound absolutely pathetic and insignificant. It's hard to imagine copycat murders inspired by the guy who claimed that he opened fire out of frustration that he couldn't find a girlfriend. It's easier to imagine the reverse: that a self-aggrandizing potential mass murderer out there would feel deflated to find out how utterly lacking in glory this guy is.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

What should you do with your last names when you get married?

My mom (Ann Althouse) talks about deciding what to do with names when she got married to my stepdad (Laurence Meade):

What did Meade and I do, you may wonder? Well, we're not making any more children — unless we're given a miracle — so the "family name" issue was absent. I didn't change my name the first time I married, back in 1973, and I've already gone through all the struggles of not having the same name as my sons. I had to sit silently while the judge who granted my divorce lectured me about the problem of women not changing their names. He presumed to opine — based on zero evidence — that my failure to change my name was a causal factor in the divorce.

I kept my name a second time. Why? #1: My sons have the middle name Althouse, and I care about that identification. I'm also damned used to my name after all these years, and I've made it slightly famous. Of course, I could keep using Althouse professionally and still have Meade as my legal last name, but I can also do the reverse and use Meade in practice for any purpose aside from signing various documents. And, as that last point reveals, Meade didn't change his name to mine either.
A while ago, a married woman who had taken her husband's last name asked AskMetafilter if she should change her name back — she said her new name "doesn't feel like me." She added, "Maybe when we have kids I'll feel differently?" That last point jumped out at me, so I answered:
I haven't been married, but I have been a kid whose parents kept their own names. Their solution was to give us our dad's name as the last name, and our mom's name as the middle name. (This is not bound by gender — others in my family have had their mom's name as the last name and their dad's name as the middle name.) I'm glad that I get to use both of their names. I think it subconsciously gave me the message that men and women are distinct individuals — the woman's identity doesn't get submerged into the man's. So I'd change your name back because, not in spite, of having kids.

Another anecdote... I know a woman whose maiden name is easy to spell and pronounce, and she took her husband's unwieldy last name when they got married. Years later, she decided to run for elected office but felt it would work better to go back to her maiden name. She filed the forms to legally change it, and only later told her husband. He was shocked and said: "I can't believe you changed your name without bringing me along to join you!" From then on, they've both used her maiden name as their last name.
FLASHBACK: "What's my maiden name?"

Monday, August 3, 2009


It's official:

Blogger Ann Althouse said...

Commenting from a mountaintop: we are still sitting on the rock where we exchanged rings, and now we are married.

8/3/09 3:59 PM

Do the top 1% of Americans pay their fair share in taxes?

Instapundit links to some new data on who pays how much in taxes:

Tax Burden of Top 1% Now Exceeds That of Bottom 95%. “Newly released data from the IRS clearly debunks the conventional Beltway rhetoric that the ‘rich’ are not paying their fair share of taxes. Indeed, the IRS data shows that in 2007—the most recent data available—the top 1 percent of taxpayers paid 40.4 percent of the total income taxes collected by the federal government. This is the highest percentage in modern history. By contrast, the top 1 percent paid 24.8 percent of the income tax burden in 1987, the year following the 1986 tax reform act.”
The link goes to the blog of an organization called the Tax Foundation, which claims to be "non-partisan." Let's see their non-partisan analysis:
Some in Washington say the tax system is still not progressive enough. However, the recent IRS data bolsters the findings of an OECD study released last year showing that the U.S.—not France or Sweden—has the most progressive income tax system among OECD nations. We rely more heavily on the top 10 percent of taxpayers than does any nation and our poor people have the lowest tax burden of those in any nation.

We are definitely overdue for some honesty in the debate over the progressivity of the nation's tax burden before lawmakers enact any new taxes to pay for expanded health care.
First of all, Instapundit's heading -- "Tax Burden of Top 1% Now Exceeds That of Bottom 95%" -- is incorrect. The report is only about the federal income tax. There are other federal taxes and state taxes, and many of them are regressive. Instapundit and the Tax Foundation are cherry-picking one particular tax, which they presumably know is far more progressive than others. That's not a valid basis on which to draw any conclusions about America's "tax structure" or any particular group's "tax burden."

But even if we drop that objection -- that is, let's pretend that the federal income tax is the only tax that matters -- Instapundit and the Tax Foundation aren't simply shedding light on facts; they're revealing their ideology. When they look at America's state of affairs, their reaction is to feel sorry for the rich. After all, the data clearly show that the rich carry the biggest "tax burden," right?

Well, only if you think that what counts as a "burden" is the absolute amount of money you have to pay. But that's just not realistic. The more money you make, the less burdensome it is to pay any given amount of money to the government. Someone who makes a million dollars a year will have an easier time paying $100,000 in taxes than someone who makes $50,000 paying $10,000. If you define "burden" purely in terms of absolute amounts, you'll incorrectly conclude that the person paying $100,000 suffers 10 times the burden as the person paying $10,000.

It's also noteworthy that Instapundit and the Tax Foundation don't make any attempt to explain the trend. Why have the top 1% just surpassed the bottom 95% in how much they pay in federal income taxes? As the New York Times' Economix blog points out, this might be because, since around 2002, the top 1%'s share of the countries' overall GDP has been going up, while the bottom 95%'s has been going down.

And what about the Tax Foundation's assertion that "our poor people have the lowest tax burden of those in any nation"? The Foundation frames the discussion as if we're talking about the same kinds of people from one country to another. But we're not. "Poor people" is always a relative term -- it really means the poorest people in a given country. Maybe the "poor" in the United States pay less money in taxes than the "poor" in other countries because they have less money to begin with.

So, contrary to the Tax Foundation's assertion, the report doesn't "clearly debunk" the idea that the United States doesn't have a very progressive tax structure. But it does debunk another idea: that taxing the rich isn't an effective source of revenue because there aren't enough of them. Clearly, the rich are an extraordinarily fruitful source of government revenue.