Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Rap Mogul, Drug Kingpin Surrender to Feds

Best lede ever:

NEW YORK - The hip-hop label behind music superstars Ashanti and Ja Rule was part of a murderous criminal enterprise that protected its interstate crack and heroin operation with calculated street assassinations, federal authorities charged Wednesday.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Blogger Rules

It seems like this blogging phenomenon is picking up steam. Not only are popular bloggers being pursued by corporate America for valuable advert real estate, a growing groundswell of opinion believes that bloggers should adhere to a set of ethics of conduct. Most notable of the concerns is the disclosure of interest.

If, for example, a prominent blogger is being paid consulting fees by a particular candidate or campaign—or even a company—and is, at the same time, blogging favorable for the candidate or campaign, the blogger should disclose to his or hers readership the nature of this relationship. But, I don't think bloggers necessarily have to be bound by objectivity if it's a personal weblog. There is an interesting piece here which speaks more expansively on this issue.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Tort Reform

Tort reform is being breathlessly touted as one of the first things in need of fixing during a second Bush term. Democrats aver that house Republicans, at the behest of big insurance companies, are only moving to cap the rewards in medical malpractice cases to the limit liability of, and protect profitably for, these big insurance companies.

Alternatively, Republicans accuse Democrats of self-interestedly eschewing tort reform because, as they see it, Democrats are disproportionately supported by the Trial Lawyer lobbies—the same trial lawyers, evidently, who pursue frivolous malpractice lawsuits, which, in turn, force big insurance companies to raise insurance premiums. Squeezed from both sides are physicians who are being virtually run out of practice as a result of skyrocketing premiums.

A similar argument was forward by car insurance companies in Canada, claiming that rising premiums correlated with the jump in “soft tissue injuries”. Skeptics viewed the rise in premiums as evidence of something more obvious: Insurance companies poor investment portfolios in the wake of the 2000 tech bust and general market imbalance since 9/11.

What is one to think of this revelation? Are insurance companies raising premiums relative to the actuarial pressures of generous malpractice rewards? Would capping malpractice rewards—tort reform—reduce the premiums paid by physicians?

Judge Richard Posner—a monetarist, a classical liberal, and a University of Chicago Law professor (all the requisite conservative qualifiers)—contends that tort reform, capping malpractice rewards specifically, misses the point:

The relation between malpractice premiums and malpractice judgments is also uncertain. No doubt capping judgments, which is the principal reform that is advocated, has some tendency to reduce premiums, but perhaps not much, because there is evidence that premiums are strongly influenced by the performance of the insurance companies’ investment portfolios.
A better reform would be to permit, encourage, or even require insurance companies to base malpractice premiums on the experience of the insured physician, much as automobile liability insurance is based on the driver’s experience of accidents. That would make malpractice liability a better engine for deterring malpractice—which in turn would reduce malpractice premiums by reducing the amount of malpractice. Capping judgments, in contrast, would reduce the incentive of insurance companies and their regulators to move to a system of experience-rated malpractice insurance.

He goes on to add,

It is always important to distinguish between financial and real costs. Insofar as malpractice liability merely transfers wealth from physicians to (some) patients, aggregate costs are unaffected. The real cost of malpractice liability is limited to the cost of the actual resources consumed by such liability, principally the time of lawyers and expert witnesses (roughly half the total amount awarded in judgments goes to pay lawyers and expert witnesses), unless defensive medicine is assumed to cost more than its benefits in improving treatment outcomes. The real benefit of malpractice liability is its effect if any in deterring medical negligence; reducing that benefit would impose a real cost. Hence it is simplistic to assume that the total annual malpractice premiums paid is a good index of the net social cost of malpractice liability, or that measures to reduce those premiums by capping malpractice liability would result in a net improvement in welfare. To repeat, part of the premiums represent simply a wealth transfer from physicians to the patients who receive malpractice judgments or settlements paid by insurers. The part (roughly half) that pays for lawyers and expert witnesses should be understood as the cost of maintaining a system for increasing medical safety; the efficacy of the system could be improved, I have argued, by experience rating, but not by capping judgments.

In other News...

And in a surprising move of self-restriant, from the network that brought you Who's Your Daddy?, Fox covers objectionable content.

Fox says it covered up the naked rear end of a cartoon character recently because of nervousness over what the Federal Communications Commission will find objectionable.

The latest example of TV network self-censorship because of FCC concerns came a few weeks ago during a rerun of a "Family Guy" cartoon. Fox electronically blurred a character's posterior, even though the image was seen five years ago when the episode originally aired.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005


I'm in stiches. I just finished watching Committed, the new NBC comdey which is a blend of Seinfeld meets Scrubs. Though the comdey is sometimes telegraphic, its delievery is refreshingly irreverent.

The Buzz

Apart from the interesting interview with the founders of Google, last Sunday's 60 minutes also introduced North American men to Aishwarya Rai, a Bollywood superstar reputed to be the world's most beautiful woman. Rai, for me at least, comes in a close third behind the Bronx born—Yale schooled—actress Joy Bryant. First, of course, is Toronto native, and McGill graduate, Mia Krishner. Nonetheless, here’s the buzz on Rai:

While Bollywood regularly pops up in buzz and is popular overseas, it hasn't made much of a dent in American pop culture. Almost all searches on Bollywood emanate from the major metros of San Francisco, New York, and Washington D.C. But Indian screen goddess Aishwarya Rai is adding some spice to searches by exporting her acting talents to Hollywood. Searches on the stunningly beautiful actress were up 328% following her appearance on 60 Minutes, where she discussed her career and future in film. Not surprisingly, Rai notches over 70% of her search audience from guys. Those who needed to see more of the glamorous gal sent searches on 'Pictures of Aishwarya Rai' up 366%. Her appearance on the venerable news magazine helped to raise the profile of her upcoming Hollywood debut, Bride and Prejudice. Searches on the upcoming Bollywood-Hollywood mash-up flick were up 45% -- proof positive that India's film industry is starting to merge onto Hollywood's busy freeway.

House Party

"A house divided against itself cannot stand". This was the most prominent phrase in an Abraham Lincoln speech on June 16, 1858, accepting the Republican nomination for Senate (for the state of Illinois). Today welcomes the 109th session of Congress, and the house is divided—particularly the side that disproportionately houses the Republican Majority.

House Republican leaders last night abandoned a proposal to loosen rules governing members' ethical conduct, as they yielded to pressure from rank-and-file lawmakers concerned that the party was sending the wrong message.

The proposal would have made it more difficult for lawmakers to discipline a colleague for unethical behavior and would have allowed Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) to keep his post if he is indicted by a Texas grand jury that is looking into his campaign finance practices

The sudden reversal came amid growing indications of dissension within the GOP. Just before House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert's office announced that the measures were being dropped, the chairman of the House ethics committee issued an unusual statement denouncing the leadership's plan.

Ethics rules that were instituted to avoid abuses of power—at a time when the Republicans were beret of it—are now being rescinded in light of the Republican majority in both the House and Senate. The ambitions of grandeur that many cocksure Republicans have recently acquired need not be constrained by rules—or ethics, for that matter. Simply take the example of Tom DeLay(R-Tex.)

The other proposed rule change abandoned by the Republicans last night would have negated an ethics rule that was used last year as the basis for admonishing DeLay three times -- for hosting a golf fundraiser for energy lobbyists before House consideration of the energy bill, for offering to endorse the political campaign of a lawmaker's son in exchange for the lawmaker's vote on Medicare legislation, and for enlisting Federal Aviation Administration officials to help track down Democratic Texas lawmakers who were trying to foil the redistricting plan.

Keep in mind, the rules aren't being changed as an exercise in moral correction; rather, the likelihood of DeLay being indicted have diminished considerably, leaving him the requisite wiggle room to rationalize his transgressions and remain on as House Majority leader.

Via. WaPo

Politics of Idenity

Writing in the Critical Review (Vol. 14, Num. 2-3) Reihan Salam expounds thusly:

…asymmetries in identity and self-representation are very much a “dialogical process,” one that is intimately tied to privileges and institutions secured by the state; they are not autochthonous by any stretch of the imagination. Though cultural collectivities certainly can precede their political articulation, politicized and institutionalized cultural collectivities do not.
Though, for them to be politicized and institutionalized at all, they must precede the articulation of their existence. They become, once recognized and constructed—for a myriad of state-interested purposes—politicized and institutionalized not by the very articulation alone, but as a result of past grievances and an overall disconnection from the avails afforded, it is assumed, other cultural collectives.

Identity Politics
founders on the contradictory principles that underlie liberalism: universal equality and the inviolable right to individual freedom. Yet, as is natural with the variety of human cultures, self-interested collectives fortify their inviolable rights to freedom, assuming that a standard of universal equalization is being actualized.

This, however, is not the case. Because, again, the variety of human cultures trends to a heterogeneity of outcomes and, therefore, a heterogeneity and hierarchy of rights to freedom and equality, cultural collectives outside the articulated realm of equality rights will inevitably agitate for particular self-interested concessions.

If Identity Politics are to be denied, it is on the supposition that a variety of human-cultural collectives are also to be denied, which, regrettably, is on the supposition that an ethnic/homogenous, rather than a civic/heterogeneous, national consciousness is more viable as an instrument of statecraft. This cannot be a realistic proposition given that it denies heterogeneity--a variable that is a priori to any honest discourse-theoretic.

Monday, January 03, 2005

Interesting Fact

Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico were offered as war prizes to Mexico, by the Germans, if they declared war on the United States. Shortly after, on April 2, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson demanded from Congress a declaration of war against Germany. The days of neutrality were over and the U.S would enter the Great War.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

The Ends of the World as We Know Them

.....Why weren't these problems obvious to the Maya kings, who could surely see their forests vanishing and their hills becoming eroded? Part of the reason was that the kings were able to insulate themselves from problems afflicting the rest of society. By extracting wealth from commoners, they could remain well fed while everyone else was slowly starving.

What's more, the kings were preoccupied with their own power struggles. They had to concentrate on fighting one another and keeping up their images through ostentatious displays of wealth. By insulating themselves in the short run from the problems of society, the elite merely bought themselves the privilege of being among the last to starve.

This is a portion of Jared Diamond's cautionary Op-Ed in yesterdays New York Times. Give it a read.

Crossfire 2.0

I just got around to watching the October 15th Jon Stewart appearance on CNN’s Crossfire. I embarrass easily and usually avoid confrontational situations of all kind--unless of course it's vitally necessary to my integrity. In those moments when it's becomes necessary to stand athwart circumstances and declare "Stop", I am at my most tenacious and cogent. For Jon Stewart, however, he is, at those moments, clinically masterful. Although he strayed from his talking points on a few occasions, Stewart let it be known that Crossfire was hurting the American political discourse and dissolving the credibility of the once vaunted CNN. I think he may be giving them too much credit.

The Transcript of the show is here, and the torrent file (media file) is here, if you should be so inclined. This now gives me an opportunity to plug a post I wrote a while back on this particular issue: the continuing absurdity of Crossfire. Writing on this blog seven months earlier, June 16, I said this of the show:

In its new incarnation, Crossfire has rapidly devolved into a screaming match, pining dueling, crazed hot-heads against each other in what seems to be a battle to the death. Hardly shrinking violets, Tucker Carlson and James Carville have done great work in turning the once staid, cerebral political program into a third rate clown show.(Bob Novak and Paul Begala, the other hosts, are less brusque)

Even with time during the holidays to watch Crossfire, I just couldn’t stomach a whole viewing. But it’s still a semi-must-see for its sheer hilarity—and then grating annoyance, and then self-defeating irrelevance.