Put me in, coach ...


I'm on Colbert tonight, in the first segment.

Meanwhile, this is unquestionably the oddest, but also perhaps the most intriguing, blog entry ever to tell a story about yours truly that apparently took place in an alternate reality. I wonder how the dilithium crystals operate in Bree's universe.

What is liberalism, you ask? Here's what John Kennedy said it was back in September 1960:

What do our opponents mean when they apply to us the label "Liberal"? If by "Liberal" they mean, as they want people to believe, someone who is soft in his policies abroad, who is against local government, and who is unconcerned with the taxpayer's dollar, then ... we are not that kind of "Liberal."

But if by a "Liberal" they mean someone who looks ahead and not behind, someone who welcomes new ideas without rigid reactions, someone who cares about the welfare of the people -- their health, their housing, their schools, their jobs, their civil rights, and their civil liberties -- someone who believes we can break through the stalemate and suspicions that grip us in our policies abroad, if that is what they mean by a "Liberal," then I'm proud to say I'm a "Liberal."

Guess what book that's in?

In any case, that's one view.

Now here's another view, this one from Michael Savage, né "Weiner":

"Liberalism is a mental disorder, and it is also a cover," he says. "All this do-gooderness is a cover for very, very, very evil deeds."

He continues: "You say, 'Are you generalizing?' The answer is no. I have long tried to comprehend the madness of the American left. I have long tried to figure out what motivates them to hate the family, the church, the police, the military. In fact, why they hate the male, the patriarch. The answer is because they know they're no good, they're know they're dirty and are afraid of being found out. They're afraid Daddy will punish them for what they're doing."

Liberals and progressives, he says, are "degenerates" who are "on an express train to Hell."

"I am warning you that many of your progressive friends -- the permissive ones, the ones who laugh at conservatives, the ACLU types, the antiwar types? If they have children, I am warning you to watch your children when they go over to their houses."

OK, well, as Gene Weingarten notes in his fun and useful piece in The Washington Post Magazine last week, this fellow Savage is "the third-most popular syndicated radio host in the country. He has 10 million listeners, which is more people than read the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal, combined."

It makes you wonder how anything good can ever live inside such a culture. It also makes you doubt evolution.

The U.S. has the best health care in the world, you think? Well, think again, buster. Here is a nice piece by Sharon Begley of Newsweek:

Only 55 percent of U.S. patients get treatments that scientific studies show to work, such as beta blockers for heart disease, found a 2003 study in The New England Journal of Medicine. One reason is that when insurance is tied to employment, you may have to switch doctors when you change jobs. In the past three years, says Karen Davis, president of the Commonwealth Fund, 32 percent of Americans have had to switch doctors. The result is poor continuity of care -- no one to coordinate treatment or watch out for adverse drug interactions. Such failures may contribute to the estimated 44,000 to 98,000 annual deaths from medical mistakes just in hospitals, and to "amenable mortality" -- deaths preventable by medical care. Those total about 101,000 a year, reports a new study in the journal Health Affairs. That per capita rate puts America dead last of the study's 19 industrialized countries.

Other data, too, belie the "best in the world" mantra. The five-year survival rate for cervical cancer? Worse than in Italy, Ireland, Germany and others, finds the OECD. The survival rate for breast cancer? You'd do better in Switzerland, Norway, Britain and others. Asthma mortality? Twice the rate of Germany's or Sweden's. Some of the U.S. numbers are dragged down by the uninsured; they are twice as likely to have advanced cancer when they first see a doctor than are people with insurance, notes oncologist Elmer Huerta of Washington Hospital Center, president of the American Cancer Society. But the numbers of uninsured are too low to fully explain the poor U.S. showing.

Oh, and doesn't this say it all: "According to new research from the Department of Health and Human Services, though life expectancy for the nation overall is on the rise, the gap between the rich and the poor has increased drastically in the past 20 years. In the early '80s, the richest Americans lived an average of 2.8 years longer than the poorest, but by 2000, the gap had widened to 4.5 years. Researchers report life expectancy was higher for the most affluent in 1980 than it was for the poorest sector of the population by 2000, and the gap continues to widen."

Did you see this interesting piece on 1968 by Tom Stoppard?

He writes:

There was something self-conscious about rebellion here. Demos had a carnival air about them. Our meetings -- and I was drawn to a few -- were earnest convocations of squat-dwellers and what would now be called media types planning to overthrow society by starting a magazine and discussing how to get "the workers" behind them. Trevor Griffiths's fascinating play The Party, set in 1968 and performed at the National Theatre with Laurence Olivier as a working-class activist invited to a meeting in a house in SW7 with an early Hockney on the wall, is for me the perfect time capsule of the posh end of '68.

It wasn't all posh, of course. The "scene", as we called it, was more populously located in a shifting underground of art events -- exhibitions, gigs, happenings, poetry readings -- in dark places around Covent Garden and elsewhere and here the word "revolution" takes on some substance, I think. It was not a social revolution, but there was a sense of a cultural revolution pivoted on that moment.


If I had known in 1968 what we were going to squander, long before we had the excuse of 9/11, I might have joined in the fun with less embarrassment, with less to lose. But at the time all the goings-on seemed frivolous compared with the freedoms we had invented -- or should I say the freedoms you invented?

I was 31, I had been earning a living for 14 years, I was too old, too self-conscious, too monogamous, too frightened of drugs, too much in love with England and too hung up to let it all hang out.

In honor of Opening Day, here is John Rawls on "The Best of All Games":

First: the rules of the game are in equilibrium: that is, from the start, the diamond was made just the right size, the pitcher's mound just the right distance from home plate, etc., and this makes possible the marvelous plays, such as the double play. The physical layout of the game is perfectly adjusted to the human skills it is meant to display and to call into graceful exercise. Whereas, basketball, e.g., is constantly (or was then) adjusting its rules to get them in balance.

Second: the game does not give unusual preference or advantage to special physical types, e.g., to tall men as in basketball. All sorts of abilities can find a place somewhere, the tall and the short etc. can enjoy the game together in different positions.

Third: the game uses all parts of the body: the arms to throw, the legs to run, and to swing the bat, etc.; per contra soccer where you can't touch the ball. It calls upon speed, accuracy of throw, gifts of sight for batting, shrewdness for pitchers and catchers, etc. And there are all kinds of strategies.

Fourth: all plays of the game are open to view: the spectators and the players can see what is going on. Per contra football where it is hard to know what is happening in the battlefront along the line. Even the umpires can't see it all, so there is lots of cheating etc. And in basketball, it is hard to know when to call a foul. There are close calls in baseball too, but the umps do very well on the whole, and these close calls arise from the marvelous timing built into the game and not from trying to police cheaters etc.

Fifth: baseball is the only game where scoring is not done with the ball, and this has the remarkable effect of concentrating the excitement of plays at different points of the field at the same time. Will the runner cross the plate before the fielder gets to the ball and throws it to home plate, and so on.

Finally, there is the factor of time, the use of which is a central part of any game. Baseball shares with tennis the idea that time never runs out, as it does in basketball and football and soccer. This means that there is always time for the losing side to make a comeback. The last of the ninth inning becomes one of the most potentially exciting parts of the game. And while the same sometimes happens in tennis also, it seems to happen less often. Cricket, much like baseball (and indeed I must correct my remark above that baseball is the only game where scoring is not done with the ball), does not have a time limit.

There's more.

Eric Boehlert writes:

So President Bush is met with hearty, sustained boos while throwing out the first pitch at Nationals Park and reporters scramble to assure readers that there were technically more cheers than jeers from the crowd. I'm sure if, during the impeachment saga, Bill Clinton had ever been greeted with Bronx cheers at a sporting event, the press would have done the same.

George Zornick writes:

Over the weekend, Fox News ran a special called Jihad USA: Confronting the Threat of Homegrown Terror, about the "emerging threat" of Muslim extremists developing in American communities. The show was so aggressively silly that it almost doesn't deserve comment -- in order to demonstrate that there are ongoing, shadowy plots aimed at "replacing" the U.S. Constitution with "Sharia law," the show strung together some cases in the United States of so-called terror plots that have been broken up, such as the "Liberty 7" bunch accused of trying to blow up the Sears Tower in Chicago. (The trial has ended once already in a mistrial, because of a lack of any real evidence against the group of homeless, notably non-Muslim Miami men.) For good measure, they also threw in reference to the D.C. sniper case, with experts arguing breathlessly that the media ignored the snipers' alleged (and certainly unstated) ties to Muslim extremism. (Um, guys, here's the thing about Muslim terrorists, or any terrorists, for that matter -- they tell you that they're terrorists! That's the point!)

The show still deserves flagging because it was basically one long commercial for the Bush administration's anti-civil liberties policies; each time the fear in Jihad USA crescendoed, there would be someone like New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly warning that "the public is becoming complacent" and "the only way to combat [Islamic terror in the United States] is through prevention."

Still, nobody should be too worried that the show will do much damage -- Jihad USA reflects exactly why the network's ratings are tumbling. As Eric Boehlert noted earlier this year, the network's once-successful strategy of speaking only to supporters of the president has now backfired, as that audience has shrunk considerably. Polls show there just aren't that many people who would find the arguments in Jihad USA compelling -- only 33 percent of Americans think the Bush administration has done a good job protecting civil liberties. And I don't think retroactively labeling the D.C. snipers as foot soldiers of bin Laden will help turn the tide any.

From TomDispatch:

The Pentagon blue-skies outfit, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), celebrates its 50th birthday this year. It has been at the heart of the Department of Defense's urge to weaponize the wild kingdom. Nick Turse, who has been covering the subject of the air war in Iraq and Afghanistan for TomDispatch, turns today to a different kind of air war: the Pentagon's active program to create cyborg insects -- actual moths, June bugs, and other creatures that could be developed and programmed to conduct surveillance (or worse).

This is a hair-raising subject and it's on the agenda for our war-fighting future. Turse reports:

Biological weapons delivered by cyborg insects. It sounds like a nightmare scenario straight out of the wilder realms of science fiction, but it could be a reality, if a current Pentagon project comes to fruition.

Right now, researchers are already growing insects with electronics inside them. They're creating cyborg moths and flying beetles that can be remotely controlled. One day, the U.S. military may field squadrons of winged insect/machine hybrids with on-board audio, video or chemical sensors. These cyborg insects could conduct surveillance and reconnaissance missions on distant battlefields, in far-off caves, or maybe even in cities closer to home, and transmit detailed data back to their handlers at U.S. military bases.

Turse, who has explored the weaponization of the wild kingdom in his new book, The Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives, considers just where the Pentagon's bug bot research stands today and what it portends for the American way of war in the future.

Correspondence corner:

Name: David McLean
Hometown: Greensboro, NC

Bret Thompson's letter from Friday got me thinking. Now, I haven't read Why We're Liberals yet (working on it, Doc), so I'm not sure if "love religion or lose" is a fair characterization. I expect that Eric's point is broader and deeper. And I don't think that liberals ought start to "loving religion" or that nonbelievers ought to stay in the closet. But what to do instead?

In a nutshell, I characterize "religion" as conformity to a certain formulaic outward expression, but "spirituality" as inward belief plus how someone acts it out ("pardon, my bias is showing"). I'd rather see liberals face down the Religious Right with our own ethics, morals, and (for those of us who espouse it) spirituality, than put on robes that don't fit us and try to "out-religion" them.

There are lots of us liberals who are quite strongly spiritual and even biblical. We believe in God and work on issues of "social justice," and we also accept evolution and a 13-point-whatever-billion-year-old universe as facts. We may not believe in angels ourselves, but we still dialogue with those who do. At the same time, most agnostics and atheists are wayyy more moral and ethical and caring than the very right-wingers who would deny them a place in society.

I think liberals should continually challenge the right in its pious assumption that religious belief or spirituality equals "conservative." I agree that it's not helpful to pay lip service to "religion" ... because that will be seen through. Instead, those of us who claim spirituality, and those who don't, ought to take up the mantle and challenge the right on its own turf.

Name: John B
Des Moines, IA

I certainly understand Bret Thompson's point expressed here, but at the same time feel a point has been missed. Liberals need to come to terms with religion for a very important reason that goes beyond winning elections; there are a lot of people out there that are both religious AND politically liberal. The civil rights movement was mobilized largely out of churches as was the abolitionist movement a century before. Probably only a minority of religious people are of the right-wingnut fundamentalist persuasion. Liberals should be able to speak to the majority with a conviction brought forth out of a determination to build a more fair and just society. That's common ground.

Name: Bob Cawley
Hometown: Ballston, NY


An interesting confluence; Thursday, you (or George) made this statement: "we need an honest appraisal of the situation -- and it's not going to come from the White House." The same day, I read your New Yorker article and happened across this piece on Slate.

I don't really know that much about Eric Lichtblau, but he seems far too sanguine about the degree to which the press has learned to distrust the Bush administration. It seems to me that credulous regurgitation of White House talking points -- even when they are obviously at odds with reality -- is still the norm. At best, the media usually seeks balance by presenting two opposing statements at face value without the crucial background that would expose one as a bald-faced lie.

Name: Mike Wetzel
Hometown: Bartlesville, OK

Hi Doc. Bush, as usual, is completely confused on who is a democrat and who is being trained by Iran in Iraq. Bush has stated many times that Maliki is a "good guy" and can be trusted as a democrat to lead Iraq. In the same paragraph he denounces Iran, and claims that they train and arm terrorists to fight in Iraq. Who does Bush think he is kidding??? Maliki and his followers lived in Iran for many years during the rule of Saddam. They were trained by the Iran guard to be terrorists against Saddam. This is the same guard that Bush now claims is a terrorist organization. So now Maliki is a good guy by Bush's definition. Now we have two terrorist groups, both trained by Iran, fighting in Basra, but only one is backed by U.S. air power, so guess which one. It is Shia-on-Shia war to see which group will rule Iraq in the long run. Bush's war just keeps getting better and better. Soon the whole of Iraq will be one bombed out crater.

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