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kausfiles    A mostly political Weblog.

Instapundit Scares Me!

Plus--Krugman makes the case for Bush.

By Mickey Kaus
Updated Wednesday, March 22, 2006, at 6:36 AM ET

Rocketboom: Jim Pinkerton wants to go to Mars with Glenn Reynolds. Who knew? 3:27 A.M.

Instapundit frightens me! I second the positive things Jim Geraghty says in his NRO review of Glenn Reynolds' Army of Davids. One of the worries about blogs--one of my worries, anyway--was that their efficient style wouldn't work in longer writing. Not true, it turns out. Instapundit's book reads fast, because as a good blogger he's clear and doesn't waste your time. It's just one big idea after another, like a Hollywood thriller that piles on the plot rather than stopping to tie up the loose ends. Just when you're tired of hearing the thesis that the Internet empowers individuals (Davids) at the expense of big bureaucratic organizations (Goliaths), Reynolds is on to nanotechnology, and space travel, and engineered semi-immortality, and "the Singularity,"** the point at which change happens so fast that life as we know it is transformed. He's fearless--another bloggerly virtue.

Michael Malone thinks Reynolds should have stopped with the Internet and not included the nanotech, life extension and Singularity chapters. I'm not so sure. For one thing, it's good to get the entire Instapunditweltanschaung in one place. I was never certain what "a pack not a herd" meant; now I know. (It means defending against terrorism with self-organizing networks of empowered individuals rather than government bureaucracies ordering people around).

For another, if you're a technological determinist like Reynolds and you're honest, you've got to go where the technology determines--even if, in the first half of the book it seems to be devolving power from large organizations to individuals, but in the unexpectedly action-packed space chapter it leads to powerful nations hurling giant metal ships into space using nuclear bombs.

There are also thematic connections to the futurist bigthink, some of them underemphasized by Reynolds himself. Why bring in "nanotechnology"--which doesn't simply provide an efficient means of production but threatens to eliminate the economy's underlying problem of scarcity, rendering production itself obsolete (bad news for Chinese factories)? Well, many of our current Goliath-like organizations would seem to have little place when our material needs can be satisfied by a molecular assembly station the size of a refrigerator. And this technology also promises a world in which individuals are freed to do what they want to do--make music, hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, criticize after dinner--rather than what they have to do to survive in a labor market. I predict lots of bad novels.

What does the "Comfy Chair Revolution"--the growth of privately run spaces where individuals can set and work with their laptops- have to do with tech-empowered bloggers and musicians? Well, one of the complaints against an economy made up of self-employed, self-contained hustlers--all connecting with their nomadic, monadic, personal technologies--is that any sense of community is lost. Not so, says Reynolds--there's more community at Starbucks than there is in a standard row of corporate cubicles. He even suggests that video games can make up for a loss of community values. As that last example suggests, Reynolds is provocatively optimistic but not necessarily convincing.

I'm especially not persuaded, for example, that when technology puts greater and greater destructive power into the hands of smaller and smaller numbers of individuals it won't ultimately lead to some sort of doom. Imagine a rowboat with ten people, of varying religious beliefs, all of whom have their fingers on the trigger of a personal nuclear device. They try to get along and run a little society. How many times will this scenario result in a big explosion? More often than not, I suspect. Reynolds' breezy description of the ways more virtuous and numerous individuals can be empowered to track terrorists down doesn't convince me that the rowboat isn't where we're headed.

More to the point, Reynolds doesn't convince himself either. It's not a confidence-builder when, on page 206, he endorses space colonization as a way for humanity to survive in case we destroy life on the planet we're currently on.

[O]ver the long term, by which I mean the next century, not the next millennium, disaster may hold the edge over prevention: a nasty biological agent only has to get out once to devastate humanity, no matter how namy times other such agents were contained previously.

Nor is biological warfare the only thing we have to fear. Nuclear weapons are spreading ... [snip]

In the short term, prevention and defense strategies make sense. But such strategies take you only so far. As Robert Heinlein once said, Earth is too fragile a basket to hold all of our eggs. We need to diversify, to create more baskets. Colonies on the moon, on Mars, in orbit, perhaps on asteroids and beyond ...

Likewise, I'd be more delighted that mobile computing technology has provided me a friendly, semi-communal, "third place" if it hadn't already taken away my second place (i.e. formal place of work). Compared with an actual office filled with like-minded souls, my colorful local coffee house is a decidely more democratic but less productive (and less enjoyable) environment.

I could go on, and I plan to do so in future posts. Like all good big-think trend books, Davids has kept resonating.

**-- See Ray Kurzweil's The Singularity Is Near. ... 6:24 P.M. link

Monday, March 20, 2006

Kf is Stupid, Part XIX: I don't quite understand what the health care system will look like after Kinsley's proposed "smaller" reform. Is there no more Medicare? Are people required to buy catastrophic health insurance? What is "the system" in which there will be "rationing-type restrictions"? ... I do want to know. Unpack, please! ... 3:49 P.M.

Kf is Stupid, Part XVIII: Paul Krugman argues domestic spending hasn't really gotten out of control under Bush [$]. But if so, then maybe Andrew Sullivan and others who supported Bush's deceptive rhetoric (about deficits and "compassionate conservatism") on the grounds that he had to "obfuscate his real goals of reducing spending" had at least a small point, no? ... I've been assuming that the effort to restrain spending by cutting the government's tax revenues--which I initially bought into--had failed. But Krugman (and Orin Judd) suggest it might have been at least partly successful. It's impossible to prove, but with more revenues to play with maybe spending increases would have been even greater. ... And of course the less domestic spending increases today, the more room Dems have to increase it tomorrow, should they ever regain power. ... [Judd link via Insta] 2:06 P.M.

Fred Barnes channels Dick Morris: They sneered a month ago when Peggy Noonan suggested that Bush "hit refresh and anoint a successor by having Cheney resign. Now someone from the very belly of Twenty-first Century Bushism, Fred Barnes, has proposed the same thing (and much, much more, including the replacement of most cabinet secretaries by men named Hubbard). ... Barnes' WSJ piece is bizarrely convincing, but 1) What about McCain? If Bush anoints Rice, does the front-runner just stand aside quietly? Doesn't he run against her (and maybe beat her)--or shift to a powerful third-party candidacy? 2) To what end? If Barnes had said his proposed shakeup was designed to win the midterms and preserve Bush's Iraq policy, it would be more appealing than suggesting it's a scheme to let Bush be "empowered to return to old initiatives such as Social Security reform and his faith-based initiative." The Bush Social Security plan is still a loser, and his faith-based initiative is still relatively trivial. ... 12:58 P.M.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Why is Novak's column--suggesting a Gore run for President--news when the man himself told us this back in December? 7:52 P.M.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Demron: Fannie Mae has found "additional errors" in the government-ordered review of its Franklin Raines-era accounting, according to Business Week, and will miss the regular deadline for filing its financial report. ... [via newsalert] 5:36 P.M.

Friday, March 17, 2006

I hadn't been following the "Roe for Men" issue--the question of whether to allow men to opt-out of their paternal obligations in, say, the first trimester of a pregnancy they'd helped produce. If you need to catch up on this cable-ready issue as well, you can start with last year's Meghan Daum column, then move on to Cathy Young and most recently Anderson Cooper and his many commenters. ... 1) My first reaction is that the plan would be a disaster for the underclass, with ne'er-do-well men abandoning paternity by the tens of thousands. But, then, the existing paternal obligation doesn't succeed in extracting much from unwilling, impoverished fathers, does it? A more voluntary regime would at least strip away the illusion and put women on notice. ... 2) My second reaction is that the idea founders on the issue of which men you want to let opt out. Do you want to explicitly let men double-cross women, claiming they want to be fathers until they bail on their obligations in the first trimester? If not, then how are the men going to prove that they weren't double-crossers--e.g. that they never wanted to have children (and that they made it clear to their partner they never wanted to have children)? You could allow them to introduce evidence of pre-pregnancy conversations, which would risk turning every paternity suit into an elaborate what-he said-what-she said trial. Or you could require that before conception the man sign some sort of affidavit clearly declaring his non-intention to be a father, and disclose it, which would certainly warn potential partners. It might also severely limit the scope of the rule. And if it didn't, that would probably be because men conned or cajoled women into ignoring it--a sign, perhaps, that the law shouldn't add to their bargaining options. ...

P.S.: The evidentiary burden would be even greater if, as at least one mens' rights advocate suggests, the "opt out" would be limited to instances in which "neither partner had desired a child." [Emph. added] ... And if that's the standard, would the issue be simply whether the man reasonably thought the woman didn't want a child, or whether the woman really didn't want a child? Short of pre-sex affidavits all around, it looks like a mess. ... 2:36 A.M.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Is there a Clinton-Pellicano connection? Thomas Lipscomb goes over the basis for asking that question. ... On the other hand, Pellicano's not in Isikoff's index. ... 6:03 P.M.

NYT Correction Obfuscation of the Week: The Film Did It! Do you believe that former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner was pictured on the cover of the New York Times Magazine wearing a maroon jacket, pink shirt and red tie, as if he were the leader of the high school glee club--when in fact he was wearing a charcoal jacket, blue shirt and blue tie-- because "the film that was used can cause colors to shift, and the processing altered them further" and "the change escaped notice"? I don't. Obviously the NYT Mag editors wanted to achieve a shocking effect. ... [Emph. added--I mean, the font changed and it escaped notice.] ... P.S.: [The correction raises more questions than it answers!-ed Like what brand of film was it? Shouldn't the Times warn consumers about the defective, color-shifting product, perhaps in the "Circuits" section? Did the paper, in a desperate cost-cutting move, purchase a truckload of expired film from a New Jersey man on Canal Street? This story's not over--no way! There's so much more to report.] ... P.P.S.: The correction may not technically be the bald-faced lie it initially appears to be. Note especially the brilliant phrase, "the processing altered them further." Who did the 'processing"? (The photographer in question seems to say it wasn't him.) Isn't that like a newspaper saying that the facts changed in transcription and "the writing altered them further." Well, OK then! ... More discussion here. ...

Update: The photographer used "an infrared chrome film, originally designed for 70-millimeter movie cameras, that changes hues when processed in the darkroom," reports Gabriel Sherman of NYO. That makes the NYT's correction deceptive mainly in giving the impression there was no human agency involved. Maybe they didn't manipulate the image to make Warner look creepy. Instead they chose a self-photoshopping film that made Warner look creepy! Someone made that choice. You think the photographer didn't realize he was acheiving this effect? Does the Times permit photographs that readers think are accurate representations of what candidates really look like but in fact aren't at all? ... And would they dare do that to Hillary? 12:02 P.M.

Dick Morris:

The first phase of the GOP campaign will feature the fall from the top of McCain and, if he runs, Giuliani. The next phase will be characterized by doubts as to whether any of the remaining candidates are up to the task.

O.K. That should take, what, a week? What happens in April? 12:45 A.M.

Contrarian David Ignatius writes an Iraq column that's ... upbeat. ... I wish I didn't get queasy when I hit the Chalabi paragraph, though. ... 12:38 A.M.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Mickey's Assignment Desk: Got Tamiflu? The obvious, great front-page story that I'm amazed nobody's done yet: the hoarding of Tamiflu by celebrities and bigshots. You know it's happening! It will quickly become the new currency of connectedness, if it isn't already. The rich have compliant doctors, informal networks, etc. ... Policy implications: Less of the scarce, life-saving medicine for the little shots. Possibility that overuse will allow the bird flu virus to become resistant to the drug. ... This might even be a good Democratic issue, even though many of those doing the hoarding (at least around here) are probably Democrats. ... Where's Pear? ... Update: Pharmablogger Derek Lowe is skeptical about Tamiflu's effectiveness against the bird flu. (See also here). ... 10:42 P.M.

Howie Kurtz (remember him?) makes a good and fairly subtle point about those 'new-low'-for-Bush polls:

Can I just grumble a little about this USA Today /CNN poll?

"President Bush's 'approval rating' has sunk to a new low according to a USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup poll released Monday.

"The latest results show only 36% of those polled saying they 'approve' of the way Bush is handling his job. Bush's previous low was 37%, set last November.

"Sixty percent of those polled said they 'disapprove' of Bush's performance. That matches an all-time worst rating hit last November and again two weeks ago."

Bush is at a new low compared to USA's last poll. CBS has Bush at a new low compared to the last CBS poll. Etc., etc. All true, but they give the collective impression that Bush is sinking week to week.[**] Why do they only compar[e] figures to their own past surveys, when they're fully aware of the others? [Emph. added]

**--as each separate organization in turn comes out with its "new low" poll.

The drumbeat of separate, self-referencing "new low" polls may become a factor driving poll numbers even further down. ... P.S.: If these outfits polled every week, maybe this wouldn't be a distorting factor. Any turnaround would be quickly picked up and acknowledged. But they don't. USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup is actually one of the more frequent--it seems to come out every two weeks or so. At other polls (i.e. AP, and ABC/WaPo) the announcement of a "new low" could skip over a polling gap of a month. ... Update: As I'd hoped, Mystery Pollster has posted a serious analysis of Kurtz's point, complete with colored graph that illustrates the potential bias from blind self-referencing. He also demolishes a bogus Richard Morin counterargument. ... 7:14 P.M.

Annie Proulx is just happy to have created a work of art. ... 11:33 A.M.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Paragraph of the day: Cathy Seipp's fabulously nasty lede about Nikki Finke. ... 11:36 P.M.

There's a big story in here somewhere! If you didn't quite understand the point of David Sanger's muddled front-page account of a "new direction" for President Bush, you are not alone. Sanger writes:

For the State of the Union address, Mr. Bush instructed his speechwriters to make global engagement a major theme, a big change for a man who ran in 2000 under the banner of a "humble foreign policy." [Emph. added]

Huh? How is a "humble foreign policy" in any way incompatible with "global engagement"? Don't the tweedy foreign policy types who call for "humility" also call for "global engagement"? The difference between the two phrases certainly doesn't seem like a "big change." Then there's Sanger's lead:

WASHINGTON, March 12 — The president who made pre-emption and going it alone the watchwords of his first term is quietly turning in a new direction, warning at every opportunity of the dangers of turning the nation inward and isolationist, and making the case for international engagement on issues from national security to global economics.

But "pre-emption" and "going it alone" are hardly "isolationist" impulses. They're unilateral non-isolationist impulses, no? So the old direction is non-isolationist. The "new" direction is non-isolationist. What's the big change? ... P.S.: A real shift would be something like "Bush was a unilateral non-isolationist, now he's a multilateral non-isolationist." But as my diavlogging colleague Bob Wright notes, the unilateral/multilateral shift is old news and wouldn't get Sanger on the front page. He needed to confect a new "new direction." ... Update: Yglesias suggests the public-opinion trend Bush is fighting isn't "isolationism" either--it's specific opposition to the Iraq invasion and to poorly-negotiated trade agreements. ... 10:19 P.M link

Suppose you wanted to destroy the effectiveness of Dr. Wafa Sultan, the non-trivially courageous Arab-American psychiatrist who went on Al Jazeera and "bitterly criticized the Muslim clerics, holy warriors and political leaders who she believes have distorted the teachings of Muhammad." What would you do? You would arrange for the American Jewish Congress to "invit[e] her to speak in May at a conference in Israel." What better way to get her dismissed as a tool of the Zionists by the Arab audience she's trying to reach? ... Is the AJC really that dumb? Or does the institutional impulse--to get in on her act--trump a serious interest in letting her views have an impact? ... 8:11 P.M. link

Attention Must Be Paid, Briefly: Could an Iraqi civil war really "cost the United States its army"? ... Not just cost us significant casualties, mind you--but effectively cost us the entire army:

It is strange to contemplate the possibility that the greatest army in world history could be slaughtered in a Middle East conflagration.

Or is Gary Hart hyperventilating in a way that reminds you why you were relieved he blew his chance at being President in 1988? [He compares our situation to Napoleon's retreat from Russia--ed Those who don't ignore history are condemned to think it will be repeated, although the two situations actually seem quite dissimilar (i.e. we aren't going to retreat on foot without formidable defenses). And wouldn't a united, nationalist anti-U.S. uprising be more dangerous for our troops than a civil war in which Iraqi sects are fighting each other?] 7:37 P.M. link

Sunday, March 12, 2006

I didn't know Virginia Postrel had done that. What an admirable thing. ... [via Insta] 12:10 P.M.

Boss in cocoon: I'm with Yglesias [v]--this announcement is depressing. A Springsteen/Seeger album seems entirely pitched to a subset of the already-converted--no red-state audience there. And Seeger's a bit of a self-righteous twit, no? I bet half of Bosswell Eric Alterman's readers hate him. ... P.S.: I still contend that with a bit of subtle courting--it would take more than a few lunches at the Manhattan Institute, but maybe not that much more--conservatives could have at least partially pried Springsteen from the liberal death grip of Dave Marsh, Jon Landau, ... P.P.S.: Yglesias is actually making a broader point--that, given the successful GOP attacks on Dem elitism, well-known figures from the arts and entertainment world are "terrible spokespeople" for Democratic causes. It's nice that they give money--but as Yglesias points out you don't see rich Republican businessmen trying to become GOP spokesmen themselves and you don't see GOP politicians publicly celebrating their ties to rich businessmen. Yet Democratic music and movie stars are still under the illusion that they can "use their celebrity" wisely for the cause. At some point, someone is going to get them (even Clooney) the message: We want your money but we don't want you! Your celebrity doesn't help us. It hurts us. ... P.P.P.S.: Here's a good test case: Richard Dreyfuss, one of the smarter and more knowledgeable movie stars, recently gave a speech suggesting (not unsmartly) that President Bush should be impeached. Whether or not you think this is a good idea--I think it's a bad idea--did Dreyfuss' endorsement help or hurt the pro-impeachment cause? I'd say hurt. ... And if even a Dreyfuss hurts, an Alec Baldwin or Barbra Streisand can't help! ... [So it's a good thing for Dems that Springsteen isn't trying to reach the unconverted. He'd only hurt--ed I guess I'd draw a distinction between just giving speeches and endorsing--almost always counterproductive these days--and actually producing a work that in itself helps change minds. Name one--ed Steve Earle, "Ellis Unit One."] ... 11:49 A.M. link

You've Not Seen Nothing Like the Mighty Kos: Jason Zengerle's slam of the Daily Kos (which backed the losing challenger in a Texas Dem primary) may have been unfair. But this part rang true:

[M]ore often than not, these liberal bloggers (especially Kos) act like they already have taken over the world--writing manifestoes, issuing threats, and engaging in all sorts of chest-thumping behavior. But, like I said, their batting average is still a big fat zero.

P.S.: OK, give Kos the manifestoes. That's what outsiders do. But not the thuggishness. ... [via RCP] 12:50 A.M.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Post-post-post-scarcity politics: Six ideas I took away from Garance Franke-Ruta's somewhat dense and academic essay on Dems and cultural "values" in The American Prospect: ... 1) Underneath, America's becoming like a videogame--"a more atomized, rage-filled outlook that values consumption, sexual permissiveness, and xenophobia." Yikes. ... 2) The half of the population that votes reacts against the growing anomie by embracing "moralistic politics." That's especially true of lower-income voters, who need moral order to survive in a more chaotic social environment. ... 3) In fact, "traditional values have become aspirational," complicating Tom Frankish efforts of Democrats to get less affluent voters to drop the Republican cultural nonsense and vote their pocketbooks. ... 4) Suddenly it's 1960 again, and Democrats like Franke-Ruta are worrying how to deal with "relative affluence" and "relative isolation" in a "post-scarcity society." ... 5) The last time around, in the actual 60's, JFK's Democratic answer to affluent isolation was not so much to embrace traditionalist values as create new, patriotic values ("Ask not," etc.) Is this national service answer now a) a harder sell than ever, b) needed more than ever, or both? If not national service, is there another non-traditionalist Dem morally-ordering institution out there? My instinct is that in 2006 health care--the social effort to beat back death and disability--is a more potent basis for egalitarian community than Peace Corpsing. For one thing, it's solidly rooted in individual self-interest. ... 6) Webbische Dean-friendly "progressives" like Franke-Ruta aren't likely to be the paleoliberal threat to the Democratic party many centrists fear. Why? As Matt Bai has pointed out, they have little allegiance to old Dem interest groups--unions and civil rights groups, in particular. At bottom, they're desperate reformers open to new ideas. ... 5:12 P.M.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Of course, if everyone followed the Fat Bald Guy Rule then it wouldn't work anymore, because it wouldn't be true that

when a fat bald guy manages to assemble a résumé that at first glance resembles that possessed by his good-looking competition, the FBGR assumes that the former record is actually far more impressive than the latter.

In fact, in that case you be well-advised to tilt against fat, bald guys. ... 7:21 P.M.

Thursday, March 9, 2006

Has Dubai adopted the Ledeen solution (which Ledeen proposed back on February 24)? ... If so, should it be applied to all foreign ownership of ports and other sensitive industries, as he recommends? Isn't there a downside--e.g. wasteful, self-serving bureaucracy-- to creating an institution where the owners do not have control? ... 3:12 P.M.

Celebrity over party? Is California's GOP governor Arnold Schwarzenegger protecting his fellow Hollywood bigshot, Rob Reiner? Reiner managed to create (through a 1998 ballot initiative) a California Children and Families Commission as a sort of alternative mini-government that spent millions of taxpayer dollars on Reiner's pet projects. In the years that followed, Reiner was frequently mentioned as a possible Democratic candidate for governor. Now Reiner's fiefdom is mired in a scandal-is-what's-legal controversy, but Schwarzenegger inexplicably doesn't dare to replace him as chairman of the commission--even though his term has expired. L.A. Weekly's Bill Bradley has more than you need to know. ... (See also the very sharp comments.) ... P.S.: One would ordinarily assume that Arnold is holding out for some sort of deal--e.g. he lets Reiner resume his chairmanship in exchange for some sort of Hollywood support (or at least neutrality) in the upcoming gubernatorial election. But it's not clear a) why Reiner needs the chairmanship that badly or b) that Reiner can deliver lots of Hollywood money or support to Schwarzenegger. He's not Laurie David! ... Update: Alert reader L.F. suggests that Arnold is simply torturing Reiner by letting him twist slowly, etc. while his agency is being audited and his uncertain status keeps the scandal in the papers and maximizes the damage to his reputation. ... 10:53 A.M.

Pinch vs. Floyd--Krugman's "power relations" in operation: The NYT's visionary leader addresses his grateful employees, who wonder why he's paying himself a half-million dollar bonus (for meeting all of 59% of the company's earnings target). ... 1:30 A.M.

Wednesday, March 8, 2006

Can't See the Forest for the Gang of 500! A time-line of Dubai ports deal analysis:

February 24, 2006--"There's no way Republicans in Congress - especially those up for reelection this November - are going to stand by and let this single deal (irrespective of the merits) erase a 10-20 point advantage over Democrats on national security. Ain't gonna happen."-- Tom Bevan, RealClearPolitics blog,

February 24, 2006--"The deal is dead"--John Podhoretz, National Review Online's "The Corner"

February 24, 2006--"Maybe Bush ...should focus on how to "finesse" the effect the deal's inevitable demise will have on our relationship with friendly Arab nations like the UAE. ... Why not kill it today?"-- kausfiles

March 8, 2006--"The outcome: there will be no veto because DPW [Dubai Ports World] will give in to pressure and withdraw the U.S. portion of the deal."--ABC's The Note [Various emphases added and subtracted]

Mark Halperin and The Note--always the last to know! ... Maybe they should spend less time at Lauriol Plaza and more time reading blogs! ... Or watching them. ... P.S.: The Note does say, with as many layers of saving irony as you want, "We are so, so embarrassed that it took us this long." ... 4:08 P.M. link

Tuesday, March 7, 2006

Unified Oscar Theory: Reader W, who should be a TV critic, emails with a surprisingly all-encompassing interpretation of Sunday's show:

I really did like your brother's piece. I do think that Jon Stewart is the natural heir to Johnny Carson. He has the same kind of understated manner that Jonny Carson has. However, Johnny would never point out that he wasn't as important as his guests. Jon was doing this all night long. He was acting as if he didn't deserve the role of Oscar host. He starts off by showing all the former hosts who wouldn't agree to host this year. ...

Then he comes out and says something along the lines of "I can't believe you've chosen me -- the fourth lead in Death [to] Smoochie." But Chris Rock, [] are still appearing in Death of Smoochie type movies. Jon, at least, had the dignity of taking that kind of role when he was starting out. As I recall he also made some sort of remark to George Clooney about wishing he were him or envying him or something. I think that this self-deprecating manner was a tactical error. He started off the show by putting the idea into everyone's head that we'd been shortchanged in some way by getting him as a host.

This feeling that the "past" is somehow better than the present was also emphasized by the fact that [producer Gil] Cates kept showing all these old movie clips as opposed to focusing on the movies that had been produced this year. And by the way, the movies this year had some of the best acting I've seen in the last decade, so I'm not sure why he was doing that. Then there was that whole theme about how horrible it is to watch a DVD and how great it is to watch a movie in a big theater with strangers. Again, the theme that somehow times were a changin' for the worst. Then Morgan Freeman ... made some comment about the line in Sunset Blvd -- "We used to have faces then" -- and said, well, we still have great faces. ... The whole show had this subtext of the present not being good enough. [Emphasis added]

W might have added: Lauren Bacall's halting appearance held a similar message--'Hollywood used to be glamorous, but things have changed.' ... 11:51 P.M. link

Bob Wright tries one mo' time to get me to write off Ann Coulter. ... 2:11 A.M.

Monday, March 6, 2006

Look Who Thinks He Caused the Deaths of Thousands: It's our New Orwell, Andrew Sullivan:

We have learned a tough lesson, and it has been a lot tougher for those tens of thousands of dead, innocent Iraqis and several thousand killed and injured American soldiers than for a few humiliated pundits. The correct response to that is not more spin but a real sense of shame and sorrow that so many have died because of errors made by their superiors, and by writers like me.

Yikes. Sullivan may be (characteristically) overestimating his influence--or did other people actually take him seriously? ... I do notice that he has mostly dropped the tone of self-regarding, bullying certitude with which he hounded anyone who had doubts about the Iraq invasion before March, 2003. And I agree with him that "it is far too soon to know the ultimate outcome of our gamble." (Although, today's powerful Iraq the Model post is deeply disturbing to those who were beginning to feel justified in the hope that Iraq will avoid a prolonged, bloody Sunni-Shiite conflict.) ... 5:38 P.M.

I thought George Clooney was wrong Sunday night about Hollywood and AIDS:

"We were the first to shout about AIDS when it was just a whisper."

NewsBusters writes:

I'm guessing the first wide-release AIDS movie was "Longtime Companion" -- in 1990. That's a little slow, especially when Oprah had predicted millions of heterosexuals would be dead from AIDS by then.

And Time and Newsweek had AIDS cover stories in 1983. Philadelphia didn't come out until 1993. ... When you're a decade behind Newsweek, you're late! ... Update: Clooney defenders note there was a made-for-TV movie, An Early Frost, only two years after Newsweek! ... 5:09 P.M.

Always trust content from kf reader "G":

"[W]ith odds running 1/4 for Brokeback, betting against it could be a pretty lucrative wager right now." -- last Wednesday

Note to F. Rich and competing Oscar pundits: It's not too late for that America-is-homophobic-after-all column. ... Update: LAT's Kenneth Turan claims firsties on the Hollywood-is-homophobic angle. **

In the privacy of the voting booth, as many political candidates who've led in polls only to lose elections have found out, people are free to act out the unspoken fears and unconscious prejudices that they would never breathe to another soul, or, likely, acknowledge to themselves. And at least this year, that acting out doomed "Brokeback Mountain." [Emph. added]

Alternative explanation: Hype was better than film! ... P.S.: If the problem is really that Academy members let their fears win out over their better judgment--which I don't buy--isn't it more likely that the fears were not the Academy members own unspoken homophobic fears but fears of what their audience would think if they gave first prize to Brokeback? ... Fear of the audience--specifically, fear that the mainstream American audience will conclude you are a bunch of out-of-touch coastal liberal elitists--may in fact be the most pervasive fear in all of media. It's what makes the newsweeklies so clumsy, for example. ("Gee, they like American Idol. ... We must do a cover on American Idol.") It may have been what killed Brokeback's chance. But it's hardly an "unspoken" fear these days, is it? People babble and blog about it obsessively. ... [Why would they fear the audience? I thought Brokeback was sweeping the nation?--ed You think these Hollywood pros are as gullible as Sullivan?] ... More: See also Reuters. ... S.F. Chron local reax.... HuffPoster Bill Robinson has some sensible things to say. ...

**--Nikki Finke may have beaten Turan to it. But she says Brokeback was "slow and ponderous." Why, exactly, couldn't that be the reason it lost? ... 12:53 A.M. link

Sunday, March 5, 2006

Oscar Bump Builds into Heartland Tsunami! Brokeback Mountain out of top 10 on Academy Awards weekend. 11:45 A.M.

Three Questions for Krugman: Paul Krugman's column of 2/27 [$] argues that what's happening is not

that the 20 percent or so of American workers who have the skills to take advantage of new technology and globalization are pulling away from the 80 percent who don't have these skills.

Rather, Krugman says, a tiny, tiny minority (he talks about the top one percent or the top hundredth of a percent) is getting extremely rich--which he declares, in a double-hedged sentence:

may have as much to do with power relations as it does with market forces. [Emph. added]

That's indeed an anti-CW position, as Krugman notes--the established consensus being the "80-20" skills-centric view of rising economic inequality. It's also a highly convenient position for Krugman, since it lets him claim that somehow, through unspecified changes in "power relations," we can stop this tiny minority of "oligarchs" from continuing to get rich.

But just because it's convenient doesn't mean it's wrong! And just because the very rich got very richer during the Clinton years--not just in the Bush and Reagan years--doesn't make it wrong either. But here are some initial, top-of-head questions:

1. What if the top tenth of a percent didn't exist? Wouldn't it look, in the rest of society, as if the relatively skilled two or three deciles at the top were pulling away from everyone else--in other words, the 80/20 consensus would be true? Krugman seems to be saying that the top 20% didn't really get that much richer at all. He cites a study showing that between 1972 and 2001 "the wage and salary income of Americans at the 90th percentile of the income distribution rose only 34 percent." But I bet if you looked at overall wealth--including stock and real estate investments, 401 (k)s, etc.--you'd discover the top 20% doing a lot better than that, and a lot better than the bottom 80%.

2. Why do we care about income inequality? Because we care about social equailty, I've argued. We're Americans--we don't mind people getting rich. We do mind richer people lording it over less rich people, or even thinking they're better than less rich people. And if that's what you care about, what happens to a tiny minority at the top--CEOs, baseball players, Bill Gates and Steve Rattner--may not matter as much as what happens in the vast affluence of the top 20%. There's a limit to how many people the top tenth of a percent can boss around, after all. But if the top 20% of Americans suddenly get enough relative wealth to wall themselves off from everyone else, or to start hiring maids and butlers and other servants (after decades when the number of houses with servants declined), that could in itself be a big and unwelcome shift in the tone of everyday life.

3. How exactly is Krugman going to stop the very rich from getting richer, anyway? Controlling CEO pay would be a start. It seems obvious that top corporate pay is out of control. But there's Charles Murray's argument to contend with: "[W]hen a percentage point of market share is worth hundreds of millions of dollars, the people who can help you get that extra percentage point will command very large salaries."

Controlling CEO pay is only a start, anyway. Inequality is increasing, after all, even within the broad, non-CEO ranks of people with college degrees, or law degrees--because within the post-graduate professions, the superstars with more uncredentializable talent are pulling ahead at the expense of the pack. That's certainly what's happened in journalism--look at what Tom Friedman makes. How do you stop the stars from making lots of money in a mass society when people want to hear the stars? (As Krugman argued, in another context: "You may think I was overpaid, but the market--not Enron--set those pay rates.") .

And lots of people get rich out of sheer luck--they're the Mark Cubans and Maria Cantwells who find themselves holding the right asset at the right time. Can you stop such people from getting lucky without throwing a big monkey wrench into the free market? I doubt it. Nor is it clear we actually want a society in which luck isn't rewarded, but talent is. That would mean that any remaining inequalities were deserved--something that would be arguably much worse for social equality.

Maybe Krugman's addressed these issues in venues I haven't visited. If so, please let me know. For now, I'm sticking with the conclusion Krugman himself seemed to reach in the early editions of his book The Age of Diminished Expectations--that there isn't much we can do, in practice, to stop either the top 20% or the top 1% from getting richer if that's the direction in which the underlying economy's moving. The better strategy, I still think, is to focus on preventing this money inequality from translating into social inequality. 1:07 A.M. link

Saturday, March 4, 2006

On Beyond Yeti: Did they say computers (enabling the cheap generation of new designs) and globalization were changing the auto industry? Here's the Tata Cliffrider, Inovo Lirica, Mazel Identity, Koenigsegg CCX, Loremo LS, and of course the Castagna Imperial Landaulet--all your old, familiar favorites--on one page. ... It's still not quite as easy to start a new car line as to start a blog--but it seems to be getting close. ... 7:12 P.M.

Did the press miss the most damning aspect of the Katrina video, namely: How could anything serious (e.g. "Louisiana can't handle this. Get that f-----g governor to let us take over") get done at a videotaped meeting? When does the real meeting take place? If administration officials were wasting time on for-show pep-rallies, no wonder they dropped the ball. ... P.S.: Assuming you needed to have some sort of conference with officials in far-flung states, is there no way to conduct a secure videoconference or teleconference--e.g. one that can't be taped and leaked to the press? ... 12:46 P.M.

Friday, March 3, 2006

A.P.'s Mapesy Moment: The Associated Press finally acknowledges the difference between a levee "overrun" and a "breach" in an embarrassing "clarification"--embarrassing because of a) the hype with which A.P. surrounded its video; b) the elementary nature of the screw-up. ... As Drudge notes, the A.P. issued its statement after dinner on Friday like an indicted pol! ... Update: Wizbang notes A.P. also violated its own policy against using euphemisms like "clarification" instead of "correction." ... P.S.: How much of the A.P. drive to over-sell its video was driven by a powerful business impulse--to become something of a first mover, or at least a presence, in the Internet-video news business? At transition points, like the one we're now in, having a big scandalous story can do a lot to put you on the map. (See. e.g., Drudge, Lewinsky.) ... P.P.S.: I'm no Pinch Sulzberger-like media visionary, but until last week's Katrina hype I was impressed with AP's video news--it seemed as if they had the potential to put the network newscasts out of business, positioning themselves as the unfiltered, tell-it-straight Web alternative. ... (The three broadcast nets could all just put the evening news on the Web every night, right? But then they might erode their regular viewer base. A.P. would seem to have no similar constraint.) .... 5:59 P.M.

Dept. of Damning Videos: I have a weakness for this kind of cartoon. ... 1:34 P.M.

Thursday, March 2, 2006

Topping Out: A good deal of the gleeful Froomkinian outrage in the press and Democratic party over that pre-Katrina video seems to be based on what is at best is a semantic misunderstanding. After Katrina, Bush said "I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees." In the video, Patterico points out, Bush is warned by hurricane expert Max Mayfield that there's a chance the "levees will be topped." Topping is different than breaching, no? When a levee's "topped," or "overtopped," some water sloshes over it and into the city. Then the storm passes and that's it. When a levee's "breached," there's a hole in the levee and Lake Pontchartrain pours in the gap and keeps pouring in until the city is completely flooded. What Bush said after the storm seems quite consistent with what Mayfield told him before the storm--i.e., he thought the levees might be topped by the storm surge but not that they'd be breached, with the catastrophe that resulted. ... P.S.: Is the despised, self-parodying MSM intentionally glossing over this important difference in order to exaggerate the anti-Bush shock value of the video? I don't know--but I do know that the actual "topped" quote was hard to find in print, lending some of the stories an eerie, undocumented quality. Do reporters not print the quote because then they couldn't justify the charge that Bush lied about the "breach"? You make the call. I'm too paranoid at this point. ... P.P.S.: Shouldn't Bush's press operation, rather than Powerline and Patterico, be forcefully pointing all this out? ...

Update: Several readers note that "topping" is not as benign as I make it sound, since water flowing over the top of a levee can erode it and lead to a "breach" (though it's not clear that this is what happened in the New Orleans breaches that did occur). But "topping" and "breaching" are still two different things. ... Update: NOLA denizen Harry Shearer (citing this article) says some levees breached after overtopping and some breached without overtopping. ... 5:14 P.M. link

Excitable Times in Ruins! Did the New York Times really run a story last week headlined:

More Clashes Shake Iraq; Political Talks Are in Ruins

"Ruins"? Wow. That is embarrassing. ... The hed was repeated in the story's lede, which said that "political negotiations over a new government" were "in ruins." Funny thing, though--in today's NYT, negotiations seem to be going on again. Those Iraqi "ruins" get picked up pretty quickly. ... P.S.: I'm not saying Bill Keller's** headline and lede writers were amping up the Iraq hysteria in order to manufacture another Tet. Maybe they just have no judgment or perspective. It's bleeding obvious that when a Sunni delegation announces it is "suspending talks" in reaction to some awful sectarian attacks, that doesn't mean talks won't be un-suspended after a decent interval. ... In this case it took 48 hours. ... [Thanks to Mudville Gazette for pointing out the NYT howler.]

**--Keller's been in the editor's job long enough to be held responsible for the continuation of this chronic NYT story-tweaking problem. ... 1:27 A.M. link

Wednesday, March 1, 2006

Sorry, Shafer: "Bhagwan" Charlie Peters' plot to take over the world by seeding important publications with former editors of the Washington Monthly is back on track! 5:09 P.M.

Kf's Out-of-the-Know Longshot Oscar Pick: Best picture--Good Night and Good Luck. ... Why? Not because it's a great film--jeez, it's barely substantial enough to be called a full-length film at all. The reason is interest-group politics. The easiest way to get an Academy membership is by acting. Consequently, there are more actors in the Academy than directors, etc. They're the biggest voting bloc. They tend to support fellow actors who fulfill the dream of directing, as George Clooney did in Good Night (and as Kevin Costner did in Dances With Wolves--which then bizarrely won Best Picture!). ... This year, you've got a five-way race with five weak entries. (Not just in box office terms--they're all flawed films.) In theory, a film could win with only 21% of the vote. Clooney's interest-group actor base is probably close to 20%! ... P.S.: In practice, Brokeback will probably get way over 21% and win. I just want credit if it doesn't. ... P.P.S.: Maybe this is already the accepted Contrarian Wisdom on all the Oscar sites that I haven't been reading. ... P.P.P.S.: It's not completely uninformed. ...

Update: 1) Several readers email with more examples of actors winning "Best Picture" for films they directed, including at least two mediocrities (marked with **): 2004 Million Dollar Baby** (Clint Eastwood); 1995 Braveheart (Mel Gibson); 1992 Unforgiven ** (Clint Eastwood); 1982 Gandhi (Richard Attenborough); 1980 Ordinary People (Robert Redford), which beat Scorsese's Raging Bull. ... I'm not even counting Ron Howard's win in 2001 for A Beautiful Mind;

2) Reader G. notes, however, that the actors' constituency--in the form of the Screen Actors Guild--has already suggested where its votes will go:

[T]the logical recipient of that actor boost looks to be Crash, not Good Night, and Good Luck. Go back to this year's SAG Awards ... Good Night didn't get a single award. And neither did Brokeback. In their "ensemble" category, which is basically SAG's stand-in for a best picture category, four of the Oscar best pic nominees were also nominated. ... And despite Clooney's pedigree, they went for Crash. In fact, it was Crash's win at SAG which elevated it into the spoiler spot for Brokeback.

He adds: "[W]iith odds running 1/4 for Brokeback, betting against it could be a pretty lucrative wager right now." ... Compared to me, G is an insider, so I would defer to him. But there's one other scenario: Clooney's directing role means his movie will take a chunk of the actors' vote, splitting it with Crash and allowing Brokeback to sneak in after all. ... 4:30 P.M. link

Hill Poll Shock? In New Hampshire. (Though, remember, they know Edwards in New Hampshire from the last go-round. Maybe he should be ahead at this point.) 2:19 P.M.

Stix Nix Prix Pix II: No bumping, please. We're reddish! I notice my hits have been down a bit this week--must be the lack of Brokeback coverage. The constant clamoring from readers who claim I've neglected this issue is finally getting to me, so here's Newsweek on the film's Breakout Into the Heartland!

An Oscar nod for Best Picture often means big box-office increases, but "Brokeback Mountain" hasn't gotten the kind of bump insiders expected. Unlike last year's "Million Dollar Baby," which saw an 88 percent increase between the noms and Oscar night, and "Chicago," which shot up 100 percent, the grosses for "Brokeback" have actually been declining every weekend. [Emph. added]

Newsweek's Sean Smith is actually a bit too downbeat about the film's B.O., saying "it'll now be lucky to touch $80 million." But it's at $75.8 now. It will get to $80 million. I stake my reputation on it! ... Will nobody defend this B+, over-hyped film except kf? ... [Thanks to M.C.] 1:02 P.M.

Dick Morris, outlining why Hillary isn't the sure-loser Republicans seem to think she is, seems almost Frank Rich-like in overestimating the political and cultural importance of Hollywood:

The cultural forces that Hillary's candidacy will unleash - from the media, from Hollywood and from the cultural icons who decree our lifestyles - will be far beyond those that normally line up behind a presidential candidate. A small foretaste emerged in ABC TV's show "Commander in Chief," in which Geena Davis plays a female president who masters the men and the crises that litter her path. What other presidential candidacy was foreshadowed by a prime-time, hour-long weekly television show?

Didn't "Commander in Chief," um, flop? Just asking! ... P.S.: Would it be completely impossible to just skip over the prescribed newsweekly covers on "Are We Ready for a Woman President?" Maybe Newsweek will be so eager to beat Time to that one they'll get it out of the way next month. (Maybe they've already done them. Seems like it!) ... 11:44 A.M.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Congratulations to Franklin Foer, the new editor of TNR. ... Andrew Sullivan sucks up to everyone involved, even his old enemies, here. [Sucking up is just the Darwinian default position--ed. For bloggers it's more a suck/attack cycle.]... 2:43 P.M.

kf vs. the Angry Wright: On I defend Ann Coulter, who accused my friend and colleague Bob Wright of having "affection for these terrorists." Maybe I handled it well, maybe I didn't! You make the call (but just skip over the three seconds where I stare Quayle-like at the camera). ... P.S.: In the "diavolg" about Coulter I declare that Bob's recent NYT op-ed (the one Coulter was discussing) makes "one very good point" but "went astray in a couple of places." I should say what I meant by this:

The very good point: That, contrary to some of the posturing around the cartoon debate, the Western mainstream press practices self-censorship to avoid offending ethnic and religious groups all the time, and that's a reasonable thing to do.

The couple of places the piece goes astray in my opinion:

1) Wright clearly distingushes between self-censorship and censorship, but then glides over this distinction when he considers the anti-cartoon riots--even though it's at the heart of what's offensive about Muslims attacking the Danish government for something printed in a Danish newspaper. Wright says:

So why not take the model that has worked in America and apply it globally? Namely: Yes, you are legally free to publish just about anything, but if you publish things that gratuitously offend ethnic or religious groups, you will earn the scorn of enlightened people everywhere.

It's not at all clear, of course, that the rioters would accept the first part of this "model"--about being "legally free to publish just about anything." I certainly get the impression that they want, not self-censorship, but censorship. And if they are actively offended by a failure to censor, then it's also not at all clear that their sensibilities can be respected in Western-style societies, no? Which brings up ...

2) Having established that Americans self-censor, Wright argues the conflict is merely about the subject of the taboos. (He makes this argument most explicitly on bhTV here). No big deal! We're just haggling over the terms, not the principle. "We ask only that the offended group in turn respect the verdicts of other groups about what they find most offensive." But of course that's only possible with groups that find a fairly narrow range of things "most offensive." If there were a Ku Klux Klan-like religion or culture that found expressions of racial equality highly offensive, we would not respect this taboo in the name of social peace. If there were a Soviet-style religion that found criticism of Stalin or maybe Tom Cruise highly offensive, we would not respect their "verdict" either. They would have to be offended. At least one big issue with respect to Islam is whether what it finds "most offensive"--the subject of a proposed taboo--is something narrow enough that it can be the subject of self-censorship without radically altering Western democracy. If it's just the depiction of the Prophet--well, fine, that seems narrow enough. I join Wright in criticizing the Danish newspaper editor. If what offends is the depiction of women as full equals of men--or the lack of actual censorship as opposed to self-censorship--that would be a problem. Accepting the need for self-censorship doesn't avoid this problem, although Wright gives the impression that it more or less solves the riddle of cultural coexistence.

1:04 A.M. link

Vicious Circle Alert: Oakland, California, suffering a spurt of violent crime, desperately needs more police officers. The city has money to hire them, the voters having approved a special tax. But nobody who's qualified wants to be a cop in Oakland, apparently--even with a salary of $89,000 after three years and retirement at 50. ... [Thanks to reader J.] 12:19 P.M.

It's Not Just Rassmussen: Two other polls have now confirmed the startlingly decisive anti-Dubai-deal sentiments uncovered by Rasmussen's robo poll. Mystery Pollster discounts the argument that CBS' poll is overweighted with Dems. If you adjust to lower the number of Dems, the result stays the same. ... The only bright spot I see for Bush is that a 54-32 majority of Republicans in the RT Strategies poll said we should "trust Bush" on the deal instead of having Congress "take special action"--wording that might have appealed to Republicans but further alienated Democrats. (Overall, the verdict was still 61/27 against Bush.) ... 11:52 A.M.

JPod, like MKau, fails to discern any Lloyd Cutleresque K-Street genius behind the engineered 45-day fallback delay in the ports deal. What, exactly, will it change? Maybe the Bush administration is counting on the Feiler Faster principle--the public will grow bored with the issue with unprecedented speed. They'll be ready for a new plot twist. 45 days is more than an eternity in politics now! Something new will come along. Etc.

That would probably be true if there wasn't a large political class--Democrats, and me-tooing GOPs, and the press--with a major interest in keeping the public alarmed and re-alarmed:

The delay is perfectly timed to allow the Democrats to raise it all anew in a couple of months, and if necessary to go toe-to-toe with George W. Bush should he hold firm on his determination to veto any congressional attempt to block the port deal.

A couple of months from now is a couple of months closer to the election. They'll just ride a second wave, and unless polls shift dramatically, the president will remain all alone out there.

There will be no ports deal. The wise men are wrong.

3:07 A.M.

Instapundit's Katrina/Rita Relief donation list.

Bloggingheads --Bob Wright's videoblog project. Gearbox--Searching for the Semi-Orgasmic Lock-in. Drudge Report--80 % true. Close enough! Instapundit--All-powerful hit king. Joshua Marshall--He reports! And decides! Wonkette--Makes Jack Shafer feel guilty. Salon--Survives! kf gloating on hold. Andrew Sullivan--He asks, he tells. He sells! David Corn--Trustworthy reporting from the left. Washington Monthly--Includes Charlie Peters' proto-blog. the drink. Virginia Postrel--Friend of the future! Peggy Noonan--Gold in every column. Matt Miller--Savvy rad-centrism. WaPo--Waking from post-Bradlee snooze. Keller's Calmer Times--Registration required. NY Observer--Read it before the good writers are all hired away. New Republic--Left on welfare, right on warfare! Jim Pinkerton--Quality ideas come from quantity ideas. Tom Tomorrow--Everyone's favorite leftish cartoonists' blog. Ann "Too Far" Coulter--Sometimes it's just far enough. Bull Moose--National Greatness Central. John Ellis--Forget that Florida business! The cuz knows politics, and he has, ah, sources. "The Note"--How the pros start their day. Romenesko--O.K. they actually start it here. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities--Money Liberal Central. Steve Chapman--Ornery-but-lovable libertarian. Rich Galen--Sophisticated GOP insider. Man Without Qualities--Seems to know a lot about white collar crime. Hmmm. horror stories. Eugene Volokh--Smart, packin' prof, and not Instapundit! Eve Tushnet--Queer, Catholic, conservative and not Andrew Sullivan! WSJ's Best of the Web--James Taranto's excellent obsessions. Walter Shapiro--Politics and (don't laugh) neoliberal humor! Eric Alterman--Born to blog. Joe Conason--Bush-bashing, free most days. Lloyd Grove--Don't let him write about you. Arianna's Huffosphere--Now a whole fleet of hybrid vehicles. populists. Take on the News--TomPaine's blog. B-Log--Blog of spirituality! Hit & Run--Reason gone wild! Daniel Weintraub--Beeblogger and Davis Recall Central. Eduwonk--You'll never have to read another mind-numbing education story again. Nonzero--Bob Wright explains it all. John Leo--If you've got political correctness, he's got a column ... [More tk]

Mickey Kaus, a Slate contributor, is author of The End of Equality.
Photograph of Judith Miller on the Slate home page by Mark Wilson/Getty Images.

More kausfiles
Instapundit Scares Me!
Plus--Krugman makes the case for Bush.
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Celebrity Death Pitch
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kf's Loony Oscar Longshot
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