Peter Wintonick’s Direct Cinema

Peter WintonickDocumentary filmmaker Peter Wintonick died today at the age of 60. If you know of him, it is probably from his film Manufacturing Consent. And if you are younger, you probably know Noam Chomsky from the film. Made in 1992 with Mark Achbar, it is a three-hour long exploration of Chomsky and his work, most especially his ideas about how the corporate media push narratives that are beneficial to the interests of the power elite. It is a really good (Dare I say “fun”?) film and an excellent introduction to Chomsky.

It isn’t Wintonick’s only work. He made a number of other films on politics as well as the direct-cinema movement itself that he was part of. But he is most important because of his wide ranging collaborations in the documentary filmmaking community—especially in Canada.

Last fall, he was diagnosed with a rare liver cancer, Cholangio Carcinoma. And on Friday, he was admitted to the hospital for problems related to the cancer, where he died today.

For those who haven’t seen it, I am embedding the entire Manufacturing Consent video here:

Obamacare Website on the Mend

We Heart ObamacareJonathan Chait has written a welcome salve for us liberals still bothered by the problems that have plagued the Healthcare.gov website, Obamacare Hyperventilation to Continue Forever! It is important to remember the “dog bites man” aspect of modern journalism. Things that don’t go wrong are not news. Thus we hear about what’s going wrong with Obamacare and completely miss everything that is going right with it.

Chait mentions any number of the “right” things. Perhaps the biggest thing is that Obamacare has been in effect for years. It is only the exchanges that are six weeks old. And these other parts have been going really well. Healthcare costs have been lower than expected. People with preexisting conditions have been able to get insurance. And kids have been able to stay on their parents policies. Even since the rollout of the exchanges, things have gone pretty well. People are signing up for the Medicaid expansion at a good clip. The state run exchanges are working really well. And the website is getting fixed.

The main point of his article is that it just isn’t true that Democrats are abandoning Obamacare. It is all just wishful thinking on the part of conservatives with a major assist by the mainstream press who would just love the feeding frenzy of an actual Democratic Party war. After the coverage of the supposed civil war in the Republican Party, you would think that everyone would just calm down. But no. And in a couple of months it will be like it never happened.

Of course, the issues with the Healcare.gov website remain. I wrote before that given what I know about software development, it is only about now that we would start to see the system get better. Well, it turns out that we are seeing the website get better. On Friday, Elise Viebeck at The Hill reported, Official: HealthCare.gov Errors Below One Percent. According to the article, the website can now handle between 20,000 and 25,000 users at one time. That is an enormous increase from last month. I don’t think most people appreciate just how good that news is. It mean that almost certainly the website will be working well by the end of the month.

The main thing is that Obamacare is moving forward. I don’t see it stopping. Because computer software is mysterious from the outside, there has been a tendency to assume that the website problems couldn’t be fixed. And it certainly didn’t help that the process of fixing bugs requires a lot of start-up effort that doesn’t produce apparent results. But now that we are at the point where improvements are noticeable, I think even the media narratives will change. And the conservatives can go back to their standard lines about Obamacare being socialism and the end of all that is good in America.

Odds and Ends Vol 6

Odds and EndsWell, boys and girls, it has been a while since our last Odds and Ends. That may be because I’m just generally slowing down. The fact that there has been little real political news doesn’t help. But I’ve been lazy too, I think. Yesterday, I watched both The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra and The Lost Skeleton Returns Again. I’ve also been cooking a lot. In fact, I have a couple of new recipes that I will publish when I’ve perfected them. One of them is the best potato chowder ever. Ah, food and silly movies!

And now the news.

  1. Are you as surprised as I am about what’s going on with BlackBerry? In case you missed it, the dying technology company was given a billion dollars to restructure. (It also happens that BlackBerry has $2.3 billion in cash on hand. This is one of the countless examples of all the companies that are sitting on huge piles of cash and doing absolutely nothing with it: no investment, no hiring. I’ve never heard a compelling conservative answer to why this is and how exactly Obamacare and “high” taxes are stopping them.) I just don’t get how this is a good investment. I don’t see how BlackBerry fits into the modern world. But we’ll see.

    But what I really don’t get are things like Sean Vitka’s article, BlackBerry’s New CEO Has Raised the Dead Before. Can He Do It Again? I don’t mean to put down Vitka, because I don’t think he necessarily buys into this crap. The main thing though it that I don’t. I think that good management is critically important to businesses. But the rock star mentality is totally bogus. It mostly comes from the fact that some CEOs are very good at marketing themselves. And some are just very lucky—being in charge during exactly the right years. (See, for example, Bill Clinton.) That’s not to say these guys aren’t good. An idiot can destroy even the best of luck. (See, for example, George Bush Jr.) John Chen is no more likely to pull BlackBerry back from the brink than any other competent manager. It isn’t rocket science nor is it witchcraft. It’s just management and larger market forces.

  2. It had to happen. A third person—this time a woman—has come forward with allegations that New Mexico authorities did the same things I’ve reported before. Basically: a dog indicated that the woman had drugs. So they took her to a medical office where she was x-rayed and anally probed. But I don’t feel like getting into that subject any more until we start seeing some actual court proceedings. Click over and check it out yourself, though.
  3. Matt Yglesias alerted me to the fact that quite recently, both Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s have downgraded the big banks. As I wrote last Sunday, the ratings agencies are awful. Yglesias at least partially agrees with me, ” I think they’re ratings of large sovereign countries largely reflect politics rather than real economic analysis.” He adds, however, “But corporate debt is close to their core competencies and I think people should take these claims from Moody’s and S&P seriously.” In the more recent Moody’s downgrade, they said they don’t think the federal government will save the banks anymore. In other words: “too big to fail” is over. Dean Baker has laid out why we shouldn’t have “too big to fail” banks and why TARP was unnecessary. So these downgrades are a good thing. But I am absolutely not sure that “too big to fail” is over. The federal government always looks out for the interests of the big guy.
  4. In case you haven’t heard, in the Virginia Attorney General’s race, after all the votes were counted, Mark Herring came from behind to win it by 164 votes. This may change, of course. I don’t think anyone trusts Virginia’s election process with Ken “I’ll do anything to protect zygotes” Cuccinelli in charge. And the margin is “wafer thin”: 0.007%. So there will be a recount. But in these situations, you would rather be up than down. And in general, you would rather be a Democrat than a Republican, because Democratic votes are more likely to go “missing.” This one’s for Herring’s opponent, Mark Obenshain, because even things that are “wafer thin” can be dangerous:
  5. The controversial IQ-race researcher Jason Richwine seems to have found a home at the National Review. Good for him, I guess. I don’t have it out for him the way a lot of liberals do. He’s just another conservative who does sloppy work. As for his IQ work, I don’t really accept any IQ work, but clearly he has entered into the field because he has an ax to grind. I mean, really, who would choose to look at racial disparities in IQ tests when you could look at the truly massive generational disparities. But whatever. I don’t think the guy deserves to never have a decent job again. This is something the Republicans are much better at than the Democrats. If such a scandal happened on the left, the guy would be working at a book store now.
  6. And finally, thanks to The Drinking Atheist, I know that lots of animals masturbate. In an article at I Fucking Love Science, we get the tenderly phrased headline, Self-Love in the Animal Kingdom. It provides a rather long but incomplete list of animals that masturbate with details that you never knew you were desperate to hear. For example, “Yes, even cute fluffy squirrels will take matters into their own paws and they even eat their own ejaculate when they are done.” And why not? The ability to masturbate is one of the few things in the universe that argue for a loving God.

Until next time, my friends!

GOP Needs to Look Into Alien Abduction

Hanry FarrellOver at The Monkey Cage, Henry Farrell reports on some really interesting political science (pdf) research, About as Many People Say They’ve Been Abducted by Space Aliens as Say They’ve Committed Voter Fraud. But that headline may give you the wrong idea; the research is very clever and shows that voter impersonation pretty much never happens.

Unlike other research that looks at allegations and prosecutions of voter fraud, this research just asked people. But given that it is a crime, they couldn’t just ask, “Have you ever committed this federal felony?” So what they did was create two groups and gave them a list of innocuous things that people do. But the test group had “voter fraud” added to it. All the people were asked if they had done any of the things listed. By comparing the two groups, they could tweeze out how many had committed voter fraud. The number came out to 2.5%.

That’s pretty high. So the researchers did the experiment again, but this time instead of testing for “voter fraud,” they tested for “abducted by extraterrestrials in the previous year.” And the percentage of people who claim they have been abducted by aliens is—Wait for it!—2.5%. It would seem that roughly 2.5% of the people who take these tests do not pay close attention. Or maybe we have a bigger problem:

The implication here is that if one accepts that 2.5% is a valid lower bound for the prevalence of voter impersonation in the 2012 election then one must also accept that about 2.5% of the adult U.S. population – about 6 million people—believe that they were abducted by extraterrestrials in the last year. If this were true then voter impersonation would be the least of our worries.

But there is a more basic issue here. I understand that political scientists need to test the claims of the voter ID proponents. But these activists are being totally disingenuous. Maybe it isn’t such a bad thing to make people show ID to vote. But if that were your actual concern, then you would go about it differently. If you must have ID to vote then the government must facilitate you getting an ID free of charge. Otherwise, it is like a poll tax. No one pushing for voter ID laws is at all concerned about voter fraud. Simply put: voter ID laws begin and end with voter suppression.

The authors of the paper note that as real as actual voter fraud may be, it is dwarfed by other problems in our voting system:

To give one idea of the scale: a review of allegations in the 2008 and 2010 elections in Texas found only four complaints of voter impersonation, out of more than 13 million votes cast, and it is not clear whether any of the complaints actually led to a prosecution. By contrast, the 2000 presidential election almost certainly was altered by poor ballot design in Palm Beach County, which resulted in at least 2,000 voters who intended to vote for Al Gore and Joe Lieberman casting their ballots for Pat Buchanan by mistake.

But we aren’t seeing any laws passed to deal with these kinds of problems. And that’s because voter ID laws are created to suppress the vote of Democratic leaning citizens. In future decades this will be as big a shame as the voter suppression leading up to the Voting Rights Act.

Afterword

And please don’t tell me that those southern bigots were all Democrats. We all know that the big political shift over the 60s and 70s was those southern Democrats becoming Republicans. Southern bigotry has been the core of Republican victories from Nixon through Bush Jr. If the Republicans are going to use racial resentment to get elected, they should at least own it and not make out like they are still the party of Lincoln.

Pictures of Louis Daguerre

Louis DaguerreOn this day in 1647, the French philosopher Pierre Bayle was born. He is noted for arguing in favor of religious tolerance. But there’s an interesting aspect to words like “tolerance” and “diversity.” They are exclusive. Sure, we do want diversity in our culture. But if we are to have real diversity, we can’t think in terms of that. And with tolerance, there is an implied limit: we tolerate diversity up to a point. In Bayle’s case, he thought various kinds of protestants should be tolerant of each other. But Catholics? Not so much. And let’s not even start with Jews. Personally, I don’t want to be tolerated; I want a lot more.

The great playwright and and lyricist W S Gilbert was born in 1836. He is best know for his collaboration with the composer Arthur Sullivan. And now is as good a time as ever to watch Linda Ronstadt kill it in Pirates of Penzance:

Fox News host Megyn Kelly is 43. Normally, I wouldn’t even bring her up. But according to Joe Muto in An Atheist in the Foxhole, it’s all an act. He said that she was very funny and smart, and not especially conservative when he first worked with her. She went for the dumber host act to become a star at Fox News. I’m not sure what I think of that. Is it more evil to just play the part people pay you to? I tend to think that it is. News readers are nominally journalists; they aren’t actors. Their audiences believe them. Say what you will about Glenn Beck, I don’t doubt that he really believes what he says. So yeah, of all the women on Fox News, I would probably most like to hang out with Kelly. (Of all the people, it would be Shepard Smith, just because he’s such oddball.) But I think what she’s doing is vile.

Other birthdays: Scottish painter David Wilkie (1785); the great botanist Asa Gray (1810); physicist August Kundt (1839); writer Clarence Day (1874); painter Wyndham Lewis (1882); pollster George Gallup (1901); songwriter Johnny Mercer (1909); astronaut Alan Shepard (1923); trumpet player Don Cherry (1936); and actor Owen Wilson (45).

The day, however, belongs to the great physicist Louis Daguerre who was born on this day in 1787. He invented the Daguerreotype process, which was the first practical photographic process. If you’ve seen a photograph from the first half of the 19th century (for example, Edgar Allan Poe), it used this process. It isn’t that different from later processes. Basically, a lens focuses the image on a plate that was coated in silver. The chemistry is kind of complicated, as you can see in this excellent little video:

Happy birthday Louis Daguerre!