Friday, March 13, 2009

Taking Santelli's Bullet

As a longtime fan of the Daily Show, I have considerable tolerance for Jon Stewart when he crosses the line from satirist into pseudo-pundit--but going after Jim Cramer was just weak.

For those who don't know, there has been a spat rising between the two in recent days, both using their considerable media wherewithal to publicly criticize one another for whatever reasons TV personalities feel they should. (My guess is ratings.) I think most of it stemmed from this clip last week:

I understand that Rick Santelli backed out of his appearance on DS, which probably chapped Stewart's ass a little, but Cramer is just a personified straw-man. The clip above is supposed to demonstrate the purported hypocrisy of Santelli, yet the DS staff manages to catch everyone in on CNBC looking the fool except Santelli.

I'm sorry, but anyone who gets market advice from a mass media outlet deserves a certain loss in returns. C'mon--Cramer is a cartoon. People really looked to a TV character with millions of viewers for long-term investment advice? Who does that????

So yes, Jon, you punked out a guy who is famous for making a spectacle of himself. Your spot yesterday was an excellent piece of gotcha-Monday morning quarterback journalism--like we need more of that.

Stick to the jokes, Jon.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

"Why should we be afraid to test our worldview against reality?"

Because by setting your "worldview" from "reality," you concede that your basis for scientific explanation was written when the Earth was assumed to be flat and that it was perfectly reasonable that an omnipotent God would play an elaborate Punk'd by asking a man to burn his son to death. This is a fine measure on which to base a faith, if that's your thing, but not exactly deserving of a national science prize.

I really try not to be anti-religious, in spite of religions being historically anti-intellectual--I do try to turn the other cheek, as it were--but sentences like this just infuriate me:
"If Christianity is true, it better be true in the natural history museums and in the zoos."
Christianity is a faith. To believe it, by definition, you must disregard all rational evidence to the contrary. I can't say definitively that God does or does not exist--one cannot prove a negative. But somehow, these nitwits think that just because they believe it to be true, a museum is supposed to base their exhibits on a grand conjecture that includes stories about men trapped in whales? Should Pinocchio be included too?

Museums are for teaching, and museums based on science should teach on observable phenomena and measureable data. To suggest that it is somehow improper for the museum to ignore someone's purported invisible man in the sky into their exhibits would be laughable if not so repugnant to reason.

It does not take an atheist to understand the difference between faith and science. Even when science is wrong, it is wrong for discrepancies in observation. By contrast, it is not wrong for, say, basing hypotheses on 2000 year old stories that--to be kind--stretch the imagination.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Gideon and the Right to Counsel

Walter Mondale has an op-ed in WaPo today calling for the states and the federal government to"rededicate" themselves to ensure that all defendants in criminal cases have adequate counsel, as assured in Gideon v. Wainwright. In addition, the former vice president alludes to expansion of this right to "certain" civil litigants.

Walter, you had me until "civil litigants."

In my current professional capacity, I come across requests for assistance from prisoners, criminal defendants, and civil plaintiffs in cases against the government. I work in a policy shop and always have to refer them to actual law firms or organizations that actually handle litigation, but the requests pour in nonetheless. I have never figured out the ratio of legitimate claims to frivolous ones, but I assure you that there is no shortage of the latter in regards to civil litigation.

People with no real concept of law, our legal system, or even basic understanding of the Constitution file cases in courts regularly, often on a pro se basis (i.e., without a lawyer). If all the paperwork is done, then the courts have to at least entertain the claim and find a legal reason to dismiss it. (I can only imagine the awful job sifting through mounds of paranoid, rambling incoherence and trying to come up with a decent reason to dismiss if the dedicated simpleton successfully addresses the issue of standing.) Such cases allege monitoring by all extant--and some fictitious and extra-terrestrial--government agencies, unfair seizure of property due to defaulted mortgages that they somehow try to argue away, and other farcical thoughts that should never be conceived, let alone addressed in a court of law.

Expanding the right to counsel to civil litigation is not only a logistical nightmare, but one in which provides the perverse incentive to increase the amount of litigation in an already overly litigious society. Yes, courts play a vital role in keeping businesses in check. But, good god, the product and medical liability suits are already choking the courts--which are understaffed, by the way (thanks Pat Leahy!)--and making it difficult to do business or take care of people. This is not a good thing.

I understand that Mr. Mondale wrote "certain" civil cases and would presumably be insulated from the more blatantly ridiculous claims--I'm not trying to straw man him here. However, this could lead to an entirely new strain of litigation that could very well expand any "narrowly tailored" legislation limiting whom is eligible for counsel. Any case or plaintiff deemed outside of the direct scope of the statute can appeal the original judgment, and any successful challenge would start the entire process over again. There would be no uniformity among the states, so different states' statutes would be pitted against one another and judged differently in different jurisdictions. It would work its way up and back down through the various court systems for years to come--and with all that litigation comes lawyer's fees that can be extracted from the respondent parties and taxpayers (since this all relies on the plaintiffs being unable to pay the first place). Is it any wonder the ABA is leading this charge?

We need tort reform, of that there is little question. But giving more people access to an overrun court system is not the answer.

It's Like the Study of Economics Never Happened...

Honestly. Top headline at

U.S. to Toughen Its Stance On Trade

It might as well read:

America to Punish Own Consumers, Poor

Monday, March 9, 2009

Nationalized Citibank

Audio NSFW:

Hat tip: Allison Gibbs

Mood Music Monday

In honor of the World Baseball Classic (and the two U.S. victories!):

I am SOOO ready for MLB Opening Day. (For some reason, March just doesn't hold the appeal it usually does.)