Tag Archives: Megan Carpentier

Mele WikiLeakmaka Is The Thing To Say

David Rothkopf at Foreign Policy:

The subtitle of this blog has been “How the World is Really Run” since the day it was launched, an editor’s play on the title of a book I wrote. But I am today inclined to lend that subtitle out to the publishers of the most recent tidal wave of information from WikiLeaks. Because the 250,000 State Department cables contained in the release offer up no single revelation as striking as the overall message they contain: The dark shadowy world of diplomacy and international intrigue is working just about precisely as you suspect it is.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

Quote of the year: “Ahmadinejad is Hitler.” This from Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Zayed in July 2009. And then there is this very astute comment from the Crown Prince: “‘Any culture that is patient and focused enough to spend years working on a single carpet is capable of waiting years and even decades to achieve even greater goals.’ His greatest worry, he said, ‘is not how much we know about Iran, but how much we don’t.'” Some of you recall the international kerfuffle that erupted when the U.A.E.’s ambassador to the United States told me at the Aspen Ideas Festival that a military strike on Iran may become a necessity. It turns out he was understating the fear and urgency felt by his government, and other Gulf governments.

3. Since we all know that only Israelis and their neocon supporters in America seek a military attack on Iran’s nuclear program, Bahrain must be under the control of neocons: “There was little surprising in Mr. Barak’s implicit threat that Israel might attack Iran’s nuclear facilities. As a pressure tactic, Israeli officials have been setting such deadlines, and extending them, for years. But six months later it was an Arab leader, the king of Bahrain, who provides the base for the American Fifth Fleet, telling the Americans that the Iranian nuclear program ‘must be stopped,’ according to another cable. ‘The danger of letting it go on is greater than the danger of stopping it,'” he said.

The Saudis, too, are neocons, apparently: The Bahraini king’s “plea was shared by many of America’s Arab allies, including the powerful King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, who according to another cable repeatedly implored Washington to ‘cut off the head of the snake’ while there was still time.”

4. How does Robert Gates know this? In a conversation with the then-French defense minister about the possibility of an Israeli strike on Iran, the defense secretary “added a stark assessment: any strike ‘would only delay Iranian plans by one to three years, while unifying the Iranian people to be forever embittered against the attacker.'” I am not suggesting that I know this is untrue; I’m just puzzled at how someone could reach this conclusion so definitively.

Spencer Ackerman at Danger Room at Wired:

Foreign potentates and diplomats beware: the U.S. wants your DNA.

If that chief of mission seemed a bit too friendly at the last embassy party, it might be because the State Department recently instructed U.S. diplomats to collect biometric identification on their foreign interlocutors. The search for the most personal information of all is contained in WikiLeaks’ latest publication of tens of thousands of sensitive diplomatic cables.

A missive from the Secretary of State’s office in April 2009 asked diplomats in Africa to step up their assistance to U.S. intelligence. Not only should diplomats in Burundi, Rwanda and Congo collect basic biographical information on the people they talk to — a routine diplomatic function — but they should also gather “fingerprints, facial images, DNA, and iris scans.”

There’s no guidance listed on how exactly diplomats are supposed to collect the unique identifiers of “key civilian and military officials.” In recent years, the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan has built storehouses of biometric data to understand who’s an insurgent and who isn’t, all using small, portable eye and thumb scanners. But the State Department’s foray into bio-info collection hasn’t previously been disclosed.

Peter Beinart at The Daily Beast:

The hype-to-payoff ratio approximated Geraldo’s opening of Al Capone’s vaults. “Leaked Cables Uncloak U.S. Diplomacy,” hollered the headline on NYTimes.com. The latest WikiLeaks document dump, instructed the grey lady, offers an “extraordinary look at” American foreign policy that “is sending shudders through the diplomatic establishment, and could strain relations with some countries, influencing international affairs in ways that are impossible to predict.”

Then the Times began summarizing the documents, and the banalities began. Bullet Point 1: The U.S. is worried about loose nuclear materials in Pakistan but can’t do much about it. Bullet Point 2: American leaders are “thinking about an eventual collapse of North Korea” and hoping China will accept a reunified peninsula. Bullet Point 3: Washington is “bargaining [with various allies] to empty the Guantanamo prison.” Bullet Point 4: There are “suspicions of corruption in the Afghan government.” Bullet Point 5: The Chinese regime hacks into foreign computers. Bullet Point 6: Rich Saudis still fund al Qaeda. Bullet Point 7: Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin are tight. Bullet Point 8: Syria arms Hezbollah, but lies about it. Bullet Point 9: The U.S. tried to get Germany not to prosecute CIA agents accused of kidnapping. Bullet Point 10: Ireland is having financial trouble. (OK, I made that one up).

But maybe this isn’t fair. Maybe the cables, while mundane when taken in isolation, combine to provide a fascinating synthesis of America’s position in the world. Or maybe not. Overall, explained the Times, “The cables show that nearly a decade after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the dark shadow of terrorism still dominates the United States’ relations with the world…They depict the Obama administration struggling to sort out which Pakistanis are trustworthy partners against Al Qaeda…They show American officials managing relations with a China on the rise and a Russia retreating from democracy. They document years of painstaking effort to prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon—and of worry about a possible Israeli strike on Iran with the same goal.” Valuable insights—if you’ve been living under a rock all century.

Matt Steinglass at DiA at The Economist:

WikiLeaks’s release of the  “Collateral Murder” video last April was a pretty scrupulous affair: an objective record of combat activity which American armed forces had refused to release, with careful backing research on what the video showed. What we got was a window into combat reality, through the sights of a helicopter gunship. You could develop different interpretations of that video depending on your understanding of its context, but it was something important that had actually taken place.

Diplomatic cables are something entirely different. It’s part of the nature of human communication that one doesn’t always say the same thing to every audience. There are perfectly good reasons why you don’t always tell the same story to your boss as you do to your spouse. There are things Washington needs to tell Riyadh to explain what it’s just told Jerusalem and things Washington needs to tell Jerusalem to explain what it’s just told Riyadh, and these cables shouldn’t be crossed. There’s nothing wrong with this. It’s inevitable. And it wouldn’t make the world a better place if Washington were unable to say anything to Jerusalem without its being heard by Riyadh, any more than it would if you were unable to tell your spouse anything without its being heard by your boss.

At this point, what WikiLeaks is doing seems like tattling: telling Sally what Billy said to Jane. It’s sometimes possible that Sally really ought to know what Billy said to Jane, if Billy were engaged in some morally culpable deception. But in general, we frown on gossips. If there’s something particularly damning in the diplomatic cables WikiLeaks has gotten a hold of, the organisation should bring together a board of experienced people with different perspectives to review the merits of releasing that particular cable. But simply grabbing as many diplomatic cables as you can get your hands on and making them public is not a socially worthy activity.

Conn Carroll at Heritage:

There is nothing positive that can be said about the release of more than a quarter-million confidential American diplomatic cables by the rogue hacker organization WikiLeaks. WikiLeaks has recklessly and inexcusably put lives at risk. Any U.S. person who cooperated with WikiLeaks has committed a crime and should be prosecuted to the maximum extent of the law.

That said, WikiLeaks is not the end of the world. The fundamentals of U.S. relationships with other nations remain unchanged. Leaks are not going to stop nations from cooperating with the U.S., or for that matter sharing secrets with us. Nations cooperate with the U.S. because it is in their interest to do so. And no leak will stop nations from acting in their self-interest.

But what is in our best interest? This has not been a good month for the Obama Doctrine: The President came home empty-handed from Asia, North Korea fired artillery at South Korea just days after revealing nuclear facilities no one knew they had, and Obama failed to get the G-20 to take any action limiting trade imbalances. It was not supposed to be this way. After apologizing for all of our nation’s sins, the world was supposed to swoon at President Obama’s unparalleled charisma. As American military power withered away, President Obama would use soft power and the United Nations to manage world affairs. But like Woodrow Wilson and Jimmy Carter before him, this progressive foreign policy vision has failed.

Moe Lane:

Accused rapist Julian Assange* continued to justify the upcoming backlash against transparency this weekend by promising to illegally release more classified government documents on the notorious site Wikileaks. These documents in particular are apparently State Department diplomatic cables: up until, oh, today, those documents were typically much more blunt and ambiguity-free than the standard State Department bumpf, mostly because nobody out there considered that anyone would be insane enough to release them even if they had access. This will likely change – quickly – now that the diplomatic corps knows that its private communications are insecure; in other words, from now on the folks in the striped-pants brigade are going to be as mealy-mouthed in private as they are in public. As Allahpundit noted above, the Left should keep this in mind when trying in the future to boost State at Defense’s expense: Assange just made that harder for you.

And I will also note that, while I will happily ding President Obama for both his wrong actions and for not living up to his own side’s previously-established standards of behavior, this line of attack by Wikileaks is made up of pure garbage designed to weaken both my country and my government. The President needs his ambassadors to know what he wants; they need to be able to tell him what he can get. So it’s stupid to not be blunt and forthright in private about matters that require a softer public touch. It’s even more stupid for Wikileaks to keep publicly attacking the USA like this.

Because when the backlash comes, it’s going to splatter.

Steve Benen:

I would, however, like to know more about the motivations of the leaker (or leakers). Revealing secrets about crimes, abuses, and corruption obviously serves a larger good — it shines a light on wrongdoing, leading (hopefully) to accountability, while creating an incentive for officials to play by the rules. Leaking diplomatic cables, however, is harder to understand — the point seems to be to undermine American foreign policy, just for the sake of undermining American foreign policy. The role of whistleblowers has real value; dumping raw, secret diplomatic correspondence appears to be an exercise in pettiness and spite.

I’ve seen some suggestions that diplomats shouldn’t write cables that they’d be embarrassed by later if they were made publicly. I find that unpersuasive. I’m not going to pretend to be an expert in the nuances of on-the-ground international affairs, but I am comfortable with the notion of some diplomatic efforts being kept secret. Quiet negotiations between countries can lead, and have led, to worthwhile foreign policy agreements, advancing noble causes.

If the argument from the leakers is that there should be no such thing as private diplomacy, they’ll need a better excuse to justify this kind of recklessness.

Scott Johnson at Powerline:

The New York Times is participating in the dissemination of the stolen State Department cables that have been made available to it in one way or another via WikiLeaks. My friend Steve Hayward recalls that only last year the New York Times ostentatiously declined to publish or post any of the Climategate emails because they had been illegally obtained. Surely readers will recall Times reporter Andrew Revkin’s inspiring statement of principle: “The documents appear to have been acquired illegally and contain all manner of private information and statements that were never intended for the public eye, so they won’t be posted here.”

Interested readers may want to compare and contrast Revkin’s statement of principle with the editorial note posted by the Times on the WikiLeaks documents this afternoon. Today the Times cites the availability of the documents elsewhere and the pubic interest in their revelations as supporting their publication by the Times. Both factors applied in roughly equal measure to the Climategate emails.

Without belaboring the point, let us note simply that the two statements are logically irreconcilable. Perhaps something other than principle and logic were at work then, or are at work now. Given the Times’s outrageous behavior during the Bush administration, the same observation applies to the Times’s protestations of good faith.

Amanda Carey at The Daily Caller:

Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin took to her favorite mode of communication Monday – Facebook – and harshly criticized the Obama administration’s response to the latest WikiLeaks release.

In a post titled “Serious Questions about the Obama Administration’s Incompetence in the Wikileaks Fiasco,” Palin wrote that the most recent WikiLeaks disclosure of previously classified documents raises serious concerns about the administration’s “incompetent handling of this whole fiasco.”

Palin went on to ask what steps have been taken since the first WikiLeaks release to stop the organization’s director, Julian Assange, from distributing even more harmful material. Palin barely paused long enough for any one of her fans to shout a loud “none!” at their computer screens before going on to classify Assange as an “anti-American operative with blood on his hands”.

“Assange is not a ‘journalist,’ any more than the ‘editor’ of al Qaeda’s new English-language magazine Inspire is a ‘journalist,’” wrote Palin. “His past posting of classified documents revealed the identity of more than 100 Afghan sources to the Taliban. Why was he not pursued with the same urgency we pursue al Qaeda and Taliban leaders?”

Megan Carpentier at TPM

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Foreign Affairs, Middle East, New Media

E=MC Fluoride

Max Fisher at The Atlantic:

Andy Schlafly, son of controversial conservative figure Phyllis Shlafly and founder of Conservapedia, the ideologically oriented alternative to Wikipedia, has found a new bugbear: the theory of relativity. Shlafly insists that Albert Einstein’s world-changing idea, elegantly expressed in the equation E=mc2, is part of a pervasive and long-held liberal conspiracy to make people have abortions and stop believing in Jesus. Conservapedia’s surprisingly lengthy articles on relativity makes a convoluted and free-wheeling case that it’s all a government hoax:

The theory of relativity is a mathematical system that allows no exceptions. It is heavily promoted by liberals who like its encouragement of relativism and its tendency to mislead people in how they view the world. …  Virtually no one who is taught and believes relativity continues to read the Bible, a book that outsells New York Times bestsellers by a hundred-fold.

Despite censorship of dissent about relativity, evidence contrary to the theory is discussed outside of liberal universities. … Some liberal politicians have extrapolated the theory of relativity to metaphorically justify their own political agendas. For example, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama helped publish an article by liberal law professor Laurence Tribe to apply the relativistic concept of “curvature of space” to promote a broad legal right to abortion. … Applications of the theory of relativity to change morality have also been common. … The Theory of Relativity enjoys a disproportionate share of federal funding of physics research today.

Megan Carpentier at Talking Points Memo:

Schlafly also points to the Bible as a reason that Einstein’s theory must be wrong:

9. The action-at-a-distance by Jesus, described in John 4:46-54.

Conservapedia defines “action-at-a-distance” as “Action at a distance consists of affecting a distant body instantaneously. At the atom level, this is known as “non-locality.” In non-confusing terms, that indicates the ability to cause something to happen instantaneously in another location (i.e., faster than the speed of light). Since Jesus could, reportedly, do this, thus Einstein is wrong. Schlafly’s evidence is John 4:46-54, in which Jesus reportedly cured someone’s son just by saying it had happened.

Once more he visited Cana in Galilee, where he had turned the water into wine. And there was a certain royal official whose son lay sick at Capernaum.When this man heard that Jesus had arrived in Galilee from Judea, he went to him and begged him to come and heal his son, who was close to death.

“Unless you people see miraculous signs and wonders,” Jesus told him, “you will never believe.”

The royal official said, “Sir, come down before my child dies.”

Jesus replied, “You may go. Your son will live.”The man took Jesus at his word and departed.

While he was still on the way, his servants met him with the news that his boy was living.
When he inquired as to the time when his son got better, they said to him, “The fever left him yesterday at the seventh hour.”

Then the father realized that this was the exact time at which Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” So he and all his household believed.

This was the second miraculous sign that Jesus performed, having come from Judea to Galilee.

Schlafly brags on Conservapedia that he has homeschooled 185 children, all of whom do exceptionally well on standardized tests.

As with Wikipedia and other online crowd-sourced resources, Conservapedia is a colloborative effort of its users and any registered user can post to the site. Schlafly is a frequent contributor to the site, and is identified as the initial author of the entry and well as the editor of the note identified above. Schlafly did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Paul Krugman:

Everyone knows that the American right has problems with science that yields conclusions it doesn’t like. Climate science — which says that we face a huge global externality that requires not just government intervention, but coordinated international action (black helicopters!) has been the target of a sustained, and unfortunately largely successful, attempt to damage its credibility.

But it doesn’t stop there. We should not forget that much of the right is deeply hostile to the theory of evolution.

And now there’s a new one (to me, anyway; maybe it’s been out there all along): it turns out that, according to Conservapedia, the theory of relativity is a liberal plot.

PZ Myers at Science Blogs:

That darn English language that makes words with different meanings sometimes sound similar — it always ends up confusing Christian conservatives of very little brain, whose depth of understanding can only be measured in micrometers. The latest from Conservapædia is that they are on a crusade against Einstein…because smart people who study relativity aren’t reading the Bible, and because a theory about relationship between matter and energy and the speed of light encourages people to be open-minded and tolerant about different ideas, other than the Fundamentalist Evangelical Christian Kakistocracy (FECK for short).

Andy Schlafly is a real boon to us Gnu Atheists who argue that religion rots your brain.

Scott Lemieux:

Seeing this made me want to check in on Conservapedia and see what their classic entry on judicial activism looked like these days.   Fortunately, it’s still enough to make you think the site was a parody, improved by the fact that we now know it’s not.    It starts off in relatively neutral-sounding terms:

Judicial activism is when courts do not confine themselves to reasonable interpretations of laws, but instead create law. Alternatively, judicial activism is when courts do not limit their ruling to the dispute before them, but instead establish a new rule to apply broadly to issues not presented in the specific action.

Hmm, let me try to think of a recent example of that last phenomenon….anyway, eventually they cut to the chase:

In this regard, judicial activism is a way for liberals to avoid the regular legislative means of enacting laws in order to ignore public opinion and dodge public debate.

So judicial activism is something that, by definition, liberals and only liberals do. I wish it was only wingers who accepted this as opposed to a lot of “centrist” pundits. But things get even better:

Judicial activism should not be confused with the courts’ Constitutionally mandated rule in preserving the Constitutional structure of government, as they did in Bush v. Gore, Boy Scouts v. Dale, and D.C. v. Heller.

Yes, if anything is fundamental to our structure of constitutional government, it’s that ballots cast under different voting systems must be counted in the same way if this is necessary to elect a Republican president, and in no other cases. And of the three cases they mention, it’s also instructive that they pick one that involves limiting the reach of civil rights laws. Conveniently, their examples of “judicial activism” draw a line under this:

# Brown v. Board of Education – 1954 Supreme Court ruling ordering the desegregation of public schools.
# Griswold v. Connecticut – 1965 Supreme Court ruling establishing a constitutional right to posess [sic], distribute and use contraception.
# Loving v. Virginia – 1967 Supreme Court ruling requiring the legalization of interracial marriage.

Well, at least they’re consistent! Your classier wingnuts tend not to apply their views in such a logical manner. I’m disappointed, however, that they didn’t add to this a traditional Republican complaint about how Ted Kennedy “slandered” Robert Bork by mentioning his publicly stated views in public

Tristero:

I know, I know. It really is very funny but I can’t laugh at this.

Why? Because some of you, right now, are starting to waste the little time you have here on earth by marshalling reasoned arguments and accurate facts to refute Conservapedia’s lies. And so are others. And that is terribly sad.

Worse, it is counterproductive, because every moment you spend engaging right wing lunatics over tired, out-of-date, and utterly nonsensical argument over science they think is too liberal, is a moment taken away from encountering the truly exciting discoveries being announced almost hourly (here’s one: a crocodile with the teeth of a mammal!). And if you are so busy refighting the past that you can’t keep up with the present, then it becomes all that harder to understand what science is doing, and to support it. I’m not talking, say, a Palin/McCain/Jindal level of ignorance, of course. But if you truly think that it is vitally important to engage people who question Einstein’s theory of relativity, it becomes that much harder to muster the cultural courage to fund research that takes relativity for granted. After all, even if I “believe in relativity” wouldn’t it be better to fund research that proves relativity beyond a shadow of a doubt than stuff that assumes it’s true?*

But wait! you protest. We can’t let that garbage hang out there uncontested. Besides, people will learn a great deal about physics if we address the arguments in a clear, accessible fashion, and teach reality.

Yes, sure, I’ll agree that’s all true. So what?

Sure, we can contest them. But if we completely ignore their utterly ridiculous lies, distortions, and antiquated disputes, then we, not they, get to set the terms of the discourse. That is one reason why great scientists won’t bother to lower themselves to engage folks like the bozos behind Conservapedia (doing so also elevates the bozos). I see no reason why anyone, scientist or layperson, should enter an argument over the relativism of relativity. On the other hand, I do think we need to expose right wing ignoramuses as often as possible. In order to ridicule them. And to sneer. But argue over whether E=MC squared makes Jesus’ miracles impossible? That’s a waste of time. Ok, go ahead if you want to. Whatever. But if want to do some real good, you’ll laugh at them instead.

As for learning a great deal about physics through debunking lies…well, yeah, that’ll work. But I think you could learn much more physics by exploring truth. And that requires honest discussion which, almost by definition, cannot take place with people who insist on an enagagement over lies and distortions.

Please people, laugh all you want at these clowns. Mock them. Denounce them, rail against them. Just don’t make the mistake of arguing with them. Don’t waste your time, and ours.*** We can’t afford it now. We never could.

Attaturk at Firedoglake:

Oh for f**k’s sake!

Leave a comment

Filed under Conservative Movement, Science, Technology

And Then There Was One

Popeater:

Rue McClanahan, one of the last surviving stars of the seminal sitcom ‘The Golden Girls,’ has died after suffering a massive stroke, her manager has confirmed to PEOPLE. She was 76 years old at the time of her death. “She passed away at 1 AM this morning. She had a massive stroke,” Barbara Lawrence told the magazine, adding that the actress “had her family with her. She went in peace.”

The comedic star was best known for her role as saucy Blanche Devereaux on the hit 1980s series, about four retired ladies living it up in Miami. Her death now leaves Betty White as the only living ‘Girl.’

James Poniewozik at Time:

The Golden Girls was a popular and long-lived sitcom in its time, of course, but one of the most striking phenomena of vintage TV today is how popular the show has stayed among TV fans, including those well below retirement age.

Part of it, of course, is simply that the show was well-executed and the performances, McClanahan’s among them, were consistently sharp and well-timed. But the show also seems to strike a chord, both because of how its characters represented their age and transcended it. On the one hand, it was and is refreshing to see a group of senior women—second-class citizens on much of TV then and now—bickering, living and refusing to be invisible. And on the other hand, there’s also something universally appealing about the characters’ insistence on owning their lives, their voices and their sexuality.

Like Sex and the City’s characters later, their appeal was in their power to say whatever, do whatever—and in Blanche’s case, do whomever—they wanted. And its hard to imagine the show without the way McClanahan embodied Blanche’s life force; it spoke not just to senior ladies but to young women, gay men and, for that matter, fans of strong characters whatever their own gender, sexuality or age. McClanahan’s performance transcended her demographic niche, and it will surely outlive her death. RIP.

Michael Musto at Village Voice

Brian Moylan at Gawker:

It was the role that she was always meant to play, brash, slutty, and not afraid to use her feminine wiles to get what she wants. Rue was much like this in real life. I only met her once a few years ago. I interviewed her to talk about her last role in the Logo television show Sordid Lives where she played the tough matriarch of a trashy Texas clan. Aside from talking about how thrilling it was to be acting so late in life, she also told stories about her Golden Girls castmates and off-color tales of her many husbands (some of which are in her autobiography My First Five Husbands). Sorry, most of them were off the record, but I can tell you that talking to her was an absolute blast. She was lively and engaging. Rue had that spark that marks a true entertainer, someone who loved having every eye in the place on her and knew how to keep it there.

Now Betty White, who is enjoying a career resurgence late, is the only member of The Golden Girls cast still alive. Estelle Getty died in 2008 and Bea Arthur passed last year. These deaths seem harder than when most actors of celebrities pass away. Maybe it’s because the characters they played were close to the actresses’ personalities, that we feel like we were so close to them. Their infamous theme song wasn’t so much about the women’s relationship to each other, but thanking us for being their friends and sharing in their adventures.

For younger people who grew up watching the sitcom—or discovering it in syndication, where it still lives today—these were like our surrogate grandmothers. Funny ladies who were at turns gentle, kind, funny, and daffy. Ones that lived a full life of friendship, dating, multicolored caftans, and lots and lots of cheesecake. Yeah, it was a TV show, but thanks to the wonderful actresses who inhabited the roles, it always felt like the real thing.

Megan Carpentier at Spencer Ackerman’s place:

And although Blanche’s coquettishness and high post-menopausal sex drive were often played for laughs, she represented a grandmotherly type you didn’t (and still don’t often see) in popular culture: not a MILF or a GILF, but a woman who found herself attractive, felt herself sexy and pursued her interests and pleasures (and conquests) unabashedly. She might try out a new beauty cream, or extol the virtues of a girdle, but she wasn’t headed to a plastic surgeon for an eyelift here, a tummy tuck there or (God forbid) a vaginoplasty — unlike, say, Margaret Chenowith on Six Feet Under. Blanche was the woman we wanted to be (at least, until we were old enough to be Sophia): she wasn’t sarcastic (and constantly getting back with her unworthy ex) like Dorothy or dotty like Rose, she was there to show us that there was life, love and great sex for the taking, even as a widow, even as a senior citizen. She was a woman of her time, in the sense that she saw the strict differentiation of the genders, and ahead of her time, as she defied conventions about how older women are supposed to feel, what they are supposed to want and how they are supposed to act.

Blanche wasn’t the character most like my grandmother, and Rue might not have had the biting wit of Bea Arthur, Estelle Getty or (as we’ve all come to realize) Betty White, but she stood for something that is as important to women as intelligence and humor (both of which she had in spades)  — the idea that we don’t stop being women (and sexual beings) when our hair turns white, our breasts head south and our periods (finally!) stop. And for that, though Rue might be gone, neither she nor the character she created will be forgotten.

Andrew Scott at TV Squad

Lea Lane at Huffington Post:

I spent a few days with Rue McClanahan, who died this morning of a stroke at 76.

About 15 years ago I was invited as a travel writer on a “Love Boat” Valentine excursion where everyone on board was getting their marriage vows renewed. Our little solo group included Gavin McCloud, who went on most of the trips in the Captain Stubing persona from The Love Boat. He had grown up in Pleasantville, NY, north of New York City, near where I lived. I interviewed him for the local papers and he told many tales of life on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. He loved the opportunity he had to meet people and travel.

Another in the invited group was Rue McClanahan, who played Blanche on The Golden Girls. She was sweet and soft-spoken, and single at the time. She commented that she had met a man on board who had given her a teddy bear, and she figured that if he was on this cruise that he was married.

She had been married a few times and seemed interested in finding love again, and I remember reading that she did a couple of years later. The bunch of us invited guests hung out together for the long weekend, talking of men and life. I remember thinking that she reminded me a lot of her character on The Golden Girls. Lots of giggles. Soft voice. Full of life.

She talked often of working with Bea Arthur, both on The Golden Girls and on Maude, where Rue portrayed Vivian, Maude’s best friend.

Leave a comment

Filed under TV

Go Patent Yourself!

The Economist:

Since the decoding of the human genome, biotechnology companies have claimed that by matching a person’s genetic make-up with specialised treatments, they can tailor drugs to maximise benefits and minimise side effects. Alas, researchers have discovered that the link between a given person’s genetic make-up and specific diseases is much more complex than they had hoped. The tantalising vision remains out of reach.

A rare exception has been the success that Myriad Genetics, an American firm, has had with two genes called BRCA1 and BRCA2. Certain versions of these genes, it has been shown, are associated with a high risk of breast and ovarian cancer. The University of Utah has patented the genes and licenses them to Myriad. The firm uses that exclusivity to create expensive genetic tests for cancer risk which only it offers for sale (the patents and licensing conditions are different outside the United States).

The BRCA patents have long frustrated medical researchers, cancer lobbyists and legal activists. They claim that the firm’s grip on the two genes unlawfully stifles both innovation and basic science. Given the history of patent rulings in America, that has been a fringe argument—until now.

On March 29th the New York District Court made a ruling that, taken at face value, turns America’s approach to the patent protection of genes on its head. A coalition led by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) had challenged the very basis of Myriad’s patents. The nub of the case was this question: “Are isolated human genes and the comparison of their sequences patentable things?”

Until now, the answer had been “Yes”. But Robert Sweet, the presiding judge, disagreed, at least as far as the BRCA genes are concerned. After weighing up Myriad’s arguments, he ruled: “It is concluded that DNA’s existence in an ‘isolated’ form alters neither this fundamental quality of DNA as it exists in the body nor the information it encodes. Therefore, the patents at issues directed to ‘isolated DNA’ containing sequences found in nature are unsustainable as a matter of law and are deemed unpatentable subject matter.” Mr Sweet reasoned that DNA represents the physical embodiment of biological information, and that such biological information is a natural phenomenon.

Genome Web:

The ACLU’s and PUBPAT’s lawsuit against Myriad Genetics and the University of Utah Research Foundation, which hold the patents on the BRCA genes, as well the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), charged that the challenged patents are illegal and restrict both scientific research and patients’ access to medical care, and that patents on human genes violate the First Amendment and patent law because genes are “products of nature.”

The specific patents that the ACLU had challenged are on the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. Mutations along the BRCA1 and 2 genes are responsible for most cases of hereditary breast and ovarian cancers. The patents granted to Myriad give the company the exclusive right to perform diagnostic tests on the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes.

William L. Warren, partner at Sutherland Asbill & Brennan, believes this is a “poor decision that may have negative short-term implications for financing in the biotechnology sector, and hence the development of new diagnostics and therapeutics, until it is overturned by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in the next one to two years. Certainly, the sequencing of genes and disease-associated mutations for use in developing diagnostic probes and assays provides useful nonnaturally occurring subject matter that should qualify for patentability under the statute.

“While native genes in the body are originally products of nature, isolating portions of the DNA in order to perform a diagnosis transforms the DNA structurally and functionally into patentable subject matter,” he continues. “The isolated DNA has been markedly changed to become a useful product, even though it carries some of the same information as the native gene.

“Whether through the progress of scientific knowledge and techniques the isolation of such DNA fragments becomes routine or obvious is a separate question, which was not at issue in this case.”

Megan Carpentier at The Washington Independent

Ronald Bailey at Reason:

GenomeWeb quotes ACLU attorney Chris Hansen as saying:

“Today’s ruling is a victory for the free flow of ideas in scientific research. The human genome, like the structure of blood, air or water, was discovered, not created. There is an endless amount of information on genes that begs for further discovery, and gene patents put up unacceptable barriers to the free exchange of ideas.”

Hansen is making the argument that gene patents have created an anti-commons that is impeding important research. But is that so? I looked into the issue three years ago and could find little empirical support for the …

… concern that the over-proliferation of patents, instead of encouraging innovation, is stifling it. This argument achieved prominence in an influential 1998 article published in Science by two University of Michigan law professors, Michael A. Heller and Rebecca S. Eisenberg. Heller and Eisenberg worried that the privatization of biomedical research “promises to spur private investment but risks creating a tragedy of the anticommons through a proliferation of fragmented and overlapping intellectual property rights.”

By “anticommons,” they meant a situation in which the existence of a large number of intellectual property rights applicable to a single good or service unduly retards or even prevents its provision. The blockage to innovation would occur because of high transaction costs, the conflicting goals of various intellectual property owners, and cognitive biases in which owners overvalue their own patents, undervalue others’ patents, and reject reasonable offers.

As evidence for a biomedical anticommons, analysts regularly cite the high profile case of “probably the most hated diagnostics company,” Myriad Genetics.

As evidence against the existence of a research anti-commons, I cited a number of studies by the National Academy of Sciences and I further noted that …

… in 2006, Nature Biotechnology published a review (free registration required) of the academic literature on the existence of a research anticommons. The review concluded that “among academic biomedical researchers in the United States, only one percent report having had to delay a project and none having abandoned a project as a result of others’ patents, suggesting that neither anticommons nor restrictions on access were seriously limiting academic research.” Worryingly, the review noted there was evidence that secrecy was growing among academic researchers. However, patent issues do not seem to be fueling this secrecy. One study suggested that increased academic research secrecy arises chiefly from concerns about securing scientific priority (scientific competition) and the high cost and effort involved in sharing scientific materials and data.

In 2007, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) released a report, International Intellectual Property Experiences: A Report of Four Countries, which surveyed thousands of scientists in the U.S., Germany, the U.K. and Japan to assess their experiences in acquiring, using, or creating intellectual property. The AAAS study found “very little evidence of an ‘anticommons problem.'” As Stephen Hansen, the director of the AAAS study, noted in a press release, “All four studies suggest that intellectual property rights had little negative impact on the practice of science.”

Perhaps there is newer and better evidence for a research anti-commons. I will look into it again and report back.

Daniel McCarthy at The American Conservative:

Biotech businesses and their scientists say the decision will stifle research, destroy incentives for product development, and grow government by leaving federally supported universities as the only institutions willing to undertake further genetic studies. None of this rings true. No doubt holding legal monopoly over a part of a human being is more lucrative for any firm than having to compete with other companies in developing biotechnology, but it is not necessarily best for patients. Other industries do just fine in terms of innovation, and much better in terms of cost control, without being able to patent their consumers.

I think this paragraph from the New York Times‘ story gets at the nub of the matter:

[The company] sells a test costing more than $3,000 that looks for mutations in the two genes to determine if a woman is at a high risk of getting breast cancer and ovarian cancer. Plaintiffs in the case had said Myriad’s monopoly on the test, conferred by the gene patents, kept prices high and prevented women from getting a confirmatory test from another laboratory.

Considering the amounts of money at stake in the principle, we’ll be hearing much more about this in months to come.

Josh Rosenau at Science Blogs:

This does not invalidate patents on organisms with modified genes or genomes, nor does it invalidate the act of modifying a gene in order to insert it into an organism. This does not, by my reading, set up Monsanto’s genetically modified Roundup Ready crops to lose patent protection, though it may free up competitors to develop similar genes, and may give farmers an easier way to protect themselves against a claim when Monsanto asserts patent violations because of crosspollination.

The court was asked to consider the chilling effect on research produced by patents for naturally occurring genes. Fortunately, the decision seems to have avoided that line of argument, as it opens a massive can of worms. In general, I’m inclined to oppose patents and copyright laws that restrict research, artistic development, medical care, or other humanitarian services. On the other hand, I don’t think that’s a call judges ought to be making. I’d rather see the laws themselves fixed when such chilling effects are seen. This judge’s ruling fired a shot across the bow of lawmakers about the abuses of genetic patents, and one hopes lawmakers will listen.

Given the sweeping victory on a summary judgment motion, the ACLU is understandably elated. “We are extremely gratified by this groundbreaking decision,” said Sandra Park, staff attorney with the ACLU Women’s Rights Project. “This is the beginning of the end to patents that restrict women’s access to their own genetic information and interfere with their medical care.” We can hope so. The appeals are inevitable, and are headed toward a notably pro-corporate and anti-woman Supreme Court, so there’s no guarantee that this ruling will hold up, but it’s a good first step.

As John Ball, executive vice president of the American Society for Clinical Pathology put it: “It’s good for patients and patient care, it’s good for science and scientists. It really opens up things.”

Katherine Harmon at Scientific American

Ashby Jones at WSJ Law Blog:

Peter Meldrum, Myriad’s chief executive, said the company will appeal. “I don’t believe that the final outcome of this litigation will have a material impact on Myriad’s operations,” he said. “We have 23 patents relating to BRCA genes, and this litigation only involves seven of those 23 patents.

Leave a comment

Filed under Health Care, Science, The Constitution

I’d Like To Be Under The Sea, In A Commercial Mortgage Garden In The Shade

Andrew Ross Sorkin‘s Dealbook at NYT:

Elizabeth Warren, head of Congressional oversight for TARP and a major backer of the idea of a consumer protection agency, told CNBC on Monday that the U.S. economy still had a hard road ahead.

“By the end of the year, about half of all commercial real estate loans are gonna by underwater, and they are concentrated in the midsize banks,” she said. (Short-sellers, at least, may have something to look forward to.) “We now have 2,988 banks that have these dangerous concentrations of commercial real estate lending.”

She said that the banks’ exposure to shaky commercial real estate would have two upshots: 1) since they were already suffering since the subprime crisis, their stability might be affected; and 2) the midsize banks “are the banks that are supposed to be doing small business lending, and when they’re getting a sock in the teeth over over commercial real estate loans, they’re not in a position to be lending to small business,” Ms. Warren told CNBC.

“I think we have another very serious economic problem that we’re going to have to resolve in the next three years,” she said.

Philip Davis at Seeking Alpha:

An example of how fast things are falling apart on the CRE side is LNR Property Corp, who are managing $22Bn worth of distressed CRE loans which were obtained through the discounted purchase of CMBS. As a workout shop, LNR either negotiates with borrowers to make a loan current or forecloses on the property to extract as much cash as possible from the delinquent mortgage. And while LNR used to make a nice profit working out the occasional bad loans, now the company and its competitors face a flood of bad debt. “It’s tough going for everybody right now,” said Lisa Pendergast, managing director of CMBS strategy and risk at Jefferies & Co. and the incoming president of the Commercial Real Estate Finance Council. ``I don’t think anybody built these [workout] shops to see these huge volumes of loans going bad.”

By LNR’s estimate, the front is widening with no relief yet visible on the horizon. We’re seeing vacancy rates in most markets going up. We’re seeing rental rates in most markets going down,” Ronald Schrager, LNR’s chief operating officer, told a recent real estate conference in Miami Beach. “There’s still a lot more distress ahead of us.” This distress is not isolated in Florida either – Downtown Manhattan, which had, until recently, seemed immune to the CRE problems, is about to lose its spot as the best-performing U.S. market. Vacancies may exceed 14 percent of the area’s 87 million square feet by late 2011, empty space that’s equivalent to four Empire State Buildings and is the highest rate since 1997. “The amount of space that’s potentially going to come to the market will increase availabilities and put pressure on pricing,” said Kenneth McCarthy, Cushman’s head of New York- area research. “It will be quite awhile before it can be absorbed.”

Mark Hemingway at The Washington Examiner:

On the plus side, Warren seems to be aware that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are disasters for the taxpayer:

// //

Speaking on troubled mortgage lenders, Warren said it’s time for the government to “pull the plug” on mortgage lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

“I’m one of those people who never liked public-private partnership to begin with. I think what they did was use public when public was useful and private when private was useful,” she said. “And I think we’ve got to rethink that whole thing.”

But before you get too hopeful, bear in mind that this is also the same Elizabeth Warren who thought that bailing out the mortgages of vacation homes was a good idea.

James at Bubble Meter:

I also think we should pull the plug on AIG and the FHA. AIG is a zombie. The FHA is just getting into deeper and deeper financial trouble, all in an effort to prop up home prices above their intrinsic value.

Megan Carpentier at The Washington Independent:

Elizabeth Warren warned in February that commercial real estate was the next recovery-killer, and since nothing improved by March, Tim Geithner yesterday took to CNBC to acknowledge the problem with commercial real estate and push the administration’s program to incentivize small banks to lend to small businesses as the solution.

One way to help manage the commercial loan distress, Geithner said, is through the $30 billion fund proposed by President Barack Obama to provide money to midsize and community banks if they boost lending to small businesses.

He did not clarify how giving money to some banks for an entirely unrelated purpose would solve a commercial real estate crisis.

Earlier in the day, TARP Congressional Oversight Panel chair Elizabeth Warren warned that more than half of commercial real estate would be underwater by the middle of 2010.

“They are [mostly] concentrated in the mid-sized banks,” Warren told CNBC. “We now have 2,988 banks—mostly midsized, that have these dangerous concentrations in commercial real estate lending.”

In February, Warren noted that $1.4 trillion in commercial real estate loans would need to be refinanced between 2011 and 2014 when the shorter-term commercial real estate mortgages end, and a significant proportion of those are underwater already. More than $50 billion in commercial real estate mortgages are already in default or foreclosure — both figures are far larger than Geithner’s $30 billion plan to extend credit to small businesses. Sheila Bair, the chair of the FDIC, expects that commercial real estate defaults and losses will be the number-one factor that drives small and medium-sized banks into failure this year at a higher rate than they experienced in 2009. Extending credit to small businesses to the tune of $30 billion doesn’t seem like the best solution to the coming commercial real estate crisis or its downstream effects on businesses or the banks holding the loans.

Leave a comment

Filed under Economics, The Crisis