Archive for August 20, 2009

Disingenuous Gingrich

August 20, 2009 Leave a comment


It’s hardly news that Newt Gingrich is disingenuous. Well, let’s just call him a liar. But I don’t know why the NYT feels an obligation to print his lies in when he writes a letter to them. Paul Krugman, in a column last week on the health care “debate,” wrote:

Right now, the charge that’s gaining the most traction is the claim that health care reform will create “death panels” (in Sarah Palin’s words) that will shuffle the elderly and others off to an early grave. It’s a complete fabrication, of course. The provision requiring that Medicare pay for voluntary end-of-life counseling was introduced by Senator Johnny Isakson, Republican — yes, Republican — of Georgia, who says that it’s “nuts” to claim that it has anything to do with euthanasia.

And not long ago, some of the most enthusiastic peddlers of the euthanasia smear, including Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House, and Mrs. Palin herself, were all for “advance directives” for medical care in the event that you are incapacitated or comatose. That’s exactly what was being proposed — and has now, in the face of all the hysteria, been dropped from the bill.

Yet the smear continues to spread. And as the example of Mr. Gingrich shows, it’s not a fringe phenomenon: Senior G.O.P. figures, including so-called moderates, have endorsed the lie.

In a letter to the editor dated August 14 (the day of Krugman’s column) but printed today, Gingrich responds, in part:

I have always been a vocal proponent of proper end-of-life planning — and an equally vocal opponent of government intervention in the most sacred of moments.

Gundersen Lutheran Health System in Wisconsin gets it right. Ninety-plus percent of patients complete advance directives with their doctors, nurses and families. Gundersen offers this because it is good for patients, not because of a government directive.

Government intervention in the most sacred of moments? Government directive? What the hell is he talking about? How does a provision in a bill that would have Medicare cover voluntary consultations between individuals and their doctors about end of life care, including a discussion of living wills, qualify as either? The very features Gingrich praises at Gundersen would be funded, if the individual chooses. How can that not be good? But of course this isn’t about what’s good. It’s about doing whatever it takes to poison the political atmosphere and ensure that no bill passes. Like lying.

Categories: Lies, Politics, Today's News


August 20, 2009 Leave a comment


Usain Bolt did it again. On Sunday, at the IAAF World Championships in Berlin, he obliterated his 100 meter record set at the Beijing Olympics a year ago, lowering it from 9.69 to 9.58. Today, in winning the 200 meter race, he lowered his record, also set a year ago at the Olympics, from 19.30 to 19.19. This may be more shocking.

Recall that in 1996, the great sprinter Michael Johnson lowered Pietro Mennea’s 200m record, a record that had stood for 17 years, from 19.72 to 19.66 at the US Olympic Trials. Then he surprised the world later that summer at the Olympics in Atlanta by running 19.32. In the years that followed, no one came close, until Bolt ran 19.30 in Beijing. And no one had been close in the last year, including Bolt, until today. His run suggests that the day of an under-19-second 200 meter may not be far off. It also seems plausible, given how far back everyone else was, that no one else will produce times like this for another decade.

I’ve been watching the coverage of the World Championships on Versus each evening, time shifted on the DVR. But today I wanted to see the 200m live, so I stayed home and watched it as it happened. Shortly after the 200m, there was another great race, the men’s 110 meter hurdles. It was almost a three-way tie, and none of the three leaders knew who won for a while. Ryan Brathwaite, a 19-year-old from Barbados, won in 13.14, with Americans Terrence Trammell and David Payne just behind at 13.15. Trammell was awarded second over Payne, but it was impossible to see any separation on the replays. And they never showed the decisive photos on the TV coverage. Maybe they didn’t have access. I don’t know. I just know that the TV production is wanting in many ways.

I’ll mention two items that have annoyed me about the coverage, though I should note first of all that I’m just pleased that the final 2 or 2 1/2 hours of each night’s activity from Berlin is shown live here. Better that with coverage that lapses at times than no live coverage at all.

1. It’s a given that in US coverage of any race over 1500m, we will not be allowed to watch the entire race uninterrupted. The shortest men’s race above 1500m is the 3000m steeplechase, whose winning times are on the order of 8 minutes. Kenyans almost always win the major steeplechase races. We were told early on that the Kenyans might sweep the three medal positions. Then, just as the race was developing, we broke away for coverage of some field event, women’s high jump preliminary round perhaps. Worth watching. I would have liked to see more. But after the race, please. When they returned, it had become a four-man race. But the announcer never really made clear who was who among the three Kenyans, perhaps because he couldn’t differentiate them himself, and as far as I could tell, he got the call wrong. A Frenchman mixed it up with the three Kenyans in the final lap, ultimately finishing third, but the announcer seemed to say that Mateelong fell back to 4th, even though as far as I could tell, Mateelong finished 2nd. (Kemboi first, Mateelong second, the Frenchman Tahri third, Koech fourth, in times ranging from 8:00.43 to 8:01.26.)

2. The women’s 800 meter final last night was as great a race as one will ever see. The 18-year-old South African Caster Semenya simply ran away from the field, winning by almost 2 1/2 seconds over the Kenyan Janeth Jepkosgei — defending world championi from two years ago and Olympic silver medalist from a year ago, and Jepkosgei just barely held off the charging British runner Jennifer Meadows. Semenya’s time was 1:55.45. She looked like she was out for a training run. Jepkosgei ran 1:57.90, Meadows 1:57.93, and the Ukrainian Yuliya Krevsun was just behind in 4th at 1:58.00. They were all struggling. It’s like Semenya was from another planet. Or another sex, which it turns out has in fact been a matter of investigation, but the announcers didn’t see fit to let us know about this until after she won. It’s been big news today, so I needn’t review the matter. (See for instance the NYT article here.) The investigation was begun three weeks ago and is ongoing.

Three more days. Be sure to watch.

Categories: Sports

Reading Julia Child

August 20, 2009 Leave a comment


I mentioned in early July reading the New Yorker piece on Nora Ephron — which gave a lot of attention to the not-yet-released movie Julie and Julia — and then ordering Julia Child’s memoir My Life in France, only to discover that Gail had bought it when it came out in 2006. So we have two copies, one hardcover and one paperback. I started it a few days ago, reading just a few pages each night, but finished it in a rush last night as I got swept along by the question of how her first book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking (written with co-authors Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle), would ever get published.

It’s an extraordinary story, a story of discovery, both of self and of the science of cooking, as Julia Child (and Beck — Bertholle soon disappears) works to master recipes, to understand what makes them work, and to develop a writing style that effectively communicates her discoveries. The cookbook they ultimately write has “art” in its title (a story in its own right, given due attention in the book), but what becomes clear is how much of the spirit of a scientist Child brings to the endeavor. I was reminded of James Watson’s recounting in The Double Helix of his discovery with Francis Crick of the structure of DNA. Or, closer to home for me, the story of Andrew Wiles’ efforts to prove Fermat’s Last Theorem, told for instance by Simon Singh in Fermat’s Enigma: The Epic Quest to Solve the World’s Greatest Mathematical Problem. Like them, Child was obsessed. And confident, a confidence that grows in front of the reader’s eyes as the memoir progresses.

I won’t give details. If you don’t know the story, you will enjoy reading about it, and I don’t want to spoil it. I’ll just say that Child understood early on the importance of her work, and its uniqueness, and was not about to be deterred by responses of less comprehending editors.

A second theme in the memoir is the importance of people, Child’s husband most of all, but friends, chefs, providers of food as well. Yet, Child reveals — at least in my reading — that as important as they were, other than her husband, no one was going to get in the way of her work. She was driven, she had a vision, and she would realize that vision. Extraordinary.

Categories: Books, Food