Thursday, April 19, 2007

Storm Clouds

Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but one day soon a woman in the late stages of her pregnancy will face the excruciating prospect of having to end that pregnancy or face serious health consequences. When she discusses her situation with her doctor, she will learn that one option that has been used in the past is no longer available to her. Not because the procedure is unsafe or ineffective, and not because medical professionals, including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, believe that it is a procedure that is medically inappropriate for use in such situations. No, she will learn that Congress, President Bush, and the Supreme Court have made the decision that this procedure should not be used, regardless of her individual situation and what she and her doctor believe is in her best medical interests. She also will learn that, if she is unhappy with the decision that has been made for her, she is welcome to hire a lawyer and bring to the courts the intensely personal issue of whether her pregnancy can or should continue, even at the expense of her health.

When Congress enacts, the President approves, and the Supreme Court upholds a ban on a medical procedure that in some circumstances is a professionally recommended option to protect a woman's health, the situation needs to be described as it is: government-approved misogyny. Yesterday's decision in Gonzales v. Carhart calls to mind Justice Blackmun's no longer completely accurate closing statement in an earlier abortion-related decision, Webster v. Reproductive Health Services: "For today, at least, the law of abortion stands undisturbed. For today, the women of this Nation still retain the liberty to control their destinies. But the signs are evident and very ominous, and a chill wind blows."

It's Harder Than It Looks

A few thoughts about the tragedy at Virginia Tech and its aftermath:

  • Perhaps it is natural to seek some rational explanation, or to want to place blame, even for what ultimately is a completely irrational act. So it is not surprising to hear so much about what could have been done or what should have been done to prevent Cho Seung-Hei's murderous rampage. But it is depressing nonetheless to see so much written and spoken about how Virginia Tech failed to protect students, didn't warn them quickly enough, should have thrown Cho out of school, yada, yada, yada. Because it all misses the point. Here is what you are not reading or hearing about as part of the saturation coverage: You cannot predict future dangerousness with even a reasonable degree of certainty, and no reputable psychiatrist will claim otherwise. Keep that in mind as you read and listen to what is being said about this incident, especially criticism of what Virginia Tech administrators did and did not do. As former Indianapolis Colts' coach Jim Mora once said in another, obviously less important, context: "You think you know. But you don't know."
  • An article on the front page of today's New York Times is particularly appalling. In late 2005, Cho was found to be a danger to himself or others (the standard that must be met before someone can be involuntarily committed), was briefly hospitalized, and ordered to undergo out-patient treatment. Based on this, the Times writes: "For all the intervention by the police and faculty members, Mr. Cho was allowed to remain on campus and live with other students." What??? Let's discuss just a few of the several problems raised by this article and its implications that "warning signs" were ignored. First, lots of people are found to be a danger to themselves or others and are involuntarily committed. You probably know some, although you may not be aware of it, since it is not something that people usually advertise. There is a reason why, for example, well more than a billion dollars a year in Pennsylvania alone is spent on public and private mental health services. Very, very few people with mental illness are violent toward others, and a microscopically small number of such persons do the sort of thing that Cho did. Second, much has been made of the two incidents in which women complained about Cho's behavior toward them. But even the Times admits that one woman described Cho's actions as "annoying," and neither of the women decided to press charges. If those are warning signs, they were blurry ones indeed. Third, a lot also has been made of Cho's work in creative writing and other classes, much of which has been described as disturbing and violent. I do not dispute that such writings can be a sign of psychological problems, and Cho's teachers seemed to have acted appropriately in expressing concern, urging him to get help, etc. But such writing is neither a predictor of future violence (good news for Quentin Tarantino's neighbors and friends) nor sufficient by itself to expel someone from college. Finally, don't we want college students (and everyone else, of course) to seek counselling and treatment when mental health problems arise? What could be more of a deterrent to such treatment than students knowing that they face suspension, expulsion, or other stigmatization by seeking such treatment? There is a second article in today's Times that expresses this very point. Someone needs to show that article to the authors and editors who worked on the other piece.
  • Someone needs to tell all the talking heads that "loner" is neither a medical term nor a helpful description of Cho or what happened here. I have known several "loners." None killed anyone.
  • Congress needs to pass a law banning the use of "profilers" to explain crimes and those who commit them. They have been on cable this week more often than "Law and Order" episodes. I have seen a number of them, all of whom used their specialized training and years of experience to determine that Cho was deeply disturbed and dangerous. Someone needs to explain to these profilers that they would be a lot more impressive if they had said something about Cho's problems before he killed all those people. I did a little research and learned that the word "profiler" comes from the Latin term meaning "guess a lot and every so often get one right."
  • A final point: No reasonable person could dispute that our system for providing persons with mental health treatment should be improved. And if enough people care enough, it will be improved. But the answer is not to draw fast and easy conclusions based on a highly unusual incident, one that tells us next to nothing about the daily lives of nearly all other seriously mentally ill persons. I see "scary" behavior many days just walking the streets of Philadelphia. I would bet that not one of the hundreds of murders that have occurred in this City in the past two years has been committed by the persons I see.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Nice Work If You Can Get It

Today's Inquirer brings more evidence of the truth of the maxim, generally attributed to Michael Kinsley, that in so many cases the scandal is not that something illegal has occurred, but rather that what has occurred is, in fact, legal. So it is with mayoral candidate Bob Brady and this story about the various government and publicly funded jobs held by members of his family.

Brady has been the head of the City Democratic Party for years, so the revelation that he has relatives on the public payroll hardly qualifies as news. But the details about his wife's job -- now that is interesting.

Bob Brady is married to Debra Brady. Debra Brady, according to the Inquirer, "works as an office manager for Philadelphia Writ Service, which holds a no-bid contract to deliver notices of lawsuits for the city Law Department and other agencies." She is paid $100,000 as the office manager. Since 1999, the City has paid Philadelphia Writ Service about $9 million, all the while never bothering to seek competitive bids to see if it could get the job done less expensively. What do you think the chances are that someone who, say, didn't pay its office manager $100,000 per year might be able to submit an attractive bid?

But wait, as they say, there's more. Philadelphia Writ Service is owned by Mitchell Rubin. Rubin is also the chair of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission (what, you think his day job doesn't leave time for public service?). Guess where Bob Brady's son has a job that pays $86,000? At least he is not the office manager.

And in a final business-as-usual touch, State Sen. Vincent Fumo has a cameo in this little drama. Rubin is married to Ruth Arneo, who has been a close aide to Fumo for a long time. So close, in fact, that she managed to get herself indicted a couple months ago right alongside her boss on federal charges of misusing public funds as well as money contributed to a Fumo-controlled non-profit.

Whew. Got all that?

It would be hard to describe any of the Democrats running for mayor as agents of real change. But a vote for Brady is a vote to change not a thing about the culture of Philadelphia politics. So if you like how business is done in this City, how public funds are spent, the quality of City services, and the number of City employees, Brady is your guy.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Bada Bing

The Sopranos returned last night for Season Six, Part II, a nine-episode victory lap toward the finish line of television immortality. Last night's episode, "Soprano Home Movies," didn't disappoint, offering the usual mix of foreshadowing, melancholy, violence, denial, banality, intimidation, and family dysfunction that regular viewers are used to seeing.

The episode provided a lot to chew on, much of which will lead to nothing if past history is any guide (if you are still waiting for The Big Russian to return, it is time to let that go). But, still, there were more ducks; talk of a brain-damaged kid; reference to DNA by Bobby before he left part of his shirt with his first-ever whackee; and, most ominous of all, a humiliated Tony combined with home movies of his childhood and tales of Mama Livia, both supplied by the kookily sinister Janice. This should be good.

Part of the genius of The Sopranos is its writers' ability to communicate its core messages in as little as a single line of dialogue. Last night, for example, in a scene occurring the day after the brawl between Tony and Bobby, Carmela says to a nervous Janice: "Tony is not a vindictive man." There it is: she is at once a denier, which allows Carmela to love her husband and live with and benefit from her marriage to a Mob boss, and an enabler, which allows Carmela to help her husband be all he can be by assisting in his charade of rationality, even with someone who obviously knows better. As great as James Gandolfini is, it is Edie Falco's Carmela who is the straw that stirs The Sopranos' drink.

On a train ride home today, I was reading The Survivor, an account of the Clinton White House years by John Harris. Harris describes an attempt by a family friend to try to get Hillary to accept that her husband did, in fact, have a sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky, despite his claims to the contrary. "You have to face the fact that something about this might be true," the friend warned. "'Look, Bob,' Hillary Clinton responded. 'My husband may have his faults, but he has never lied to me.'"

And that is when it hit me: The Sopranos is about the Clintons. It is all there: the ambition, of both spouses; the use and misuse of power; the use of people for their own benefit, and then their dispatch when their continued presence proves costly, uncomfortable, or simply undesirable; the sense that the usual rules don't always apply, often followed by the reliance on others to clean up the mess that has been made; the use of lower-level associates to both carry out unpleasant tasks and provide insulation when things don't always turn out as had been hoped; the repeated promises of changes to come; and, of course, wives who deny and enable, all the while prospering greatly from the relationship and using it to their own advantage when necessary.

Or maybe The Sopranos is about something, or somebody, else. Stay tuned.

Good News

This is the best news I have heard in a long time. This fantasy thing is completely out of control and only getting worse, God help us all.

It's bad enough that there are segments about fantasy this or fantasy that on Sports Center and other ESPN programs, including identified fantasy "experts," as if it isn't enough to hear from what I guess we now have to call reality experts. But now, as I saw for the first time the other night, ESPN News includes "Fantasy Impact" on the screen when it shows its box score information about a game. I'm not sure how the fantasy impact of a game differs from the actual impact of a game, and please do not tell me because I don't want to know.

I guess I am old-school: For me, the game itself is the fantasy. And I prefer my fantasies to be, well, a little more fantastic.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Everything But the Helmet

It's not just that John McCain is supporting President Bush on the Iraq war. That has been true for a long time. But his stroll in Baghdad the other day to do a little shopping -- accompanied by 100 soldiers, helicopters, and gun ships -- followed by claims that things are going well makes one wonder whether he has followed the President to La-La Land. Is this is "Dukakis in the tank" moment? He better hope not.


Here's what I would wish for: That Yoko Ono would do something that makes some freaking sense.

Monday, April 02, 2007

A Headlock on Life

On the day before the first night of Passover, The New York Times brings word (subscription may be required) of the passing of Abe Coleman, "a squat powerhouse of a professional wrestler, billed by promoters as the Hebrew Hercules and known to opponents by the two-footed kick he copied from kangaroos." He was 101.

Mr. Coleman also was known as the Jewish Tarzan, presumably to avoid confusion with the real Tarzan, who I believe was Anglican and, unlike Mr. Coleman, was not known for his flying head butts and airplane spin. He claimed to have met his wife when, during a match, he was thrown out of the ring and landed on her, and while a woman who frequents the front rows of wrestling matches isn't for everyone, their union lasted nearly 50 years.

You just can't make this stuff up. Rest in peace, Mr. Coleman.

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Bernie Who?

Today's Washington Post provided the hardly unexpected news that the horrid Rudy Giuliani's bff, Bernard Kerik, is likely to be indicted on tax evasion and other charges. Kerik has already pleaded guilty to state charges that he accepted nearly $200,000 in "gifts" (I guess that is what they are calling that now), most of which involved substantial renovations to an apartment that Kerik did not pay for while working as the corrections commissioner and later the police commissioner when Giuliani was mayor of New York.

Or, to put it another way, Giuliani appointed a common crook to two of the most important jobs in the City of New York and then convinced President Bush (not that it was so hard, I'm sure) to nominate that crook to be in charge of the Department of Homeland Security. While this type of attention to detail certainly qualifies Giuliani to be the head of FEMA or some other senior position in the Bush Administration, I remain baffled as to why so many Republican voters seem inclined to support him for President. Let's hope Kerik and his ongoing problems finally shatter the inexplicable Giuliani mystique once and for all.

Quote of the Day

"It's kind of like having a 9-11 benefit game, and asking Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to throw out the first pitch." -- Deadspin, making the obvious (except to the hapless Bud Selig) point that featuring the Cleveland Indians and their racist mascot, Chief Wahoo, in MLB's "Civil Rights Game" might not have been the best idea.

Sis Boom Bah

According to this article in today's New York Times (subscription may be required), cheerleading has become at least as, and perhaps more, dangerous than some of the sporting events at which cheerleaders do whatever it is they do:
Emergency room visits for cheerleading injuries nationwide have more than doubled since the early 1990s, far outpacing the growth in the number of cheerleaders, and the rate of life-threatening injuries has startled researchers. Of 104 catastrophic injuries sustained by female high school and college athletes from 1982 to 2005 — head and spinal trauma that occasionally led to death — more than half resulted from cheerleading, according to the National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research. All sports combined did not surpass cheerleading.

This danger element may be new to cheerleading, but here's something that has always been true: Cheerleading is stupid, exceptionally so.

I have never understood why parents and schools at all levels -- elementary, high school, and college -- think it is worthwhile to have students, almost always female, spend time "cheering on" others, almost always male, instead of doing something constructive themselves. I mean, it is not like people attending sporting events don't know when to applaud. And, please, don't tell me how athletic you have to be to do it. If cheerleaders were such good athletes, they would be playing on the teams they watch.

It's always been ridiculous. And now it's ridiculous and dangerous. It's tough to be perky after being dropped on your head.

I'm Baaaaaaack!!

As I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted by myself...

Anyway, while I will never be one of those several times a day, or even once every day, type of blogger, I plan to now get back to my multiple times a week posting schedule. During the past couple of post-less weeks, I have been thinking about what FCB look like, and I decided that, for the most part, it should be just what it has been. I do hope to add the occasional longer essay, however, with my goal being one such piece a week or so. As always, your thoughts and comments are most welcome. Thanks especially to those of you who made clear, both by submitting comments and by resorting to the somewhat old-fashioned method of talking to me, that you missed hearing from this corner of the Internets.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Brief Respite

Apologies to my loyal readers (both of them) for the lighter-than-usual posting activity this month. There are a few reasons for the lull, but none of them is especially interesting.

I have been spending some of this mini-hiatus thinking about the direction FCB should take in the days ahead, and I hope to have something to say about that soon. I am optimistic at least half of my readership will bear with me.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Pants on Fire

The interesting thing about the Scooter Libby case is not that he lied to the FBI and the grand jury. It's that he lied so obviously and ineptly. I keep reading what a smart guy he is, but his years at the side of the Prince of Darkness clearly taught him nothing about the art of deception.

It's particularly unfortunate, if predictable, that Libby's supporters still insist that some sort of miscarriage of justice has occurred, as if what might be the strongest perjury case ever had just not played out before us all. Nine witnesses -- including two co-workers -- contradicted Libby's story and testified that Libby knew about Valerie Plame Wilson before his conversation with Tim Russert, during which Libby claimed to have been first told about her CIA job. Yet we still have to hear this sort of thing from the likes of Mary Matalin, as quoted in today's Washington Post:
"Scooter didn't do anything. And his personal record and service are impeccable. How do you make sense of a system where a security principal admits to stuffing classified docs in his pants and says, 'I'm sorry,' and a guy who is rebutting a demonstrable partisan liar is going through this madness?"

What??? I guess Mary hasn't figured out that there are ways of rebutting Joe Wilson that don't involve lying to the FBI and a grand jury. And what does what happened to Sandy Berger have to do with all this? Nothing, of course, but in Washington World, it is all partisanship, all the time. Facts be damned.

Libby has learned what Martha Stewart and many others also have learned: It doesn't matter what you did or didn't do. It doesn't matter whether an "underlying crime" has been committed. If you lie to the feds, you are in for a world of hurt.

Quote of the Day II

"Can't we make this damn tin can go any faster?" -- Space shuttle pilot Commander William Oefelein, shortly after reading his e-mail while on his recent mission.

OK, I made this one up.

Quote of the Day

"First urge will be to rip your clothes off, throw you on the ground and love the hell out of you." -- Air Force Captain Colleen Shipman, in e-mail message to Commander William Oefelein, who happened to be piloting the space shuttle at the time.

Not exactly "Ground Control to Major Tom."

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Never-ending Shame

The Bush Administration has been chock full of shameful moments -- there's been "Mission Accomplished;" "Heckuva job, Brownie" and its aftermath; a botched war that has taken more than 3,000 American lives; and the failure to make Americans significantly safer despite great financial and constitutional cost, to name but a few. But nothing better illustrates just how far off the moral rails the President and his main henchmen, the Prince of Darkness and Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, have taken this country than the case of Jose Padilla. Dahlia Lithwick does a good job showing why here.

Senior officials of our government have used and misused their full powers to destroy this man. It doesn't matter whether he has done what the government now says he has done, not that anyone should believe what the Justice Department says about Padilla given how much of what they said previously has been stashed in their ever-expanding "Never Mind" file. What matters is that Padilla is an American citizen arrested in America, yet for years he was denied the most basic constitutional rights and subjected to abusive and degrading treatment on a daily basis, including nearly three years in solitary confinement and a variety of other tactics that are not inflicted on even the most depraved criminals among us, criminals who, I hasten to add, have actually had trials and been convicted of something.

The government's zeal to convict Padilla of something, anything, has led to the tawdry spectacle of this week's hearing to determine if Padilla is competent to stand trial. A judge ruled late today that he is. And so this shameful exercise in personal and constitutional destruction moves forward.

Not in My House

I'm not sure what the Hall of Fame Veterans Committee is trying to accomplish, but they're sure not going about it very well. Now that the committee has failed to vote anyone into the Hall for the third consecutive time, talk has begun of revamping the process. But that's the wrong solution. They should simply do away with the committee.

I have written before of my bafflement regarding players who seem to grow in esteem the farther they get into their retirement years. Players get on the ballot five years after their final seasons, then remain subject to judgment for 15 years so long as they reach minimum vote totals. I have never quite understood why a player who has failed to convince 75 percent of HOF voters -- most if not all of whom have seen the player in the prime of his career -- within 20 years that they should get in should continue to be considered for who knows how many more years. I would make an exception, of course, for the Negro League players who never received real consideration from the baseball writers. Some process also would have to be created so that managers and other non-players could be considered. But that could easily be accomplished within the context of the regular voting.

And it's not like the current Veterans Committee has distinguished itself. Of the 81 voters, only 51 voted for Marvin Miller, the former head of the players union. You can make a compelling case that Miller is the most significant baseball figure of the past 40 years. Anyone who says he is not among the five most significant figures during that time period simply has no idea what he is talking about. He almost single-handedly, for better or for worse (better, of course, for all the millionaires he created), revolutionized the sport by freeing players to sell their talents on the open market. I love some of the writers and broadcasters who have been voted in recently, but there is a serious problem with a Hall of Fame that includes Harry Kalas or Ernie Harwell but not Marvin Miller.

I also find it puzzling that the committee votes on umpires, like Doug Harvey, who inexplicably received more votes (52) than Miller. What, exactly, is the standard by which one judges whether someone is a Hall of Fame-caliber umpire? It can't just be longevity, any more than a long career means that a player gets in. Tony Gwynn was, by any objective measure, a better hitter during the prime of his career than 99 percent of his peers. By what objective measure is Harvey being measured?

The other advantage of doing away with the Veterans Committee is that it would end the biennial whining that occurs when Ron Santo does not get elected. I am old enough to remember a good chunk of Santo's career. He was a very good player, as these number show, but he does not belong in the Hall of Fame. Simply put, he was not great, and he hasn't gotten any better just because he has stayed in the public eye as a Cubs' announcer. If anyone has a gripe it is Jim Kaat, who pitched for 25 years, won 283 games, and might be the best fielding pitcher ever, having won 16 Gold Gloves, including an astonishing 12 straight.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Tastes Like Chicken

Ixnay on the "beef" burritos.

Quote of the Day

"He believes he will go back to the brig and he will die there." -- Patricia Zapf, a forensic psychologist testifying at a hearing to determine whether Jose Padilla is competent to stand trial.

Gee, whatever gave him that idea?

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Turning Left -- A Lot

I answer this question with a resounding yes. But overwhelming viewers with their properties has been ESPN's way of doing business for a long time. If you're not complaining about the NFL, NBA, or MLB, then you have to suck it up when it comes to NASCAR. Although the sign described here pretty much summarizes my feelings (FCB Shout Out: Deadspin).

Hey, at least it's not soccer.


Despicable and delusional at the same time. The Prince of Darkness carries forth.

Sunday, February 18, 2007


This comment arrived in the FCB in-box this weekend. It's good to know that someone who reads FCB (or who at least stumbles over here) is a Beckham or soccer fan. I am trying to be generous and ignore the possibility that he or she is into the Spice Girls.

FCB is an equal opportunity blog and welcomes readers who are fans of all sports, even the exceptionally boring ones.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Hell Hath No Fury

So I guess this means that no reconciliation is in the works for those crazy Kidds (Hat Tip: Deadspin). My favorite detail: Jason allegedly hit her with a cookie. I'm betting it was a Chips Ahoy.

Quote of the Day

"I don't want people to think this is a joke." -- T. Milton Street, Sr., announcing his candidacy for mayor of Philadelphia.

Too late.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Dunder Head

If, like FCB, you are a fan of The Office, you should check out this site, at which a labor and employment attorney analyzes each episode and estimates how much it would cost a company to defend the lawsuits that would be filed if their managers acted like the clueless Michael Scott (FCB Shoutout: WSJ Law Blog).

Quote of the Day

"There is a method to this madness." -- City Managing Director Pedro Ramos, using a particularly unfortunate turn of phrase given the state of City services, trying to explain why so little plowing occurred in response to yesterday's significant snow.

While that snow was not being cleared, Mayor Street was giving a speech citing his many accomplishments. Having a clue was not among them.

Here We Go Again

Now it's Justice Anthony Kennedy's turn to moan and groan about judicial pay.

All reasonable people can agree that federal judges should get the usual types of cost-of-living increases awarded routinely to other federal employees. But, as I have pointed out before, this "the judges are leaving, the judges are leaving" hysteria can't be supported. Justice Kennedy has been a federal judge for 30 years. Chief Justice Roberts left a seven-figure partnership to become a federal judge. If the pay is such a problem, why did they make such economically irrational choices? Could it be that there are non-monetary compensations, such as everyone standing up when you enter a room; really interesting work; and the power to make lawyers actually stop talking?

In addition, according to this calculation by the Wall Street Journal Law Blog, the current pay of federal judges is just slightly below what it has been, on average, for nearly 40 years, using inflation-adjusted dollars. What really irks these judges is that private sector lawyers and law professors now can make a whole lot more. Well, life is full of choices.

If some judges leave each year for better-paying jobs, so be it. There are plenty more highly qualified lawyers where they came from.


A judge has dismissed the case against MySpace I wrote about last month (Hat Tip: How Appealing). Four teenage girls had been sexually assaulted by a man who the girls had met on MySpace, so their parents sued the web site, claiming it had a duty to protect its underage users. "If anyone had a duty to protect [the girls], it was [their] parents, not MySpace," said U.S. District Court Judge Sam Sparks.

What a concept.