I don’t like country music, but I don’t mean to denigrate those who do. For those of you who like country music, denigrate means ‘put down’.
I don’t like country music, but I don’t mean to denigrate those who do. For those of you who like country music, denigrate means ‘put down’.
The following photo was left for me at a dead drop during my trip this week to Bogota, Columbia, at the International Society for the Study of Drug Policy. The photographer was apparently spotted sitting at the very back of the lecture hall, trying and failing to take a sharp picture in automatic mode without flash or tripod using his 300mm lens.
As you might imagine we’re all in a little bit of shock at this revelation. I don’t know what else to say, except that a University of Chicago tee-shirt will be made available to the funniest comment.
There are worse things than murder. You can kill a man one inch at a time.
Last week I recommended Kansas City Confidential, a 1952 collaboration between Director Phil Karlson, Producer Edward Small and Actor John Payne. They re-teamed very successfully the following year to make this week’s film recommendation: 99 River Street.
Payne is compelling as ultra-hard-luck Ernie Driscoll, a former boxer turned cab driver. In the opening scene, which is a pre-Raging Bull master class in how to convey the violence of boxing on film, Ernie is on the verge of becoming champion when he gets a bad break. And the bad breaks keep coming for the rest of the movie, in his marriage to his ice-cold beauty of a wife (Peggie Castle, at her best), in his friendship with a manipulative aspiring actress friend (Evelyn Keyes, on fire here), and in his battles with some ruthless jewel thieves who want to destroy him for reasons he can’t understand. His only consistent source of support is his former manager, a dispatcher at his cab company (played sympathetically by Frank Faylen, who played a cab driver in many Hollywood films and apparently got promoted).
If this film noir/gangster melodrama deserves one adjective it’s brutal. There are many scenes of physical violence, filmed with unusual realism (My favorite is Payne’s torture by and knock down drag out with a karate chopping jewel thief played by tough guy Jack Lambert). The emotional violence is even more pronounced, particularly in a long, gripping sequence in which Driscoll is played for a chump by a group of “theater people”. The tragedy of Payne’s character is that while he once was a master of his violent nature, frustrations and failures have led him to become a slave to it, preventing him from being happy in his achingly simple new life ambition of moving from hack work to becoming the owner of a filling station. Payne and Karlson are well up to the challenge of bringing across Driscoll’s emotional flaws and vulnerabilities, while at the same time making him completely credible in the many physical confrontations of the story.
The movie also gives the audience a fine bunch of criminals to root against. Brad Dexter (the guy from The Magnificent Seven whose name few people can recall) is both scary and smooth as the jewel thief who frames Payne for a terrible crime. Lambert exudes the menace that served him so well in his decades as a heavy in films and on television. Eddy Waller is even scarier in a different way as a criminal who has a kindly manner but in fact is a cold-blooded killer. The final, extended confrontation at 99 River Street of the protagonists versus the villains is thrilling and satisfying.
The only weakness of this movie is the final two minutes, a tacked on “where are they now?”-style epilogue that is too upbeat and pat given the tone and content of the rest of the film (The otherwise perfect Sideways had the same flaw). It was unlike Karlson to pull a punch, but it doesn’t diminish 99 River Street as a gritty, gripping piece of cinema.
How do the psychoactive effects of cannabis use vary with the varying chemistry of different strains? Appallingly, the current science can’t tell us what we need to know, and federal law makes that research impossible to conduct in the U.S. I discuss these issue with Brian Lehrer of WNYC. Read the rest of this entry »
Illegal drug trafficking is not inherently violent. The horrific surge of violence that began in Mexico in 2006 thus requires some specific explanation.
The most common account is that when President Calderon turned the force of the state on to organized crime groups, the old arrangements were overturned and a cycle of violence began. The drug kingpins used violence against government officials and citizens in an attempt to intimidate the state into giving up on enforcement. Further, as gangs were de-capitated, they broke into smaller groups warring for supremacy with each other.
But this account may be entirely wrong or only partly correct. Evidence presented this week in Bogota at the conference of the International Society for the Study of Drug Policy shows that there was another enormous shock to the criminal system concurrent with Calderon’s campaign.
Colombia shifted its cocaine suppression strategy from crop eradication to further down the production chain (e.g., laboratories and exporters), resulting in a more than doubling of cocaine seizures beginning in 2006. At this same time, the Mexican gangs became the dominant partner in their relationship with the Colombian gangs. Rather than simply receiving cocaine at the southern border of Mexico and carting it north, they moved into Central America and the edges of Colombia, giving them a larger role in transshipment and processing.
Cocaine is the biggest source of revenue of the Mexican gangs, meaning that these changes were highly disruptive to the old stasis. The cocaine flow shrank, but what was left became more valuable. This intensified competition among the Mexican gangs which may be the root of the burst of violence.
Whether this explanation is fully or partly correct is being investigated by Dr. Daniel Mejia Londoño and his colleagues at the Universidad de los Andes. He is one of a number of young Latin American scholars who are bringing new perspectives to drug policy research. Collectively, they will help policy analysts escape the trap of seeing drug policy only from the point of view of consumer countries (e.g., Europe and the USA). And in the long term, the “Calderon explanation” for Mexican violence may be only one of the received truths that this new generation of researchers overturns.
I was standing on a street corner, waiting to cross on my way to a meeting at a large public hospital. A man in his 40s walked down the sidewalk behind me, staring straight ahead. He was alone, but was carrying on an animated conversation about the government’s failings.
The lights changed and I started to walk across the street. In the crosswalk coming toward me was a woman in her 30s, also staring into the middle distance and taking no notice of me. She was alone, but was carrying on an animated conversation about how the big banks are ruining the country.
As I said, neither took any notice of me, but I knew them both. One works as a cashier at the pharmacy I use and the other is a long-term psychiatric patient with schizophrenia. One had on a barely visible Bluetooth, the other has been engaged in discussions with imagined others long before the technology was invented.
But without my prior contacts with these two people, I would never have known that one of them had a serious mental illness. These fortuitous encounters make me wonder if these new technologies have an unintended but welcome destigmatizing function. Where before people might have shunned a mentally ill person who seemed to be talking to himself, today they usually assume that he’s just chatting on a BlueTooth or similar device.
William Brownfield is a highly skilled diplomat who now serves as the Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement: i.e., as the State Department’s chief drug warrior. In advance of the release this Friday of the OAS report on alternative drug strategies for the hemisphere, Brownfield gave an interview to El Tiempo of Bogotá. Asked about legalization in general, he denounced the legalization of “cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, synthetic drugs” as a red line no country wants to cross.”
Note what’s missing from that list? If this were a politician I might imagine mere oversight, but Brownfield didn’t get where he is by making rookie mistakes.
It’s possible that the smart drug warriors have begun to decide that the Battle of Cannabis is lost, and are attempting to fall back to a more defensible position.
In the words of our esteemed Vice President, this is a BFD.
How many times have you seen something like this in an article by a Washington-based political reporter:
What’s also true is that Obama and [Kamala] Harris are longtime friends. She was a featured speaker at the Democratic Convention in Charlotte. And Harris was a guest at the state dinner for British Prime Minister David Cameron. (Full disclosure: We were at the same table that night.)
The principle behind full disclosure is a noble one: To let the reader know that the journalist may be biased by personal association with the subject s/he covers. But not infrequently it is used in a way that makes me throw up a little in my mouth: To emphasize that the journalist is important, connected and fabulous.
If you don’t believe me, ask yourself a question. If the goal of full disclosure is to completely reveal the truth, why don’t roughly half of all “full disclosures” put a political reporter in a negative light? Surely, negative feelings and experiences can bias judgment as much as positive ones. But I have never seen anything by a political journalist along the lines of “The Governor is known to have a harsh and unforgiving interpersonal manner (Full disclosure: We used to date but she dumped me because I was chronically impotent)”.
The other striking thing about some full disclosures is that the only reason they are “ethically required” is because the journalist has inserted an unnecessary detail into a story that allows parenthetical full disclosurebrag. Did for example the above story by the Washington Post’s Jonathan Capehart really need to cite the state dinner with David Cameron in order to establish the widely-known fact that Attorney General Harris and President Obama are long time friends? No.
But once that detail was in the story, Capehart was forced to do his solemn duty of letting us know that he got invited to a fancy White House event (Full disclosure: I wasn’t invited, and if I had been, I probably would not have written this post. Also, I should note, in candor, that I have published in the Washington Post, as well as other newspapers — such as the New York Times and Wall Street Journal — that are often mentioned in the same breath as the Post as highly desirable places to publish. But, for honesty’s sake, I should disclose that I haven’t done as much publishing in national newspapers as I have in academic outlets, where I have over 200 peer-reviewed papers. And several highly-regarded books. Just thought you had a right to know).
It seems I’ve been channeling the Bursar this evening.
Are you looking for a prestigious internship for your teenage child? Are you worried that, despite your best efforts to make Junior respectable in public, the interview skills aren’t quite where they need to be? Do you think s/he would benefit during a college admissions interview by referring to “that time [I] interned at an energy consultancy”?
You’re in luck!
My high school, Westminster School, is offering internships at auction as a means to raise funds for its capital building projects and its Bursary Programme. On offer are internships in retail, finance, law, energy, and consultancy, among others. Fabergé? No problem. Coutts Bank? Roll up! We can serve all your needs here.
Ok, you’re interested? Great! All I’ll need is for you to 1) cough up hundreds of Her Majesty’s Pounds Sterling (I know, I know, can you really put a price on your child’s future? It’s priceless, after all. But then again, in addition to being a self-evidently valuable life experience, why not show people how valuable these internships are by making them prohibitively expensive?), 2) be a “member of the Westminster Community, aged 18 or over, unless previously notified otherwise. This includes Parents, Former Parents, Old Westminsters, Staff and Former Staff.” After all, if you aren’t somehow attached to the School, your money clearly doesn’t have the same pretty lustre to it. Marvellous, I’m glad you understand.
What’s that, you say? There might be a problem of nepotism? Some people who might otherwise be qualified might not be able to participate in the auction? And some pupils who are attending the School on the Bursary Programme (designed as similar to a need-based stipend) for which the auction is intended as a fundraiser might themselves struggle to afford the internships?
The School has already issued a clear statement that such apprehensions are unwarranted:
The option of including work placements was raised early on by our donors, and in the end it was felt that as this had for some years been a common practice by other organisations and as the places offered would be in addition to, and not in place of, existing positions, we would go ahead. Each work placement donor was asked if they would be willing to provide 2 places – one to be auctioned and one for the School to pass along to a pupil at one of our partner state schools – and some have chosen to do so. While these places have been created solely for the auction, we are hopeful that the businesses will be inspired to maintain these new positions and will openly recruit for candidates going forward.
Fine, fine, I suppose that statement wasn’t entirely convincing for all involved. I suppose that the fact that one high-profile bank has withdrawn its internship offer in response to the bad publicity (Exhibits A, B, and C) means that we can’t please everyone. But look, at least the School has had a dedicated commitment to social mobility in the past, yes? Surely this doesn’t set back all the positive gains that have been made thus far? I really don’t think Nick Clegg’s vocal opposition to internship culture in the past has anything to do with it. Nor does it matter that he went to Westminster. Or that he acquired an internship through nepotism himself.
[Calls off, stage right]
Junior, remind me: what is it you said you wanted to be when you grow up? A lawyer, eh? Yes, yes, don’t worry. Daddy will take care of it.
Breaking character: No, I won’t be giving them money — for an auction or as part of alumni giving — until I’m convinced they have their act together.
EDIT: On reflection, the title of the post is rather OTT. But it was ringing in my ears, in the voice of my English teacher from Westminster, when I read about the auction.
The NY Times reports that University Presidents continue to be paid quite well. The Marginal Revolution blog reports that coaches are earning larger raises than these Presidents. An ongoing economics literature has studied CEO pay and how it tracks corporate performance. A famous early paper is available here. Another well known paper documents that CEOs often receive big pay for good luck. For an accessible overview of executive compensation that argues that CEOs are paid for performance, read this.
I realize that University Presidents are not corporate CEOs (but do they know that?). In the case of evaluating University Presidents, what is the right performance criteria? In the case of public firms, their firm’s daily stock price contains information that is continuously updated. What new information arrives about the performance of the University Presidents? Given that a University is a bundle of a zillion things, how do you tease out the President’s value added? On the supply side, why isn’t there more competition for University President slots? Why can’t a tenured associate professor be named President if she has the “right stuff”? Why must entry barriers of previous service as a Dean or Provost be introduced?