Various and Sundry, 3/27/09

A few things rattling about in my head:

* Over at Making Light, Jim Macdonald is going into great detail about traumatic brain injury, which is the media’s favorite injury of the last several weeks due to Natasha Richardson’s death of it. For those of you who don’t know, Jim’s an EMT, so he knows a bit here and there about the matter. Worth the read, and just the thing to make you a little bit paranoid the next time you crack your skull.

* The always ego-gratifying Science Fiction Awards Watch blog informs me that I have been nominated for a Galaxy Award, which is a science fiction award given in China. The particular nomination is for Most Popular Foreign Author, and I am nominated along with several other fine folks, including Neil Gaiman, Nancy Kress, Garth Nix and Ursula Le Guin among others. Nifty.

* Note to Ed Henry of CNN: When the President of the United States pwns your ass live and in front of 40 million people, it will do you no good to try to rewrite history to make it look like you somehow got the better of the man. We know you have an ego and all, but, really. Let it go. Next time ask a question that doesn’t invite the most powerful man in the world to hand you your glutes on a platter.

* Looked at the Republican Road to Recovery thingie (that’s a pdf link) and I do have to say I’m a little confused — or actually that I’m not. The thing doesn’t read a like a policy document, which is what it should be, it reads like a campaign document, i.e., slight and aspirational and fact-free. And that’s fine, I guess, but when slight and aspirational is what you have, you shouldn’t be waving it around and saying that it’s an actual budget, as John Boehner did yesterday at the press conference for the thing. Because when you say, “here’s our budget,” then you’ll have reporters asking “if it’s a budget, where are your numbers?” and then you have to say something lame, like “Uh… we’ll have those for you next week.” Which makes you look like an dope, and means that the entire news cycle is about you releasing a “budget” with no actual numbers in it. Which of course the White House has a field day with.

This muddle of the GOP’s wasn’t surprising in one way, because the GOP of recent years has shown it’s better at campagining than actually developing intelligible policy, and so naturally it makes sense for them to splotz out a document that reeks of a campaign. It is a little surprising because the GOP used to be better at this sort of thing. Boehner, bless his unnaturally-tanned heart, didn’t just walk into a reporter’s trap regarding a budget without numbers, he set up the trap himself and made sure everyone was there to watch him stomp into it. Yes, folks, he’s my representative. Hey, don’t blame me. In any event, I’m sure that somewhere out there Karl Rove is privately crumpling paper in frustration. His permanent Republican majority, reduced to a show in which the GOP leadership hits itself with pies.

50 Comments on “Various and Sundry, 3/27/09”

  1. From the linked story, Mr. Henry tells us:

    At the first presser in February, I was about the 10th reporter the president called on. The economy had been chewed over so I went with a “sidebar” question about whether Obama, given his push for transparency, would overturn the policy at Dover Air Force Base preventing media coverage of coffins returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

    It was a surprise line of inquiry. The president made news by saying the policy was under review — and a few weeks later he overturned it.

    I was heading into this event with the same strategy: make news on something unexpected (I won’t tell you which topics I was working on cause it would ruin the surprise for a future presser or interview with the president). (emphasis added)

    Um, dude? Not your job to make news. Report news, analyze the events of the day, investigate shenanigans: yes. Make the news about you: no.

    Glad we could clear that up.

  2. On the one hand, I’d much rather have two smart, robust, cabable political parties working hard to convince me that they had the best handle on what needs to be done for our country.

    On the other hand, as long as one of our parties is going to be a bunch of evil, power-hungry, money-grubbing bastards, I’d just as soon they be stupid and incompetent too.

    (Just to forestall the inevitable criticism, I don’t think much of most of the Democratic leadership, either, but the president’s smart as hell, and he’s running the show for now. He’s got a lot of important work to do, and if the GOP’s not going to help out, this kind of weird, clownish, hilariously ineffective resistance is probably the best we can hope for.)

  3. I honestly don’t see a way the GOP pulls their act together before the 2012 election is done and gone, and that saddens me. It saddens me, because it’s like watching a mismatched game of chess. The Dems, under Obama, play the part of the chessmaster, though given their past record it’s like having a chessboard where the pawns do whatever they want to do. The GOP plays the part of the guy who can see the tactical advantage of taking this piece or this piece, but are currently unable to see the bigger picture of the positioning on the board.

  4. I must say it’s refreshing and pleasant to feel that the President is at the helm. With Bush, one very definitely got the sense that he was being steered by his advisers, that any course he took was because people behind the curtains were pulling on the reins. Obama, on the other hand, appears to be actually guiding the ship of state rather than being guided. “We go thataway!” rather than “Uh, guys? Guys? Which way do I point this thing? Which pedal is the gas?”

  5. What Ear Bucket said.

    Also, for me, there’s a certain level of “Who are these jokers and what have they done with the Republican Party political juggernaut?”. All part of the sea change, I suppose.

    (if you’re into that sort of thing, note that “sea change” is Shakespearian in origin … see The Tempest.)

  6. @Sarcastro: Right! What the frack were they thinking? They shot themselves in the foot and then they handed out little packets of salt.

  7. Henry: I’ve got no hard feelings toward the president and I assume he feels the same, but I can’t worry about that.

    Christ, talk about ego. I’m sure the President is sitting in the Oval Office right now nursing his wounds from Henry’s brutal and pointed assault, and plotting his revenge, oh yes, precious, yes yes.

    Something tells me that Ed Henry hasn’t quite figured out that Bush is no longer in the White House.

  8. Brain injuries are scary. I sat on a jury in a month-long product liability trial related to a brain injury. It was very hard to reconcile that type-A driven exec that was described with the friendly yet obviously simple woman who took the stand and described how her favorite thing was when her brother took her for ice scream after visiting the video store.

  9. About brain injuries and the prevention thereof: my boys have a friend, four years old, who was out bike riding with her brothers. She decided to climb a tree. Well, the little girl fell out of the tree. Her big brothers ran home to get their Mom. (All of about thirty feet.) The little girl got up, was just fine, she’d fallen about five feet. The bike helmet was cracked in two.
    We all figure that bike helmet saved at the least a trip to the emergency room and quite likely the girl’s life. I know she was taught 3 points of contact for climbing things.
    So there’s another reason to make sure your kids wear their helmets when they’re riding bikes: they might get sidetracked and go tree climbing!

  10. Head injuries are scary stuff, indeed.

    Fifteen years ago, a large tree fell on my future wife’s head as she was walking across a wooded lot on her parents’ property. She was found by chance because her mom had started worrying about her and sent a cousin to go check.

    According to the surgeon in charge, she had the biggest acute subdural hematoma he had ever seen in twenty years of emergency practice. They told her family she had a 5% chance of making it out of surgery alive, and a 100% chance of lasting brain damage if she did survive.

    Survive she did, and brain damage she suffered. “Luckily”, all the damage only affected her motor skills, not her cognitive ones. Her left arm is paralyzed, but fifteen years later, she has two Masters degrees, a successful career, and two children.

    We don’t play the lottery, ever. We figured we used up our family allotment of luck that night in the OR in advance.

  11. John,

    Question for you : Why can’t Obama get anyone to work for him at Treasury?

    There are 17 empty offices ( out of a possible 18) with no pending nominations.

    Is staffing the Treasury not a priority?

    Is he asking people and they are saying no?

    Partisanship is fun, and I can understand why democrats are enjoying their moment to gloat, but the evidence seems to indicate that the smart money people who really understand these things want nothing to do with this administration. If you have another explanation I’m open to being persuaded, but the longer these posts go empty the worse it looks.

  12. Marko @ 11 — Vaguely similar situation in my family, only it was my father when I was 11, and there was permanent damage. In any case, most people don’t know this but, before George Clooney was *G*E*O*R*G*E C*L*O*O*N*E*Y he used to emcee the annual “Salute to the Songwriters” fund-raising event for the Betty Clooney Foundation for Persons with TBI. (Betty was Rosemary’s sister.) A small but significant part of my father’s eventual legal settlement went to that organization.

    On a completely unrelated note:

    “… bless his unnaturally-tanned heart …”

    I am wondering what technology permits an internal organ to become tanned? (Are microwaves involved?) And is there a natural tanning process that’s preferable to the unnatural method(s)? Finally, I’m wondering how Mr. Scalzi would become aware of the tanned nature, natural or otherwise, of Boehner’s heart?

  13. BoysMom: Helmets are important, but not magic. The woman I described was wearing a helmet when she fell off her horse. (That’s what the trial was about…the helmet.)

  14. drew@12: You raise a good point, although you’re framing it misleadingly when you say no one wants to work with the administration.

    The root of the problem is a promise Obama made during the campaign not to hire any lobbyists in his administration. It was well-intentioned, but the problem is that basically everyone who’s anybody in Washington has been registered as a lobbyist at some point or another.

    I respect the thought behind it, but they’re going to have to relax their standards if they want to fill up those posts.

  15. @12, drew

    Part of the problem, from what I’ve seen, is that the rules he put in regarding lobbyists has actually come back to bite him. A lot of capable people who have the knowledge to do the job can’t because they lobbyed (lobbied? lobbyied? eh) in that field.

    Another part of the problem has been that some of Obama’s attempts at appointing people have been stymied by Republicans in Congress.

  16. Drew:

    “Question for you : Why can’t Obama get anyone to work for him at Treasury?”

    Leaving aside from the the “When did Obama stop beating his wife?” phrasing of the question, what does this have to do with anything related to this topic thread, Drew? That it’s vaguely tangential to the Republican “budget” proposal, in that they both more or less have something to do with money, doesn’t count.

    If you want to talk about Obama’s staffing quandaries, that’s fine, but do it when it’s actually a topic of conversation here, and not because you get your feelings hurt when I whack on the GOP. If you can’t wait for me to make it a topic of conversation, get your own blog.

    Also, let’s not have any more follow-ups there, unless it can be brought on topic, which I strongly doubt, since being on topic wasn’t actually the point of bringing it up.

  17. We really need to fix our electoral system to make third parties viable. Our current one pretty much enforces a duopoly, which is bad for everyone.

  18. “splotz?” Have you just coined a word? It sounds as though it has its origins in Leonard Wibberley’s The Mouse that Roared, but that was “plotz,” as in “blitz plotz,” which was a condition brought on by over-consumption of the Duchy’s Grand Fenwick wine, if memory serves.

  19. I’d echo what EarBucket said. Speaking as a card-carrying liberal, I’d really like to have a smart effective opposition party out there keeping the Democrats honest. I’ve live in Cook County, Illinois (and just outside Chicago, so I’ve seen how that works out. I really don’t want that happening to my country. Would you red-staters send us some smarter Republicans please?

    And Scalzi, the one good thing you can say about John Boehner is that he isn’t Eric Kantor. Kantor actually looked smug about his incompetence.

  20. Admit it John, you’re really missing Newt Gingrich as the Republican House leader and the rest of the Contract with America gang now….

  21. Thanks for the link to TMI on TBI. Very educational, and makes me wonder…
    Re: right-leaning reporters trying to make a big deal about nothing: *sigh*
    Re: Republican budget that lacks numbers: jeepers is it really that hard to do the same thing every time you’re in office?

  22. There are numbers in the repub ‘budget’! (I read it too, it was much quicker reading than the recovery package :P )

    10% tax on income up to 100k, then 25% on all monies after that!

    Those are numbers!!!!11!!!

  23. And of course, lower the capital gains tax, since that isn’t “income”. What, you thought “income” meant “all the money you have coming in”? Silly proles.

  24. I just LOVE how reporters rediscover their balls and their duty to ask tough questions only when there’s a Democrat in office.

    And Obama’s smackdown was a thing of beauty!

  25. Jeremy Preacher @ #24, Ah. Thanks. My Yiddish knowledge is derived from authors like Irving Howe; Hawai’i wasn’t a recipient of large waves of immigration from the part of the world where Yiddish was common argot.

  26. “Neil Gaiman, Nancy Kress, Garth Nix and Ursula Le Guin”

    Wow, Scalzi, I am impressed! I don’t know anything about awards in the field in China, but that’s some pretty fine company in which to find yourself. Congrats!

  27. I suffered A Lot of Head Trauma last August, and I’m only starting to feel like “me” again in about the last month. I’m not gonna go into details (it’s pretty fucking horrible), but suffice it to say:

    Got sight back in right eye: 1 week.
    Able to verbalise a whole sentence: 2 weeks.
    Able to function socially: 2 months
    Able to perform complex maths (matrix transforms et cetera): 4 months.
    Regain reliable emotional stability: 6 months.

    That jelly thing is horribly vulnerable. Do, please, take care of yours.

  28. Doctor, will I be able to perform complex maths (matrix transforms et cetera)?

    Yes, in about 4 months.

    Great, because I was never able to perform complex maths before..

    Seriously, though, congratulations on your recovery MarkHB, and you are right: people should wear helmets when riding bicycles, skiing, and the like…

  29. Last Tuesday, my 15-YO fell in gym class and hit his head on the ground. It was hurting and he felt dizzy, so he took himself to the nurse’s office, and I got a call a little later saying I should come and pick him up. No loss of consciousness, no double vision, pupils were fine, no nausea, but if he still had a headache in an hour or two, we should take him to the GP and have him checked out.

    Now, keep in mind that this is the kid who does not grok the concept of “playing through pain”. If he has a hangnail, he’ll want to get it wrapped up in a bandage and have his arm in a sling – just in case. He’s used minor ailments to get out of things he finds boring more times than I can count. He doesn’t cry “wolf”, he broadcasts it over all the major networks.

    So, needless to say, an hour or two later he still “felt kind of funny”, so off we went to the GP. The GP checked him out and seemed fine — but he said that his vision was a little blurry off and on since it happened. It was OK now, see, but there were a couple of times when it was a little blurry.

    Apparently, “blurry vision” is one of those keywords that means “this could be evidence of pressure on the brain so send him to get a CAT scan because in the event that we don’t send him for a CAT scan due to there being absolutely no other evidence there’s anything wrong but it turns out that there is in fact something more serious we’re going to get our butts sued off.” And, of course, it’s now 5:30 PM so the only option for a CAT scan is the local hospital. So, off to the ER we go. All the while me showing some peevishness about the whole thing, knowing his history of embellishment.

    Half an hour waiting to be seen at the ER.

    An hour and a quarter waiting to be taken to radiology.

    Half an hour waiting in radiology.

    An hour waiting for the results to come back.

    The test comes back – negative, everything’s normal. And I’m trying (not very successfully) to show that mostly what I’m thinking is how he’s wasted a whole evening when he could have been studying for the geometry test he has tomorrow.

    Then the next day I read that Natasha Richardson died.

    And I’m thinking, you know, going to the hospital was the right thing to do, regardless of how much I knew that there was nothing wrong. Because the consequences of being mistaken were too dire.

  30. Jon, actually I had the shit beat out of me by a gang of youths, culimating in my skull leaving a four inch dent in a car before I got stamped unconscious in the gutter.

    Some things you can’t wear helmets for.

  31. Actually, whilst I’ve gone into more detail than I intended to, I should share a thing for other folk who’ve had the place they live in banged up.

    After you’ve had a major cranial event, when you start to come back, you realise you’re not quite the same person anymore. You process things differently, see a little differently. Perhaps it’s because I’ve been a professional artist for a long time I see this, but I’m a slightly different man from who I was before the neural jell-O got it’s shake-up. And you have to accept that you need to get to know the “new you” a bit, because the linkages have taken a pounding, and are reconfiguring around the broken stems.

    You change. You actually, really change when you’ve taken a pounding. I’m still getting to know “new me”. I like most of him so far, but there are real and definite changes in what I’d considered to be a black box.

  32. MarkHB @ 36 — That’s exactly right, and it’s true from the outside looking in as well. I have known two fathers in my life — the MIT-graduate mechanical engineer and the one who came back from the hospital after six months in a coma and almost three years in rehabilitation who could no longer do “complex maths”. Different people, different buttons, different emotional reactions.

    There was a Harrison Ford movie years ago, “Regarding Henry” that, I’m told, addressed this issue to some extent. I don’t know because I can’t bring myself to watch it.

  33. I think I’ll skip the politics and focus on the brain damage thing. I’m listening to Stephen King’s Dumas Key (1 credit audiobook at e-music, – only $9.99!) and damn he can write! His description of brain damage from the inside is eerie.

  34. A couple points:

    Damn, as someone who is completely a fiscally conservative and would love a small government (though no one has shown me a legit argument against national healthcare. I want numbers not ideology), but who is completely liberal socially, can we please get a strong and sane Republican party. As a previous poster mentioned, I would completely take Gingrich at this point. I don’t agree with the guy, but he at least seemed to try to do good, even if he wasn’t. The current Republicans seem to have the ultimate destruction of America as their main goal, as long as they are elected. It is so disheartening.

  35. B: “here’s our budget”

    R: “if it’s a budget, where are your numbers?”

    B: “Numbers? What numbers? Uh… we ain’t got no numbers… we don’t need no STEEENKING numbers!”

  36. Nick @37:

    I’m sorry to hear about your father, man. I guess my point was that I actually had a relatively “easy” time of it in that I don’t seem to have irrevocably lost any of the toys that I really love to play with. I was lucky. It’s turning out that the changes I’ve got are just small colourations of response, rather than being a wholly different person. It’s enough to make me think “hey… I wouldn’t have done that/thought that before” and get funny looks from some folk who’ve known me a long time, though.

  37. @40: I would have done the exact same thing as your pediatrician – if The school nurse SHOULD have told you to not pass go and go to the ER however, and skip the office in the event of problems. (I mean, what is the office doc going to do, pull out his magic x-ray specs and diagnose you there?) That all being said, butt covering in this case is not a bad thing if it makes people better health care practitioners.

    Regarding TBI: It is a nice post, I just wish he had credited the source he quite obviously (and reasonably) used (cribbed from?) to give his information. And I wonder what constitutes a “serious” brain injury to get a 30% mortality rate… The take home message regardless should be if you think you might need to go to the ER, you probably should (especially if we are talking about children.)

    And as for CNN, c’mon, for the previous eight years we had a president that talked in little tiny sound bites, and ALWAYS reacted IMMEDIATELY without thinking. You can hardly blame the poor little reporters for being confused.

  38. Noah:

    Jim’s an EMT, so I imagine that he’s reeling a lot of that off from his own head. It’s not to say that the information does not have sources, merely that Jim’s so used to using it that the info is in his brain most of the time.

  39. I have to say I’m bewildered about the interest in the Richardson story. Seems like the archetypal dog bites man story to me. Do people not know you can die of a head injury? Of course it’s very sad and tragic, but it’s not *interesting*. What am I missing? Why is everyone talking about this? Is there some kind of whack conspiracy theory surrounding this?

  40. cath @45, I think the interest is because she took a tumble, said “Oh, I’m fine” and to all appearances was – then upped and died the following day. It’s the thing that cerebral vascular damage can leave you absolutely asymptomatic until they start to kill you hours or days later.

    Without wishing to be in any way insensitive, I doubt as much media mileage would have come of it if she hadn’t been a celebrity, but that’s the 21st century for ya.

  41. “New GOP” — same old infuriating intellectual dishonesty.

    “In the next five years, President Obama’s budget will double the national debt. In the next 10 years, it will triple the national debt,” said Gregg, R-N.H.

    Say, Judd — aren’t we talking about an ANNUAL budget? So doesn’t your comment assume that the budget (including both expenditures and revenue) will be identical for the next TEN YEARS? And don’t we both know that’s absolute bullshit? So tell me, Judd — why are you lying to everyone? Ah…I see…because you assume that most Americans are too stupid to figure this out, even though it’s incredibly obvious…and you have based a rather successful political career on this very theory, so you see no reason to change that assumption now. Well…ah, hell, Judd…hard to argue with that…

  42. Ah, it’s the old “freak accident that I can’t think of a reason can’t happen to me so I’m going to obsess on it endlessly until I find one” syndrome. Well, we all feel that way sometimes. Maybe the real disconnect here is that I don’t ski.

  43. Congratulations on your nomination! That’s some mighty fancy company that you’re keeping, these days.

    In re: Ed Henry. Oh, how I laughed. And laughed and laughed and laughed. I agree w/ a previous comment, that some of the press don’t seem to have really come to terms with our new POTUS, and what that means. Gibbs seems to be quite the surprise, as well. I think Gibbs has permission to be truly, deeply snarky no more than once a week, though, so he’s really *honing*.

    In re: the GOP “budget”. At first, I couldn’t believe it. It just seemed so surreal. I actually feel sorry for Republicans. I encountered several this weekend who were trying to convince themselves that it was somehow a Democratic conspiracy, and that the “real” document had been taken off of the website by hackers. Really. I kid you not.

    As for the press announcement, oh, ouch. First, Cantor seemed to not understand that turning in your term paper two days late, still made it *late*, so to speak – Superman will not fly around the earth backwards to make it Wednesday, that was just a movie. And second, to extend the analogy, it wasn’t even a term paper. It was shiny, though, and had lots of fonts!

    All in all, it was a sad, silly, surreal implosion that made me briefly wistful for an Evil Overlord. No wonder Cheney was so tense: he really was surrounded by idiots. What a terrible burden to carry.

  44. Oops? In re Cantor, Boehner, etc. I don’t actually remember which of them presented the actual “budget” to the press. So, I think I misattributed, above. Sorry.