Monday, August 31, 2009

27. Sleater-Kinney "Jumpers" (2005)

"Jumpers" is quite possibly the best song about leaping to a watery death off the Golden Gate Bridge. It is almost certainly the only song based on a New Yorker article about leaping to a watery death off the Golden Gate Bridge. That article, not-coincidentally titled "Jumpers," is worth reading regardless of this connection, though it only underscores the harrowing catharsis of the song.

Needless to say, the song is downright eerie. Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker sing much of the its lyric in mournful unison:
There is a bridge adored and famed
The Golden spine of engineering
Whose back is heavy
With my weight

My falling shape will draw a line
Between the blue of sea and sky
I'm not a bird
I'm not a plane
It is also no coincidence that the term "jumpers" became notorious on September 11, with the horrifying images of innocent people falling from burning skyscrapers. The song is filled with post-9/11 tension, and is ostensibly about its abatement: suicide as supreme deliverance.

So long, rock n' roll fun.

Click here to view the entire list.

Pirate Economics

This week's New Yorker has an excellent review of GMU economist Pete Leeson's book The Invisible Hook. I haven't yet read the book, but Leeson spoke to Russ Roberts about the book on EconTalk earlier this summer. It was a thoroughly interesting (and entertaining) discussion.

From the review:
In Leeson’s opinion, there was a sound economic basis for all this democracy. Most businesses suffer from what economists call the “principal-agent problem”: the owner doesn’t work, and the workers, not being stakeholders, lack incentives; so a certain amount of surveillance and coercion is necessary to persuade Ishmael to hunt whales instead of spending all day in his hammock with Queequeg. Pirates, by contrast, having stolen the ships they sailed, were both principals and agents; they still needed a captain but, Leeson explains, “they didn’t require autocratic captains because there were no absentee owners to align the crew’s interests with.” The insight suggests more than Leeson seems to want it to—does inequity always entail political repression?—and late in the book he backtracks, cautioning that the pirate example “doesn’t mean democratic management makes sense for all firms,” only that management style should be adjusted to the underlying ownership structure. But a certain kind of reader is likely to ignore the hedging, and note that the pirates, two centuries before Lenin, had seized the means of production.
It's great to see Leeson getting so much good press. I knew him as the TA for my favorite economics course at Mason (under one of my favorite professors, another Pete.) The review mentions that Leeson has a tattoo of Supply and Demand on his bicep. It's true, I've seen it. And yes, it's totally badass.

Friday, August 28, 2009

28. Bob Dylan "Thunder on the Mountain" (2006)

Bob Dylan has famously, and repeatedly, claimed that he is not the Voice of a Generation, but "merely" a Song and Dance Man. Given the remarkable richness of his oeuvre, and the extraordinary influence of his music (only rivaled by the Beatles), fans have understandably bristled at the notion that his music is anything less than art, with a capital A.

But, it's a false dichotomy. Let's take Dylan at his word, since he has no reason to employ false modesty. Accept that he intends to write popular music. Does that prevent the listener from evaluating the product as art?

Fundamentally, "Thunder on the Mountain" is a standard twelve-bar shuffle. It substitutes a chorus for lively musical interludes from his touring band, his best since he was backed by the Band. (The truncated version below removes most of these interludes, and a few verses.) In another era, or some alternate universe, it would be considered a dance song. It aims to please, and boy does it ever.

The inventiveness of the rhyme, not the music, provides the song's primary hook. In this sense, Dylan's music is closer to rap than rock (or even folk). The rhyme structure is a standard AABB quatrain. But, he uses this simple form to heighten the virtuosity of his rhyme:

Thunder on the mountain, fires on the moon
There's a ruckus in the alley and the sun will be here soon
Today's the day, gonna grab my trombone and blow
Well, there's hot stuff here and it's everywhere I go

I was thinkin' 'bout Alicia Keys, couldn't keep from crying
When she was born in Hell's Kitchen, I was living down the line
I'm wondering where in the world Alisha Keys could be
I been looking for her even clear through Tennessee

Feel like my soul is beginning to expand
Look into my heart and you will sort of understand
You brought me here, now you're trying to run me away
The writing's on the wall, come read it, come see what it say

Bob Dylan is a Song and Dance Man making Art. No contradiction here.

Click here to view the entire list.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

29. Sade "By Your Side" (2000)

I'll begin with two (somewhat) related anecdotes about the great Sade Adu:
  1. In the Seinfeld episode "The Checks," Elaine discovers her boyfriend Brett is so enamored of the Eagles' song "Desperado," that he demands complete silence when it comes on the radio. As it plays, he enters a near-catatonic state of bliss (Elaine watches, hilariously nonplussed). When "By Your Side" was released in 2000, it was my "Desperado." I entered a Brett-like trance while it played.
  2. A popular comedian, and former heroin addict, once noted that Sade's music was the preferred soundtrack to his (and his fellow junkies') heroin use. He said her music sounded "heroiny." They were all huge fans.
I mention these anecdotes because they best describe the emotional reaction fans have to Sade's voice. It's perversely fitting that heroin addicts enjoy Sade. Her music is opioid.

Sade is a capable songwriter. But, she is not loved for her material. It's her delivery, her impeccable vocal phrasing, the hazy warmth of her timbre, that elevates her (sometimes middling) material to greatness.

"By Your Side" is unapologetically old-fashioned. It's filled with the standard tropes of adult contemporary music. Lyrically, it extols come-what-may devotion. Musically, its sparse instrumentation is countered by the lushness of Sade's vocal. Its pace is intended for slow dancing.

Again, what makes Sade such a great artist is her ability to make the saccharine sublime. Sure, "By Your Side" is a wedding song. But, it's a damned good one.

Click here to see the entire list.

30. Basement Jaxx "Where's Your Head At" (2001)

True to form, Basement Jaxx even manages to throw the kitchen sink into "Where's Your Head At." Thanks to their incredible knack for writing a hook (witness their Singles collection), they can be forgiven for the sometimes frustrating busyness of their music.

Two words best describe this song: delirious exuberance.

Click here to see the rest of the list.


The Strange Politics of Hurricane Naming

From Wired:

Voss is onto something there. Maybe the need for control explains why, during the mid-20th century, people grew dissatisfied with how storms were given arbitrary names. Nature’s arbitrary enough as it is. So the NHC implemented the first modern naming system, using alphabetically ordered names for each successive storm.

However, the names all belonged to women — which, depending on your perspective, is either offensive to women or unfair to men, who deserve an equal shot at eponymous carnage. In 1979, the NHC split the names equally between the sexes.

The politics didn’t end there. Texas congresswoman Sheila Jackson-Lee complained in 2003 that storm names were too white. “All racial groups should be represented,” she said, and asked officials to “try to be inclusive of African-American names.” (One would expect Jackson-Lee to be pleased with naming conventions in other regions of the world. The central North Pacific will eventually experience storms named Keoni and Walaka; the Western north Pacific could be hit by Hurricane Fung-Wong.)

Newspapers: Now on Your Computer!

This report, from 1981, portends the demise of print newspapers. It's amazing how, what surely at the time seemed to be a far-fetched prediction ("Imagine, if you will, sitting down with your morning coffee, turning on your home computer to read the day's newspaper"), has become the grim reality for an entire industry. (Via Hit and Run.)

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

31. Mary J. Blige "No More Drama" (2001)

So you don't miss it, Mary J. Blige underscores the comparison between her troubled life and a soap opera by sampling "Nadia's Theme," the opening piano music to The Young and the Restless. It borders on being heavy-handed, but I think it works. It's a beautiful theme, and it instantly provides more drama to a song whose lyrics seek to be delivered from it.

Mary J. Blige, a diva through and through, stands apart from her peers by having it both ways: vocally, she dazzles as much as the next Mariah or Whitney, but she has the artistic credibility that approaches (as near to as anyone can) the monumental talent of Aretha Franklin or Tina Turner.

The emotional impact of "No More Drama" can be best experienced by witnessing Blige's electrifying 2002 Grammy performance (below). It's more like a Grammy exorcism. As the audience watches in awe, Blige's frantic intensity builds to its goosebump-inducing release: "I am 'bout to lose my mind, lord help me, help me say."

Mary, you need no help with that.

Click here to see the entire list.


32. Eminem "Lose Yourself" (2002)

Here is the story of Eminem's rise to fame, in five-and-a-half minutes or less. Of course, "Lose Yourself" is not about Eminem; it's the central track from his film 8 Mile, and is really about the film's protagonist Rabbit. No relation!

Judging by lyrics alone, "Lose Yourself" would doubtless be one of the top three songs on this list. This is Eminem brimming with confidence and verbal dexterity, the artist at his prime:
Soul's escaping, through this hole that is gaping
This world is mine for the taking
Make me king, as we move toward a new world order
A normal life is boring; but super-stardom's
close to postmortem, it only grows harder
Homie grows hotter, he blows it's all over
These hoes is all on him, coast to coast shows
He's known as the Globetrotter
Lonely roads, God only knows
He's grown farther from home, he's no father
He goes home and barely knows his own daughter
But hold your nose cause here goes the cold water
These hoes don't want him no mo', he's cold product
They moved on to the next schmoe who flows
He nose-dove and sold nada, and so the soap opera
is told, it unfolds, I suppose it's old partner
But the beat goes on da-da-dum da-dum da-dah
Eminem's delivery of those words is still, almost seven years later, breathtaking.

And then there's the awkward fact that the man who once wrote a song about murdering the mother of his child ended up writing a great hymn for the American Dream--an honest-to-goodness, fist-pumping, Inspirational Anthem--while also managing to avoid mawkishness.

An Eminem song even a conservative could love?
That might be his most impressive achievement yet.

Click here to see the entire list.

Monday, August 24, 2009

33. PJ Harvey "Good Fortune" (2000)

Who are you, and what have you done with Polly Harvey?

This list has its share of artists who have adopted new styles and completely rebranded themselves. Still, it's hard to communicate the radical reincarnation of PJ Harvey that arrived with her fifth proper LP, Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea, and its lead single "Good Fortune." Until then, Harvey was known for the over-the-top theatricality and twisted darkness of her music. This is the same artist whose best-known song is about drowning her daughter. Stylistically, Harvey's music ranged from raw guitar rock to insular electronica. No one would have ever mistaken it for pop.

The first thing to note about "Good Fortune" is its apparent sunniness:
And I feel like
Some bird of paradise
My bad fortune slipping away
And I feel the
Innocence of a child
Everybody's got something good to say
Harvey, forever protean, has claimed she wrote melody-driven pop just to prove she could do it. Could she ever. Witness her swinging a purse and twirling from light poles in the song's accompanying video. By god, she actually looks happy. Was it all an act?

Who cares if it was? You can't listen to "Good Fortune" and not be carried be away by its exuberance ("looked into your eyes, and I was really in lu-uh-uh-uh-uh-uh-uh-ove!"). True, Harvey shifted back to darker moods with subsequent releases. But, her experiment with optimism remains her artistic zenith.

Click here to see the rest of the list.

34. Daft Punk "One More Time" (2000)

Two signature features set "One More Time" apart from typical house music, and elevate it to the realm of Totally Awesome Space Disco:
  1. The hyper-compressed horn line that provides the main hook. The compression dulls the horns' "brightness," but leaves their energy unaffected. It really is a neat trick.
  2. Romanthony's evocative vocal, which is auto-tuned to the point of sounding robotic (a la Cher in "Believe"). Imagine a really funky, sexy robot.
Yet despite all the techno-tweaking and artifice, "One More Time" bursts with soul. If you have to dance to something while plumbing the depths of outer space, this is your song.

Click here to see the entire list.


35. Bjork "New World" (2000)

The big beats and majestic-film-score orchestration of "New World" make it Bjork's best work of the last decade, which isn't exactly saying much. (After this, her music becomes whisper-quiet laptop blips and guttural, grunting a cappella chants.) Sure, the song's melody borders on schmaltz, but its prettiness ultimately saves it.

Click here to see the rest of the list.

36. Spoon "Sister Jack" (2005)

Though they formed in 1994, Spoon rose to prominence after The Strokes and The White Stripes ushered in the back-to-basics guitar rock movement of the early 2000s. They are one of my favorite rock bands that have come out of that movement.

Spoon writes excellent songs, but they are not a singles act. "Sister Jack" is the exception that proves the rule. It should have been a radio hit.

Like every other Spoon song, "Sister Jack" is lean and unpretentious, stripped down to its most essential elements. Everything is in its right place: the snare drum kick-off, the layered guitars and vocals, the tambourine, those hand claps. It's also one of the rare songs where the verse is more satisfying than the chorus.

The guys from Spoon actually seem to be having fun, which is why I think they are so darn endearing. (Are they--gasp!--smiling in that video?) Their music is an antidote to the moody post-grunge that came out of the late nineties, and their keep-it-simple-stupid aesthetic counters the overwrought rock that Radiohead spawned.

Click here to see the rest of the list.

Goldhill on Health Care

This month's Atlantic features an excellent article by David Goldhill (a democrat!?) on health care. It's long, but well worth the read. The bulk of the article is his diagnosis of the system, which is well-reasoned and convincing. His solutions are half-baked (but still far superior to what has been tossed around in Congress.)

Here's a key paragraph:
Indeed, I suspect that our collective search for villains—for someone to blame—has distracted us and our political leaders from addressing the fundamental causes of our nation’s health-care crisis. All of the actors in health care—from doctors to insurers to pharmaceutical companies—work in a heavily regulated, massively subsidized industry full of structural distortions. They all want to serve patients well. But they also all behave rationally in response to the economic incentives those distortions create. Accidentally, but relentlessly, America has built a health-care system with incentives that inexorably generate terrible and perverse results. Incentives that emphasize health care over any other aspect of health and well-being. That emphasize treatment over prevention. That disguise true costs. That favor complexity, and discourage transparent competition based on price or quality. That result in a generational pyramid scheme rather than sustainable financing. And that—most important—remove consumers from our irreplaceable role as the ultimate ensurer of value.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

37. Cat Power "Living Proof" (2006)

I hated Cat Power, completely and viscerally. It's ridiculous that an indie artist should effect such a reaction in anyone, I know. But, nonetheless, I scorned her with pride.

Let me explain.

I saw Cat Power play live in 2002. I was excited to see her, as I enjoyed her album, Moon Pix, and thought the song "Cross Bones Style" was totally awesome.

Things turned grim when Chan took stage that night. She had the theater (a church, actually) turn the stage lights off and turn the house lights on. She could see us, we could barely see her. (I found out later that she had extreme stage fright.)

Things got worse. She started many songs, but finished none. Really, she didn't finish one song. The pieces of songs she did play, she stumbled through. It was a complete mess. The audience fidgeted in the bright lights, but we were all held hostage by the fact that our collective escape would be spotted. So we sat and watched, completely disarmed. It was like a sick psychological experiment.

So, maybe you could understand my hatred.

In 2005, Chan Marshall, like many artists before her (Bob Dylan, the Stones, Dusty Springfield) hired some top-notch studio musicians to record a Southern soul album in Memphis. Something clicked. The studio musicians brought professionalism and constrained Marshall's idiosyncrasies. That album, The Greatest, was, to me, shockingly good. I tried not to admit it.

"Living Proof" is the album's standout. She must have been listening to Dusty in Memphis when she wrote it. The piano hook is simple, but it sticks with you. Marshall's smokey voice, which lacks the range of other singers, emotes in ways that puts others to shame. (This makes her an excellent cover artist, and she typically improves the songs she covers.)

I have been thoroughly won over. Chan, all is forgiven.

Click here to see the entire list.



38. Grizzly Bear "Two Weeks" (2009)

"Two Weeks" is the most recently-released entry on my list.

An unceasing ostinato piano line provides the foundation for a swooning, swollen Beach Boys-style chorus. (Oh, those harmonies!)

Gorgeous, all around.

Click here to see the entire list.


Friday, August 21, 2009

*Inglourious Basterds* Review

I just got back from seeing Inglourious Basterds. Though I had read some reviews, and heard Quentin Tarantino interviewed, I wasn't prepared for what I saw. Insomuch that it takes place in Nazi-occupied France, Inglourious Basterds is a war movie. But, it contains no scenes of combat, no actual warfare. The war is happening somewhere, but it only provides the historical context for the action of the film. Likewise, the titular Basterds are a presence, but they hardly dominate the film. (Which was the biggest, and most pleasant, surprise.)

As advertised, it's a revenge story. More accurately, it's a revenge fantasy. Its premise: almost everyone despises Nazis and, therefore, would love to see them tortured, humiliated, and fantastically annihilated. From the polarized reviews the movie has been getting, it's clear that those who loved it agreed with the premise; those who were disturbed by it, didn't. Put me firmly in the former camp.

I'm an admirer of Tarantino's, and, to my delight, Basterds contains many of his signature flourishes: an impeccable ear for music, sharp dialogue, highly-stylized characters, self-conscious homage to film genres, blood (lots of it), and storytelling bravado. Some might be offended by its brutality, mostly directed toward the Nazis. (In fact, we had a couple walk out during our screening.) But, if you were able to stomach Kill Bill, there's nothing here that would turn you off.

Many of the negative reviews focused on how the film glorifies violence, a repugnant idea to those critics. I disagree. The film glorifies justice. The Nazis get their just deserts, at the hands of those who deserve to give it to them.

And then there's Christoph Waltz, who plays Nazi Col. Hans Landa. Everything you've read is true, double underlined. It's a revelatory performance. Here I have to give equal credit to Tarantino. He's established himself as film's great casting director. He can he pick out talent from the "washed-up" (John Travolta, Robert Forester, and Pam Grier) and the relatively unknown (Uma Thurman, Samuel L. Jackson, and Waltz, who was a German television actor), and have them turn in star performances.

Inglourious Basterds builds to its spectacular climax with leisure. Thanks to Tarantino's knack for writing engaging scenes, I was never conscious of its (2 and 1/2 hour) length. I need to see it again, but right now I would rank it just below the underrated Jackie Brown, and above Kill Bill. (Pulp Fiction tops the list, Reservoir Dogs bottoms it).

If only history had actually played out as it is portrayed in Inglourious Basterds. Highly recommended.

39. Aimee Mann "Wise Up" (2000)

“Wise Up” is a lullaby of sorts. Mann’s tender vocal (straining to hit those high notes) embraces the listener, pleading for a change of ways (“It’s not going to stop, ‘till you wise up”). It’s both moralistic and maternal.

The story goes that director Paul Thomas Anderson had a tape of his friend Aimee Mann’s recent, unreleased, music when he was working on the follow-up to his film Boogie Nights. He listened to the tape on repeat as he wrote. The music moved him so that he wrote multiple vignettes based on those songs. Those vignettes were strung together to become the film Magnolia. Mann’s tape became its soundtrack.

Aimee Mann's music for Magnolia has the proud distinction of being one of the great original film soundtracks. “Wise Up” has the proud distinction of being its gorgeous standout track.

Click here to see the entire list.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

40. Nelly Furtado "Maneater" (2006)

Nelly Furtado successfully pulled off the transition from folkpop singer to rump-shaking dance diva (unlike some of her contemporaries), but it was a jarring shift nonetheless. (Was she always this sleazy?)

"Maneater" is a prime club single. The verse is basically tension ("Everybody look at me, me!") designed to make the release of the chorus all the more satisfying. That's the point when you throw your hands up in the air and shimmy, shimmy, shimmy.

Click here to see the entire list.

41. Hot Hot Heat "Bandages" (2002)

Unlike some other songs on the list, "Bandages" sounds as good as ever. The synth riff makes me very happy, and that's reason enough for the song to be among my favorites of the decade.

Click here to see the entire list.


God Bless America

Really, no sarcasm here. It's amazing that these parents have so little to worry about that they're irate about the Ice Cream Man. This is a luxury that doesn't get calculated by GDP.

Vicki Sell, mother of 3-year-old Katherine, tenses when the vendor starts ringing his little bell, over and over, hoping her daughter doesn’t have the typical Pavlovian response.

Ever since Katherine had an inconsolable meltdown about not being able to have a treat, Ms. Sell has been trying to have unlicensed vendors ousted from the park. She has repeatedly called the city’s 311 complaint hot line, joining parents nationwide who can’t stand the icy man or his motorized big brother, the ice cream man.

“I fall into the camp of parents who are irate,” Ms. Sell said. She has equal disdain for Mister Softee and the ice cream pop vendor outside the park, but since they are licensed, there is not much she can do about them.

“I feel kind of bad about having developed this attitude,” she said. “I want Katherine to have the full childhood experience and all. But it’s really predatory for them — two of them — to be right inside the playground like this.”

Ms. Sell says she is not obsessed with health and nutrition. She — and others — feel they have been pushed to the brink by that little bell. Across message boards and playgrounds, soccer fields and day camp exits, parents have been raging. In a greener, more health-conscious, unsafe world, the ice cream man has lost some of his mojo.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

42. Liz Phair "Why Can't I?" (2003)

Oh Liz, how far has your star fallen?

Liz Phair is the Judas Iscariot of the indie music world, the Benedict Arnold of hipsterdom. She is hate, hate, hated by those who used to just love, love, love her. This song is a big reason why.

Some perspective: Liz Phair has never hidden the fact that she's always wanted to be a pop star. In fact, it's right there on her beloved first album, Exile in Guyville (as well as in number of early interviews).

While still an up-and-coming female artist in Chicago, surrounded by slacker boyfriends, Phair imagined the deliverance of stardom in the song "Help Me Mary":
I'm asking, dear Mary please
Temper my hatred with peace
Weave my disgust into fame
And watch how fast they run to the flame
After Guyville, still firmly "alternative," Phair began to flirt with pop with singles like "Supernova" and "Polyester Bride." So why did "Why Can't I?" and its accompanying album Liz Phair seem to blindside so many?

Probably because it was produced by the Matrix, the same hitmakers who were responsible for inexcusable pop songs from Avril Lavigne and Shakira. (Yuck!) But probably more so because indie musicians shouldn't even want to be famous in the first place. Liz Phair was seen as trash because it wanted to be popular.

That said, Liz Phair is not Liz Phair's best album. Still, it contains some excellent songs, "Why Can't I?" being one of them. The song captures the excitement of being in a bad relationship and finding someone new, someone who holds the hope of being something better.

It's sleek and polished. It's catchy. It even contains some of Phair's perfunctory dirtiness ("Here we go, we're at the beginning/ We haven't fucked yet, but my head's spinning).

So what's the problem?

Click here to see the rest of the list.

43. The Magnetic Fields "California Girls" (2008)

The classic image of the California girl--blonde, buxom, carefree--has come a long way since the Beach Boys sang their ode to her. Today, we imagine the hedonistic debauchery of the Lindsay Lohans of the world, not the innocent girl-next-door qualities of the Annette Funicellos.

They have, rightfully, become the objects of derision and scorn. The Magnetic Fields' "California Girls" is a nasty, pretty ode to these California girls. Full of derision and scorn.
They ain't broke, so they put on airs,
the faux folks sans derrieres
They breathe coke and have affairs
with each passing rock star
They come on like squares
then get off like squirrels
I hate California girls
Singer Shirley Simms' gleeful delivery softens these withering lyrics, which makes the song seem sunnier than it ought to.

My only quibble is the song's production, which is fuzzy and reverb-soaked. (The live, unmuddied, version of this song is far superior.) But this is a minor complaint. "California Girls" is irresistible pop, even obscured with noise.

Click here to see the rest of the list.

[Note: the below video is not official. I have no idea why it's so focused on Gwen Stefani. She is no Lindsay Lohan.]

44. 50 Cent "In Da Club" (2003)

R.E.M.'s Peter Buck once described the band's then-new single, "Stand," as being a "big dumb rock song." It was not a criticism.

"In Da Club" is a big (really) dumb hip hop song. It's crude ("I'm into having sex, I ain't into making love"). It's ostentatious ("My flow, my show brought me the doe/ that bought me all my fancy things/my crib, my cars, my pools, my jewels "). It's defiant ("You mad? I thought that you'd be happy I made it"). To be sure, these are not criticisms.

It just goes to show that with the right beat and a catchy melody, all can be forgiven.

Click here to see the rest of the list.


45. Britney Spears "Toxic" (2003)

It's easy to dismiss Britney Spears. Her loopy antics have overshadowed her musical output and tarnished her image. Even some of her better singles from the last decade ("I'm a Slave 4 U," "Gimme More") don't compare to "Baby One More Time," her first and best. "Toxic," however, gets damn close.

Screeching strings drive the song and provide the primary hook, while Britney shows off her (usually underappreciated) vocal range. Bonus: the song is filled with drug imagery ("I need a hit," "too high can't come down"), which makes it mildly edgy for a mainstream pop song.

Click here to see the entire list.


46. Junior Senior "Move Your Feet" (2003)

This technicolor single was, for me, the summer song of 2003. It was inescapable (mostly because I had it on repeat). Perhaps that's why I feel the song hasn't aged well. After hearing it so many times, the initial giddy thrill has worn off. What's left is still a great dance-pop song.

The real draw is the chorus, which features Junior Senior producer Thomas Troelsen on lead vocal. His timbre is remarkably similar to Michael Jackson's, while the hook itself could have been lifted from the Jackson 5.

Click here to see the entire list.


ObamaCare: Dead in the Water?

The Right was never going to agree with Obama's health care plans. Given Obama's recent hedging on the "public option," even the Left is beginning to turn on Obama.

Matt Taibbi:

[T]he public option was not a cure-all. In fact, the Democrats had in reality already managed to kill the public option by watering it down to the point of near-meaninglessness. But the notion that our president not only does not have any use anymore for a public option, but in fact “will be satisfied” if there is merely “choice and competition” in the market is, well, disgusting.

I’ll say this for George Bush: you’d never have caught him frantically negotiating against himself to take the meat out of a signature legislative initiative just because his approval ratings had a bad summer. Can you imagine Bush and Karl Rove allowing themselves to be paraded through Washington on a leash by some dimwit Republican Senator of a state with six people in it the way the Obama White House this summer is allowing Max Baucus (favorite son of the mighty state of Montana) to frog-march them to a one-term presidency?

This does not bode well. Worse, public opinion is generally negative, as well. A recent NBC/WSJ poll:

Obama’s overall approval rating in the poll is 51 percent, a two-point drop from last month and a 10-point decline since April.

Yet perhaps more troubling for the White House as it works to pass health care reform this year is that only 41 percent approve of his handling of health care. By comparison, 47 percent disapprove.

Moreover, just 36 percent believe that Obama’s efforts to reform the health system are a good idea, and only 24 percent think they will result in better quality of health care.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

47. Kanye West "Stronger" (2007)

French house music meets hip hop. Kanye quotes Nietzsche, samples Daft Punk, name-drops Appollonia Kotero and Christian Dior (always the dandy), and seeks the attention of blonde lesbians. What's not to love? (Except for those dumb glasses, that is.)

Click here to see the entire list.


48. Yeah Yeah Yeahs "Maps" (2003)

What the hell is this song about?

It's clear from the plaintive lyrics that someone close to the singer is leaving her ("wait...they don't love you like I love you"). But who are "they?" Is the person leaving named "Maps?" Who knows?

Who cares, really. The ambiguity makes this ballad all the more pretty and sad.

Click here to see the entire list.

49. Hercules and Love Affair "Hercules Theme" (2008)

"Hercules Theme" is the best song Barry Gibb never wrote. This is what John Travolta would dance to if his character from Saturday Night Fever were a go-go boy at a gay club.

Click here to see the entire list.

50. Jimmy Eat World "The Middle", Destiny's Child "Say My Name" (Tie)

"The Middle" by Jimmy Eat World (2001)

The earnest optimism of the lyric ("don't write yourself off yet!") and infectious melody combine to make "The Middle" a power-pop gem.

The song's total lack of profundity is the key to its charm. "Everything will be just fine," sings lead singer Jim Adkins. And for 2 minutes and 43 seconds, everything is.

"Say My Name" by Destiny's Child (2000)

"Say My Name" is one weird R&B song. It shifts styles from its straightforward chorus, to its syncopated verse, to the pitter-patter vocals of its bridge. In fact, it's a bit of a mess.

It also contains an novel, albeit paranoid, lyric. The singer is on the phone with her boyfriend, who is at an unknown location. She suspects he's there with another girl ("you acting kinda shady"). She asks that he say her name, to give away that he's talking to his girlfriend ("say 'baby, I love you'"). The song is basically a demand for him to blow his cover. It's a taunt set to music.

The song is great because it turns the traditional prove-your-love pop song on its head: the singer seems to be done with her man; all she wants is to prove herself right.

Click here to see the entire list.




50 Best Songs of the 2000s

I've been thinking about my favorite songs of the last decade and thought it would be fun to dedicate a post to each, counting down to #1.

This list is hardly exhaustive. I'm limited by what I know: hip hop and R&B are not well represented. Neither is modern country. The list is more populist than hip (i.e., more Rolling Stone than Pitchfork).

I encourage anyone who thinks my choices are crazy (or pedestrian, or bizarre) to say so in the comments.

What makes these lists fun is criticizing them. I hope you enjoy criticizing mine.

Click here to see the list.

Department of the Obvious

It turns out that the people who get federal handouts consider them a "necessity." From the NYT:
The $14.7 million for a new airport on an Alaskan island that averages only 42 flights a month. The half-million dollars for a new skateboard park in unemployment-ravaged Rhode Island. The $3.4 million for fencing and tunnels to keep Florida turtles from becoming roadkill.

Those proposals for spending federal stimulus money were all criticized by cable news commentators, Republican officials and, in the case of the airport, the inspector general of the Transportation Department. But they have something else in common, too. They are popular locally. And they underscore a truth that has been evident since the New Deal: sometimes the boondoggle is in the eye of the beholder.

Large transfers of money are popular among the recipients? This is news?

Monday, August 17, 2009

More on the Whole Foods Boycott

Megan McArdle:

Here's why boycotts don't work: the vast majority of customers don't care. And yes, that includes the vast majority of Whole Foods customers, a surprising number of whom drive SUVs and even--I swear!--occasionally vote Republican. Now consider the demographic that cares enough about health care to actually boycott a company over it. Most of them are a) wonks or b) political activists. The latter group is disproportionately young and does not spend a great deal of money on groceries. The former group is tiny.

You may get a large number of people who say they'll boycott Whole Foods. But then when they're out of extra-virgin olive oil and the Safeway doesn't have organic, and the nearest Trader Joes is a twenty-five minute drive away through traffic--they'll shop at Whole Foods. Three weeks later, they'll have managed to forget that they ever intended to stop shopping at Whole Foods. The stores are successful because they dominate their market niche, putting together a collection of things in one store that you would ordinarily have to go to several stores for. Shopping in multiple places is a big pain in the butt.

Jonathan Zasloff:

Here's something for those of us stuck in Deep Blue states to do: not only boycott Whole Foods, but start picketing the stores to reduce purchasing.

Like Mark, I've stopped shopping at Whole Foods given its CEO's "astonishingly disingenuous" WSJ op-ed last week, and his seeming desire to be part of the anti-health insurance reform movement. But this is still inside-the-blogosphere stuff. At a Quaker meeting I attend every Sunday -- a meeting filled with well-informed progressive folks -- most people had not heard about the boycott when I talked about it during announcements. Pickets would get the news out faster.

NYT on Bruce Bueno de Mesquita

The Sunday Times Magazine has a good profile on the great Bruce Bueno de Mesquita. The article focuses on Bueno de Mesquita's predictive work, which is interesting. But what makes him really great is his theory of the political economy of power.

You can listen to him talk about those ideas here. Highly recommended.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Faux Pas of the Day

Obama on competition between private companies and government-run health insurance:
“The notion that just by having a public option, that somehow you have the entire private marketplace destroyed, is just not borne out by the facts,” Mr. Obama said, adding, “U.P.S. and FedEx are doing a lot better than the Post Office.” [Emphasis mine.]
Yikes.

UPDATE: John Stossel weighs in.

Unintentionally Funny Paragraph

On a recently-passed smoking ban in Iraq, from this week's Economist:
As soon as parliament ratifies the cabinet-imposed ban, Iraqi smokers will be forced to loiter on street corners exposed to car bombs and 45-degree [113-degree Fahrenheit] heat in the summer. But according to a recent study, smoking kills an average of 55 Iraqis a day, compared to a current average of ten deaths daily from terrorist shootings or bombings. So the government argues that it is perfectly reasonable to outlaw smoking on public-health grounds.
It's official: smoking is worse than terrorism (and heatstroke).

Friday, August 14, 2009

"It's a Business, People"

My friend Ray comments on my previous post:
Recently, I've been getting my gluten-free bread at Penn Dutch [a local market that specializes in meats]. I do so, not because of any political ideology involved in the management, but convenience and distance. Why would someone mistake a supermarket chain for co-op or local farmer's market to begin with anyway? Business is business, people.
He raises an important point: "progressive-minded customers" already have options that align with their ideology. Co-ops and farmer's markets tend to have explicit populist and, yes, progressive core values. These institutions are geared at persons who share their common (leftist) values. (Though anyone is free to patronize, for whatever or no reason.) Some fashion chains also have explicitly liberal core values (Benetton, Kenneth Cole, American Apparel, and even the Gap). If it's important that you buy a politically correct t-shirt, you have your options.

Whole Foods doesn't hide its core values; they're right there on its website:
  • Selling the highest quality natural and organic products available
  • Satisfying and delighting our customers
  • Supporting team member happiness and excellence
  • Creating wealth through profits & growth
  • Caring about our communities & our environment
  • Creating ongoing win-win partnerships with our suppliers
  • Promoting the health of our stakeholders through healthy eating education
Note: none of the above is contradicted by Mackey's WSJ op-ed. Point four even iterates that Whole Foods is committed to "creating wealth through profits & growth." To paraphrase Ray: it's a business, people.

Where Will They Buy Their Heirloom Tomatoes Now?

Whole Foods has reaped a liberal whirlwind. CEO John Mackey is coming under fire for his op-ed in the WSJ, which criticized Obama's health-care plan. From ABCNews.com:

The op-ed piece, which begins with a Margaret Thatcher quote, "The problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people's money," has left some Whole Foods loyalists enraged. Many say Mackey was out of line to opine against the liberal base that has made his fortune possible.

Christine Taylor, a 34-year-old New Jersey shopper, vowed never to step foot in another Whole Foods again.

"I will no longer be shopping at Whole Foods," Taylor told ABCNews.com. "I think a CEO should take care that if he speaks about politics, that his beliefs reflect at least the majority of his clients."

Of course, any Whole Foods customer who is offended by Mackey's opinions is free to boycott the supermarket. But, the intensity of their ire is a bit surprising. I know Chick-fil-A is owned by devout Southern Baptist Christians, yet I still eat there. Why? Because its owner's beliefs is not my concern. I'm paying them for a chicken biscuit, not their position on gay marriage.

It's ludicrous that a CEO should "take care" to align his public political statements with those of his customers. (Should companies poll their customers, so they can discern what the majority believes? I'm sure the disgruntled shoppers from the article would love that.) CEOs are not required to make political statements, and many rightly choose not too. But, if John Mackey wants to make an unpopular political statement, it's his right to do so (at his own risk).

I think what's really going on here is that these "progressive-minded customers" feel betrayed that Whole Foods is actually a business, not some leftist organization. It seems silly that anyone would associate a supermarket with a political ideology in the first place.

It will be interesting to see if this will turn out to be a PR disaster for Makey. What's more important to Whole Foods customers: ideology or organic produce?

The Broken Window, Revisited

Shikha Dalmia on the "Cash for Clunkers" plan:
[It] involves restoring the economy by destroying wealth and healing the environment by destroying resources. By this logic, we should use the stimulus money to fund a new Godzilla brigade to mow down the country and rebuild it in a more environmentally friendly way. Imagine how much richer and cleaner the planet would be.
Dalmia is slyly evoking Frederic Bastiat's classic Parable of the Broken Window, which goes something like this:

One morning, a shopkeeper discovers a young hooligan has thrown a brick through his storefront window. He calls a glazier, but it will take a couple of days to replace the glass. In the meantime, he brings in an extra employee to watch the shop while he goes to a hardware store for plywood to cover the gape. Two days later, the glazier replaces the window.

Adding up the costs, the broken window was responsible for providing income to the glazier ($80), the shopkeeper's employee ($15), and the hardware store owner ($5). Their gains will now be passed on to other businesses--department stores, gas stations, groceries. Thus, the broken window was a boon, since it provided $100 of "economic stimulus."

Not exactly. It's easy to see the $100 of economic activity that resulted from the broken window. Unfortunately, it's not so easy to see the $100 golf club set the shopkeeper was going to buy, which he now has to forgo. Had the hooligan not thrown the brick, the shopkeeper would have had his window and the golf clubs. Replacing the window returns the shopkeeper to his status quo. Nothing has been gained.

This is the story of "Cash for Clunkers." Many of the cars traded-in would have been traded anyway. But under the CFC rules, the engines of the cars are "euthanized," to make them unusable. In other words, not only are we subsidizing exchanges that already would have happened, but we're also destroying wealth.

Good Sentence

About the Left's response to the Town Hall protesters:
What's depressing is to see the people who piously defended the right to dissent suddenly writing off public protest as a subversive conspiracy.
That's Jesse Walker.

Unnecessary Procedures



















Assorted Links

Megan McArdle hates PIRG.

Jet Blue offers all-you-can-eat-buffet travel.


Should the government subsidize motorcyclists who don't wear helmets?


Bryan Caplan on consumer narcissism.

McDonald's: Victor of the Recession.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

"Free" Heath Care = Long Lines

There has to be some way to allocate scarce resources (medical services) when the consumer of those resources does not have to pay for them. From the NYT:
They came for new teeth mostly, but also for blood pressure checks, mammograms, immunizations and acupuncture for pain. Neighboring South Los Angeles is a place where health care is scarce, and so when it was offered nearby, word got around.

For the second day in a row, thousands of people lined up on Wednesday — starting after midnight and snaking into the early hours — for free dental, medical and vision services, courtesy of a nonprofit group that more typically provides mobile health care for the rural poor.
Free health care? Not really.
When Remote Area Medical, the Tennessee-based organization running the event, decided to try its hand at large urban medical services, its principals thought Los Angeles would be a good place to start. But they were far from prepared for the outpouring of need. Set up for eight days of care, the group was already overwhelmed on the first day after allowing 1,500 people through the door, nearly 500 of whom had still not been served by day’s end and had to return in the wee hours Wednesday morning.
We have to always keep in mind, time is a cost. Waiting in line all day for a teeth cleaning is the actual cost of "free."

More here.

A Shift in Opinion?

Bad news for the Dems. From USA Today:
In a survey of 1,000 adults taken Tuesday, 34% say demonstrations at the hometown sessions have made them more sympathetic to the protesters' views; 21% say they are less sympathetic.

Independents by 2-to-1, 35%-16%, say they are more sympathetic to the protesters now.

The findings are unwelcome news for President Obama and Democratic congressional leaders, who have scrambled to respond to the protests and in some cases even to be heard. From Pennsylvania to Texas, those who oppose plans to overhaul the health care system have asked aggressive questions and staged noisy demonstrations.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Is Health Care Different?

In a way, proponents of socialized medicine are right: the market for health care is different from, say, the market for bread. But the source of this difference is not intrinsic to health care; it is the result of our legal and regulatory system. In other words, it's not a market failure, but a government failure.

Whole Foods CEO John Mackey advocates eight reforms to fix these legal and regulatory distortions, in a surprisingly astute WSJ op-ed:
  1. Remove the legal obstacles that slow the creation of high-deductible health insurance plans and health savings accounts (HSAs).
  2. Equalize the tax laws so that employer-provided health insurance and individually owned health insurance have the same tax benefits.
  3. Repeal all state laws which prevent insurance companies from competing across state lines.
  4. Repeal government mandates regarding what insurance companies must cover.
  5. Enact tort reform to end the ruinous lawsuits that force doctors to pay insurance costs of hundreds of thousands of dollars per year.
  6. Make costs transparent so that consumers understand what health-care treatments cost.
  7. Enact Medicare reform.
  8. Finally, revise tax forms to make it easier for individuals to make a voluntary, tax-deductible donation to help the millions of people who have no insurance and aren't covered by Medicare, Medicaid or the State Children's Health Insurance Program.
Let's look at how these reforms would improve the health-care system, point by point.
  1. High deductibles encourage thrift. When you pay out of pocket for a portion of health care services, you're more likely to eschew costly solutions (like visiting the ER for minor maladies). This forces individuals to weigh the costs and benefits of their health-care consumption.
  2. The current tax structure favors employer-provided health insurance over individually-owned insurance. Employer-provided insurance shelters employees from the full cost of health-care consumption, discouraging thrift and encouraging over-consumption.
  3. Competition lowers cost and increases choice.
  4. This encourages purchasers of insurance to buy a plan that applies to them. A 20-year-old male does not need his insurance plan to cover yearly mammograms.
  5. I agree with Don Boudreaux on this one; I don't want legislators setting limits on courtroom payouts. But, if a patient brings a suit and loses, he should pay the cost.
  6. This point feeds into point one. People need to know the price of procedures to encourage thrift and wise decision making.
  7. Medicare is a time bomb. It will have to be dealt with sooner or later.
  8. This point addresses the main moral argument liberals make for socialized medicine: giving the poor access to health insurance. This charity should be voluntary.
This last point is Makey's key argument:

Many promoters of health-care reform believe that people have an intrinsic ethical right to health care—to equal access to doctors, medicines and hospitals. While all of us empathize with those who are sick, how can we say that all people have more of an intrinsic right to health care than they have to food or shelter?

Health care is a service that we all need, but just like food and shelter it is best provided through voluntary and mutually beneficial market exchanges. A careful reading of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution will not reveal any intrinsic right to health care, food or shelter. That's because there isn't any. This "right" has never existed in America

Even in countries like Canada and the U.K., there is no intrinsic right to health care. Rather, citizens in these countries are told by government bureaucrats what health-care treatments they are eligible to receive and when they can receive them. All countries with socialized medicine ration health care by forcing their citizens to wait in lines to receive scarce treatments.

Although Canada has a population smaller than California, 830,000 Canadians are currently waiting to be admitted to a hospital or to get treatment, according to a report last month in Investor's Business Daily. In England, the waiting list is 1.8 million.

Makey isn't the only one advocating these reforms, but alternative arguments have been drowned out in the current debate. The Left portrays opponents of socialized medicine as right-wing nuts, or puppets of the insurance industry. The Republicans, true to form, are merely intent on watering down the Democrats' bill. What we need is reform that addresses the root causes of the health-care breakdown, while protecting our basic individual rights.

We need to make health care look more like bread.

From the Ministry of Truth: Report Thoughtcrime!

Actually, from the White House website:
There is a lot of disinformation about health insurance reform out there, spanning from control of personal finances to end of life care. These rumors often travel just below the surface via chain emails or through casual conversation. Since we can’t keep track of all of them here at the White House, we’re asking for your help. If you get an email or see something on the web about health insurance reform that seems fishy, send it to flag@whitehouse.gov.
Camille Paglia smacksdown:
But somehow liberals have drifted into a strange servility toward big government, which they revere as a godlike foster father-mother who can dispense all bounty and magically heal all ills. The ethical collapse of the left was nowhere more evident than in the near total silence of liberal media and Web sites at the Obama administration's outrageous solicitation to private citizens to report unacceptable "casual conversations" to the White House. If Republicans had done this, there would have been an angry explosion by Democrats from coast to coast. I was stunned at the failure of liberals to see the blatant totalitarianism in this incident, which the president should have immediately denounced. His failure to do so implicates him in it.
Like Paglia, I'm no fan of the Republicans, and hypocrisy abounds on both sides. That said, it's amazing the things the Left will let Obama get away with. It just shows that all of their righteous anger at George Bush was motivated by partisanship, not principles.

More TSA Fun

Jeffery Goldberg, who wrote an excellent article on sneaking suspicious items through airport security, links to this funny blog entry by Greg Laden (note the last name):
Overheard at airport:

Posted on: July 30, 2009 7:21 PM, by Greg Laden

"Here," dad to girl, "Get your ID out and have it with your ticket."

"Excuse me, sir," said the TSA officer, pointing to the young female, "She does not need to have her ID out, she's a minor."

Dad: "How do you know she's a minor if you don't look at her ID?"

.... (silence as everyone waits for answer)....

Dad again: "Kind of a hole in the system, isn't it?"

TSA Officer, voice lowered ... "There are a LOT of holes in the system, sir." ... walks away.

Young girl, "Good one, dad. Now tell her our name is LADEN and see what happens!"

A Pat on Ahmadinejad's Back

U. N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says "well done, Mahmoud."
The United Nations said on Tuesday that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has congratulated Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose contested re-election sparked violent protests across the country.

"The letter went out yesterday," said U.N. spokeswoman Marie Okabe.

Iran's June 12 election, which secured hardline President Ahmadinejad's re-election, plunged Iran into its biggest internal crisis since the 1979 Islamic revolution, exposed deepening divisions in its ruling elite and set off a wave of protests that left 26 people dead.

Western leaders, already upset by Ahmadinejad's anti-Israel rhetoric, Holocaust denial and uncompromising nuclear line, refused to congratulate the president on his inauguration last week, although their counterparts in Japan and Turkey did so.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Why So Serious?


















The man responsible for the famous Obama "Hope" illustration chimes in on the above-right Obama poster, which has been appearing in cities across the country. From the LAT:

Shepard Fairey is all for free speech and creating a political dialogue. But the man who created the instantly recognizable posters for Barack Obama's presidential campaign has some choice words for the anonymous artist who made the Obama Joker artwork.

"I have my doubts about the person's intelligence," Fairey said on the phone from Pittsburgh. "It's not grammatically correct. It would be 'socialist' ... Obama is not Marx. He didn't create socialism."

Semantics aside, "I don't agree with the political content of the poster," Fairey said. "They don't realize that Medicaid is a socialist program." The federal Medicaid program, of course, predates the current administration by several decades.

It won't shock anybody that Fairey, the guy who churned out the artwork that some call "left-wing propaganda," doesn't get behind the idea of Obama being a socialist. But he does think the Joker poster is well done.

"The artwork is great in that it gets a point across really quickly," Fairey said. "The Joker is a sinister, evil character that can't be trusted. And if they want to make that parallel with Obama -- bam."

"A lot of these things are fueled by frustration," Fairey said. "Maybe they're frustrated and don't understand the whole situation."

But who is Fairey to criticize the nefarious Obama poster when he himself is responsible for numerous artworks that ...

... painted President Bush as the villain? "My frustration with Bush was fueled by a very clear understanding of what's going on," he asserted.

So, our "street artist" understands the intricacies of the political debate, but anyone who is worried that Obama is moving us toward socialism "doesn't understand the situation."

Please note, this is same man who produced the above-left Bush vampire image (which he says he now regrets). That image, by the way, was the cover of an issue of LA Weekly. This is the same publication that described the Obama/Joker image as such:

The poster, which bears a very superficial resemblance to Shepard Fairey's famous Obama Hope illustration, has been pasted on freeway supports and other public surfaces. It has a bit of everything to appeal to the drunk tank of California conservatism: Obama is in white face, his mouth (like Ledger's Joker's) has been grotesquely slit wide open and the word "Socialism" appears below his face. The only thing missing is a noose.

Big Hollywood correctly replies: the "only thing really missing is intellectual consistency."

More Health-Care Reform Ambivalence

Johnathan Cohn of the New Republic describes an "enthusiasm gap" with the Left and health-care reform:
The news about health care is a little confusing these days. While polls show that Americans still support the key elements of health care reform that President Obama and his allies are trying to enact, there have been numerous reports of conservative activists showing up at congressional town halls across the country, protesting those same plans with an energy not matched by the other side.

The imbalance may simply reflect the media's preoccupation with conflict and confrontation. Liberal rallies in favor of reform have garnered no similar attention, although they've attracted hundreds, and in some cases thousands, of people. But I suspect the enthusiasm gap is at least partly real--that the hate for the plans moving through Congress runs much stronger than the love, that the people fighting to stop these bills feel more intensely, and have more determination, than those fighting to pass them.
Currently, all the passion is on the Right. Can the Left provide a countervailing force?
If the possibility of lesser reform doesn't motivate liberals, then maybe something else will: the possibility of no reform. Twice in the last few decades, once during the Nixon era and then again during the Clinton years, liberals largely shunned compromise efforts at universal coverage because they didn't live up to progressive ideals. But holding out didn't lead to better legislation. It led to twenty years of trying to rebuild the momentum for reform, followed by a debate over proposals that are, if anything, less sweeping than their predecessors.
Will the possibility of no reform ignite the Left? Or, is the greatest check on the Left the Left itself?

Draconian

The cover briefing from this week's Economist is an excellent examination of America's unjust sex laws and the rise of registries.

Sex-offender registries are popular. Rape and child molestation are terrible crimes that can traumatise their victims for life. All parents want to protect their children from sexual predators, so politicians can nearly always win votes by promising curbs on them. Those who object can be called soft on child-molesters, a label most politicians would rather avoid. This creates a ratchet effect. Every lawmaker who wants to sound tough on sex offenders has to propose a law tougher than the one enacted by the last politician who wanted to sound tough on sex offenders.

So laws get harsher and harsher. But that does not necessarily mean they get better. If there are thousands of offenders on a registry, it is harder to keep track of the most dangerous ones. Budgets are tight. Georgia’s sheriffs complain that they have been given no extra money or manpower to help them keep the huge and swelling sex-offenders’ registry up to date or to police its confusing mass of rules. Terry Norris of the Georgia Sheriffs’ Association cites a man who was convicted of statutory rape two decades ago for having consensual sex with his high-school sweetheart, to whom he is now married. “It doesn’t make it right, but it doesn’t make him a threat to anybody,” says Mr Norris. “We spend the same amount of time on that guy as on someone who’s done something heinous.”