Monday, March 26, 2012

The Saga Of The Stubborn Dachshund

Sadly, one of our dachshunds was sick last week.

It was the one on the left. The one on the right just likes to bark a lot instead.

Dogs get sick, mostly because they insist on eating very disgusting things with a remarkable lack of remorse. And when you have hound dogs, who are basically bred with the instinct to specifically seek out and devour disgusting things, this tends to happen a lot. Unfortunately, finding the remote control is not classified as hound-dog target material.

Anyway, Dexter had been feeling a bit off since the middle of last week, but he was eating and wagging so we figured everything was just fine and he had reverse seasonal affective disorder. Friday he started eating grass, a telltale sign that something is wrong. (Dogs eat grass to force them to throw up. They also eat grass because why the hell not, so don't use it as a replacement Dr. Google.) He did, in fact, hork up a little, so I took both of their food bowls out of their crates and gave them water for a bit to let his stomach settle. (I took hers out because OH MY GOODNESS if you do something to one dog and not the other.) Saturday, I filled his bowl up for breakfast and, unlike every other day he's woken up, he didn't immediately devour it in like two seconds.

Something was clearly wrong.

Chloe also did not eat her breakfast, but quite frankly that's normal. She is a stubborn dog who thinks dinner is at midnight and breakfast is at three in the afternoon. (Teenagers.) So for most of the entirety of the day the dogs refused to eat their food and they laid around the house milking being sick and getting all sorts of attention from us.

At one point I offhandedly mentioned that when I took their bowls out on Friday I may have mixed them up--put Chloe's bowl in Dexter's crate, and vice versa.

"Looks like you did," confirmed my wife.

So I switched them back. Both dogs started eating immediately. They will eat something dead and rotten in the back yard or find some indigestible plastic bit on the floor with nary a second thought, but SO HELP YOU if you switch their bowls around.

My dogs weren't sick. They're just OCD.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Pittsburgh Power, Year 2

It's the second year for the Pittsburgh Power, the area's arena football team. For those that are unfamiliar with the sport, here's what I wrote last year. I won't repeat what's listed there, except that everything there is more or less confirmed.

We went to last week's game, and as last year it was pretty fun. A few changes this year for the team, of course. The venue--Consol Energy Center--closed off the highest rung of seats, effectively moving the low-tier seats down a level. This makes sense; they weren't selling enough seats, so it's better off letting everyone enjoy closer seating. (Consistent sellout crowds in arena football are still a while away, so this isn't overly alarming.) With this change--and a slight alteration in the pricing structure--the crowd for last Friday's first home game was probably around 70-80% capacity of available seating, which is not too bad. If nothing else, it seemed a healthy crowd and portends a good future for the franchise.

Of course, this season is not without its drama. Right before the first game of the season--the league opener--which was two Fridays ago, the players' union voted to go on strike. They wanted an increase of 400 bucks per game to $1350 for each player. The owners countered with a more modest $500 per diem payment and a bonus for the quarterback.* At this time, the AFL still is not recognizing the union, and all players on the floor right now are no longer members. Of course, the drama was intensified because the owner of the Power decided to read the statement that they were all fired in the middle of eating their pre-game dinner at the Olive Garden. This is not the NFL.

This time we played the Philadelphia Soul, a franchise once owned by one Mr. Jon Bon Jovi. Sadly he is no longer owner and he was not in attendance, though given how staffing has been for the league it wouldn't surprise me if they threw him in as a tackle. The Power lost the game, making their record 1-1.


The entire experience was definitely more streamlined than last year. Last year--the Power's first year of existence--things seemed to get a little desperate. Every announcement was followed by a shill for something they wanted you to buy, and every play seemed to have its own sponsor. While there was still quite a bit of that, it was definitely toned down and overall was a pretty good experience.

The only sour note was the halftime show, which was indoor fireworks. The fireworks show was pretty nice--mostly low-level fireworks and a laser show--but, unfortunately, caused the entire second half of the game to be played under an annoying cloud of smoke. It wouldn't dissipate and the poor fans higher up probably got more than a lungful. It was a nice try, but hopefully they won't do it again.

So, I'll say this year what I said last year: if you've never experienced an arena football game, it's worth it to go. Tickets are cheap and you won't spent 90 minutes in your car trying to leave; the game is face-paced and exciting, and even though it's different it will look similar enough to football that you won't be completely lost.

(As an aside, for those interested, there was a book written by a guy named Jeff Foley who joined the now-defunct Albany Firebirds team for their preseason games called War on the Floor. It's an interesting read and worth checking out.)

*I am certain that there are other factors involved, but let's face it: more than half of the franchises in a brand-new league are barely making payroll, and the union is demanding a tripling of their pay? That's just absurd. In a few years if the business model makes sense, it might be a good time to revisit. But I can't say I blame the owners.

Mad Men: Fifth Season Predictions

Finally, after a year and a half, we get to watch Mad Men again.

I wasn't a fan of everyone's favorite show about advertising, scotch, and sexism when it first came out. Not because I didn't like it, but because I never got around to watching it. It's one of those elusive basic cable shows that you convince yourself you're going to start watching any day now but instead you end up waiting until there are like four seasons and then you watch all 54 episodes in one weekend on Netflix. Not that I've ever done that.

Anyway, a lot has happened in Mad Men during its hiatus. Or I assume, anyway; the mid-60's have arrived, and with it all of the turmoil and tragedy of the time. Still, even with the history books written, the universe of Man Men has created such a rich collection of characters that the consequences are not only unpredictable but also quite interesting.

So for those of you looking for a sneak peek, if you will, of tonight's two-hour season premier of the fifth season, here are some things that might just happen tonight:

Don Draper, having come to terms with his dual identity, will embark on a new life with his new wife and new endeavors with the fledgling company, taking in the massive society changes in America, and adjusting his life for his children and new co-workers, all the while under the constant stress to invent a new reason to be so frustratingly mysterious and inscrutable.

Betty Francis will start taking barbiturates, which is pretty much standard issue for mid-60's divorcees. Given the fact that Sally will be hitting pre-teen puberty, I think everyone is going to need mother's little helper.
 
Joan Harris will have a girl. She will immediately belittle and condescend to as a power play as to not upset her socially-constructed position.

Don's new wife Megan will talk French a lot and announce that, despite the week-long time frame in which they knew each other, she has some sort of dark secret that will make life complicated for him, such as the fact that she doesn't approve of him continuing to have sex with other women.

Annie from Community will keep screaming at Pete Campbell to overthrow the entire advertising industry overnight and appoint himself head of all media because she likes to buy expensive useless shit. Harpy.

Duck Phillips will try to shit somewhere again.

Peggy Olson will do something slightly daring, such as smoke weed have a baby out of wedlock consort with lesbians get a stylish non-Norweigian haircut um, buy porn? Participate in a drag race? Start knocking off banks? She's escalating at an alarming rate. Maybe someone should say something.

Black People show up.

Lane Pryce, having sampled such United States customs as New York cab extortion and jungle fever, moves even further into Americana by driving needlessly around the interstate in a boat getting three miles to the gallon while eating hamburgers and shooting a hand pistol into the air.

Harry Crane will hopefully start advertising board games. Make this happen.

Ken Cosgrove will finally get his novel published, retire from advertising, and become a recluse in Vermont. Did you know he's from Vermont and a published author? He only mentions it like three times an episode. 

Bert Cooper will start the Hunger Games.

Roger Sterling will simultaneously have a stroke, epileptic seizure, heart attack, and develop Lou Gehrig's Disease while making love to a prostitute while drinking an entire bottle of Jameson, smoking a carton of Lucky Strikes, and an entire petri dish of amphetamines while eating a double bacon cheeseburger at the OTB.

Sal Romano will return, but his character will have given up on art and instead become one of the following: evangelical TV preacher, congressman, or center square.

Some major event, most likely dealing with race but possibly Richard Nixon, will occur and somehow be vaguely related to a personal crisis being suffered by a secondary character, which Don, Roger, Pete, and probably Peggy at this point will use as an excuse to get drunk, smoke, take recreational drugs, and have sex with their not wives with zero consequences to their personal or professional lives.

Monday, March 19, 2012

The Joke That Went Too Far

The week before Christmas, my wife was watching some show on her laptop. This wasn't on Netflix or anything; it was on the station's web site, which means that approximately every five seconds there was a break for an advertisement. (I don't recall what program it was, but knowing my wife it probably involved Mormons, female serial killers, or 25-year-olds pretending to be pregnant high schoolers who are majoring in poor acting.) Of course, these being the burgeoning first days of the internet, they were only able to line up one sponsor: Arm & Hammer Spinbrush.

 OH HAI. Have we met? Oh, we have? Still, let me extol my virtues to you WITH MAXIMUM OBNOXIOUSNESS.

Now, when I say that my wife watched a TV program on her laptop, I mean she watched an entire three seasons' worth of that one show in a row. When you do the math that means that I heard that commercial approximately 600 million times over the course of two days. 

I am a good husband, so I kept the fact that every time I heard that ad I was one step closer to madness to myself, so I kept my mouth shut*. (I may have occasionally claimed to want to do horrible things to the A&H management for their decision.) However, I decided to do the next best thing possible and, as a joke, buy her a Spinbrush for a stocking stuffer for Christmas. That'll show 'em!

Well, it turns out that my well-received joke wasn't so much after all; my wife reports that it's actually a legitimately good product. I'm not telling the fine folks at Arm & Hammer that, of course; while it would be nice to report a positive customer experience, I also don't want to encourage a commercial that I still occasionally hear in my nightmares.

*Evidence may indicate that this last part is not true.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Invisible States

Will we ever see a president from a small state?

When we learn about Presidents in elementary school, or even on that survey college course, I'm sure it's been given little thought. But the fact that there are so few Presidents from small states seems odd to me, and probably for a different reason than would be expected.

At first glance, it seems normal: someone who governs a big, complex state is probably better suited to handle the presidency. Of course, this really only applies to governors, since senators and representatives do most of their governing in DC. But I've always found it odd that there wasn't more of a cancelling effect: that is, in a big state like New York, Texas, or California, there are multiple politicians vying for publicity and support; whereas someone from, say, Delaware or North Dakota could shine through as a big fish in a small pond--which is even more effective when you go to DC and such big/small distinctions are leveled away. So even though statistically the population would say that half of our presidents would hail from three or four states (California, NY, Texas, and Illinois), one would think that they would all sort of cancel each other out.

[Note that I am using the term "home state" as the state they were elected/held their power from, not their birth state. They aren't always one in the same and sometimes don't matter, such as for Hoover or Eisenhower who spent most of their reputation-forming years overseas.]

Still it's pretty clear that my theory is (for the most part) wrong. Let's only focus on last century--the nation wasn't big enough beforehand to make distinctions (plus that whole Civil War thing adding a lot of static into the numbers). If we run through every president from McKinley to Obama, you'll find only two states that could be considered small--Kansas (Eisenhower) and Arkansas (Clinton). And, as mentioned earlier, even Eisenhower doesn't count--his home constituency was Europe.

We can stretch the definition of "small state" to include states such as Georgia (Carter), Missouri (Truman), New Jersey (Wilson), and Massachusetts (Coolidge and JFK), but we're still talking about a small number of Presidents.

I guess the most striking difference is because of our recent candidates. We had a candidate from Arizona (McCain) and three vice presidents/candidates from the three smallest states: Alaska (Palin), Delaware (Biden) and the smallest state of all, Wyoming (Cheney). Of course, the number of vice presidents that go on to be president is remarkably small in the 20th century, so maybe that is it: the big-state candidates win the Presidency and pick a small-state candidate to balance it out, but the bottom part of the ticket never makes it to the White House.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Static and Noise: Disney Out In the First Round

Glitterati, Redux: I wonder if the film industry is due for another shakeup. They are dealing with a business model that has few tools to combat piracy; thankfully two factors have helped them: Netflix/Redbox/etc. and 3D. Netflix has provided a cheap alternative to piracy, while 3D films (and other special-effects laden movies) require butts in seats. But is the thrill over? The expected blockbuster John Carter was a colossal flop over this past weekend, echoing last years dismal showing of Mars Needs Moms. Both films, produced by Disney, required writedowns for their earnings expectations. No longer can studios expect overseas profits to bail them out of big-time action flicks; in the past, they could always count on the rest of the world to make up the loss (since action films translate into any language). The biggest markets, such as India, Europe, and China, have caught on, and so expenses have risen as well as the revenues. The industry has had flops before, but the sure things not even five years ago no longer are.

Bracket Time: It's March Madness time, and I...don't care. I enjoy sports, but as I've mentioned many times, I don't care for basketball, I am iffy on baseball, and college sports of any sort--including football--bore me senseless. Besides my philosophical opposition to the nature of college sports, I just find it boring. There are too many teams, they aren't picked based on merit, and the one-and-done aspect makes it less of a test of skill and more a random crapshoot of high expectations. I used to do the college/office pools and basically randomly picked teams, but it ended up just being a complete waste of money and time so I stopped.


Same As It Ever Was: My post yesterday about the presidential primaries sparked me researching the 1912 election, one of the few where there were three viable candidates (former president Theodore Roosevelt, New Jesery Governor Woodrow Wilson, and sitting president William Howard Taft) and one decent third (fourth?) party candidate (socialist Eugene V. Debs). A very good book, 1912: Wilson, Roosevelt, Taft and Debs--The Election that Changed the Country by James Chace has all of the details. Not only was it an interesting election, it was also one of those transitional times in our country where everything was defined in each of those candidates. That said, the one thing I can note is that nothing ever changes. The issues and faces change, but the same accusations, the same knee-jerk reactions to two words out of a thousand, and the same petty differences that end up having huge consequences were present back then as they are today. It's disappointing, but also alarmingly comfortable.

As an aside, the new season of After Hours starts today. I know it's not everyone's cup of tea, but I get a kick out of it.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Primary Fight

Long-time readers of my blog know that I'm an electoral junkie--mostly, this involves primaries and the electoral college. I'm fascinated by the historical fights of how our parties nominate candidates; I also love seeing how trends have changed over time (for example, New England used to be a rockbed Republican stronghold, but now is reliably demographic--save for New Hampshire,which I think is kinda cute.)

I've tried not posting too much about it, though. I realize my political posts are generally the least read, even though I'm fascinated by so many aspects of our political culture. I try to keep my opinions reasonably normal (save for those under The Pledge) and focus more on the more interesting aspects of the situation. Alas, this is an election year, so I'm afraid these posts will increase in frequency up through the summer until election day.

Anyway, here is an article with a pretty detailed analysis of the delegate count. Basically, Romney would have to have a meltdown of epic proportions in order to not get the nomination: even if Paul and Gingrich drop out, Santorum would have to clear roughly a 10-point lead on every contest for the rest of the race, along with every single superdelegate (those that are free to choose any candidate). This is a highly unlikely circumstance. It's not impossible--the Florida delegates could get challenged (they violated party rules by having their primary too early); the superdelegates could get scared by something Romney does; if the other candidates drop out it might make more voters feel like it's worth it to vote for Santorum now that the vote is no longer split. But the worry about nominating an unelectable candidate appears to no longer be a factor. I'm still continually surprised--I'm still not sure how Santorum won Colorado or Minnesota, states that historically would have avoided him under any circumstances--but I'm sure that's how pundits felt when Jack Kennedy won West Virginia a few decades ago.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The C2R Patented Two-Step Solution To Solve All Health Care Problems In America (tm)

Here at Crank Crank Revolution, we don't write a whole lot of policy papers. Mostly because we don't have time, but even if we did the policy papers would have titles like "A Cost Analysis Of Making As Much Glue and Dog Food Out Of One Horse As Possible" and "Researched Talking Points On How To Get The Arrested Development Movie Out Alfreakinready." While such things would have high social value, we understand that it's not something everyone is looking for.

That said, recent developments (of which I have been actively avoiding) have made me think more about the health care issue. So much so that I went through and developed the C2R Patented Two-Step Solution To Solve All Health Care Problems In America (tm).

To be fair, the C2R Patented Two-Step Solution To Solve All Health Care Problems In America (tm) is not--despite its clearly inaccurate title--going to solve all of our health care issues. But it will go a long way into solving huge swaths of it, and could easily get bipartisan support as well.

There are, as the name of my C2R Patented Two-Step Solution To Solve All Health Care Problems In America (tm) suggests, two parts to the plan: Everyone Gets A Coupon Or Most Likely A Plastic Card You Will Immediately Lose, and Don't Sue Your Doctor.

1) Everyone Gets A Coupon Or Most Likely A Plastic Card You Will Immediately Lose
Vouchers are a free marketeer's version of a wet dream. Throw a voucher at pretty much any social ill, and all of society's problems disappear. So it is with health care. The first thing we do is scrap the existing programs. I mean everything--throw Medicare, Medicate, COBRA, CHIP, and the VA Program all in the trash. That's right, even the veterans. Then, you give everyone--I mean everyone--a voucher. This voucher is good for any health care provider. You get to choose the insurer you want, and with the type of coverage you want. You want to make lots of visits with a high deductible? You want to go once a decade but never pay a dime? You want/don't want birth control? There's a plan for you, somewhere.

Employers would no longer provide your health care, so no worries if you lose your job and employers aren't spending as much on wages. You'd no longer pay a Medicare tax on your own wages, as everyone does now. Those two things, of course, would be replaced by whatever the cost would be to provide that voucher. Employers and/or individuals could elect to get a better plan if they so desired by spending more money--but they'd get taxed on it (unlike now) and would have to come up with the cash themselves.

Of course, what sort of coverage are you gonna get with the bare minimum? The government could mandate that every insurer come up with at least one plan of coverage that could be paid for with just that voucher. Additional stipulations, such as pre-existing conditions or maximum deductibles, could also be tacked on, but the less of this the better. If an insurance company doesn't want to offer any voucher-only plans, then they're not allowed to trade in any vouchers--their customers have to be cash only.

Now, liberals would love this plan because everyone gets covered. Conservatives would love it because there's still a market mechanism for insurance companies to make money and be competitive. The moral issue of what does and doesn't get covered (such as abortion or birth control) disappears, since it's up to the individual to choose. Insurance companies would like it because there's a vast new pool of money waiting for them, they are guaranteed to get paid, and they have a lot more leeway in providing care as needed. Medicare is no longer needed--it's an insurance plan, just like everything (and for everyone) else.

The only sticking point? Two, really: cost and that pesky minimum coverage. Cost we'll get to in a minute, but the important thing to realize is despite what you think, we're all paying for everyone's care now. Hospitals can't turn people away, so anyone who doesn't have insurance (or goes bankrupt) has those costs eaten up by covered individuals anyway. We're still paying in higher costs, so presumably individual costs would be lower and thus the cost of covering everyone would be lower as well. Unfortunately, the restrictions placed on the "minimum coverage" would always be under intense pressure by politicians looking to force companies to provide more and more coverage for the same amount of money. This is a real problem, but hopefully one that could be legislatively managed. In addition, there can still be VA hospitals and the like to cover legitimate issues, but their insurance would be done just like everyone else.

The important thing is that insurers can play with different price points, just as consumers can choose the plans that work for them. You don't mind waiting two weeks for a doctor? This plan may work for you. You like seeing your specialist same day? You'll pay a higher deductible, but there's a plan for that, too. There are so many variations (and incentives for meeting the needs of customers) that people will be overall happier with what they have.

2) Don't Sue Your Doctor
Cost control is another huge issue. In fact, I believe that cost control is more important than getting people covered--because the less expensive health care is, the more people can be covered without any other reason required. Employers would be more likely to offer health insurance if it costs them less to purchase.

Now, I'm under no illusions that malpractice lawsuits are a huge chunk of health care spending. In and of itself, malpractice insurance and outrageous jury awards are pretty minimal in the overall scheme of things. But there's more to it than just that. Lawsuit avoidance eats up so many resources that aren't really calculated in. Right now, if test A and test B would cover 99% of your ailment, doctors also order tests C through Z just to make sure you can't sue him for missing it, even though it's prohibitively expensive to do so. Not only does the direct cost of the test or treatment come out of these expenses, but all the staffing, resources, and need for other patients gets thinned out as well.

We could go through the normal motions of how to reduce malpractice lawsuits, but that's not really the point--there are legitimate reasons for malpractice lawsuits, nor are those so-called "jackpot juries" necessarily evil. But it does present a unique way of capping these costs: let patients decide.

When you sign up for a health insurance policy, you have the option of capping any malpractice costs. The chance anyone will ever be legitimately injured due to malpractice is extremely small. But it's your choice. If you waive it, insurance companies have an incentive to drop your cost. Your doctor won't waste any time running a hundred useless tests. And the health care system will no longer groan under the strain of needlessly covering phantom ailments. Of course, if you want to retain that right as patients have now, you certainly can--at a cost of a higher premium/deductible. You'll still have the right to sue your doctor--doctors still need an incentive to give quality care, and wrongs still need to be righted. But the amount you could get would be capped at a certain level; since you've been paying less each month (and the chance of any one individual ever suffering from malpractice in the first place is small) society will come out ahead..

Obviously, these aren't the only major issues with health care. We still have an ugly patchwork of competing entities to deal with; patient record-keeping is a joke; and Americans still spend too much on care that is extremely expensive and has little chance of success. Part of reforming health care is going to be painful: Americans are going to have to come to terms with the percentages. No one wants to think about writing off the .01%, and we can no longer pretend like it doesn't cost the system millions extra because people would rather go to the ER than wait three days to see a doctor.  But hopefully the C2R Patented Two-Step Solution To Solve All Health Care Problems In America (tm) is a step in the right direction.

Sports Sports Sports

It is an odd time to be in Pittsburgh for sports reasons. Football is over and baseball hasn't started; hockey, thankfully, is getting into the home stretch of games that Actually Matter (tm), so that's exciting. Still, for a time period where there is only one active sport in this city, there is a TON of news.

First, let's get this out of the way. Here is a short timeline:

1. The perennially hapless Pittsburgh Pirates acquire A.J. Burnett from the New York Yankees (!) for around $20 million , the first time the Pirates paid for a player with money that wasn't simply found under the cushions at Seven Springs.
2. On the second day of training camp, he bunted and the ball cracked his orbital bone.

That's all you have to know about the Pirates.

Next, today was Statue Day in the Steel City. Just in case you don't know, there are three things that Pittsburgh has more than enough of: 1) Bridges; 2) Lawn chairs saving parking spaces, and 3) statues. We have statues for everyone from Mr. Rodgers to Gene Kelly, and lest we forget the ten dozen T-Rexes we've plopped down on every other street corner for some unknowable reason. But the statue of hockey legend (and current owner of the Penguins/philanthropic king) Mario Lemieux was unveiled today:

Yeah. So, I'm not a fan. I understand the boring old singular figure style is out, but if you are there to commemorate a specific player, it's nice if the non-commemorating players depicted don't outnumber the center of attention. I get it--the sculpture is based on a famous photograph from Sports Illustrated from 1988--but it's a little too busy to be an appropriate tribute, I think.

Finally, the Steelers have been on a tear chopping players from their team and making the others taking Brillo pads to their lockers just in case. They released long-time players Aaron Smith and James Farrior, and chose to not place a franchise tag on rising star (and restricted free agent) Mike Wallace. The worst, of course, is Dancing With The Stars champ Hines Ward, a fan favorite and a player that's been good to the team for a decade or so. Most of this cost-cutting is, sadly, understandable--even with some aggressive renegotiations of existing contracts, the team has to stay under the salary cap. Ward, in particular, was embarrassingly unproductive this past season, charting only a third of the yards he did only two seasons ago, and much of that was charity to get him to 1000 catches. Even keeping him in place as a placeholder/mentor at minimal cost was going to be too much of a drain to the team as a whole. He probably should retire, but he also probably won't, grabbing a decent paycheck and act as a veteran player for some team with a weak receiving corps.

Sports have been reasonably good to Pittsburgh for the past few years, but fans are going to see a slow, sometimes ugly descent from the high of two or three years ago, when we had both a Superbowl and a Stanley Cup victor. In today's competitive, parity-driven sports climate, that's the way it goes.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Enigma Of Andrew Breitbart

Andrew Breitbart isn't exactly a household name, so his recent (quite young) death may have been largely ignored by most normal media outlets aside from a passing reference.

I was never quite sure what to think about Breitbart, because he epitomizes the exact sort of conflict in media that most people have immediate opinions about but largely don't think about. He was an unabashed partisan who used borderline tactics to advance his cause, but he did to a lot to move and/or create legitimate stories for a lot of headlines during his short career.

Breitbart was behind many things, but he will largely be known for three major events over the past few years: ACORN, Shirley Sherrod, and Anthony Weiner.

His tactics were disdained by the left--and even the major mainstream media--but he didn't really do anything that was largely outside of what investigative journalists have done for decades. ACORN was an old-school sting operation, and while detractors attacked him for editing the footage, the untampered evidence was still damning. Suffice it to say that if a conservative organization had done the equivalent the outcome would have been exactly the same. Likewise, the Weiner scandal was a traditional scoop, and he ran with it.

The case of Department of Agriculture worker Sherrod is a little murkier. He was attacked because when the video was released, he did not release the full context of the speech given by Sherrod to the NAACP. (Sherrod had said during that speech that she did not help a white farmer specifically because he was white; later in the speech, which was not originally included in what Breitbart released, she said she had learned from her experience.) Breitbart, for his part, said that he was not originally sent the entire speech and so was unaware of the follow-up; still, he maintained that the audience's reaction of applauding when she denied help to the white farmer--who, like Breitbart, had not heard the rest of her story--was damning enough (and then claimed the NAACP was his target all along, not Sherrod). While Breitbart was sloppy in this story and the consequences are worth criticism (and with a lot of convenient excuses), there's enough gray area in this experience that I don't think this is a wholly negative aspect of his career.

Breitbart got a reputation as a reckless loose cannon working at the behest of hard-line conservatism, which is only partly true. He helped with the conservative Drudge Report, but he also helped the founding of the Huffington Post (which, to be fair, at the time was not the liberal bulkhead it is today). When he was clearly in the wrong, or had doubts, he tended to rectify them even if it compromised the story--when the source of the Weiner information was cast into doubt, he alerted the media immediately until it could be confirmed. He was also on the advisory board for GOProud, a gay Republican organization, at the consternation of other social conservatives. While his tactics are (gladly) open for criticism, I can guarantee that if the opposing side did the same thing it would miraculously be justified.

On the other hand, he was kind of a jerk--he had no problem calling Ted Kennedy a vile human being the day after he died, and often had no problem throwing out challenges with only a tenuous grasp of reality. An attempt to infiltrate Nancy Pelosi's office was crude and an embarrasing failure, not to mention illegal. Many descriptions after his death pinned him as a more reasonable conservative than he is given credit for, but with an abrasive personality against his opponents that made it difficult to really care. From what I've read, that seems fairly accurate.

Still, I'll say about Breitbart what I say about other obnoxious commentators--I don't agree with many of them and some of them are, indeed, vile people. But you need some of these loose cannons to shake things up and work outside of the moderate, mainstream conventional wisdom, even if for no other reason than to reframe the argument in more practical terms. I don't know if Breitbart, on net, made a net positive contribution to the media, but that doesn't mean I'm not glad he was there.