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THE SCENE (a.k.a. vpostrel.com)
Comments on current ideas and events

Week of March 11, 2002
[Note: Some now-dead links have been removed from archived items.]

TEXAS POLITICS: So much for nepotism. The Democratic primary race for what is now Phil Gramm's Senate seat was supposed to result in a runoff between former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk and Congressman Ken Bentsen, the nephew of former Senator and Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen. But schoolteacher Victor Morales, who led in some pre-election polls, took the second-place slot and will face Kirk in a runoff. Kirk is pro-business (not to be confused with pro-market), charismatic, and black. Morales, who ran a quixotic campaign against Gramm in 1996, is populist, folksy, and Latino. Based on the few TV interview clips I've seen, Bentsen has no appeal beyond his name and access to the "Henry Gonzalez machine" in San Antonio. Some analysts think voters were confused between this Morales and Dan Morales, who lost the primary for governor. It seems more likely that nobody was confusing Bentsen with his uncle.

The story that has national pundits giddy or worried is the governor's race, where businessman Tony Sanchez beat former state Attorney General Dan Morales, and the rise of Latino voting power. Democrats smell victory and Republicans fear defeat.

If Latinos do in fact tilt Texas politics in a Democratic direction, the national Democratic party is in for a big surprise. These are not Californians. They are, by national party standards, conservative. They want money for schools and parks, from which their constituents directly benefit, but have no particular hostility toward business, family, or national defense. They aren't even big on taxes and redistribution. (Even in California, Latino Democrats aren't Maxine Waters, and in places like L.A., they support economic growth, if only for the unionizable jobs, while Anglo politics is dominated by anti-growthers.) Tony Sanchez's TV commercials proclaimed him a conservative who supports "Texas values" and told the story of his entrepreneurial rise to wealth. "I'll protect what you've earned," promised one ad. He's the typical Texas technocrat, with a penchant for "pro-business" economic planning schemes and ideas for new subsidies. But a Democratic party in which people like him had clout would be completely different from today's.

That said, Kirk will probably beat Morales and lose to Republican Attorney General John Cornyn, and Governor Rick Perry, the Hollywood handsome incumbent (formerly lieutenant governor before W. left him the job), will probably beat Sanchez in what's bound to be a very expensive race. [Posted 3/13.]

GOING SOUTH: I'm going to Mexico City to give a speech and will not be posting again before the weekend. [Posted 3/13.]

MORE STEEL: The Washington Post's Sebastian Mallaby has a good column putting the steel tariffs in the context of the Bush administration's many sellouts of market principles. (That's what Bush administrations do. We knew that from Dad.) And Jeff Taylor dissects the too-clever-by-half ideas of Karl Rove, steel tariffs among them, in this week's Reason Express (second item). [Posted 3/12.]

RUN, GLENN, RUN: Oh, no, Lamar! is running for Fred Thompson's Senate seat. Those InstaPundit for Senator drafts are sounding more appealing every day. Think of the great debates! (Barring a Reynolds's run, I'm picking Demoratic Rep. Harold Ford, moderate and intelligent but as yet unannounced, over the flannel-wearing phony. But I don't know squat about Tennessee politics.) [Posted 3/12.]

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS: Reader Rod McFadden wants to know what a "blog" is. My mother asked the same question. Here's an article that explains the phenomenon, mentions this site, calls me a "celebrity" and a "futurist," and (boo-hoo) leaves my URL off its list of blogs.

Reader Michael Gushulak wants to know how to pronounce Postrel. It's PAH-STRELL. Steve, from whom I got this cool name, says, "Emphasis on both syllables." (The second actually gets a little more.) Any Postrel you run across is a relative, and my initials really are V.I.P.

Finally, no one's asking, but if you'd like to give a donation to support the site, there are Amazon and PayPal buttons to the left or you can write me for the mailbox address. Given the gloomy state of many bloggers lately, you might want to make this a week to toss a few dollars into several tip jars. [Posted 3/12.]

CAMPAIGN FINANCE: Andrew Sullivan writes about the politics-emulating campaigns for Oscars, including talk show rounds, lots of advertising, and leaked nasty info about the competition. And over at Reason Online, Mike Lynch considers the Hewlett Packard proxy battle:

The Hewlett-Packard election, based on the company's numbers, will cost $147 per voter. Compare that to the most expensive 2000 Senate races. Hillary Rodham Clinton's New York contest cost $11 per registered voter and Jon Corzine's New Jersey Senate race cost $20 per registered voter. All the presidential candidates combined spent a mere $2.75 per registered voter, less than a super-sized quarter pounder meal at McDonald's or a single issue of Newsweek.

I'd love to see a similar analysis of the Academy Awards.

And while they're bashing on A Beautiful Mind, could someone please point out that John Nash didn't get the Nobel prize for the Nash Not-an-Equilibrium? If the other guys go for the brunette, your best strategy is to defect and go for the blonde. It's not an equilibrium, Nash or otherwise. I know the movies couldn't care less about such technical inaccuracy, but doesn't Sylvia Nasar? [Posted 3/12.]

OTC PILLS: Schering-Plough has conceded to pressure from insurers and others and agreed to make its Claritin allergy medicine available over the counter. Insurers like the move because it means allergy sufferers will have to pay for their own pills instead of filing insurance claims. But the price will drop significantly, a boon to the uninsured and those who don't want to visit the doctor just to get a prescription.

As I've previously observed on this site, this case illustrates the utter fiction of the over-the-counter vs. prescription distinction. It's not a matter of patient safety but of using federal regulations to further business strategy. (For previous postings on this topic, see here and here.) As pharmacist Bill Stallknecht observed when I interviewed him for this Forbes ASAP article on online pharmacies that sell prescription drugs without doctor's exams:

"Tagamet, Pepcid, Zantac, Coricidin, Afrin—all of these were prescription drugs," he says. "Then they went over-the-counter, and all they had on [the package] was a sheet that told you the dangers. So why did they become safe one day, when they were dangerous the day before? And why were you stupid one day, to have to have somebody lead you through this, and all you have to do the next day is read the paper?"

He told me that Claritin would be over-the-counter within a few years, and he was right. [Posted 3/12.]

SEMI-ANNIVERSARY NOTE: Much of what I wrote on this site six months ago, now seems banal or confused, although I can't say I'd take anything back. The best parts are the reports from readers, and being able to receive and publish those reports was one of the most gratifying parts of doing the site during those first few awful days. (If you'd like to read more than the 9/11 postings, the site's archives are here, and the days around 9/11 are broken out as separate files.)

Here's an early posting I'll stand by:

NOT PEARL HARBOR: I'm like everyone else. When Steve got out of the shower, wondering why I was watching TV, I said, "It's Pearl Harbor." What I meant was a horrible sneak attack, and one that has sparked anger that will not soon dissipate. But it's not Pearl Harbor. Pearl Harbor was a military action with a military result. It wiped out much of the U.S. fleet and (in the short term, anyway) advanced Japanese military objectives in the Pacific. Today's attacks had only minor effects on U.S. fighting capabilities, and the perpetrators have no clear military objectives. They are not trying to control territory or even to advance traditional terrorist goals, such as the release of prisoners or changes in U.S. policies. Today's attacks were aimed not at strategic targets but at our civilization. The only way for the terrorists to "win" is for that civilization to be destroyed. It's going to be a long war. [Posted 9/11.]

This is an existential struggle. It can't be ended by appeasement or altered Mideast policies. There are no bargains to be struck and no single entity, in truth, to bargain with even if we wanted to try that unwise tack. Military action is required—significant and sustained, yet unlike normal wars against nation states.

For those of us with the privilege of civilian life, it is imperative to live normally and not give in to fear or (the pundit's curse) self-dramatization. If our civilization could survive the Cold War (or, as Freeman Dyson has said, the 1930s), we can survive anything. The struggle is a necessary evil. It is not a source of meaning or a reason to live. Those must come from the normal life which the struggle is fought to protect.

"If we're here tomorrow, then we won today. Repeat until they tire—or we do," says James Lileks in a well-written piece on when we'll know it's over. (Via InstaPundit.) [Posted 3/11.]

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