Subject: Weisberg Misreads Our Book
Date: Mon May 22 11:54 p.m.
We are the authors of American Pharaoh. We've been reading "The Book Club," and we have to say: The book Jacob Weisberg describes bears little relation to the one that we wrote.
The authors "never really tell us," Jacob Weisberg asserts, what they think of Richard J. Daley. Jeez. The book is entitled American Pharaoh, and we state plainly in the introduction why we call Daley that. We say that he did a tremendous amount to build Chicago up into the successful city it is today (Pharaoh as builder). And we say that he did it at the expense of blacks, by building racial segregation into the very concrete of the city (Pharaoh as oppressor). That seems like a pretty clear take on Daley. And, ultimately, a deeply critical one.
Weisberg also seems to subscribe to the fashionable but wrong view that if you disclose a conflict of interest it isn't a conflict. In fact, that his mother is closely aligned with Richard M. Daley—and draws a paycheck from him—is the sort of thing that might well affect his take on our book. American Pharaoh is very tough on Mrs. Weisberg's boss's father—and on her boss himself. (We recount, for example, how Daley Jr. benefited from questionable court appointments handed out by machine judges.) Does Slate have any rules at all about conflict of interest? And was there really no one without a parent working in Chicago City Hall available to participate in this discussion?
[To reply, click here.To read Weisberg's reply, see Wednesday's entry.Scroll down to the bottom of that page to see an unedited version of Cohen and Taylor's letter, as well as reader responses to it.]
Subject: Michael Ovitz, Savvy Publicity Hound
Date: Tue May 23 8:21 a.m.
Moneybox writes, re the battle between MP3 and rock stars: "Show me a [communications] revolution that ends up with Michael Ovitz as a prime beneficiary, and I'll show you a revolution that failed."
The notion that a revolution is flawed because it puts "sleazy" guys like Ovitz in the winners' circle is just stupid and sentimental. The main problem rock stars face is that in a competitive environment, competition will eventually erode a good's cost down to its marginal cost of production—which in the case of information is zero. It is not just musical "information" that has this problem, but anything which has a marginal cost of production of zero (i.e., all data). How to introduce an artificial scarcity into this environment is the music industry's real challenge, and with the emergence of Napster and Gnutella the answer is pretty clear: It can't be done. So, labels should focus instead on where there is scarcity, namely in public awareness of new bands, and focus on PR and marketing. Artists may now need to focus on live performances, which are also necessarily scarce. And Ovitz, an agent who presumably deals with the scarcest of all goods, attention, is valuable in this environment. Revolutions are not about assuaging inflated morals.
Subject: The IRA's Critics, Calling the Kettle Black
Re: " Foreigners: Paddy Melt"
From: Shamus McCat
Date: Tue May 30 4:57 p.m.
Ignoring Unionist terrorist groups and the complacency of the various British "security forces" in the murder and intimidation of Catholics certainly makes it easy to say "The equation is pretty simple: No IRA, no terrorism. No terrorism, no conflict." Unfortunately, it's not that simple. Any discussion of the Troubles must include the factors mentioned above, as well as the unfulfilled commitments of the British government (i.e., the reformation of the overwhelmingly Protestant RUC police force).
Northern Ireland's wounds are still fresh. It doesn't take a long memory to recall the events of Bloody Sunday or indeed any of the Republican atrocities. Until both sides are allowed to prove themselves trustworthy, there can be no progress. The word "decommissioning" allows for wiggle room on both sides. In order to reach the Good Friday agreement, both Adams and Trimble had to present the definition most favorable to their respective parties. Now the differences must be worked out. With hardliners such as Ian Paisley refusing to even participate in the process, it will be a struggle. The Troubles can hardly be placed on the shoulders of Republicans alone. Such a weight would crush them. IRA hardliners certainly do bear a portion of the blame, but no more so than militant Unionists and their well-placed supporters.
Subject: NRA and Gun Safety: No Hidden Agendas
From: Tom Fool
Date: Sun May 28 11:23 p.m.
Jacob Weisberg claims the National Rifle Association wants to teach kids how to handle guns safely. That is false. The NRA gun safety class has only four points for what a kid should do if s/he encounters a gun:
1. Stop what you're doing (don't keep playing).
2. Do not touch the gun.
3. Leave the area (don't keep playing nearby).
4. Tell an adult about the unsecured gun.
It's not an evil plot by the NRA to get kids to like guns, as Weisberg implies. It's a sensible way to prevent kids from being hurt by guns accidentally.
Subject: Why Drugs Really Cost Less In Canada
From: Steve Cohen
Date: Thu May 25 7:56 p.m.
It's not clear that prescription drugs cost less in Canada than the U.S. The price comparisons that have recently drawn a lot of attention have generally been for brand-name drugs. Generics tend to be cheaper in the U.S. and that's important since almost half of U.S. prescriptions are for generics.
But even if prescription prices are lower in Canada, it is doubtful that the reason is price controls. There are three likely causes: First, Canada has relatively weak patent protections for pharmaceuticals. This allows lower-cost generics to be manufactured which serves to keep price pressure on the name brands. Second, the Canadian legal system is such that the product liability costs for pharmaceutical companies in Canada is much lower than in the U.S. And last, with a 66-cent dollar, Canadians have significantly less real income than do Americans and accordingly, many products in Canada are priced so as to maximize their sellers' revenue. This is true for cars and Big Macs and it is especially evident for products with low marginal costs like CDs and drugs. This last point is I think what Explainer was trying to get at.