Sunday, December 30, 2007

Edwards surging in Iowa?

Man, talk about a nail-biter:For the record, I am strongly supporting Edwards, although I think Clinton will be the nominee. That's based on insider support, endorsements, etc. The polls are a jumble. Given how much insider support Clinton has, the polls just shouldn't be this close so near to the primaries.

Obviously, Clinton can lose Iowa and still become the nominee -- her husband didn't even contest it in 1992 and he came in second in New Hampshire. I think a loss in Iowa and NH would be more crushing for Obama than for Clinton, since he has less insider support to fall back on. But what happens if Edwards wins Iowa? He's trailing by a lot in NH. Could an Iowa win change that?

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Maybe California's parties aren't so strong

This would never have happened to Dick Daley:

State Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata was carjacked at gunpoint from his state car in North Oakland today.

Perata, 62, of Oakland was unharmed in the incident, which happened at about 1:45 p.m. as he was stopped in his state-leased red 2006 Dodge Charger at a red light at 51st Street and Shattuck Avenue.

Why I Like Edwards

This all really starts with Thomas Frank's What's the Matter with Kansas?. As I've mentioned, I think this is a very enjoyable book, even though it gets a great deal wrong, as demonstrated in Larry Bartels' devastating critique. What Frank gets right is that conservative opinion leaders in this country want to define the nation's main political schism as one of culture, not class. It make sense for them to do so: wealthier voters prefer the Republicans and poorer voters prefer the Democrats. That's not spin -- it's empirical fact. Since Republicans can't win by just talking about policies that benefit the wealthy (who are relatively few in number), they try to erase the economic divisions, describing their supporters as the salt of the earth and the Democrats as out-of-touch elites.

Where Frank's book fails is that it largely buys into this culture argument. That is, he maintains that culture war politics are actually working - that working class whites are abandoning the Democrats due to cultural appeals. As Bartels shows, that's not true. If anything, the class schism in this country has become more pronounced over the past few decades, with the wealthier far more likely to vote Republican than they used to be. Working class whites are still plenty Democratic. The main difference from earlier decades is that white Southerners are no longer Democrats. That has nothing to do with Republican culture war speeches and everything to do with the Civil Rights Movement.

What does this have to do with Edwards? Everything. None of the other Democratic candidates (except maybe Kucinich, but he's got a host of other problems) are talking about politics in class terms. They've accepted the culture war arguments, which is why Obama tries to reach out to Christian conservatives and why Hillary Clinton supported an anti-flag burning law and why John Kerry was spotted duck-hunting in the last election. They don't seem to realize that that's not the way the electorate rolls. Edwards seems to get that.

Edwards has been criticized for being too strident and angry this year. His attitude may have even cost him the endorsement of the Des Moines Register. So be it. Frankly, I'm a bit distrustful of anyone who can look at this graph without getting hot under the collar. The gap between the rich and the poor is large - about as large as it was in the 1920s - and growing. This issue needs to be addressed. Edwards is the only one addressing it.

Strip away all the hot air about Republicans liking NASCAR and beer and Democrats liking Volvos and wine and you see that the real split between the parties is economic. And it's not just rhetorical - poorer people do better under Democratic presidents than they do under Republican presidents. Poorer voters seem to get this, and there are a lot more of them than there are wealthy voters.

So I say let's support Edwards. Let's have the conversation about class. And let's put it to a vote.

Thursday, December 27, 2007


Hee hee.Source:

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Separated at Birth

The Denver Post's "Separated at Birth" piece is cute. Not all are great, but I rather enjoyed Giuliani, Paul, and Richardson.

The Party Decides - in Colorado, anyway

Interesting piece in the Denver Post today showing how both parties are managing to winnow the field and avoid primaries in next year's U.S. Senate race in Colorado. The Republicans are apparently doing it by use of something called "Rule 11":

To help clear the field, the party invoked a formal process under what's known as "Rule 11." Dating back to at least the mid-1990s but little-known among many of the GOP rank and file, Rule 11 allows the national party to abandon its traditional neutral stance and back a candidate long before a primary vote.

It required the signature of the state party chairman and Colorado's two national Republican committeemen. Of the three who made the decision to back Schaffer, one — because he holds a seat on the National Republican Committee — was Bob Schaffer.

So this is a story that's both party-centered and candidate-centered - Schaffer is taking advantage of a party rule to help himself. Apparently, Schaffer wouldn't enter the race unless he was pretty much guaranteed a primary-less ride. The Democrats don't have such institutional rules, but the state party chair is clearing the field anyway:
When Democrat Mark Benner recently suggested he would challenge U.S. Rep. Mark Udall of Eldorado Springs for a chance at the Senate seat, state party chairwoman Pat Waak began a series of discussions with Benner "about other ways to get the issues he is interested in out there."
This isn't a new situation. There's been surprisingly little intraparty competition for some very competitive seats in the past few years. Bill Ritter was virtually unopposed by other Democrats in last year's gubernatorial race, and the GOP establishment managed to shut down Marc Holtzman's challenge to Bob Beauprez in that race. Both parties rallied around their more moderate candidates in the '04 Senate race (Salazar and Coors), despite the more ideologically pure candidates (Miles and Schaffer) winning in the caucuses.

How did Colorado's parties suddenly get so strong? And how come the presidential race is comparatively so chaotic?

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Partisan maps

I recently got Maps: Finding our Place in the World as a holiday gift. This is the companion book to an exhibit on maps at Chicago's Field Museum. It's a really wonderful book. I've been reading through the chapter on mapping American history by Susan Schulten, a colleague of mine, and I came across Reynold's Political Map of the United States (click to enlarge):
Somehow, I hadn't seen this one before. It's incredible. It was made in 1856, with the clear intent of raising sectional ire among non-slaveholders. The stats along the bottom make clear that slaveholders had a disproportionate share of power. As Reynolds wrote:
Of the 6,222,418 white inhabitants of the South, only 347,525 are owners of slaves. And yet this faction controls every branch of the Federal Government, and wields its influence for the increase and perpetuation of Slavery.
As the book makes clear, this is far from an isolated example of maps being made to serve a political purpose. But I was surprised by how profoundly political this map was. Note the pictures at the top: John C. Frémont and William L. Dayton, the presidential and vice presidential nominees of the Republican Party in 1856. I wonder if the newly-founded Republican Party actually commissioned this map, or if Reynolds was just an avid supporter.

Friday, December 21, 2007

California Assembly DW-NOMINATE film

I mentioned this video in a previous post (and Monkey Cage was nice enough to reference it). I managed to get the whole thing up on YouTube, so you no longer need to download the giant Quicktime file.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Men Who Look Like Old Lesbians

Awesome idea for a website. (Hat tip to Monkeys for Helping.)

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Parties and class

Kudos to John Sides for taking on Carol Darr's silly claims about class differences. To wit:
Since most Republicans live in rural America, where they are less likely to have broadband Internet, “we’re not fighting with a fair piece of the pie,” [“Republican Internet strategist David] All says. [Carol] Darr [a professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School] also points to differences between the parties. “The people who are white and working-class tend to be Republican, particularly those who are white, working-class, and religious.” She characterizes Democrats as “ostensibly being the part of the poor and working class, but they end up being the yuppie party and most people at universities tend to be Democrats.”
Sides, along with several commenters, succeeds in demolishing all these claims. But then, proving that Sides' blog is much more popular than mine, Darr herself joins in the fray, ending with this comment:
My thoughts about the class divide between Dems and Republicans are summed up by a quote that I've always thought was attributable to Ambrose Bierce (but I can't find it in his "Devil's Dictionary):
"The problem with the Democrats is that they say they're for the poor and they're not; and the problem with the Republicans is that they say they're for the rich, and they are."
Sigh. So now we've gone from claiming that Republicans represent common folk better than the Democrats to the idea that there are no class differences between them. Poppycock. (Sorry to use such harsh language.)

Whether that quote came from Ambrose Bierce or not, it is plainly untrue today. When was the last time a Republican ran for office claiming to be for the rich? There are a lot of mistakes in Frank's "What's the Matter with Kansas," but one thing he gets exactly right is the modern Republican rhetorical style: the reframing of class without reference to income. Republicans describe themselves and their supporters as the salt of the earth while painting Democrats as elitists.

Republicans are obviously free to say what they want, but reporters do their readers a disservice when they buy into such false claims. There are profound and easily verified differences between the two parties in terms of class.

As any any exit poll will show, poorer voters tend to vote Democratic, while wealthier voters tend to vote Republican. Here it is graphically:What's more, which party governs has important consequences for the economy. As Bartels demonstrates, poorer Americans see much greater income growth under Democratic presidents than under Republican ones. He produced this graph. Learn it. Know it. Live it.

Choose, Republicans!

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Democratic capitulation

I still don't understand it, but Digby has an excellent post on the subject here. She ends with this gem:
Here's a little story from a book called "The Genius of the Jewish Joke" by Arthur Asa Berger:
Three Jews were going to be executed. They were lined up in front of a firing squad and the sergeant in charge asked each one whether he wanted a blindfold or not.
"Do you want a blindfold?" he asked the first. "Yes," he said, in a resigned tone.
"Do you want a blindfold?" he asked the second. "Ok," said the second.
"Do you want a blindfold?" he asked the third. "No," said the third.
At this point the second leaned over to the third one and said "Take a blindfold. Don't make trouble."
That's the Democratic electoral strategy in a nutshell.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Polarization in the California Assembly

I recently updated my animated movie of spatial plots of the California Assembly from 1901 to 2003. Keith Poole provided the code, which I tinkered with a bit. The plots show the first two DW-NOMINATE coordinates. The horizontal axis represents the left-right dimension. The vertical axis represents, well, whatever it represents. Usually, at least for California, it's a geographic dimension, pitting north against south. Today, the second dimension is virtually nonexistent. But the really interesting thing is the left-right polarization, particularly after the end of cross-filing in the 1950s.

Oh, and I added music. (Click image to view. Very large Quicktime file.)

Update: Video now available on YouTube.

Combining Research and Tourism

You know how everyone says that Hawaii is a relaxing paradise? Well, it is. We hung out at the beach with the kids all week. We ate and drank. I did a lot of snorkeling. It was all quite nice. Okay, it rained quite a bit, but it was always in the 70s or 80s, and the water never dropped below 75˚F, so the rain wasn't much of a deterrent.

Now, a good political scientist should be able to figure out a way to visit tropical islands and do research at the same time. Jerry Wright at Indiana has been collecting roll call data from state capitols, but he is stymied with Hawaii because they almost never have a contested roll call vote there. The legislature just agrees on everything. Now, things are nice there, but they can't be that nice. Decisions are being made somewhere else. But where? This sounds like a good area to investigate.

My co-conspirator Greg has some other ideas about bringing Samoa, Guam, and the US Virgin Islands into the purview of state politics. It might also be nice to compare these governments with those of independent nations like Jamaica. I wonder if NSF is willing to fund this sort of research.

The Edwards advantage, revisited

I hate to make too much of one poll, and these general election matchup questions asked a year before the general election just can't be too accurate, but man look at this:Paired up against four of the five leading Republican candidates, Edwards does way better than the other Democrats. He's leading Romney - still the likely GOP nominee - by more than 20 points. McCain is obviously the strongest Republican in the field according to this poll, besting Clinton and tying Obama, but Edwards beats him, as well. And all this despite Edwards' more liberal policy stances. I'm not sure why Edwards doesn't do as well against Thompson - maybe Edwards' main appeal is the thick Southern accent (which Huckabee doesn't have), and Fred has that in spades.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Hawaii blogging

I'm on Kauai, the northernmost of the Hawaiian islands. It's beautiful. Sorry blogging has been light.


From the NY Times discussion of a recent primary poll:
In a week when Mr. Romney delivered a speech intended to deal with concerns about his religion — he would be the nation’s first Mormon president — the poll found that little more than half of Republican respondents thought the United States was prepared to elect a Mormon to the Oval Office. That said, it also found that 45 percent were unable to say what Mr. Romney’s religion was.
Let me see if I've got that right. Roughly half of Republicans think Romney is unelectable because he's a Mormon. The other half doesn't yet know he's a Mormon. Romney can't like that news.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Here we go again

Catch Bush's response to David Gregory this morning?

I just love the scenario that Bush is painting. He wants us to believe that some variation on the following conversation between Bush and National Intelligence director Michael McConnell happened back in August.
McConnell: Mr. President, we have some new intelligence on Iran's nuclear program.
POTUS: Okay, what have you learned?
McConnell: I can't tell you yet.
POTUS: Good enough for me.
Either Bush is a tool because he expects us to believe this, or he's a tool because this is actually what happened. Either way, one thing's certain....

Sunday, December 2, 2007


I finally watched the interim Battlestar Galactica movie "Razor." And I have so say... really good. It covers some great material, including how the Pegasus responded to the initial attacks on the colonies, how the crew discovered the Cylon spy among them, Admiral Cain's war crimes, etc. Plus, we're introduced to some weird offshoot of the Cylons who never evolved from their 1979 form. Totally old school toasters. It rules.

But you know what I hate? It's the way sci-fi, even good sci-fi, is usually dismissed by entertainment reviewers. They always seem to set sci-fi apart from every other form of entertainment, intimating that it's just for kids or nerds and therefore doesn't need to be taken as seriously.

Here's an example from the Denver Post's review of "Razor":

Adoring fans claim "BSG" is a high- minded series dealing with humanity's struggle for survival and lapses into barbarism.

The rest of us dismiss it as a "Star Trek" clone, a revamped version of the 1970s original, with updated sex-and-violence eye candy and men barking "Yessir" to women in command.

That's pretty obnoxious. Couldn't a decent reviewer, particularly one who's admittedly not an adoring fan, actually assess whether it's a "high-minded series dealing with humanity's struggle for survival and lapses into barbarism"? Does the reviewer (Joan Ostrow) have to wink at "the rest of us" to say that it's no different from any other show that takes place in space?

Either Ostrow doesn't know it or doesn't want to admit she knows it, but there is an extraordinary range of material within the sci-fi genre. Some of it flat out sucks. ("Galactica: 1980" comes to mind.) Some of it, notably like the current BSG, is cutting edge socio-political commentary. Can you imagine a review of "Gladiator" that went like the following:
Adoring fans say it's a high-minded movie about duty, revenge, and a soldier's struggle to restore order to an empire. The rest of us dismiss it as a revamped version of the gladiator films of the 1960s, with updated sex-and-violence eye candy and men dying in skirts. You make the call!
No, we wouldn't accept that. But somehow action movies can be taken seriously for their content, while sci-fi can't.

Oh, here's how Ostrow finishes up her otherwise positive review of "Razor":
Is this a good time to join the "BSG" journey? In the end, "Razor" may be a two- hour layover during which we decide not to take the rest of the 22-episode trip.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Keep your eyes on Ritter

You heard it here first: Gov. Bill Ritter will be the Democratic nominee for vice president next year.

Okay, just a guess, but why not? He's a popular, Western governor who passes the key test of not saying a lot of stupid stuff. He's moderate, but can win some points with unions. Yes, he's pro-life, which would bother a lot of the party, but he managed to win resoundingly here last year without causing pro-choice activists to bolt the party or field a primary challenger. Mainly, he keeps quiet on the issue.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Edwards: The Kossacks' Choice

I'm interested in this straw poll of DailyKos readers:
Edwards has been the resounding leader among this group for more than a year now. I'm wondering why. Is it because he's running to the left of the other viable candidates? Because he seems polished enough to actually win office? More generally, are the Kossacks more or less sophisticated/aware/strategic than early primary voters or major party insiders?

Also interesting in this straw poll is its sensitivity. Dodd had a huge surge last month when he was the only candidate from the Senate to actually, you know, use his power as a senator to rein in Bush. The rest keep talking about what they'll do once they're president, ignoring the fact that senators actually have a fair amount of power already. So the Kossacks noticed this and gave Dodd some support. Nice.

But now Obama is surging with this crowd. Why? Because of his stupid stances on Social Security or health care? That can't be it. Because he's done pretty well in the debates lately? Maybe they think he could actually win?

Also of note: Clinton is tied with Kucinich.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Quiz Time

Can you identify the source of each quote? You have to choose from Friedrich Nietzsche, Bill Clinton, Yoda, and Thom Yorke of Radiohead.

I got an 83.

Was I dreaming?

Or was there really a movie made in which Mel Gibson was banished from a small Australian town run on pig manure and led by Tina Turner?

Waiting on O'Reilly

Forgot about this one:
Here's, here's the bottom line on this for every American and everybody in the world, nobody knows for sure, all right? We don't know what he has. We think he has 8,500 liters of anthrax. But let's see. But there's a doubt on both sides. And I said on my program, if, if the Americans go in and overthrow Saddam Hussein and it's clean, he has nothing, I will apologize to the nation, and I will not trust the Bush Administration again, all right? But I'm giving my government the benefit of the doubt.
-Bill O'Reilly, 3/18/03

The Hunt for Red Ramadan

AP Headline: Iranian state TV claims Iran has launched new light submarine able to evade sonar detection

Color me skeptical. Yet I'm sure this story will be used to justify an American invasion of Iran, since we can't let rogue nations have super-lethal weapons. Sort of like those Iraqi aerial drones that could deliver anthrax to Western Europe and sarin to the United States, except that it turned out there was only one drone, and it was made by Air Hogs, and it wouldn't fly more than 30 feet away from the guy with the remote control. And then it turned out that it didn't even exist.

Republican CNN/YouTube Debate

Quick thoughts:
  • Huckabee is absolutely on fire. His answers were great. He really, really nailed the WWJD/death penalty one. Viewers considered Huckabee the winner walking away, and a Rasmussen survey shows him actually in the lead in Iowa.
  • Romney's answers were weak and off-putting. He had basically nailed the question as to whether the Bible was the word of God just fine, but then he seemed to feel that he hadn't said enough, and that made him mad, and he stammered something like, "Look, it's the fucking word of God, alright?" Most of his answers came out that way. And he looked like a putz on the gays in the military question. And McCain totally schooled him on torture.
  • Giuliani was okay. No crowning successes, few notable missteps.
  • McCain is so past tense in this contest. His willingness to condemn torture still distinguishes him among the crowd, which is far more a testament to how fucked up the crowd is than to how visionary McCain is. His little exchange with Paul, in which McCain said that the desire to withdraw from Iraq is the same sort of desire that lead to the rise of Hitler, was pathetic.
  • Ron Paul is whatever his crazy supporters think he is, whether it's an anti-war activist or a small government crusader or V. We've seen this before.
  • Tom Tancredo was given little opportunity to speak, but given how nuts everyone else sounded on immigration, he really didn't need to say much. I rather enjoyed (and agreed with) his Mission to Mars answer.
  • Fred Thompson had a few moments but was mostly pretty weak.
  • Duncan Hunter was... wait, how did he get in the room?
TPM has the highlight reel:

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Get this on the ballot now

A proposed constitutional amendment for Colorado, courtesy of ColoradoPols:
Shall Hillary Clinton be impeached, should she become President of the United States, for her authorizing the U.S. military, based on her "explicit assurances from the highest levels of government" to them, to use a "Superman" camera called Advanced Synthetic Aperture Radar or Millimeter Wavelength Radar that can take pictures through the roof of our bedrooms and bathrooms, against Colorado homes in April of 1997, as revenge for her husband cheating on her, through an amendment to the Colorado Constitution?

Saturday, November 24, 2007

The Flu Mist

I'm not sure what's up with this new flu mist thing. My daughter and I got it on Tuesday. By Thursday I had a cold and she had a fever. I think they just gave us liquid flu.

The Bose-Einstein Turkey

The turkey was a success. The temperature in my backyard never dropped below about 25˚F, which was warm enough to keep the brine from freezing. So my turkey miraculously managed to stay below freezing all night long without freezing. It's like living in the future, baby.

Coated that bad boy with herb butter (sage, marjoram, thyme), stuffed it with onions, celery, and oranges, and cooked it for four hours at 350˚F. Came out awesome.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Overnight brining

No room in the fridge - the turkey's got to brine outdoors tonight. So 1.36 kg (approx. 23 moles) of salt mixed with 9 kg of water should bring that solution's boiling point down by about 9.5 degrees Celsius, if I've done my calculations right. That translates to roughly 15 F. The forecast for tonight is 12 F. So I'm pushing it. Hopefully, it's warm enough right next to my house to keep the brine from freezing over. We'll see.

Polls vs. Endorsements

I've been struck by the ongoing disparity between national polls and the polls from the early primary states with regards to the Republican presidential nomination. Just judging from the national polls, this contest looks like a walk for Giuliani. Early state contests like Iowa and New Hampshire however, have been leaning in Romney's favor for some time, which is why Giuliani may pull out of the first three primaries and caucuses and hope for a great Super Tuesday.

One of the CKNZ Posse sent me this link, which shows how members of Congress have endorsed in the presidential race so far. Elite endorsements, by the way, are considered a much better indicator of how a nomination will go than polls or money are. The MC endorsements aren't a perfect measure of all elite endorsements - candidates who are fellow members of Congress (notably John McCain) are doing disproportionately well here - but you still get a sense of what's going on.

Here's a chart comparing how the candidates are doing on average nationally, in New Hampshire, and among members of Congress (as measured by the percent of Republican MCs who have made an endorsement). Polling averages come from
It's interesting how the New Hampshire primary voters seem closer to the endorsements than to the national polls, particularly in the case of Romney and Giuliani. If Romney gets the nomination, it will probably be treated by the media as a come-from-behind Cinderella story, but those who knew which surveys to look at could have seen it coming for months.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Top Ten Star Trek Villains

Wired has put together a little photo essay of the ten cheesiest Star Trek villains from the original series. Great stuff in here.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Huckabee closes the deal

This is a slam dunk:

Friday, November 16, 2007

The Sinatra Group

Eases the pain...

Fuck CNN

Seriously. This is pathetic.

Reporters versus regular folk

Matthew Yglesias makes some great observations about the different types of questions during the Dem debate. Reporters were asking about politics, trying to evoke divisions among the candidates or to catch individual candidates in inconsistencies. Audience members asked about policies, often informed by experiences in their own lives. A glaring example was when an audience member asked what qualities candidates would look for in Supreme Court nominees, and the reporter changed the question to make it just about Roe v. Wade.

Yeah, I found Blitzer pretty annoying, but the whole distinction here is one of priorities. News reporters want fireworks, which make good copy. Professionally, they don't care who wins either the debate or the nomination. Audience members want to know which candidate is closer to their priorities and which could win, which is how they make voting decisions.

More on the Blitzer style from Digby.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Important Dem Debate Moment

One thing I haven't seen mentioned in the commentary on tonight's Democratic presidential candidate debate in Nevada is the responses to the constitution vs. national security question. It was a bit silly for Blitzer to compress a complex issue like Pakistan into such a simplistic dichotomous question, but fine, there it is. Bill Richardson said that our values are more important than our security - a bold and important statement, although he didn't exactly nail it. Most other candidates said either that security comes first or that you can't separate the two.

Chris Dodd, who did pretty well during the debate, really bullshitted on this particular answer. He said that the presidential oath of office requires presidents to do two things: protect the Constitution and protect America against enemies foreign and domestic. So what is the actual presidential oath?
I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.
Maybe Dodd made an honest mistake, confusing the presidential oath with the one he's taken as a member of Congress. But this is important: nowhere in the president's job description does it say that it's his or her job to keep us safe. Bush seems to think it is, and that he's supposed to ignore parts of the constitution that jeopardize our safety. But that's not the way it's written. We're not supposed to be a nation of gutless turds. Our ideals are supposed to matter.

Huckabee's on fire!

According to ARG, Huckabee's now in a statistical tie with Romney in Iowa.  Giuliani, McCain, et al are low and dropping.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

What would Alannis say?

Grover Norquist is one of my true conservative heroes, mainly because he's so over the top about everything. He either has no sense of irony or his irony is so well developed that it cannot be perceived by mortal men. His latest cause is no disappointment:
Grover Norquist, one of America’s most influential Republican activists, aims to turn the question of dynasty into a campaign issue.
“It will be ridiculous to have Mr President and Madam President in the White House,” he said. “We’re the United States of America. How can we say to President Mubarak [of Egypt], ‘You can’t hand off the presidency to your son, it’s got to be your wife’ or, ‘Hey Syria and North Korea, you’ve got to knock this stuff off and be like us’.”
Norquist has commissioned lawyers to draw up a constitutional amendment that would ban family members from succeeding one another to elected and appointed office. If passed, it would not apply to the Clintons as a Bush was elected in between them. But Norquist believes that it will alert voters to the perils of dynasty. “Americans don’t like to go back,” he said.
Good thing we have self-made men like President Bush to fill in the inter-Clinton spaces. And his father. And his grandfather...

h/t to Digby.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Indian Thriller

I honestly don't know what to say.

Victor Wooten

Hey, this guy doesn't suck.

Interesting Poll

An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll shows that, by a margin of 50-35, Americans prefer that a Democrat, rather than a Republican, be the next president. However, when you use the names of the two national poll leaders, Americans will vote for Hillary Clinton over Rudy Giuliani by a margin of 46-45.

Not good, people!

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Liberals and Taxes

Well, the residents of Denver just voted affirmatively on nine different ballot initiatives, all of which were tax increases or bond projects. Mayor Hickenlooper very visibly pushed for all of them, and people followed his lead, and his approval ratings will probably go even higher.

Conservatives often stereotype liberals as actually enjoying taxation. But is there some truth to this? It's one thing to tolerate a level of taxation, but to actually vote to tax yourself? Why would people do this?

I can't be the first person to think along these lines, but maybe it has something to do with the fact that liberals actually believe in government. As a result, they believe they are buying something when they are taxed. In Denver's case, they were buying some civic building maintenance, new libraries, and recreation centers. And it's no secret that buying something can make you feel good. I felt really good the day I bought my house. I still feel good about it, although I take no pleasure in paying the mortgage. Maybe it's the same with taxes: liberals feel good about buying government. Not government for the sake of government, but particular policies they think will help.

Conservatives, of course, distrust government and feel that their tax dollars will either be misspent or spent inefficiently. Therefore when the government takes that money from them, it's a theft, not a purchase.

I'm all outta bubblegum

If you haven't seen it, run, don't walk, to see John Carpenter's "They Live" (1988). I first saw this movie about ten years ago, but it's so much better than I remembered. I had no idea it was so chock full of political messages.

The movie purports to be a low-budget sci-fi thriller, but it's actually one of the most nakedly and delightfully Marxist movies I've ever seen. The movie's hero, Nada, played by former wrestler Rowdy Roddy Piper, is an itinerant laborer who lives with other poor workers in a shantytown in downtown LA. He believes in America. He believes if he works hard and plays by the rules, he will be rewarded.

His worldview changes abruptly when he stumbles across a pair of magic sunglasses that allow him to see life as it truly is: Aliens are living among us. They are the wealthy elite. We perceive them as human because they are brainwashing us through our televisions. But they are, in fact, interplanetary capitalists bent on enslaving us and keeping us blind to their rule. They communicate with each other through their Rolex watches. They transmit subliminal messages to us ("Obey," "Marry and reproduce," etc.) through billboards and magazines. A televised speech delivered by an alien politician is taken almost directly from Ronald Reagan quotes.

But the best part is the role that false consciousness plays. The aliens are relatively few in number, but there are lots of poor people who do not want to hear that our society is a false one, and they eagerly buy into the artifice. What's more, they'll fight to defend it. A lengthy fight scene between Nada and his friend Frank (Keith David) seemed gratuitous upon first viewing, but then it made sense. It showed how tenaciously people will resist class consciousness and hold onto the lie.

Another scene that once seemed silly but no longer does was the final one, in which our hero literally stops the rich from screwing the poor.

A lot of these themes are explored in "The Matrix," but somehow "They Live" may even be more effective because it doesn't take itself quite so seriously. And the one-liners are awesome.

Monday, November 5, 2007


Possibly the best Daily Show moment ever:

Sunday, November 4, 2007


Can you beat my score of 36 on Rolling Stone's almost impossible rock quiz?

I was drinking acid all along

Well, I'm ruined. The cute, affordable cognacs I've been buying myself each year for my birthday, as it turns out, are crap. Flavorless liquid razor blades. I discovered this yesterday when my dad bought me a bottle of Martell's Cordon Bleu.

It's everything I hoped a cognac could be. Smooth going down, and a deep, rich flavor that's almost overwhelming in its complexity. Just the aroma knocks my socks off. There are so many layers to it, including a hint of something sweet. Vanilla? Maple? It's hard to nail it down. I'd better go drink some more to check.

This sucks. I can't go back, and I can't afford to keep buying this stuff. I hope my dad will take responsibility for pushing this stuff on me and keep buying me more of it.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Dirty Harry in the Bible

I showed "Dirty Harry" in class this week. I was surprised how dark and nasty it was. I spent a lot of time yesterday trying to convince my students that it was a deeply conservative movie. It painted society as sinful and home to a constant barrage of robberies and sex crimes. The politicians and police are impotent because they are hamstrung by the Bill of Rights. The only one who can save us from the criminals are vigilantes like Harry who can rise above the rule of law to provide justice. It's essentially the same message offered by Col. Nathan Jessup (Jack Nicholson) in "A Few Good Men," except he was the villain in that movie. It's also essentially the same message offered by Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld in discussing torture. I'm not sure if my message got through.

Anyway, we were looking at some stills from "Dirty Harry," and a lot of students were noticing some heavy religious symbolism. There's a great scene where the killer, Scorpio, pins Harry up against a giant cross and beats him nearly to death. At another point, Harry is shown in front of a giant red, white, and blue sign that says "Jesus Saves." But we were focusing on the scene at the end of the movie when Harry throws away his badge. One of my students asked the significance of Harry's badge number, 2211. I hadn't thought about it. Then she asked if it might reference a Bible verse. So we looked up Psalm 22:11:
Do not be far from me,
for trouble is near
and there is no one to help.
That can't be a coincidence.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Rockies go down

The last time I cared about a World Series was in 1981, when the righteous L.A. Dodgers beat the pants off the smug New York Yankees. But I finally got into it again this year during the Rockies' incredible pennant drive. So I cared. I actually cared. And then we got creamed 0-4.

Weird series. It really seemed like the Rockies were doing an excellent job at whatever particular sport they were playing. It just wasn't the same sport the Red Sox were playing. Sigh.

So look for me with box seats at the next World Series that matters to me, probably in 2033. I'm predicting that the Bakersfield Pigfuckers will narrowly beat the Time-Warner Megastars.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Downsian convergence at the local level?

Here's an interesting article. Two economists, Ferreira and Gyourko, looked at a large sample of cities in which the Democratic candidate for mayor had either won or lost by a narrow margin. Then they looked to see if there were important differences in the policies those cities produced. They found none, suggesting that parties really don't matter all that much locally. Electoral competition fosters convergence, running counter to evidence gathered at the state and national level.

This is a pretty interesting and surprising finding, and it might actually be true, but there are a few rather glaring omissions:

1) They don't differentiate between cities with partisan elections and those with nonpartisan elections. (I'm guessing there'd be a much bigger party effect on policy in the partisan election cities.) Shockingly, they were aware of this distinction and just tried to find out the mayor's party affiliation anyway, sometimes using party registration records. Footnote 14 bizarrely suggests that L.A. functionally has partisan elections. (Hahn v. Villaraigosa? And just how many voters knew Riordan was a Republican?)

2) They don't incorporate mayoral strength into their calculations. A weak Republican mayor working with a strong Democratic city council just isn't going to cut city services all that much.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Tucker Carlson

I'll admit that sometimes I like Tucker Carlson. He's bright, engaging, and sometimes willing to part with party doctrine on matters of principle. But then he's got to go and say something like this:
OK, but here’s the fact that nobody ever, ever mentions — Democrats win rich people. Over 100,000 in income, you are likely more than not to vote for Democrats. People never point that out. Rich people vote liberal. I don’t know what that’s all about.

That is flatly untrue, as any exit poll will quickly confirm. Tucker's too bright not to know that. Which means that he is blatantly ignoring readily available data in order to perpetuate a myth that makes his party look better. Which means that he is, as Jon Stewart said, a dick.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Go Rockies?

Okay, we're not off to a rollicking start.

Monday, October 22, 2007


I was just showing "Network" in my film class. Check out the time in Los Angeles while Howard Beale screams about how mad he is:


Not only did Huckabee tie for first place in the Values Voter straw poll, but he apparently just won Chuck Norris' endorsement. You can't stop this kind of mojo!

Friday, October 19, 2007


I love this bit.

[ Be sure to have the latest Flash Player installed. ]

Thursday, October 18, 2007

You blend

My dad at Katz's Deli in NYC:

As my mom said, he looks like Nixon at the beach.

Robot weapon turns on soldiers

Oh, yeah, that's what you want to read.
The National Defence Force is probing whether a software glitch led to an antiaircraft cannon malfunction that killed nine soldiers and seriously injured 14 others during a shooting exercise on Friday.
I suppose we're overdue for this sort of mutiny.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Huckabee fever

Huckabee tied for second place in Iowa? So says Rasmussen.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Party switching

Colorado state representative Debbie Stafford of Aurora has switched from Republican to Democratic. Her statement was pretty straightforward:
Ideally, I find myself a moderate and I think I would be best suited for a third party. However, the reality that our political system is not designed for a third party voice to be strong. My answer was to join a party that better reflects my values and respects my contribution. I am not leaving the Republican Party as much as I believe the Republican Party left me.
There doesn't appear to be anything strategic about this switch. Stafford is termed out and hasn't expressed an interest in higher office. Her switch in no way affects the party balance in the state house. She just can't bear to call herself a Republican anymore.

Friday, October 12, 2007

New Springsteen

The new Springsteen is good, if not great, but it has some nice peaks. This song is my favorite so far.

Hard Drives are Mortal, Part II

I found a nice backup system that doesn't seem to require a whole lot of active thought: Memeo’s LifeAgent. It retails for $30, and you can use a free demo version for 30 days. It's very simple. You just specify a backup location (I have a networked hard drive at home – you can also buy space on their server) and indicate what folders you want backed up. Whenever you’re connected with the backup location, it combs through your folders to back up anything that’s new. It works very smoothly and I don’t have to think about it. This could have saved me a lot of heartache.

More on Turkey

So why are the Democrats pushing the Armenian genocide resolution now? My impression had been that it was simple interest group politics. Armenian groups in the U.S. saw an opportunity with a Democratic majority, so they pushed it, and the Democrats were happy to please a constituent group.

But a colleague of mine suggests a much more intriguing motive. As he sees it, the Democrats are actually trying to foment a crisis with Turkey, which would force Turkey to cut off support for our actions in Iraq. This is actually a round-about way of forcing an end to the Iraq war.

What do you think?

In other news, I spoke with a Turkish colleague here, and he was pretty annoyed with the idea of the resolution. He says he has no problem admitting Turkey's culpability or calling it a genocide. He just doesn't feel like being lectured by the United States right now.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Turkish Ambassador

Turkey withdraws its ambassador after the House Foreign Relations Committee passes a bill condemning the Armenian Genocide of 1915. Wait, they did this after a committee vote? How many Americans know about committee votes? I'll give Turkey credit - their lobbyists are really on the ball.

Romney at DU

Mitt Romney came to speak at the University of Denver's Law School yesterday. I thought I'd drop by and ended up getting a seat in the fourth row. So I recorded the event. The audio quality isn't great, but you're welcome to listen in here.
(Got this with my cell phone!)

On the whole, I thought he came off pretty well. He was welcoming of questions, even from those who clearly disagreed with him, and that was a welcome change from certain incumbent presidents I could name. And he's clearly a true believer in free market capitalism, which of course delighted the Republicans in the audience.

One curious answer came to the first question. A student noted that Romney supports the line item veto for presidents, even though the Supreme Court found this unconstitutional. Romney blamed Giuliani for bringing that lawsuit in the first place. I thought it odd to argue, "Well, if we hadn't told the court, no one would know it wasn't legal."

Another questioner noted that private health insurance often has something like 20% in overhead costs, while public health insurance (Medicare) only has 2% overhead. Why, the questioner asks, don't we expand Medicare, rather than develop a bizarre system of private financing, which is less efficient? Romney gave a really obnoxious response to this, first laughing at the idea that government could be more efficient than the private sector, and then noting that private health facilities (not insurance companies) have a very low profit margin. And then he said that he doesn't want to turn over our nation's health care to the sort of people in charge of the Katrina cleanup. This was totally disingenuous, given that much of the Katrina cleanup was done -- poorly -- by private contractors. But, hey, he believes in the private sector.

He also thinks that Evangelical voters are with him. At least, they're less scared of him than they are of Giuliani, which is something.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Blogging my California Trip

I wish my office door looked like this:


I took my freshmen students to go see Al Gore at the Denver Convention Center. He was delivering one of his "Inconvenient Truth" talks. He was quite good. It was similar to the material in the film, only he had a few years more data to throw in.

As depressing and fascinating as the talk was, though, the highlight for me was when one of my students got to ask him a question at the end: "What would you have done differently from President Bush after 9/11?"

Gore took a deep breath, and then friggin' unloaded.

He first complemented Bush for uniting the nation, and expressed support for the Afghanistan invasion. But then the important differences came out:
  • Gore wouldn't have invaded Iraq. (Duh.)
  • If he had invaded Iraq, he wouldn't have diverted troops from Tora Bora to do so. (Duh.)
Gore then drew the interesting comparison between global warming and the Iraq war. In both cases, he noted, the truth was ignored. Policymakers ignored scientists and other experts and instead listened to ideologues. He pointed out that he and Bill Clinton received national security briefings every day when they were in the White House, and any sort of memo that began with the words "X determined to attack U.S." sparked dozens of meetings with every intelligence-gathering organization in the government, in which the principals would demand more information. Bush, by comparison, replied to the CIA official who handed him the August 2001 PDB, "Well, you've covered your ass." Similarly, Bush was briefed days before Katrina made landfall about the potential for devastation, and he asked no questions whatsoever.

Gore didn't come out and say it, but he seems to think that he or Clinton could have prevented 9/11 had they been at the helm. Obviously, you can't know something like that, but it's clear that there was enough information out there to derail the attacks, and no central figure had taken the leadership role of putting the information together.

Gore sounded pretty pissed off at this point, different from his more jovial, scholarly tone from the rest of the evening. I found it incredibly powerful.

Oh, by the way, he said he's not interested in running for president. He seems to think he can do more to help the world in his current role.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Hard Drives are Mortal

We are taught in Bram Stoker's Dracula that "love never dies." Perhaps it doesn't. But hard drives occasionally do.

As faithful readers will know, I switched to Macintosh over the summer and have been very much in love with the new machine, just as Vlad the Impaler was in love with his Princess Elisabeta. But last weekend, the Mac's hard drive seized up. I got a flashing folder with a question mark on the screen, and no troubleshooting would help. (This did not cause me to renounce God and swear vengeance while drinking the blood flowing from a cross, although the thought crossed my mind.)

I brought the Mac to the Genius Bar at my local Mac store and was told that the hard drive just up and died. It happens. The guy at the bar told me, "When you've been behind this counter as long as I have, you realize that hard drives are miserable." They just have too many moving parts and will eventually fail. Mine failed earlier than most, but failure was inevitable.

Let this be a reminder to back up your work regularly! I didn't lose too many documents, since I'd backed up within the past two weeks, but I lost about three months worth of e-mail and calendar appointments. I could have saved the calendar appointments if I'd occasionally synced with my PDA, which I've been lazy about doing lately.

I would be grateful for any suggestions readers have about good backup systems, ones that will function almost automatically and not require me to be constantly vigilant. I'd also appreciate suggestions for naming my Mac once it comes back from the store with its new, very empty hard drive. Maybe Elisabeta. Or Mina, since it's been reborn.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Bionic Ever After

I watched the premier of the new "Bionic Woman" last night. (Amazon is currently offering it for free.) Let me just say right off the bat that David Eick is a bit of a freak. He's the producer of this new show and also of "Battlestar Galactica." Eick's specialty seems to be taking my favorite shows from when I was nine and making them really, really dark.

So the new "Bionic Woman" starts off in standard Eick form by introducing us to an earlier prototype of bionic woman, played by none other than Katee "Starbuck" Sackhoff. (Yeah, she's hot, bionic, and a Cylon. My inner nine-year-old just went through retroactive early puberty, if that's possible.) And she's a complete mess - part of a secret government (?) operation that went awry. As it turns out, this secret organization, headed by Miguel Ferrer (still a hero of mine from his work on "Twin Peaks"), tries to turn people into super-strong cyborgs and makes them engage in some sort of paramilitary activity. Unfortunately, these cyborgs soon realize that they're stronger than their captors, so they kill people and escape.

The secret team is hoping that their new subject, Jamie Sommers (played by Michelle Ryan), will be different. She's smart, decent, and emotionally stable, despite being a bartender and the legal guardian of her little sister, who has been ordered by a judge not to use a computer. (This is not the easygoing Ojai tennis instructor that Lindsay Wagner played in the 1970s.) But she's sucked into the world of bionics by her professor boyfriend after a car "accident."

There's a lot of cool scenes with Jamie discovering her new powers and developing a weird relationship with the earlier prototype, who is simultaneously her archenemy and the only other person in the world who knows what she's going through. I'll probably watch another episode, but at this point I'm not hooked. It's interesting, but not in the same way "Galactica" is. Mostly, I'm curious to see how they'll keep tweaking the 1970s version.

And then I can't wait to see if Eick will remake "Dukes of Hazzard," only with the Dukes as oxycontin dealers and Roscoe P. Coltraine as a compromised cop and Boss Hogg as some sort of anal-rape fetishist. And Edward James Olmos will play Uncle Jesse.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Friday, September 21, 2007

The Clinton theory of partisan polarization

There are plenty of theories floating around to explain why Congress is so much more partisan today than it was a few decades ago. In this Daily Show interview, Bill Clinton offers his own: the burdens of 24-hour fundraising have caused an epidemic of sleep deprivation among members of Congress, which makes them more irritable and less likely to compromise. Seriously.

Huckabee Fever - Catch It!

Mike Huckabee won the Palmetto Family Council Straw Poll yesterday in South Carolina. And just last week we learned that he might get to debate Fred Thompson mano a mano in New Hampshire.

Yes, on their own, these are minor, symbolic events. But they reveal a candidate who is surprisingly well organized and appreciated among Evangelical Republicans.

Don't count him out.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

A few things I learned today...

Paul Krugman has a new blog and it's really good.

The second season premier for Friday Night Lights, one of the best shows on TV, can be seen now on-line. It won't air on TV for another two weeks.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

It's looking like Hillary

It seems like there's been a slew of insider endorsements for Hillary Clinton lately. Here in Colorado, Wellington Webb, Speaker of the House Andrew Romanoff, and House Majority Leader Alice Madden just announced for Hillary. Out in California, Hillary picked up the endorsement of Assemblyman Mervyn Dymally and LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. These are major players, and she's doing notably well at courting prominent African American leaders.

The big one for her still to land is Maxine Waters. Waters would probably prefer not to endorse the same way as Dymally. On the other hand, Hillary did just pick up the endorsement of Rep. Laura Richardson, who just won her seat with Waters' help. I'm guessing that Richardson wouldn't have gone that way if Waters hadn't said it was okay. So that's something.

Although he's getting less press, John Edwards has been amassing his own impressive collection of endorsements over the past year, mainly from unions. But Edwards hit a stumble today when the SEIU decided to postpone its endorsement. That endorsement should be his. Maybe it'll come tomorrow, maybe not, but that's still not a good sign for Edwards.

Obama is still quite popular, but he just isn't getting much in the way of endorsements. Probably his best shot would be with the prominent African American politicos, but Hillary is doing very well among that set. So if you believe the Cohen/Karol/Noel/Zaller argument that primaries go to the candidate with the prominent endorsements (rather than the cash or the popularity), things are definitely leaning Hillary's way lately.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Monday, September 17, 2007

Friday, September 14, 2007

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The anti-democratic strain of political films

I just finished watching and discussing Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939) with my students today. Man, what a rich film. It really captures machine politics so much better than just about any other film I've seen. What really caught me was this quote from Sen. Paine, as he's explaining to Smith the harsh realities of political life:

I compromised—yes. So that all those years, I could sit in that Senate and serve the people in a thousand honest ways…. I've served our state well, haven't I? We have the lowest unemployment and the highest federal grants. But, well, I've had to compromise, had to play ball. You can't count on people voting, half the time they don't vote, anyway. That's how states and empires have been built since time began.

Doesn't that just nail it? Bosses don't need to control their politicians all or even most of the time. Machine politicians are free to represent their constituents on all but just a few key bills, and then they have to do as they're told. And the machine politicians can rationalize it because, most of the time, they're giving the people what they want, even though they're counting on people not to notice the graft they're enabling. Man, I spent four years figuring this out during my dissertation research. I should have just watched this movie.

Okay, so that's great. But I couldn't help noticing that Sen. Smith was basically the one honest guy in the Senate, and, not coincidentally, he was the only one that hadn't been elected. Apparently, the electoral system taints anyone who goes through it. I noticed the same thing in The Candidate (1972), which I'm showing my students next week. In that one, McKay starts out as a passionate, liberal anti-poverty lawyer. Then he runs for office and is told to stifle his true passions. By the time he wins, he has no idea what he stands for. Elections have ruined a decent man.

And isn't it the same thing with Dave (1993)? In that one, a cynical president who has worked his way up the political chain to the highest office in the land is struck down by illness and is replaced by a guy who looks just like him but, thanks to his lack of electoral experience, isn't jaded. So basically you just get a de-electorized version of the same president, and it turns out he's much better.

Look, I recognize that there's plenty in elections to be cynical about. But it really annoys me when filmmakers - and political pundits - speak about elections as though they were a distraction from good government instead of the cause of it. We heard that from the Baker-Hamilton commission last year when they insisted on releasing their Iraq report after the 2006 elections so as not to inject politics into it, as though the war weren't the crucial issue in the elections.

Jacobs and Shapiro summed it up best in their book Politicians Don't Pander:
Why has the derogatory term "pander" been pinned on politicians who respond to public opinion? The answer is revealing: the term is deliberately deployed by politicians, pundits, and other elites to belittle government responsiveness to public opinion and reflects a long-standing fear, uneasiness, and hostility among elites toward popular consent and influence over the affairs of government.

This can't be right

From Giglio's Reel Politicians (1995, p. 130), which I've assigned to my students:
While much of the action in the film [No Way Out] takes place inside the Pentagon, the audience receives virtually no information about this octagonal building or the workings of the defense department....
Octagonal building?

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Historical precedents for the 2008 election

Actually, there aren't that many. What are the odds that the incumbent party will hold onto the White House when its deeply unpopular incumbent isn't on the ticket? The two main precedents that jump to mind are 1952 and 1968. In both examples, however, the president declined to run for an additional term, largely because he realized he would have lost. (Bush isn't running next year because he's termed out.) But both examples include presidents who served more than one term (Truman took over when FDR died; LBJ took over when JFK was shot) and had started - and failed to end - unpopular wars. And even though the incumbents weren't on the ticket, their party still lost the presidential election. Possibly, 1920 could fall into this category. WWI was over, of course, and we don't have reliable numbers on Wilson's popularity, but it seems safe to assume that the League of Nations fight and his stroke took a toll on his approval ratings. And his party lost in the election, as well.

The Republicans will, of course, be in this same situation next November. I'm guessing the Republican nominee will eventually try to distance himself from the war, but none of the frontrunners have remotely done that yet. Quite the contrary. So the Republicans will be at a real disadvantage. That doesn't guarantee a Democratic victory. Remember that the Republican victories in 1952 and 1968 were hardly blowouts. But the wind is against the Republicans.

No, seriously...

Thanks to the wild success of the surge, we'll be able to pull out the 30,000 surge troops by next summer. So, in July of 2008, after a year and a half of surging, we'll be exactly where we were in January of 2007. How does this help anything?

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Everything helps Bush

NY Times Headline:

Departures Offer Chance for a Fresh Start as Term Ebbs

Oh, yes, the fact that Bush finally lanced a boil a good six months after everyone told him to and years after the boil did immeasurable damage to the Constitution and the office of the AG just has to be good news for the administration. And, of course, if Gonzales hadn't left, it would have been good news, too, because it would have highlighted Bush's profound sense of loyalty. And conveniently, the article's second paragraph compares Bush to Reagan.

Come off it already. I'm tired of reading about how the lack of terror attacks is good for Bush, but a new terror attack would be good for Bush, and how Democratic obstruction is good for Bush, but Democratic complaince would be good for Bush. As a brief look at Bush's approval rating shows, very little has been good for Bush in the past six years.

Monday, August 27, 2007

A modicum of pity for Sen. Craig

Okay, let's just stipulate that there's an overwhelming feeling of schadenfreude when a "family values" Republican officeholder is outed as gay. He's a hypocrite. He rose to power by criticizing the same behavior he apparently practices in secret. Shame on him.

That said, he could've beat this rap. So far, Matt Yglesias is the only one I've seen pointing out that the arrest report doesn't really describe much criminal behavior. It's all contextual. Tapping one's foot beneath a bathroom stall surely isn't a crime in Minnesota except in the context of requesting lewd behavior, and that requires proof of intent. I can understand that Craig probably didn't want to fight this in court, so he figured he could end it quickly with a guilty plea. Shows what he knows.

But beyond the bad legal approach and the hypocrisy, what we have here is a guy who, as part of his job, spends a lot of time in airports. And, when he's bored and alone, he happens to like the occasional anonymous gay sex. That doesn't really turn me on, but why is that a crime?

I mean, here's a conservative guy growing up in a conservative state. And in order to pursue the career he wanted (indeed, in order to stay alive, in many cases), he had to deny his true self. And as we increasingly see from the likes of Ted Haggard and others, you can only do that for so long. The itch just has to be scratched eventually.

It's sad. And surprisingly common.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Early U.S. Party System

If you can track it down, I encourage you to read The History of Legislative Methods in the Period Before 1825 by Ralph Harlow (Yale University Press, 1917). This is a fascinating book about the growth of legislative political parties in the colonies and early U.S. Congress.

In Party Government (1942), Schattschneider goes out of his way to criticize James Madison's Federalist 10. Madison, of course, was warning us about the dangers of faction, and was apparently oblivious to the necessity of parties in running a democracy. Schattschneider claims that Madison couldn't have known how important parties were to democracies because neither Madison nor anyone else alive at that time had ever seen a real functioning representative democracy.

Harlow shows that Schattschneider's claim is bunk. The pre-revolutionary colonial legislatures had evolved party systems (called "Juntos") to counter the power of the colonial governors, who were usually picked by the king of England. In many of the colonies, the Junto was as powerful or even more powerful than the governor.

One of my favorite examples came from Massachusetts. In 1766, the governor urged the statehouse to investigate the recent riots over the Stamp Act and find out who was responsible. The statehouse, under the control of the Boston Junto of brewer/patriot Sam Adams, John Hancock, and others, appointed five investigators from outside Boston who knew nothing of the city, of committee work, or of the riots. Thus did the legislature follow the governor's orders while producing exactly the results it wanted - none of the riot's perpetrators were brought to justice.

While I usually don't get into books on committees, Harlow's examination of the growth of committees as an arm of legislative parties is really quite interesting. If you're remotely interested in parties or early U.S. governmental history, this is a great book for you.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

So awesome

The Friedman Bubble

I'm not sure when my Tom Friedman Bubble burst. I used to really enjoy reading him. While I often disagreed with him about the need for military action against Iraq back in 2002-03, I thought he was at least making cogent arguments. And while he used to back up his claims about the Middle East by quoting the one or two people in Saudi Arabia he actually knew, that was one or two more Saudi Arabians than any other big name columnist knew, so it gave him some credibility.

Anyway, it's hard to believe I once found arguments like this persuasive:

Seen in hindsight, Friedman appears to be either clinically insane or just a child with a moustache. And now his columns all seem to be some variation of, "The war [I cheered for] is going poorly, but Bush can save it by doing the following ten politically suicidal things: 1) Pass a $4/gallon national gas tax; 2) Appoint Muqtada al-Sadr to the U.S. Supreme Court...." And then, of course, when Bush does none of these things, he says we should give Bush another six months, which is renewable ad infinitum.

So part of this is unmasking Friedman as a bit of a fraud. But it's also a reminder that he, like a lot of us in the year or so after 9/11, was a bit loopy.

A common theme among Bush's defenders these days is that liberals don't realize what a dangerous world we live in, but another terror attack would snap us all into line. Well, that's probably true, but that doesn't make it desirable. Terrified people can overlook their differences and band together, but that doesn't mean that they'll make wise decisions.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The Meat Lady who Wouldn't Leave

We had a visit today from a representative of Town and Country Foods. They're a meat and produce wholesaler. They produce what appears to be very high quality meat, flash-freeze it, and send it out to you at reasonable prices. And they give you a freezer full of the stuff - enough to last for six months. Then you pay by the month.

I have to say it was a good sales pitch. The representative explained the exploding costs of supermarket foods, the problems of pesticides and food borne illness, etc. By producing high quality foods and shipping it directly to customers, this company can keep prices modest and consumers can avoid some of the problems of modern food production.

But as this pitch went on - for more than an hour - my wife and I realized that, even while we liked the idea of the plan, we'd have to change our eating style substantially for this to make economic sense to us. We'd have to eat a lot more meat and get used to eating more frozen vegetables. Hey, I love beef, but to me it's an occasional treat. We just don't have it in the house that often. And we love our fresh veggies. Town and Country won't get us heirloom tomatoes or morels. So I think what would end up happening would be that we'd spend a lot of money on meat that would just sit in our freezer for years, and we wouldn't save anything off our regular food budget. Either that, or we'd start eating like red staters. Neither is optimal.

But the meat lady didn't want to leave. I don't have much experience in sales, but I get the fact that once you leave someone's house, your chance of making the sale drops precipitously. So she digs in. Keep in mind it's about 7:45 PM. The kids' bedtime is rapidly approaching and we'd promised them ice cream. The kids were really being angels this whole time, but they were starting to lose it. So the meat lady says that she can just wait for us to put them to bed and can draw us up a menu and a contract while we're doing that. We say we want to think it over. She keeps asking if we have questions. We finally had to kick her out.

Now, she did leave us with an enormous quantity of sample meat - two T-bones, 2 lbs. of chuck, some burger patties, 4 pork chops, and some chicken. It looks good. If we really end up liking it, we'll think about the massive meat freezer. But I don't think this is going to happen.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Monday, July 30, 2007

"Sharks - A Family Affair"

Oh, I have got to watch this. From the Slate review:
It finds shark expert Craig Ferreira gearing up a vacation with his family of five in South Africa's Shark Alley, notorious for its concentration of great whites. "In preparation for the trip, Craig has a surprise for his children," says the anemic narrator. "Craig wants his boys to observe sharks on their own terms, and to do this, he has designed the first-ever children's shark cage." On the preview reel, Craig unloads the cage in his driveway and his wife says, "That. Is. Awesome."

"The boys are very excited," Craig says. I won't argue the point: Once the cage was settled in the backyard hot tub, and the boys were caged in it, they scampered about like monkeys on a jungle gym. But the sober narrator intervened to remind us that this isn't all fun and games: "Once out at sea, it will be a big psychological challenge for the boys." Adding depth to the daddy issues, we have Craig's father, Theo, said to hold the world record for single-handedly killing great whites. Theo is a touch saddened to say that he approves of the work Craig put into the cage: "It's far better than I'd thought it'd be. … I came here to criticize." Wouldn't it be great if you own parents were that straightforward?

Friday, August 3rd, on Discovery. Be there.