Wednesday, December 30, 2009
At any rate, feel free to use it. It's available in Stata format and .csv format. The codebook is here.
The right of the people's butts to be unphotographed
To me, it makes perfect sense. Most folks willing to make those trades for their security don't think they're making a tradeoff at all. After all, they don't speak with terrorists over the phone. They don't expect to find themselves accused of a crime. And they, for the most part, don't serve in the military. But they do fly on airplanes.
Liberty for me, not for thee.
Hot in herre
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
Questions about Iran
Does Iran manufacture its own small arms?
Does Iran manufacture its own electronic equipment?
If not, who provides the small arms and electronic equipment most essential to the success of the current crackdown?
What is the relationship of the Iranian Army to the Iranian police? Are they separate bodies? Do they have complementary motivations? What are the factions inside the Iranian police and military structure? Are there cracks?
Why are militias active? Does the Iranian government feel it necessary to distance themselves from the crackdown in this way? If not, what is the relationship of the militias to the uniformed security forces?
How many police are there and how heavily armed are they?
How hard is it to get a gun in Iran? Has the opposition made any statements regarding its opinions on force or violence?
Is the Iranian military clearly loyal to the current government?
How does health care work in Iran? Is a person involved in the crisis likely to go to a hospital if injured or ill, or avoid it to avoid authorities?
How are Iranian Kurds responding? Iraqi Kurds?
If electronic communication is unavailable is there evidence of efforts to communicate by traditional means like telephones or physically delivering information across borders?
Who, other than Mousavi and Ahmadinejad, is important in this story?Marc admits he doesn't know the answers to these questions, but we begin to understand things by first knowing what questions to ask. These seem like a good starting place. Before the armchair warriors start issuing their own simplistic demands for what the U.S. should be doing, they might try asking and answering some questions along these lines.
Monday, December 28, 2009
Buy local, eat like a Russian
At least, I assume they're talking about Colorado. It's hard to tell, since they've highlighted Wyoming on the map.
Over the past 10 years, the program has proven highly effective for the 450 women who have taken the training.
Prison officials say the recidivism rate is 54 percent for Colorado's prison population in general, but for women who graduated from Making Choices, it is just 12 percent. It drops to 8 percent for those who take a follow-up booster program, which 122 women have done.
"When I heard that, it blew me away," said warden Travis Trani, who arrived here months ago from a job as warden of Limon Correctional Facility.One important, but unstated, piece of data would be the recidivism rate among female inmates as a whole. (This study suggests that recidivism rates among female inmates are much lower than those of male inmates.) But beyond that, how are inmates selected into the Making Choices program? It may be that those who choose to enroll are already much more motivated than the average inmate to improve their behavior. Unless they're being selected at random and forced to attend, we really have no idea whether it's an effective program from the evidence presented in this article.
This decade sucked
New Agers and Creationists
I move in circles where most people would find it absurd to believe that humans didn't evolve from prehistoric ancestors, yet many of these same people quite happily believe in astrology, psychics, reincarnation, the Tarot deck, the i Ching, and sooth-saying.I'm not sure I quite get it, either. My impression is that a lot of folks on the left see adherence to Christianity as a proxy for political conservatism, and they shun it. New Age philosophy, meanwhile, is associated with elements of the left, so it's safe. So people are reacting to the politics rather than the theology. I honestly don't know what people on the right think of New Age philosophy, if they think about it at all.
Now just why we'd see creationists on the right and New Agers on the left isn't quite obvious, either. I suppose a charitable explanation would be that folks on the far left define themselves, at least in part, through their rejection of traditional forms of authority. So they reject the faith in which they were brought up, but still have the same spiritual needs (questions about origin, purpose, life after death, etc.) as folks on the right, so they join newer faiths that don't carry the same sort of millennia-old baggage.
Of course, some of these New Age faiths aren't so new anymore. So are the children (or grandchildren) of the flower children adhering to the same spiritual practices, or do they rebel by joining more formal religions, or do they just become atheists or Unitarians or something? Does anyone know of some decent sociological studies along these lines?
Sunday, December 27, 2009
Saturday, December 26, 2009
The Democratic strategy for 2010?
I was talking with Greg Koger earlier today, and he was arguing that this would be a great strategy for the Democrats going forward. They should do whatever they can to ensure tea party-backed primary challengers to Republican incumbents. After all, the tea party folks have only a tenuous connection with the formal GOP. To some extent, they view Republican officeholders as part of the problem.
Democrats should exploit that. How? By praising vulnerable Republican officeholders every chance they can for their commitment to bipartisanship. Democratic leaders should go on the Sunday talk shows talking about how helpful and constructive Sens. Collins, Grassley, McCain, McConnell, Shelby, Snowe, etc. have been on health care reform, energy policy, the stimulus, etc. Sure, they often had to vote against these things, but they've still been in there negotiating, and we're proud to claim them as friends and colleagues, etc. Maybe mention the friendly conversations they had with these folks at Christmas parties. The idea is to make Republicans seem like part of the same hypocrisy. I think Obama should devote at least a third of his state of the union address to praising Republican officeholders like "Teddy Kennedy's friend" Orrin Hatch.
The likely effect of all this probably wouldn't be huge, but it might fire up tea partiers to be even more critical of their officeholders and to seriously back primary challengers. This either unseats Republican officeholders and replaces them with unelectable conservatives or it forces the officeholders to move so far to the right that they jeopardize their own reelection.
Democrats are likely to lose a dozen or two seats in the House regardless, but some of that could be mitigated by exporting the NY-23 model to other districts.
Thursday, December 24, 2009
Happy Holidays to All
Why is partisanship bad?
The health care legislation was approved Thursday morning, with the Senate divided on party lines — something that has not happened in modern times on so important a shift in domestic policy, or on major legislation of any kind, lawmakers and Congressional historians said.
Many senators said the current vitriol, which continued on the floor on Wednesday with a fight over when to cast the final health care vote, was unlike anything they had seen. “It has gotten so much more partisan,” said Senator John D. Rockefeller IV, Democrat of West Virginia. “This was so wicked. This was so venal.”
“There’s a tolerance level here for what we have just been through, and I think we have hit the tipping point,” said Senator Christopher J. Dodd, Democrat of Connecticut. “It got rougher than it should. We are getting precariously close to fracturing an institution where no one wins, so I think we are going to be back on track.”
Senator Max Baucus, Democrat of Montana, and chairman of the Finance Committee, said the political — and often personal — divisions that now characterize the Senate were epitomized by the empty tables in the senators’ private dining room, a place where members of both parties used to break bread.Maybe the food sucks.
“Nobody goes there anymore,” Mr. Baucus said. “When I was here 10, 15, 30 years ago, that was the place you would go to talk to senators, let your hair down, just kind of compare notes, no spouses allowed, no staff, nobody. It is now empty.”
“It certainly is a culmination of a long period of intensifying political polarization,” Mr. Baker said of this year’s showdown over health care. “It has gotten so bad now that Republicans don’t want to be seen publicly in the presence of Democrats or have a Democrat profess friendship for them or vice versa.”
It just happens to be the case that a lot of people alive today were acculturated to the unusual non-polarized politics of the 1930s-1970s in which the salience of racial issues scrambled partisan/ideological configurations. I think polarization is a good thing but even if you disagree the only proven way to minimize it is to have a large and influential white supremacist movement obtain substantial congressional representation.
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
A mensch is lain to rest
Romanoff's new campaign manager
Campaign manager on Dina Titus' gubernatorial campaign in Nevada during Fall 2006; earlier in 2006 was campaign manager on Bill Halter for Lieutenant Governor of Arkansas;
Ran John Edwards' primary campaign for U.S. Senate, 1998.
Managed the North Carolina campaigns for Clinton-Gore through the Coordinated Campaign.
Chief of staff to Rep. Dick Gephardt, planned and developed his 1988 presidential campaign, ran his political action committee, the Committee for Effective Government, starting in 1985, and served as his national political director.
Started working for Sen. Gart Hart in Iowa in the latter part of 1982, put together Hart's Iowa caucus campaign, was Midwest director on the presidential campaign, then deputy national campaign manager.
Finance director in Bob Kerrey's 1982 campaign for Governor of Nebraska.
State coordinator for the Carter-Mondale 1980 Iowa caucus campaign, and later deputy national field director.
Managed Chuck Robb for Lt. Gov. of Virginia in 1977.
Organizer in more than half a dozen states for the Carter-Mondale ticket in 1976.
This is a sign that perhaps Romanoff is getting things together enough for a real race, because it's hard to imagine that Romjue would uproot from Missouri just to lead a campaign that might sputter out in a few months.I think Romjue's résumé speaks exactly the opposite. He has a history of uprooting for unsuccessful campaigns. But we'll see. Romanoff, for all his experience, doesn't have many serious primary battles under his belt, and Romjue might provide some needed perspective there.
Sunday, December 20, 2009
The finger of God
Friday, December 18, 2009
What English sounds like
Mike Littwin getting it wrong
The real story is Barack Obama. This is Obama's bill. And the failures of the bill, however you grade it out, belong to him.
He never publicly went after Lieberman. Or Nelson. Or Lincoln.No, he didn't, and with good reason. Lieberman is not part of the president's party and actually campaigned against Obama's presidential bid last year. Sens. Nelson and Lincoln are from states where Obama and his agenda are deeply unpopular. Exactly how would the president's energies translate into votes here? What good would it do to threaten these senators? With what could he threaten them even if he wanted to?
Obama never threatened to take on the filibuster rule with reconciliation.
Thursday, December 17, 2009
Following in Ronnie's footsteps
On the shelf
There's no way campaigns matter that much
From the start of the race, McDonnell had the message exactly right: jobs, jobs and more jobs. Everywhere he went, McDonnell talked about not only his commitment to create more jobs in the state but his plan on how to make it happen. His slogan -- "Bob's for jobs" -- was a little cheesy but it undoubtedly stuck in the minds of voters whose number one priority was the health of the economy and the need to bring more jobs to the Commonwealth...McDonnell, learning from the mistakes of past GOP nominees Mark Earley (2001) and Jerry Kilgore (2005), almost never talked about his social conservative beliefs -- understanding, rightly, that it would alienate a critical segment of votes in northern Virginia and that even among his base of support there was as much interest in solving the economic crisis....
In winning so overwhelmingly -- 59 percent to 41 percent -- McDonnell helped revive the Republican party nationally but also provided aspiring GOP candidates with a campaign plan for how to win (and win big) in a swing state.
Primaries are rare
Measuring candidate quality
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Yes, this is the best health reform we can get right now
Monday, December 14, 2009
Lieberman and (Reverse?) Anti-Semitism
My first book review
Colorado voter registration
Despite their president's many problems, despite the angry town hall meetings, the poisonous partisanship in Congress, the Tea Party movement and the "birther" billboards, Democrats continue to gain numbers in Colorado.
Since August, in fact — the month of those town hall near-riots — Colorado Democrats have managed to gain slightly each month. There are currently about 10,000 more of them than Republicans.Let's look at the numbers, shall we? If you look at the total number of registered voters, there's remarkable stability over the past few months. And yes, the Democrats are maintaining a marginal advantage, although unaffiliated voters outnumber those of both parties.
In such an evenly split political environment, candidates are wise to avoid the "wedge" issues. Strong positions on abortion, immigration, guns and gay marriage might fire up the fervid bases, right and left, but they turn off the moderate middle.
Can one get a low-cost espresso machine that works?
If you're not willing to pay upwards of $500 for something that can consistently deliver 15 bars of pressure, don't do it. You're essentially making very strong coffee, which is more cheaply and conveniently done by doubling the amount of coffee in your normal coffee machine.
My final offer is this: nothing. Not even the fee for the public option, which I would appreciate if you would put up personally.And then dumps Lieberman as chair of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, replacing him with Snowe in exchange for her vote on health care reform. Yeah, it's a breach of protocol for a Democratic majority leader to appoint a Republican committee chair, but I'd frankly trust Snowe on national security a lot more than I'd trust Lieberman at this point. I'd also trust her more to follow through on a deal.
Any government that lasts for 1,000 generations is a successful one
I'm not so certain that the operating philosophy behind the Galactic Empire — that despotism is necessary to maintaining the peaceful cohesion of a galaxy-spanning empire –is entirely wrong...[T]he Galactic Republic — collapsed largely because it was too large to be effective. The Republic didn’t even possess the strength or legitimacy to handle a trade dispute on a minor core world, much less an existential threat like the Clone Wars.Bernstein responds:
Surely, that's completely wrong. The Republic wasn't defeated because it couldn't handle a trade dispute or the Clone Wars; it fell because it was the victim of a monstrous conspiracy by Palpatine.... [T]he trade dispute, the clone wars, even the petty infighting and jealousy -- were all just part of Palpatine's plan.Bernstein is quite correct on this, and also in noting that the Old Republic lasted for 1,000 generations while the Empire didn't even survive one. And it's hard to think of a governmental system that could have withstood Palpatine's treachery. He was an enemy (Sith) that the Jedi thought were extinct and that they couldn't even detect when he was right in their presence. It would be like if America suddenly had a president who was secretly a Communist... no, wait.
But it is worth noting that the Old Republic's successes came at a price. Near as I can tell from the films*, the Republic stayed intact largely by ignoring divisive issues like slavery. They mostly abandoned Outer Rim systems like Tatooine, leaving the local mafiosi in charge. And for a democratic republic, they seemed to place a great deal of authority in royalty. Okay, sure, Padmé was elected, but as a teenager, and for all her courage and beauty, she didn't appear to be a particularly skilled queen or legislator.
Friday, December 11, 2009
More music - A Very Hatch Hanukkah
Music break - Queremos el funk
Thursday, December 10, 2009
Drink and a Film
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
The bloody primary
I also wanted to quibble with one point in this article:
McInnis unveiled a Platform for Prosperity on Nov. 23, in part to appeal to conservative voters, as he accepted the endorsements of two possible Republican opponents who bowed out of next year's gubernatorial race.
The move prevented what could have been a bloody primary and got top Republican leaders such as state Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry and state GOP Chairman Dick Wadhams on board with a general vision for a Republican governorship.
I'm not sure what a "bloody primary" looks like, but if it concerns the party insiders' chosen candidate getting torn apart by other Republicans, we've already got that. Shortly after the NY-23 election, David Karol did a post over at Monkey Cage describing the point of primaries:
Alan Ware has shown that part of the reason party leaders supported the creation of the Australian ballot and, some years later, the establishment of primaries was that they needed a nomination process that would appear legitimate to losers in order to minimize splits. Part of being a successful party is accepting that you fight your fight inside the organization and then respect its verdict.
The nice thing about a primary, even if your party's candidates trash each other, is that generally everyone acknowledges the outcome as legitimate. When party insiders elevate a candidate and proclaim him the nominee nine months before the primary, there's no finality to that. The people who lost in that race don't have to concede defeat. And they still have time to counter-mobilize, which is what appears to be happening here.
Monday, December 7, 2009
Handicapping the Colorado governor's race
Update: I just wanted to add that the interview, which I thought went well, was different from what I expected. Zappolo was treating the nomination stage as over for both the gubernatorial and Senate races, which I don't think they are. Romanoff's Senate candidacy should not be taken lightly, and McInnis may face some sort of challenge from the right. I figured I would be asked about this stuff, and I regret not volunteering the info.
Colorado's Gang of Four
In hindsight, what Colorado Democrats did was as simple as it was effective. First, they built a robust network of nonprofit entities to replace the Colorado Democratic party, which had been rendered obsolete by campaign-finance reform. Second, they raised historic amounts of money from large donors to fund these entities. Third, they developed a consistent, topical message. Fourth, and most important, they put aside their policy differences to focus on the common goal of winning elections. As former Democratic house majority leader Alice Madden later said, “It’s not rocket science.”The idea that a party can re-assert itself amid reforms designed to kill it intrigues me to no end, and I'm trying to investigate just whether and how this occurred in Colorado. Those who've looked into the question end up focusing on the Gang of Four, a collection of wealthy liberals who donate to candidates and causes. The four consist of Rutt Bridges, Tim Gill, Jared Polis, and Pat Stryker. At least prior to Polis' election to Congress in the 2nd district, all of them were private citizens who nonetheless played a large role in funding Democratic causes and affecting who represented Coloradans in Congress and in the state legislature.
I'm just starting to investigate this group, but here's a network look at the Gang's donation patterns in Democratic state and federal primaries since 2006. The recipient candidates appear as red circles. I've limited the graph to those candidates who received donations from at least two of the Gang's members:Probably the first impression is that these folks are good at picking winners. They backed Betsy Markey, Cary Kennedy, Ed Perlmutter, Mark Udall, Angie Paccione, etc. -- pretty much only people who prevailed in the Democratic primaries. Although there are a few exceptions. Notably, they backed Peggy Lamm, who would ultimately lose to Ed Perlmutter. And three of them backed Joan Fitz-Gerald for Congress. The one who didn't -- Polis -- would end up defeating her in the primary.
Anyway, it's still hard at this point to figure out just how crucial the Gang's support was for these various candidates to prevail in primaries. I'll turn to that next....
Sunday, December 6, 2009
When Bush saved America from Cheney
As Henderson explains, he and his colleagues advised the White House that it would be a mistake to immunize. The threat of a weaponized smallpox attack was probably not great, and mass immunization would kill an unacceptable number of Americans (roughly one per million immunized). But then he hears that the immunization is going to happen anyway, at the insistence of Vice President Cheney, and he is called to show up at the press conference announcing this policy decision. But once he arrives for the press conference, he finds out it has been canceled at the last minute.
Read that second-to-last sentence again. "He'd decided to overrule the vice president." We saw that same sort of thing when Bush rejected Cheney's urgings to deploy the military domestically and when Bush parted with Cheney over warrantless wiretapping. I don't purport to be a presidential historian, but I can't think of a similar relationship between a president and his vice president. Presidents may seek the advice of their vice presidents, but only during the Bush administration did the vice president lay down the law, with the president occasionally coming in to overrule him.
And as we were later to learn - what happened? Why did we not have this program? And I was told later, and it became evident, that the president had intervened and said, we will not.
I had been with the president up to Pittsburgh - this is George W. Bush. He'd given a speech. And flying back, he's - we spent an hour talking about biological weapons and what we are doing and that sort of thing. And we talked about the vaccination and how would we stop an outbreak and what was the danger or the risk. And he took no notes, just sat in front of the big desk in front of Air Force One, and I didn't see him again for probably five, six months. And it was during this time that, apparently, he'd decided to overrule the vice president. So, very interesting.
I'm quite curious regarding how the term pirate came to be associated with violations of intellectual property law. Why are people who steal music "pirates," rather than "thieves?" I'm not a pirate when I steal a DVD from Wal*Mart, but I am when I download the same movie from the internet. I suspect that the answer is relatively straightforward; the internet resembles, in its lawless nature, the sea. Thieves operates in a space where law exists and can (at least theoretically) be enforced, while pirates operate outside the law.Sounds about right to me. Although I fear the medieval justice that will be meted out to me when the feds discover the copy of Kim Wilde's "Kids in America" I downloaded in 2002.
On the importance of collective action
Look to the history of the civil rights struggle. After many decades of public denial and inaction, the civil rights movement helped Americans to see Southern apartheid in moral terms. From there, the movement succeeded by working toward legal change. Segregation was phased out rapidly only because it was phased out through the law. These statutes didn't erase racial prejudice from every American heart overnight. But through them, our country made staggering progress. Just consider who occupies the White House today.Tidwell's advice: Take the time you'd spend installing compact fluorescent bulbs and instead use that time to lobby a member of Congress about the environment.
Friday, December 4, 2009
Is the White House publicizing this?
Thursday, December 3, 2009
Taken by Trees, "Sweet Child of Mine"
For reasons I don't quite get, Roger Ebert liked the film. But I thank him for referring me to "Radio Caroline," under the "Alternative Rock" category on iTunes radio. Good mix.
Word. If members of the school board feel they need to create some sort of civility codes to keep meetings functional, then fine, go do that. But please don't spend our money on group therapy. People have disagreements over the best way to run a school district. They will argue with each other and attempt power plays to control the agenda. It's called democratic government. There are plenty of alternative forms of government that don't allow disagreement, but there are significant costs associated with them.
Don't get me wrong. I'm all for good therapy and have no doubt that certain board members need it, urgently.
What bugs me is the boneheaded idea of spending tax dollars on politicians' bruised egos while Denver students with real problems are facing slashed services.Marital counseling for elected officials who have worked together for less than a week? Really now, school board. Buck up.
Shoulda put a ring on it
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Local politics -- the gift that keeps on giving
One of the newly elected members, Andrea Merida, decided she didn't want to wait and sit through a controversial meeting in which she couldn't participate, so she went to a district judge earlier in the day and had herself sworn in early. This prompted lots of anger and tears at the meeting. ColoradoPols derided Merida's move as a shameless power play, although see Steve Balboni for a much different take.
At any rate, the board has now decided to hire a marriage therapist to help it deal with factional strife. I swear to God I am not making this up. If Obama is serious about post-partisanship, he should refuse to sign another bill until Congress sees a therapist.
Oh, the one other story is that a city initiative to form a seven-member commission to study UFOs has now received enough signatures to be placed on next August's ballot. While I plan to vote against it, I'd really love to be on this commission should it pass. I'd like to think of myself as the Dana Scully of the group.
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
Better letters to kids, please
On January 20th, Americans spoke with one voice, choosing hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.How exactly did Americans speak with one voice on January 20th? They didn't. Language like that usually refers to elections, when Americans speak through their votes. That whole line sounds like it was originally on campaign letterhead and referred to November 4th of 2008.
Having worked in the White House Correspondence Office, I totally get that they're overwhelmed, particularly in the first few weeks, and just need some simple language to get a response out the door. And, in a pinch, they probably borrowed some campaign language, which I think we did in the early days of the Clinton administration. But they needed to do a bit better than this, especially since this response went out in June. The language above doesn't even make sense, and I'm not sure why kids need to hear it.
Term limits absurdity
As it happens, Perez and I knew each other in college. We both worked for ASUC President Tisa Poe back in 1989-90. I ran into him last summer at the Democratic National Convention. He mentioned to me that he had won his party's nomination for his L.A. Assembly seat, and that the overwhelming Democratic bias of his district made his election all but certain by that point. This was fifteen months ago. He's been in the Assembly for less than a year now, and he's already being talked about as the next speaker.
Of course, this makes perfect sense in a legislature where members are limited to just six years in office. The only way to get a speaker who can serve more than two years (and theoretically accrue a modicum of power) is to select a freshman for the job. Nothing against Perez, but the idea that a party can thoroughly vet a potential speaker or that a legislator can build enough networks or goodwill to be an effective speaker in just one legislative session seems a bit absurd. But, hey, go for it.
Should public policy reflect public opinion?
Larry Bartels provides some interesting data on that question in his recent book Unequal Democracy (2008, Russell Sage). He shows that the repeal of the estate tax -- a move widely derided by economists, liberals, and others as overwhelmingly benefiting the wealthy -- was, in fact, consistent with public opinion. As far back as we can discern, the public has consistently opposed the estate tax. Republicans sought for years (indeed, throughout the entire 1920s) to repeal it, but those moves were stymied by Democrats through their control of congressional committees, their use of the filibuster, and the threat of presidential vetoes. Only when Republicans controlled the House, Senate, and White House in the mid-2000s were they able to push the repeal through.
Similarly, increases in the minimum wage have basically always held the support of large majorities of the public, yet they rarely pass, and the minimum wage is now worth considerably less in real dollars than it was in the early 1970s. Republicans used the levers of power, even those available to the minority party, to stop or slow down minimum wage increases despite their popularity.
Bartels also notes that the Earned Income Tax Credit, which provides assistance for the working poor, was created and has thrived for decades even though the public, to the extent it understands it, holds only tepid support for it.
In these cases, elected officials pursued what they believe to be good public policy while largely ignoring public opinion. Notably, at least in the case of the estate tax, public opinion seems deeply misguided -- voters opposed the tax either believing that it affected them (it only affected the top 2% of earners) or that they might someday be wealthy enough to be affected by it (there is very little social mobility in the U.S.). Regardless, for years politicians stood to benefit by giving the public what it wanted, but chose not to.
These examples remind me of the West Wing episode ("Lame Duck Congress," Season 2) in which the president pushed for, but the Senate failed to pass, a nuclear test ban treaty, despite its backing by 82% of the American people. As Bartlet later rationalized,
This is one of those situations where I couldn't give a damn what the people think. The complexities of a global arms treaty, the technological, the military, the diplomatic nuances, it's staggering.... 82% of the people cannot possibly be expected to reach an informed decision.Obviously, a democratic republic should be biased toward following public opinion, but there are legitimate cases for ignoring it. The trick is figuring out when.
Monday, November 30, 2009
Was Terry a dude?
- Bruce is singing about "Terry," a name with an ambiguous gender association. The women in most of Bruce's songs tend to have unambiguous names like Mary, Wendy, Wanda, etc. (Although he did marry a Pat.)
- The song refers to love as something secretive and forbidden, again a departure from much of his music from the time period. ("Sleeping in that old abandoned beach house getting wasted in the heat/ And hiding on the backstreets, hiding on the backstreets/ With a love so hard and filled with defeat/ Running for our lives at night on them backstreets.")
- The main characters are pretending to be something they're not -- conventionally masculine. ("Remember all the movies, Terry, we'd go see/ Trying to learn how to walk like heroes we thought we had to be.")
The paper of record
It's worth taking a second to note that I spent something like 40 minutes working on this blog post, and it's now been viewed by thousands of people and circulated on Yahoo News and the NYT. Meanwhile, I spent about eight years writing a book that has now sold little more than 200 copies. Sigh.
Sunday, November 29, 2009
Yet more on unemployment and midterm elections
Meanwhile, over at Real Clear Politics, Sean Trende offers a bit of a critique on my trying to draw lessons from so few observations:
We have only had 15 midterm elections since 1950. This is barely data; it’s more of a good collection of anecdotes.This statement struck me as a bit anti-quantitative at first, but the rest of the article makes it clear that Trende is serious about looking for appropriate hard data to address this question. He goes back a lot further in time than I do. The point that he was making above is that you can come up with a story to explain why the president's party did or did not lose a bunch of seats in any given year:
Is your President pursuing an unpopular war and controversial policies at home (1966, 2006)? Then it probably doesn’t matter that the economy is blazing ahead. Is the President kicking some al Qaeda arse a year after they attacked us, and getting ready to take out a longtime nemesis (2002)? The public is going to be more forgiving of the sluggish growth in real disposable income and rising unemployment. The end result of this is that every election becomes something of an explainable, unique event – in other words, they’re almost all outliers.There's certainly some truth to this, although this is true of pretty much any dataset. When you're dealing with a small number of observations, everything looks like an outlier. Yet there's nothing particularly wrong with drawing inferences from only 15 observations, or even fewer. There is, for example, a broad acceptance that economic performance affects presidential elections, and those data are only drawn from post-WWII presidential elections. The relationship between economic performance and voting behavior is a bit stronger for presidential elections than it is for midterms, but it either case we shouldn't lose the forest for the trees.
Live from grandmother's basement?
Q: Those same left-wing bloggers keep reporting you were pushed out. There's talk that some high-roller donor backing McInnis approached you or your people and threatened to spend a fortune attacking you.I don't think he's talking about me, but I can't be sure. For the record, my grandmother died last February, she hadn't owned a basement since 1981, and she was never a big fan of me walking around in just underwear. I can blog in my underwear from my own basement, thank you very much. Really, who out there is blogging from their grandmother's basement? In their underwear?
A: Those bloggers are also sitting in their underwear in their grandmothers' basements. They're making stuff up out of thin air.
I wasn't pushed out. No one approached me. I made a shrewd decision based on the realities around me.
Thursday, November 26, 2009
Most expensive anti-God movie ever
Now, don't get me wrong. This is a fun movie. It's far from perfect as disaster movies go, but there's still some great images in there that will stick with you for a while. In particular, the airborne view of Santa Monica slipping into the ocean was a nice one.
But it seemed like the director or writers had an axe to grind with God. There was no more quick and sure way to die in the film than to pause for a moment of prayer. Italians gather in front of the Vatican to pray and are immediately struck down by a massive earthquake. A Buddhist lama prays in a temple high atop the Himalayas and is hit by a tsunami. The president pauses for a moment of prayer and is hit by a quake and then a tsunami carrying an aircraft carrier.
Along these lines was the perversion of the Noah's Ark tale. The original story, of course, is a warning about not taking God seriously. Everyone mocks Noah while he's building his ark, but then by the time they realize he was right, it's too late. In this film, the governments of the world are building arks without telling anyone. The people who drown aren't particularly wicked or irreverent, while the people who are saved are the undeserving wealthy -- Russian mobsters, Saudi princes, etc.
Most disaster films are pretty straightfoward morality tales. I'm just not sure what version of morality was guiding this one.
Monday, November 23, 2009
There can be only one
Why a Bennet/Romanoff primary won't hurt the Democratic party
Bennet's comments on CNN yesterday that he is willing to lose his job in the fight for health reform were a nice touch and will only help in this regard. In the reasonably likely scenario that Romanoff goes down in next year's primary, his supporters will find much solace in those comments.
V and the 80s
Culture in the 80's was, in general, based on the concept of dehumanization. It's no coincidence that electronica and synth first really became popular during the 80's- it's also when the computer first started becoming at least somewhat commonplace. Machinery was becoming more of a factor in day-to-day lives and in some cases, like cell phones, changing the way people interacted. Neuromancer captures the moment and its fears with its black organ clinics and razors popping out under fingernails, but William Gibson didn't have to be that inventive to describe what was happening. The spectacle of hair metal, the androgyny of David Bowie and Prince, big shoulders- people were interested in looking and being more than, or at least different than, humans.
The 2000's have had a similar transformation. Rather than turn our bodies into machines, we've placed ourselves inside them. We've trusted our personalities to Facebook, clever hashtags and ironic avatar pictures. Our knowledge of people is increasingly becoming second-hand, told through online arbiters. It's not necessarily a bad thing, of course- a Facebook page can show off intelligence and humor in a non-threatening fashion, the same is true of Twitter or online comments. It's just that we're not deciding the parameters of our conversation- someone else is.
I think the cultural arguments are a bit overstated (we're not just ripping off 80s shows today, and it's not like the 80s were the first time we explored dehumanization and androgyny), but it's still a worthwhile read.
Meanwhile, has anyone else noticed that the new "V" series feels like an hour-long Apple commercial each week? It seems like every character has an iPhone. And even on the mothership, Anna uses these sliding touchscreens that work suspiciously like iPhone apps. Hell, the mothership looks like an Apple store.
The depiction of futuristic technology is inevitably one of the weak points in sci-fi and is usually the first thing to break down as a show ages. "2001" made it look like a trip to Earth orbit would be a pretty standard commute by now. Other films made it look like domed cities, hovercrafts, and robots would be big parts of our lives. Oh, and laser guns. And the videophones. Always with the videophones. Not only don't we have these things (well, we have videophones, but they pretty much suck), but sci-fi pretty much missed the rise of the personal computer, the cell phone, and the networking of them. We can, if we wish, always be in contact with each other and with a large percentage of all acquired human knowledge. That's pretty cool! Might've made a good sci-fi story a few years back.
Sunday, November 22, 2009
Palin's brand of politics
Rush is no Einstein, but the man does research. It may be fallacious and completely dishonest research, but he does it all the same. His battlefield is world politics and most of the time the relevant action is taking place in Washington. As good as he is at what he does, he still has to travel to the action; he himself isn’t the action.
Sarah Palin’s battlefield, on the other hand, is whatever is happening five feet in front of her face. She is building a political career around the little interpersonal wars in the immediate airspace surrounding her sawdust-filled head. And in the process she connects with pissed-off, frightened, put-upon America on a plane that’s far more elemental than the mega-ditto schtick.[...]
Sarah Palin is on an endless crusade against assholes. It’s all she thinks about.
Game Theory and "Children of Men"
I teach "Children of Men" (2006) as part of my politics and film class, and I find that game theory is a useful framework for it. Specifically, there's an aspect of game theory that suggests that it's usually in one's interest not to cooperate with others as long as you're playing a one-time game. If you give the game multiple iterations, though, suddenly reputation becomes important. It hurts you in the long run if other players think you're going to just steal from them, so you start to cooperate with them. And this is basically why people are more or less civil to each other -- because they have to deal with each other tomorrow and the day after that.
"Children of Men" asks what would happen if we took the future out of this game. It posits a not-too-distant future world in which humanity is slowly dying out. No child has been born in 18 years. Suddenly, reputation doesn't matter, because humanity is on its last legs. How do people act once life is no longer an iterative game?
The film provides a pretty negative answer. Society is breaking down at a fundamental level around the world. Terrorism and war have caused most nations to crumble. The only country with a vaguely functional society is Great Britain, and it functions through the use of an increasingly brutal police force that spends much of its time rounding up illegal immigrants from failed countries and housing them in concentration camps. Even within Britain, society is fragmented and terrorism is considered a part of daily life.
A recurring theme in the film is animals. The main character, Theo (Clive Owen), is often greeted kindly by dogs and cats. A pivotal scene occurs in a barn with dozens of cows. Another key scene (left) occurs at the Battersea Power Station, the building on the cover of Pink Floyd's "Animals" album (1977). (You can even see the pig!)
My impression of this theme is that it refers to the State of Nature. The social contract has failed, and we are now at that awful human condition in which no one can trust anyone else.
Saturday, November 21, 2009
The mean doesn't tell the whole story
The one advantage that Romanoff still has is the support of state Democratic activists. That will undoubtedly serve him well at the precinct caucuses next March. As I understand it, the Romanoff folks are currently phoning all the regular caucus attendees to try to line up support. If both candidates compete in the caucuses, I'm pretty confident Romanoff will walk away with that win. But, as fans of Mike Miles and Bob Shaffer can tell you, a caucus win hardly guarantees you the nomination. Romanoff will still need to win in the primary to get the nomination.
In order to do that, Romanoff's best bet is to hope for very low primary turnout, since the most dedicated attendees will be his base. This could happen. Given the way the Republican Senate and gubernatorial contests are shaping up, those nominations will likely be decided long before the primary, leaving the Bennet/Romanoff contest the only contentious one. But I'd still have to call Romanoff's candidacy a longshot at this point.
Friday, November 20, 2009
Lists for sale
Greg Koger, Hans Noel and I did a paper in BJPS recently in which we examined the exchange of mailing lists among political organizations and candidates in a party network. From this research, it is not surprising to find one Democratic campaign sharing its lists with another. That's part of what a party is -- one of the advantages of being part of a party is that you don't have to build up your whole organization and donor list from scratch. But I'm curious if it's customary for there to be such a fee attached. Is this how Clinton helps retire her campaign debt, or is it standard to charge another candidate a few thousand dollars for a mailing list?