Monday, August 31, 2009

Helpful teaching links

If you're teaching about the presidency, you'll love these. First is the Washington Post's POTUS Tracker. It displays the president's daily schedule in convenient graphical form, so you can see how much attention he devotes to which issues and which members of his administration. Biggest surprise: Malia and Sasha get more face time than Rahm or Pelosi. I guess sometimes family comes first.

I also wanted to recommend Seth Hill's graph of American military fatalities. Biggest surprises: the lethality of the Korean War and the weirdly symmetrical curve of Vietnam fatalities.

Do the parties do things differently?

I've got not one, but two co-authored papers I'm presenting at the upcoming conference of the American Political Science Association on the subject of differences between the two parties. I don't think this topic gets enough airing in political science. We generally treat the parties as equals -- Democrats in the majority act pretty much the same way Republicans in the majority act. There's a lot of truth to this, and it's a welcome corrective to the popular press on the subject which treats the Democrats as spineless and the Republicans as evil, or something like that. But there actually are some important differences.

Jo Freeman spelled some of these differences out nicely in a 1986 PSQ piece. To wit:
The Democratic party is pluralistic and polycentric. It has multiple power centers that compete for membership support in order to make demands on, as well as determine, the leaders. The Republicans have a unitary party in which great deference is paid to the leadership, activists are expected to be “good soldiers,” and competing loyalties are frowned upon.
We found some recent evidence backing this up. In a paper I did with Richard Skinner and David Dulio, we examined the personnel files of the 100 largest 527 organizations to discover where else all those employees have worked. The links between all these organizations chart out different patterns across the two parties. The Republican network appears more hierarchical than the Democratic one.

Michael Heaney, Joanne Miller, Dara Strolovitch, and I found something similar in our study of delegates to last summer's presidential nominating conventions. We asked all the delegates to name the interest groups they belonged to. Democrats were much more likely to belong to an interest group. They also belonged to a much wider range of interest groups. Check out this graph, which shows how many delegates reported belonging to the top 11 interest groups in each party:
A bunch of Republicans belonged to just one group (the National Federation of Republican Women, as it turns out), with memberships dropping off quickly after that. Democrats are all over the place. Below is the networky depiction. The red groups are those which claimed membership solely by Republican delegates. The blue ones held only Democratic delegates. There are a few "bipartisan" groups, but their memberships are pretty one-sided. The key thing, though, is that the Republicans appear much more hierarchical; the Democrats have a much more horizontal structure of competing interest groups.
Update: Link fixed.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Why are seniors opposing health reform?

I've seen this mentioned in numerous places. It looks like the older you are, the less likely you are to favor some sort of health reform. Note Andrew Gelman's nice graph:
The usual interpretation is that it has something to do with interests. Seniors already have government-funded health care and they are distrustful of the idea of extending it to others, thinking it will happen at their expense. But I think there's a much simpler answer: older people are more conservative than younger people:
Sure, partisanship has something to do with interest, but it's far from the whole story. And I'm more likely to believe that people favor or oppose a bill because of their partisan predispositions than because of the policy substance of the legislation.

Update: Ah, it appears Ezra Klein and I park our cars in the same garage:
Seniors are also the most conservative segment of the population and are getting more so. They constitute not only the sole age group that Obama lost in last year's election, but also the sole age group in which his results were worse than those of John Kerry in 2004. And both Obama and Kerry underperformed Al Gore's 2000 results.

"The Roosevelt seniors are being replaced by the Reagan seniors," says Paul Begala, who helped run Clinton's 1992 campaign. A May poll by the Pew Research Center found that for the first time in 20 years, the GOP is now an older party than the Democrats.


But taken as a whole, the attitudes seniors express on health care are arguably the greatest vote of confidence anyone has offered reform. Seniors live in America's version of Canada. They have single-payer health care. And they love it. They love it so much that they've got the chairman of the RNC swearing to protect it.


Memo to Tom Hayden: People are more likely to believe the scientific claims in your article if you don't make colossal mathematical errors in the opening paragraphs.
I sat in the White House Cabinet room as the president and his advisers formulated their official plan to garner half of America's energy from solar and conservation by 2020. At the table were union officials pleased at a White House report that showed an enormous number of jobs would be created for welders, plumbers, sheet metal workers, electrical engineers, carpenters and architects.

That meeting took place 40 years ago.

The president was Jimmy Carter. His 1978 Council on Environmental Quality had concluded that "it is now possible to speak realistically of the United States becoming a solar society."

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Great description

Will Wilkinson (via Matt Yglesias):
Men are either unlovable whining sad sacks or misogynist assholes who cite a cartoon version of Darwinism to justify treating a woman as little more than an upgrade from Jergens and a sock.
Follow the link for context, but I just loved the phrasing.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Romanoff v. Bennet?

Whoa! Is Andrew Romanoff serious about this, or is he just floating a trial balloon?

This would be a hard one to call. Bennet seemed a lot weaker a few months ago. He's still not terribly well known, but among Democrats who pay attention to state politics (i.e.: the ones who will be voting in the primary), he's managed to thread the needle, maintaining a relatively moderate voting record while signaling somewhat leftish tendencies (public option) to the activists. He's also managed to get a lot of the Democrats' major donors to back him.

That said, it's my impression that there are a lot of active Dems who feel that Bennet hasn't been there in the trenches with them over the years, while Romanoff has. And a lot of those folks still think Gov. Ritter screwed Romanoff when he didn't appoint him to the Senate. I'm guessing that a sizable chunk of the folks who have donated to Bennet would switch over to Romanoff if he signaled that he's serious about this.

It's an interesting choice by Romanoff. My guess is that Ritter is actually more vulnerable next year than Bennet is. But going after Ritter actually would split the party, while there just aren't that many loyal Bennet people out there, at least not yet.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


Today, for the first time in my life, there is no Edward M. Kennedy in the United States Senate. Others have eulogized him today far better than I can, but I just wanted to jot down a few thoughts.

The first time I saw Sen. Kennedy in person was in the fall of 1988 at an Oakland church, where he was speaking on behalf of Michael Dukakis' presidential campaign. He was an enjoyable and energetic speaker, but my main memory of the event is a seemingly deranged man moving aside a velvet rope and making a run for Kennedy on the dais. He was quickly grabbed by security and taken outside, and Kennedy laughed it off. But it scared the hell out of me. I remember thinking just how dangerous it was to be a politician, and one named Kennedy in particular.

The last time I saw him was one year ago today, when he gave his passionate address in support of Barack Obama on the opening day of the Democratic National Convention. Here's a picture I took:
A final note: a distant cousin of mine just unearthed a letter that Kennedy sent to my grandparents, who apparently had donated to Kennedy's 1980 presidential campaign. I'm posting it below. Note that it includes a personal signature. I tried searching for the donation but couldn't find any record of it, suggesting that my grandparents gave less than $200 to the campaign. That such a modest donation would have earned a personal signature is a real testament to Kennedy's style.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Why did filibustering become so popular?

Greg Koger has been doing a really rich bunch of posts over at Monkey Cage on the subject of the filibuster. Today, he explained a trend that a lot of people have been noticing: the dramatic rise of filibusters in the past few decades. The Senate wasn't always a supermajoritarian chamber. You used to be able to pass even controversial legislation with a simple majority, just like in the House. Filibusters were rare and very costly to stage. What changed? As Greg explains,
Filibustering became an everyday event because senators began responding to obstruction by attempting cloture rather than attrition, i.e. waiting for filibustering senators to become exhausted. This change in tactics decreased the costs for obstruction, and once it was easy, then more senators were willing to filibuster against a broader range of proposals.
It's a good post. Read the whole thing.

And stay tuned for Greg's defense of the indefensible....

Losing it

This flyer was recently posted outside the office of the Colorado Democratic Party in Denver:
Just following up... the offices of the Colorado Democratic Party were vandalized last night. Every window was broken. And yes, as Coloradopols noted, the perpetrator apparently believes Obamacare = Nazism and is willing to employ Kristallnacht techniques to prove his point.

Update... This story's getting weirder. The suspect the police have in custody worked for a Democrat-affiliated 527 last year and is a member of a left-wing cyclist group. One can certainly speculate here. Maybe he thought Obama had sold out. Maybe he wanted to frame conservatives for the attack. Maybe he's just messed up.

At any rate, my original partisan outrage is transforming into... what? Curosity? Yes, that, and some guilt for the original partisan outrage. Clearly, some people, like me, should take a breather and wait a few minutes before reacting to vague news stories. Hopefully, the police will help fill in some of the blanks in this odd account.

If you feel like helping out the state Democratic Party as it cleans up from the vandalism, click here.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Classing up the joint

I have long loved both crème brûlée and Boston cream donuts. But I had no idea that one could transform so easily into the other.
Lots more here.

Lieberman for Lieberman

It's no shock that Sen. Joe Lieberman would recommend an incremental approach toward health care reform rather than passing substantial reform this year. This is what Lieberman's been doing for several years now -- hanging out with Democrats, figuring out what's important to them, and then going on TV to say why it's bad. But the way he made his current argument shows that absolutely nothing is sacred to the man:
Great changes in our country often have come in steps. The Civil Rights movement occurred, changes occurred in steps.
Dave Noon hits the right marks here. But let me just add that, as Lieberman is fond of pointing out, he marched with Dr. King during the Civil Rights Movement. The movement is part of his own political history. As Lieberman should well know, the argument that the Civil Rights Movement should proceed incrementally was one of the arguments advanced by its critics. Thurgood Marshall dispensed with that argument during the Little Rock desegregation crisis in 1957:
The Emancipation Proclamation was issued in 1863, ninety-odd years ago. I believe in gradualism. I also believe that ninety-odd years is pretty gradual.
For Lieberman to be praising gradualism during the struggle for civil rights as an example that should be followed today is frankly shameful.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

It's all pipes!

Apparently, George Costanza was right. Go ahead and pee in the shower.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

He said, she said on health care

Here's the headline from today's Denver Post story by Michael Booth and Jennifer Brown:
Health care reform advocates say insurance companies already ration coverage
Okay, let's go through this together. Do insurance companies provide unlimited coverage for everyone? No? Then they're rationing. This headline would be perfectly accurate without the words "Health care reform advocates say...."

The whole piece is an annoying he said/she said piece that doesn't bother to investigate actual truth. Example:
While government and private insurance would try to hold down costs, [Colorado State Sen. Morgan] Carroll said, "the major difference is that the for-profit insurance industry has a direct financial interest in reducing or eliminating payments for your medical care, and a government or nonprofit authority doesn't."
Insurance companies, though, say they have advantages the government doesn't. For one, it doesn't take an act of Congress — just a medical panel — to cover a new drug or procedure.
Yeah, it doesn't take an act of Congress for the government to approve new drugs or procedures, either. That's what the FDA does, using medical panels.
And in contrast to the government, insurance companies don't have a strict budget that dictates what procedures to cover, [UnitedHealthcare CEO Beth] Soberg said. For the government, "that's all there is and you have to make decisions based on that," she said.
Really? Private businesses don't have strict budgets? As compared to the federal government, which can print money?

Sigh. I hate to keep holding up a comedian as a model of journalism, but he does, you know, do his homework, and he can sort out fiction from truth.

Form letters

I recently wrote an e-mail to one of my federal legislators. I won't say which one. Let's just call him Mark Schmudall. Now, having been on the receiving end of constituent letters for many years, I don't have particularly high expectations for responses. Still, the response I received was pretty disappointing:
Coloradans have contacted my office about the economic recovery bill, energy, the environment, small business, education, health care, and numerous other important topics. I appreciate hearing from each one of you because understanding your views is fundamental to my job.
Um, great. But I wrote about health care, not about those other issues. I even had to select a topic when I sent the e-mail, so this shouldn't have been too hard to figure out. It's not that hard to tailor these form letters by topic.
Please know that my staff reads each one of your letters and e-mails and keeps me consistently updated on Coloradans' concerns.
I actually appreciated this line. He's not pretending that he read it. Too many politicians try to maintain that silly façade.
I am honored to serve as your U.S. Senator. My top priority in the Senate is to provide efficient and effective service to people across our state. Please know that my Colorado staff is available to handle specific services relating to the federal government (such as help with a passport, claim for veterans' benefits, or a citizenship matter).
Well, great, but again, not what I wrote in about.
My job is not about merely supporting or opposing legislation; it is also about bridging the divide that has paralyzed our nation's politics.
I must've missed that part of the Constitution, Article I.

Anyway, this just seemed like a form letter that tried to do far too much and ended up sounding, well, like no one cared about my original message. I think a simple "Thank you for letting me know your views. I'll keep them in mind" would have done more.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Why not just publicly beg for a hurricane?

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist is really pushing the ol' hubris meter. Here he is actually suggesting that Florida hasn't been hit by a hurricane since he became governor because he prayed to God to spare Florida any serious storms during a visit to the Western Wall in Jerusalem. Putz, you don't do this at the beginning of the hurricane season! What happens when Florida gets hit? You blame God? Yourself?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Great comedian, great topic

Patton Oswalt on 80s metal bands:

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

When the market doesn't provide

In case you missed it, Paul Krugman had a nice, concise explanation of why health care doesn't really function as a market. In brief, most of us don't really need health care until we do, at which point it becomes insanely expensive, more so than more people can afford. As Krugman writes,
This tells you right away that health care can’t be sold like bread. It must be largely paid for by some kind of insurance. And this in turn means that someone other than the patient ends up making decisions about what to buy. Consumer choice is nonsense when it comes to health care.
The whole thing is worth a read. I would also add that the ideal of a competitive market of health insurers pretty much never obtains in reality. In most areas and for most companies, there is really only one health insurer from which to choose (although there may be a choice of plans). It's pretty close to a monopoly situation.

A 129-year old sourdough starter

I've got to get me some of that.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Three movies

I actually saw three movies last week, and I hadn't had surgery or anything! Very exciting for me. Unfortunately, two of them kind of sucked. Some quickie reviews:

1. Frost/Nixon -- I was skeptical going into this one. It just seemed like kind of a small topic for a film. But it's extremely well done. To me, it's of a piece with The Queen (2006), also written by Peter Morgan, in that it deals with a relatively small historical event (a presidential interview, a former princess' death) and manages to make a rather large statement from it. What Morgan and director Ron Howard manage to do with Frost/Nixon is convey just how important the interview was to both characters and to the American political system in general. It becomes a form of a duel, with Nixon seeking to regain his honor and Frost trying to keep from losing his. We also get to see what a bizarre, flawed, and tragic man Nixon was. He'd been elected president twice, but he was still insecure, still haunted by JFK, and still having to prove to the snobs that his successes weren't flukes. See this.

2. Ice Age: The Dawn of the Dinosaurs, in 3D -- Okay, the 3D was really impressive. But after that, it was just kind of dull. Now, I am a fan of the first Ice Age film. It was no Pixar production, but it was funny and entertaining, with some sincere moments of drama (like Manny studying the cave paintings) and a believable camaraderie among the three protagonists. None of that was there this time around. The actors were barely even phoning it in, and the whole dinosaur plot didn't make much sense. I mean, it wasn't an offensive movie, unless you consider the subplot of the female squirrel using her feminine wiles to get the male squirrel to part with the fruits of his labor offensive, which I guess it kind of is. But it was mainly just dull.

3. He's Just Not that Into You -- I just couldn't accept that all these attractive, professional women were so vacuous and self-delusional. Keep in mind that this film was based on a self-help book that was itself based on an episode of "Sex in the City." Now, I have great respect for that show, but it could, at times (particularly when Carrie was writing), be incredibly vapid. Now imagine how vapid a film based on a book based on Carrie's writings might be. Roger Ebert's review is spot on, particularly when he describes his reading of the book:
I asked Amazon to "surprise me" with a page from inside the best-seller He's Just Not That Into You, and it jumped me to page 17, where I read: "My belief is that if you have to be the aggressor, if you have to pursue, if you have to do the asking out, nine times out of 10, he's just not that into you."

I personally would not be interested in a woman who needed to buy a book to find that out. Guys also figure out that when she never returns your calls and is inexplicably always busy, she's just not that into you. What is this, brain surgery? I have tried, but I cannot image what was covered in the previous 16 pages of that book. I am reminded of the book review once written by Ambrose Bierce: "The covers of this book are too far apart."

It's weird what rights are respected

Bob Dylan was briefly detained by police in Long Branch, NJ, the other day for basically being a weird-looking old dude. Some guy at the Cherry Creek Mall here in Denver got detained by mall security recently for wearing a Michael Jackson mask. An incredulous out-of-towner asked, "Why wasn't anyone frightened by this?"

I'm not trying to report any trends or anything. I'm just noting that people's freedoms are regularly compromised just because some other people feel uncomfortable. It's not illegal to wear a mask in public (at least not in Colorado) or to look weird or to wander around a neighborhood. But it's apparently okay for authorities to temporarily detain people who do these things.

But bringing a loaded weapon to an event where the president is speaking? That's a sacred right. What's going on?

My impression of the Secret Service's presidential detail is that they are profoundly cautious. They have only one objective -- the president's survival -- and if they had their way, the president would never leave the White House, which would be surrounded by barricades and a mote moat. Of course, they also recognize that they're protecting a politician whose job description includes public appearances. So they do what they can. The president wants to go for a drive? Fine, he can do it in a bulletproof limo. He wants to go out to dinner? No problem, we'll just sweep the restaurant for weapons, pre-taste the food, and run the patrons through metal detectors.

So I'm guessing that the Secret Service would rather disarm anyone who attends a presidential speech or town hall meeting, even if those folks are outside the event and never cast eyes on the president. There was a reason that saloons in the Old West would insist on you handing your guns to the bartender when you entered. It was a place in which tempers were likely to flare, and high tempers and firearms don't mix well. Same thing at a town hall meeting on the subject of health care reform.

So why are attendees being allowed to carry loaded handguns and assault rifles to these events? My guess is that this is a political decision rather than a security one. Obama knows that protesters are just looking to have their guns taken away by his security forces -- then the protesters get to go on Fox and talk about how Obama is coming to take our guns, and they know this because it happened to them. Obama figures the actual threat of violence is small but the political blowback of disarming protesters could be huge.

Here's the thing, though. There are already plenty of angry people on Fox talking about how Obama is taking away our freedoms. Letting them keep their guns will not make them fans. This is trying to appease fanatics with empirical reality. It doesn't work, any more than demonstrating that health care bills contain no death panels alleviates fears that those panels exist, or showing Obama's birth certificate convinces the birthers that he's legitimately the president. These folks will despise Obama no matter what he does. He might as well do what's right.

Monday, August 17, 2009

It's a fair question

Why were people removed from Bush town hall meetings five years ago for wearing critical t-shirts while people get to stay at Obama town hall meetings when they bring loaded firearms?

Sadly, No wants to know.

Public option

Matt Yglesias:
Nominally at least that means that health reform is now in a legislative dead zone—there aren’t the votes in the House for a bill without a public option and there aren’t the votes in the Senate for a bill with them.
Like Yglesias, I doubt the progressive Dems in the House will actually kill a bill without a public option, but it would be interesting to see them threaten it. One story I rarely here mentioned is that the Blue Dogs need health reform far more than the liberals do. A failed health reform effort would be very bad for Obama's presidency and toxic for Democrats in the 2010 midterms, as it was in 1994. If that happens, it won't be the liberals who lose their seats. It'll be the ones from the moderate districts (i.e.: the Blue Dogs).

The Joint Budget Committee turns sharply right

Steve Balboni said it would be like this. It was an odd move for Gov. Ritter to hire state Rep. Don Marostica (R-Loveland) as his chief economic development director last month. Marostica, a mavericky Republican who occasionally voted with Democrats on budgetary issues, thus resigned from the state house and from his key position on the powerful Joint Budget Committee, which drafts Colorado's budgets.

Today, the Republicans placed hardcore anti-tax Rep. Kent Lambert (R-Colorado Springs) on the JBC. This moves the median position on the JBC considerably rightward, which will undoubtedly affect state budgeting in the near term.

As with most moves by Ritter, there are two main interpretations available, one strategic and one sincere. The strategic interpretation is that Ritter recognizes that a) he's in a tough reelection fight and b) the state is in a tight budget bind. He will need to raise taxes to balance the budget, but he'd rather not, since that would hurt his reelection chances. So now he can blame Lambert for an inability to raise taxes. Marostica probably would have agreed to raising them.

The sincere (and, in my estimation, more likely) interpretation is that Ritter just kinda liked Marostica and thought it would be good to have him in the executive branch, regardless of the consequences for legislation.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Ghost town

We took the kids to Old South Park City up in Fairplay, CO, yesterday. It's not technically a ghost town so much as a museum consisting of a small re-created city from the mid-1800s. You can check out a real one-room schoolhouse, a mine, a general store, etc. I found it very cool and educational, and the kids loved playing on the locomotive.

One thing that kind of freaked me out was that I had to explain technologies to the kids that actually existed within my lifetime but not theirs. "What's that?" they'd say with fascination about a freakin' typewriter. They'd also never met a bank teller nor seen a telephone that was mounted to the wall. So it's nice to know that the technologies I regularly used as a kid are now grouped together with the telegraph and the Gutenberg press.

Some of the stuff I really loved existed in the drug store, where they have lots of old "remedies" for various ailments. Check out the photo. There's something in there called "female cure." Got me curious.
Oh, and here is a box of surgeon's tools that a physician brought to the city in the 1850s. Ah, the days when you couldn't be a doctor until you owned your own bone saw.
Anyway, I recommend a visit. They sell some awesome sarsaparilla, too.

Don't take the light rail -- you'll kill the planet!

That's sort of the message from today's Denver Post op/ed by Chuck Plunkett (whom I generally like). Plunkett heavily cites a Cato Institute study that calculates the per-passenger-mile fuel use of both the light rail and modern automobiles. According to the estimates, light rail is no more energy efficient than a 2008 sedan in transporting people downtown, and is substantially less efficient than a Prius. This is because the Denver light rail draws power from Xcel Energy, which uses mainly coal and natural gas to produce its electricity.

I have my doubts about the numbers, but let's just take them as truth for a moment. The analysis misses a number of important features of mass transit.

For one thing, saving fuel is not the only potential advantage of riding mass transit. Taking the light rail downtown is a lot safer than driving there. It also eliminates the need to pay for parking, a considerable expense in the downtown area. Furthermore, mass transit can substantially affect residency patterns over the years, encouraging denser housing construction that makes for more walkable communities. Everyone driving a car, even a Prius, encourages further suburban sprawl. Everyone driving a car also creates more traffic congestion, which reduces fuel efficiency and work productivity. (It also increases the time that suburbanites spend sitting in traffic listening to political talk radio, but that's another issue.)

Finally, because the light rail is run on electricity, it need not be dependent upon fossil fuels. Electricity can be generated from clean sources, as well, while Priuses still have to burn dead dinosaurs, even if they do so in a somewhat more efficient manner than Camrys.

One more thing: by the study's math, one simple thing that would increase light rail's fuel efficiency would be to increase ridership. This could be done by lowering ticket costs or making bulk ticketing deals with area businesses. Running op/eds discouraging light rail use might have the opposite effect.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The sort of conservative we can all embrace

Julia Child

Inheriting the (partisan) wind

Over at the Monkey Cage, John Sides decided to tabulate Politifact's scoring of truths and lies on the health care debate. His analysis produced these provocative tables, finding that a) Democrats have been more honest than Republicans; and, b) Obama has been more honest than either Democratic or Republican members of Congress:Needless to say, these claims provoked sharp commentary on both sides. Some questioned the scoring mechanism, and, to be fair, it's hard to know the right way to score this stuff. (If Obama predicts that health reform will save money and a critic predicts it will bankrupt the government, which one's lying?) It also reminded me of James Carville's lament in 1992: "If Bill Clinton says 50+50=104, and George Bush says 50+50=104,000, the media will say they're both stretching the truth."

But beyond the methodological questions, would any analysis like this actually settle a debate? Would either side accept a study saying their side is less truthful?

Friday, August 14, 2009

Why it doesn't hurt Sarah Palin to say crazy stuff

Jon Bernstein:
Democrats treat their nutty Members of Congress as pariahs (yes, that's you, Cynthia McKinney) while (some, but some high-ranking) Republicans treat theirs as intellectual leaders.
I really want to disagree with him. But the data speak loudly here.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Eagle has landed

For the haters:

Musical coordination points

I was talking with a friend yesterday about the new Pew survey that studies generation gaps. One interesting thing that this poll does is to ask people their favorite musicians and break them down by age group. That yields this odd finding:
  • Age 16-29: Michael Jackson
  • Age 30-49: The Eagles
  • Age 50-64: The Beatles
  • Age 65+: Frank Sinatra
I'd say the last two are unsurprising. It was interesting to see Michael Jackson as the top choice of the under-30 set, since he did his most influential and popular work before these folks were even in kindergarten. But we can probably dismiss this since the poll was conducted a month after Michael Jackson's death. No doubt excessive media coverage influenced that finding.

It was also odd to see the Eagles as the top group among my generation. Don't get me wrong -- I love them. But I just don't know that many people for whom the Eagles are the shiznit.

We get a bit of an explanation if we look further down into the poll. They didn't just ask people who their favorite band was. They asked what musical performers they "like a lot." So you could like a lot of different acts. Among the 50-64 and 65+ age groups, there was much greater consensus on their favorites, with 65% and 64%, respectively, picking the top acts. The second place acts were 11 points behind them. Among the 30-49 set, the Eagles were only liked a lot by 54%, with Michael Jackson in second place at 44%. And Michael could top the under-30 group with just 46% liking him a lot.

Here's a visual example, showing the ranks of the top performers among the youngest (16-29) and oldest (65+) age groups. Note how much sharper the dropoff is among the older cohort. They have their favorite (Sinatra), and the others quickly fall off. The younger age group has a much flatter distribution, suggestion a broader range of favorites but less of an obvious coordination point.
This could mean that musical tastes are just more diverse among younger Americans. Or perhaps the passage of time tends to force a coordination point as less popular acts don't really get played over and over again the way the Beatles and the Stones do. Let's check this poll again in 30 years.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Rope-a-dope, health reform edition

Back during the spring of 2008, Obama was getting some heat for not standing up stronger to the Clinton campaign, which was mocking him mercilessly and raking up wins in key states like Pennsylvania and Ohio. Obama didn't change his strategy and he didn't get flustered. He stayed relatively positive, knowing that he had enough delegates to prevail in the nomination race.

In September of 2008, Obama was again getting heat for not being tougher on McCain, who was suddenly tied with Obama in the polls. Again, Obama didn't change his strategy and he didn't get flustered. He knew that McCain's poll strength was based on a post-convention bump and would likely subside, which it did.

I think the same sort of thing is going on today. There's a certain mentality among political types that you have to win the media cycle every day. That certainly seemed to be the mindset among the Clinton folks in the 90s, and they got pretty good at it. Obama seems to think that's not necessarily the way things have to go. As Obama said at his June press conference, "I know everybody here is on a 24-hour news cycle. I'm not. OK?" In other words, you don't have to win every battle to prevail in the war.

You can really see this at work in the debate over health care reform. It seemed for a while that Obama had lost control of the debate. Opponents of health reform were saying all sorts of horrendous things about Obama's plans, none of which were being strongly countered by the White House. But that doesn't necessarily spell defeat for Obama's plans. After all, health reform is not being decided by a one-day initiative vote. It's being hammered out by members of Congress (and may end up being formulated largely in a reconciliation committee) in a process that is somewhat removed from public opinion.

And what has happened over the past few weeks? The group opposing health reform has begun to appear crazier and crazier, identified mainly by the guns and swastikas that the more extreme members are bringing to town hall meetings. Members of Congress are now getting favorable press for standing down the mob. And to the extent that those opposing health reform are an organized movement, Sarah Palin is increasingly identified as their leader, thanks to her "death panel" comments. (Now, I know Palin has at least one fan among this blog's readership, so I won't belabor this point. But suffice it to say that she doesn't have the best reputation in American politics right now, and if she is perceived as the leader of your movement, your movement has an image problem.)

And then Obama swoops in and sounds like the sensible centrist, getting press like this:
[Obama] took issue with critics who he said had distorted the debate to stoke fears that health changes will include “death panels that will basically pull the plug on Grandma.” That charge, which has been widely disseminated, has no basis in any of the provisions of the legislative proposals under consideration in Congress.
It's still early, but it's starting to look like Obama managed to get his opponents to reduce themselves to an unhinged, violent cartoon while making himself look more reasonable precisely by not engaging them and trying to win every news cycle.

Standing up to the mob

Matt Yglesias sees Sen. Claire McCaskill keeping her cool under pressure from an angry crowd at a town hall meeting and asks,
Watching McCaskill on TV what I mostly thought of was that I don’t understand why members of congress are holding these town halls. There’s been so much focus on the spectacle of the whole thing that nobody’s really stepped back and explained what the purpose of these events are other than to give us pundits something to chat about.
The answer is that McCaskill and others get great press for facing a mob. Note the lead story in the NYT today:
Senator Goes Face to Face With Dissent
And that's about Specter. This is actually a great opportunity for moderates. Look how sane they appear in comparison to the people showing up at the town halls. The Sunday morning talk show crowd will eat this up.

Jon Bernstein has more.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Interesting point

Brad at Sadly No:
I think we could be the only country in the world where a significant minority of people hold angry protests demanding that the government not provide health care to people.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Bring out your dead

Wow, I'd missed this one. This is from an editorial in the Investor's Business Daily (h/t Atrios and Jay Bookman), warning us that Obama's health care reforms would create health care rationing that would lead to grandparents being left to die since they are no longer useful, just like they have in the United Kingdom:
The U.K.'s National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) basically figures out who deserves treatment by using a cost-utility analysis based on the "quality adjusted life year."


People such as scientist Stephen Hawking wouldn't have a chance in the U.K., where the National Health Service would say the life of this brilliant man, because of his physical handicaps, is essentially worthless.
That would be the same Stephen Hawking who has lived his entire 67 years in the U.K. and received hospital treatment there earlier this month.

Friday, August 7, 2009

For the traveller who has everything

Whenever skimming through the SkyMall on flights, my eyes inevitably end up on this entry, the Neckpro Traction Device. As the maker promises,
It comes completely assembled, ready to use right out of the box and is the perfect travel companion. This easy to use cervical traction device eliminates the bag of water or weights and the trial and error method of traction therapy offered by conventional home over-door cervical traction systems. By coupling a precision, computer designed compression spring with a unique patented rope ratcheting device, the NeckPro delivers a more precise amount of cervical traction incrementally.
Yes, a device that allows you to hang yourself from your bedroom door. What could possibly go wrong? I can't think of anything that helps relieve travel stress like having someone unexpectedly open the door and accidentally lynch you, except maybe the knowledge that the words "autoerotic asphyxiation" and "Michael Hutchence copycat" will appear on the coroner's report.

The 80s were so awesome

I, too, wish I'd been at this event. Wonder what it was.
(h/t M4H)

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Obligatory health care post

When I worked in the Clinton correspondence office, one of my issue areas was health reform. This was back in 1994, the really ugly year. I spent a lot of time trying to learn the details of the Clinton plan and to understand congressional committee procedures. I dealt with a lot of very critical letters. Some were from insurers and medical practitioners, worried that certain procedures wouldn't be covered or that their businesses were going to suffer. Some were from conservative ideologues who were convinced that, should Clinton's plan pass, visiting an American doctor was going to become like obtaining toilet paper under Brezhnev or living in a gulag under Stalin or playing dreidel under Hitler. Just about every day, of course, we had C-SPAN on in the office, and I heard congressional statements morph from "We will have health reform this year" to "The President's health care bill is deader than Elvis."

All this is to say that I've seen this movie before, and I didn't like the ending.

If you haven't read it, Ezra Klein's piece comparing the Obama and Clinton health reform efforts is really fascinating. He notes that Clinton was criticized for crafting the whole reform himself and not letting Congress figure it out, while Obama is being criticized for leaving it all up to Congress and not giving supporters something specific to rally around. He also notes that the Clinton plan was probably a lot more ambitious than anything Obama's pushing for today. It actually saw the way health care was going in this country and sought to create some workable rules:
The managed-care revolution of the mid-90s was, by the early years of that decade, clearly inevitable; the financing and delivery of health care could not remain separate forever. But this was a dangerous change. Insurers make money by denying claims. Money they spend on health care is money they lose (they even have a name for it: the "medical-loss ratio"). Private insurance is a bit like a fire department that turns a profit by letting buildings burn down.

So Clinton sought to cage managed care inside managed competition, which would regulate the behavior of insurers and force them to compete for patients. This would give consumers more power against their insurance companies, drive the bad actors from the market and generally protect against the excesses of managed care. Clinton's plan also included a handful of other safeguards, like out-of-pocket caps and an independent appeals process, designed to protect consumers from deficient insurance.
But Clinton's opponents sought to defeat the plan, raising fears that care would be rationed and costs would go up and that consumers would have less choice. This, of course, is exactly what happened, except that Clinton's plan didn't pass.

Now the same fears are being raised today. I have to say that the hostility makes me a bit sick. Of course, I have no problem with heated, polarized debate, but this is nothing of the sort. This is trying to whip people into a frenzy by scaring them to death without actually informing them of anything substantive. Here's the text of an e-mail I received from the Colorado GOP the other day:
Republican Call to Action – Help defeat Obamacare!
Four important things you can do to help:

1.) Call and email your member of Congress and let them know you oppose this legislation
2.) Write a letter to the editor
3.) Forward this email to your friends and family
4.) Participate in one of the “Hands off my Healthcare” rallies taking place throughout the state Thursday, August 6th – Friday, August 8th. Please see schedule below:

The Patients First bus “Hands off my Healthcare” tour will be coming to Colorado this Thursday, August 6th , Friday, August 7th and Saturday August 8th for a rally against a government takeover of your healthcare. Nearly 2,000 Coloradans have already rallied in Denver and Colorado Springs against Washington’s plans to dictate our health care choices. Now the rest of Colorado gets their chance for their voices to be heard.
What exactly are they protesting? There are several plans being considered by Congress right now. What does the Colorado GOP object to? Expanding health insurance? Creating more competition among insurers? We don't know.

At this point, only two factors give me any confidence that some version of health reform will pass this year:
  1. The Democrats have (at least nominally) 60 votes in the Senate, which they did not have in 1993-94.
  2. The Democrats remember how the failure of health care contributed to their loss of control of both chambers of Congress in 1994, and they do not want to repeat that.
Sorry for the rant.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

On the state of Senate rhetoric

I've often wondered about the purpose of most congressional speeches. I mean, members go to the floor and speak every day about some topic of concern to them. But who's the audience? Almost no one is in the chamber most of the time. And your typical member could probably count on two hands the number of constituents who are watching on C-SPAN. It seems that very little good can come from it, except to brag to a constituent that you gave a speech on some issue of importance to him or her. Yay, a speech. But if you do something stupid, someone will catch it.

Which brings us to Sen. Chuck Grassley:

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Monday, August 3, 2009

The Republican nominee for Colorado's U.S. Senate seat will not be an Aurora city councilman

ColoradoPols is reporting that former U.S. Rep. Bob Beauprez will likely run for Senate next year. This makes sense to me. No offense to Ryan Frazier, but it's really hard to jump from a city council position to U.S. Senator in one year. Beauprez has long had the luxury of sitting back and waiting. Waiting to see how the GOP field is shaping up, how vulnerable Sen. Bennet looks, how weak the Democrats are nationally and statewide, etc. He can do this because he's got enormous name ID and great access to campaign funds and staff. It's not hard for him to assemble an organization relatively late.

Yeah, Beauprez ran a pretty crappy race for governor back in '06, but don't underestimate him. Bennet is definitely vulnerable and won't get much electoral help from the guy who appointed him. And if "The economy shrank by slightly less than expected" is 2010's version of good economic news, the Democrats are going to be in a world of hurt next year.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

How are senators co-sponsoring legislation like cows licking each other?

Anyone out there familiar with social networks research? I'm trying to find a way to compare two different networks of different sizes. I need some way to control for size while seeing if there are significant differences in graph-level indices, such as density, degree centrality, etc. There's not a ton out there on this topic, although a few scholars made some suggestions, as Michael Heaney reports.

One of the few papers I've found that does this sort of technique is called “Comparing Networks Across Space and Time, Size and Species” by Katherine Faust and John Skvoretz (sorry, I can't find an ungated link), published in Sociological Methodology in 2002. They manage to compare a bunch of different networks, including Senate co-sponsorships, patterns of social licking among cows, and grooming among Patas monkeys. As near as I can tell, the co-sponsorship networks in the 1993 Senate were somewhat similar to aggressive/submissive relationships among vervet monkeys. Not sure what to make of that.

Anyway, I'll see if I can learn from this technique, but I'm open to other ideas.

Political reforms

All of a sudden the blogosphere is a-twitter with political reform ideas. Matt Yglesias started this by throwing a bunch of ideas out there, including a national popular vote and proportional representation. The only one of his ideas I feel particularly strongly about concerns the Senate: get rid of the filibuster or get rid of the upper chamber, I say. It's an antiquated, anti-majoritarian legislature. That made sense in the eighteenth century; it's a hard sell today. Plus, their staggered terms make it harder for political scientists to study.

Nicholas Beaudrot follows up on this by saying that we should triple the size of the House of Representatives. Jonathan Bernstein has some interesting critiques of Beaudrot's plan (here, here, here, and here), although he does claim that it would increase the percentage of women in the House. I'm not sure why that would be the result of shrinking districts -- it's not like our state legislatures are teeming with women.

One thing that would likely happen with a mega-House is that the tools that legislatures use to organize an unruly chamber -- notably parties, committee chairs, and the speaker -- would become stronger. I don't know that that's necessarily bad or good. I suppose the main advantage of the reform would be to improve representation. Members would have smaller, less diverse districts, and they could conceivably meet a high percentage of their voters. That's not nothing. But would it be worth the size of the reform? (Think of all the work that would have to be done to the chamber itself. Plus, if we still paid members at their current rate, we're talking about an increase of over $160 million in member salaries alone, not to mention staff.)

Oh, and nothing personal against Joe Biden, but we really don't need a vice presidency.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

The Gangs of Boulder

Rep. Jared Polis (D-Boulder) continues to stray from the Democratic line on health care reform by complaining about costly tax increases. I've been wondering what the party's leaders are saying to him when they speak privately. Here's one scenario:
-Jared Polis, played by John C. Reilly
-Nancy Pelosi, played by Daniel Day Lewis

Setting: Back room of butcher shop.

Polis: My loyalty is to fiscal responsibility.
Pelosi: What the hell are you talking about?
Polis: [Looks sheepish.]
Pelosi: Here's the thing. I don't give a tupenny fuck about your moral conundrum, you meat-headed shit-sack. That's pretty much the thing.

Liberals vs. progressives

I recall seeing a study a few years ago about voting patterns in San Francisco, although I can't remember the author's name. The finding was that Republicans were essentially a negligible political force there -- the main political division was between liberals and progressives. Now, some folks use those words interchangeably, but this particular study differentiated between the two. Liberals were somewhat older and had resided in the city for multiple generations. They did nice things like raise money for the poor and donate to environmental causes. The progressives were younger and considerably further left. They tended to resort to activist politics -- attending rallies and so forth. Liberals drive Priuses while drinking fair trade coffee; progressive ride bikes and key SUVs while doing so.

If this is the proper distinction, then there's some sort of low-grade civil war of the Left occurring in Austin, Texas, where someone in a blue Prius has made a habit of shooting bicyclists with a pellet gun. Says one victim:
I mean, I guess it's nice they're concerned about the welfare of our planet [...] But it would be nice if they could stop shooting people that live on it.