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We Report... You Deride

Saturday, February 28, 2004  
Tilting at Windmills?

One of the authors of the above-mentioned blog to the North has asked a fair question: How do we know that W.'s attention span on this issue will last any better than his concern about Mars, Afghanistan or other things?

Certainly W. has the attention span of a Valley Girl on many issues, but this poll indicates how different this issue is. Over 2/3 oppose Gay Marriage and 40% say they won't vote for a candidate whose views are different than theirs.

Another difference: On the other issues Kevin cites, it was either difficult to define an objective or measure progress. It's going to be pretty easy to keep tabs on what's happening with a bill. (And the wingnut lobby will be happy to keep their members informed.)

Might Bush have proposed something that he knew Congress wouldn't want to vote on? Perhaps-- his Dad did that with term limits (among other things). But gay marriage is so hot that there'd be a backlash (probably closer to a Passion of Christ-style flogging) against anyone seen to be playing politics with it.

No, my nickel says this issue is coming to the floor.

Update: I hate having to explain jokes, but since it is a sensitive issue, (a) I'm referring to the way the flogging is depicted on film, not the way Mel Gibson has (justifiably) been treated and (b) I haven't given him my money, but most of my Catholic friends have. They report that the scene is highly gory; one (who enjoys S&M) is already trying to download a copy from the Internet.

11:47 PM

The Road Ahead

Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar; perhaps this story just means that W.'s regime is slow. That's one explanation why they took two months to replace members of the committee (who are unfit to serve as his advisors because they let scientifc principles, not ideology, guide their thinking).

Another is that W.'s regime is gearing up for another announcement, and they want all dissenters cast overboard first. Then it's just a question of what would juice the wingnut base the best?

Banning all cloning (not just federal funding) is a possibility, but it's also dull. In the minds of most people, W. already did that.

Here's an idea that would add some spice: The panel will announce that, in their view, human life begins at conception. Which leaves W. free to propose another law-- or maybe even an amendment-- based on their 'scientific determination'.

Am I nuts? Probably. But if these guys are going to win the election, they'll need to create all manner of distractions and sideshows. And you couldn't ask for a better way to get wingnuts totally wired for an all-out holy war in November than announcing plans to criminalize abortion.

5:08 PM

Wonders Must Be Ceasing

William Saletan actually wrote something intelligent about Thursday's debate. If he'd had the will power to not use the Friedmanesque format, it would have been exceptional.

3:39 PM

Another One Jumps the Shark

Good news for the 947 people who watch CNBC: Dennis Miller's show will be canceled April 19.

They haven't announced it yet-- what they've said is his show is taking a two-week break so they can try to fix the flaws in it, and that they'll take another two weeks to examine it on 4/19.

What they haven't said is that the show will continue to suck rocks and spit gravel and that when it goes off next time, they'll probably cut their losses. Let's do some math:

1. The story says they've averaged 303,000 viewers over the first four weeks. 303 * 4 is 1,212 total viewers.

2. This story says that 801,000 came in the first two weeks.

3. Subtract 801 first two weeks audience from 1,212 total and you get 411,000 viewers in weeks 3 and 4. Divide by two and we have an average of 205,500 viewers for those two weeks.

4. According to the producer's remarks, Miller's average audience (303,000) was 131% more than the total number of viewers for the show that used to be in the slot. 303,000 divded by 1.31 equals 229,000.

Which means that, two weeks after its premiere, Miller's show is averaging 10% less viewers than its predecessor.

Not surprising, of course. Comedy is hostile-- you have to make fun of things to get people to laugh. Right-wing comedy isn't funny to most people. You can do a certain amount of stuff on foreigners and world affairs.

But the minute you go domestic, you're required to make fun of minorities, society's less fortunate, the people trying to help them and the people who want to make laws to help them.

Doesn't work, never has. Every great comedian who really dug into politics has always expressed a mix of libertarian, populist and anarchist ideas. The message is that the only thing worse than big government is big business-- and vice-versa. (Cases in point are two movies made during the depression: The Marx Brothers' Duck Soup and Million Dollar Legs with W.C. Fields.)

Miller's had his 15 minutes. So has Drew Carey. You want to fawn over a wingnut, you'd better do it before his economic policies start screwing up the country. Because once people los their jobs, they stop laughing at you in a hurry.

3:32 PM

Friday, February 27, 2004  
The Hard Count

Add Kevin Drum to the list of the overly credulous.

Working from my list of lessons learned in legislative head counts, I've just spent the better part of an hour working through the Oxblog list of senators.

As of this moment, there are eight U.S. Senators who have put themselves officially on record-as being against the bill: Barbara Boxer, (D-CA); Maria Cantwell, (D-WA); Jon Corzine, (D-NJ); John Edwards, (D-NC); Russ Feingold, (D-WI); John Kerry, (D-MA); Patrick Leahy, (D-VT); and Patty Murray, (D-WA).

I'll say it again: Until a politician says "I oppose this bill" or "I will vote against this bill"-- making an unambiguous promise that someone can attack them for breaking if they change their mind-- an experienced head-counter considers them as "undecided" at best.

And before you tell me I'm paranoid, I suggest you take a good, long look at the senators who voted for the Defense of Marriage act. I heard the "He/she won't really vote for this" argument eight years ago, and that bill passed 85-14.

I'm willing to believe that Dan Akaka (D-HI), Diane Feinstein (D-CA), Dan Inouye (D-HI), Ted Kennedy (D-MA), and Ron Wyden (D-OR) will climb off the fence, because they voted against the DMA in 1996. I'm sure some of the 1996 "yea"s decide they can't stomach an amendment--and some people who weren't there eight years ago climb on board.

But do I trust a U.S. Senator's willingness to take a politically courageous stand? I was born at night, but I wasn't born last night.

12:08 AM

Thursday, February 26, 2004  
Politics 101: "Yes" or "No"

Reports of the death of the FMA are greatly exaggerated. The tally that Democratic Underground has is wrong. So is the Oxblog tally.

Even John Marshall is right on the edge-- though he's had the good sense to qualify what he's saying.

The problem, in each case, is failure to understand one very simple fact: Until a politician says "I have made up my mind--I will vote "No" on this bill", he or she is undecided. And if you want to be safe, you keep that person in the "Yes" column.

This is a lesson I learned a long, long time ago. The classroom was the private office of a guy I was working for, and the curriculum consisted of (a) shouting, (b) verbal abuse, (c) profanity and (d) threats. For 15 of the most unpleasant minutes of my life, my boss-- who'd nearly lost a vote because I hadn't counted properly-- explained the following facts to me at great length.

1. Politicians get asked to do a lot of things.
2. The people who ask want to hear the word "yes."
3. People get pissed off when they hear the word "no."
4. Saying "Yes" to one person means you must say "No" to someone else.
5. Politicians don't like it when people are pissed at them.
6. Politicians want to piss off as few people as possible.
7. Unless the question is a no-brainer, they'll avoid saying "yes" or "no" until they know who they're pissing off.
8. But since people get pissed off if they don't get an answer, politicians have learned how to say things that sound like "yes" but aren't.
9. Politicians can always construct a rationale for changing their mind, as long as they haven't said a firm "yes" or "no."
10. A firm "yes" or "no" is bad because that's a promise.
11. Voters don't like it when politicians break promises.
12. Voters vote against politicians who break promises.
13. Voters will remember that a politician broke a promise long after they forget what the promise was.
14. So until you hear a firm "yes" or "no"-- preferably in front of witnesses--you haven't heard a promise.
15. So don't --

Well, let's skip 15-- it mostly involved procreation and either my mother or my butt. Use your imagination, and don't skimp on the procreation.

Here's what McCain said:

"Marriage should be limited to a man and a woman," Sen. John McCain said after President Bush's announcement Tuesday that he backs such an amendment.

But McCain, a Republican, said, "My preference is for the states to resolve the issue," and "I will reserve judgment on a constitutional amendment until I am able to carefully review the language."

Folks, that's an unconditional "maybe", as practiced by a master. Notice how he came firmly out in favor of the substance of the bill, opposed the idea of a bill but then said it would depend on how it was drawn.

That gives him the space to say (when he jumps on board) that he wanted to leave it to states, but the damned activist judges in other states were making legislation by whim, taking the decision out of the hands of the people of Arizona and he has reluctantly concluded that we need an amendment.

Now if W. gets fragged and it's clear this thing is a loser-- and if his voters seem ticked at him for even talking about this-- then you'll see McCain switch into full libertarian mode and claim that the language was too sweeping and no matter how much he agrees with the concept, he just can't vote for an amendment that would do all that.

"I will say that I'm not supportive of amending the Constitution on this issue," said Rep. David Dreier, R-Calif., chairman of the powerful House Rules Committee and a co-chairman of Bush's campaign in California in 2000. "I believe that this should go through the courts, and I think that we're at a point where it's not necessary."

And when he decides to vote for it... hey, we've reached that point where it is necessary. Notice how he says it should go through the courts, but doesn't say which ones (Federal or State) or what level (initial, Appellate or Supreme). Kinda gives him room to grab onto any decision as the straw that broke the camel's back, don't it?

A commitment is the words "I support the president's proposal and I will vote for the proposed Federal Marriage Act." Here, I'll show you an example of what a commitment sounds like... Well damn... now this is impressive. I just looked at the 10-15 senators I thought would be most likely to support the sucker, and this was about the best I got:

"I support the President's proposal. I want to look at it carefully and there will be hearings in the judiciary committee in the Senate to make sure that the language is just the right language," [Trent] Lott said. "I think it's best to keep it simple and short, particularly if you're talking about amending the constitution. Basically, I do think marriage should be defined as between a man and a woman."

Geez, when even Trent Lott says he wants to look at the language, you know you've got a wedge issue. Obviously he's going to vote for it (he'd get lynched if he didn't), but he still didn't say "I'll vote for it" and that is always coin of the realm in this sort of thing.

1:04 PM

Wednesday, February 25, 2004  
Edwards the Unelectable

One analysis of these election returns that you absolutely will not read--even though it's quite valid-- is that the results in Utah, Hawaii and Idaho show why John Kerry is more electable than Edwards.

Conventional pundit wisdom right now is that the voters are ignorant rubes who haven't quite grasped that one huy is from Dukakisville and the other is a Good Ol' Boy, e.g., "Edwards appeals to voters who won't even consider Kerry. Any Democrat can win New York or California-- but Edwards can win the southern states that would otherwise go for Bush."

Which is true enough, I suppose. What it overlooks is that Kerry has proven that he can win states with wholesale politics. Edwards hasn't shown that he can win them with anything except retail.

If that term doesn't mean anything to you, I did a long explanation of wholesale and retail politics that you can read. Here's what it boils down to:

The only way Edwards has been able to compete in a state is to declare it a priority and spend most of his time and money there. If he holds lots and lots of town halls and shakes hands and passes out leaflets, he can pretty much run neck and neck with anyone anywhere.

And if the United States of America held the general election over a six month period, where we voted a couple states at a time--and once you voted, the results were locked in-- then, yeah, Edwards's charm and appeal to southern voters might really mean a lot more than Kerry.

But since we have all 50 states vote at once, the ability to come in for a day here and there-- do this event, run that commercial build up a lead without too much muss and fuss-- does strike me as being kinda important.

John Edwards doesn't seem to be able to be in two places at once and win both spots. In the one election in his career, he had trouble covering the entire state of North Carolina and holding on. As Josh Marshall wrote, a while back, an Edwards speech is like Chinese food-- an hour later, your stomach is empty again.

You really want a candidate like that in a national race against a guy with a huge warchest?

I'm not sold on Kerry's ability to keep his energy level up for the next nine months-- I'm not sure he won't lapse back into RoboCandidate if no one is around to nip at his heels. But at least I know he can take his act on the road. I'm still non convinced that Edwards can play anywhere at this point.

8:32 AM

Adrift Between the Moons of Homos and Phobos?

Sometimes your instrinctive response to a question or problem is is the right one. And Atrios probably has the best take on what the Gay Marriage Amendment means to the Democrats. We need a sound bite-- a position that can be expressed in one sentence. in language anyone can understand.

My suggestion: This doesn't belong in the constitution. It's short, it's clear, it resonates with what most people think, and it doesn't get you bogged down in details.

Gay marriage is only a wedge issue for Democrats if they let it pull them into one of those Gorelike dithers where they try to address every ramification at once while simultaneously pandering to six mutually exclusive interest groups.

You want a statement that kisses up to the gay vote and the South and independents and the religious vote all at the same time? Hell, yes, then you're gonna tear yourself to pieces on the particulars.

Repeat after me: "This amendment doesn't belong in the constitution." The constitution is for things like freedom of speech or the right to bear arms or the right to trial by jury. This is the most inappropriate amendment to come down the pike since prohibition.

And, without taking a breath, "This is just the latest in a series of attempt by George W. Bush to try to deflect attention away from his handling of the economy and the war or terror." You hit back with precisely the same shots that Clinton-Gore fired in 1992-- this joker wants to talk about everything but his record; don't let him con you.

If we do this right, gay marriage is actually a wedge issue for Republicans. Aside from Gay Republicans (talk about an oxymoron), a constitutional amendment is an affront to everything that Libertarians stand for.

Hammer at that--and follow it with talk about what he's done to the deficit (another hot-button issue)-- and you can make the "No matter what you normally think of Democrats, you've got to realize that W. is a Republican who needs to be removed from office. In this election, we're closer to what you believe than he is."

Will that play? I dunno. It'll definitely play better than some waffling, mealymouthed crap that makes everything think you support gay marriage, but just don't have the balls to admit it.

8:03 AM

Postrel on Sheep's Bladders and Earthquakes

"''It's an explosive trend,'' says Michael Reis, editor of the industry magazine Stone World. In 2002 alone, the magazine added 2,000 fabricators to its 20,000 subscribers. Reis estimates that there are 8,000 to 10,000 fabrication shops in the country. "

If you have any doubt as to whether Virginia Postrel is a ditz (most likely because you've never been able to read her blathering all the way through), try this article. It's short enough that it won't waste too much of your time, and illustrates the level at which she reasons.

My opinion of her thesis--that there are scads of new jobs out there that the government isn't counting--is that I've seen those sorts of arguments about other topics, and they've all been wrong:

1. As Isaac Asimov once wrote (when talking about why he ignored most articles pseudoscientists), in any specialized field, there is some possibility of the accepted wisdom being wrong. The chance that an outside observer with a casual understanding of the subject will be able to identify any error is slight.

The chance of a diletante being able to knock all the conventional wisdom into a cocked hat is... well, you have a better chance of hearing W. say the word "nu-cle-ar" (as opposed to "nuke-u-ler"). It's far more likely that the person is making an error of thought that many people with an inadequate knowledge of the subject make before they learn more.

I run into people who think like Postrel every time I advise someone who has never worked with a pollster. If she wants to write a piece that documents her understanding of the three methods of calculating unemployment and explain where and why each method fails to document the occupations she believes are undercounted, you might want to look at her ideas. When you see the kind of fluffy stuff she uses to underpin her fescis, you know you're not dealing with a credible case.

2. As Bill James once said (about the impact of stolen bases, bunting and clutch hitting on offense), some effects might be difficult to document. But in any ecosystem, all actions have consequences-- and some of those consequences would be so large that they would be easy to document.

Let's pretend that what she's suggesting is true. If so, it wouldn't just mean that the jobs and unemployment figures were wrong. It would mean that every figure based on that data would be wrong. It would mean that income estimates (which are drawn from employment figures) would be wrong, that consumption figures (which make assumptions based on income) would be off.

It's like suggesting (to use James's example) that there's a Bigfoot running around in the snow. It's possible that no one with a camera might ever have seen it in time to get a good photograph. It's even possible that no one might have seen it. But is it really possible that no one would ever have seen its tracks in the snow?

3. Postrel bases part of her argument on increases in memberships in trade associations and sales of specialized magazines. Right.

To use one example I know cold, Writer's Digest is a magazine for people who want to earn all or part of their income selling creative writing or non-fiction to publishers. It has a paid circulation of 148,000. There are, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 41,990 people making their living as writers and authors. (as opposed to "technical writers", "editors", "public relations specialists" or "news analysts, reporters and correspondents")

As I see it, we have one of four possibilities:

A. The government has shamefully undercounted writers.
B. Many Writers Digest readers are part time writers.
C. Many of their readers belong to one of the other classifications.
D. There are lots of wanna-be writers out there.

Anyone who believes "A" is more likely than "D" needs to spend a few minutes learning about Ockham's Razor.Thankfully, Postrel has no interest in geology, otherwise me might learn about her theories on using sheep's bladders to prevent earthgquakes.

4. And if none of that grabs you, then I suggest you try subscribing to Stone World. The magazine is free to anyone willing to claim that they're an architect, interior designer or home improvement contractor, so the magazine can use the circulation figures to inflate their ad prices and sell you re-mail address to marketers.

But I'm sure they audit their subscription requests more carefully than the government prepares their employment data, Virginia.

7:05 AM

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