Friday, October 31, 2008

Elective Compulsive Disorder

Patt Morrison in the LA Times diagnoses herself, me, and many other people with a new disease: Elective Compulsive Disorder. Fortunately, it's temporary.

This must be what it's like to be a lush. The ECD sufferer goes sneaking off when no one's looking, not for a snort of Stoli but for a quick hit at a polling website.

Nothing's too minor to obsess over. You learn that Nebraska and Maine allot electoral votes by congressional district instead of winner-take-all, and off you go on a Google-quest for voter registration stats in Omaha and Bangor. You sign up for alerts about election-day weather forecasts in Ohio. You don't give a hang about who wins the World Series, except that they're both swing-state teams and how would that affect voters' moods?
I completely understand this problem. Thank God Andrew Sullivan blogs on a constant basis, otherwise I don't know what I would do. The NYTimes doesn't update fast enough for me. Ha! This was the worst possible time for HSX to be down, because I was lacking access to my favorite other computer-based obsession.

It's probably a good thing I don't have cable, or I wouldn't be getting anything else done.

Just a few more days.

Of course, then I'll probably go into withdrawal.

The old HSX is back!

I did something today that I haven't been able to do for a couple of weeks: I logged onto the Hollywood Stock Exchange. And it was exactly like I remember it! Hallelujah! Praise to be the powers that be at Cantor Fitzgerald. Ticker Talk is filled with praise and thanks for bringing back the classic. It does make sense, of course, for that fundamental guiding hand of capitalism - customer feedback - would work at a site so avowedly capitalist in orientation.

There's even an announcement, and a bit of a mea culpa! Whoo hoo!

Of course, this isn't the "classic" classic - that would be version 1, which hasn't been around for many years. That one was fun - the design on the homepage would change every few days, and there were some columnists with real personalities, like Miss Information. This one is a little more corporate, but still fun.

It looks like trading is light, but my short of High School Musical 3 is working out well, I'm making about H$1.2M on that one.

So there is some work to do cleaning up my portfolio, but I am thrilled to once again be able to scroll through all my 1,338 MovieStocks and 259 StarBonds. Give it up for the new old HSX!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Obama's mandate

David Kurtz at Talking Points Memo, looking ahead, and, presumably, crossing his fingers, asks a broad and open question about Obama's potential mandate.

It's a good question. Assuming Obama wins, are we voting FOR him, or AGAINGST McCain? As Kurtz puts it,

Did we just vote for universal health care, or against that cranky old man and his dimwitted running mate

The best that I can offer is a clear comparison with Clinton in '93. I moved to Washington, DC, in May of '92, so I was there for a few months before Clinton won. After he won, it was a magical, golden moment in history. There was a huge flood of idealistic young people, eager to reverse the course of American politics after 12 years of Republican rule.

The honeymoon didn't last long. Gays in the military exploded (very unexpectedly) in Clinton's face. The Cold War had ended, which left conservatives without an enemy, but also was forcing liberals to come to terms with the triumph of capitalism.

One problem that liberals had is that they did not have a successful model of a liberal presidency. In terms of a liberal domestic agenda, the most successful recent Democrat president was LBJ, but nobody really wanted to remember him.

Clinton had to change course from George H. W. Bush, but there were many options open to him, which meant that when he chose one path, he was invariably going to piss off some group of liberals.

Obama's first job, and it is a monumental one, is going to be to not change direction, but reverse course. Clinton shifted gears; Obama is going to have to spend a great deal of energy just stopping the bleeding and repairing the damage. Liberals will applaud him if he just does some simple things like closing Guantanamo and properly funding consumer product safety inspections.

Clinton suffered from what I call "magic wand expectations." Democrats expected him to waltz into the Oval Office, sprinkle some pixie dust, and voila! the revolution of the '60's would be accomplished. Snap! and we've solved all our problems with racism.

No one expects Obama to have a magic wand. It will take months for him just to start to right the ship of state. I think Clinton was ultimately more successful than many liberals give him credit for.

So what are the specifics of Obama's mandate? I would call it a variation on the old Nike slogan. Instead of "Just do it," it will be more like "Just do something." There will be the nomral disagreements among his supporters about the details of policy and squabbles over tactics. But most of us will be thrilled just that he hires good people at FEMA and the FDA. There are a couple of big picture goals that will be key: ending the war in Iraq, and solving the health care crisis. Get those two right, and much disagreements will be forgiven.

I think the most important, but least tangible, aspect of Obama's mandate will be reclaiming liberal pride in our ability to solve America's problems. Conservatives have been claiming that true patriotism is an unquestioning faith in George W. Bush, and a willingness to use force to solve problems. What they forget is that the most successful American corporations of late are ones that are all nuance and strategy, rather than brute force: Microsoft, Google, etc.

Obama is a politician who can sweat the small stuff and keep an eye on the big picture at the same time. Which is good, because that's what we need. There is a lot of cleaning up to do, and a lot of imagining to do, as well.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A short history of vote fraud

The ACLU has a nice blog post about the history of vote fraud in this country. It's short and to the point. It reminds me of something I had forgotten: there are no almost no documented cases of someone trying to impersonate someone else in order to be able to vote. Which is another useful reminder that photo ID laws are a solution in search of a problem.

Still, I can see the logic behind photo ID laws, and I can see some value in them, if only to increase most voters' comfort level with the integrity of elections. So I am still interested in the idea of liberals endorsing photo ID laws with the proper safeguards to insure that everyone who deserves a photo ID can get one very easily.

A handy guide to GOP voter suppression efforts

Talking Points Memo has put together a somewhat basic guide to GOP efforts to suppress votes around the country. I say "somewhat basic" because I'm sure there is a lot more out there. Still, it's very useful and, unfortunately, very necessary.

Post election, I would love to see a couple of things done by some enterprising blogger/reporter.

First, a visual guide to how voter suppression works. Maybe some dramatization, maybe a graphic, maybe a guide. Something eye-catching.

Second, a history of the more egregious vote fraud efforts in the history of the US. We've all heard the joke about voting early and voting often in Chicago. Mo Udall used to say that when he died, he wanted to be buried in Chicago, so he could be politically active when he was dead.

It's great that we have lots of new media spreading the word about vote fraud, but this is the first election when I have heard this much about it BEFORE the election. I'd love to know more about the history, so we can start making concerted efforts to get the right laws passed to prevent this kind of thing in the future.

I also feel compelled to take a stand that may be controversial for a good liberal. The GOP has been using "Voter ID" laws as a way of suppressing the vote. It's a simple idea: require all voters to show a photo ID, in the name of preventing fraud, before they vote. The problem is that there are a fair number of people, many of them minorities, who don't have a photo ID. They may not have a driver's license, they probably don't have a passport, etc.

When I vote in California, I am asked for my driver's license, which I always have with me. It does make sense that people have to prove who they are to be able to vote. I also have to sign something.

I think liberals should be in favor of Voter ID laws with some key caveats. First, establish a significant lead time between the passage of the law and its implementation, so that there is enough time for people who do not have photo ID's to get them. Second, allocate money for an outreach program so that those people who do NOT have photo ID's can get one very easily. After all, if Republicans are in favor of photo ID's being required for voting, presumably they will be in favor of making it easy for people to get those photo ID's.

Two senior women speak out about Sarah Palin

I just discovered a new blog, written by Margaret and Helen, two elderly women who have been best friends for sixty years.

They do not like Sarah Palin. Really do not like Sarah Palin. This is the title of one particularly strong post:

"Sarah Palin is a Bitch. . . there I said it."

So tell us what you REALLY think. . .

Look. I am going to say what everyone at CNN, CBS, ABC and NBC is thinking but is afraid to say. Governor Palin is a stupid, conniving bitch. And it’s not because she is a strong woman - I like strong women… worship them… It’s actually the opposite. She is a weak, pathetic woman who thinks big hair, winking, baby talk and self deprecation is somehow becoming of a woman who wants to lead the free world. My god, where is Margaret Thatcher when you need her!
It's stuff like this that gives me a lot of hope. There are many, many people who are thinking this. Come November 5, it's going to be a lot easier to say it. One thing about Sarah Palin: I couldn't swear by this, but I don't think she's ever lost an election. It ain't pretty. Bill Clinton lost his second race for Governor; he'd be the first to tell you it was a humbling experience that ultimately made him a better politician. I think one of Hillary's big problems this year was that she personally had never had that experience. Sometimes failure is the best teacher. Sarah Palin is about to learn a real good lesson. The question is whether or not she's actually going to learn it.

hat tip: Andrew Sullivan

Understanding derivatives

Megan McArdle pointed me to a great site, Derivative Dribble, that explains, in as simple terms as possible, how derivatives work. I don't quite get all of it, but I now have a slightly better idea of how they work. I am also reminded of why I don't have an MBA and why I never went into investment banking.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Taking Back The Campaign

Andrew Sullivan has been running a contest he calls "Taking Back The Campaign." He asked his readers to send campaign ads that they created for the candidates. He's collected the best, and is invitig people to vote for their favorite. All of the finalists are very good. This is my favorite:

And of course it all began with this:

Yes we can, yes, we are about to.

The Palin Effect on conservatives

Talking Points Memo has a great graphic highlighting just how many prominent conservatives - individuals and newspapers - have bailed on the McCain campaign because of Sarah Palin.

This will be important post-election because many Republicans and conservatives (I try to remember that there is a difference between the two) will be making excuses for why McCain lost, and it will be useful to have something like this to make them face reality. There will be people who argue that McCain was never really a true conservative; that the McCain campaign didn't let Sarah Palin loose; that ACORN stole the election; that the liberal media is biased; that Wall Street is in league with the Democratic party, etc., etc.

There will be many possible responses from Democrats: McCain may or may not be a conservative, but he's been a Republican all his life; of course he's a real conservative; the liberal media is countered by Rush Limbaugh and Fox News; many conservative, small-town newspapers endorsed Obama; ACORN did not steal the election, they just registered voters; Wall Streeters have lots of money, which traditionally makes them Republican.

This graphic collects the responses of individuals, and presents their reasoning. The response from conservatives will be that some of them are not real Republicans or conservatives - watch to see how conservatives define Colin Powell. But some of them cannot be defined as anything other than rock-hard conservative Republicans. Peggy Noonan? She was a speechwriter for Ronald Reagan who now writes a column for the Wall Street Journal. Ken Adelman? He was head fo the Arms Control Agency under Reagan - which means that if Reagan won the Cold War, Adelman was one of his key lieutenants. George Will is one of the original movement conservatives.

Some conservatives are going to try every which way to deny that losing this election was a repudiation of their ideology. Liberals are well-armed to deny that attempt.

Kristol uses up his last remaining cliches

I am reaching the point where I am almost starting to feel sorry for conservative columnists who are still in the McCain camp. At this point, what can they say? William Kristol, who at the very least tries to come up with creative ways of spouting nonsense, almost seems to be giving up. His latest column is a compendium of cliches. He has the wit to start with a quote attributed to a military leader - always fun to read.

After admitting that the Democrats are about to win in a rout - apparently he does have some meaningful relationship to reality - Kristol starts scraping the bottom of the barrel. But perhaps this is because he's used everything else in the barrel already.

Time for McCain to attack — or, rather, finally to make his case.

The heart of that case has to be this: reminding voters that when they elect a president, they’re not just electing a super-Treasury secretary or a higher-level head of Health and Human Services. They’re electing a commander in chief in time of war.
Right, because we haven't heard enough from John McCain over the last two years about his military service as a qualification for him to be President.

And then there's this paragraph, breathtaking in its inanity:

As for McCain, he needs to speak about America’s greatness and its future; about how the ingenuity and toughness of the American people will turn around this financial crisis just as the ingenuity of General Petraeus and the toughness of his fighting men and women turned around Iraq; about how America’s spirit was not undone by a terrorist attack, and will not be undone by a financial mess; about how the naysayers will once again be proved wrong; about how America will emerge from its troubles stronger than ever and will win its battles at home and abroad.
This is from William Kristol's new book, "Idiot's Guide To Political Speechwriting." Not that this is bad or silly advice. It's just Speechwriting 101. How about this idea from Speechwriting 102: Give a speech about How You Will Solve The Voters' Problems.

But to his credit, Kristol the eternal optimist tries to valiantly to make a case for being positive one last time:

McCain has a chance to close this election in a big and positive way. He has a chance to get voters to rise above the distractions and to set aside the petty aspects of the campaign. He has a chance to remind them why they have admired him, and perhaps to persuade them to vote for him on Nov. 4.

Would this turn things around? Unlikely. But why not take a shot?
At least someone is saying it. There are seven days left. Advising a candidate to remind voters of why they like him is about the most basic you can get. But I have to agree with Kristol: at this point, resorting to the tired, but tried and true, might be McCain's best chance.

I'm damning with faint praise here, but at least Kristol isn't blaming anyone but McCain for his looming defeat, and at least he isn't writing about the sniping between the various factions within the campaign. Maybe cliches are the best he can do.

McCain and Kerry: GOP made the same mistake Dems made

In 2004, Democrats nominated John Kerry for President in large part because, as a Vietnam veteran, he would have credibility taking on George W. Bush, a war president. At least that was the idea. It turned out that Kerry was a long-winded, boring, somewhat obtuse northeastern elitist liberal. He fit the stereotype of the old-fashioned Democrat just a little too well. I can't remember a single Kerry policy position. I don't think I campaigned for him at all, and I'm almost sure I didn't give him any money. But he was a war hero!

One reason the Swift boat ads were so effective was that his Vietnam war service was the one thing that distinguished Kerry from the rest of the field of Democratic candidates. But that's not enough of a rationale to vote for someone to be president. Other than serving in Vietnam, Kerry was very much a run-of-the-mill politician. Smart and capable, but not inspiring in any way. And, of course, he completely failed to respond to the Swift boat ads effectively.

During the primaries, I read a line that goes something like this (can't remember where it's from): Nothing so exposes a person's character flaws as an American presidential campaign. By the end of that campaign, it was clear that Kerry was a solid but rather boring politician.

Now the Republicans have made the same mistake that the Democrats made in 2004. They nominated John McCain in large part because his status as a war hero - much more so than Kerry - gave him scads of credibility on national security issues. But this campaign has exposed his flaws like nothing else could: he's a volatile, tempermental, impulsive, prickly man who doesn't think things through. He really is deeply conservative on many issues, and he gets defensive when challenged. He's exploited his POW status to the point that he has cheapened it.

McCain's Vietnam experience has ended up almost the same way that Kerry's did: background noise that most voters now discount. Yes, we admire you for surviving torture, but what are you going to do for us now?

Hopefully Republicans have learned the same lessons that Democrats hopefully did: military service, regardless of how honorable, is just one qualification for being President. It's a good thing for a President to have. But it's not everything.

Charles Barkley to run for governor of Alabama

This is just about the only bit of political news for 2014 that could possibly interest me right now: Charles Barkley has announced that he will be running for governor of Alabama. I heard Sir Charles mention this a long time ago. I think that would be great. I can't wait to see a political campaign featuring Charles Barkley. How could anyone possibly run a negative ad against him? He's already admitted to pretty much everything. Almost nothing about Charles B. would surprise me. Talk about a known quantity. There must be literally months of videotape of him mouthing off about every conceivable topic.

The question, of course, is whether or not he would actually be a good governor. Arnold Schwarzenegger has been decent. Even people who strongly disagree with him have to admit that he works hard at the job, takes it very seriously, and admits when he is wrong. I'm willing to bet that Sir Charles would work hard as governor of Alabama, that he would take the job seriously, and admit it when he was wrong. And he would certainly be willing to push boundaries.

Go for it, Charles!


So I saw W., Oliver Stone's attempt to make some sort of sense of the mess that is both George W. Bush's presidency, and whatever passes for his inner life. Christopher Caldwell writes a far more cogent and insightful review than what I will be writing, more interesting for the simple reason that he cares about it more than I do.

I liked the movie. I don't want to give the impression that I am damning with faint praise, because there are some artistically worthy elements. Richard Dreyfus is utterly convincing as Dick Cheney - I would be surprised if he doesn't receive an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. Josh Brolin is effective as The Man Himself. What comes across convincingly is just how completely normal George W. Bush is. He's really just an average guy born into a family that had little use for "normal." But that idea, which we all know so well by now, is devastating on the screen. Sarah Palin picked the wrong possible person to succeed if she wants to be elected as a regular American.

Try as he might to make a profound film, Oliver Stone has constricted himself by virtue of his subject matter. It's hard to mkae a great movie about such an average person. It is surely possible to make a great movie about these extraordinary times. But this is all about W., and there just ain't much there there. It's the same reason TV doesn't show minor league baseball of Division III football - mediocrity is boring.

The fact that the characters around Bush are more intersting doesn't help. There certainly would seem to be more than adequate material for a fascinating character study of Dick Cheney, but I'm not into horror movies. Colin Powell has some stories worth telling and worth listening to, but not right now.

The disjunction between historically well-known people and actors is always a bit jarring, and more so here. Jeffrey Wright is a solid Colin Powell, but the real man has enough capacity for eloquence - as evidenced by his endorsement of Obama - that any impersonation is almost invariably less interesting. Thandie Newton, an actress whose performances I have always enjoyed, has a bizarre staccato impersonation of Condoleezza Rice that just does not work. Say what you want about the woman's policies, she is a smooth talker. James Cromwell portrays George H. W. Bush as more capable of arrogant disdain and parental disapproval than I would have given him credit for. The lesson there seems to be that one reason George W. Bush kept trying so hard to win his father's respect is that he never really deserved it.

Technically, it's a solid work. The cinematography is very good, as is the editing. It floats back and forth between the present and Bush's past, not really explaining much, but showing us what few dimensions the man has.

Caldwell ends with a quote from Nietzsche: “Truth has the fewest defenders not when it is dangerous to speak the truth but when it is boring.” I am not bored with George W. Bush, I just don't care about him any more. The opposite of love is not hate; it is apathy. I don't care that much about George Bush any more because he just doesn't matter. There isn't enough there there.

So much for that stereotype

Joel Stein, the only columnist in America who manages to be both an elitist snob and an apathetic slacker, recently explored the outer fringes of the electoral process. In this era of expanding the franchise, Los Angeles County set up last-minute voter registration booths at several Wendy's around town. Assuming that only the irredeemably lazy would take advantage of fast food and voter registration, Stein expected to find people who had not bothered to register and were only now making up for their procrastination. Not quite.

The first person I saw, to my shock, was someone I knew -- publicist Julia Cohen. I immediately started to make fun of her for registering at the last minute, but she told me she had registered a long time ago but feared that her forms were lost because she didn't get a voter information guide in the mail. She'd spent 25 minutes on the phone and then tried to confirm her registration on a website, but the city's computer server was overwhelmed. She even stopped by the Barack Obama campaign office for advice. Cohen wasn't a slacker. She was an anal-retentive geek.

It turned out that almost everyone I talked to at Wendy's was an incredibly responsible citizen.

. . .
My attempts to pick on procrastinators quickly turned into political conversations I was not nearly informed enough to handle. No, Doug Amaturo (had to update his address), I still don't know why the L.A. Times is against Proposition 2.
I love it when stereotypes clash with reality, and reality wins. I particularly like it when the stereotype in question is the lack of intelligence of the average American voter.

I went to high school in a suburb of Detroit. There was one class that was required by the State of Michigan for graduation: everyone had to take a class in American government. Maybe that actually worked.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Rednecks for Obama

Add another bit of weirdness to the long list of strange things floating around this campaign: Rednecks for Obama. I heard about this from a colleague at work. He's from Tennessee (although, as he likes to point out, he left there). He's not quite a redneck, but he's closer than I am, that's for sure.

Now how about this. I just discovered that there are TWO (at least!) Rednecks for Obama Websites! There's, and then there's I discovered this because this friend of mine from work told me that he ordered a bumper sticker and a t-shirt from Rednecks For Obama, but I couldn't find any on So I went back to my Google search, and voila! there's another one! Well, all I can say is that it's good to know that there are so many rednecks excited about Obama that they are forming different groups!

Anyways, this friend of mine, the guy from Tennessee who isn't really a redneck, but might have become one if he had stayed in that part of the country, bought a "Rednecks for Obama" bumper sticker.

For his Mercedes.

It will, I am sure, be the only "Rednecks for Obama" bumper sticker on a Mercedes in Los Angeles.

Of course, this Mercedes cost my colleague a grand total of $1,000. You are probably thinking, "$1,000 for a Mercedes? Something's not quite right there," and you would be correct. Said Mercedes was not in ideal running condition - hence the absurdly low price. He spent about another $8,000 to get it fixed up, which was a little mini-drama in our office for several months. He foudn all the requisite parts in a variety of places. I didn't know you could buy so many car parts on eBay. Had no idea. I also never really expected to see someone take delivery of a radiator at work. Never occurred to me that you could do that.

Then again, the whole concept of "Rednecks for Obama" is just a smidgen odd, so I suppose nothing in the rest of this little tale should be all that surprising.

Don't run, Rick!

Rick Caruso, developer of The Grove, is considering running for Mayor of LA. In the midst of this incredibly interesting time in national politics, this caught my attention. I don't think it's a good idea. He would be running as a Republican against Antonio Villaraigosa. A Republican consultant asks the key question:

"Is the disappointment with Villaraigosa so widespread?"

My short answer would be "No," and my long answer be "No, and certainly not enough to vote for a Republican." Antonio is doing a solid job. He may not be the transformational Mayor we all want and sort of expect from him, but he hasn't made any major mistakes. The only blemish is the affair he had, but even that was relatively minor. He took responsibility for it, and it faded fairly quickly.

I'm not opposed to Caruso running for Mayor eventually. I like the idea of maintaining some ideological diversity in a city as big as LA. But given the disarray of the GOP and the disillusionment with Republicans on the part of the electorate, I think he would have a much better shot if he waits until Villaraigosa leaves office. Antonio will be term-limited out in 2013, but might leave before then if he gets picked to run something in an Obama administration or if he runs for Governor and wins (which is the strongest possibility).

What I like about Villaraigosa is that he's incredibly energetic, he's very optimistic and gung-ho, he's a consummate professional, and he's not afraid to take strong stands. He unequivocally opposes Proposition 8. He hires good people. Under an Obama administration, I think he could really flourish as Mayor of LA.

I don't know much about Caruso's positions, but from his public persona, I think he might - emphasis on might - make a good mayor of LA. He seems fairly innovative, he's a good manager, and he clearly sees opportunities where others don't. And he believes in delivering value for his customers, a good sign of a good capitalist. But I think his best bet is to wait until he current occupant has moved on.

The GOP starts to fracture

The GOP is already starting to fracture, in anticipation of John McCain and Sarah Palin losing to Obama-Biden. Ha!

John McCain, of course, will continue in the Senate, and presumably retire after this term, whenever it ends. He might retire before that.

But what of Sarah Palin? Rumors swirl about her future. First, of course, she has to win reelection as governor of Alaska. But what about 2012? Will she be blamed for McCain's loss? Her supporters obviously don't think so. What she does over the next few days may determine what happens in four years.

Another burning question is: who exactly is to blame for her rather unfortunate reputation so far? Sarah Palin herself, of course, accepts no responsibility for her performance in, for example, the Katie Couric interview. She's starting to blame some of the GOP operatives around her. Politico has a great take on the internal dynamics. Which are rather messy.

Friday, October 24, 2008

There's STILL no one as Irish as Barack Obama

I posted a video a while ago about some guys singing about how there's no one as Irish as Barack Obama. It's a great song, but, honestly, it wasn't a great video.

They've come out with another video. This one still isn't great, but it's much better than the original.

Like the poet said,

"All changed, changed utterly.
A terrible beauty is born."

That is from William Butler Yeats' poem Easter 1916, about a black day in Irish history. It is not a terrible beauty that is about to be born, but all is about to change, change utterly.

"An Irish mountain is a Colorado speed bump,
blessed and cursed with a leprechaun's arthritic charm."

America is where the Irish have sent their children and their dreams, when they could not afford either.

"Israel made a covenant with God, and Ireland struck a bargain.
But America heard the sales pitch
and walked away
to sign a contract
with its children."

Let it not be said that the center does not hold; America is where the center holds.

It is strange to let myself be sentimental again, to let go of a certain amount of fear of optimism. It almost takes an effort of will to let myself believe in what I haven't believed in a long time. So many things to believe in again; possibility; change; liberals reclaiming their rightful reputation for being the ones who solve problems.

I feel like the world is holding its breath for these last few days, so many people fighting so hard, feeling optimistic, watching the polls, reading blogs, reading newspapers. It is at once the best and worst of times. We are fighting two wars; we are in the midst of a massive financial crisis; our budget deficit has skyrocketed; we have lost the moral high ground.

And yet, if current trends hold, we are about to elect a black man President of the United States only 43 years after the passage of the Voting Rights Act, only a few decades after the President of the United States of America had to resort to the use of armed force to integrate schools. The worst president of at least modern times, if not all times, is a complete and utter failure, isolated and impotent. We are seeing the best of Americans and the worst of Americans. A clueless Republican Representative goes on TV and questions the patriotism of a mainstream candidate for president; it may very well cost her her seat in Congress. She is the worst of America, but the response, the hundreds of people who gave money to her opponent, a man most had never heard of, is the best of America.

"I want to ride rough ride the streets of Manhattan and Detroit,
zoom float zoom the cresting waves of Floridian Atlantic beaches,
staring into the face of the exploding Cape Canaveral dawn."

All quotes after Yeats are from "Irish and American Colors and Fires," copyright me 1993.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Dear HSX: The redesign sucks

The Hollywood Stock Exchange has undergone a redesign. For reasons passing understanding, the powers that be at HSX have changed the format so that it is worse in just about every possible way. It's beyond horrible. So far I can't find anything that has changed for the better. The text is too small, the portfolio is too small and hard to read, the calendar is also too small and also hard to read, and when I tried to trade something, IE crashed. It used to be easy to tell which securities I was holding long and short, because the ones I was holding short were in red italics. Now they are all the same, with the word (long) or (short) next to each. Not as visually easy.

The formatting for the calendar used to be really well done; each day was clearly marked, the StarBonds, MovieStocks, and derivatives were all separate, and it was easy to find the next or previous weeks. Now everything is just in one big long list. On Monday, October 20, there are 28 securities listed on the calendar. Some of those I don't care about, some of them I do. But I have to squint at the damn list to figure out what exactly is going on.

And it's slower than ever, if that's possible. My portfolio usually takes a long time to load, but I do own about 1,700 securities, so there is a lot of actual text to load. I don't have the fastest computer, but I do have DSL. It's not even loading right now.

Of course the ads are now more intrusive. Someone's trying harder to make money on this, but my strong suspicion is that this will backfire, and badly. I haven't read a single completely positive post on the forums. One person had a "pro and con" list - that was the only thing I've seen that had anything good to say about this godawful mess. I normally ignore the forums, but I'm sure paying attention to them this week.

What's bizarre is that it was working fairly well, and now they've put a great deal of effort into redesigning it, and they threw out the things that were perfectly fine!

I've been playing HSX for 10 years. My portfolio is getting very close to H$2 billion. I am in the top 99.97% of all players. My lifetime return is over 98,000%. I'm really good at this, I like it, and I have put a huge amount of time into it. I've learned a lot playing HSX. Now I'm learning lessons I really don't want to learn. I already know what bad design and corporate screwups look like; I don't need any reminders on that score.

I wasn't playing much last winter and spring, but I have been playing fairly consistently of late, and I've been looking forward to upping my game a bit, playing the derivatives carefully, paying slightly more attention to openings and the StarBonds, that kind of thing. Now I'm really not sure I'm going to do more than check on the IPOs every couple of days and the StarBonds on Tuesdays. It's going to be more difficult to find the stocks that are tanking in my portfolio, which is a huge pain.

I've been toying with the idea of auctioning off my portfolio for a while, because it does take a certain amount of time just to maintain my ranking, and I could probably get something for it. I don't know how easy that it anymore; I think eBay outlawed selling virtual reality stuff like this. But the irony is that now that I am more inclined to do sell my portfolio, the market to do is, I'm sure, largely gone, because, until they fix this dog, ain't nobody going to be jumping in to play more HSX.

Which, of course, makes the game that much less interesting. Fewer players would just be less fun.

I am sincerely hoping that someone at HSX has the sense to realize what a horrible mistake they have made and fixes things pronto.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Sarah Palin, making $150K look really good

Sarah Palin is certainly having fun on the campaign trail. She - oops - the Republican National Committee spent $150,000 on clothes since her nomination to be vice president. That's a lot of high-heeled shoes.

I'm sure I haven't spent $150K on clothes in my entire life. Maybe my entire family has spent that much over the last 20 or 30 years.

A question arises: how did she spend that much money if she's running for vice president? Doesn't it take time to do the kind of shopping that would be required to spend that much money on clothes? I would have to rent a couple of U-hauls just to get all of it back to my apartment.

Well, there's a very simple answer: she spent it very efficiently! She spent it fast, because she didn't buy very many clothes! Really easy to pack everything into a suitcase when you're shopping at Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus. And she didn't have to do much comparison shopping, which also saves time! I bet she didn't even have to waste time signing the credit card receipt!

When John McCain got in trouble for not knowing how many houses he owns, part of the defense was that his wife inherited her wealth, and her father earned it. Has Sarah Palin earned this kind of expenditure? She's living a fairy tale life. She's like the girl who discovers that she's really a princess.

Of course, this is the age of television, and she does need to look good. But my guess is that the Obama campaign has not been spending thousands of dollars to make Michelle look good.

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Jason Jones goes to Wasilla

Jason Jones, of The Daily Show, went to Wasilla. One thing he did there was interview the Mayor. That would be the woman who has the job that Sarah Palin once had. This is devastating.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Props to McCain supporters

In the heat of this campaign, sometimes good things happen. Some guy at a McCain rally was ranting about the evils of Islam. He was driven off by McCain supporters - some of whom were Muslim, some of whom were Christian. Nice to see this happening. Even better: I got this from Daily Kos. Democracy in action, from almost everyone involved!

The Centripetal Web - working for me

Nick Carr has some concerns about the status of the Web. He's worried that, as opposed to the good old wide-open, anything-goes days of the 90's, more and more of us are sticking to what we know:

for most of us, most of the time, the World Wide Web has become a small and comfortable place. Indeed, statistics indicate that web traffic is becoming more concentrated at the largest sites, even as the overall number of sites continues to increase, and one recent study found that as people's use of the web increases, they become "more likely to concentrate most of their online activities on a small set of core, anchoring Websites."
It's a legitimate concern - the days when I would just surf and surf and surf to see what came up are long gone. It was a great deal of fun finding new Web sites just to see what they were about. I remember checking out the "Cool Site Of The Day." Wow, you can actually BUY BOOKS at Amazon? How cool is that?!? At the time, it was a thrill. Now, not so much. I distinctly remember a conservation, around 1997, when someone told me something to the effect of "I don't just surf for fun anymore." I rarely do that anymore. Except on YouTube.

Looking back is looking backwards. Those good old days were sort of like the good old days of getting your driver's license, or going off to college, or moving to a new city. You spend some time exploring just for the thrill of experiencing the new. But eventually the new isn't new anymore, and you settle down and start being more productive.

I surf differently these days because the Web is structured very differently, but it's also structured much more according to my needs. I use four blogs on a regular basis: Andrew Sullivan, Talking Points Memo, Daily Kos, and Huffington Post. I use two newspaper sites:, and I use those sites for two reasons. 1, I trust the analysis, and 2, they are great aggregators of content from around the Web. They surf so I don't have to. Andrew Sullivan posts constantly, and on a wide variety of topics, not just politics. He's a one-man aggregator. I also surf to some of his compadres at The Atlantic, like Marc Ambinder and Megan McArdle, because I am already at TPM, Daily Kos, and HuffPost aggregate a fair chunk of content within their own sites. The NY Times and Washington Post are old-fashioned aggregators, with their people out in the field.

One reason I am concentrating on those sites right now is that I am, like most of the rest of the country, not to mention large slices of the rest of the world, focusing on the very big picture of who will be the next president. There are lots of issues that I would like to following in greater depth, but for the next couple of weeks, I am going to ignore them. Partially because I know they will be there when I come back to them.

Carr's cynicism runs throughout his post. One negative development of the conglomeration that we are witnessing, according to him, is that

people began to demonstrate their innate laziness, retreating from the wilds and following the increasingly well-worn paths of least resistance.
Reading Daily Kos is about the farthest thing from "the path of least resistance" I can imagine. We're talking about a Web site which practically screams at its readers about donating to and working for the latest great progressive candidates, and generates far more content in one day than any single person can read in their spare time. Some people are naturally lazy and will make very little effort to go outside their comfort zone. I would argue the opposite of Carr: on the Web, it's almost absurdly easy to go outside your comfort zone. On the Web, you can be both lazy and ridiculously well-informed at the same time. Whether or not any one person goes outside their comfort zone says far more about them than it does about the Web.

One thing Carr ignores is that it's not just the amount of information that is categorically different these days, but the kind. Outside of politics, I follow the movie industry. I play the Hollywood Stock Exchange. I am currently following about 1,400 different movies. Talk about content aggregation. That would not have been physically possible for someone outside of a movie studio to do before the Web. HSX has also inspired a number of fan sites that provide additional content. Project Genome follows every single movie on HSX. That's my favorite starting place for doing movie research. Once again, they are doing the aggregating for me, and I trust them to keep doing it.

Carr uses Wikipedia as an example of a content aggregator that fails to inspire, because it is usually "good enough." I would agree with that, but I would disagree about whether or not it is a problem. I use Wikipedia all the time, even though I know it's not necessarily the best site for any particular given topic. But I don't necessarily want the best site for any given topic. For many topics, I want a brief overview, a quick synopsis. This is because there are many things that I have a passing, but not deep, interest in. I don't have the time or inclination to study in great detail everything that I am curious about. Wikipedia works for me because I would like to know a little bit about a wide range of topics, and a great deal about a few. Wikipedia is absurdly good for five-minute conversations with a coworker about something that both of you have heard of, and that you would like to know a little more about. But not a lot.

Speaking of curiosity, Carr bemoans the impact making searches much easier:
When convenience meets curiosity, convenience usually wins.
I could not disagree more. Convenience and curiosity are, if anything, complementary, rather than contradictory. If it's much easier to find satisfy an intellectual itch, you are much more likely to scratch.

Part of the reason for certain sites being better at aggregating is simply the nature of community. I check out Daily Kos because they cover topics that I am interested in. That is also true for thousands of other people, so we all check it out. And then Daily Kos makes more money from its ads, and gets better at what it does. At this point, it's getting pretty darn good. This is the same reason amost everyone I know can recite the lyrics for dozens of Beatles songs: we all like them.

If we all gravitate towards the same content, that's because it says something to lots of us. Carr claims that the centripetal forces of the Web means "The center holds." I would switch one letter in that sentence: I would move the "s" from the end of "holds" to the end of "center," so that it would read "The centers hold." There is no one center of the Web. There are thousands. I'm sure there are dominant, aggregating Web sites for knitting, poodle owners, water skiers, and Dead Kennedy fans. Mr. Carr would do well to update his metaphors.

Obama at the Al Smith dinner

One of the best things about YouTube and new technology in general is that it opens up those few parts of the political process where people from different parts of the political spectrum make a real effort to get along. This is one of them. My favorite lines: Obama got his middle name from someone who never thought he would be running for president. Also, "Barack" is actually Swahili for "that one."


John McCain at the Al Smith dinner

John McCain and Barack Obama were both at the Al Smith dinner, which is apparently a charity gig in New York (Al Smith was governor of New York and a candidate for President). McCain's speech is actually quite funny. It's too bad for him he couldn't be like this in the debates.

McCain on Ayers

John McCain continues to run ads and robocalls linking Obama with William Ayers. Chris Wallace on Fox News, of all places, points out that McCain hired the same firm for these robocalls that slimed him in South Carolina in 2000. McCain claims that they are different, that the Ayers ads and robocalls are true. In this clip, note a contradiction in McCain's position. He claims that he doesn't care about Bill Ayers, but that he thinks that the American people should know what Obama's relationship with him is, and that Obama has not been clear about that. But if he doesn't care about Bill Ayers, why does he care about Obama's relationship with him?

McCain is technically correct that the robocall is true: Bill Ayers was involved with bombings in the US. But the implication that Obama somehow approves of that behavior is ridiculous: Obama has repeatedly condemned them. For most of us, that stuff is long in the past.

But for McCain, they're not in the past. McCain is still very much stuck in the '60's. Ayers was a member of the Weather Underground when McCain was a POW. That's how he sees this issue: while he was sacrificing for his country, Bill Ayers was committing acts of treason. Most of the rest of the country has long since moved on. We've dealt with the legacies from the '60's in a lot of different ways. We've sorted out the good - civil rights, feminism, Jimi Hendrix - from the bad - LSD, protests that went too far, communes that fell apart.

McCain cannot and will never forgive someone like Bill Ayers for what he did during the '60s. Protesting is presumably fine; as a Senator, he's subject to vitriolic disagreement from his constituents all the time. But using violence in politics, particularly against the Pentagon and Capitol, are unpardonable for McCain. This is why he sees a big difference between the attacks on him in 2000 and his Ayers robocalls. The attacks on him questioned his character and attacked his family. His attacks on Obama about Ayers are, literally, about patriotism and whether someone loves or hates America. He thinks Bill Ayers hates America, quite literally, and all of the arguments about water under the bridge, rehabilitation, etc. have no meaning for him. For him, once a domestic terrorist, always a domestic terrorist.

Here's the video:

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Colin Powell endorses Obama

Today on Meet The Press, Colin Powell announced that he will be voting for Senator Obama for President. Here's the video. It's a long announcement, but eloquent and heartfelt. He makes it clear that he has taken the time to make his decision carefully, and has paid particular attention to the conduct of the campaign, both by the candidates themselves, and by others in the parties, particularly the GOP.

Many thanks to the general.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Taking Nader seriously, Part 1

I have an old friend who is a Nader supporter. We've been discussing everyone's favorite Lebanese American presidential candidate. As far as I am concerned, 2000 campaign is over and done with. My take on Nader is simple: I think he's an incredible activist, but not such a great politician. But, since I have been talking about him, I figured I should at least check out his Web site, and take him at least a little bit seriously.

At the outset, I think it's important for Obama supporters to acknowledge the groundwork that Nader laid, in terms of setting up organizational structures for organizing, that paved the way for the Obama campaign. Obama has run an incredibly well-organized campaign, and a large part of that is due to his background as a community organizer. Nader was instrumental in developing an infrastructure for community organizing, for legitimizing it. In that sense, Obama is Nader's heir in this campaign. That has to be acknowledged. is a decent Website. It has a lot in common with Sign up here, contribute here, etc. I suppose that's the nature of the beast. I'll comment more later.

My friend called me tonight because he had heard about a radio show on Democracy Now! that had an interesting twist on the presidential debates. The ran the audio for the last presidential debate, and then invited Cynthia McKinney and Ralph Nader (Bob Barr and Chuck Baldwin were invited, but couldn't make it) to respond. That's cool.

The only problem was that McKinney and Nader didn't have a lot of time themselves to respond. I noticed a couple of things: McKinney said something about nationalizing the Federal Reserve. Huh? That makes no sense, and it's the kind of comment that can say a little too much about why someone is a third party candidate for president, instead of still being a member of Congress.

Nader talked about a securities tax, which I think is an interesting idea. It's the kind of thing that would usually arouse rather serious opposition from the financial industry, but might get passed today, given the unpopularity of Wall Street. But then he threw in a soundbite that threw me for a bit of a loop. He mentioned that this year, the total value of derivatives transactions will be $500 trillion, and that a tax of of 1/10 of 1% would raise $500 billion. This is the kind of thing that sounds too good to be true. If it were that easy to raise $500 billion, we would have done it by now. $500 trillion? I think he might be talking about the total value of all transactions, but that is very different from the total value of all derivatives. For example, if someone has an insurance policy on their house with $1 million of coverage, that does not mean that they have paid the insurance company $1 million. It means that they pay the insurance company a few thousand dollars every year. So that comment did not do wonders for Mr. Nader's credibility on economic issues.

Cynthia McKinney brought up the death penalty, and for that I am grateful, and for that alone I am thankful that she is in the race, in whatever capacity.

Nader also wants more debates, obviously including him. I'm uncommitted on that score; I think it would certainly make things more interesting, but there also was not a shortage of debates during the primary. Three presidential debates was just about enough for me. I would, however, be interested in seeing the presidential candidates mix it up with some third party candidates next time around. That could be fun. I've also heard that, contrary to John Kerry, Obama did not try to persuade Nader not to run, and did nothing to block him. So Nader is on the ballot in 45 states. I think that's healthy, but I have to admit that, this time around, Obama is running a much better campaign than either Gore in 2000 or Kerry in 2004. Also, and this is a little sad, Nader just is not that much of a threat this time around. So maybe I can afford to be gracious. But if I can afford it, then I think I have a responsibility to be that way.

ACORN came up. I interviewed with ACORN once, in Philadelphia. I could have worked for them while I was taking time off of Swarthmore. Instead, I went to Oberlin and took a couple of classes. I'm glad I did. It was at Oberlin that I came up with the first half of the motto of this blog: Art before politics.

Nader advocates scrapping NAFTA and the WTO. Not a healthy approach. Those are treaties that the US has signed. Once they are signed, we have to oblige by them. Ignoring the demands of international law is one of the great problems of the Bush administration. Bush trashed the ABM treaty when he first got into office. Arbitrarily and unilaterally voiding treaties does not engender respect for democracy, either here in America or abroad. So while I agree with Ralph that labor and environmental standards should be part of free trade agreements, I think his approach could be more diplomatic. Which is supposed to be part of what differentiates him from Bush.

I recommend reading the transcript, as opposed to listening to it, because that way you can skip the Obama-McCain parts.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The New Yorker on the ACORN nonsense

John McCain, and the various elements of the Republican propaganda machine, have suddenly latched onto ACORN as a villain, accusing it of perpetuating voter fraud. This is ridiculous on its face, but, just to provide some context, here's The New Yorker's Hendrik Hertzberg on just why it's absurd.

My two cents is simple: who do you trust more on the issue of minority voting, Democrats or Republicans? Because of course we all know what a great track record Republicans and conservatives have on expanding the franchise to include minorities.

Democrats are better for the stock market

Republicans used to have a reputation for being better managers than Democrats. After all, Republicans are business-oriented, and many of them have experience in business. Democrats, supposedly, are not as interested in business. I think that's one of those stereotypes left over from the '60's. The NY Times provides a most helpful graphic pretty much putting that stereotype to rest. Turns out that, over the past 80 years or so, Democrats have been better for the economy. Much, much better. $10,000 invested with the Democrats would have turned into $300,000. $10K invested with Republicans would have returned $52,000 (excluding Herbert Hoover) and only $11,733, if you include Herbert Hoover. Oops. So all you out there interested in seeing your stock market portfolios go up: Vote Obama.

Dodgers lose

The Dodgers lost to the Phillies. As expected. Now I can go on trash talking them in peace. It's a lonely life, hating the Dodgers here in LA, but I just cannot generate any enthusiasm for them. That might be because they are losers. But, as my boss pointed out, at least they got close to the World Series, so all hope is not lost. There's always next season to be profoundly disappointed.

So much for that stereotype

I think Joe The Plumber may have put to rest the "Joe Six-Pack" stereotype. Please God let this be the case. Turns out he's not really a plumber (apparently he runs a plumbing business, but he doesn't have a license, and he's not a member of the union). Also, and here's where the irony gets a little thick, this guy who asked about having to pay more in taxes has an overdue tax bill. Hmmm.

So what's that stereotype again? The overworked, underappreciated straight white American male, the guy who works hard, goes hunting in the fall, loves his wife and kids, coaches Little League, and spends Sunday afternoons watching the Packers, drinking Bud, laughing with the guys he knows from high school, the ones who are still his friends all these years later, the ones he invited over because it's his turn to host the poker game.

That's the guy. Maybe he doesn't think too much about politics, but he knows what he believes, and what he believes in is America, lower taxes, and traditional values.

Maybe not so much. Maybe Joe has his problems and flaws and maybe Joe shouldn't really be the focus of all of us interested in this debate. Maybe we shouldn't be worried about Joe Six-Pack to the exclusion of everyone else in the country. Maybe we should remember that Joe is part of a wide spectrum of people who populate this country.

Maybe we should put this stereotype out of its misery.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Tonight's winner: Joe the plumber!

I watched the debate at a bar in Pasadena. By the end, people in the bar, including the bartender, were laughing anytime anyone mentioned Joe The Plumber.

As usual, Obama seemed very calm, while McCain seemed ready to explode. I'm thinking of McCain in contrast to Reagan. I couldn't stand Reagan when he was in office, but I will admit that he was always very calm and likable. Even when he seemed confused and befuddled, he was a nice guy. McCain is just pissed off at Obama. It's easy to see why his rallies are filled with people yelling and screaming; he can barely keep himself from letting it rip. He clearly had to make an effort to keep his anger inside himself. And at least once he got very sarcastic, I think about vouchers in the DC schools. McCain seriously looks like he is about to lose it. I remember feeling like that - when I was about 17. He really looks like an immature teenager. Which I don't think I would say about almost any other Republican.

Andrew Sullivan thinks that Obama was, a couple of times, boring. But that's a compliment this time around, particularly in comparison to Bush. This brings up something most people forget: politics at a time like this is fascinating, but politics is ultimately about governing, and the vast, vast majority of government is really, really dull. The mechanics of government are about laws and numbers. So I suppose we should be thankful that politics, as opposed to government, is occasionally so damn dramatic.

I've already seen a couple of YouTubes up cataloguing McCain's eye-rolling, his smirks, etc. Here's one:

McCain looks like he's incredibly frustrated, and he can't handle being frustrated. Which is just not a quality I want in a president.

Some substance: spending freeze? How about we get specific? A spending freeze would mean no increases for the FBI, for medical research, for consumer product safety. Remember that mess we had with passports, when the State Department couldn't process all the requests and had to hire more people? We would be out of luck on that one. NASA, you want to fix the Hubble? Sorry, not in the budget.

Obama keeps bringing it back to the issues. Good move.

On the question of the tone of the campaign, Obama very gently explains that he thot John Lewis's comment was inappropriate. That's exactly the right response. When someone gets a little excited, you say something very diplomatic, and you say it calmly, and then everyone forgets about it. I don't John McCain has done anything remotely like that for months.

Just want to remind everyone of Hemingway's definition of courage: Courage is grace under pressure. Obama sure was graceful under pressure.

One of Obama's best qualities in a situation like this is his ability to laugh off challenges, to be genuinely amused when something comes up that is supposed to bother him. He just smiles at some of McCain's attacks, and then calmly refutes them. Strong contrast to McCain's twitching.

That's it for now.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The crash of '73 - 1873

Nice article from the NY Times about the Panic of 1873. Some interesting parallels with what's happening today - absurdly high prices, too much debt, credit crunch, failing banks, direct government intervention.

McCain has new economics proposal

John McCain released some new economics proposals today.

I am trying really hard to care. Really trying hard. Summoning up all of my concentration, all of my long history of thinking deeply about profound economics issues.

Nope. Not working. Still don't give a damn. Oh, now here's another problem: now I don't care that I don't care. I'm apathetic about my own complete lack of interest in a serious, substantive debate in the presidential campaign.

C'est la vie! Too bad! Try again next time, Senator!

When is the next episode of Dancing With The Stars on?

Dahlia Lithwick on Troopergate

I haven't posted much on Sarah Palin's idiotic attempt to get her ex-brother-in-law fired, because there isn't much to say beyond, "what a disgrace." Dahlia Lithwick sums it up, and provides some pointers for politicians involved in this kind of thing in the future. Her conclusion:

So, let this be a lesson to those of you in high office with dreams of firing others for personal or political gain. It's not what you do but the way that you do it. Anyone can fire an employee who serves at their pleasure. But it takes a special cocktail of panache, spin, deceit, and denial to completely bungle the job, and still skate away unharmed.
Well, that pretty much erases any question about whether or not Sarah Palin has the ethics of a slug. The answer is yes.

Obama in the Xbox

Now this is interesting: the Obama campaign has gone where no campaign has ever gone before: they placed ads in a videogame. The ads are in a game called "Burnout Paradise." Not the best title for a political candidate, but I suppose if you're going to advertise in a videogame, there aren't going to be any politically correct choices. Almost makes me wish I had an Xbox.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Strange wisdom from Bill Kristol

Just when you thot things couldn't get weirder: William Kristol writes a column for the ages today. His first line has some really different advice for John McCain:

It’s time for John McCain to fire his campaign.
Wouldn't that be fun. Kristol then goes on to do what oh so few of his conservative compatriots have been willing to do of late: he acknowledges reality.

[McCain's] campaign is totally overmatched by Obama’s. The Obama team is well organized, flush with resources, and the candidate and the campaign are in sync. The McCain campaign, once merely problematic, is now close to being out-and-out dysfunctional. Its combination of strategic incoherence and operational incompetence has become toxic. If the race continues over the next three weeks to be a conventional one, McCain is doomed.
Having done the brave - for a conservative - thing and disabused himself of some delusions, Kristol goes straight back to his old bad habits, notably dreaming aloud in bright, cheery nonsense, painting word pictures with neon psychedelic colors. Take, for example, this bit advice for McCain:

Keep just a minimal staff to help organize the press conferences McCain and Palin should have at every stop and the TV interviews they should do at every location. Do town halls, do the Sunday TV shows, do talk radio — and invite Obama and Biden to join them in some of these venues, on the ground that more joint appearances might restore civility and substance to the contest.
I would be a big fan of restoring civility and substance to this contest. That would be great. And I would love to have some of what Kristol is smoking if he thinks that McCain and Palin are capable of doing that. I would not, however, want whatever Kristol is smoking that makes him think that McCain and Palin are going to be convinced to do press conferences, because that must be dangerously mind-altering stuff. He thinks Sarah Palin is going to be doing regular press conferences? He must be WAY past crack.

For all his conservative credentials, Kristol apparently forgets that alleged key component of conservatism: personal responsibility. John McCain should fire his campaign? Who does he think hired these people in the first place? Sarah Palin should be doing press conferences whenever and wherever possible? If that were even a remotely good idea, wouldn't they have started doing that, oh, say, a month and a half ago? The people on the McCain campaign know something that is holding Sarah Palin back from giving press conferences. Maybe the fact that her interviews so far have become the stuff of political pop culture legend - and not in a good way for her - provides a clue.

I'll say this for Kristol: the man takes risks. Ain't no one else out there suggesting this kind of thing, at least not on Op-Ed pages of the large metropolitan newspapers. He's going to get a lot of flak for this. I think it's completely delusional, but it is bold. Delusional but bold: there are worse combinations for a NY Times columnist. At this point, the second line of his column applies as much to him as to McCain: "He has nothing to lose." At this point, he can claim that he gave McCain radical advice, and, if McCain doesn't take it, he has a smidgen bit of independence from his failure. Handing out radical, apparently substantive advice while effectively bailing from a sinking ship. In one column. That takes talent.

I can't think of much that William Kristol has written that I agree with, but damn can he be entertaining. I mostly agree with this, but you will be able to knock me over with a feather if McCain does any of this.

Actually, I take that back. With John McCain, the only certainty is uncertainty. He might very well do everything Kristol is suggesting tomorrow, and then won't Kristol look like a genius. Anything is possible. As Hunter S. Thompson said, when the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.


I saw an interesting new play, Razorback, this weekend. The advertising describes it as a "pitch dark comedy about fathers and sins." "Pitch dark" is appropriate. It's like an entire season of The Sopranos squeezed into one play. I saw it with a friend, who once directed one of the actresses. It was in one of those hole-in-the-wall theaters, less than 100 seats, where you are up close and personal with the stage regardless of where you are sitting.

It takes place over a couple of days at a summer cottage in Maine. A nice, upper-middle-class family is struggling with some normal, but important issues. The father has cancer. Should the son, and only child, take a semester off from his sophomore year at Dartmouth to take care of him? Dad also has issues in the bedroom, which is a little frustrating for Mom.

But things get much more intriguing fairly quickly. Turns out the son is not the father's only child - he has another son, from a previous marriage. Dad is now a respectable businessman of some kind, but once upon a time he was from "the neighborhood," the kind where blood runs much, much thicker than water. Of coure, he's Italian. The son from the previous marriage shows up. He brings some baggage, notably his pregnant Puerto Rican girlfriend and his Ma, Dad's ex-wife. Son #1 and Wife #1 are both still living in "the neighborhood." I mentioned that blood runs thicker than water. What made me think of that is that, in this play, blood also runs rather freely. There's a sign on the entrance: "Gunfire will be heard during this performance."

The acting was almost uniformly good, although the son at Dartmouth seemed almost too nerdish. The production design was impressive, making the most of a small stage. The directing was solid. The script was well-structured, but I would describe it as more "dark" than "comedy." It could have used one or two more polishes, and a few more jokes. All in all, recommended, as quality theatre, but do not go alone.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Paul Newman, 1925-2008

Paul Newman died a couple of weeks ago. Damn him for dying during an incredibly interesting time in American politics! I kept forgetting to blog about him, but he deserves a few thots.

He played most of his great screen roles before I had a chance to see them on the big screen in their initial releases. He was always part of the background of my life, a name I understand as part of Hollywood royalty, no one I thot about much for most of my life. I noticed him a bit more after he started his salad dressing company. The city where he lived, Westport, is one of my favorite cities on the East Coast.

Then I bought my Dad his book, Shameless Exploitation in Pursuit of the Common Good: The Madcap Business Adventure by the Truly Oddest Couple, about how he started his salad dressing company. Dad loved it. It's very funny, but also very poignant.

I like the contrast between what he did with his movie star fame and what Robert Redford did with his. Both of them started organizations that changed a part of the world. Redford's is Sundance, a now-glamorous film festival, with various other assorted associated projects. It's mostly a once-a-year event that attracts a lot of attention, lots of money, and can change individual's lives very quickly. Newman, on the other hand, brewed a batch of salad dressing for some friends in a barn. It's an everyday kind of thing, instead of once a year, it doesn't attract much attention, sitting on a grocery store shelf, and the product by itself doesn't change anyone's life overnight. But Sundance and Newman's Own have both had a dramatic impact on their respective niches of our society.

Reading his obituary and the various tributes that poured out about him, what I noticed was his sense of honesty. Not just integrity, but honesty. He was very honest with himself about what he wanted, who he was, and what he was capable of. And what he was afraid of, and what he loved. He applied that honesty to his characters: he was brutally honest about who were the people that he played. Which forced his audiences to be honest about how they reacted to him. Which made him a great actor, and a great man.

I don't want to thank him for his great roles or the charities he helped out. He's not around to appreciate the thanks, and I have a feeling that he was the sort of humble guy who didn't like a lot of praise. I'd just like to remember that it was really, really nice to have him around for a few decades.

Saturday, October 11, 2008


Palinex is a prescription medication for those really unfortunate moments of severely dysfuctional and psychotic political decision-making. Use only as directed, but, please, Dear God, for the love of all that is righteous and good in the world, use it.

hat tip: Andrew Sullivan

Friday, October 10, 2008

A. O. Scott looks back at Citizen Ruth

The NY Times' movie reviewer A. O. Scott takes a look back at Citizen Ruth, a comedy about abortion. It was made by Alexander Payne (Election, Sideways), and starred Laura Dern in one of her best roles.

I'm very glad Scott took the time to review this movie and remind the world of its existence. It is criminally underappreciated. It's possibly the only movie ever made that is almost perfectly evenhanded in its treatment of both sides of the abortion issue.

And it's a comedy. A good one. An oddly sweet, yet sort of dark, very insightful comedy about abortion. Quite probably the only one ever made.

Laura Dern plays a slacker who spends most of her time inhaling glue or paint. She's about as far down the social ladder as you can go. She's arrested, for the umpeenth time. She discovers that she's pregnant. The judge orders her to have an abortion. She's joined in jail by members of an anti-abortion group, who have been arrested for civil disobedience. They take her under their wing . . . until a feminist group kidnaps her, and take her under THEIR wing.

Payne flirts with stereotypes, but also brings the characters to life. Walking that edge is where he finds comic gold.

It helps that he has a great cast, including Swoosie Kurtz and Burt Reynolds.

The only criticism that I have of the movie applies to the poster. Laura Dern is shown as a smiling Lady Liberty, which is about the farthest thing from what she is in the movie. So the marketing is terrible. That's understandable, in a way. I'm not sure how I would have tried to market a comedy about abortion that could both amuse and offend both sides.

Every once in a great while, a movie comes along that reminds you of what a great thing it is that we have freedom of speech in this country. This is one of those movies.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Obama on Ayers - interview with Charlie Gibson

John McCain and Sarah Palin have been hammering Obama about his connection with William Ayers recently, which I think is beyond ludicrous. Charlie Gibson brought it up in an interview with Obama (not quite sure how to embed the video or even if I can, which means that ABC is behind NBC a bit - I LOVE how the video works for SNL).

Megan McArdle and Andrew Sullivan, two normally levelheaded bloggers, have written recently that they have problems with the fact that Obama has not apologized for his association with Ayers.

Apologize for what? Does Obama's association with him in any way condone what the man did 40 years ago? Absolutely not. Obama has made it very clear that what William Ayers did with the Weathermen all those years ago was wrong, and he does not condone it. But Obama, as a churchgoing Christian, also believes in redemption and forgiveness. By the time Obama met him, Ayers was an accepted and respected member of the community. What should Obama have done, refused any association with him? How would that work? Ayers hosted Obama's first fundraiser when he was running for the Illinois state Senate. What's Obama going to do, turn down the first person who offers to help him out in his political career? How stupid would that be?

Obama has also been on a board of a local organization with Ayers. Again, what's Obama going to do, refuse to participate in a local non-profit because of a mistake that this guy made decades previously? That would be hurting himself and the organization. Obviously what William Ayers did was wrong. But he is a free man, and a member of the community in good standing.

In America, we believe in redemption and rehabilitation. I know next to nothing about William Ayers, but the people at the University of Illinois have decided that he's OK, and that's good enough for me.

Obama the cool and collected Commander in Chief

The NY Times runs a bit of analysis of Obama's style, particularly vis-a-vis Clinton:

There are no volcanic explosions with Mr. Obama, rarely any finger-waving or lip-biting, and far less of the undisciplined campaigning that Mr. Clinton perfected.

Which is perfectly fine with me. Clinton's ability to empathize had some serious costs, particularly the polarization he and Hillary engendered. I was and am, to a lesser extent, a Bill Clinton fan. He did a lot of good things, but I don't miss him all that much. I'm much happier with Obama.

Clinton epitomized the best and worst of the 60's: the passion to change the world, but also the rebelliousness, the live-on-edge willingness to have a little too much fun. Which is one reason so many people reacted so strongly to him. The fact that Obama is nothing like is one sign that the culture wars left over from that decade are fading in importance. At least for some people.

Obama's calm, reflective style also is what allows him to be legitimately bipartisan. He's not afraid of Republicans, and Republican politicians are not afraid of him. McCain and Palin are stirring up the crowds with their denunciations of him, but if their rhetoric clashes with reality, ultimately Obama wins. If they keep describing him as a radical, and he comes across as calm and steady, they will look like fools.

Brigitte Bardot on Sarah Palin

Brigitte Bardot does not like Sarah Palin. Somehow, not surprising. Bardot is now an animal-rights activist, and does not appreciate Palin's comments about pit bulls:

In a final salvo against Palin, the 74-year-old ex-star picked up on Palin's depiction of herself as a pitbull wearing lipstick and said she "implored" her not to compare herself to dogs.

"I know them well and I can assure you that no pitbull, no dog, nor any other animal for that matter is as dangerous as you are," Bardot wrote.
So now I will be thinking of this election the next time I watch a Brigitte Bardot movie. Not a bad thing, actually.

Sarah Palin, fighter? Please.

I loved this comment on The Confabulum, a conservative/libertarian blog I just discovered.

Here is what Governor Palin does each day: she gives speeches written by someone else to adoring crowds who cheer her. She talks to ideologically friendly radio and television programs. Once in a great while she answers a reporter’s question, or engages in a VP debate, or answers a question asked by a voter. It is true that the media is critical of her, and some Democratic partisans are downright rude to her and her family. She may well have thick skin. Even so, none of this is fighting.

The post is in response to a writer on Michelle Malkin's blog that Sarah Palin is a "fighter." She may come off that way, but what has she fought for that required any kind of sacrifice? She's the governor of a state that gets most of its revenue from oil. She doesn't have to worry about making the hard choices that every other governor has to make, balancing raising taxes versus cutting spending, etc. She makes snide comments about her opponents - that's a fighter?

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

First debate reax: quick and dirty

I haven't had a chance to watch the whole debate yet, and, from what I've read, I'm not sure I want to. Sounds like it wasn't the most exciting thing ever, although, for a political junkie like me, I'm guessing every second will have something of interest.

I did watch the question about the bailout. McCain clearly tried to pin everything on the Democrats and Obama. It was transparent, and almost silly, because he's not talking about Wall Street or the broader picture. Even someone with a minimal understanding of this crisis should know that Fannie and Freddie, while key, were also far from the whole story.

Obama, on the other hand, both personalized it very quickly and simply - this is what it means to you - and then went straight to the big picture: McCain advocated deregulation. Simple and powerful: deregulation of the financial should be striking fear into every American's heart at this point. He sounded like a teacher who really wanted to make sure his students understood what he was trying to explain. Not condescending towards them, but determined to make a complicated subject clear. Good for him.

Gotta miss the debate

I am unfortunately going to miss the presidential debate tonight; I have a meeting that cannot be missed. But I will try to catch as much of it as I can online.

My prediction is that Obama will connect really well with people in the audience. As I understand it, tonight's debate is a town-hall forum. I've heard rumors that Obama does not do as well in these kinds of debates as in other, more formal settings. I'm not sure I buy that; I think one of Obama's great strengths is his ability to listen. If he can provide answers that actually answer the questions posed, without too many cliches or talking points, I think he will come off well.

I also expect more anger from McCain. He's been getting criticism of late that he is coming across as a grumpy old man. If he listens to that criticism, he'll try to avoid getting mad.

But I don't think he is listening to that criticism. McCain is famous in the Senate for his temper. If he hasn't figured out how to control his temper in the Senate by now, he ain't going to be learning anytime soon.

McCain's lack of economic plan a real problem

Here's an interesting comment on John McCain's lack of an economic plan:

Not having a compelling economic message before the financial crisis hit was malpractice; now it’s madness. McCain’s pet causes of bipartisanship and earmark reform don’t qualify as such a message. Bipartisanship is an empty concept; the parties can unite just as easily to pass foolhardy laws as necessary ones. Meanwhile, only John McCain would — as he did in the first debate —steer a discussion about a complex global credit crunch onto earmarked federal spending for bear DNA research.

McCain has suffered from his own manifest lack of interest in economic issues. He was chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee for four years, but you’d never know it.
Strong stuff. Particularly coming from - get this - the National Review. That's right, that's a quote from Rich Lowry, who is editor of that bastion of conservatism.

These people are scared. A few brave souls are starting to acknowledge reality. Lowry tries desperately to sound the clarion call with his last sentence:

If it’s the candidate of “change” versus the candidate of “change the subject,” [McCain]’ll lose in an electoral landslide.
Now there's one thing I agree with him about.

Megan on the crisis

Megan McArdle, economics blogger at The Atlantic, has a good explanation for the financial crisis. It's not completely comprehensive, but it's a fairly thorough examination of the bad mental habits so many people developed. She's not a fan of either political party, so she calls both out for their failures. Her basic conclusion is that mass delusion reined.

Monday, October 6, 2008

A woman friend reacts to Sarah Palin

A woman friend of mine in NY watched the VP debate last week and WAS NOT IMPRESSED with Gov. Palin. Sometimes it's really helpful to hear a straight opinion from a real New Yorker.

I freely admit to having violent thoughts last night. I admit that I would SO LOVE to smack the perpetual smirk off of that woman-creature's face. . . . [My husband] had to keep pausing the tv because I had to keep shouting at Miss Sarah: "Get that smirk off your face, b***h!", "I don't think so, Missy!", " YOU did NOT just say that!!", "WHAT??!!", "Oh look I can wink too!" Fun times!

. . .
On a positive note, I am totally in love with Joe Biden now. . . . I can't tell you how many times I shouted, "Thank you, Joe! Damn right!" after his rebuttals.

. . .
Sarah Palin avoided answering questions and was little more than patronizing and snide. Also, she might need to see a doctor; she may have Tourette's. Along with her facial ticks and uncontrolable blinking eyes there were almost robotic outbursts of "I'm a maveric, John's a maverick, We're mavericks!" Well that's great, Dr. Pepper, but the problem is you're full of s**t and you're a freak.

. . .
I feel the nasty in her came across loud and clear. This is a woman who you never have to worry will stab you in the back. Know why? Because if she stabs you in the back she would miss the chance to look at your face as you slowly died. It would kill the thrill, and how could she live with that? No worries, she will always stab you right in the front, looking in your eyes the whole time, and not flinch. That is my biggest impression of Sarah Palin.
Like I said, not impressed with Sarah Palin.

So my friend, who was already a Democrat, is even angrier at McCain/Palin. This highlights a major miscalculation on McCain's part: there are a lot of women who really, really do not like Sarah Palin. She's becoming an even more polarizing figure than Hillary. Say what you want about the senator from New York, she deserves her success. She's worked hard her entire life, takes her job seriously, and has a wealth of experience. She may not be the easiest woman in the world to relate to, but even her opponents have to respect her intelligence, work ethic, and accomplishments. Sarah Palin's opponents don't have to do anything of the kind.

In high school terms, Hillary was the overachiever who may not have been popular, but whom nobody hated, because she didn't screw other people over. Sarah Palin is the popular girl who uses her popularity to divide and conquer. Women get this. They all know other women like this. Men aren't picking this up yet. McCain thot Sarah Palin would attract many women. Turns out she's also repelling quite a few.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Tina Fey does it again

Tina Fey nails it, once again. Such a wonderfully unexpected benefit of this campaign

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Visually mapping the VP debate

I found this from Daily Kos: a map of one question from the VP debate. Really gives a good idea of how complicated their answers were. This is all from bCisive. I'm going to be checking back on this stuff.

Friday, October 3, 2008

McCain's anger

Josh Marshall at TPM is starting to get worried about John McCain's ability to control his temper.

Here's my answer to Josh. First, as I wrote back in August, McCain is caught on the horns of a dilemma: on the one hand, he considers himself an honorable man. But on the other hand, he considers himself duty-bound to be president, because he honestly believes that he is more qualified than anyone else, and particularly more so than Barack Obama, to protect this country. So he feels a responsibility to be president. Which has come to mean that he will do anything to become president, including lying about Obama, because if he doesn't become president, bad things will happen to the country. This conflicts with his sense of honor, and the contradiction is tearing him up.

But there's another contradiction that may be even more important, and more volatile. McCain has his flaws, like all of us. He's got a temper, he's reckless, he gambles (in many senses of the word), he's intellectually inconsistent. He uses his sense of honor to restrain himself. Nothing unusual there: that's what honor is supposed to do to a guy; keep his vices reined in. It might sound a little old-fashioned, but this is John McCain we're talking about here.

But for McCain, honor is even more important than a technique of self-restraint. It's also what saves him. Literally. His sense of honor is how John McCain grants himself redemption; it's how he forgives himself his failings. So when someone challenges him on a point of ethics, they aren't just challenging his integrity or his honor. They are challenging his salvation. It's enough to send a guy with a quick temper, like McCain, over the edge.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

The Veep debate

I'm going to give the VP debate to Biden. I have to admit that Sarah Palin did better than I was expecting. No major mistakes, came across as forceful, held her own. All good for the McCain-Palin ticket. She clearly did better than her she did in her interviews with Katie Couric. That's what most of the commentary that I have read has aaid.

But there's one detail that I think has been missed. I don't have specific numbers in front of me, but my guess is that far, far more people watched this debate than have seen the Couric interviews. And if this was your first impression of her, I think it was a disaster.

Off the top of my head, some numbers: Katie Couric pulls in roughly 7 million viewers a night. Let's say 10 million people watched Katie Couric interview Sarah Palin on TV. Let's say another million or so watched versions of that online. be generous, let's say 12 million people have watched some portion of that interview somewhere. let's assume that this is roughly the same crowd that watched Charlie Gibson roast her on the Bush Doctrine.

But there were 52 million viewers for the first presidential debate. Let's be conservative and say that this debate drew 40 million. That means that there were 28 million people who were getting their first impression of her in some kind of a question-and-answer format. Towards the end of the debate, it was transparently obvious to me that she was reciting talking points, regurgitating campaign slogans. I think many of those 28 million will be thinking the same way.

In one of his answers about the Middle East, Joe Biden mentioned Hamas and Hezbollah. As carefully as I follow politics, I still get confused about which one is which and what power they have in which country. But Joe Biden clearly knew his stuff there, and Sarah Palin did not answer anything, particularly on foreign policy, which that kind of detail.