1. souse, n.5: 3. A drunkard. slang (chiefly U.S.). (OED)
  2. white souse, n.1: A blog for literature, politics, science, and the occasional cocktail.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Holiday Hiatus

SO I've been busy, proposing to the talented videographer and working on my job search (go Western Kentucky A&M!), but I thought I'd pass on a holiday challenge and invite you to try and finish Jingle Cat. I've failed the challenge three times now. Evil Jingle Cat, your epic powers are most fearsome and most vile.

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

From the Madmen files

I watched a documentary last night called Salesman with the Talented Videographer. So. Awesome.

From an IMDB user:

"Salesman" is funny in parts, but taken as a whole it is one of the saddest films you will ever see, a document of the quiet desperation of this lifestyle. The directors of the film make powerful statements, but do so subtly, almost unobtrusively, allowing the viewer to fully engage themselves in the almost routine feel of the film. It is a crime that, despite its strong reputation, relatively few people have seen this essential film from possibly the very best documentary filmmakers there have ever been.

It's about a group of door-to-door bible salesman in the mid-60's, and it's just amazing. There's a quiet to the film -- lots of time spent watching the salesman smoke over lunch silently, or cruise around neighborhoods searching for prey, or watching a televised boxing match that night in their motel room. And it's punctuated with the ferociousness of their profession -- the incredibly competitive electricity that ripples between them and other salesman, that dominates the room when they walk into a house. My grandpa was a tractor salesman (not quite the same thing). But I can see bits of him in these people, and bits that are just unrecognizable, alien, and riveting. For me, this seems most clear when revisiting what things were like only two generations ago (this was Walter Scott's great invention -- let's take you half a century back and show you just how f'ed things were). My parent's past really is another planet.

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All your white daughters is belong to us

Yes, Amanda, it's true (Via Sullivan):

Get the latest news satire and funny videos at 236.com.

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Thursday, November 6, 2008


Type the beginning of the post here. And type the remainder here.

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Go 'Bama!

Another marker of history: this NYTimes graphic that shows voter shifts from the previous election. More blue means more democratic, more red, more Republican. Let's see, what do Oklahoma, southern Louisiana, East Texas, Arkansas, and northern Alabama have in common? It ain't fear of a black cat. On a more cheerful note: go Mississippi! Guess the fire's out.

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The Ends (and Means) of History

This week is every bit the world-changing event I had hoped it would be. The girl and I went out last night and watched "W." to get a sense of the what we're leaving behind. It's not a very good movie, but it does do a nice, if cartoonish job of summing up Bush's approach to foreign policy and the Team of Ribalds he surrounded himself with.

On a more somber note, as ecstatic as we are for Obama and what he represents, I think his true story, and the story of his presidency, will be much more somber. The death of "Toots" the day before the election was fitting, a mark of what all of this will mean for him. I don't think there has been another present who felt as profoundly the weight of the office since L.B.J. And it destroyed him. When Obama is not speaking -- when he's just walking, or standing there, looking down, I think you can see how much it weighs on him, and how much he senses that he's become a vehicle for history (because at his level, no one is the driver -- ask Carter).

I think he will be a glimpse of the great leaders of the past. I think his administration will prove just as talented (if also, as driven by history and crisis) as his campaign was. As someone put it on N.P.R. the other day, he's the kind of guy who's likely to end up on some money. But I think he'll probably remain a mystery to us, always reserved, always, in some sense, with a foot inside that pantheon of great leaders, and hence, set apart.

The folks on his team are almost fanatical in their devotion (read this amazing post about his campaign and its people). He's a movement for them first, a man second. Even for those (outside Michelle and his family) who've known him the longest. And what that really means, is that among them, he's alone.

I don't know how to describe what I'm trying to express here -- how I feel about it. It's a mixture of respect, and sadness, and hope. He's not exactly a tragic figure, but behind all of the worship, I think, is a sad truth he's come to terms with: his life will never be his own. There's a good line in "W.," where Bush senior turns to junior and says, "maybe you should stay out of the barrel." 43 bridles at what he takes as his dad's preference for Jeb. But later he comes to see it as a reflection upon just how hard the Presidency is, and his dad's wish that his son would live a life he could enjoy. The great ones never have a choice. But they feel what they gave up.

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Monday, November 3, 2008

Hey -- Sorry I haven't been posting as much. I've been busy today and especially tomorrow helping out the Michael Skelly campaign in Houston (if you're free tomorrow, come in and help out). So here's some SNL skits that had me rolling. First, Vincent Price meets Sunset Blvd. and Lolita:

And Olbermensch:

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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Are you dressing up for Halloween?

When I was in highschool there were some baptist kids whose moms would come to campus and protest every Halloween about the un-Christian imagery. Guess they never met these folks:

In The Know: Has Halloween Become Overcommercialized?

P.S.> I bet they wish they had Palin's minister...

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Why Vote?

Because your neighbors ARE FREAKS:

This included the comedic script of writers from Aqua Teen Hunger Force and the Daily Show. Is this public service?

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Suck on that, Grover

Here's a chart from the Economic Policy Institute, that shows how much economic stimulus you get for each federal dollar spent on different types of stimulus (please show it to anyone who espouses Grover Norquist-style corporate, capital, or estate tax cuts):

Ezra puts it best:

The basic way to think about this is that you get less stimulus when you focus on the ri[c]h, and more when you focus on the poor. That's pretty intuitive. If you don't have enough money to make ends meet, and you get some money, you spend it now. If you have ple[n]ty of money, and you get some money, you put it away, That's not very stimulating. As such, tax cuts which primarily focus on the well-off sit at the bottom of the chart, tax cuts for the working class are near the top (like the payroll tax holiday), and things like infrastructure spending and food stamps lead the way.

Notice that the bottom three are related to Shrub & Grover tax policy, while the top three are food stamps, unemployment insurance, and infrastructure spending. It's strange: things are so clear when you actually have research to back up opinion...

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Disharmony of the Spheres

Stanley Fish has an op-ed today, which he compares the rhetoric of McCain and Obama to two surprising antecedents:

Now, I don’t mean to suggest that McCain is the devil or that Obama is the Messiah (although some of his supporters think of him that way), just that the rhetorical strategies the two literary figures employ match up with the strategies employed by the two candidates. What Satan wants to do is draw Jesus out, provoke him to an unwisely exasperated response, get him to claim too much for his own powers. What Jesus does is reply with an equanimity conveyed by the adjectives and adverbs that preface his words: “unaltered,” “temperately,” “patiently,” “calmly,” “unmoved,” “sagely,” “in brief.”

Of course, he's not going to the original source here; he's drawing from Milton's Paradise Regained. But the famous Milton scholar doesn't say so. I wonder why not? Maybe he thinks those who know him will know this, or perhaps he figures that it broadens the demographic accessibility of his point. But how often do you have the opportunity to plug Milton in the NYTimes? I would think this grounds for expulsion from the Secret Milton Society.

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Monday, October 27, 2008

I Voted

I just got back from early voting. Didn't punch straight-Dem ticket (actually voted for one Republican, and a couple of libertarians, shockingly enough). But I did vote Obama, Noriega, and Skelly.

Then I went back to my car, and sat there for fifteen minutes or so. How amazing is this country? I've spent the last eight years insisting that the "average" American, those folks living somewhere between L.A. and N.Y.C., is neither a moron nor unfit to vote. I didn't realize, until today, how hard (emotionally, as well as intellectually) that argument had become. And suddenly, it's no longer an argument for me. It's fact.

What launched the last eight years was basic political cynicism -- you know, all the candidates are essentially equal, are crooks, our vote doesn't count, etc. Bush and the Supreme Court stole the election, but he was a passionate conservative, and didn't give speeches about lockboxes, so meh. Hey -- I was a political dilettante who wanted to vote for McCain in 2000 because he'd "shake things up." For me, this election has purged, permanently, that cynicism. President Obama won't turn water into wine, and he probably won't even give us national health care or a green economy. But he'll bring us closer, in every sense. It turns out that's not too much to ask.

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What the hell is McCain doing in PA?

A New Republic reader suggests:

McCain drew less than 500 people to a rally in suburban PA two days ago. Then he went to Western PA and flubbed the attack lines against John Murtha's comments so that the sound bite was completely incoherent. On Monday he drew crowds of about 2000, then 15 people at an airport rally (yes, that is correct--no zeros) ....

Now the Obama campaign is doing a major head fake in PA. They "accidentally" leaked an "internal" poll showing Obama up by only 2 percent in PA. I guarantee you that no such poll exists and that this was done both to motivate volunteers in the state (and maybe elsewhere) and prevent them from getting too complacent and also to sucker the McCain campaign into spending more time there. Ed Rendell has asked Obama to come back and campaign in the state-another major ruse. They know that McCain makes most of the decisions for his campaign and that they can goad him into spending more time in PA by pretending that it is close there. Let's see if Obama actually returns to PA before November 4th, but I sincerely doubt it. They are brilliant.

Ezra's comment: "It wouldn't shock me."

Well, it would shock me. There are two key problems with the idea that Obama head-faked McCain into PA. First, it's just too smooth and subtle for a major campaign to rely on it (leak one poll and get Rendell to issue one plea, and the entire McCain campaign will switch gears? Please.) It just gives too much credit (and affords too much power) to the campaign. It's like movies where they have the CIA tracking someone in the U.S., live, from multiple satellite cameras, while simultaneously tapping all of their twittering, debiting, and toilet paper consumption. If the CIA could actually do any of this, do you think 9/11 would have happened? Would the FBI still be struggling to identify the anthrax attacker? Hell, would the N.O. levies still be beaver-inspired shit piles? Campaigns, like govt bureaucracies, have about 1/10 the power that is credited to them. Mostly, they are large, unwieldy, and harder to maneuver than the Exxon Valdez.

The other key problem with the PA juke-out theory is that the Obama campaign has proved, time and time again, that they don't work this way. They don't worry about winning the week, or psyching McCain out, or quick-spinning the press. They keep their eye on the long game, and assume the short game will fall into place. McCain's campaign, which has done the opposite (c.f. suspending the campaign, "Joe the Plumber," and that twinkly flautist from Alaska), would be much more likely to try something like this -- and as his performance proves, while it's great copy and solid Hollywood scripting, it just doesn't work on the trail.

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Sunday, October 26, 2008

On a somber note

Was listening to This American Life this morning during the pledge drive, and Glass had assembled some bits from Fresh Air: specifically, letters and recollections of Robert Kennedy, and his assassination. Kennedy's son was on, and he read Kennedy's speech the night he learned M.L.K. died, which he announced to a black and white audience in Indianapolis. I've pasted in the video below (for some reason, the best Youtube video has Italian subtitles). I think it's profound, and moving. I'm listening to it now, again, and my chest hurts. The next few years hold so much hope. But sometimes, I'm worried, too.

And, while I'm at it, an excerpt of the speech MLK had given that night.

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Wikipedia and Truth

An interesting article came out in Technology Review about Wikipedia and its standard of truth, "verifiability." As Simson Garfinkel puts it:

So how do the Wikipedians decide what's true and what's not? On what is their epistemology based?

Unlike the laws of mathematics or science, wikitruth isn't based on principles such as consistency or observa­bility. It's not even based on common sense or firsthand experience. Wikipedia has evolved a radically different set of epistemological standards--standards that aren't especially surprising given that the site is rooted in a Web-based community, but that should concern those of us who are interested in traditional notions of truth and accuracy. On Wikipedia, objective truth isn't all that important, actually. What makes a fact or statement fit for inclusion is that it appeared in some other publication--ideally, one that is in English and is available free online. "The threshold for inclusion in Wikipedia is verifiability, not truth," states Wikipedia's official policy on the subject.

As Garfinkel sees it, this practical approach is also a bit of a dodge, because so many of us treat the product of these standards as the truth on a variety of subjects. He concludes:

So what is Truth? According to Wikipedia's entry on the subject, "the term has no single definition about which the majority of professional philosophers and scholars agree." But in practice, Wikipedia's standard for inclusion has become its de facto standard for truth, and since Wikipedia is the most widely read online reference on the planet, it's the standard of truth that most people are implicitly using when they type a search term into Google or Yahoo. On Wikipedia, truth is received truth: the consensus view of a subject.

Garfinkel finds this standard of "truth" troubling -- especially when talking about something like LOTR or Dr. Who. But, not to get too armchairish, what other kind of truth is there? Traditionally speaking, it's only since the Enlightenment that we've begun to think of the truth as something directly accessible -- something "out there" that can be seen and measured, rather than an ideal that doesn't exist in the mundane world [EDIT: a shift only achieved by radically curtailing what would be accepted as truth]. To put this differently, truth is necessarily referential -- built of a network of associations, standards, and testimonies about what you're looking at, what you're using to look at it, and what all of it should be taken to mean. [EDIT: When "truth" looks simpler, or more transparent than that, it's only because you've lost hold of all those threads.] From this perspective, Wikipedia's standard seems a bit more direct and honest than, say, the absurd simplifications ofcollege textbooks, or even some scholarly articles. To work on a Wikipedia entry is to confront how unstable "truth" really is, in a manner not too far from that the experience of a scientist at his bench or an anthropologist in the field. Maybe "wikitruth" will help disseminate some healthy epistemological skepticism. (Or, from experience grading college essays, maybe not.)

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Saturday, October 25, 2008

P.S., I love Wiccans

In other AWESOME news, it looks like Michelle Bachmann, after calling Obama "un-American," might now lose her Congressional seat to a Wicca practitioner. That's wicced -- Go Willow! I don't know if you remember her from the Republican convention, but Bach-mann was the eerie robot woman who would say eight words, and then flash this incredibly mechanical smile for pi seconds (time it below). In related news, MIT reports that their android project has suffered a huge setback: "we're still years away from ironing out all the kinks."

P.S.> I just made that Wicca stuff up.

P.P.S.> My favorite line: "As. Americans. We. Are. Hard. Wired. For Compassion. [SMILE]"

P.P.P.S.> Of Immigrants: "Some. Of. Us. Came. With. All. We. Owned. In. A. Shopping. Bag." You know -- cuz the starving Irish had just hit up Nieman's.

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How many Aggies does it take to ...

... screw over the McCain campaign? Just one.

Wow do I have a better costume idea for Halloween. I'm sure you've all heard, but it's just too bat-shit crazy not to bring it up. Ashley Todd, a College Station student who went up to Pittsburgh to stump for McCain, reported that she'd been mugged at an ATM, and that the assailant, after noticing her McCain bumper sticker, knocked her down, told her he'd "make her" an Obama supporter, and then carved a backward "B" on her face (mirror, anyone?). She even produced her twitter posts, leading up to her attack, as proof, and capped with "Oh, the blog I'll be making soon ... It's been a rough night" (Oh Ashley, you enchant us with your stoic understatement, great Seneca of the Dixie Chicken). As Wonkette put it, this "angry dyslexic negro monster" story sounded weird. But McCain and Palin called to comfort the victimized white girl. Here's the photo:

Of course, it wasn't too weird for McCain spokespeople and a Fox News Vice President to suggest it would be game over for Obama. But it was, alas, way too weird for the Pittsburgh PD, who decided to check up on it. And she hadn't used the ATM, wasn't on its video, and couldn't say where the attacker had come from or gone to. Of course, it was a big, and incredibly stupid lie:

I'd just like to point out that the Texas legislature slashed the budget for the U-Texas system and doubled it for A&M last year. Where's the accountability, people? If a Texas student wanted to frame someone as race-bait, I'm sure they'd have taken the time to get 'er done right -- complete with ATM receipt, hooded accomplice, and hastily shot cell phone photo of the fleeing YesWeCaner. And at the very least, I imagine a UT grad would realize that mirrors, you know, reverse things (though it looks like Ashley probably avoids them -- as Dice Clay would say, "AOOOw"). I mean, what's a college degree coming to?

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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Creepy MoveOn Video

So it turns out that one "Devin G." (with whom I'm pretty close) was single-handedly responsible for Obama's loss. Who'd a thunk it?

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Alec Baldwin -- Dick Impressionist

He may be an asshole, but wow:

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Thank God Al Gore invented the YouTube

Else, where could we find out what McCain ads by John Woo, Kevin Smith, and Wes Anderson would look like ? Via Sullivan (The final's the kicker):

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Polling at Likely Voters

You may have noticed a new AP poll that says McCain is within 1 point of Obama. Seems like one hell of a jump, right? Well it turns out there's a huge difference in terms of how each pollster adjusts their number to reflect the "likely" outcome. Basically, some think that the actual voters this year will reflect voters four years ago -- when Republican voters were more enthused and united (the AP is one such group). So they adjust the numbers they're actually getting to fit the mold of the 2004 elections. Others think that the huge surge in Democrat enthusiasm and registration will result in a dramatic increase in Democratic voters from four years ago (all of these polls still show the race at around 8-point Obama lead).

To visit a real guru, you could do no better than Nate Silver, who's taken formidable baseball number-crunching and statistical skills to analyze the various polls (and provide some handy-dandy regression models that project the likely outcomes). Take a look at his article on the likely voter problem.

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McCain camp rattled after WaPo and AP write that Al Qaeda is pro-McCain

Spencer Ackerman:

I just got off a conference call the McCain campaign held to deny that al-Qaeda, contrary to reports in the AP and the Washington Post, is rooting for their man.

To describe the call as panicked would be an understatement. ...

What was absent from the call, oddly enough, was any discussion about why al-Qaeda might want McCain to win. And there the case is simple enough. al-Qaeda prefers an indefinite U.S. occupation of Iraq and a bellicose U.S. all across the Muslim world in order to radicalize Muslims to its terrorist cause and drain the U.S. of its financial wealth -- what Osama bin Laden calls his "bleed to bankruptcy" strategy. Hence the reason why, as the CIA eventually concluded, bin Laden tried to help George W. Bush's reelection in 2004 by releasing a late-October tape. McCain pledges basic continuity with Bush on the Iraq war. As Scheunemann put it, "John McCain will spend what it takes to win."

Yet the idea of al-Qaeda preferring a U.S. strategy that strengthens it confounded the McCain camp. "It is ridiculous to believe that in its heart of hearts, al-Qaeda wants John McCain to be the president," Woolsey said. "It's ludicrous."

You know, the funny thing is, I think that Woolsey really doesn't believe it's true (despite the opinion of the CIA, which he used to head). Not only are they absurdly wrong about mid-East policy -- they don't even know it.

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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Comedy Break

McCain tells West Virginia he agreed when John Murtha called them "racist":

David Kurtz puts it best:

You can see the glimmer of recognition of the flub, like he just chased Road Runner off the edge of the cliff. There's the split-second decision to try to pull off a miracle escape. But his legs stop spinning and gravity takes over and from there it's a long way down. For a guy who spent the last week reminding everyone he's not Bush, that's got to hurt.

It's awesome. On a side-note, I never liked Looney Tunes till I got older. And I'm not sure I really got them till now. Thank you, John McCain.

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Biden Goes Epic: A Level 25 Gaffe

Apparently conservatives are unhappy, because news of Palin's $250K shopping spree has displaced coverage of Biden's "gaffe" (he recently suggested that early on, Obama's administration would have to confront "an international crisis, a generated crisis, to test the mettle of this guy"). Ross Douthat, in his typically moderate tone, suggests:

Biden's bizarrely honest remarks are an almost too-perfect exemplar of the Kinsleyan definition of a "gaffe" as an accidental statement of the truth - and in a different, closer election, one untouched by a global economic crisis (and, yes, the ongoing Sarah Palin story), they might have been the game-changing flub that conservatives keep looking for. (At the very least, I think they summon up a much more compelling argument against the Democratic ticket than Obama's comments to Joe the Plumber.)

The problem with what Biden said, and with Douthat's take, is that it's not "an accidental statement of the truth" -- it's an accidental statement of G.O.P. delusion. Conservatives (especially neocons) have long argued that we need tough-talking hawks in the White House because it will cow the Muslims -- even Thomas Friedman advanced this argument in his infamous "suck on this" rant.

In reality, it's pretty clear that Muslim extremists see Republicans as more likely to play along with their attacks by over-reacting and overreaching. As Yglesias reminds us, not only was this Bin Laden's aim with the 9/11 attacks, there was pretty much a consensus that he mailed that tape to Al-Jazeera on the eve of the 2004 elections because he wanted to swing the elections toward Bush, who kept playing along. Hence, what makes Douthat's argument so "compelling" is the same thing that helped Bush in 2004 -- a mass national delusion rooted in our basic ignorance about what serves our objectives in the Middle East (and Al Qaeda's clear understanding of what our ignorance leads us to do).

The key point: these terrorists see conservatives and the G.O.P. as their defacto American allies. What does this mean? It means terrorists believe they get more out of attacking someone erratic and bellicose like Bush/McCain, rather than a more moderate Democrat. And this risk/payoff analysis, in turn, suggests Al Qaeda is more likely to attack a president McCain, whose response it can count on, than Obama.

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*Real* America's Muslims

This is pretty cool. Watch as some Muslim McCain supporters confront an Obama smearer at a McCain rally:

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In Cyberspace, No One Can Hear You Scream...

Check out this video about Houston's "Screamworld" by the *most* talented videographer over at the Houston Chronicle (Click here).

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Pretty Muck

Nikon just announced the winner of their Best Microscopic Image competition. The winner: a photograph of diatoms (filament algae) using polarized filters. Cool.

Sinewy filaments within squirming microscopic diatoms, a type of algae, are artificially rainbow hued as a result of being photographed through polarizing light filters.

Captured by retired British microscopist Michael Stringer, the photo took top prize--and U.S. $3,000--in the 2008 Small World Photomicrography Competition, organizers announced on October 15. Sponsored by Nikon, the annual contest showcases "the beauty and complexity of life as seen through the light microscope."

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Sacrificial Lamb

So for those of you who didn't notice, UT slaughtered Mizzou last Saturday. It was great to be in the stands, but a bit boring after a while. I mean, after the score reaches 35-0 in the first half, you're just cheering for the time to run out.

But one of the best moments came when they cut to attendees Derek Jeter and his new girlfriend on the Godzilla Tron screen. The crowd booed. LOUDLY. For a whole minute. Jeter looked *very* uncomforable -- and Matt Damon sort of sidestepped away to be out of the shot. I'm not sure I understand why this was the instant, visceral reaction of the Texas crowd. But as a beleaguered 'stros fan, it was kinda nice.

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Saturday, October 18, 2008

Bow before my awesomeness

I'm on my way now to Austin where I'll be in Darrel K. Royal for the Texas-Mizoo game. How do I get so lucky? Perhaps I was born on Krypton, too. My lips are sealed, but I do think I'll buy a lottery ticket on my way up.

But should the pick-4 fall through, maybe the Horns will treat me to a Souljah Boy "Crank Dat":

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Here, Piggy Piggy...

For those of you who don't know: Houston is a foodie city. From living near Manhattan for a few years (and participating in restaurant week religiously), I'd say it bests the big apple easily. Went to eat last night at Feast again -- it's a Houston restaurant started by a former St. John's chef. St. John's is the London eatery that helped launch the snout-to-tail dining movement -- they use the whole beast, which means lots of yummy, rich organ meat. (Want to feel like real a carnivore? Forget those milquetoast sweetbreads -- snarf some deviled chicken hearts in grape sauce.)

Anyway, last night was someone's birthday, and they rented the top floor (with a nice balcony that looks toward downtown) and asked the Chef (Richard Knight) and master butcher James Silk to prepare two suckling pigs. We had appetizers (including strips of salt-cured back fat wrapped around walnuts and flat leaf parsley) and watched them present, then watch James carve up the piggies. My friend and I roasted a pig for our birthday a few months ago, and I think that our pork might have edged theirs in a side-by-side comparison (though we had the advantage of Cuban mojo). By the way, cheek meat, fresh from the spit -- makes memories from Lord of the Flies almost seductive. But the sides! Kale with white anchovy paste, a salad of arugula with fried cheeks and roast pearl onions in lemon dressing, braised Brussel sprouts -- it was a richer, tastier thanksgiving meal.

For desert: a date and currant crumble with custard paired with a re-donculous ice wine from the great white north. Awesome. Now I just have to find a way to use the 6K plus calories -- marathon, anyone?

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Friday, October 17, 2008

The Obama and McCain Comedy Hour

In case you missed them, Obama and McCain each gave roasts at the annual Al Smith dinner. I don't mind saying (though I thought both were funny) that McCain's script and delivery were better. They say the best comedy comes from pain...

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Thursday, October 16, 2008

Subprime Mortgage Market vs. Credit Default Swaps

To expand upon the exchange below, here is the size of the subprime mortgage market (from bloomberg.com) versus the credit default swap (CDS) market which expanded, thanks to chief McCain advisor Phil Gramm's 2001 legislation, from a 1 trillion dollar market ten years ago to more than 62 trillion dollars (from Yahoo):

Now look at that chart, and ask yourself: which of the two slices would have banks scared shitless that if they lend to other banks, those banks might lose everything? It's those kinds of numbers (and the reality that AIG almost folded because of CDSs) that are at the root of the credit crunch. And a further point: mortgage brokers have been talking about the huge demand for "paper" that came filtering down from on high, the pressure to generate mortgages. This pressure came from speculators (domestic and foreign) who wanted more fuel for Ponzi schemes like the CDS market. It's a situation where an instrument intended to mitigate mortgage risk far outstripped its object and magnified the risk -- not only did the cart get before the horse, it picked the horse up carried it off a cliff.

And in case you think part of the credit problem is all the plastic we've been burning (and which the "culture of responsibility" pablum keeps bringing up), chew on this: total consumer credit card debt was 2.55 trillion in 2007 (from creditcards.com). That's less than 5% of the CDS market. And this is why Matt Taibbi gets pissed at Byron York below -- blaming minorities and consumers*** is standard Republican bullshit.

The worst thing about this bullshit (as I suspect most of what comes from the G.O.P.) is that most of them believe it, because they don't understand what they're talking about. Byron York is only a lead contributor to The National Review -- perhaps the foremost conservative rag in the U.S. Why should he bother to do research that took me 20 minutes? Of course, the guy from fucking Rolling Stone had the time -- but I guess covering Kanye West and Tool leaves you with more free time to do market research than, say, professional policy commentary.

It has to be rare for an entire half of the political spectrum to be so completely, so unabashedly out of their fucking minds. But, you know, it takes a village...

*** And don't get me started on the plastic safety net that consumers turn to when their real wages decline over seven years of Republican (non)-domestic policy.

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Byron York Butchered

Matt Taibbi, writer for Rolling Stone, IMs with Byron York of the National Review and brings the hatchet. There must have been blood on the keys when he finished:

M.T.: Oh, come on. Tell me you're not ashamed to put this gigantic international financial Krakatoa at the feet of a bunch of poor black people who missed their mortgage payments. The CDS market, this market for credit default swaps that was created in 2000 by Phil Gramm's Commodities Future Modernization Act, this is now a $62 trillion market, up from $900 billion in 2000. That's like five times the size of the holdings in the NYSE. And it's all speculation by Wall Street traders. It's a classic bubble/Ponzi scheme. The effort of people like you to pin this whole thing on minorities, when in fact this whole thing has been caused by greedy traders dealing in unregulated markets, is despicable.

B.Y.: I was struck by the recent Senate testimony of James Lockhart, who is head of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, about the sheer recklessness of Fannie in recent years. Despite "repeated warnings about credit risk," Lockhart testified, Fannie became more reckless in 2006 and 2007 than they had been in the scandal-ridden tenure of Franklin Raines (who departed in 2004). In 2005, Lockhart said, 14 percent of Fannie's new business was in risky loans. In the first half of 2007, it was 33 percent. So something terribly wrong was going on there, and it became a significant part of the present problem.

M.T.: What a surprise that you mention Franklin Raines. Do you even know how a CDS works? Can you explain your conception of how these derivatives work? Because I get the feeling you don't understand. Or do you actually think that it was a few tiny homeowner defaults that sank gigantic companies like AIG and Lehman and Bear Stearns? Explain to me how these default swaps work, I'm interested to hear.

Because what we're talking about here is the difference between one homeowner defaulting and forty, four hundred, four thousand traders betting back and forth on the viability of his loan. Which do you think has a bigger effect on the economy?

B.Y.: Are you suggesting that critics of Fannie and Freddie are talking about the default of a single homeowner?

M.T.: No. That is what you call a figure of speech. I'm saying that you're talking about individual homeowners defaulting. But these massive companies aren't going under because of individual homeowner defaults. They're going under because of the myriad derivatives trades that go on in connection with each piece of debt, whether it be a homeowner loan or a corporate bond. I'm still waiting to hear what your idea is of how these trades work. I'm guessing you've never even heard of them.

I mean really. You honestly think a company like AIG tanks because a bunch of minorities couldn't pay off their mortgages?

B.Y.: When you refer to "Phil Gramm's Commodities Future Modernization Act," are you referring to S.3283, co-sponsored by Gramm, along with Senators Tom Harkin and Tim Johnson?

M.T.: In point of fact I'm talking about the 262-page amendment Gramm tacked on to that bill that deregulated the trade of credit default swaps.

Tick tick tick. Hilarious sitting here while you frantically search the Internet to learn about the cause of the financial crisis — in the middle of a live chat interview.

B.Y.: Look, you can keep trying to make this a specifically partisan and specifically Gramm-McCain thing, but it simply isn't. We've gone on for fifteen minutes longer than scheduled, and that's enough. Thanks.

It's like that scene from Apocalypse Now -- in which they slaughter the yak. It's head is almost severed with the first blow, but it just keeps standing for a few moments, and you can't look away.

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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

John Cleese agrees with me.

A few weeks ago I noted the similarity between Palin's speech patterns and Monty Python's "Spanish Inquisition" sketch. Cleary, Cleese is a fan of my blog:

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Palin and Hillary Clinton

At some point before the end of the primaries, Barack Obama decided that he didn't need Hillary Clinton on his ticket to win these elections. Many disagreed (including some of my friends) but it seems clear that, at the end of the day, he was right. On the other hand, it looks like he did need Sarah Palin on the ticket -- see this article by Dana Milbank, and Palin's ability to rally Hillary supporters to Obama's cause, or this poll which shows enthusiasm for Palin cratering. It looks like the woman McCain chose to win the Hillary vote is the woman who lost it.

If the voters get any more rational I'm going to freak out.

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Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Great Tumescence

Conservative Daniel Larison makes a great point about the inanity of "the surge":

The reason why McCain was smart, if gutless, to avoid talking about Obama’s associations last night is that he and his advisors seem finally to have recognized that invoking Ayers is not an effective tactic. This is remarkable because this tactic is incredibly popular among people on the right who think that talking endlessly about the “surge” is a good idea, and McCain still doesn’t understand that the “surge,” like his obsession with earmarks, means little to most voters who want out of Iraq anyway. Even though there is little or no evidence that his obsession with the “surge” works with the general electorate at all, McCain has continued to invoke it every chance he gets. Just as he does not understand that the “surge” represented a change in tactics (it is not a strategy!), he has never grasped that the tactic of hitting Obama on his opposition to the “surge” was achieving nothing.

Which makes me wonder: what if he called it something else? The swelling? The swelling? The great engorgement? There are some awesome, bulging words out there just waiting to be tapped. (Cough)

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Aha! Strikes again

Via Sullivan, an imaginative re-visit of one of the greatest 80's vids ever made. Trust me -- watch till the subtitles kick in fully.

P.S. I'm pretty hot for The Atlantic's new web design.

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Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Presidential Debate II

But I'm worried it'll look more like this:

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New Debate on Tonight

Hope I don't yawn my way through. In other words, I'm hoping for something like this:

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Monday, October 6, 2008

McCain Debate prep

The magic of pharmaceuticals.

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Stewart on the Senate Bailout Bill

Damn, he owns.

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Friday, October 3, 2008

Talk Radio

And a funny thing happened today on the way to the forum -- I was listening to sports radio (I listen to sports and talk radio a lot) and thinking to my self again, why don't people ever talk about politics? Just a few notches down on the dial is a channel with endless right-wing inanity (and I mean that literally, to snag a Bidenism). But the sports jockeys never mention political events (beyond the recent baseball hearings) and neither do the call-in listeners. And then a regular caller came on to inveigh against the Texans (as usual) and added: "And fellas, I watched the debate last night. Man, she makes my head hurt, man. I mean, it hurt." Then he apologized for the politics and hung up. No reaction from the Charlie Palillo (sp?). And I couldn't help but think, most of them aren't giving their former sportscasting sister from Wasilla much love right now.

P.S.> Palin Bingo? A good drinking game, but an enormous let-down otherwise. (Not one Bingo. And I even made my own card.)

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Bailout Burnout

Spent another day phone banking for the Michael Skelly campaign (read more here) and people really wanted to talk about the bailout. Mostly, they're pissed, don't think it will really fix the problems with the economy, and don't feel like they understand it well enough to know for sure. Here, here. If only most of Congress wasn't in the same boat. On the plus side for Skelly, Houston's 7th district is feeling a whole lot of "let's throw all the bums out" sentiment -- especially life-long Republicans.

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Thursday, October 2, 2008

Sarah Palin Lives

I guess we'll see what "the people" think about the debate in the coming days, but it seems to me that Palin saved her future in the Republican party tonight, and sealed the end of McCain's campaign. She wasn't a bad surrogate. But she needed to be amazing. Instead she came across as a reasonable Republican, and someone who didn't tow the party line. At the same time she didn't tow the McCain line effectively enough -- especially when it came to emphasizing some of the worst talking points, especially that they represent the change/outsider ticket. She delivered what she was given in workmanlike fashion. But she'll benefit from it in the long run much more than he ever will.

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AFL-CIO's Richard Trumpka on Obama and Race


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For the Veep Debates: Palin Bingo!

For those of you who need to crank up tonight's excitement even more -- this is the game for you! I think we'll play it as a drinking game tonight.

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Sarah Palin feat James Galloway

What happens in bandcamp stays in bandcamp. Flautists are *ta bomb*! Does this make her a FILF?

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Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Palin on the Right to Privacy

The Couricopia just keeps on giving ... So Palin, in this interview, simultaneously said she disagreed with Roe v. Wade, and said that she believed in a constitutional right to privacy. Couric politely pointed out that the right to privacy is the foundation of Roe v. Wade. The whole "penumbra" argument (that the right to privacy isn't explicitly spelled out but cast by the shadow of other protective rights) is probably the most legally controversial aspect of Roe v. Wade (per Griswold v. Connecticut). Now that may seem like a bit of a wonky point -- but given that Roe v. Wade is the only Supreme Court case that Palin could name off the top of her head, and given that opposition to it is perhaps her signature issue right now, you'd think she might take the time to learn about it.

I imagine in Palin's mind, the text of Justice Blackmun's decision reads something like: "The court finds that abortions are awesome. Elitism, too. Blah blah blah, Jesus sux, peace out."

P.S.> On the more interesting side, she seems to think that interpretation of the federal constitution is up to the states. I guess the south will rise again (if it thinks it has the right to).

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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Bailout and "Econometrics"

Was corresponding again with my friend D and he mentioned the vagaries of econometrics. Which got me thinking.

Who the hell would use a word like "econometric" anyway? How 'bout "measuring the economy"? Or maybe we should all start talking like that:
I had a portion of lasagna today that was gastrometrically unwise. Then I took my pedometer for a nice physiometric jog, before taking a nice, long,
thermometrically-calibrated shower. I'll probably sleep late tomorrow (narcometrically speaking).

In all seriousness, I don't think there is any operative distinction between economics and econometrics. One just has an extra syllable.

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Palin Pygmalion

Fareed Zakaria, that lightweight editor of "News"week, quotes the following Palin verse in its entirety:

That's why I say I, like every American I'm speaking with, were ill about this position that we have been put in where it is the taxpayers looking to bail out. But ultimately, what the bailout does is help those who are concerned about the health-care reform that is needed to help shore up our economy, helping the—it's got to be all about job creation, too, shoring up our economy and putting it back on the right track. So health-care reform and reducing taxes and reining in spending has got to accompany tax reductions and tax relief for Americans. And trade, we've got to see trade as opportunity, not as a competitive, scary thing. But one in five jobs being created in the trade sector today, we've got to look at that as more opportunity. All those things under the umbrella of job creation. This bailout is a part of that.

After which he responds: "This is nonsense—a vapid emptying out of every catchphrase about economics that came into her head."

I'm not so sure. Look closely at it -- the formal strategy of giving one thing, then not one but two, then not two but three ...

I think it's a subtle homage -- to Michael Palin, and (John Cleese):

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And He Shall Take Out the Holy Hand Grenade... (Pelosi Opens Up a Can?)

So the Republicans blame a fiery speech from Pelosi for their failure to vote for the bi-partisan bill. They'd rather risk crashing the economy than suffer their feelings to be so cruelly hurt. Or something like that (***cough:political cover).

But here's the text of the speech. Seems like pretty thin gruel to me (strikes my black heart more along the lines of (gasp) accuracy).

SPEAKER PELOSI: Madam Speaker, when was the last time someone asked you for $700 billion?

It is a number that is staggering, but tells us only the costs of the Bush Administration's failed economic policies-policies built on budgetary recklessness, on an anything goes mentality, with no regulation, no supervision, and no discipline in the system.
Democrats believe in the free market, which can and does create jobs, wealth, and capital, but left to its own devices it has created chaos.

That chaos is the dismal picture painted by Treasury Secretary Paulson and Federal Reserve Chairman Bernanke a week and a half ago in the Capitol. As they pointed out, we confront a crisis of historic magnitude that has the ability to do serious injury not simply to our economy, but to the American people: not just to Wall Street, but to everyday Americans on Main Street.

It is our responsibility today, to help avert that catastrophic outcome.

Let us be clear: This is a crisis caused on Wall Street. But it is a crisis that reaches to Main Street in every city and town of the United States.

It is a crisis that freezes credit, causes families to lose their homes, cripples small businesses, and makes it harder to find jobs.

It is a crisis that never had to happen. It is now the duty of every Member of this body to recognize that the failure to act responsibly, with full protections for the American taxpayer, would compound the damage already done to the financial security of millions of American families.

Over the past several days, we have worked with our Republican colleagues to fashion an alternative to the original plan of the Bush Administration.

I must recognize the outstanding leadership provided by Chairman Barney Frank, whose enormous intellectual and strategic abilities have never before been so urgently needed, or so widely admired.

I also want to recognize Rahm Emanuel, who combined his deep knowledge of financial institutions with his pragmatic policy experience, to resolve key disagreements.

Secretary Paulson deserves credit for working day and night to help reach an agreement and for his flexibility in negotiating changes to his original proposal.

Democrats insisted that legislation responding to this crisis must protect the American people and Main Street from the meltdown on Wall Street.

The American people did not decide to dangerously weaken our regulatory and oversight policies. They did not make unwise and risky financial deals. They did not jeopardize the economic security of the nation. And they must not pay the cost of this emergency recovery and stabilization bill.

So we insisted that this bill contain several key provisions:

This legislation must contain independent and ongoing oversight to ensure that the recovery program is managed with full transparency and strict accountability.

The legislation must do everything possible to allow as many people to stay in their homes rather than face foreclosure.

The corporate CEOs whose companies will benefit from the public's participation in this recovery must not benefit by exorbitant salaries and golden parachute retirement bonuses.

Our message to Wall Street is this: the party is over. The era of golden parachutes for high-flying Wall Street operators is over. No longer will the U.S. taxpayer bailout the recklessness of Wall Street.

The taxpayers who bear the risk in this recovery must share in the upside as the economy recovers.

And should this program not pay for itself, the financial institutions that benefited, not the taxpayers, must bear responsibility for making up the difference.

These were the Democratic demands to safeguard the American taxpayer, to help the economy recover, and to impose tough accountability as a central component of this recovery effort.

This legislation is not the end of congressional activity on this crisis. Over the course of the next few weeks, we will continue to hold investigative and oversight hearings to find out how the crisis developed, where mistakes were made, and how the recovery must be managed to protect the middle class and the American taxpayer.

With passage of this legislation today, we can begin the difficult job of turning our economy around, of helping those who depend on a growing economy and stable financial institutions for a secure retirement, for the education of their children, for jobs and small business credit.

Today we must act for those Americans, for Main Street, and we must act now, with the bipartisan spirit of cooperation which allowed us to fashion this legislation.

This not enough. We are also working to restore our nation's economic strength by passing a new economic recovery stimulus package- a robust, job creating bill-that will help Americans struggling with high prices, get our economy back on track, and renew the American Dream.

Today, we will act to avert this crisis, but informed by our experience of the past eight years with the failed economic leadership that has left us left capable of meeting the challenges of the future.

We choose a different path. In the new year, with a new Congress and a new president, we will break free with a failed past and take America in a New Direction to a better future.

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Here beggineth the lesson: why Fanny and Freddie didn't do it Part 2

A very good friend of mine in the legal profession emailed me recently with a ten year-old article he'd been forwarded that ostensibly helped lay blame for the current mess at Clinton's feet. (A note: he's got solid blue bona fides -- he's just too scrupulous to dismiss it out of hand. Admirable after the floor fight today, but I digress.)

It's an argument that's being made a lot recently, whether directed and Fannie and Freddie, or ACORN, or the CRA. I've provided my lengthy and increasingly bombastic response. Let's just say that research comes in handy for a chest-thumping, anti-Grinch smackdown.

Dear D,

It's not a bad article, but there are two key problems with the Rightward argument that Fannie and Freddie/Acorn/the CRA are responsible for the mortgage crisis. The first, and most obvious (to me) problem is that it confirms what we can call basic class-based stereotypes that just happen to break down along white/minority lines. Note that while the article you sent me talks about the growth in the rate of home ownership of whites versus minorities, it says nothing about overall rates or total numbers. I think it's still fair to assume that whites received a plurality of these loans, if not a majority, in the 90s, due to the fact that they outnumber minorities (by definition) and traditionally were more likely to receive loans in general (see above regarding prejudice). The CRA was designed to attack precisely that problem -- it was a law that insisted banks had to give loans to the populations that they served (you couldn't have branches in black and white communities, but give loans almost exclusively to the white community).

So much for my first quibble -- but one that doesn't matter much. My biggest problem with this line of argument is the timing. The extremely high-risk mortgages, particularly the explosion in Adjustable Rate Mortgages, came well after Clinton's term in office. The CRA was a piece of legislation that Carter enacted. But, as this article makes clear, the expansion under Clinton was not into ARMs, and certainly was not into deposit-less mortgages.
M's mom is a mortgage broker -- unfortunately at WaMu -- and as she points out, the banks that were subject to CRA or Fannie and Freddie have been in better shape as a whole during this crisis, because the standards which these regulations created were higher. For one, if it was a government backed loan, you still had to *prove* your income, because the paperwork went back to Fannie and Freddie for review. Below is an article from The American Prospect that debunks the conservative argument in respect to the CRA.

The other problem is that the government programs were more careful than the private ones. Note that the article you sent me isn't about subprime loans at all -- which typically are prime +3 or 4, not +1. Even more damning to the right-wing argument is that subprime loans were originally defined as those that don't fit Fannie and Freddie guidelines -- the ones Fannie and Freddie wouldn't take because they were too risky.

The takeaway for me is that you *could* argue that Carter and Clinton had some effect, in that they encouraged some of the first experimentation with these new mortgage vehicles. But all of their programs were vastly more conservative than the bizarre shit that banks like WaMu (who largely operated outside of the CRA and Fannie/Freddie) were doing. My sense is that what happened was the "liberal" mortgage programs showed that minority default rates were lower than people expected, and hence good business. So some entrepeneurs decided to get ahead of the curve with some radically more risky vehicles -- which Greenspan decided to support and explicitly refused to look at regulating. The private sector cowboys rode the bubble, and then Fannie and Freddie got involved under the Bush Administration because they were agressively deregulating them and the CRA, and F&F were losing market share (remember--they were private entities with a bottom line). The upshot is that, as far as I can tell, the policies which Democratic administrations enacted were actually pretty solid because they were careful. But when the Bush administration embraced much higher-risk lending combined with shredding oversight, a solid policy spun out of control.

At the end of the day, you're right, no one will ever be able to say with full certainty what the cause is. But it's no surprise that the bash CRA/Fannie Freddie club are people who hate entitlements, affirmative action, etc., etc. They forget how many bad credit/poor whites were out there receiving these loans, too. I haven't been able to find any national statistics. But the Furman center in NY does an annual review of the NYC housing market that has some fascinating findings. It shows that the total percentage of loans that were subprime, after holding at 3% in the 90's, skyrockets after 2001 to over 20% in 2005-6. I don't see how you can pin that on anyone but Bush and his Fed+Treasury. Further, the study shows that black subprime lending was a much higher total percentage of subprime loans in 2005 -- around 44% versus 16% to whites of all subprime home purchase loans. But let's dig deeper -- it's important to remember that a quarter of N.Y is black, and less than half white. To get close to a national statistic (demo 76% white vs. 12% black), if these rates hold, you do simple math, (.16*.76/.44 vs. .44*.12/.25). That works out to 24% of subprime mortgages nationally going to whites, versus 21% going to blacks. If you figured hispanics the same way, given that their rate in NYC fell between whites and blacks, I think you'd see a similar figure. Which is to say that white people contribute as much to this mess as any individual minority.

Which I guess goes to say, that the next time someone sends you a ten-year-old article as evidence that their Limbaugh talking points are true, (and especially if they are fellow members of the legal profession) please tell them for me, "Your shit is weak. Go do some actual research." I mean, what are interns for?

Damn, that felt good. Please feel free to forward this -- and I hope you don't mind if I post it.


P.S.> Republican word on why they didn't back the bailout: Nancy Pelosi hurt my feelings. Wow.

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Saturday, September 27, 2008


Well, one of the problems with cooking burgers for people during the debate is that you're cooking burgers for people during the debate. So I only saw about a quarter (I'm going to watch the whole thing tonight.) But I will say that Obama seemed to be doing exactly what he needed to: proving he was calm, intelligent, and reassuring as a leader. And McCain sounded nervous to me -- there was all of this tension in his voice. I thought he was sweating. Obama doesn't need to win anything -- if he shows he'd be a cool head in tight situations, and people come to feel comfortable with him, it's over. And McCain stop Obama from sounding intelligent or staying cool. Put a fork in the straight talk express.

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Friday, September 26, 2008

Debate watching

I'm having some friends over to watch the debate tonight with beer and burgers (and gasp, we're not all rooting for the same team). But tonight also marks the anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote. It's a striking anniversary for this debate. Of course, the 19th Amendment came at the heels of the 18th, prohibition. As boywonder notes, in some ways, prohibition wasn't such a bad thing:

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Tech news

So I spent last night pulling apart my laptop to replace the cooling paste that's between the heatsink and the CPU. It's been overheating lately, and I had a feeling it had something to do with when I swapped out the old 1.6 GHz cpu for a newer, 2 GHz chip a year ago (ran 70-92C hot but much faster!). (Don't try this at home -- completely disassembling a laptop is not for the faint of heart. But with a 4 year old laptop that you still love, it's worth it.)

It took me a couple of hours and had me up till 2 -- but this time I read up on how to clean the cpu and the heatsink properly (go go google search). And now the CPU is running rock solid at 43 degrees C running flat-out on a cpu test. It went through the night like that. I feel like my baby just brought home straight A's.

On an alternate note, iTunes 8 is pretty but the video craps out in WinXP. I've tried a lot of troubleshooting (can't even reinstall the old 7.4 version). Maybe they're trying to drive me over to Mac... On the plus side, the Genius function is fun so far, though combined with 1-click my checkbook might take a big hit. The funny thing about Apple stuff -- if a competitor program like win media player pulled this crap it'd be in the trash. But it's love, you know? I guess I'm not *really* a PC.

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McCain calls "game on"

Well there's no deal in Washington tonight, but I guess the car passed. "Time in!"

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McCain meltdown continues: what next?

Slate has an idea -- more Hail Marys:

1. Returns to Vietnam and jails himself.
2. Offers the post of "vice vice president" to Warren Buffett.
3. Challenges Obama to suspend campaign so they both can go and personally drill for oil offshore.
4. Learns to use computer.
5. Does bombing run over Taliban-controlled tribal areas of Pakistan.
6. Offers to forgo salary, sell one house.
7. Sex-change operation.
8. Suspends campaign until Nov. 4, offers to start being president right now.
9. Sells Alaska to Russia for $700 billion.
10. Pledges to serve only one term. OK, half a term.

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Thursday, September 25, 2008

Douthat Agonistes

Ross Douthat, senior editor over at The Atlantic, seems to be struggling with this election. I can't count the times something huge has happened in the campaign, and it takes him some time before he can sit down and compose a message about it (not that he's a very prolific blogger, but yesterday he had 2-3 posts on the Yankees and none on McCain's time-out).

Today he offers an apologia:

If you're wondering why I was writing about baseball yesterday instead of leaping into the debate over whether John McCain's decision to suspend his campaign and call for the delay of tomorrow night's debate was a bold act of leadership, a brilliant piece of political theater, or a pointless, vote-losing stunt, it's because the baseball season suddenly seems a lot more interesting than Presidential politics.


All Presidential elections are important, of course, and they're usually important for reasons that nobody sees coming during the election itself. But given the evidence presented to date - the enormous constraints on American action abroad, a fiscal situation that more or less ensures that neither candidate's boldest ideas are likely to get off the ground, and the unimaginative, substance-averse politicking of the candidates themselves - there's good reason to think that the outcome of this election won't be nearly as transformational as many people seem to think.

I assume that last sentence was edited; he must have cut out: "..., I hope." Douthat is a thoughtful conservative, a passionate Christian, and a sharp writer (even if I don't think my porn collection is one step toward adultery). He's pro-life, and he's for fiscal constraint. He was a fan of Palin long before we'd ever heard of her, but worried that McCain's pick might do more damage to her career than good. Consider his position: a president he's supported has burned a hole in the government's check book and steered the economy into collapse. His cadaverous current candidate, as Douthat's noted often, has clearly decided that he's losing on substance, and opted instead for flash and style. And week after week sees some sort of bizarre stunt. Douthat clearly would like to pull for McCain more -- but like many conservatives with a brain (think of George S. Will), he realizes that rash cheerleading might look moronic in the lens of history. So week after week he wrestles with what to say, and what we get is posts on the Yankees. Because that's the story of the day if you're living in D.C. right now. If you're a conservative in Douthat's mold, your greatest political strengths are a sense of moral clarity and a commitment to fiscal discipline. This presidency has destroyed both. What's left? (Well, you could write a book called "Grand New Party" which points to these problems and offers substantive changes to G.O.P. direction, but then you'd garner limitless derision from Rush Limbaugh and watch, from the bleachers with Cassandra, as the party hurls itself off the cliff anyway.)

I imagine it's all a bit like waking up as Sampson with a buzz cut.

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Palin/Couric II -- Miss Teen South Carolina

"The al .. as I say, inaction is not an option, we've got to shore up our economy -- this is crisis moment for America, really the rest of the world also, looking to see the impacts if America were to choose not to shore up what has happened on Wall street because of the, the ultimate adverse effects of what has happened on Main Street and then how that affects this globalization that we're a part of in our world, so the rest of the world really is looking at John McCain, the leadership that he is going to provide on this, and if those provisions in the proposal can be implemented and make this proposal better, make it make more sense to tax payers then again John McCain is going to improve his leadership."

Video here.

And here's Jimmy Kimmel parsing it out.

On a side note -- this is what it feels like to teach Freshman comp. Should I get a medal? Maybe in the Asian countries.

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Suspension? That's just semantics

Mark speaking at Clinton's global initiative today on the list of campaign events McCain has held after suspending his campaign. The inimitable Yglesias had this to say:

It sure was nice of Bill Clinton to put important national concerns above petty partisanship by agreeing to host a John McCain campaign speech and help the GOP nominee burnish his bipartisan credentials. You might think a former President would be so committed to an axe-grinding agenda that he couldn’t see the big picture. But not Bill — he puts country first, not some personal agenda. Oh what’s that you say? His wife ran for the Democratic nomination and lost? Think that might be relevant?

I don't think that sarcasm is Matt's strong suit -- I prefer his muted irony. But the point stands. If only Chris Rock had been invited, too...

I'm sure the McCain campaign doesn't want us to count this as "campaigning" -- and if we tried to push the point, it's just an issue of semantics.

Which is really a segue into one of my most favoristist hobby horses: "semantics" means meaning. We use words to communicate exclusively because they mean something. SO when someone says, "let's not argue about semantics" what they're really saying is "let's not quibble about what we actually mean." But I guess that's playing semantics with semantics. Flarp.

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We come to bury Fanny and Freddie, not to praise them ...

So it turns out that Fannie and Freddie were the victims of the downturn, not the cause. They started losing market share to companies dabbling in sub prime loans, and eventually followed them in. Ezra:

In other words, Fannie and Freddie were private institutions with shareholders they were responsible to. The lending market changed, shifting away from the fairly safe mortgages they tended to buy. They lost market share. This is where government regulation or oversight should have intervened and kept them from changing their business strategy and buy low-quality loans to increase market share. It did not.

There's a good graph and explanation on this site:

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It's not the craziest thing I've heard ...

Anonymous Liberal suggests that the McCain suspension is really about Palin:

I'm serious. The more I look at what happened today, the more I think it was all an elaborate attempt to stem the fallout from the truly disastrous interview Sarah Palin taped this morning with Katie Couric. In that interview, Palin did two things that hurt the McCain campaign and, but for McCain's late afternoon shenanigans, would have garnered much more attention.

I have to say that it is starting to look like part of McCain's object here isn't to cancel the Friday debate, but to bump Palin's debate next week. She's been cramming for three weeks, and this is the best she could do? (I'm tempted to say "no wonder it took her six years to finish college" ... but, er ... it took me that long, too.)

South Park II: "I haven't seen someone take a blow like that since Hugh Grant..."

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John McCain is Letterman's Punk

I don't know if you recall the Madonna interview Letterman did years back where she savaged him on air -- but Letterman's reaction to McCain's timeout last night was at least twice as brutal. I guess McCain called to say he was cancelling his appearance on the show because of the crisis (and Letterman said, "Well, do what you gotta do"). But then found out that McCain was taping with Katie Couric during his show. Let's just say, Dave's not pleased.

To quote South Park: "I haven't seen a beating like that since Rodney King..."

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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Go get 'em, Ezra.

Klein had this to say:

If neither the economy nor John McCain's poll numbers approve, I just can't imagine that this country will be ready for something as divisive and crudely political as a vote in early November. So here's the question: Will Barack Obama put his country first and agree to delay the election until the stock market lifts and John McCain has a better chance? Or is this all about Obama?

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McCain: Maturity. Experience. Stick ball.

McCain called "Time out" today. I didn't know you could do that. I guess after the car passes he'll call "game on."

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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Is it too good to be true? (Adventures in spamming)

Ezra forward a striking opportunity via blog. Do any of you know someone who might be interested?

Dear American:

I need to ask you to support an urgent secret business relationship with a transfer of funds of great magnitude.

I am Ministry of the Treasury of the Republic of America. My country has had crisis that has caused the need for large transfer of funds of 800 billion dollars US. If you would assist me in this transfer, it would be most profitable to you.

I am working with Mr. Phil Gram, lobbyist for UBS, who will be my replacement as Ministry of the Treasury in January. As a Senator, you may know him as the leader of the American banking deregulation movement in the 1990s. This transactin is 100% safe.

This is a matter of great urgency. We need a blank check. We need the funds as quickly as possible. We cannot directly transfer these funds in the names of our close friends because we are constantly under surveillance. My family lawyer advised me that I should look for a reliable and trustworthy person who will act as a next of kin so the funds can be transferred.

Please reply with all of your bank account, IRA and college fund account numbers and those of your children and grandchildren to wallstreetbailout@treasury.gov so that we may transfer your commission for this transaction. After I receive that information, I will respond with detailed information about safeguards that will be used to protect the funds.

Yours Faithfully Minister of Treasury Paulson

(Address redacted)

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Chris Rock to Bill Clinton: Hillary Lost!

Gawker has a hilarious video of Chris Rock on the Letterman show. He followed Bill Clinton who spent five minutes damning Obama with the faintest of praise. Watch for yourself:

(The Gawker vid has Bill Clinton's comments, too.)

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Friday, September 19, 2008

After Ike

Well I've finished cleaning up (chainsaws are FUN!) and the power came back on, so it's back to the workaday grind here. I'm very happy there was so little damage to my place, and happier that I don't live in Galvez. My intrepid videographer spent much of the aftermath down there and touring Bolivar. Wow.

It does make me wonder if "well there's hurricanes" will replace "it's damn hot and humid" as the number one critique of Houston. Only time and global warming will tell. At least it took my mind off the campaign for a few days.

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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

HOLY SHIT is this funny -- John Saunders, Sarah Palin, and Amanuensis

From the New Yorker -- a sample:

Explaining how she felt when John McCain offered her the Vice-Presidential spot, my Vice-Presidential candidate, Governor Sarah Palin, said something very profound: “I answered him ‘Yes’ because I have the confidence in that readiness and knowing that you can’t blink, you have to be wired in a way of being so committed to the mission, the mission that we’re on, reform of this country and victory in the war, you can’t blink. So I didn’t blink then even when asked to run as his running mate.”

Isn’t that so true? I know that many times, in my life, while living it, someone would come up and, because of I had good readiness, in terms of how I was wired, when they asked that—whatever they asked—I would just not blink, because, knowing that, if I did blink, or even wink, that is weakness, therefore you can’t, you just don’t. You could, but no—you aren’t.

That is just how I am.

Do you know the difference between me and a Hockey Mom who has forgot her lipstick?

A dog collar.

Do you know the difference between me and a dog collar smeared with lipstick?

Not a damn thing.

We are essentially wired identical.

Read the rest.

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Friday, September 12, 2008

Hurricane Ike

I don't like Ike. Damn him and his Rockwellian name!!! I'm feeling nostalgic for good ol' Gustav.

Spent yesterday helping my folks move their stuff out of their house on Bolivar island. People were evacuated by helicopter from Bolivar all day today -- and apparently much of the island is now underwater. Then I boarded up my windows here in Houston and moved to my folks place (a brick house where there are no old Pecan Trees). We've been told that he electricity will go out some time tonight. But I'm done with my work today -- which means margs, beer, and fajitas. Yum.

Hope everyone else out there weathers the storm okay. Just heard that 40% of the folks on Galveston stayed. That's maybe 20,000 folks. Not good. Anyway, I'll be back when the Texas internets fire back up.

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