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.

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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Thursday, September 11, 2008

Hookers and Blow? Only if you're a Clampett

So I don't know if you missed it, but during the 'DRILL, BABY, DRILL' Republican convention, the living dead fox-trotted the night away to the stylish tunes of a band called "Hookers and Blow." Seriously. Well, it turns out this wasn't just smack talk:

As Congress prepares to debate expansion of drilling in taxpayer-owned coastal waters, the Interior Department agency that collects oil and gas royalties has been caught up in a wide-ranging ethics scandal — including allegations of financial self-dealing, accepting gifts from energy companies, cocaine use and sexual misconduct.

Please, please, please, can I be a Republican now?

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Comedy Break

I don't have cable. So sometimes I'm slightly behind the times. But I found this today. Enjoy.

(Sara Silverman to boyfriend Jimmy Kimmel: "I'm fucking Matt Damon.")

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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

OMG Banh Mi!

I just finished my Banh Mi from Cali Sandwich for lunch and thought again, for the ten thousandth time, why the hell don't I eat this every day? It's an explosion of mint/cilantro/jalapeno/RoosterSauce crispiness in your mouth with every friggin' bite. If only the French had colonized the rest of Asia at some point. Can you imagine what their influence on curry would have tasted like? Lord Almighty.

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I WANT IT -- Gene Portrait

DNA11 is a quirky company that offers genetic portraits. You send the swab, they take a photo of the DNA gel, and put it on a canvas of various sizes (from 1.5 to 5 feet). I WANT ONE. Don't worry, it's only a thousand for the large canvas with studio frame.

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Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Obama on the Constitution and "Terrorist Rights"

FINALLY (via WashPo):

It was in St. Paul last week that Palin drew raucous cheers when she delivered this put-down of Obama: "Al-Qaeda terrorists still plot to inflict catastrophic harm on America and he's worried that someone won't read them their rights."

Obama had a few problems with that.

"First of all, you don't even get to read them their rights until you catch 'em," Obama said here, drawing laughs from 1,500 supporters in a high school gymnasium. "They should spend more time trying to catch Osama bin Laden and we can worry about the next steps later."

If the plotters of the Sept. 11 attacks are in the government's sights, Obama went on, they should be targeted and killed.

"My position has always been clear: If you've got a terrorist, take him out," Obama said. "Anybody who was involved in 9/11, take 'em out."

But Obama, who taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago for more than a decade, said captured suspects deserve to file writs of habeus corpus.

Calling it "the foundation of Anglo-American law," he said the principle "says very simply: If the government grabs you, then you have the right to at least ask, 'Why was I grabbed?' And say, 'Maybe you've got the wrong person.'"

The safeguard is essential, Obama continued, "because we don't always have the right person."

"We don't always catch the right person," he said. "We may think it's Mohammed the terrorist, but it might be Mohammed the cab driver. You might think it's Barack the bomb-thrower, but it might be Barack the guy running for president."

Obama turned back to Palin's comment, although he said he was not sure whether Palin or Rudy Giuliani said it.

"The reason that you have this principle is not to be soft on terrorism. It's because that's who we are. That's what we're protecting," Obama said, his voice growing louder and the crowd rising to its feet to cheer. "Don't mock the Constitution. Don't make fun of it. Don't suggest that it's not American to abide by what the founding fathers set up. It's worked pretty well for over 200 years."

He finished with a dismissive comment about his opponents.

"These people."

I've been waiting to hear a major candidate for office say this for seven fucking years. And there's no way Clinton would have taken a stand on this during the election.

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"Why Eat Soup with a Knife?": The Inimitable Matt Yglesias


This subject really deserves a treatment longer than a blog post, but let me recommend my colleague Matt Duss’s post on Bob Woodward and the perversity of that burgeoning establishment consensus that the main lesson of Iraq is that, whether or not we should have gone to war in the first place, we’ve now learned a bunch of awesome counterinsurgency techniques that will allow us to subdue future adversaries near and far.

I know he disagrees with this interpretation, but I’ve always thought it made a lot of sense to dwell on the fact that the title of COIN guru John Nagl’s excellent book on the subject is Learning to Eat Soup With a Knife. One thing you might ask yourself, of course, is why would you do that? And it’s hard to say. I mean, even a starving man with a bowl of soup and no spoon is just going to drink directly from a bowl. Of course you can devise some kind of scenario in which it might be necessary to eat soup with a knife, but your basic gameplan in life is going to be to avoid being in those kind of situations. And much the same, it seems to me, with the lessons of counterinsurgency. This is very difficult stuff. Like eating soup with a knife. Your top policy priority should be to avoid the situations in which it arises.

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Fun with Signs

And some real ones.

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Monday, September 8, 2008

Get "Meta," it Pays -- Marc Ambinder and the Media [Long post]

There's an ongoing debate right now between Marc Ambinder, (of The Atlantic), and Matt Yglesias (recently of The Atlantic and now at the Center for American Progress) over the role the media should be playing right now in refereeing the manifest lies that the McCain campaign has been pushing lately, particularly Palin's claim that she said "thanks, but no thanks" to the Bridge to Nowhere.

The imbroglio is unusual because it seems to represent a minor implosion over at The Atlantic -- one of the most respected sources for progressive blogging. And Ambinder, in particular, is one of the most respected bloggers on journalism -- journalists often look to him to get the "inside scoop" of what's happening in political reporting.

In particular, Yglesias has criticized Ambinder for suggesting that, although Palin's claim about the bridge to nowhere is "technically true but functionally false," there will be "No blowback." Matt responds:

But couldn’t it have something to do with the way the campaign press reports news? ... [W]here’s the narrative about how McCain’s key strategy introducing Sarah Palin to the public and turning his campaign around is based on putting lies at the heart of the presentation? There are a few dozen people, of whom Marc is one, in a position to create this narrative. They’ve chosen not to do so, but that’s a decision they’ve made not a fact about “the way consumers process news.”

Ambinder retorts that "The positive point is that a small but significant fraction of the electorate seems astonishingly inured to misleading charges and negative attacks. ... To move to a Greenwaldian debate about the duties, obligations and frustrations of the press -- well -- read elsewhere if you want to play that game. I'll abstain." In other words: most voters don't care about lying. And we've mentioned the distortion, so our job is done.

Unsurprisingly, Matt found this "tellingly defensive," adding that
it’s perverse for members of the press to make claims about how dishonest campaign tactics are likely to play that treats themselves as non-participants in the process. Creating false beliefs in the public about yourself and your opponent is politically helpful. But acquiring a reputation as a liar is politically damaging. And the public gets a lot of information through the press. Thus, the political impact of telling a lie will have a lot to do with how the media chooses to cover it.

The main point: when it comes to lying, there's coverage, and then there's coverage. It's one thing to report what McCain/Palin are saying, interjecting notes about when the statements are false. It's another to analyze the pattern of lying, and to write about lying becoming a key feature of the campaign. Every politician, (including Saint Obama) distorts, but if distortion becomes the primary facet of your politics, that's especially newsworthy.

This back-and-forth is somewhat uncommon among bloggers who are ostensibly on the same side of the political spectrum. When Andrew Sullivan and Jonah Goldberg engage in their weekly needling, for instance, it's part of a general red-not red divide (Sullivan, a conservative, has become an increasingly vocal critic of Republican platforms and campaigns -- while Goldberg works for the G.O.P. standard-bearing National Review). But Matt and Marc have worked together for years, so Matt's evacuation of The Atlantic and these sudden disputes are at least noteworthy.

Some quick gossip: Ambinder was a pretty big Clinton supporter going into the primaries, and though he occasionally mooted the point, it's not a perspective that is generally presented explicitly in his blog. Matt, on the other hand, was a long-term Obama supporter. So they're bound to see things differently. That said, recently, Ambinder posted an unsourced tip that the Obama campaign was encouraging surrogates to compare Sarah Palin to abortive V.P. candidate Thomas Eagleton. Fox news ran with the story, before the Obama camp denied it categorically. Ambinders pulled the post without explanation, then stopped blogging for more than 24 hours. Around the same time, Matt attacked a new poll being run by The Atlantic, and now Andrew Sullivan is MIA on his pro-Obama Atlantic blog. So things seem to be heating up.

But this background is less interesting than the point about the Ambinder-Yglesias dust-up that was recently made by Ezra Klein over at The American Prospect. In a post that is perhaps the *most* insightful of Ezra's career and even the campaign to date, Ezra begins (and please read the whole thing -- seriously, it's that good):
I think one aspect of the modern press that doesn't get enough attention -- either among folks in the media or folks critiquing it -- is the transition from the fundamental scarcity being information to information being in abundance and the fundamental scarcity being mediation. For instance, the attitude on display in this Marc Ambinder post is fully understandable if you take a newspaperman's attitude towards the whole thing. If everyone got a newspaper once a day, and there were eight political stories, and all of them were different each day, and one of them had pointed out that Palin actually did support the Bridge to Nowhere, then the press would indeed have done its job. The job was to report the story, and they reported it.

But cable news and blogs and radio sort of changed all that and now there's too much information, and so consumers largely rely on the press to arrange that information into some sort of coherent story that will allow them to understand the election. And the press assumed that role -- they didn't create some new institution, or demand that the cable channels be credentialed differently and understood as "political entertainment."

Ezra's aim here is to reinforce what Matt Yglesias was suggesting: it's the job of the press to sculpt the narrative of the campaign. When they choose to ignore this role, they abdicate this responsibility and give free reign to the campaign spin meisters with the best curveball (c.f. Karl Rove).

Moreover, I don't think that this situation *is* all that different from the Press's role under the old media regime, when they also relied upon a continuity of narrative to cover the areas of their interest (in national politics, their decision not to cover F.D.R.'s handicap or J.F.K. rumors come to mind). It's worth noting that the need to tie information to narratives to make it intelligible is larger than journalism. As Ezra points out, it's a broad feature of fiction, including T.V. serials, but also anthropology and history, to name a few (c.f. Hayden White on Metahistory). Journalists in general live within a forced cognitive dissonance between the nature of their work and the nature of their object. While they strive to be objective, and locate the facts of the story, they daily experience that process as sifting various points of view and weaving them together into an intelligible story. For an example, take finding the "lede," the nuggets of information or key quote that will encapsulate, in a single sentence, the entire story. No individual sentence can actually accomplish this, of course, and the process of creating or choosing one foregrounds the creative process of making news into a story on the news page.

Of course, most journalists avoid thinking in these terms -- they are passionate about their craft, and committed to the public service of bringing the "truth" to their audience. Admitting too much of the relativity and creativity of this craft would be debilitating (a journalistic equivalent of the German dramatist who shot himself in the head after imbibing Kant's skepticism). In reading the responses to Ezra's post, it becomes clear that many readers do not recognize a distinction between "fact" and story, between information and narrative. Even worse, many think of the former as true, the latter as false. The reasons for this confusion have ancient roots in the philosophy of language, rhetoric, and even science (and constitute, in part, a glancing subject of my dissertation).

The inability to parse information and story is so woven into the texture of our common-sense perception that it forms an essential feature of our politics. Just look at the Republican convention: in order to answer the question of why McCain would make a good president, we were given McCain's life story instead of his ideas or proposals. And, in turn, when convention goers were asked why he'd be a good president (or why he can't remember how many houses he has, or what rich is ...) they answered: he was a P.O.W. It doesn't matter that this story has nothing to do with his future performance -- because what matters is that we are given a good story. To take another example, look at the Republican mantra of Palin's "small-town story" and her "small-town values." It's a phrase that is very effective in establishing an Andy Griffiths contrast with Barack Obama (and his high-fallutin' community organizing) but it is a story that contains almost no information. Watch the Daily Show response:

As long as reporters see their job merely as reporting this story as a fact, as well as reporting other facts, they allow the McCain campaign to tell the story for them. The question is not whether the press should manipulate their readers, or shape their political perceptions, but whether the press can recognize that all presented information tells some kind of story, and it is their job to choose which story is most accurate.

P.S.> On a side-note, I think journalists tend to select the narratives they use a bit unconsciously -- and the narratives tend to reflect, for this reason, their assumptions and predilections. (For instance -- hypothetically -- if someone happened to be a pretty strong and disappointed Clinton supporter, this might have a huge effect on which narratives seemed appropriate. It's not that you'd "choose" to emphasize one or another, but rather, that some would seem relevant, and others, Glen-Greenwaldian media criticism.)

Update: Spiny ears tingling, the terrible Greenwald-zilla opts to weigh in, too:
While it's not surprising that the journalists who shape our campaign coverage think that way, it is unusual to see it expressed as explicitly and brazenly as Ambinder expresses it here. It's far more common for journalists to maintain the pretense that they are members of a "profession" which, by virtue of the impact they have on the country and the privileges conferred on them by it, does actually entail "duties and obligations," and that those "duties and obligations" are a matter of legitimate public interest and debate. Some form of ignoble credit, I suppose, is due Ambinder for candidly acknowledging his petulant indifference to such notions ("read elsewhere if you want to play that game. I'll abstain").

Update2: I think Brad Delong agrees with me:

First, we don't look to Ambinder to fill this role. The fact that he has decided to report on campaign-minus-media disqualifies him from filling it. We hope to prevent others from looking to Ambinder to fill this role by pointing out what he and his fellows are doing. We have limited success.

Second, this isn't new. This isn't the result of radio or the internet. This has been the case ever since Odysseus's press agent first got people to refer to him as the guy you could always count on to come up with a clever plan.

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Sunday, September 7, 2008

Clutch City

Man, it's just like my childhood! I'm rooting for a Houston football team that would get whupped by the Bad New Bears.

On the plus side, I learned to hate gambling -- each Fall, I lost nine tenths of my lunch money.

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Friday, September 5, 2008

Etymology Friday: Boffo

I was reading a column by E. J. Dionne, and he used the raz-mataz adjective "boffo" -- prompting me to wonder, where in the hell does that word come from? I don't think I've ever heard it used viva voce, and I don't recall seeing it anywhere accept entertainment rags and the headlines of the New York Sun.

Well, it turns out, according to the OED, that it's a homegrown neologism that emerged from the pages of Variety in the 40's. Go Team America. There's some speculation that it comes from the dialect of Yorkshire natives, in which, it is recorded from the turn of the last century, "boff" stood for "an alarm, a sudden shock" (a definition that perhaps continued, per Gilbert and Sullivan, "from a cheap and chippy chopper on a big black block").

Regardless, this makes "Boffo" a true Americanism, taking its place in the pantheon alongside "Cocktail" and "Google" as one of our great contributions to the language of Shakespeare and Michael Palin.

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Secret Ladies Victorian Tea and BDSM Society

I had no idea Victorianists were so hot.

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Wasilla: The Welfare City-State

We keep hearing about how Palin is a crusader against government spending (e.g., she put the state's private jet on Ebay). But Alaska, of course, receives a huge amount of federal aid. I decided to look back at her record as mayor of Wasilla. According to Wikipedia's post on Palin:

During her second term as mayor, Palin hired the Anchorage-based lobbying firm of Robertson, Monagle & Eastaugh to lobby for earmarks for Wasilla. The effort was led by Steven Silver, a former chief of staff for Senator Ted Stevens,[29] and it secured nearly $27 million in earmarked funds. The earmarks included $500,000 for a youth shelter, $1.9 million for a transportation hub, $900,000 for sewer repairs, and $15 million for a rail project linking Wasilla and the ski resort community of Girdwood.[30] Some of the earmarks were criticized by Senator McCain.[31]

Now, let's be generous and accept the Republican claim that Wasilla is a town of 10,000 people. (Wikipedia puts the population as of 2000 at 5,469.) $27 million in earmarks is $2700 per person. That's on top of an oil-driven state budget surplus that sends Alaskans money every year. If Alaska is the kept lady of states, Wasilla has to be her love nest. I got to get me some of that.

To extrapolate, if my home town, Houston, received that much federal money per person in earmarks -- it would come out to 5.2 billion dollars. Can you imagine what McCain would say?

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McCain's Cult of Personality

Eugene Robinson:

But after the two conventions, it looks as if Obama and Biden are going to do their best to focus voters' attention on issues -- the economy, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, energy, and the environment. And it looks as if McCain and Palin have decided to run on a platform of personal history.

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Barracuda Bites Back: A Heartless G.O.P.

Thank God (via TMZ):

Ann and Nancy Wilson are pissed at the Republican Party and have fired off a cease and desist letter to the McCain/Palin campaign.

Specifically, the Heart women are upset that the GOP has used their classic "Barracuda" as a theme song for Sarah Palin. TMZ obtained a statement from Heart's rep, who says "The Republican campaign did not ask for permission to use the song, nor would they have been granted that permission."

Rock ON!

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Thursday, September 4, 2008

Post-partum reflections: on McCain and the Republican Convention

If I were an historian, I'd be tempted to look back to this speech and take the crowd's willingness to drown McCain's words out with chanting and cheering as a tidy little metaphor for his candidacy. To Republicans, he's just a place-filler -- they really don't give a damn what he says, or what he really believes, so long as he carries the flag for their program.

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Google hates Alaska, too!

(via Atrios) Check it out -- if you type "about:internets" into Google's Chrome browser, you get this:

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The bitter and the clinging

Matt makes a very sharp argument about the politics of cultural division which many accuse the Republicans of playing. Drawing from Andrew Gelman's Red State, Blue State, he argues that poor whites in America do not typically vote against their economic interests by voting Republican -- the majority still vote Democratic. In other words, the politics of elite/NASCAR cultural division is really an argument between wealthy rural elites, and wealthy cosmopolitan elites:

But in whatever sense snowmobiling is a “working class” hobby — and I’ll agree it doesn’t have vast appeal to big city sophisticates — it’s not a cheap pursuit, and I’m sure Todd Palin could have bought a ton of arugula with the money he spent on his snowmobile instead. He just chose not to, which is fine. But that’s what these culture wars are all about — relatively prosperous cultural conservatives fighting with relatively prosperous cultural liberals about “postmaterial” political issues and using lifestyle cues as proxies for those battles — they’re not about poor people mobilizing themselves on behalf of the GOP.

As I say, it's a very sharp and well, argued point. Please go read it in full -- I can't do it justice here. But it's still fundamentally flawed -- because it Republicans win rich rural people, and Democrats all poor people as well as rich cosmos -- there's no way the Republicans would ever win.

The key point, I think, is that the politics of culture war (what Obama called "Making a big election about small things") is not predicated on the need to win over the majority of poor whites -- just enough to put the Republican vote over the top. If you combine a sizable minority (say 40-45%) of poor whites with the strong financing and organization of the wealthy, you can out-hustle and outvote the Democrats in a large share of elections. Besides, from the perspective of "voting against economic interests," the Democratic party traditionally benefited at least as much from their own sizeable minority of the rich -- those Buffet and Soros Democrats -- to work their own political mojo. What has been most notable about this election, I'd say, is that for once, the economic punch of the Democratic party is coming from the bottom up -- from the people who will benefit most from their policies (and have the least individual ability to put their pet causes in their politician's ear).

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Bring in the Aged P's: Republican National Convention Thursday night blogging

Update 8: ARGH -- Sara Palin's new theme song is Heart's "Barracuda." Why do you have to ruin everything, old elephant party, why?

Update 7 -- McCain talk: Whoa -- the green background is back. And did you see that vet with the big sign, "McCain Votes Against Vets"? Wow. Lots of protesters. And the response of the crowd: to chant "USA" loudly -- even over McCain's words.

Cue the "I knew Princess Di. And Cindy McCain is no Princess Di" comments.

Of Sarah Palin: "She's worked with her hands and nose." ?!?

McCain is coming across as way more nervous than Palin did.

This speech is nice enough as pablum. But it won't do the trick -- he seems old and out of touch, no matter what he says, because he's clearly not speaking to things he cares about, just reading the speech. Seriously, did he even practice?

"Where a bureaucrat will stand between you and your doctor," or a preacher between you and your lover, and a girdle between you and your vagina, and ...

If he got elected and kept speaking like this, I'd wish for him to croak and turn it over to Palin.

"I want schools to answer to parents and students" ?!? Maybe they can start teaching the classes, too.

Of course, Obama specifically indicated he'd accept drilling AND nuclear power.

LOL: On Alqaida "And they'll strike us again if they can. Iran ..." Over the Iranian border, perhaps?

I wonder if McCain has ever gone through his war experiences at such length for a political speech before.

Wow. Turns from a moving talk to "I don't think I was blessed and anointed by history..." Talk about stepping all over his earlier praise for Obama's campaign and its role in history.

And in fairness, he's allowing the cheers to step all over his closing.

Update 6 -- McCain Video: Awesome, they got Mannheim Steamroller to do the soundtrack!

Chilling: "John McCain's life was spared. Perhaps he had more to do."

"In Faiths of Our Fathers, John McCain's ghostwriter wrote ..."

Okay, I'm going to stop wisecracking. That video was terrible -- incoherent, badly produced, and boring. Whoever made it should never work again.

Update 5 -- I think the crowd is chanting "John McCain" -- but it sounds eerily like "Show Your Tits." Awkward?

Update 4 -- Cindy McCain: I think Cindy must be Susanne Summers' long-lost sister. What in the hell does "Operation Smile" have to do with McCain? And did they really have to go to Africa to find a black person willing to stand up and thank him?

Update 3 -- Cindy McCain video: Is there something creepy about Cindy McCain bringing home a pet Indian girl? I mean, that's how we found two cats, a dog, and a short-lived squirrel named "Spitz." The key -- she didn't consult John, but surprised him when she got off the plane. Because it's not like it's a real kid that needs, you know, a commitment from the father. And I'd love to see Cindy McCain "pull out her wrenches" and work on a race car.

Update 2 -- Terrorism Video: I'm watching the video of the 9/11 attacks with a fully slackened jaw. I can only demur to Michael Corleone: "Just when I thought I was out -- they keep pulling me back in!"

Update -- Brownback: McCain made history through his V.P. pick. It's a common refrain in the convention, but I don't get it. The dems nominated a woman thirty years ago. That was history -- this is only history for the Republican party. If the Republicans nominate a black man thirty years from now -- they won't make history, because the Democratic party already did.

Frist: "I remember health diplomacy -- the Shaivos were shocked AND awed." I'm not sure what the hell "health diplomacy" has to do with John McCain. The audience slept through the talk. I did, too.

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Handwriting on the Wall: Palin's pen on an earmark

From the Washington Independent: Palin scribbles on a congressional earmark, griping that "This does not include our nearly one million dollars from the feds for our airport paving project." Can someone explain to me how someone campaigns for "shrinking the federal government" when they come from a state where they still receive billions in federal aid -- while enjoying a multi-billion dollar state budget surplus and mailing thousands to each citizen every year?

P.S.> I realize Alaska's booms are cyclical. But when they're enjoying windfall profits (and other states are struggling: see NJ, NM, etc.), shouldn't they take their hand out of the kitty?

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Palin: "I did not have sex with that Moose"

What Matt said:

I understand that Sarah Palin’s fans find her critics loathesome and our motives dubious, but I wonder how they feel about the fact that her two national appearances have been so packed full of lies.
I really bothers me that she unabashedly claims to have rejected the bridge to nowhere, when in fact she lobbied for it, then spent the money from the federal government on other programs, or that she says she's a "Friend" of special needs children, when she slashed special needs school funding by 62%. I know there was plenty of truth-shading in the Democratic convention (e.g., McCain was clearly being facetious when he defined "rich" as more than 5 million a year). But Republican prevarification is off the hook.

P.S.> It was chilling that Guliani got laughter for this punch-line: A story like Barack Obama's "could only happen in America."

Update: The AP has a good article detailing the misrememberings.

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Wednesday, September 3, 2008

RNC blogging Wed: Mitt Romney; Come down, Moses

Romney: keepin it real. I keep wondering, how is it possible that anyone with a brain cell left could still believe Republicans are about small government. To blame the doubling of federal spending since 1980 on the liberals is beyond laughable. There's a reason you have to go to 1980 to get the most extreme increase -- it bookmarks Reagan's term and allows you to rope in Bush II. If you looked at Clinton alone, you'd see a drop in government spending, adjusted for inflation. I mean, Jesus.

Update: And Huckabee goes there, too. There's the ridiculous Lava soap joke again. If I ever take up politics, I think I'll be a Republican. It takes a right-winger to buy the Brooklyn Bridge (Over, and over, and over again).

Update 2: [Huckabombast] And then the Hooker said, "You don't get a condom until you figure out how to earn it .... And at the end of the day, in walked Hugh Hefner, with a Trojan, and the Hooker said, "I didn't think you'd figure it out, so I decided to tell you. You don't have to earn your condom -- because he earned it for you." And I was much edified. There endeth the lesson.

Update 3: [Guliani] A hah hah heh! Drill baby, drill? Ah hah hah heh!

Updat3 4: [Palin]: GAME ON!

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Fox News -- Where's are all the hotties?

Watching coverage of the convention this week, I keep thinking how upset Fox News must be that there are no bouncing, nubile women to cut to. Last night, for instance, was an octogenarian train wreck. Which makes this as good an excuse as any to post perhaps my favorite Daily Show clip about the very, very serious Fox News.

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We like colored people!

Is it just me, or was the logic of the first night of the Republican National Convention: We like colored people -- see, we adopt Indians! For that matter, we're also very pro-life as proven by Methuselah one and two here. (As a Star Wars side-note, if you cover the top half of Lieberman's face, he looks eerily like Emperor Palpatine. And if you gilded Michelle Bachman you'd have a ringer for C-3PO. Maybe they are going after those D&D-playing basement nerds, after all.)

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Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Minneapolis Focus Group: Wrecks Palin

You hear a lot right now about how enthusiastic the die-hard convention goers have been for Palin. But I keep wondering -- what about the average (and more sensible) Republicans? This Republican focus group Republicans seems *very* unhappy with Palin. We'll see what this bodes generally -- but based on this, I just can't imagine they focus-grouped this pick in advance.

My favorite?: "Polar bears. That's all I'm going to say."

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Upcoming from SNL: McCain Vice-President Interviews

I can just see it:

[McCain, sitting at desk with papers in front of him. Sign: "Join the 'Change We Can Believe In' Team!"]

[McCain]: Next!

[Door opens, and Satan walks in, in suit, with briefcase.]

[Satan]: Hi -- it's great to meet you! [Extends hand]

[McCain rises, eyes Satan a little curiously, but then shakes his hand.]: Um... Good to meet you, friend. Please sit. [Both take seats.]

[McCain]: Now ... Sei-tan. That's an unusual name!

[Satan]: Don't I know it! Gave me hell in Middle School. My family invented a wheat-protein-based meat substitute -- perhaps you heard of it?

[McCain]: Not really.

[Satan]: Trust me, you'd love it.

[McCain]: Fine, fine. Says here you're a regular church goer?

[Satan]: Every chance I get. I'm very popular there -- the preacher is always talking about me and my work.

[McCain]: Good, good. But it says you're not married?

[Satan]: No -- still playing the field. There was a girl, once. Anyway, it's a long story, she fell for another guy.

[McCain]: Sorry to hear it.

[Satan]: Yeah, well, you move on, hope for someone new.

[McCain]: I know what you mean. Now -- I don't know quite how to ask you this...

[Satan]: No, please, go ahead.

[McCain]: Well, it's a pretty high-profile job. And ... there's lots of photos and attention ... well. Are those horns?

[Satan, chuckling]: You wouldn't believe how often I get that question. No, it's a rare form of cystic acne. I've had it since I was a kid.

[McCain]: Oh, I'm so sorry. Well -- so long as we're on the topic ... was that a tail I saw when you walked in?

[Satan]: Nope. Congenital birth defect -- enlarged tailbone. I thought about having it removed when I got older -- but I'm proud to be me, you know?

[McCain]: Admirable. Now, please don't take this the wrong way ... [He looks around, whispers] Don't want the P.C. patrol to overhear this, but ... you're skin's bright red. Are you an Indian?

[Satan]: Lord, no! I just got back from the Bahamas. Mai-tai city.

[McCain]: Uh huh. [Stands up and offers hand.] Well, it sounds like you're a great candidate. I've got to run it by my advisers, of course [makes crazy gesture with his hand] but I don't mind telling you, I've got a feeling in my gut. I like you a lot -- you seem like a real soul-mate.

[Satan, rising quickly and shaking hand, with a grin]: Wow, thanks! This would just me the most amazing opportunity. Thank you!

[McCain]: No, thank you! [Sniffs] Huh, what's that -- is that sulfur?

[Satan]: I think my cologne's gone bad [Shrugs, sheepishly]. But it was a gift from grandma, you know.

[McCain]: You're a good man.

[Satan]: Thanks! I'll look forward to your call. [Exits]

[McCain sits down, ruffles through papers, picks up new sheet]: Hmm... Hitler -- now where have I heard that name before? [Shrugs] NEXT!

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Monday, September 1, 2008

The Gnomic P. Diddy: "John McCain is bugging the fuck out"

My favorite -- "Alaska? Alaska. Alaska! Alaska?" (Via Ari Melber):

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The Gambler

I keep hearing the justification for Sarah Palin boiling down to: McCain realized that he was on the losing tack and needed to try something else. This has nothing to do with the paper thin vetting of Palin's background, of course, but the justification seems to be that McCain is excused anything if it looks like he is going to lose. As a commenter on The Corner put it, it's not fair to demand that McCain drown with De Toqueville hugged to his breast. To put this differently, the essential Republican take on McCain's decision is "Go Big or Go Home." Well, it looks like with Palin, McCain will get to do both.

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Campbell Brown: Smite Evil

Forget Chuck Cecil. I want Campbell Brown in my secondary:

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Ta Nehisi-Coates and the Youtube lacuna

I just wanted to turn you on to Ta-Nehisi Coates, the newest blogger over at The Atlantic. He replaced by previous favorite blogger, Matt Yglesias, who's moved over to the Center for American Progress and blogs at Think Progress now. The CW on Coates: he references D&D, hip-hop and football daily. 'Nuff said. I may have to break up with Matt.

Anyway, Coates had a post about the great 49er Ronnie Lott, complete with Youtube vid; Lott was a walking back-field tomahawk who used to destroy running backs and receivers. I wanted to talk up my all-time fav from that category, Chuck Cecil. Listed at 188 lbs. (and probably less) he used to demolish all comers in the secondary for the Bears and later, Arizona. He hit so hard the NFL started to fine him for violating the spearing rule. They may have saved lives there. I used to keep clips about him and Junior Seau on the inside of my locker. Anyway, to make my case I tried to dig up youtube footage of some of his greatest hits. Nothing. WTF? I guess he never rated an NFL films tribute? That's BS. But here's a good photo. He looks a little crazy, right? And his nose was always like that.

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But Palin's from Wasilla!!!

The latest from Gawker:

In further news -- Palin announced today that her oldest is currently five months pregnant. That should settle these rumors, right? Well, let's see what a McCain blogger has to say (via Sullivan):

In an unguarded moment last night, McCain Report blogger Michael Goldfarb replied to my question of whether there's any truth to the rumor that Sarah Palin's Down Syndrome child is actually her daughter's with the following less-than-confidence-inspiring comment: "Well, I don't... think so."

Now that's confidence in your candidate. On the other hand, maybe it's the kind of "change" I can believe in.

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