Friday, January 30, 2004

Dean's Fall: I've been toying with an idea about what happened to Dean, why he flew so high, why he fell so fast. My previous post on the media reflects two fairly extreme views; neither view, I think, captures the dynamic of Dean. Yes, the media did hype him a bit, but as we've said, the phenomenon was the subject. Once Dean the candidate gained some coverage, warts and all, it did raise some questions. But this isn't so much the media tearing him down. It's simply the basic media movement. How long can you push stories of "the rise of Howard Dean"? Pretty soon, you have to find a new angle.

And Dean offered plenty of angles. He ran his mouth; he ran away from the centrism that defined his gubernatorial record, a record that came out and offered an irresistable opening for a "which is the real Howard Dean" thumb-sucker; he trumpeted his position on the war quite loudly, though the nuts and bolts of his policy were not so far from Bush's -- so much so that his speeches seemed to cry out for a disclaimer ("This war-related stance not valid in all states. Read your prospectus carefully").

Really, I think what caused Dean's implosion is that his campaign was premised on pushing for attention in a crowded field, which he did by speaking loudly and ascerbically. I don't know if you play Bridge (the card game) at all, but part of the difficulty is what to do when your opponents hold the lead. Ideally, you want to time your high cards, since once you have the lead, you need to exploit it. That is, it's not worth throwing your ace until you know how you can play the rest of your hand. Dean's strategy was to get noticed by throwing his aces. But once you win a trick, you have the lead; your strategy has to change. Perhaps his campaign is discovering that now. It seems likely, since the focus seems to be shifting to tighter troop control, centralized command, and message discipline (plus, no St. Vitus Dance speeches).

Dean may not be dead, but he's not sitting pretty anymore. If my guess is correct, his campaign spent all its time figuring out how to get the catbird seat, and no time figuring out what to do once he was there.

Keystone Konspirators? I've just finished reading a bit about the media's role in the Democratic nomination. Here's Ann Coulter:
At the behest of the Democratic Party establishment, the media dutifully destroyed Howard Dean, the legitimate leader of the opposition. Democratic voters are so obedient to the media, they followed their media puppet masters and instantly switched from Dean to John Kerry.
Now, Adam Wolfson:
Not since "Dewey Defeats Truman" has the press been so surprised (and so wrong) about a political race as last week in Iowa and this week in New Hampshire. For months and months the liberal press had been declaring Dean to be the Next Big Thing. He was their darling. Time, Newsweek, and National Journal all ran cover stories on him. The New York Times Magazine and countless newspapers wrote in-depth analyses of why Dean could not lose. He was called "invincible," and his nomination "inevitable." Yet as it happens, he was a total flop among real Democrats, coming in a distant third in the Iowa caucuses, and a disappointing second in New Hampshire. What gives?
What gives, indeed. Was Big Howard getting knobbed by the media or not? Wolfson says they were blindsided when "their" candidate lost. Annie says the very same media engineered Dean's fall.

I know we limp into this issue every few months, like some clockwork McLaughlin Group, but it needs airing again: the specter of Media Bias. The kind of stuff that Coulter and Wolfson are peddling is the kind of bias-mongering I can't stand. I agree (and have so stated) that the media leans liberal, sometimes heavily, and usually blindly, not by design. But in the case of the current primary race, I don't see much going on, other than a media continuing to push conventional wisdom. (And, as Jesse Walker says here, the CW isn't necessarily false or true. It's just easier than thinking.) In fact, the media has been . . . well . . . not objective, really. But debate moderators, for the most part, have resisted the urge to snicker between the words "Reverend" and "Sharpton." Moreover, if Dean was a media darling, it was the phenomenon they loved, not the man or, particularly, his politics. (For that matter, I'm not sure anyone in the media could figure out his politics, beyond his pretty transparent opposition to the war. Come to think of it, what the hell are his politics?) Whatever you think of him, Howard Dean brought eyes to newspapers, newsweeklies, and TV shows for the better part of a year. You always, in the national media, run with a story that's selling.

But conservatives have to stop pushing the "bias" point so hard. It dulls the issue by overuse. It's like the liberals and the race card. At some point, both sides are going to smugly throw down their killer card, only to find that trump has changed while they weren't listening.

Kerry: "I am s-smart, I am s-smart!": I caught about five minutes of the debate in South Carolina last night, having had enough after this
And one of the things that happens in Congress is, you can in fact write a bill, but if you're smart about it, you can get your bill passed on someone else's bill and it doesn't carry your name.
Sure, you're a genius Senator. Wielding power without taking a stand on an issue, hiding your intentions from the voters, this is what it means to "fight" for the people. Backroom politicking as leadership. A real profile in courage, Senator.

The only other amusing thing of the event was Tom Brokaw walking aroung the stage like he was going to break into a Jay Leno monologue.

Thursday, January 29, 2004

October Surprise? A spokesman for the Pentagon says it's in the bag.
The U.S. military is "sure" it will catch Osama bin Laden this year, a spokesman said Thursday, but he declined to comment on where the al-Qaida leader may be hiding.

. . . Spokesman Lt. Col. Bryan Hilferty said the military now believed it could seize him within months.

"We have a variety of intelligence and we're sure we're going to catch Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar this year," Hilferty said. "We've learned lessons from Iraq and we're getting improved intelligence from the Afghan people."

I smell two possibilities: First, whether what Hilferty says is true or not, he'll be further clarifying his remarks. You'd think the Pentagon would learn not to issue idiotic statements about what they're "sure" of (e.g., decapitation strikes against Saddam, rolling into Baghdad to find a WMD in every pot).

Second, this means we've got him already and we're holding him quietly to try to beat the facts out of him and roll up as much Al Qaeda as possible. With the added benefit of a nice announcement from Bush . . . right about the time the Democrats are nominating someone in Boston. There's an argument to be made for doing out captures on the Q.T. for intel reasons. But don't kid yourself: If we've got Bin Laden, Bush is wetting his pants over what a conveniently timed news break could do for him.

(Via Drudge.)

Speaking of Culture: Here's Roger Kimball, in National Review, declaring that the appointment of Dana Gioia to head the NEA means that Bush's latest budget bomb is really good news for conservatives:
There is plenty of room for debate about whether and to what extent government should be directly involved in funding culture. But there can be no argument that if we are going have public support of the arts, it should be done in an enlightened and life-affirming way. This is the George Bush approach to cultural reinvigoration. Conservatives — by which term I mean people who are interested in conserving what is best from the past — should applaud his efforts. After years in the wilderness, the NEA has finally come home.
I'll grant that 18 million clams is a rounding error in the budgets of most departments of the federal government. Still, Kimball, full enough of truth serum, will admit that he doesn't really care that the money is spent, so long as it is spent on what he likes. That's not conservative, folks. That's opinionism. I'm all for Shakespeare in the communities, but ticket sales and volunteers could cover that, if people really want it. Let's take the right lesson from the past excesses of the NEA, rather than simply changing the tenor of what gets funding.
Literary Theory: Arts and Letters Daily links today to a Christian Science Monitor feature offering some hope for escape from the political and social postmodernism that has ruled the faculty lounge for so many years.

Loath as I am to admit it, I was an English major in college (minor in Poli Sci), and literary theory killed whatever joy I once found in literature. I don't even read fiction today, aside from a piece of trash now and again (The Corrections and some Eggers, which we have covered here, and the occasional pulp novel). And the CSM piece captures why:

The idea behind "Literary Theory" was to interrogate and refute what [theorist Terry] Eagleton and others thought of as lazy, received notions of what is true. [Note: What is actually true is exactly what Mr. Eagleton says, despite the dearth of objective truth out there. Just one of the conundrums these folks elide.]

A Marxist himself, Eagleton would have been more interested in the relations between social classes in a Dickens novel, say, than a single character's suffering and redemption.

That's bound to perk up an undergrad: Tell him that he's going to read one of the greatest creators of memorable characters in the English language -- but f*ck the characters; we're out for vague intimations of Marxism.

I played the game for a while -- and that's all theory is, in the end: a dead-end parlor game for Volvo'ed radicals and cappucino revolutionaries; radical chic with an office overlooking the quad. It wore me out. Postmodern literary theory is pretty clear in stating that literature is not meant to be understood, except as a document of coded politics and social norms to be critiqued and deconstructed -- apparently for nothing more than the cheap moralizing kick that comes from playing trainspotting with the sexual, racial, and gender barbarisms of previous days. (And, cheap moralizing kicks pretty much defining contemporary party politics, I think I see why I've been driven toward the libertarian camp since college.) It's pornography for the social-justice set, nothing more.

Some day I hope to finally dive back into Bleak House, but for now I haver too many memories of lectures in which we were warned against sympathy for Richard's youthful materialism, and scolded for mentioning that Mrs. Jellyby is the quintessential modern American liberal, pursuing her "cause" for poor African children, while own her children fully escape her attention.

Curse my parents!: Don't get me wrong, they're lovely people and I owe them much, however they failed to imbue me with the ability to run the 40 in 4.3, leap 4 feet vertically, and bench press 225lbs like 20 times -- all before breakfast. Had they, then I assure you my senior year in high school would have gone much, much differently. I'd be hitting the lobster tail big time.
More Dean-Trippi: Apropos my comments on Joe Trippi's departure, Noam Scheiber, who should know, writes in TNR:
Trippi was great at engineering the machine that would get the most out of a given message; he was not so good at devising the message itself. Now there was clearly a point in the campaign when that didn't matter, since the machine was the message--i.e., the idea of bringing new blood into the political system and making an end-run around the Washington establishment. But, as we found out in Iowa last week, when it came time to actually pick a candidate, voters wanted a worldview, not just a set of procedural innovations. With Trippi at the helm, the campaign didn't make that leap until the eve of New Hampshire, by which point it was probably too late.
Note: They won't admit it, but TNR reads FauxPolitik first.

Hoffer's famous leadership chain holds true in any number of situations. You need your brilliant revolutionary to begin the rise. But after that, you need a cold-blooded disciplinarian to run the "permanent revolution." (Okay, Castro was able to do both, but only with an established, heavyweight, "permanent revolution" world power backing him.)

More: So uber-insider (Scheiber calls him "the grayest of the gray suits") and Gore advisor Roy Neel will be Dean's enforcer, to bring some discipline to a flabby, decentralized machine. You'd think this wouldn't go over terribly well with the Deaniacs -- if they were inclined to notice, that is.

More, Post-N.H. Jon Chait, who has been writing the "Dean-o-Phobe" column at TNR, has retired. Why? "My work is done here," says Chait.
Dean is finished as a potential nominee. He's blown all his money, his campaign is in disarray, and he's turned to an inside-the-Beltway Democrat to run his campaign. Dean may well play a potent spoiler role, but it's almost impossible to see him winning. Even if he somehow pulls out a majority of delegates and goes to a brokered nomination, the other candidates will pool their delegates and select a non-Dean.
A decent point, it seems. Those who enjoyed the column, fear not: Chait is already working up a lather about the new status quo:
Indeed, if there's anybody who could make Dean attractive, it's Kerry. Kerry is a miserable candidate, bereft of political skills, and possessing of a record and a persona tailor-made for Karl Rove. The Republicans will merely have to say about Kerry what they said about Gore--that he wants to be on every side of every issue, that he's culturally out of touch with mainstream America, that he's a pompous bore--and this time the sale will be easier, because all these things are far more true of Kerry than of Gore.
Perhaps the Kerryphobe will debut next.
Prepare to waste some time: Time to get your pine tar out, stuff the cork in the bat, inject some illegal doping material, and smack that penguin!

NOTE: Flash-oriented game with sound so be advised.

My best: 519.5
Oh funny: Linked from Balko, I bring you the "Beatles Log" or "BLOG" for short. Great, great stuff.
The Upsets: The underdog rallied late in Australia. Marat Safin rode a particularly improbable victory over Agassi to the final. You just don't expect the oddball Russian to hold up for five sets. Mentally, I mean. On top of that -- though the seeding doesn't show it this way -- Federer's win over Nalbandian was an upset. It's only the second time that Federer has won the pairing in seven attempts. A Federer-Safin final will be intriguing, to say the least. In both cases, one never knows if the champion or the flake will show up. I suppose, with upsets coming late, that I shouldn't count out Fererro. But Federer's flexible game, when it shows up, is perfect for hard court. Past Nalbandian, the smart money's on the Swiss.

On the women's side, an all-Belgique grudge rematch of the U.S. Open finals. Clijsters is a strong, dominating player compared to the willowy Henin, though you'd never have guessed it to watch them play in Queens. Clijsters breezed through center court as if she were, Kournikova-style, late for some more pressing engagement -- as though her day-runner said:

6:00 Show up for finals
7:00 Lose
7:02 Limo to Rockefeller center for dinner with boy-toy/fellow choke artist Lleyton Hewitt [who, by the way, pre-ordered the "Congratulations, Runner Up!" cake for after dinner]

A touch mean-spirited? Perhaps. It would be nice for Kim to at least try to hit the ball in this time.

Non-Surprise Surprise: Lieberman decided to stay in the race. Oh, sure, he'll bang away until he's out of money, because I assume that Joe is the kind of guy who doesn't throw in the towel on the dimes of his donors. They offered their money for him to run, and he'll do that. But the donations are likely down to a trickle, at best. And I don't see Joe mortgaging his house to continue the charade. He's not that optimistic.

And that brings up one of the immutable rules of the primary: In Iowa and New Hampshire, you go bowling, kiss babies, eat at diners, and knock on doors, one after another. After that, though, you're going to pick your doors very carefully. As the phrase goes, retail politicking gives way to wholesale politicking after New Hampshire. Sure, it costs a lot of money to put a force on the ground in the first caucus and the first primary. But now we're talking rallies in two states, a thousand miles apart, in one day. We're talking about the big media buys that have to make up for long candidate absences. The primaries are just getting in full swing, and a campaign that can tackle that schedule will suck money at an outrageous pace. Even Howard Dean, supposedly flush with his own donor network, is getting worried.

Lieberman can hop to friendly states for a little while, hoping that a decent showing brings in some fresh cake. It won't last, though.

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Wrapping Up Late: Sorry I missed a post-mortem today on New Hampshire. Some surprises. First, I predicted Edwards would pull ahead of Clark. Results showed them pretty damn tight. Another day or two might have put Edwards ahead. But close only counts in horseshoes.

Second, Dean fired Joe Trippi, the man who put together the Dean phenomenon. I don't know if this is a wise move or not; I suppose we're about to find out from Howard Dean, release 2.0. Anyway, it's a standard move for a flailing campaign, and (putting aside the post hoc, ergo propter hoc concerns) it seemed to work for Kerry to shake up his staff. On the other hand, Trippi was the man behind the Dean message -- the brain trust who took the obscure and middle-of-the-road governor of a state with a population about on par with Indianapolis and made him into a fire-breathing stumper who had the kids blogging and flash-mobbing. Sometimes the medium is the message, though, and Howard Dean as a toned-down, non-screaming centrist Democrat would likely have a better chance of winning the nomination only by virtue of putting his opponents to sleep.

Third, the margin of Kerry's win was surprising. Some of the polls had shown him up by around 15 points, but I predicted that would be rather soft come the day. I was wrong, and I don't know why. True, the rest of the field is a bit short on gravitas -- but isn't Kerry's gravitas a bit cartoonish, like he went to the Evelyn Wood School of Instant Statesmanship? He's all mannerism and mumbles, trying -- eerily like Bill Bradley, the other tall dork of the party -- his damnedest to seem like he thinks deep thoughts.

A pound and a half of foam: That's what caused the Columbia shuttle to disintegrate upon re-entry. Read this harrowing excerpt from the book coming out regarding Columbia and what went wrong exactly (and I do mean exactly).

I read this and then reflected on watching bits and pieces of "Armageddon" broadcast on Monday night on ABC. The premise being that the space shuttle could land on a giant meteor hurtling towards earth, while dodging, Star Wars-like, the surrounding debris screaming around and from the big rock. Laughable.

Link props to Vodkapundit.
One from column "A", one from column "B": We live in the land of plenty, where we have seemingly unlimited varieties of products to choose from to supplement our consumer lives. Need a car? Well, there's about 100 models out there for you. How about some cereal? An entire row devoted to them at the supermarket. Like to invest in a company? There's about 7 pages in the WSJ listing all those you can buy into - and those are just the public markets.

However, does all this variety make our shopping experience more valuable? Some would say "no"; that the more options you are given, the more likely you will be paralyzed by the inability to make a decision. To wit:
Sheena Iyengar and Mark Lepper, psychologists at Columbia and Stanford respectively, have shown that as the number of flavors of jam or varieties of chocolate available to shoppers is increased, the likelihood that they will leave the store without buying either jam or chocolate goes up. According to their 2000 study, Ms. Iyengar and Mr. Lepper found that shoppers are 10 times more likely to buy jam when six varieties are on display as when 24 are on the shelf.
Read the whole post for more insight and examples, but our friends at Marginal Revolution posit that while seemingly unlimited variety may at times render us shell-shocked, it is certainly better to have the opportunity to decline to make a choice, rather than having your choice made for you.
Lieby denied: It's clear that Lieby's principled stand on Iraq is costing him the race...that plus his religious beliefs (nod to Eno's point that we want vaguely Christian leaders only) and frankly a dearth of much charisma. It's sort of upsetting that this is coming down to a referendum on Iraq; and that Kerry is seen as the guy to take it to Bush. It makes sense on the one hand due to his undeniable personal valor in Vienam (which means he can safely oppose the Hawks), but I guess you wonder if he has the x factor to capture the middle-of-the-road voter. Still, he took Iowa and N.H. fairly convincingly, which are known for their level-headed moderate voters. These aren't crazy states like New Jersey or California.

Many are saying that Kerry only has to come in second in S.C., behind Edwards, to keep the "big mo" going. I don't know that he can't win. Two words: Fritz Hollings. He's stumping big-time for Kerry and the man has some weight to throw around with the Dixie-crats. The black vote is a big question, and while Sharpton is apt to get some of it, I can't imagine most will want to throw their votes completely away; I think they'd like some say in who is going to actually represent the Party in November.

While Dean has the $$, and we keep hearing about his ground troops, I don't know that consistent distant second-place finishes can be consistently overcome. Since 1976, the winner of Iowa and N.H. have gotten the nod.

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

No surprise in NH: Fox News has called the primary for Kerry, remarkably early. He's got a 14% lead in the exit polls right now, which may close some, but probably not much. So, sorry to all those who were hoping for a late night of vote counting and this race turning into a real donnybrook. Better luck next week.
More candidate blogs: I have to feel sorry for the poor campaign staffer assigned with writing this drivel on John Kerry's site. Actually, it probably takes hours for the top advisors to craft messages like
Iowans proved that polls mean nothing. New Hampshire will no doubt prove the same (sure you want to say that when you're leading in the polls - ed.). This is crunch time, and it’s all about picking a candidate who can not only be a great president, but can beat George W. Bush in November. John Kerry IS that candidate!
John Edwards has a better and much more active network of blogs on his site and his people seem more reasonable, at least in a very cursory inspection. One bolgger was ecstatic that Bill O'Reilly had said he respects John Edwards, after questioning Edwards last night on The Factor. Not exactly red meat for the party loyalists.
Roddick denied: Hold off on any talk of "the next Pete Sampras", at least for a little while. Roddick loses to the equally enigmatic Safin (and loses no. 1 ranking with it). Here's Malavai's informed take on it. Seems that Roddick is still falling victim to his inability to capture match victories where the opponent doesn't bow down to the serve. Also, Safin appears to have played a very good game where he "protected" (Malavai's word) his own serve, while also hitting a balanced and strong backcourt game. This forces Roddick to press, which he can't yet do against top 10 players. I suppose Federer is liking his chances all the more - figuring Agassi and Safin will beat on each other pretty good.

In the women's, Mauresemo withdraws and Henin is playing a 32 seed in the semis after beating Lindsay. Allez Justine!
He must have a whopper: Julius Erving (Dr. J) says he's "not stressed" about the video tape being released (perhaps by his soon-to-be ex-wife) depicting him having sex with a young woman about 15 years ago. Not that having sex with a consenting adult is something to be ashamed about, but it seems that the good Doctor can't avoid the controversy which seems determined to tarnish his once-pristine image. When the news came out a few years ago that he was the father of erstwhile tennis player Alexandra Stevenson, it was a true shock to many (you know how chaste professional basketball players are), and especially in Philly where he held (holds?) one of the highest positions in the ex-athlete pantheon.

Anyway, it's clear he's not above the fray as we used to want to believe. His wife must pretty much hate his guts.
Clint Eastwood interview: Nice to read a celebrity who doesn't sound like a gigantic gasbag. Link via Sullivan.
Finishing Up: I'm getting ready to head home in advance of the coming snow. Might be a home-bound day tomorrow, which would likely mean limited posting. Never fear: I'll post my analysis (guaranteed to be wrong or no money back) before the event.

Kerry: Wins by a handful, but with heavy Dean footsteps, and is thus defeated by expectations. No campaign changes; he lumbers on souding like a man with a sock up his nose.

Dean: Second place, but a victory, considering he was political plague a week ago. Optimistically claims the big mo'. Too soon to tell. Am I going out on a limb to predict that he'll be more sanguine tonight than he was after Iowa?

Edwards: Third place, but not by much, so it's really a loss. But SC is home territory for him. None of the other candidates has a home territory primary on February 3. Thus, the Fair-Haired-Boy Express dodges a bullet, but only on a technicality.

Clark: Near-tie with Edwards is a mixed bag. He can claim some credibility from it, but he's shed too much support in the past week to do much more than whistle past the graveyard tonight. Americans are awakening to the likelihood that Clark's a repressed, goofball caricature of a martinet. They'll reward him accordingly.

Lieberman: I've been up front in wishing him the best, but Flyer picked the one explanation (of the two I offered) that I incline toward. He'll miss double digits, settling for fifth. He'll check his poll numbers, see that there's nothing particularly friendly on the schedule until March (NY, Connecticut -- i.e., his home turf), and drop out. Bonus pick: His endorsement will go to Kerry. Double bonus pick: Lieberman will retire from the Senate in 2006.

Update: In Viking Pundit terms, that's: KDECL.

Lieberman's optimism: I noticed after the debate last week, as Lieberman made his way around the interview circuit, that he was remarkably positive for a guy who was polling in high single digits. He did well in the debate, but there was nothing to make him think he'd just pulled out a late inning dinger. And every time his polling numbers were brought up, he'd smile and chuckle before mentioning how many undecideds were still out there. He sounded like he knew the jig was up, but the band was going to play out the set as a formality. Maybe he's gotten better news since then, maybe not, but the pollsters haven't caught any of it. They're still talking about Edwards as the one who may bounce in voting booth (surprisingly large crowds considering he didn't campaign much in the Northeast).

If Joe is out after today, he will be missed. The only one willing to buck the left wing of the party on Iraq, he would have made an interesting candidate since the issue would have been largely neutralized in the campaign. Good luck to him today.

Republican strategy: I was scanning Howard Dean's "Blog For America," since there wasn't time for a root canal, and came across this paragraph:
What's playing out in America right now is the bait-and-switch strategy known on the right as "starve the beast." The ultimate goal is to slash government programs that help the poor and the middle class, and use the savings to cut taxes for the rich. But the public would never vote for that.
Boy, some yahoo's off the deep end, right? The yahoo is Paul Krugman who wrote that paragraph in today's NYT. Glad to see the tenor of debate remains at such a distinguished elevation. And Howard Dean publishes it on his own website. Noble.
Query: Lieberman is pushing hard:
Joe Lieberman said Tuesday he is locked in a tight battle for third place in New Hampshire's Democratic presidential primary but doesn't need that strong a finish to declare victory.

"Obviously we're in the running for third," Lieberman told The Associated Press. "We feel we're in the hunt for third now."

Does he know something? The polls are generally showing him behind Edwards by more than the margin of error, and within the margin with Clark. If you believe the polls (and who does?), Lieberman is setting up expectations that could kill him. Talking third and taking fourth (or fifth) is a bad idea. I think one of two things may be afoot:

1) Lieberman's internal polling shows independents and undecideds breaking substantially for him. This is not unlikely. If you're still undecided at this point, you're probably immune to the front-runners' bandwagons. Lieberman may be talking up some small momentum among undecideds in order to leverage larger momentum.

2) He knows he's a dead duck in fourth or fifth, and his only hope is a big surprise in New Hampshire. In other words, he's free to run his mouth, since anything worse than third turns him from a dark horse into a glue-factory special.

Flyer's Handicap: His inability to understand time zones, apparently.

Oh, and speaking of Fern Penna, did you see he has his own design for a WTC memorial? Tasteful. Looks like something Tom Carvel would come up with.

Flyer who?: Eno, did you invite someone to blog with us? Is he trustworthy? What's his handicap?
The 10th Candidate: I was home yesterday afternoon looking after one of the little Razors who had taken ill. I was perusing C-Span, as is my wont, and came across a press-sponsored debate, well, really a Q&A. And there was this guy standing up there answering questions, with a bizarre windblown combover and a strange suit that buttoned nearly to his collar bone. I figured he must be a talking head for one of the campaigns as the candidate himself couldn't make it to the little event. Plus, the guy really couldn't talk to save his life, so maybe even a low-level guy trying to explain his candidate's position.

The I saw he was actually a candidate, himself. Name: Fern Penna. Based on his inflection and apparent accent, I figured he was some immigrant who was trying to get around the Constitution requiring the President to be a natural-born U.S. citizen. Turns out he's just from Long Island.

I actually took 10 minutes to listen to him. I have no idea what he stands for. Still, I think Sharpton is worried.

MORE: I read in more detail his issue statements. Here's all you need to know; on the environment: to reduce our dependency on oil, he would ask the oil companies to develop alternative sources of energy, like fuel cells for cars. To combat forest fires, he would create a chessboard grid over all the forests, and then install giant water towers in each square to be used like a "giant fire hydrant". The logging companies would fund 80% of the cost of constructing them. I'm not sure, but I think he wants N. Korea to fund S. Korea's army too.

Monday, January 26, 2004

Recorded tennis: Does that mean it's too late to get a bet down on the Ferrero/Pavel match? I saw Pavel lose to Juan Carlos last night, but this time I think he's due.
John Edwards' junk science: So if he's a factor, this is the kind of stuff we'll start to hear about.
Edwards became one of America's wealthiest trial lawyers by winning record jury verdicts and settlements in cases alleging that the botched treatment of women in labor and their deliveries caused infants to develop cerebral palsy, a brain disorder that causes motor function impairment and lifelong disability.
The cause of cerebral palsy has been debated since the 19th century. Some medical studies dating back to at least the 1980s asserted that doctors could do very little to cause cerebral palsy during the birthing process. Two new studies in 2003 further undermined the scientific premise of the high profile court cases that helped Edwards become a multi-millionaire and finance his own successful campaign for the U.S. Senate.

Dr. Murray Goldstein, a neurologist and the medical director of the United Cerebral Palsy Research and Educational Foundation, said it is conceivable for a doctor's incompetence to cause cerebral palsy in an infant. "There are some cases where the brain damage did occur at the time of delivery. But it's really unusual. It's really quite unusual," Goldstein said.
Edwards has plenty of political cover for now, since none of the other Democrats wants to take on the trial lawyers and there is full support for bashing insurance companies. (Notice it's always the insurance company's fault once the trial is over, not the doctor's. If the doc gave the kid cerebral palsy, why not bash him. Doesn't play as well in politics as in the courtroom, I guess.) If he wins in South Carolina and a couple other southern states, though, Kerry will have to try to take him down hard, before he has all the Mo'. Would he dare, in desparate times, cross the contributors to paint Edwards as an irresponsible sleaze, lining his pockets on the backs of disabled children? Of course not. But might there be a well timed leak from an anonymous source? Hmmm?

Link via Jim Copeland on NRO.

Welcome Back, Flyer: You're link to Jacob Levy is more astute than your tennis commentary. I'm pretty familiar with New Hampshire politics, if only because of relatives there, and frequent visits for tax-free booze. I know this much: When the media jokes that John Kerry is "New Hampshire's third senator," the natives up there bristle. Sure, there are plenty of liberals in the safe suburbs and cute bedroom towns. But, overall, New Hampshire, like Vermont, has a rump population of don't-tread conservatives -- low-tax, god-and-guns types who don't much like Kerry's paternalistic lectures on what government "should" do. Notice that Kerry does most of his door pounding in places like Nashua, Manchester, Bedford, places where prosperity has brought a certain degree of Massachusetts liberalism. Less populous, less urban/suburban places in the state might as well be Virginia for all the love a Massachusetts limousine liberal will get.

My guess is that Kerry's support is softer than it appears. That's not to say that he'll lose New Hampshire, but he certainly doesn't have it locked up.

Federer/Hewitt: I think that happened yesterday (i.e., Monday, in Australia). Today is Tuesday in the land of Oz.
FYI: Roger Federer is dismantling Lleyton Hewitt in Australia, currently serving for the match. I hve no idea how this impacts anything, but there you go.
Loveless (political) marriage: Jacob Levy comapres John Kerry in NH to Bob Dole (sort of). If he's right that northeastern voters are reluctantly lining up for Kerry, it could be problematic for him in the primaries, as well as in a national election. In New Hampshire and Massachusetts Kerry is a pretty well known commodity, so voters can easily see him as the safe candidate, less radical and more electable than Dean. As he moves around the country, though, he'll be faced with voters less familiar with him, and possibly less inclined to see anything safe about him. They may see him as a 2004 version of Ted Kennedy (pretty close) and therefore enelectable. The safe vote may go to an Edwards, a Clintonian newcomer to the national scene.
Friendly bloggers: Here I was awaking from a long winter's nap thinking I'd find warmth and sunshine aplenty. Instead it's cold, snowy (well, sleet and rain anyway) and I'm stuck inside with most of the city closed. Good chance to surf a little.

First, sorry to have been "away" so long, but the holidays put me into a self-imposed state of media blackout and I found it so enjoyable I just let it roll. Alas, recent events have started to pique my interest (dammit!) and I can't help but take a sip from the cup of internet info. So, I'm back, if you'll have me (you're not, as an Eagles fan, lying in wait to ambush a Charlottean, are you Razor? Whew!)

So the primary game is on, and there are predictions galore. I watched Kerry's CSPAN-televised rally yesterday and was really impressed with how many times he was able to work in the "crony capitalism" theme. Everything comes back to Bush/Enron, Cheney/Halliburton, Republicans/drug companies. The crowd, of course, ate it up. Their questions reminded me of the old "Da Bears" skits on Saturday Night Live. Chris Farley would ask George Wendt, "If God played Ditka in the Super Bowl, who would win?" Wendt would reply, "That'd be a close one, but Ditka would squeak it out, 247-3. God can probably kick a long one at the end, when Ditka goes into the prevent defense." To Kerry it was: "Since Satan and his evil minions have personally seen to it that everyone but the religious right is living on minimum wage and eating cat food, would your first act as president be to turn over national defense to Santa Claus, or to issue an executive order creating mandatory coffee breaks?" One guy even asked him if he could help with getting his veteran's benefits reinstated. Kerry wouldn't make the promise, but that's okay. The guy's congressman is probably up for reelection soon. In short it was softball questioning from a group of people already sold on their candidate, which is what you'd expect at a campaign rally.

It will be interesting to see how things progress after New Hampshire, where it seems Kerry will probably win, but Dean and Edwards have a chance to show they're still in the fight. When they get to South Carolina, things can shift considerably. There seems to be a buzz about Edwards now, since he surprised everyone in Iowa and the media loves his "youth and optimism." I also think he'll play well in places like Florida and Arizona where he'll remind every retiree of their grandson.

I'll be trying to dig in and catch up for a while, but I'll be following things closely again. Look forward to trading insights with everyone.

N.H. Polls: So far, I'm inclined to believe this Zogby poll over the others. It shows a tight race for first tier and second tier, which I think is accurate. I don't think Kerry is as far ahead as the ARG poll shows him (18 points over Dean). Both polls show Edwards and Lieberman rishing, mainly at a cost to Clark. I think that's accurate, too. Clark had an artificial bump from being the anti-Dean while Dean was self-destructing in Iowa. With all the candidates back north, Clark loses an edge. Any poll that doesn't show him dropping at least a few points is wrong, I think. I still worry that ARG is rolling too many independents into their sample (roughly a third of respondents, and pretty consistently). They surely have figures on the number of independents who vote in open primaries in N.H., but I'm skeptical.

Anyhow, I'm more confident today that at least Edwards will overtake Clark. Lieberman might, too. Does it matter? Are there only "three tickets" out of Manchester Tuesday night, as the saying goes? I 'm betting on more. Dean gets one automatically, for two reasons: First, his fundraising apparatus buys him a ticket; second, his rhetorical break with the mainstream of the party makes him "the other guy," the outsider. Edwards may get a ticket no matter what, since he's heading to supposedly friendly turf next -- South Carolina. And Kerry may win N.H., but he was supposed to anyway, way back when. A victory here may not be all the momentum he needs. If I have a prediction about Tuesday, it's this: The race will be closer than a lot of the polls indicate, and less decisive than the conventional wisdom says.

Tennis, mate: Funny Eno gives me credit for predicting Raymond's success. Yes, she's a home-town girl (she resides in Wayne, Pa. which is a stones-throw from the Razor manse, and on my train route every day into the city), but I don't think I'd have picked her at tourney's outset to make it to the quarters. As Eno points out, she's more of a doubles ace (although she and Martina [or her cyborg replica] got knocked out in Round 2), and her singles game relies more on subtlety - which sorta went out the window when the Williamses showed up.

That said, I was watching Venus play Round 2 and I said to my father, "You know, I wouldn't be surprised if Venus is out after Round 3." True story (I also said: "You know, I wouldn't be surprised if Howard Dean starts to really show his innate political animal and just sweeps the primaries.") I think the Williamses are losing their drive for the game; they've already expressed consistent desire to get out of tennis and move into fashion, cinema, business. I'm fairly certain their father has declared that one or both will be President one day (and not of the WTA). So, Venus sees a field of nothing but has-beens, also-rans, and some Belgiums and thinks: "Hmm, I could be back in Florida designing some dresses to wear to the Oscars. So just make it a couple of rounds to make Reebok happy, re-coup my airline tickets, and I'm outta here. Hey, it's only the Australian Open." I like Clijsters vs. Justine (grudge match for U.S. Open [which I saw in person and let me tell you, Kim doesn't get better looking the closer you get]), but if Lisa can make it, you're on for the bet.

I like your mens' picks, but I'm not ready to call it quits for Andre yet.
Winter Weather Needs Better P.R.: Already CNN is "blaming" 16 deaths on the snowstorm that has swept across a good half of the Eastern portion of the U.S. Bad weather, bad weather! Heaven forbid human stupidity is blamed. Instead it's the snow's fault that people decided to drive on highways at high rates of speed or with crappy tires in the storm. Or, it's the cold wind's fault that people live in conditions such that they can't afford heat, or they're simply ignored by family members and friends and allowed to perish.

Let's place blame where it's deserved people. Namely, the French.
The Weekend Down Under: So far, my men's picks are on track. Grosjean has little chance to beat Agassi, though it would be sweet for the little Frenchman. Marat Safin, who has the size and skill, doesn't seem to have the head game for Roddick. Federer will have to beat Nalbandian and Ferrero to reach the finals. I wonder if he has the heart to do it. Don't get me wrong: I like the kid, and he's got a sweet game; but Nalbandian always seems to have his number. And Ferrero, who showed some success on hard courts at Queens last year, could beat either one on a good day, though I doubt his chops against either Roddick or Agassi. At this point, I'd have to take Roddick/Federer for the finals, which could be a great match if Roger shows up. Roddick/Ferrero is a possibility, though it wouldn't be as good a match; Roddick took Ferrero in straight sets in Queens. (Am I slighting Hicham Arazi? Maybe. God knows how he dismantled Philippousis like that. I think he's shot his bolt, though.)

On the women's side, I missed some surprises. The 30-year-old doubles specialist and long-time also-ran Lisa Raymond (who, like Enobarbus, greeted the world for the first time in lovely Norristown, Pennsylvania) shocked Venus and walked over Tatiana Golovin for a quarterfinal slot. Who would've guessed? Razor, probably. Don't count her out. She's on a streak and is pretty well matched against Patty Schnyder, and Kim Clijsters can occasionally be counted on to phone in a high stakes match. On the other side, things have progressed according to form. Justine should be able to take down Davenport, and Mauresmo shouldn't have any trouble with the unknown she's facing. As a long shot, though, wouldn't Justine vs. Lisa be a match to behold? Razor and Eno could go double or quits on the 2002 Super Bowl bet for that match.

Friday, January 23, 2004

Just an average guy, from a poor family, small town...:...who has all of this country's plaintiffs' lawyers in my back pocket. But really, I'm for the little guy...assuming I get 33 1/3 % of whatever he gets. I'm against big business...but I need those big businesses to stay in business so I can give them the business in court.

I know every candidate has his projected image and his actual one, but he sometimes over plays his hand. Yes, a plaintiff's lawyer who goes after asbestos companies, or those doctors who take out the wrong organ can spin himself as a crusader for the little guy, but eventually he gets awfully rich from all that crusading (and that's fine, this is the U.S. of A.), but after a while, all that money is going to change you. Then you're no longer a poor slob from the backwaters, but a smooth, fast-talking law-yer who gets his dough by inflaming juries. Here's the kicker: exhorbitant jury awards are not costless. They drive up insurance costs, push doctors out of practice, and make manufacturers charge more for their goods. Guess who this hurts the most? Yup, the little guy. I'll save my rant on tort reform (I'm for and against) for a later time.
Sad: Captain Kangaroo, dead at 76.
New Hampshire: Rasmussen's tracking poll, completed before the debate, shows:
Kerry 29%
Edwards 17%
Dean 14%
Clark 11%
Lieberman 9%
Kucinich 3%
Sharpton 2%
Not Sure 16%
This makes sense on the heels of Iowa. For one thing, the undecided vote hasn't dropped appreciably, so Kerry and Edwards are stealing their bounces from Clark and Dean. Compare to the ARG poll, which still shows Clark leading Dean and Edwards, with Edwards just barely cracking double digits. I don't know which is correct. My guess would be Rasmussen. ARG's sample size is larger, but Rasmussen only sampled Democrats, while ARG sampled democrats and "undeclared." The next group of polls should firm this up a bit. Out-on-a-limb pick: If Rasmussen's numbers are good, I'd bet on Joe Lieberman moving into the top four, maybe the top three, by primary day.
Typical English Major: Eno wants an essay examination in place of the multiple choice. I obviously shouldn't have checked: "Strongly Agree" to the question: "Do you believe Tawana Brawley was a victim of a hate crime?"
Stupid but Fun Quiz Results: Bush (100%), Lieberman (71%), Edwards (57%). For entertainment purposes only, no doubt. Notice when the ask you to rate the importance of various issues, one is "The Economy/Environment." Are the two really that related? My policy on the two is not uniform. Likewise the issue of "Crime/Education." Actually, the monopolistic grasp of the govenment on education is a crime, but I've the feeling that's not what they're getting at. For another thing, I favor repealing all business taxes. That puts me on the GOP side, I'm sure, according to the survey. But I also favor the repeal of all corporate welfare. That puts me on the outs with both parties. And, the quiz asks, do you favor the Patriot Act? Damn, where's the checkbox for "Some of it, not all of it"?

I'm sorry I always spoil these things for you with my self-righteous anger. Guess I'm the Howard Dean of the Internet Quiz.

Stupid but fun like all on-line quizzes: Here's one promoted by AOL News and TIME (well, to be fair that should be "AOL-TimeWarner" or I think now it's just "TimeWarner"). Which incumbent or candidate do you best match up with?

Razor: 100% with Lieberman - - Yeah! 98% with Sharpton - - What the fu*k? I didn't think Sharpton had any foreign policy or economic issues?!
This Won't Help: howard Dean thinks Greenspan should be canned:
"I think Alan Greenspan has become too political. If he lacks the political courage to criticize the deficits, if he was foolish enough -- and he's not a foolish man -- to support the outrageous tax cuts that George Bush put through, then he has become too political and we need a new chairman of the Federal Reserve," Dean said in response to a question from an audience at a town hall meeting in Londonderry.
Two observations here. First, successful monetary policy, as under Greenspan and Paul Volcker, is not the rule in the past century. Sometimes monetary elasticity has been necessary (think WW2), but other times it has been disastrous (the 1930s depression, the 1970s stagflation). Since Reagan took office, nearly a quarter century ago, there have been three economic downturns of note: one necessary downturn in the early 80s, when the money supply was tightened; a small one in the early 90s; and another small one in 2000-2001, which turned out to be shorter than the one in the 90s. In the meantime, inflation has not been a real issue at all. Wherefore this great monetary record? Volcker and Greenspan.

Second, the claim that Greenspan is too political is preposterous. Greenspan has made no secret of his belief that the economy likes tax cuts; on the other hand, he has been a consistent opponent of politicized tax cutting ("targeted tax credits" that aim to modify social habits come to mind) and tax cutting in general when it is not accompanied by adjusted offsetting spending cuts. Greenspan, as noted in the article, claims he did not call for a trigger to reimpose taxes if a deficit occurred. There are several likely reasons for this: one, the economy was in recovery, and an automatic increase in taxes might have been detrimental; two, he might have been as hopeful as I that the president would not spend like a Great Society Democrat; three, despite the constant media refrain about how the deficit "is projected to be the largest ever," the deficit is nowhere near the largest in terms of real dollars or in relation to GDP.

Dean must be smoking rope with the guys at TKE at UNH to be saying stuff this silly.

Iraq as talking point: I'm starting to get fed up with the lambasting of Kerry, Edwards and Lieberman by Dean over their vote in the "yea or nay" of whether to invade Iraq. It's so easy to say you would have voted against it when you were never asked in the first place. At the time of the vote, going against the grain was actually quite a challenging position. I suppose if you were really morally opposed to it, then it was your duty to vote against it. But let's face the time, most people were in favor of the war -- not all -- just most.

Now, when we see the house of cards the whole WMD thing was, and how damn hard it's going to be to keep our troops safe AND install a democracy in a country that hasn't had one in god knows how long, it's convenient to pick apart to go to war in the first place -- like everyone should have known all this in the first place. I think you can be genuine about faulting Bush's stretched claims about Iraq's threat to the U.S. near- or even medium-term; I think you can fault him for his apparent lack of an exit strategy; I think you can fault him for saying we're not in the business of nation-building, when, of course, we have to be. These are legitimate political gripes that the opposition should stress, especially if they have an alternative, and let's just be idealistic, and say that opponent actually voiced that alternative before-hand. It's great to say you would have gotten the United Nations to do the dirty work, but ummm, exactly how, pray tell? I mean, really. How?

But for an ex-governor of Vermont to say he never would have allowed the war to go forward had he been tasked with that actual job assignment is just so much false rhetoric. For the record, Brett Favre never should have thrown that last pass in OT against the Eagles. I never would have authorized that. And Pearl Harbor? I warned FDR about that...or I would have you know, had I been alive and stuff.
Roddick on the move: Seems Roddick just totally dismantled No. 27 seed, Taylor Dent, 6-2, 6-0, 6-2. That's quite a kick in the billabong, mate.
Thought I'd Mention: The Weekly Standard's daily fare on the primary race has been outstanding. Some of their insight is contradictory (Fred Barnes and David Tell disagree about last night's debate, for example), but it's presented in an atmosphere of fun, the joy of watching the horserace -- and the thrill of a little wager on the hot pony.
Some Notes from the Referral Logs: Just as a friendly public service:

1. If you would like to know the regulation height of a dartboard, don't search on "heigth."

2. Searching on "navel defense spokesperson" is likely to retrieve information about bellybutton protection.

3. The video of Joe Theismann breaking his leg is not available here, nor is it likely ever to be.

3. I don't know whether Mark Philippousis is circumcised.

4. You can't blog for pay. You can be Andrew Sullivan, okay. But he's selling a brand, not a blog. Fifty guys (and gals) out there with blogs as smart or smarter than Andy's (if he denies this, he's on deck for the poseur alert). None of them are getting paid.

It beats me how these queries find us. Sometimes it seems our monthly visitors figure would be about four without the oddball searches.

Roe v. Wade: The anniversary came and went unremarked by me. In fact, I wouldn't have noticed if you hadn't pointed it out. It's an anniversary worth noting, though, since it is an anniversary of stupidity. I agree with those who say that the country was on the road to an accomodation over abortion. The intervention of the judiciary simply injected adrenaline into the heart of the debate. It's a ruling that I don't fully understand. The Constitution would seem to make it totally a state matter; in fact, the only rationale I can find for federal judicial intervention is on the anti-abortion side (to wit: that the fetus is human and thus protected by Constitutional rights). I'm not sure I agree with that, but it does seem to touch upon Constitutional issues more directly than a woman's right to abort a fetus.

Okay, you got your right to privacy pretty well established by Griswold, but what the hell does that matter anymore? If the body is sacrosanct, NARAL should be out on the streets marching for my right to shoot heroin. After all, what business is it of the government's what I do with my own body? Clearly, a right to privacy that extends so far is not settled law, no matter how much we might like it to be. Besides, when I shoot smack, it isn't with the intention to kill a human being.** So by some pretty obvious logic, drug use rights -- resting on the same principles, but lacking the added moral freight that ending a life brings to abortion -- should be more of a legal slam dunk than abortion rights. Call me when the judiciary and the DOJ figure this out.

** Sidebar: The pro-choice side really needs to get over this, by the way; "kill" is the proper and accurate word for subtracting the "living" from "living being." Their problem is not that they want abortion legal. It's that they want this one free; they want it to be not only legal but also morally neutral to abort -- i.e., it's not "killing" and/or it's not a "human." This is what happens when liberalism is your religion; the government becomes your confessor. I say it should be legal, at least at the state level, but that doesn't make the morality of it clear cut.

Kerry: TNR has a good look at the question of Kerry's electability. It's as good a wrap-up of the political nuts and bolts that I've seen so far, including a review of Kerry's battle against Bill Weld in 1996 -- which Karl Rove will likely use as an opposition research template.

The author basically says, "Bush will try to paint Kerry as a standard Northeastern liberal, which he's not." To the contrary, Kerry is a standard Northeastern liberal, and he'll try to claim that he's not. As the article makes clear, some of his more liberal stances can be attributed to serving a very liberal state. But as it also notes, that won't protect him in a general election.

Dean: I'm thinking about that E.J. Dionne piece I quoted yesterday. Was he right? It doesn't matter, really, does it? After all, we now know Howard Dean thinks E.J. was right. That's all that counts. He gave Diane Sawyer a network TV interview last night with guess who at his side. Among his big moments:
"I say things that I probably ought not to say," Dean told Sawyer while watching a tape of the rally, "but I lead with my heart, and that's what I was doing right there, leading with my heart."
Funny thing is, America would forgive him if his name ended with a vowel, if he were Cuomo, Giuliani, or some other hothead with Mediterranean blood in him. At any rate, he tried to look human in the interview, trotting out his wife, and playing a grown-up in the debate. If nothing else, this may be a good time for Dean to sell himself to the center. His loyal liberals sure didn't come through in Iowa, so he might as well attempt his pivot now, while the spotlight is still on him. A bad loss in New Hampshire could put him where Kerry was six weeks ago, begging for coverage and mortgaging his house.
Clark: Does it matter that he dances around abortion as though he is unclear what Roe really says? No. Who does? (More on that later.) What matters, I think, is that his biggest asset, his military resume, is pretty well tarnished. Why does he play word games on the question of whether he got fired? Why did both Hugh Shelton and Tommy Franks indicate that Clark is about as qualified to be president as Alfred E. Newman? If he has any reasonable hope of becoming president, he has to clear this up.

My hunch is that Clark is a prima donna, a ring-knocker, and a glory hound. Both Shelton and Franks are famous for their muddy boots (Shelton: ROTC, Special Forces; Franks: College dropout, junior artillery officer in Vietnam) and their loyalty to, and undisguised affection for, their men. This is in stark contrast to the West Point grad and Rhodes scholar Clark, who moves among politicians, journalists, diplomats, and (more recently) A-list Democrats. Note his comments on John Kerry, saying that Kerry was "just a lieutenant" whereas Clark was a general, which, he implied, gave him some kind of foreign policy credibility experience. This is, on its face, a ridiculous claim, even if you ignore the fact that Clark had exactly enough credibility to be dismissed from his post. Besides, say what you want about Kerry for god's sake, but the guy's been in the senate for almost 20 years. I think he knows a bit more about international relations than your basic lieutenant.

So Clark is still a cipher in this race. Nobody seems to know the whole story; more precisely, those who know aren't saying. Clark won't win New Hampshire, and he probably won't even beat Dean there, settling for third. Perhaps that's not fatal, but the test will come in the south. I don't think Clark's message will sell in the south, which is why he's swinging hard in New Hampshire and hoping for a boost. Without some great press and a bump in the polls, his sell-by date is coming up, maybe on February 10th, when the Virginia and Tennessee primaries roll around, or March 9th, when Louisiana, Florida, and Mississippi poll. If he can't win going away in those states running against a bunch of Yankee liberals, he's toast.

Lieberman: I don't know, Razor. There's something about the phenomenon of a devout Jew as a candidate that appears to bend the fabric of space-time, violating all natural rules. Lieberman is, flat-out, the most qualified candidate . . . on paper. (His only competition is Kerry, who has the bonus of being a vet, but the drawback of being a tepid, effete, boring, pedantic, opportunistic northeastern liberal schmuck. Don't underestimate how much that will hurt him in the general election.) It appears, though, that Lieberman couldn't draw a crowd with one of Dean's primal screams. Honestly, I don't think the country is ready to elect a Jewish president. Or a Roman Catholic, for that matter. I don't understand why, but I think it's true. Remember, it's only within the past half-century that Catholic was elected president; it was enormously controversial and only happened once. If I had to guess, I'd say that no matter how religious Americans are, we like our political leaders to be spiritually vanilla. Sure, talk about god, but don't tell us which one! And don't be sectarian at all, particularly from a sect that might indicate some sort of ethnicity. Be one of those whitebread quasi-Christians that say "God bless you" when someone sneezes but don't go marching off to church at the drop of a hat (think Reagan, or Bush the Elder).

The only exception I can see to this, aside from Kennedy, is Richard Nixon, who was by upbrining a Quaker. And I have it on good authority from the Vietnamese, Laotians, and Cambodians that Nixon was not exactly a devout and practicing Quaker.

Thursday, January 22, 2004

I don't know what this means...:...but it scares me nonetheless.
Ya know, Eno: If your perfectly sensible and accurate theory on dark horse to front runner to whipping boy holds true, Lieberman may have a chance after all.
The ol' soft-shoe: If you had any questions over why Clark was picked by the Clintons to be their straw man this election, look no further. He dodges, dissembles and deceives like no one since...well...Slick Willie himself. His positions on abortion (in keeping with my theme):

1) "I always have been and always will be pro-choice." He declared: "No one has the right to come between a woman, her doctor, her family and God."

2) He doesn't have "litmus tests" for the appointment of judges, buutt...

3) He won't appoint a pro-life judge.

4) Abortions should be legal until the time of birth.

5) However, he doesn't want to get into a debate over the "timing of abortion".

6) "I stand by Roe v. Wade

7) "I'm not going to get into a debate over viability . . . I support Roe v. Wade, as modified by Casey."

Of course the article ends that Bush, when similarly cornered, did no better, and it hasn't exactly hurt him.
Dionne on Dean: Here's an interesting theory, from E.J. Dionne:
Howard Dean was exactly what the Democratic Party needed -- last year . . . What Democrats needed after their disastrous losses in the 2002 election was a backbone transplant. The party's rank and file were clamoring for less timidity in confronting George W. Bush . . . The good doctor Dean answered the need and he soared. What he did not count on is that Democratic presidential candidates are a teachable species. They made adjustments. So did the voters.
Dionne implies several things here. First, that liberal anger has awoken to the possibility that losing with the anger candidate might be less satisfying than winning with a compromise candidate. Granted, all of the candidates are mouthing the words necessary to woo Dean supporters. (Hell, for that matter, Dean himself was mouthing the words.) But the fact is that, among Clark, Kerry, Edwards, and Lieberman, there were four candidates who supported the war (and three on record as voting that way), and one who boasted that he helped write the Patriot Act. Does Iowa show that we're well into compromise territory?

Second, Dionne implies that the war, as fait accompli, is off the table now. Even Howard Dean, at one point, acknowledged that pulling out of Iraq is not an option. The standard Dem line now is "We're in it, so let's win it." We can debate to what extent the UN should be involved in Iraq ("Not at all" seems to be the current UN answer), but there isn't much difference in Iraq policy at this point between Bush and any of the leading Democrats.

This seems, on the surface, to be as good an explanation as any for why Dean lost Iowa. Democrats hate Dubya, yes; but they hate being out of power more. I'd also submit that early polling in Iowa was unreliable, and that Dean's army flaked out on caucus day. (I mean, honestly: You're a 19-year-old college kid, and you're going to go sit in somebody's living room for four hours while farmers and teamsters and bunches of "petit bourgeoisie" gab on about dental plans and day care costs? Nope. It's just not as glamorous as going to a "die-in" and not as easy as simply pulling the lever in the school gymnasium.) The real test will be in the last N.H. debate. See if Dean modulates or moderates at all. The polls so far aren't rewarding kookiness; watch for him to play it straight, to sound sober (!) and responsible. Meanwhile, Kerry is the frontrunner. He's trying to deny this, because he knows that makes him a target. He may get a pass for New Hampshire, since his momentum is new and the race is short -- after that, media physics kicks in again and Kerry will likely become the whipping boy. If Kerry wins next week, Edwards may be in the best position turning south. A strong showing in Iowa and a second or strong third in N.H. will send him south as the real underdog, but with the home field advantage.

Happy Roe v. Wade Day!: Yes, it's that time again to drag out our poor "Roe" (she who later went out and condemned abortion) and "Wade" (the poor Texan state official) and debate their merits. Well, here's someone who will do it better than I (forgive that the article is from 2002).

The author takes on the argument over abortion on three levels (the "radio call in" level, the "natural law" level, and the legal level) and tries to determine, in light of those three approaches, whether Roe is ripe for change, or whether it will pretty much stand as is because it's the best thing going, even if imperfect, assuming neither side of the argument can completely get its way. It's interesting, if not exactly ground-breaking, but at least he tries to take a balance approach to the issue by examining all the arguments.

God knows I don't want to hash out the topic, but well, I'll give you the conclusion and see if you agree with how he got there:
What, then, is the status of the abortion debate? Certainly, the practice of abortion, even at the stage prior to the sentience of the fetus, is an offense against the concept of a rights-endowing God - a concept on which the republic was founded. Perhaps it's even an offense against God Himself, an offense for which its practitioners may answer in a divinely just hereafter. But it is an offense against no person - at least insofar as the term 'person' can be consistently defined. For that reason, the Roe decision, on the basis of stare decisis, must stand.
Props to A&L Daily.
Dubya's Problem: By all impartial measures, this guy has had a good first term. Multiple tax cuts, a rising economic tide, regime change in two countries (and some better news of late, amid the bad, out of both of those), and good (if soft) approval numbers. But Americans are notorious for having a what-have-you-done-lately mindset, hence the need for the president to tout spending like a Democrat in his SOTU speech. Even the stuff he proposed, as we've noted, was micropolicy. Let's hear it for community colleges, plus you kids stay out of those steroids. We hear this incessantly about the Dems, but is it possible that Bush is the one who has peaked too early? I bet he'd love to take that Saddam capture right about the time of . . . oh, the Democrat convention.

Bush has nothing to run on at this point other than entitlements. Mainly more of them, with some minor market efficiencies tacked on to bloated socialism, like one of those tiny spears hanging out of Moby Dick as he pulls Gregory Peck under. Osama in leg irons would be a boost. The problem with that is there's likely not enough left of Osama to do more than stain the leg irons. And any announcement of his death would meet with the skepticism that has arisen after the fifteen or so "I think we got Saddam this time" bomb strikes in Iraq over the past year. That is, in order to gain a boost, Bush would have to show us more than a microscope slide with some DNA on it. Plainly, Bush will need some kind of boost in the late summer or fall, given that a knock-em-dead convention speech is, to be charitable, unlikely. But he'd be unwise to push for a big policy victory this year, such as social security or vouchers. His best hope at this point is that more Democrat candidates suffer Dean-esque self-immolation. Wesley Clark is striding to the on-deck circle.

Aussie Open: I've not been able to see a single match yet, though there don't seem to have been many surprises (well, six-seed Rainer Schuttler is out, for those who care). Here's what I see: Grosjean/Hrbaty will be a good match for those who like to see finesse. Look for Grosjean to advance. Dent/Roddick will be all serves. Dent is one of the few who can go serve for serve with Andy-boy, but he doesn't have the return quality to win. Enqvist/Agassi will be the battle of the old men. Enqvist always struck me as destined for better things, maybe Sweden's next Edberg, but he's managed to sneak quietly through a career of startling averageness. Finally, the talent on view in Kuerten/Srichiphan will be quite a display. Kuerten is a clay courter who rotates through the number one ranking every time he wins a French Open; he has made a couple of hard-court charges (albeit all in Queens, none down under) to the late rounds and quarterfinals. Srichiphan is a gifted guy in mid-career who may or may not be able to win a slam. He has the talent, and a win over Kuerten will give him a boost. Both are fighters. This is the best matchup today (er, tomorrow . . . tonight?).

Expect Roddick and Agassi to meet in the semis; Nalbandian or Philippousis will meet Federer. Dark horses: Srichiphan, who needs a major to break beyond being a good second-tier player; Ferrero, who could prove that his runner-up in Queens was no fluke (it was).

On the women's side, Venus and Kim Clijsters seem destined to meet, with the winner taking on Justine, who will likely face Mauresmo in the semis. Dark horses: Davenport, who needs a big win to dispel the "gift" label on her seeding; Rubin, who has been to the semis here and who, like Lindsay, has only a year or two left in her.

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

State of the Speech: I kind of agree with you on Bush's speech last night, Razor. How's that for a definitive position? I thought the first half of the speech was fine. Short, to the point, hit all the right notes on Iraq. But the speech broke down around the time Bush obliquely raised the WMD issue. It was, of course, the elephant in the living room, but surely ignoring the issue entirely would have been less embarrassing than the uncut jive Bush was selling.

After that came the domestic laundry list. No matter what president is speaking, this part makes me desire sleep. (Same effect on Charlie Rangel, apparently. He obviously gave in.) Steroids? Oh, grow up. Wise stewardship of public trust and taxpayer money? Notice the applause that line got. The leeches in Washington are always prepared to give themselves a nice hand for upright way they suck a third to a half of our paychecks and distribute it among subsides for businesses that won't compete, social programs for people who won't work, international aid for regimes who won't reform, and bureaucrats from whom we will have to pry the concept of baseline budgeting with the jaws of life.

To be fair, there were highlights: Bush's rat-tat listing of the countries helping in Iraq ("Britain, Australia, Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Thailand, Italy, Spain, Poland, Denmark, Hungary, Bulgaria, Ukraine . . .") wasn't subtle, but it was a nice dig. The "permission slip" line was decent. And there was a minor moment of poetry ("I believe that God has planted in every heart the desire to live in freedom. And even when that desire is crushed by tyranny for decades, it will rise again.") that, from the mouth of a liberal, would be destined for Bartlett's Famous.

All in all, Bush came across better than Nancy Pelosi, whose goiter has apparently gotten worse. And I couldn't help noticing that, as much money as Bush is willing to spend (and it's a lot), the Democrats sat on their hands anytime Bush tied that spending to reform and/or the free market. That tells me all I need to know about what they would do.

This what we're so afraid of?: Much is made (or not) over North Korea. Evil despot? Check. Oppressed populace? Check. Promoter of terrorism? Check. But still, we go waltzing by every day asking if Dear Leader has any more demands he'd like us to listen to in exchange for him not developing nuclear weapons (assuming he can - we just don't know).

Then you get a closer look at the conditions of North Korea. How can such a society possibly sustain itself in any prolonged conflict? Here's a snippet (the blog is reviewing a book and taking excerpts therefrom):
Two North Koreas exist side by side. The first is the North Korea of Pyongyang-- of gay parades with colorful marxist banners, and of bright, well-fed, and smiling children of the political elite, dressed in clean uniforms and attending well-appointed cadre schools. It is the North Korea of grand boulevards, massive palaces, and mausoleums-- glistening monuments to Kim Il Sung, the Great Leader. It is the North Korea of model collective farms, model hospitals, and model schools. This country does exist-- for the party elites, the cadres, and the military leadership, most of whom live in Pyongyang.

The illusory North Korea of Pyongyang is maintained at high cost: it is purged annually of sick, deformed, and handicapped people as well as of those who have misbehaved. Pyongyang receives a much higher grain ration, and residency is regarded as a great reward for good behavior and faithfulness. ...[A] 1988 human rights report by Asian Watch reported that the capital's dwarfs and other visibly disabled people were periodically rounded up and exiled to a remote city in the Northeast. [...]

The other North Korea is where all these people live in exile, to protect Pyongyang's glistening facade of marxist paradise. It is a North Korea of abandoned factories gutted of machinery to be sold in China for food, of detention camps for displaced people, of deserted schools, and of cannibalized apartment complexes. It is a North Korea with gangs of filthy, malnourished orphans abandoned on city streets, wandering beggars stealing food from the burgeoning farmers markets, and train stations clogged with dying people desperately trying to force themselves on decrepit, overcrowded trains in hopes of escaping to China. It is the hidden face of the famine: tragically real but well hidden from outsiders.
And this country has us on our knees.
Strange Days: Isn't it strange how the people of Iowa can tell the rest of the country who should be president? I mean, Kerry is raking in the dough right now all for one state.

I watched a bit of the SOTU, but really, Bush is unwatchable when he speaks - actually, he's just unwatchable period. It's not the swallowing of the words, or his inability to look like he comprehends what he says, it's that the smirk has now grown into full-blown snarky smiles and near-laughs as he revels in what he's saying. Listen, he has a right to be proud of somethings, but the tone and delivery of the speech was the most petty I can remember. Next time maybe tell us something actually about the country rather than just patting yourself on the back. Yes all Presidents do it to extol their virtues, but this was taken to a whole new level.

Andrew Card insisted Tom Brady was invited before last Sunday's win and before Kerry got the steroid shot to his campaign. As a child of a friend of mine says: "Yeah, wight."

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Talking to the Right People: I think Razor is on to a simple point of institutional psychology. Recall the old story about the liberal writer who, in 1972, gaped at Nixon's victory (roughly): "How could Nixon win? I don't know anyone who voted for him." Unconscious self-diagnosis, that. Any medium has the danger of becoming an echo chamber, and the blog world is no different -- probably more so. This is not to disparage, or to overgeneralize, but when I look at the blog world, I don't see much cross-pollenation. (There are exceptions: Jeff Jarvis, Michael Totten, and Roger Simon are as likely to have socialist readers as pre-emptive warrior readers. And Reynolds is ecumenical; hell, he's linked off the official Dean blog.) You get the feeling that the National Review types aren't reading the New Republic -- and vice versa. They're not hearing the case argued against them, so they never respond to it. I can understand not having time for the haters: Hell, I could put on my bein'-a-dick hat and write the daily posts for Atrios, the Dem Underground creeps, and the Clinton-hating VRWC crowd without working up to a burn because they all repeat the same thing over and over. None of them spends any time listening.

Blogging is like bullshitting with your buddies. You make your predictions, state your opinions, and take your lumps. Occasionally an interesting media point crops up (such as this one, Jarvis suggesting that the Dean blog/web movement is -- surprise!!! -- an echo chamber). Other than that, I don't put much store by the "blogging is changing the media world" storyline. Sure, everyone can post his two cents online now. Simple economics tells you the likely quality of free products. There are diamonds in the rough, but don't stake your house on any of it -- because, in the end, this is the electronic equivalent of handing out your silly tract at the airport or Central Park.

Even Hunter can't pick 'em: You'd think all that time on McGovern's campaign trail in the 70's would have given Hunter S. Thompson some peculiar insight into the primary season. I guess not (read the last sentence).
It's so much fun: I love seeing the Blogosphere's collective bubble burst by a shocking blast of cold, mid-western plains wind. I've posted before on how, in order to gain popularity as a blog, one needs to toe the libertarian/conservative line carefully. There's little room for dissent if you want hundreds or thousands of hits a day (of course random porn never hurts). So you tend to have a sort of collective wisdom that is only differentiated by style, as opposed to substance ("Ayn Rand rocks!" vs. "Atlas Shrugged is the best!"). Moreover, the blog is the perfect narcissistic device; those who create them tend to believe their posts are the gospel, because hell, they're smarter than everyone else. I mean, it's right there out on the internet!

Anyway, all libertarians hate Kerry and Edwards because they're aggressively liberal. They chuckle at Gephardt because he's so out of touch. Dean is just bizarre and he's from Vermont, so you know, big time liberal. As such, these candidates are written off in Democratic caucuses/primaries- something by their very nature, most bloggers will have little to no experience in participating in. Even in the face of polling numbers the line is held.

Now, don't get me wrong, I don't pretend to like most of the candidates any more than the most strident libertarian - in a perfect Razor world, Lieby would get at least some notice. I also don't pretend to know more about politics than most (Eno knows it about as well as anyone, and even he can't figure it out). The point being: democrat farmers in Iowa don't have blogs (this is about as close as I could find) and they sure as hell don't read them to develop their opinions. Now it's also very telling that the media (that old liberally biased institution) also got the race wrong - or did it? Russert said this morning that 40% of the voters made up their mind in the last 3 days. This means that the polls probably were true, and while the media may be guilty of blindly following them along, it didn't inaccurately report the undercurrent. Dean had the momentum from his organization. Everyone said that Dean looked good to them. Then they actually listened to the man. At that point, anyone, even Kerry looked like a safe bet because a) he's a Vietnam guy, b) he's an experienced Senator, and c) he's from the same state as JFK. Edwards was a good second choice probably because many voters could relate to his story, as Eno points out below.

Three Surprises: Well, a lot of us didn't get the message, eh? My guess last night was that the "Kerry surge" was real. But who the hell expected Gephardt to fall to fourth? Not me, anyway. Gephardt's being classy and leaving the stage quietly. Honestly, it may have been over for him when AFSCME swung behind Dean. Gephardt's labor is the old labor of the AFL-CIO, the guys who break their asses in line jobs. Dean's labor, new labor, is the labor of middle management, local bureaucrats who -- far from being eggs-and-hash types -- are solidly middle class, lace curtain even. Sam's Club bobos. Gephardt is a relic.

Another huge surprise was Dean's nosedive. It will take some time to figure out what happened, but it's possible that the Deaniacs stayed home and listened to their world beat records and drank fair-trade coffee last night. It's also possible, though, that they were shut out of Iowa's byzantine style of apportioning delegates. I'll take a pass right now on some of the glib explanations, such as "Kerry has more of a chance to beat Bush" (not really) or "Dean's starting to look a little strange" (starting?). The explanation could turn out to be just as surprising as as last night's results. Don't count Dean out, though. Des Moines isn't exactly Seattle.

The final surprise of the night was Edwards. From nobody to 2nd place, and he did it without key political endorsements (though he did get the Des Moines Register's nod) and the kind of instant ground campaign that the labor and Harkin endorsements brought Dean. Bush shouldn't sweat Kerry any more than Dean. In fact, Dean is the greater threat, really. He brings first-time voters with him. (Kerry is Dukakis without the height issue.) But who really gives Karl Rove nightmares? Edwards: A charming Southern boy buying votes with incrementalist social policy and an up-from-the-sticks life story. After all, isn't that how Poppy lost?

Monday, January 19, 2004

Proof, If You Needed It: As Iowans go to caucus, should we believe the famously unreliable polls that attempt to divine what voters will do? For example, is Howard Dean really in freefall? One item worth noting in that regard is that the famously absent Mrs. Dean showed up in Iowa over the weekend. From the NY Times:
Dr. Dean returned Sunday afternoon to Davenport, Iowa, to appear alongside what his campaign billed as a real surprise guest campaigner: his wife, Judith Steinberg Dean. It was her first campaign appearance with Dr. Dean this year and her first ever in Iowa, and it came at a time when polls and interviews with voters signaled that support for Dr. Dean was declining.
Sounds like the numbers the Dean campaign are coming up with match that Zogby poll that shows Kerry leaping ahead. Remember that Dean said he wouldn't drag his wife onto the campaign trail . . . unless, of course, he's getting his ass kicked.

There's more evidence that Kerry's latest boost is real, and that his competitors' internal polling numbers back it up. Remember that if you tell a candidate, "Gallup says this, NBC says that," you'll likely get a yawn. Candidates are constantly working over the numbers themselves, and they are more srupulous about culling the crap from their surveys. But the sudden spate of attacks on Kerry indicates that the internal numbers have Dean and Gephardt worried:

Two other candidates, Howard Dean and Dick Gephardt, circulated to reporters on Friday comments Kerry made five years ago indicating he would drastically scale back the U.S. Department of Agriculture and revamp farm subsidies.
Kerry's take?
"It's obvious that my campaign is moving because two of the other candidates have chosen in the last few days to engage in a smear effort on my farm policies," he told supporters.
That's the purest, most self-serving drivel you're ever going to hear. By coincidence, it's also true.

So, at 8:00 pm Eastern time, it's still a jump ball in Iowa as far as anyone can see. The conventional wisdom has it that Kerry's forces on the ground are too weak to get out enough votes to make his caucus results match his poll numbers. Dean and Gephardt, they say, have armies of workers ready to knock on doors, offer rides, hand out cookies, whatever. There's some truth to that. It may not be the whole ballgame, but in Iowa, I wouldn't bet against the candidate with the best grass roots effort. (More: Viking Pundit agrees, but his head is clouded by the AFC Championship.) The problem is, you can't tell who had it until the results are in.

Like a broken clock...: ...Bill Maher is funny twice a show. The most recent Bill Maher show on HBO featured among other distinguished guests, Al Sharpton (unfortunately the transcript isn't up yet, but click here to peruse the show's official site). Maher tore into Sharpton the way Dean and every other legitimate candidate wishes he could. I'm going to paraphrase here a bit, but the hight points:

1. He asks Sharpton why he's running for president considering no one will actually vote for him.

2. He says Sharpton taking pot-shots at Dean for not appointing a minority to his cabinet in Vermont is really low considering there are no minorities in Vermont save one [Maher reaches underneath the table] and here she is: [brings out a bottle of Aunt Jemimah syrup]. Really!

3. Last, he notes how Sharpton really does stand out among the candidates as he's not afraid to stay in five-star hotels on the campaign trail.

I can assure you it's much funnier watching it for Sharpton's reactions than reading about it here. I assure you.

Friday, January 16, 2004

Firing Line: I was a big fan of Buckley's show, the style of which is entirely absent from today's issues/debate shows (Chris Matthews's interruptions, Bill O'Reilly's beratings, etc.). New Criterion reports that tapes of the shows are available -- for $50 a show (!). That's not what I came here to tell you, though.

In recalling "Firing Line," the writer, James Panero, mentions watching Buckley's discussion with Eldridge Cleaver, in which Cleaver called everyone, including Bobby Kennedy, a "pig." (It's funny to recall that particular bit of linguistic currency.) Panero says, in a hilarious aside, that Cleaver "sounds like . . . the Radical Chic version of Lord of the Flies."

The Candidates as Investments: How much confidence do you have in your candidate? Think of your candidate as a $1.00 future contract premised on winning the nomination. What would you pay for that? That's what the University of Iowa's electronic market is doing. Note that, despite the footsteps of Kerry and Clark, Dean is still trading well above either one, though down from his towering highs of recent.

Neat test of the predictive power of the market.

Are you ready for some post-season hype?: Last Friday I had gotten through about 2/3 of a post on my weekend picks when everything went I gave up the ghost and went home. My picks, for the record, were Carolina over the Rams in double overtime with an exchange of missed fieldgoals, plus I had the Eagles coming from behind on a 4th and 27 play. Well, no one is perfect.

Now that the whole "destiny" thing is out of the way, we can focus on some good solid x's and o's without all the sensationalism....right. I simply cannot see New England losing at home. Indy has no defense to speak of, which is good I supose given that New England's offense is suspect, but still take a bad defensive team versus a mediocre offensive team (Brady is quite talented but their running game sucks), and the the bad defense loses almost every time. Still Indy is playing like a team of...oh, no you don't...considerable resolve and clearly Manning is in the zone with those freaking freak-of-nature receivers he has to choose from (god, just give the Birds one of those guys). My pick is New England in a low-scoring, turnover prone game. I can't see the Colts not using their punter in this one. Somewhere around 17-13.

The Eagles don't do anything particularly well this year. They used to have the great defense that shut everyone down to 10 or fewer points while allowing the offense to scrape by on getting 13. Now, every opposing running back is racking up 150 yards a game, and the Boids give up now closer to 20. Fortunately, McNabb (with the help of a biased media) is able to take over the games just enough, and at the right times, to help score 20+. Yes, he still throws the sinker on about 6 passes a game; yes he gets sacked 3-5-8 times a game; yes the clock management is iffy; yes we lost Brian Westbrook. But for all the issues in the negative, the Win column keeps inching upward. It's inexplicable and definitely takes a few mistakes from the opposing team. My hope is that since we're playing essentially a rookie QB (even though he's 29) and that Stephen Davis will be less than 100% (if he plays at all) we can really get the pressure on Delhomme and make him throw a few Brett Favre Specials at inopportune times. I like the Iggles (surprise, surprise) for around 27-17.