Friday, October 31, 2008

Another weird McCain talking point

Norman Dale of Hickory, IN writes in:
Meanwhile, wondering if you’ve seen any official debunking of McCain’s claim:

McCain: "Frankly, what's disturbing about it is that he signed a piece of paper back when he was a long shot candidate. And he signed it, said I won't -- I will take public financing for the presidential campaign if John McCain will. I mean, it's a living document."

My recollection is that there never was a “signed” document. There was a check box on some survey the candidates all filled out. I believe Obama’s actual comments about this always included a caveat that McCain had to agree to call off the 527 groups etc, which he obviously hasn’t done and never intended to.

Basically, this is a non-issue and I actually think Obama was damn smart not to get head faked into a bad deal. Thank God Schrum wasn’t involved in the campaign.

I've always found this particular McCain attack to be non-sensical. One minute he's complaining about all the wasteful porkbarrelearmarkspending in the government, and the next minute he's blasting Obama for not taking taxpayer money to fund his campaign. Further, Republicans are against these campaign finance reform rules, so he's out of step with his party on this matter. Indeed, George Will just wrote an article about this, blasting McCain:

Why is it virtuous to erect a dam of laws to impede the flow of contributions by which citizens exercise their First Amendment right to political expression? "We're now going to see," McCain warned, "huge amounts of money coming into political campaigns, and we know history tells us that always leads to scandal." The supposedly inevitable scandal, which supposedly justifies preemptive government restrictions on Americans' freedom to fund the dissemination of political ideas they favor, presumably is that Obama will be pressured to give favors to his September givers. The contributions by the new givers that month averaged $86.

So, to answer Coach Dale's question, no, I don't think the Obama campaign has even bothered to reply to this, and I believe you're right, it is not like Obama broke a legal contract when he opted out. There was a deadline for him to decide either way, and while in the past he said he was going to opt in, when he saw that he could instead fund his campaign better with small donations, he opted out. Losing argument for McCain, really.

Lest you panic...

A reminder that Obama needs 270 EVs to win the election. Assume he wins all the Kerry states. But wait, you say, what about New Hampshire and Pennsylvania, might they go McCain? The last five polls of those states:
Pennsylvania: +12, +7, +12, +4, +12
New Hampshire: +17, +4, +11, +13, +18

So forget about those two states, and now Obama has 252 EVs.

Next up, Iowa, with 7 EVs: +15, +8, +11, +15, +10
New Mexico, with 5 EVs: +10, +7, +13, +8, +11

Now he's up to 264. Let's look at Colorado (9) and Virgina (13):
CO: +4, +10, +9, +7, +9
VA: +4, +9, +9, +8, +9

He wins either of those, he wins. And we haven't brought up Ohio, Florida, North Carolina, or Nevada, all of which are looking no worse than toss-ups, and are actually leaning Obama's way.

So fret not when you see a national tracking poll make it seem like it is close. It ain't.

Thursday, October 30, 2008


Teaching duties and lab duties collided today, so not a lot of free time to reflect on the political race. But, I did learn of a really, really neat website that Harvard is building. Go to this link and click on "The Inner Life of the Cell." What is remarkable about this movie -- and many, many more that I've seen in the class I'm TA'ing but apparently aren't ready for public distribution -- is that they aren't fanciful cartoons of what is going on in the cell but rather quite realistic depictions of how proteins, nucleic acids, membranes, etc. are going about their business. Every time I see stuff like this I'm blown away by the fact that we're alive.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Joe the Brewer

For those wondering what to imbibe during election watching on Tuesday -- before the obvious champagne toast when Virginia is called for Obama at 9:16 pm -- the Cambridge Brewing Company has a new beer, The Audacity of Hops. I had it at lunch today and can recommend it. Of course, if you don't live near Cambridge, you're kinda outta luck, but if you'd like, I'll throw one back for you, just ask (twist my arm....)

Kerry as Sec. of State?

Many have already moved past the election and are now figuring out who will fill out Obama's cabinet. One named floated for Secretary of State is John Kerry. Are you frickin' kidding me? Obama is no dope, so I seriously doubt this is under consideration -- and maybe I'm viewing Obama as too much of a football coach, but when he says that he's taking this one game at a time, I believe him.

John Kerry would be a horrible Secretary of State, for the same reason that he was a horrible presidential candidate. First, the guy is incapable of speaking naturally. Yes, he did give one good speech during the DNC this year, but overall, he's a bad public speaker, so probably not the sort of guy you want travelling the world as a representative of America. Second, he has the stink of loser attached to him, and Republicans are used to poo-poohing him, so do you really want a Sec. State that half (well, less than half!) of the people in this country generally don't respect?

All things being equal, does Kerry have the brains and temperment to be Sec. State? Yes on the latter, not so sure on the former (he looked smart compared to Bush, but I've never heard Kerry described as a heavyweight intellect -- hell, his report card at Yale was pretty similar to W's). But there have to be more qualified people out there. I'm not saying she was particularly qualified, but who the hell had heard of Condi Rice before Bush tapped her in '00 to be NSA? Cabinet appointments can come from unlikely places.

I think that all this parlor game guessing is merely to fill up the time, and Big Names float to the top due to lack of any real knowledge.

Mac Attack

Obama has a new ad that most would probably categorize as a negative ad, because it talks about McCain instead of Obama. As I've written before I don't think this is entirely fair, or at least not the right thing to focus on. But here's something interesting. Go watch this ad and just listen to it -- doesn't it sound like it is an ad for Apple? Or perhaps Volkswagon? The Obama campaign has been doing this for most of its ads -- it shuns the use of deep-voiced male announcer or anxiety-laced female announcer to attack, but rather plays this fairly upbeat, almost-cheery music.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Weeping and gnashing

For a long time, the Democrats have had the reputation as a group that could snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, and it is not rare to hear the commentariat worry about complacency on the Democrat side. Oh, Obama's going to win, why should I vote?

I think, if anything, it is the Republicans who have to worry about no-shows this year, and particularly the effect that will have on down-ballot races. By all accounts, Obama is killing McCain in states that allow early voting, so I'm not too worried about complacency on the Democratic side. There has been an 'enthusiasm gap' this whole campaign, with Democrats way more energized to vote Obama than Republicans to vote McCain. If Republicans look at all the polls and say screw it, I'm not standing in line next to vote for a guy who ain't winning, then not only will Obama be able to win with a greater percentage of the popular vote (not sure what this is worth) but he will also likely have an even larger Democratic majority in Congress (worth a lot).

Indeed, it now appears that pretty much every close Senate race is breaking the Democrats way -- Begich will almost certainly now beat Stevens in Alaska, Merkely is pulling ahead of Smith in Oregon, and Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Georgia are all close -- Republican disillusion could certainly tip the balance in many of those states, especially where there are a lot of black people who are incredibly motivated to vote. I don't think that having 60 Senators is as magic a number as people seem to think, as there are certainly going to be Republicans you could peel off for certain votes (Snowe & Collins in Maine, e.g.) and there are going to be Democrats who 'defect' on others (Baucus in Montana, just to name one). Plus, there's Joe Lieberman, who at least for now caucuses with the Dems, but a lot of the base want to see him booted. Finally, I was glad to hear of this report, that Reid is laying the groundwork to replace Byrd as chair of the appropriations committee. One of, if not the most, powerful positions in the Senate, it probably shouldn't be held by a 90 year old guy from West Virginia who's environmental record is, um, quite bad, with WV being a major coal state.

Now +5

Today's the final day to predict the election and receive a 5 point bonus (link on left).

You can still buy shares of Obama for under ninety cents on the dollar at Intrade and IEM. While not a bargain, if you're sure that Obama will win, it is a pretty good way to turn a 10% profit in one week. Better than the stock market, anyway.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Obama is not Clinton

There's an interesting article in New York magazine about what an Obama (or McCain) administration faces, well-worth the read. But I do take issue with this comparison that I've seen time and time again:

It requires no prodigious feat of memory, of course, to see how this dream could come a cropper. Back in 1993, Bill Clinton surfed into Washington on a similar wave of enthusiasm and expectation. Democrats then, too, controlled both the upper and lower chambers on Capitol Hill. The party’s agenda was bold, ambitious, far-reaching. And then everything fell to pieces. In something like a heartbeat, Clinton’s reputation as a Third Way centrist was reduced to rubble. The degree of Democratic political malpractice was so severe that it enabled the GOP, in 1994, to snatch the reins of the House and Senate simultaneously for the first time in four decades.

First, Clinton did not have a similar wave of enthusiasm -- yes, he garned a lot of electoral votes, but only because Perot voters made up almost 20% of the electorate. Clinton received 43% of the vote, which is less than McCain is going to win.

Second, and I'll need some older folks to back me up on this (I was 14 in 1992), but the mood of the country is far more eggy now than it was in 1992. I'd think that if there were ever a time for a more progressive agenda to get passed, it would be in a time of crisis, rather than when things are all swell -- the New Deal, for example.

Third, yeah, Clinton overreached in his first two years in office. But do the temperments of Clinton and Obama seem even remotely similar? Obama is patient, methodical, and probably most important, not too full of himself; Clinton, on the other hand, was an egomaniac who screwed around with women -- a reckless personality.

Dismal indeed

Clark Griswold of Chicago writes in:
This is instructive to me as to why government spending needs to be justified on larger grounds than "well, that sounds like a good idea." (Ignore the theoretical nonsense about incentives to work, i just thought the numbers were eye-opening):

Clark notes, rightly in my mind, that all this incentive to work stuff is total bullshit, but you see economists doing these calculations all the time. Humans don't think like this, nor should we. I work because I enjoy what I do, and sitting on my ass all day, while nice every once in a while, is not really a good long-term plan for my mental sanity. Sure, humans compare offers -- if Job A pays me $X, and Job B pays me $Y, then I can weigh my options. Further, most people don't really control how much work they do anyway -- you get paid a set salary and you have a given amount of work to do, so there's really not a lot of choice in the matter, and certainly not the level of detail of so-and-so's tax plan means I'll work until 4:45 every day, but under the other guy's, it is worth my while to stay until 5:15. You'll work harder if you're motivated (either internally or from fear of losing your job) by whatever you happen to be doing, not by calculations of marginal tax rates.

Jurassic Park was a documentary, right?

Enrico Pullazzo passes on an article from Salon, bashing a recent Palin talking point, that it is idiotic to spend money on research. Now, anyone who remembers even high school biology would be able to tell you that fruit fly research has been a cornerstone of research for a century now -- then again, finishing high school does not appear to be a major emphasis of life in the Palin household.

No surprise that a GOP candidate would find some budget item such as fruit fly research and mock it, but that we're not surprised by this really points to a main cause of the Republican party's collapse: a total commitment to anti-intellectualism, anti-elitism, anti-knowing-what-the-flark-you're-talking-about. All that seems to matter is how an idea sounds when yelled from a podium or bantered back and forth on a split screen with some operative from the other side. Whether the idea is factual or wise does not seem to be part of the equation.

The anti-science and technology wing of the GOP is truly dangerous for this country. From the Manhattan Project to the Apollo Program to Silicon Valley, the success of America for the past half century has largely been a product of technological superiority. That we're got a VP nominee who thinks that dinosaurs co-existed with humans is jaw-dropping.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Since the beginning of time, man has yeared to destroy the sun

Or so says Montgomery Burns. Others, however, have learned what plants have known for billions of years, that the sun is a cheap source of energy. One such person is my cousin who, apparently, does this for a living. Here's his 5 minutes in the sun (ha!) on Fox.

On a related note, one benefit of attending MIT is that the alumni magazine, Technology Review, is actually worth reading. I wish I had a longer history of reading this periodical, so I would know if their predictions/hype are accurate harbingers of the future of technology. But if they are, we're not that far from generating a helluva lot of energy from solar. Analogous to computers, look at where we were 25 years ago. I really want to play Pogo Joe again, by the way -- I'm pretty sure there was a board entitled "Tennis, Antibody?" which is just hilarious.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Conservatives & kids

An excellent post by Matt Yglesias on one area where conservative philosophy really breaks down in a way that only the hardest of the die hards would every admit (but, sadly, probably many more think). Here's one part, but if you have the chance, read the whole thing. Indeed, this post gets to a fundamental problem with an everyone for themselves attitude -- through no fault of your own, your parents can majorly screw up your life (mom, dad, this is not an incredibly passive-aggressive attack on your parenting!)
It would be one thing if conservatives had the courage of their convictions and just said, “hey, government intervention in the economy is so terrible that we don’t care if children suffer.” But when you see candidates out there on the hustings talking about how we need to take care of special needs children, well, it makes me mad. Of course we need to take care of their needs. But kids, special and otherwise, need all kinds of stuff. They need decent childcare and nutritious food and they need to see doctors and dentists and they need clothing and they need decently maintained houses that are heated in the winter. They need parents with job opportunities and schedules that are flexible enough to take care of them. Nobody seriously denies that kids need this stuff. But lots of people are just indifferent to the fact that a huge proportion of our children don’t get their needs met. And it’s appalling. McCain says that rather than spreading the wealth around, he wants to have equal opportunity. But what kind of equal opportunity do have when mom’s pulling in $21,500 to support three kids and President McCain is slashing spending on child and family services left and right?


In 11 days, we (well, some of us) will head to senior centers, school gyms, and other places we only go once a year. By any possible reading of polls -- outside of Drudge citing Nickelodeon -- this is going to be a bloodbath. Obama is putting up his best polling numbers of the campaign. When North Dakota and Montana are the toss-ups, and Indiana, Missouri, and North Carolina are leaning Democrat, it is over.

Really, this is nothing short of amazing. Five years ago, if I had told you that a black guy with the middle name Hussein would defeat both Hillary Clinton and John McCain in a single campaign, do so without a major scandal befalling either opponent, and expand the Democratic map to include states that were part of Confederacy, you'd have locked me up and thrown away the key. Oh, and his candidacy seems to have caused conservatism to start to tear itself to shreds -- I'd say this is schadenfraude on my part, but there's nothing guilty in my pleasure. The race-baiting, homophobic, do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do moralizing, truth-be-damned scumbags who constitute the 'leadership' of this movement are a far far cry from Barry Goldwater (who's granddaughter just endorsed Obama).

Make sure you catch Ferrell on SNL last night. Oops, broken link, now fixed.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Yes, but can you hear them scream?

There's a lot of science out there. Like, a real lot of science out there. And it gets published. Such as this paper, sent in by Ford Prefect:
Gorgiladze GI.
Regenerative capacity of the planarian Girardia tigrina and the snail Helix lucorum exposed to microgravity during an orbital flight on board the International Space Station.
Dokl Biol Sci. 2008 Jul-Aug;421:244-7. No abstract available.

Ford notes that:
It's unfortunate that this paper has no abstract and is published in a russian journal that I don't have access to (and presumably, is written in russian). The people outside the eastern bloc just aren't going to be able to know the answer to this pressing question...yet.

Responses to Obama's liberalism

Apparently, anyone who reads my blog does so at 8:55am. Several emails from recent posts. First, Lacy continues the conversation:
You wrote:

"But it is the 'temperment and style' criteria that Lacy rightfully notes several commentators have seized on to say that Obama is, at his core, a conservative, and it is with this defintion that I think bugs me so much (not in the way Lacy defined it, but rather in the way that MSM commentators use it). To say that Obama is even-headed, thoughtful, and pragmatic, ergo he is conservative, both ignores a lot of wild-eyed nutters who self-identify as conservative of late and suggests that all liberals are, by contrast, irrational, emotional, and impulsive. Now, it is possible that these commentators are using the French Revolution era distinction of liberal and conservative, but I kinda doubt that."

See, I think you are falling prey to the problem I was discussing --- mainly that the seven groupings aren't mutually exclusive. You can be a liberal in reference to your party and ideology post-2001, but have a conservative temperament. And vice-versa. Here are some historical examples:

Liberals with conservative temperament: Abraham Lincoln, Daniel Moynihan
Conservatives with liberal temperament: Newt Gingrich, Bush 43 (maybe McCain?)
Liberals with liberal temperament: Ralph Nader, Woodrow Wilson (and, of course, Bill Ayers!)
Conservatives with conservative temperament: George Will, Barry Goldwater, Ike (and Edmund Burke, of course!)

I think this goes to the heart of Obama. He's a policy liberal, but I don't think he's interested in massive transformational action. He strikes me more as John Roberts than Scalia, more Daniel Moynihan than Chuck Schumer.

Hell, you can play this game all day, on as many dimensions as you want. Consider:

Liberal party, conservative fiscal policy, liberal temperment: Civil War Radical Republicans!
Liberal party, liberal fiscal policy, conservative temperment: Daniel Patrick Monyihan!
Liberal party, conservative fiscal policy, conservative temperment: James Madison!
Liberal party, liberal fiscal policy, liberal temperment: LBJ!
Conservative party, conservative fiscal policy, liberal temperment: Newt Gingrich!
Conservative party, liberal fiscal policy, conservative temperment: Henry Clay!
Conservative party, conservative fiscal policy, conservative temperment: George Washington!
Conservative party, liberal fiscal policy, liberal temperment: Teddy Roosevelt!

The point is that liberal policy goals are not incompatible with conservative temperaments. Once you accept that, I think a lot of things change.

Maybe this is a fundamental disagreement we have -- I don't think that 'temperment' is a particularly good way to categorize liberal and conservative. In matters of policy, one could argue for a liberal or conservative position, with the sense that one is not choosing between words where one is inherently better -- more positive in connotation -- than the other. However, when it comes to defintions of temperment, I think there'd be a lot of agreement that a conservative temperment is better than a liberal one. Thus, I don't think it is a particularly good way to go about defining liberal, because liberals get the short end of that stick.

I completely agree with your closing sentiment that "liberal policy goals are not incompatible with conservative temperaments. Once you accept that, I think a lot of things change." I'd just re-write the sentence and substitute "rational, analytical, meditative" for "conservative."

Elizabeth Swann of Port Royal, Caribbean relates:
I don't know about you but I don't mind/readily admit that I am a liberal...

(I never associated the term with wild-crazy-french revolutionaries though ;))..

Do you think this is age-related? Do you think of being a liberal as something with a negative or "crazy" connotation...

I mean, I clearly remember having heated discussions with my uncle (a true-blue (or red) western PA republican) about politics and the state of the country (under Bush) and at one point he lashed out calling me a "liberal" ... I realize now that he probably thought he was really insulting me... or at least was perhaps shocked or horrified to realize that I am, in fact, a liberal... but his assertion never phased me...

hmf... so, is this an age thing? an ignorance thing (on my end)? ... does liberal = bad?? .. and since when? ... or when did it stop being bad for that matter?

For certain, some commentators have attempted to demonize the word liberal (it often appears next to phrases like godless, anti-American, etc.) Perhaps the apex of this was the Bush-Dukakis '88 campaign. But I do think Elizabeth is right to note that there is an age-component to this. To the under-30 crowd (or, the 30-and-under crowd), the word conservative is far more likely to have negative connotations -- homophobia jumps immediately to mind, and in general the image of a fat sweaty white guy with flushed red cheecks getting all worked up about some 'moral' issue and the decline of America caused by video games and rap lyrics.

To close, the self-pseudonymed Tits McGee adds:
"suggests that all liberals are, by contrast, irrational, emotional, and impulsive."

*This must be why more females vote Democrat*?

I'm not going to comment on that... ;)

Jon Meacham's fuzzy brain

Jon Meacham, editor of Newsweek, writes the cover story this week titled "America the Conservative: How a President Might Govern a Center-Right Nation." It is a pretty crappy piece. For example...

He spends an entire section analyzing the GOP's "lock on the White House" over the past 40 years, making the obligatory references to Republicans as the daddy party and Democrats as the mommy party, which I'm sure would make Freud happy but doesn't really offer much in terms of analysis. Also, let's look a bit deeper at this "lock on the White House" idea... So, in 7 of the past 10 elections, Republicans have won (going backwards: Bush, Bush, Clinton, Clinton, Bush, Reagan, Reagan, Carter, Nixon, Nixon). Two points. First, Meacham is cherry-picking his data; if he instead spoke of the last 48 years, LBJ and Kennedy get added to the mix, and now Republicans have won 7 of the last 12 elections. It is almost as if Meacham knew what he wanted to conclude and selected a time frame that best proved his point, rather than let the facts dictate his analysis. Second, I think it is a bit silly to look at 10 (or 12) of any event and try to make conclusions, the sample size is just too small. Limited data require limited conclusions, so if Meacham wanted to make some overarching point about the temperment of America when it comes to elections, one would think that Congressional elections, 435 of them every two years, would provide a much more robust set of numbers for him to analyze.

Second, while it is a phrase we hear a lot and thus accept, what exactly does center-right mean? As in, what defines the left, what defines the right, and thus how do we arrive at a definition of center? Unless you start defining left and right in terms of all other nations in the world, the phrase is pretty empty because it has no reference point. Are we more right than some countries in Europe? On some issues, sure, but we're also about to elect a black guy president.

Meacham's problem is one of definition, although he at least spells out what it is:
I mean "conservative" in the way most of have come to use it in recent
decades: to describe those who value custom over change, who worry about the
erosion of the familiar and the expansion of the state, and who dislike
those who appear condescending about matters of faith, patriotism and
culture (In other words, think of figures ranging from Edmund Burke to
Thomas Jefferson to David Brooks to Sarah Palin. It is an eclectic crew).

Actually, Jon, I'm pretty sure I'm a liberal and I too dislike those who are condescending about matters of faith -- who suggest that I'm going to hell for my beliefs about how the world works; patriotism -- who say that any dissent of the behavior of the executive branch is treason; and culture -- who suggest that anything outside the white Protestant 'lifestyle' is un-American. Further, Thomas Jefferson as conservative? Let's see, he was a major figure in the American Revolution, a major supporter of the French Revolution, thought that massive turnover in government should occur every twenty years or so, and openly questioned the divinity of Jesus Christ -- he's a conservative by your definition? I think you need a new definition.

Finally, Meacham write that "to be conservative is ... to be driven by a fundamental human impulse to preserve what one has and loves." WTF? Liberals don't like to preserve what they have and love? Liberals don't have a fundamental human impulse?! This quote epitomizes a rambling article by Meacham that doesn't make any damn sense.

Obama's liberalism

Of the various definitions of liberalism noted by Lacy in this post, Obama falls into the 'liberal' classification in most of them. But it is the 'temperment and style' criteria that Lacy rightfully notes several commentators have seized on to say that Obama is, at his core, a conservative, and it is with this defintion that I think bugs me so much (not in the way Lacy defined it, but rather in the way that MSM commentators use it). To say that Obama is even-headed, thoughtful, and pragmatic, ergo he is conservative, both ignores a lot of wild-eyed nutters who self-identify as conservative of late and suggests that all liberals are, by contrast, irrational, emotional, and impulsive. Now, it is possible that these commentators are using the French Revolution era distinction of liberal and conservative, but I kinda doubt that.

I think that a good chunk of the commentators who suggest that Obama is, by any definition, conservative are pretty much fooling themselves for the sake of comfort. They just know they're not liberals, because the word sends chills up their spine, yet they also see the GOP and realize that's not what they are either, and perhaps they even see something refreshing in Obama -- thus, if they like Obama, he must be a conservative.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Reason #1197

to vote Obama... he knows his fantasy football, while McCain probably watched the Super Bowl last year and wondered why there was no penalty for all those forward passes. Side note, I didn't know that Reilly was writing for ESPN the magazine, which is the epitome of everything that is wrong with our culture (the giant size, the constantly irregular fonts, the insistence that every single article be under 1000 words, etc.)


In a recent interview, Sarah Palin said:
And it also strengthens my faith because I know at the end of the day putting
this in God's hands, the right thing for America will be done, at the end of the
day on Nov. 4.
I interpret this to mean that, should Obama win, Sarah Palin will think that God wanted Obama to win. This probably also implies that there will be no carping about voter fraud and such, because presumably God would be able to take care of such details -- I know ACORN is the source of everything wrong in the country, but they're not that powerful, right? Anyway, I'm just really glad to see that Palin is willing to accept whatever outcome is handed out, whether from down on high or from the people below.

What do conservative & liberal mean?

Lacy Underalls of dreary old Manhattan continues the discussion of whether or not Obama is a conservative. This email is well worth a read. I'll digest myself (I mean, I will read the email and think about it; I will not somehow transfer my body to my intestinal tract) and respond later today:

I'm going to write an extended response to your two recent posts, "Is Obama Conservative?" and "Liberals Should be Happy they Won and Shut Up," because I've been thinking a lot lately about both of these topics. I (think) I agree with the fundamental premise of both of your arguments, but I have some comments that might reveal that either (a) I actually disagree with you more than I thought or (b) your argument is more nuanced than you presented in the blog posts.
First, is Obama conservative? I think the reason there is so much controversy about this in the chattering class of American politics is because there are at least seven definitions of what it means to be a liberal or conservative. Here they are, with comments on Obama for each.
(1) Partisan short form: Democrat equals liberal and Republican equals conservative. Democrats are underwritten by a collection of liberal interests (unions, pro-choice groups, etc.) and conservatives are underwritten by a different set of interests (business, churhces, pro-life groups, etc.) Clearly, Obama is a liberal.
(2) The 18th and 19th century European divides: This is where the classical definitions come from for the three ideologies of conservatism, liberalism, and socialism. Conseravtism is rooted in aristocracy/monarcy and a respect for a god-given (or otherwise presupposed) order which emphasizes traditional institutions, culture, and authority. Liberalism is rooted in the enlightenment values of the free market, individual liberty, merit as determining place, and equality of opportunity. Socialism is rooted in the values of equality of material wealth, public ownership of economic capacity, and the minimization of risk to the individual. Only the fringes of modern American politics touch this conservatism or socialism, although plenty of people have sympathies toward one or the other on individual issues. Obama is certainly a liberal in this paradigm, with perhaps occasional sympathies toward socialism.
(3) Comparison to America, circa 1933-1994: this is the familiar arrangement of how people talk about American politics in the 20th century. Liberals supported the use of the state to redistribute income generated by a more-progressive income tax through significant entitilement programs (SS, Medicare) and means-tested poverty programs (AFDC, etc.), sought to manage the economy through sector-based underwriting (farm subsidies), protectionist tariffs, or even straight socialistic policies (price controls), and encouraged social policies that expanded certain rights and liberties of the individual (atheist rights, non-patriot rights, civil rights, abortion rights) and the defendant (4th-8th amendment, etc.), including the expansion of the power of the federal government to legislative such things, while contraining the power of the indivudal on other dimensions in search of equality of outcome (fairness doctrine, campaign finance reform, etc) . Conservatives generally opposed the expansion of the redistirbutive state (tax cuts, ending means-tested redistribution), wished to minimze government management of the economy (end subsidies, allow free-choice in farming), sought to cut taxes, believed the power of the federal government should not be expanded as much at the expense of state authority, sought tougher measures against crime, preferenced the will of the community over the individual in some cases (pornography, anti-speech codes, etc.) and certain rights of hte individual (2nd amendment). Both liberals and conservatives were generally for a strong, active American foreign policy, although doves on both sides (isolationist on the right, pacificst on the left) dissented. The remarkable thing about this arrangement was that it did not intersect with the political parties particularly well. The democratic party contained both the most liberal and conservative elements, with 1/3 of democrats more conservative than 9 out of 10 republicans. And a significant number of Republicans (Rockefellar, etc.) more liberal than most democrats. Where is Obama here? He'd almost certainly be a moderate, maybe like Jack Kennedy? It's impossible for me to think he's a "big government liberal," and he doesn't seem to want to rock the boat on social issues. He's for tax cuts, so he can't be a Ted Kennedy / Walter Mondale / Mike Dukakis type, right?
(4) Comparison to Democratic Party and GOP, circa 1995-2001: this is the post-big governemnt era, when Clinton is yanked rightward by Gingrich and both promote a similar set of core economic policies: tax cuts, reduced federal spending, balanced budgets, free trade, continued support for entitilements but not means-tested redistribution. On any number of social policies (abortion, race, dealth penalty, etc.), the gulf between liberals and conservatives remains wide. The parties come back into synchronization as the southern conservatives are almost completely purged from the democratic party and the northeastern liberals reduced in the GOP. Obama is clearly a liberal in this view. Unequivocably.
(5) Comparsion to GOP and Democratic Party, circa Bush Presidency post-2001: I think this familiar enough to dispense with quickly: conservatives are increasingly authoritarian, with a focus on aggressvie foreign policy, presidential power, tax cuts, and federal spending on economic issues and defense/security, at the expense of former libertarian values. Liberals find their libertarian voices on many issues, support less-agressive (but still agressive!) foreign policy, reduced presidential power, and somewhat more redistribution than during Clinton era. Cross party dissenters are not frequent, but center around the return of the conservaitve dems (blue dogs) and the secular libertarian republicans (A. Sullivan, etc.). Obama is clearly a liberal.
(6) Comparison to modern Europe: Also very familiar: Eurpoean liberals support a large redistributive state funded through higher income or VAT taxes, consolidation of the continent through international institutions (EU, etc.), and generally moderate social policies. Conservatives tend to mix moderate economic policies with conservative social polices (EU, immigration, etc.). I suppose Obama is a moderate in this scheme. No matter how much your favorite socialist college prof (Alan Cafruny) might wish it, the U.S. ain't Europe.
(7) Temperment and style: This is the Burkean dimension that Andrew Sullivan seems to find Obama a conservative on. The idea is that a conservative is generally skeptical about the ability of humans to succesfully order society through government, and thus any tearing down of the existing order is cause for concern or, if it absolutely must be done (french revolution), regret. Change should be incremental and measured. Liberals in this view, I suppose, are the french revolutionaries --- those who know the existing institutioanl order must be destroyed, but are either don't think or don't care about what is to replace it. Placed on a template of modern American politics, I suppose most peole are conservatives (including Obama), but you now and then get the whiff of the french revolution from extremists on both sides (in Congress, say, Pete Stark on the left and Tom Coburn on the right).
So yes, I think Obama is a liberal. But what it means to be a liberal is purely contextual. Modern small-government, free-market conservatives are classical liberals, which is still in the modern world the most commonly used meaning of the term (American liberals in England are in the Labor party, not the liberal party). And I think you try to reduced liberalism and conservatism to something very simple when you say a definition must include "Reagan, Gingrich, and Bush." That seems like a partisan shortcut to me. I would never try to put Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Bob Taft, and Nelson Rockefellar in the same "conservative" definition, even though all of them were Republicans and all of them were coservative in at least one of the senses above (temperament, European, c.1933-1994, comparison to modern europe; respectively). If you want to bunch such people together, just do it the way they were actually bunched: by party. Otherwise, it's like trying to put Eugene McCarthy / Hubert Humphrey in the same ideology as Bobby Byrd / Fritz Hollings in 1960. Sure, they were in the same party, but they were on opposite ends of the ideological spectrum.
And I think you need to be more nuanced about the difference between social and fiscal policy. On social positions such as abortions, the parties are a good shortcut since the end of the civil rights movement. But on fiscal issues, I don't think it's worth even trying to divide them that way. Nixon was clearly the most willing to undertake socialistic economic policies (price controls for god's sakes!), and Clinton post-1995 is so far to the right of Bush 43 that's it's a joke. I don't know if this is true for you, but I do see it in a lot of my liberal friends: they believe the Bush/GOP is so inherently evil that any idea supported by the GOP is on its face bad and any idea supported by the democrats is good. That may or may not be true, but it makes people poor readers of history, because the dems and the GOP are not monolithic, nor are the individuals in the parties all orthodoxic conservaitves and liberals. You'll never shoehorn B. Clinton (or Nixon or Rockefellar. etc.) successfully into a monolithic liberal ideology (unless you reduce it to "liberal supreme court appointeees") because the dude wasn't a liberal or a conservaitve all the time: he had a strong mix of policies that ranged from one end of the spectrum to the other (he tried to build a universal single-payer health care plan, but he ended AFDC! He wanted a more-proressive income tax but he signed NAFTA and fired missiles at one of our allies to attack terrorists!)
Anway, on to the second post, "liberals Should be Happy they Won and Shut Up." Here I couldn't agree more, in principle. When you win an election, you can govern how ever the heck you want. Furthermore, if the Democrat candidate wins election, he should govern as a Democrat, at least until he sees that the policies are not as popular as the election indicated (and arguably even after that). It's obvious that the average voter this year is upset about any number of things: the Iraq war or Bush's foreign policy more generally, the ecnoomic downturn, GOP fatigue, the Supreme Court, etc. And I am sympathetic to the view that this election is almost totally retrospective, a negative referendum on the GOP over the last four years, without a whole lot of comment on absolute merit of the liberal alternative (instead, just a final verdict on the relative merit of the liberal alternative to Bushism). But even under those constrained conditions, Obama should not feel contrained as to putting forth a positive program. In fact, that might be his biggest challenge (and one I think he's been largely sucessful at meeting in the campaign): finding a way to translate the relative popularity of his party vis a vis Bushism into an absolute popularity based on policy positions. And look, no matter what anyone tells you, it's not currently 1932, when FDR could just shut his mouth and win the election on his "I'm a Christian and a Democrat" message. Obama has a structural advantage, but if he had campaigned without a positive policy platform (instead just critiquing Bush), he wouldn't win. So clearly, you are right on this count.
Still, I have to give Gerson something of the benefit of the doubt here, because I think you are setting up a straw man. I agree with him that Obama is going to have a difficult poltical task, because the liberal policies that are winning Obama votes are not the liberal policies that will represent the median of the Democratic congressional party. This is easy to prove mathematically: the average democrat in Congress is the median voter among 200+ people, many of whom came from significantly democratic districts. Obama's campaign is aiming to win the median voter in the nation. So, in theory, Obama's stated policy prefernces as a presidential candidate are to the right of the congressional democrats. And this is, in fact, almost certainly true, as it has been for most presidents. On any number of issues (teacher's unions, gay marraige, taxes, NAFTA, Iraq, FISA, race, abortion, court nominees, etc), his rhetoric is far more centrist than the median House democrat. So I think he does face challenges there. Furthermore, he has to balance something we don't: releection in 2012 and helping his party in 2010 and 2014. Whatever he beleives in his heart, it has already been tempered by the wonderful electoral system of democracy, in which "representation" seems like just a theory, until you actually need to be re-elected. Obama needs to deliver on his policy promises, and to do that he needs power in DC. To build power he needs to start winning big early (a la Bush 2001 and Kennedy 1961; contra Clinton 1993), so I expect some slam-dunks this spring. Slam-dunks are usually not that radical. I expect Obama to be somewhat cautious, and I expect him to have the ire of many a congressional democrat who wished he was more liberal and agressive in 2009.
A couple of minor points:
(A) I agree about 1994 being about a lot of structural features of American politics. But it was also about Clinton. He was a disaster in terms of presidential-congressional relations in his first two years, and his misunderstanding of where power lies in DC was epic. And I think you are dangerously bordering on the same mistake: Obama will be inherently powerful in DC next year, but there's no way he can simply ignore the congressional dems on domestic policy. He can have all the tax plans, health care plans, and quacking-quackeroo plans he wants (sorry, my daugter is a Dr. Suess nut), but it don't mean shit on the Hill. You saw the 3-page presidential bailout bill become 450. Just wait until Obama sends over his plan for going "line by line through the budget and cutting things." Mark my words: that document gets thrown in the garbage when it reaches the House of Representatives. He will have to bargain with them, and he will even at times have to go the Clintonian "third-way" and make the liberal dems a counterpoint to the GOP, placing himself in the middle.
(B) I'll make one long-shot prediction: the congressional dems go for card-count neutrality in union election early on this spring, and Obama is less than thrilled. It's a tough policy to sell (ending secret-ballot elections), it is easy to demogogue, it reeks of old-school liberalism, and plenty of dems will be against it (I saw a Eugene McCarthy op-ed against it recently!) But the unions want it. I could see this as being an early showdown Obama wants to aviod, a la gays in the military in 1993. I'm fascinate to see how he handles it.
(C) Where's the love for the Senate and House elections? Forget the presidency, this is where it's at! Imagine if McConnell loses in KY, unbelievable! Also, Shays looks like he's toast in Connecticut, meaning that the New England House membership, which was majority republican as recently as 1966, will have zero GOP members. it's also ominmous to note that the dem structural advantage this year (33 Class II elections and 2 Class I special elections with 23 GOP seats and 12 Dem seats) gets reversed in 2012 (only 9 GOP and 24 Dem Class I seats right nwo). The first term is the place to make your legacy, Senator!

New policy

My favorite part of blogging are the emails from people who read this stuff and send me their thoughts. Sometimes (usually based on the amount of free time I have) I'll post those emails. I have always done so anonymously, with the vague "a friend writes in" or something like that. This is boring, and causes problems when I need to use a pronoun to later describe that friend, lest I reveal gender. So, I'm now going to attribute emails to fictional people that have no relation to the gender, age, location, or opinion of the writer.


"How do you prove a guy's a pirate before he actually attacks a ship?"
Indeed, Admiral Mark Fitzgerald of NATO, how do you? In days of yore, of course, you could distinguish a pirate by his parrot, luxurious beard, stentorian nose, salty language, and love of ham, but nowadays, pirates are a bit harder to identify.

They say that evolution is a race to stay in place. It seems like the pirates are always one step ahead.

Liberals should be happy they won and then shut up

Continuing on this theme that America is a conservative nation, and Democrats only win by, I dunno, accident or something, Michael Gerson writes in today's Washington Post:
Following an electoral victory, Obama is likely to face a massive challenge: The least responsible, least respected, least popular political institution in America -- the Democratic-led Congress -- would also be the most emboldened. Democratic leaders with large majorities would be pushed by conviction and hubris, and pressured by Democratic constituencies, toward divisive measures that punish and alienate businesses, seek backward-looking political vengeance and impose cultural liberalism. This predictable story of overreach, backlash and bitterness easily could destroy Obama's presidency, even before his first achievements -- unless he can suddenly find the ability to shape, tame, even fight, the self-destructive tendencies of his own party.
First, I take issue with his categorization of a Democrat-led Congress as the least popular institution in America. Yes, if you ask Americans what they think of Congress, it is pretty damn negative, down there in Bush-territory. But if you ask them how their Congressman is doing, they give high marks -- indeed, the reason we're looking at a Democrat-led Congress in an Obama administration is that most of the people there will be re-elected (and the ones that aren't are overwhelmingly Republican).

Why is it so hard for Michael Gerson, and anyone else, to believe that people are actually voting for Democrats because they believe that Democrats have good ideas for running the country? It appears that people do want the financial industry to be subject to regulation, an increase in the progressivity of the tax code, enforcement of environmental laws, action on climate change, progressive views on the Supreme Court, etc. etc. Gerson seems to be suggesting that the Democrats should reject everything they've been campaigning on and, I dunno, just try to hold the ball for as long as they can until Republicans take over again? His message is even worse for Obama -- just don't try anything, Congress will overwhelm you.

Two problems with this. First, if anything has been a problem over the past 8 years, it has been that Congress lost its spine and let the executive branch do anything it wanted. So I'm a bit dubious that, all of a sudden, Congress will be calling the shots. Second, implicit in Gerson's argument (and explicit in similar arguments made by others) is the comparison to Clinton's first term, when he too had a Democrat majority upon taking office, but promply blew it, leading to the 1994 GOP takeover. I don't think this is a terribly valid comparison though. Clinton and Obama are vastly different people in terms of temperment and leadership style. Also, many of the Democrats that lost in '94 were from places that we now recognize as not terribly Democratic -- Southern states, rural areas, etc., that were still lagging behind the North/South switch in party ID that had been occurring since Nixon. I think today's Democrat majority is much more solid, both in terms of number and ideology (I'm not saying it is monolithic or imperturbable, but simply moreso than in '94).

Anyway, Obama, when you win, I'd recommend trying to do some of the things you said you'd do...

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Is Obama conservative?

This question is something I'm going to start addressing hopefully quite a bit. Part of my desire to answer this question is that it is something the MSM seems pretty intent on arguing, that Obama will only be successful if he governs like this is a "center-right" country, a phrase you hear a lot. Indeed, look at the cover of the new Newsweek. Since this general topic has been on my mind, this article is a great place to start. An excerpt:

Conservatives are increasingly sounding like they're stuck in the 1980s, as they warn against the creeping tide of socialism and denounce Obama's tax plan as "welfare." You almost expect to hear John McCain take the stage to a pulsing Richard Marx tune, then start reciting lines from "Red Dawn." It may have reached its apogee when, in her debate with Joe Biden, Sarah Palin quoted Reagan on the danger that if we're not careful, one day we'll be telling our children and grandchildren about a time when America was free. What was Reagan warning against in that quote? The passage of Medicare, one of the most successful and popular programs in U.S. history, brought to you courtesy of big-government liberals.

When conservatives take stands like these, so far from the American mainstream, the Beltway acolytes of the Church of Centrism never seem to mind. Will a GOP defeat be greeted with columns by Jon Meacham and his ilk instructing Republicans sternly that they need to abandon their ideology and move to the center, lest they permanently alienate themselves from the public?

To give the short answer to my posed question, no, I don't think that Obama will govern as a conservative. Some (Andrew Sullivan, for one) argue that Obama is fundamentally conservative, but I really think that if Reagan, Gingrich, & Bush don't fit into your definition of conservative, then your definition isn't very good.

Real America

A recent talking point from the McCain campaign -- especially the Palin half, but including many surrogates -- has been the emphasis on "real" America. Apparently, you cannot be a real American if you live in a city (did you know that 10% of all Americans live in either the LA or NY Metro region?), and while it haven't heard this directly stated, I'm 99% percent sure that one cannot be a real American if you've spent any amount of time at Harvard (or MIT or Hamilton, but probably not enough real Americans have heard of those places, so they are a poor identification tool). Clearly, I'm out.

I don't want to dissect what a stupid talking point this is from a demographic, governance, or common sense standpoint, but rather, how stupid is this from either a short-term or long-term political perspective? Though never said, "real" America means white America. Everyone knows this, the white people who are hearing it at Palin's rallies, and the non-white people who aren't at Palin's rallies and hear about it in the news. Is the Republican party really going to further alienate "minority" voters? I put minority in quotes because we are not all that far off from having an electorate that is majority-minority. Currently, whites make up 68% of all Americans, and that number continues to go down (Pew predicts that by 2050 whites will be 47% of the country).

Case in point, Latino voters. They make up a big chunk of New Mexico, a state that McCain has long ago conceeded, and are more and more important in Colorado. When they hear Palin talk about real Americans, do you think they feel like they're part of that conversation?

I have no readily-available facts to back me up on this (although I'm sure that a few people reading will be able to do so), but political party identification seems like something that doesn't change very much over the course of an individual's lifetime. Right now, minority voters of all ethnicities, are flocking to the Democratic party and are quite likely to stay there for a very long time. As their share of the electorate goes up, the situation only bleakens (is that a word?) for the GOP. Now, they could attempt to stem the tide, mitigate their losses, etc., but rather it seems like they're holding a losing hand and going all-in anyway.

Random thought, that I'll do a little research on.... solely from the two criteria I noted above that favor Democrats -- city-dwellers and minorities -- doesn't it seem like Texas could start to turn blue eventually? Yes, I'm 99% dubious of this, and perhaps my characterization of Texas demographics are way off, but I'll look into it anyway...

Monday, October 20, 2008

Can McCain count?

McCain has long given up on Iowa and New Mexico, two Bush states. Add these to the Kerry states and Obama has 264 EVs. But now CNN is reporting that McCain is giving up on Colorado. Colorado is worth 9 EVs... meaning that McCain is giving Obama 273 EVs. Um, you only need 270 to win. No Kerry states look even close -- Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Minnesota -- there is no reason for McCain to think he can pick off one of these states. And let's note that Obama is currently leading in Virginia, Missouri, and North Carolina, and tied in Florida, Ohio, and Nevada.

Let's say that something happens in the final two weeks to tighten up the race and makes any of these calculations worth figuring out (if nothing happens and the polls look like they do today, Obama gets >350 EVs). Okay, now McCain is back in it... except he has abandoned states that he'll need in order to actually win the election. If the election turns, North Carolina, Missouri, etc. will likely fall back in line -- but Colorado, Virginia, etc. don't. This is like a football team, when they are down by 9, insisting on scoring the touchdown first and going for it on fourth and 15 instead of kicking the FG. It doesn't matter how little you lose by, it only matters if you win. He is insane to be pulling out of Colorado, it is a state he absolutely needs.

2008 Red Sox, R.I.P.

One regret from this series is Mike Lowell's absence. Kotsay didn't look horrible filling in, but the results were pretty crappy -- no RBI, 20 men left on base. It is safe to assume that Lowell would have performed better than that (hell, he couldn't have been worse). Troubles for next year include centerfield -- Ellsbury isn't ready to lead-off, and Crisp's ceiling is pretty low; catcher -- Varitek had a great career, but is cooked; shortstop -- Lowrie doesn't have the range to be a plus defensive SS, and who knows what Lugo's deal is; DH -- how hurt is Papi, can it be fixed, etc. On the plus side, the Sox have a solid 1-2-3 starting rotation (assuming Beckett's health problem is relatively minor) and a lights-out closer, so the fundamentals of the pitching staff are sound.

Back to politics...

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Liveblog - ALCS Game 7: Rays 3, Sox 1

Three closing thoughts:
1) That called third strike to Kotsay was way outside
2) Should Tampa fans really celebrate when none of them can name more than half the roster?
3) You score 1 run, you deserve to lose. I'll give it 72 hours before we learn what surgery Papi needs.

Obama '08.

PS Apparently had some problems, so we kinda jumped from the 5th to the 8th... well, my rants weren't exactly Shakespeare, and I guess you get what you pay for...

Bot 8: Okay, either way this works out, it is not safe for my laptop to be in my lap because it is too convenient a projectile... Postgame commentary (rant) at the end...

Top 8: I guess Garza is out there to get out Cora, who was in there because he can hit fastballs, except for the fact that he can't. Whoa! Big E6! Somewhere, some Cora-fan (somewhere in the universe, that person exists) is claiming that Cora's sense of the game caused him to hit an easy groundball to SS, knowing full-well it'd be booted. C'mon Coco, don't suck... While we wait for the warm up, I'll note that back in the day (say, mid-2005) you'd just start counting how the Sox could get to Papi, because if you could, you'd feel good. Now, not so much... C'mon Cocobean... One problem I have with Coco, it seems to me that on the pitches he fouls off, if he had made 'good' contact, they would have been pop-ups on the infield...hey, a seeing eye single for us!!! Do you walk Pedey to get to Ortiz? ha ha... no, i'm serious... FUCKING POP UP!!! Can Ortiz just at least not GIDP so Youk can hit? C'mon Papi, hit smart! Your wrist is too screwed up for you to hit a homer, you just can't hit a good pitch, you can only hit screw ups. So don't try, else you'll whiff or hit into a DP. Use your frickin' brain boss... Ick, down 0-2 looking at a strike and swinging at a ball... prediction, Papi will look at strike 3 on outside corner... it is so sad to see Papi as a shell of his former self... 2-2 count... weak grounder to second... not sure that was the right play, and Coco was actually safe if he slides to the bag, the moron. Replays further confirm that if Coco had a good slide he's safe... Youk at 3-0 now, green light? swing at ball 4 to fill the count... ball4, bases juiced for Drew (my brain is exploding). Holy shit, this is unbelievable, a hit ties it (shoudln't we pinch run for Papi, since he can't hit anyway?), an out and we likely lose. WHAT< style="font-style: italic;">will Papi do anything? C'mon boss, do something for me here!!! PAPI, TRY TO HIT AN OUTSIDE PITCH TO THE OPPOSITE FIELD!!!! I think Ron Darling is mocking Buck Martinez by also pronouncing his name OR-teez. Jeezus he looks bad up there... Full count now, Garza at 99 pitches... FUCK FUCK FUCK, Papi whiffs on a horrible pitch. Rays 2, Sox 1; FG: 26%; Garza 100

Bot 5: Shit, another leadoff hit. Better a double than a walk, though, as the latter score more often... Really, the catcher just got an infield hit?! Hey Rocco, I think your mitochondria are feeling tired... Seeing eye single to take the lead... such shit...Caray just asks how big two out hits are in the postseason, despite there being no outs in this inning... C'mon Lester, two pitches: K, DP...Okay there's the K. Huge leverage situation here, two outs, men on second and third: a hit and you're screwed, with LBJ up to bat. Do not f'ing intentionally walk Upton! NICE! Okay, couldda been much worse... Rays 2, Sox 1; FG 34%; Lester @ 83

Top 5: I'd love for someone to figure out if scoring-after-your-opponent-scores correlates at all with winning (as opposed to scoring an inning after they score or what have you) because if the Red Sox score here, the Talking Heads will love it. Hey, um, we haven't had a base hit since the first... but now we have Alex Cora, Fastball Hitter Extraordinaire, is batting... and looking at fastballs whiz by him... Sox 1, Rays 1; FG 43%; Garza @ 75 (9 pitch inning; wtf?)

Bot 4: Rays get their first hit, and a leadoff one at that. Now El BJ is up... He's really due for a GDP... or a K. A K works too. Ah fuck, Longoria hits it the one place a guy can score from first. Tek may not have optimally set up for that throw... Ok Lester, get out of this while we still have the tie. The ump just blocked Youk getting to that pop-up. Stupid fat ass (the ump). Sox 1, Rays 1; FG 50%; Lester @ 63 pitches.

Top 4: Couldn't find anything definitive on Rocco's broken mightychondria. I found a website for people with this problem, but nothing specific. It seems to be incredibly vague, in that I can think of a lot of ways in which your mitochondria can be f'd up, so the causative genetic abnormality is likely to differ from patient to patient. Garza is dealing too, btw. One total hit though 21 outs... Sox 1, Rays 0; FG: 57%; Garza 66 pitches

Bot 3: There's a guy in an Obama shirt sitting right behind home plate. I would think this is just a coincidence, but the guy is advertising on video games, so you never know. BTW, how many nails can McCain's electoral coffin hold, because Powell on MTP was about another dozen. Does anyone know what Baldelli's mitochondrial disorder actually is? I mean, is the gene known? I'll look into this... Lester cruising Sox 1, Rays 0; FG: 62%

Top 3: TBS crew says that Francona likes to start Cora against pitchers with fastballs. Now, they may have heard someone say that, but I've never heard that before, and I'm pretty sure I know more about the Red Sox, as someone who follows the team day-to-day, than these hosers. Oh, every pitcher throws fastballs, and if Francona thought Lowrie couldn't hit a fastball, I'm pretty sure he'd still be in AAA. But otherwise, great point. Coco goes down again, ofertwo from the leadoff spot. Caray just called Pedroia "little horse" and the wife got angry (apparently she likes Pedroia... and is now noting how similar we look. Beer #3 about to be opened). The little horse got hbp on the bicep, which still almost resulted in a home run, that's how awemvpsome he is (for the record, I don't think Pedroia should win the MVP). The little horse gallops to second, stealing the base. Ortiz whiffs on a bad pitch. I'm a bit worried that his one HR has given him a false sense of confidence. Clearly, he's not right, and the less he tries to hit it over everyone's head and the more he tries to hit it where they ain't -- the entire left side of the infield -- the better off we'll be. Sox 1, Rays 0; FG: 56%; Garza at 54 pitches

Bot 2: Still no word from the announcers why Cora is in there. Can you imagine -- and I guess if you are a Dodgers fan, with Vin Scully, you can -- what it would be like to just have one guy in the booth? How great would that be?! Although, I think Sox fans are spoiled because Don & Remy are really good on NESN. I don't know why they feel the need to bring in 'national' (read: know-nothing) announcers for the playoffs. Why can't we just have the home team announce? Lester has an easy second, he's pitching smoothly. Sox 1, Rays 0; FG: 61%

Top 2: The albino physicist hawking Sharp products is just damn weird. They're replaying the home plate ump getting hurt last night -- why don't NFL officials get hurt, like, on every play? They're mostly all old men (with day jobs as lawyers) and they are surrounded by giant men, in pads, trying to kill each other. Garza has removed the ear plugs. Sox going quickly here in the second... Buck Martinez thinks that catchers and shortstops don't ever need to hit to contribute, and doesn't really follow up on that. Buck Martinez is a bit dumb. Garza averages just under 3 walks per 9, so walks will have to come after multiple foul balls. A buddy and I once wondered if fouling balls off is a specific skill -- i.e. can you try to fould balls off, or at you just making contact when other batters would whiff? I write this as Tek is battling nicely into a full count... and Ks looking. Sox 1, Rays 0; FG: 55%

Bot 1: A bit surprised to see Cora in there at short. Lowrie hasn't done crap at the plate, but Cora is no great shakes either. Can we just walk Upton? At least from the first two batters, this is the good Lester tonight, in that he's hitting Varitek's glove. Upton gives it a ride, but because the pitch was away, he couldn't get it out. Ron Darling thinks Lester looks good so far. Nice first inning, three up, three down. 1-0 Sox; 60% chance of winning from Fangraphs

Top 1: Auspicious sign for Garza, wearing earplugs for a home game. The wife just had an excellent question -- where's the ump who got hurt yesterday? Dunno.... and GONE FOR PEDROIA! I wonder if Garza can hear the crack of the bat through his ear plugs... Garza had to work in first, that's good, throwing 20 pitches. 1 - 0 Sox after a half.

Okay, can the Sox pull this off? They have the right guy on the mound in Lester. Garza throws heat, but doesn't particularly scare me. The strength of the Rays staff is their bullpen, and they've been quite uneven for the past two games. Not sure how much gas is left in the Sox pen either, though, but remember, Lester is going with extra rest, so if he's on, he can go for awhile. Let's go Sox!

ALCS Game 6: Sox 4, Rays 2

Well there is no doubt that Josh Beckett is hurting from something -- his fastball never touched 95, and he can usual dial it up to 97 -- his location was pretty sharp and he only gave up four hits (two solo HRs, though). The Sox offense continued to show signs of life, led by, I kid you not, Coco Crisp, doing his job in the leadoff spot. Yes, they left a good number of men on base, but at least they had men on base.

One of the most interesting developments in this postseason, and something that Francona signaled in Game 1 of the ALDS, is the reliance on Justin Masterson as the 8th inning guy. Okijima pitched two innings last night, so he could only go for an inning tonight, and Masterson threw a lot of pitches in his one inning, so I doubt he'd be used for more than an inning, but Papelbon had a quick 9th, so I wouldn't be surprised if he's used for 1+ in game 7.

In elimination games, Francona is 9-1. Wow. (4-0 against the Yankees in '04, 0-1 against the ChiSox in '05, 3-0 against the Indians in '07, 2-0 against the Rays in '08).

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Small change

I noticed that Obama has been running ads that have the legally necessary "I'm Barack Obama and I approve this message" at the beginning of the ad instead of at the end. I think this is particularly effective, especially in ads about your opponent. It makes the attack seem less politically motivated and more factual. Subtle, to be sure, but watch this ad and tell me if you think it would be less effective if, instead of fading to black after McCain says that he voted with Bush 90% of the time, instead you had Obama saying the legally necessary line. To be sure, these things don't win elections, but paying attention to details certainly doesn't hurt.

Gotcha journalism

Sarah Palin is scheduled to appear on SNL (not host the whole show, just appear for a skit or two). Wouldn't it be great if Brian Williams also made a guest appearance and just started asking her questions? I mean, most of Tina Fey's material has been directly repeating Palin's ramblings during interviews.

I'm sure Palin will be great, in that she'll make me laugh. But she's got a lot of practice at making me laugh, usually without trying.

Schrodinger is observing you

Marc Ambinder, a great source of general political information and analysis from The Atlantic runs a blog that is particularly noteworthy for almost never taking a point of view. He calls it a 'reported blog on politics' and that is quite accurate. While I personally think he's an Obama guy, I think he writes in a non-partisan enough way that McCain people might also think he's a pro-McCain guy.

Anyway, his recent post regarding some McCain surrogates' comments about real and, I guess, "unreal" America caused this post. If you're a fan of physics, you'll probably like it.

George Will beats a tourist with his hickory walking stick

In a recent column, George Will reviews a new visitor center built at Gettysburg. At the end, he laments how stupid some of his fellow site visitors were, by relating the story of a visitor who:
said it is amazing that so many great battles, such as Antietam and Chickamauga and Shiloh, occurred on Park Service land; and another visitor who doubted that the fighting here really was fierce because there are no bullet marks on the monuments.

Living in a town containing quite a few historical landmarks, I too have hear such moronic utterances. My favorite was a couple wondering why they decided to put Granary cemetery next to all these tall buildings.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Game 5 ALCS: Did you see it?

Yes or no, did you see one of the greatest comebacks ever, or had you gone to bed?

Fangraphs is a great site that calculates the probability of a team winning as the game progresses. Going into the bottom of the 7th, the Sox has a 0.6% chance of winning the game:

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Litmus test

Schieffer brought up, very directly, the issue of abortion, Roe v. Wade, and the Supreme Court. McCain answered first:

SCHIEFFER: All right. Let's stop there and go to another question. And this one goes to Senator McCain. Senator McCain, you believe Roe v. Wade should be overturned. Senator Obama, you believe it shouldn't. Could either of you ever nominate someone to the Supreme Court who disagrees with you on this issue? Senator McCain?
MCCAIN: I would never and have never in all the years I've been there imposed a litmus test on any nominee to the court. That's not appropriate to do.
SCHIEFFER: But you don't want Roe v. Wade to be overturned?
MCCAIN: I thought it was a bad decision. I think there were a lot of decisions that were bad. I think that decisions should rest in the hands of the states. I'm a federalist. And I believe strongly that we should have nominees to the United States Supreme Court based on their qualifications rather than any litmus test.
Now, I am sure that if Obama were asked the question first, he too would have made this weird distinction between a litmus test and qualifications. Wtf is the difference? This topic comes up every time there's a new nominee to the court, and everyone agrees that we shouldn't have litmus tests and is on the lookout for people who are hiding their litmus-testing intentions.

As far as I can tell, a "litmus test" means "someone's thoughts on a specific court case, either in the past or potentially pending." "Qualifications" means "someone's judgement on..." well, it is not clear on what basis their judgement should be judged on, since judging them on judicial cases would be too litmusy. Perhaps he vetting administration should ask them logic questions? Time them on Sodoku?

Was this inevitable?

A while back, in the immediate post-RNC environment when the race was essentially dead-even, I debated (here and here) whether or not Obama should be doing better. I want to return to his question, but from the other side. Should McCain be doing better, or perhaps better said, could McCain have made wiser choices during his campaign that would have left him in better position to pull off the upset? The answer to that, in my mind, is a resounding yes.

First and foremost was his pick of Sarah Palin. In the very short term it seems to have helped him, but now she is an anchor. In the most recent CBS/NYT poll, she had a 32/41 Fav/Unfav rating, and other polls taken around the same times showed generally similar results; Biden, by contrast, scored 42/21 in that same poll. I think it is pretty obvious that the Gibson interview set them up and the Couric interview knocked them down in terms of turning swing voters away from Palin -- her inane answers dominated political discourse for about two weeks. Further, her obvious idiocy (not her obvious inexperience) is what prevented the McCain campaign from continuing its theme that Obama is not ready. The contrast became brains, not resume, and that is something Obama could readily win. There is also the lost opportunity of putting Palin on the ticket, when he could have chosen someone like Romney. Now, I can't stand Romney (and neither can McCain, apparently) but a McCain-Romney ticket would be much more formidable during a discussion of economics in the eyes of swing voters. Let's say that Obama has a 7 point lead right now -- swap in Romney for Palin, and there is no way Obama's lead is larger and it is quite likely that McCain would be within 3 points.

Let's also examine what McCain has decided to make his signature policy issues. Uh, hmmm... what is McCain's signature policy issue? Perhaps porkbarrelearmarkspending? Drill baby drill? I don't really know, and I know for sure that swing voters don't know. However, you ask me to name one of Obama's signature issues, and I can recall four times (the 3 debates, the DNC), on national TV, that he has looked into the camera and said, "Let me be clear, I want to cut taxes for 95% of Americans. If you make under 250,000 a year, you won't see your taxes go up one dime." [I didn't really look that up, but I betcha that my quote is pretty doggone close] I would not be surprised if far more swing voters can identify that policy with Obama more than any policy associated with McCain.

Another strike against McCain is that he has performed poorly in the debates. He has been cranky, he stumbles over his words, he makes jarring transitions from topic to topic (I swear, last night he started off a sentence talking about William Ayres and ended it with something about strengthening our economy). All polls of undecideds, after all three debates, have shown that Obama won [grain of salt -- I have no idea how good or accurate these polls are, but since Obama's national numbers from reputable tracking polls kept going up, I guess we can conclude that they are not totally off].

I think you add up those three things -- the VP pick, message discipline, and debate performance -- and you could plausibly argue that in an alternate universe, McCain could be close or even ahead. Whether or not that is a knock on Obama (i.e. McCain is losing this race, Obama is not winning it) is debateable I suppose, but the concepts are certainly not mutally exclusive.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Debate III: Quick thoughts

First, Schieffer was by far the best moderator. His questions were direct, and the format that allowed the candidates to talk to each like (i.e. debate) made for some good exchanges and contrasts.

McCain seemed particularly angry, and someone should explain to him that Downs Syndrome is not the same as autism.

Obama was his usual cool self. He also spent far more time looking into the camera.

This race was over before the debate. It is still over.

By the way, there is nothing funnier than watching the networks interview undecided voters in these focus groups immediately post-debate. Or terrifying. Actually, it is terrifying.

Debate III: How crazy will This One get?

No live-blogging tonight, as dinner at JP's Ten Tables awaits. I may just watch the debate on 3x speed when I get home, and unless I see images of Obama using a dead puppy to molest a choir boy, I'll assume that nothing has changed.

Perhaps I'll live-blog the end of the Red Sox season tomorrow night. It probably won't matter, but I really don't know what Maddon is thinking by switching his rotation to start Kazmir at Fenway; then again, he's been right about pretty much everything else.

Why vote

The equation-heavy writer specifically asked me to respond to the math, so I will, at least to start. I have no problem with the equations (hell, I'd be lying if I said that bothered to go through them and see if they are true) but I have some problems with the assumptions. For example, in the 1,000,000 people voting example in an exactly 50-50 election, the chance of your vote making a difference is ~one in a thousand. These odds are then waved away by noting that once the odds move away from exactly 50-50, the chances of your vote making the difference drop precipitously. But how are you to know in advance if the election is 50-50 or not? Certainly polls can be a guide (i.e. we know that New York will not be close in this presidential election) but surprises about turn-out, likely voter models, etc. happen all the time. Second, the odds of your vote mattering increase greatly the fewer number of voters there are -- in other words, exactly what occurs in most local races. Hell, most congressman have fewer than 1,000,000 people in their district, not to mention things like state legislatures, town council, etc. So to say that one's vote doesn't matter seems to dismiss the importance of local politics on the overall state of the country and direct effect on your life.

But really, my quibble is not with the math at all, but with the implicit cognitive dissonance. Voting takes, what, 20 minutes? This represents 0.0038% of the all the minutes in a year. Unless the same rational calculations are applied to the other 525,580 minutes, it seems a bit bizarre to insist that voting reach some mathematical likelihood of significance threshold when clearly many other daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly activities do not. Indeed, I imagine that it took longer for the emailer to bang out all those equations than it would have to vote!

I think the key reason for why most people vote was hit on in the other email I posted:

Basically, people feel good about themselves when they vote, in the Ben Barber "participatory democracy" sense (even if the election is a huge blowout, there are important individual and group benefits to having people push the lever).

There is a undeniable biological drive for humans to want to be part of a larger group, whether that be a church, allegiance to a local sports team, whatever. Certainly it made survival sense in our evolutionary past, and the psychological benefits of it are still with us, and voting is just one more way of engaging in society. At the very least, while probably not as good as random-guy-with-baby, random-guy-voting is probably not a bad way to meet women.

Of course, why most people vote is no argument either for or against the rationality of voting, it is simply my guess at an explanation. But I would submit that rational vs. irrational behavior only makes sense in the context of an end goal. For example, if you have $1000 sitting around and have decided that your goal is to attempt to increase that dollar amount, there are rational decisions that could be made -- paying off your mortgage, putting it in a savings account, investing it in the stock market -- which will all have pros and cons which could be rationally determined. There are also, of course, irrational ways of attempting to grow your money -- giving it to me to bet in Saratoga, for example.

But if we eliminate the goal, or at least define so fuzzily as 'the happiness in your life', the concept of rational and irrational goes out the window. If you have $1000 and are deciding between the goal of investing and the goal of pleasing your wife by getting her a really nice birthday present, there's really not a rational vs. irrational decision to be made, but rather a weighing of priorities. I would argue that voting is much more a 'weighing of the priorities of my free time' than a 'rational calculation of if my vote will matter.'

More on voting

Another friend writes in:
My god, more trees have been killed by political scientists trying to figure out how voting could possibly be rational. It boils down to four points.
1) The straight math --- and you don't need any equations to get there --- says it isn't rational, unless the costs are incredibly low. And having to spend 10 minutes walking to a polling place probably destroys the incredibly low argument for any mass election.
2) Nevertheless, people vote. Meaning they are either irrational or we are missing something in our equations. We've already ruled out the possibility that the costs are so low that the longshot possibility of breaking a tie is worth it. An related argument is that the massive individual effect of breaking a tie if it happened would justify the occasional trivial costs. This argument is probably weak. Alternative hypotheses, however, are not in short supply
3) Most of the alternative hypotheses reduce to an argument that particularized benefits exist for voting, we just don't see them clearly the way we do with large campaign donations. (One might wonder if it rational to donate small amounts to a campaign; the particularized benefit clearly appears for huge donations, but what about $100 donors?) The most commonly reference benefit is the psychological benefit of civic virtue. Basically, people feel good about themselves when they vote, in the Ben Barber "participatory democracy" sense (even if the election is a huge blowout, there are important individual and group benefits to having people push the lever). Another particularized benefit is the feeling of belonging or partisan attachment, in the "I voted for Obama so I'm part of his democratic coalition that is going to change america" or "I stopped the evil fascist-socialist-neo-neoconservaitve-radical-conservative GOP" sense.
4) A second group of hypotheses assert that voting is perfectly rational and, in fact, in equilibrium: if everyone believes that everyone else will act individually rationally, they must assume that no one is going to show up at the polls. But if no one shows up at the polls, then any individual vote becomes extremely powerful, so it becomes rational to vote. But this cannot be universalized, since we'd be back at square one. Therefore, individuals use a mixed strategy of voting or not voting.

Fuzzy Math

Not surprisingly, my argument for voting for Obama -- or perhaps, simply voting -- has prompted some replies. Here's one that specifically goes over the math for why it is essentially idiotic to ever vote:
I'll walk you through the calculations below. Let me apologize in advance for not breaking down each step in detail, but typing equations on a computer is a bitch. I assure you that I have not cheated and that my calculations are accurate, but if you really don't believe me, I can send you a pdf with more detail.

Anyway, in order for a single person's vote to "count" in an election (i.e. influence the outcome), that person's vote must break an exact tie. The probability of an exact tie can be calculated using the binomial distribution formula:

Probability of exactly n = x = [N! / ((n!)(N-n)!)] * [(p^n)(1-p)^(N-n)]

where N = the total number of people voting
n = the number people voting for a candidate Joe Blow
p = the probability of a someone voting for a candidate Joe Blow

In the case of an tied election, N = 2n and N - n = n

In which case the formula simplifies to:

x = [(2n)! / (n!)(n!)] * [((p)^n )(1-p)^n )]

Since factorials for large n cannot be calculated numerically by any normal calculator, use the Stirling's approximation for n!:

n! ~ ((2*pi*n)^.5) * (n/e)^n , which is extremely accurate for large n.

Plugging that in yields:

x = [(4(p - p^2))^n] / [(pi*n)^.5] (Eq. 1)

Now if the probability of someone voting for Joe Blow is exactly p = .5, then the formula simplifies to:

x = 1 / [(pi*n)^.5] (Eq. 2)

So let's say that you live in a relatively small state in which 1,000,000 people vote and the probability of someone voting for Joe Blow is exactly p = .5. In that case, the probability of an exact tie is about 1/1,253.

That seems like a pretty decent chance, right? Yes, but unfortunately it only holds true if p is exactly .5. If p varies even slightly, the probability of a tie drops dramatically. For example, if p = .51, the probability of a tie is about 1x10^(-90). (Note: I calculated that number by taking the log of both sides of Eq.1 before plugging in the numbers, which takes advantage of the fact that log (a^b) = b * log (a), and avoids the problem of trying to calculate something to the 500,000th power.)

The situation is even worse if you live in a large state like NY (number of voters ~ 7,500,000) in which the population strongly favors one candidate (I'll be conservative and say p = .55). In that case, the probability of a tie is about 1x10^(-16371), or in layman's terms, a decimal followed by 16371 zeros!

And the above calculations have not even taken into account (a) the probability of a particular state's electoral votes being decisive or (b) the probability, in the event of a very close election, of vote recounters or the Supreme Court screwing with the numbers and rendering your decisive vote not so decisive.
My reply, and a further expansion of this topic, later today...

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

ALCS Game 4: I'm going to bed before it ends, this is hell

Through 5 innings, the Sox had two hits, no walks, and Sonnanstine had thrown 58 pitches. Now with the Rays batting in the 6th, they have scored 9 (and counting) runs, while having scored 9 runs in each of the past two games. If you can't pitch and can't hit, you can't win. On the bright side, I want to give credit to the restraint of the Fenway Faithful, for as far as I can tell, no one has tried to murder Craig Sager (not that he doesn't deserve it).

She would have wanted me to be used this way

Regarding the use of children as attention-getting props, my dad notes:
You were also a bit of a chick magnet at that age. When we lived on the East Side of Providence, I'd wander down to Thayer Street with you in tow and got much the same reaction. I think I crossed the line (jumped the shark?) when I tried selling the line that your mother was tragically lost at Three Mile Island.

Bonus points!

Today is the last day for Early Decision I of the election prediction contest (link on the left sidebar). Will Obama's lead in pretty much all swing states hold up?

Monday, October 13, 2008

My Closing Argument for Obama

On September 11, 2001, a Tuesday, I had a date planned with Powerpoint and my laptop, as I was scheduled to give group meeting the coming Friday. I had my radio tuned to WEEI, the local sports-talk station, and in the background I heard John Dennis mention something about a plane hitting the World Trade Center. The way he announced it made it seem like a small puddle-jumper making a mistake, tragic to be sure, but nothing outside the ordinary. A few minutes later, I answered a phone call from the girlfriend of one of my apartment-mates, asking if we were "watching this." Going to the living room and turning on the TV, we then saw replays of the second plane hitting the towers. The next few hours were a blur, with phone calls, and even worse, attempted phone calls that didn't get through, to friends and family that either worked in NYC or worked in tall buildings anywhere -- at the time, we didn't know, right? There were vague, then confirmed, reports of an attack on the Pentagon, and reports of another plane that had fallen off the screen. One moment I remember most clearly was when I was on the phone with my dad when the first tower fell. It is hard to say if it was the sorrow in my dad's voice -- I had to narrate what was happening to him, as his office had no TV, the 'oh my god' as I told him that the tower was collapsing on itself-- or just the visual itself that has glued that memory into my brain as the epitome of that tragic day. I spent the night at a very dear friends' house, because it wasn't the sort of day that, if at all possible, should close with solitude.

Over the next few years, I would hear people's stories about Where They Were on the day of 9/11. Perhaps the most telling was a night in Queens, over a bottle of Sambuca, with some guys, much older than me, who had been New Yorkers all their lives. As much as I had to say about that day -- about friends who worked right there, about my uncle whose daily commute on the PATH train took him beneath the WTC, about everyone I could think of who just may have been there that day -- the people who lived in NYC had 10x the number of who-they-knews, and had 100x the it-couldda-been-me.

For me, 9/11 too quickly became a symbol for everything that it shouldn't have. I mean, jeez, George Bush won in 2004 running on 9/11, when the 9/11 widows endorsed Kerry! (why he never played that up is reason #1196 why Bob Shrum is a moron). On Election Day 2000, I was following along with Tim Russert on the wipeboard -- hell, Ayres or Zhung, if you're still out there, I may have whipped out the wipeboard before he did -- I was into it, but more in the way one follows a sporting event -- yeah, "life or death" at the time, but really, win lose or draw, tomorrow doesn't change much. Of course, had I known then what I know now about the disastrous foreign and domestic policy that Bush would lead us into, well, I can't say I would have cared more, because trust me, I've hated the state of New Hampshire ever since that day (if their 4 EVs had gone for Gore, Florida would not have mattered). Perhaps I would have been more despondent? In the year following 9/11, I felt particularly American, but that is of course wide-open to interpretation, so here is what I mean:

I grew up in an American household, and I don't mean American in the "my country, right or wrong" sense, because that is idiotic. I mean American in that I grew up learning what it meant to be American, to question tradition and authority -- exhibit A: the topper on our Christmas tree? Not an angel, not a star, not Santa, but Thomas Jefferson (as for my own little American Revolution, John Adams sits atop my proto-family's evergreen in December). America isn't about family name opening doors for you, it is about your actions determining your fate -- so screw you George Bush, having your way paved for you even though you never had to work for anything, and as Molly Ivins put it best, a guy who "woke up on third base thinking he had hit a triple." And you too, John McCain, who slacked your way into the Naval Academy on the name of your father and managed to finish fifth from the bottom. America was founded by Ben Franklin -- a guy who showed up with no money in his pocket and got by on his brains alone; by Alexander Hamilton -- someone so smart that even on a dinky island in the Caribbean, his talent was so noticeable that he found a patron to send him to America for an education; by George Washington -- a wealthy landowner who had everything to lose and nothing to gain from joining the rebel cause, and upon his retirement from the head of army at the end of the Revolution, King George III said "if he does that, he will be the greatest man in the world." America was a country founded not by gods but by humanity that, under the watchful eye of posterity, demanded the best of itself.

Now I look at the current election, an election still in the shadow of 9/11 even if it is not the topic of the day of the commentariat. I think, what if Obama were president on that day? What would he have asked of us, as Americans? What would the son of a single mother -- a man who has fought for, and earned, everything he has ever achieved -- what would he have asked us to do on that day? There is no doubt that we are -- as we always are, whether we recognize it or not -- at the precipice of crisis. Don't we want a leader who has always demanded the best of himself? Don't we want someone who is not taken to ideology, whether it be in the realm of economics, or warfare, or religion, and rather someone who sees pragmatism as the surest way to achieve broadly-appreciated ends?

There are those who won't vote for Obama because they think he's a Muslim, but even more distressing, there are those who won't for Obama because they think one of the following: a) my vote doesn't count, and I perceive myself as too mathematically literate for you to convince me otherwise; b) Obama is just another [insert liberal politician] and I won't vote for that. To both the former and the latter, I say you're cowards. There have always been people like you, and you have sat on the sidelines as America decided between Tories and Minutemen, slave and free, Union and Confederacy, democracy and fascism, civil rights and Jim Crow, the expedience of industry and the very health of our planet Earth. If you don't see a difference, if you don't look at the past 8 years and think that your vote can make a difference, then you're not the smart one, you're not the iconoclast you fashion yourself to be, you're simply too chicken shit to choose a side and believe in something.

ALCS Game 3: Rays 9, Sox 1

I guess the good news is that the Finger of Blame cannot be pointed in any one particular direction. Outside of that, well, not much silver lining. Things that are good:
1) Francona had the brains enough to realize this game was out of reach and didn't burn out the bullpen protecting a 4 run deficit. In related news, the Byrd family will be happy to know that Paul is not dead.
2) Ellsbury, he of the current 0-for-20 streak, is majorly due and I'm sure these dividends will be paid in games 4 through 6.
3) The Red Sox didn't win Game 3 in the ALCS of '04 or '07 either.
4) Big Papi is, um, crap, I can't rationalize this...
5) In 2004, I said -- outloud and repeatedly -- that I would trade a Red Sox win for a Democrat win, and remind you, this was the still-Bambino'd Sox and John "Jean" Kerry -- so yeah, I would defintitely trade Obama for the Sox (and hell, you can have Tom Brady's A&M CL)

Major Major Major Major

My 17-month-old nephew was in town this weekend. He thought the New England Aquarium, filled with fish and sea mammals from all over the world, was kinda cool -- city buses, however, were wide-eyed, jaw-droppingly cool. He also took a serious interest in organizing our spice rack according to an algorithm known only to him -- I have not yet determined if, by taking the first letter of the spice and correlating it to a number via a simple substitution cryptogram, my brilliant nephew has deduced the first 20 digits of pi, but I wouldn't be surprised.

The little guy was, not surprisingly, a total babe magnet. Of course, he's only in my life because I am married. I guess, from the perspective of a single woman, random-guy-with-a-baby (or, to a lesser extent, random-guy-with-a-dog) is probably a better bet than random-guy-at-a-bar, but I'd still have to think that the 'random guy' side of the equation still usually wins (well, loses) out, pretty much regardless of what random guy is doing.