Friday, April 25, 2008

Paris Je T'aime (JM)

Well cowpokes, I am off to Paris for the week. Consequently, you will almost certainly not be hearing from me (okay, maybe one wine-sodden post from an internet cafe). Hopefully Dennis will keep you sated over the next week or so. I promise the following things:

1. I will offend French people, I am Jewish, I like America and I am, unshockingly, partial to saying whatever pops in to my head with little or no filter. I fully intend to try and discuss politics, American, French and world while there. I will report back, with hopefully humorous stories.

2. I am going to go to some of my favorite historical sites and will probably be inspired to write about French history, you will all be very pleased to read such exciting posts.

3. I am going to London for a couple of days as well. I have e-mailed Daniel Finkelstein and challenged him a game of chess. We shall see if he responds. Failing that I offered to buy him a drink. I really, really hope he writes back. I suspect he won't, but you know... maybe.

I suspect I will miss writing as much if not way more than y'all miss reading, so enjoy your weeks and I will speak to you on Thursday!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

This Is a Dreadful Idea (JM)

Dear Bunch of People From Other Countries Who Are Calling Here to Convince Us to Vote For Obama,

I know you really like Barack Obama, he's exotic and liberal, he is just like you! He is basically a European's European. That's fine, you have a right to like people, I like foreigners. I would, for instance, vote for Dame Maggie Smith to run Britain, with the assistance of Lord Alan Rickman (I know he is not a Lord, but he should be). Anyway, let's say I even agreed that you have a right to try and influence our election, which I don't, but it's pretty irrelevant. You can't. I mean seriously, if you're calling a Hillary or swing voter this little script of yours probably won't be all that successful. To prove my point, a play:

Indiana Joe: Ach, who is this? It's four o'clock in the morning!

British Obama Supporter (for sake of convenience, let's just call him Daniel): Well, jolly good day sir, my watcherola says it's nine AM here. Anyhoo, if you can spare a minute I would like to tell you just how Barack Obama can improve the world.

Indiana Joe: Are you kidding me, it's four AM?!

Daniel: Sir, please don't be so Amerocentric, I said it was nine AM, so nine AM it is. You see sir, hope for the international community is so important. Are you aware that America's standing in the world has been declining steadily due to your arrogant foreign policies?

Indiana Joe: Is this Mickey?! Are you drunk? I have to fucking work in the morning. This isn't funny!

Daniel: Golly gee sir, no I am Daniel, and this isn't funny. It's dreadfully important. You see, I feel that Barack Obama would be a good influence on our government and make us a whole lot cheerier with you?

Indiana Joe: Are you serious? Is this really some British person telling me who I should vote for at 4 AM?! Why would I care who you want me to vote for, I work at a factory part time and make 22 thousand dollars a year! I have three kids to support.

Daniel: Well I don't think you understand our perspective here. There is more than just America to consider. Think of it this way, Barack Obama inspires thoughts of Britain's greatest Prime Minister, Lord Palmerston.

Indiana Joe: Lord Palmerston?! Try, Pitt the Elder!

Daniel: Lord Palmerston!!

Indiana Joe: Pitt the Elder!!

Lawyer: Excuse me gentlemen, I represent the estate of Matt Groening, you are quite guilty of copyright infringement.

Daniel: See, yet another reason to support Barack Obama.

Indiana Joe: This is insane, how did that lawyer even get on my phone? Also I am a Hillary supporter.

Daniel: Well one of the positives of Barack Obama is he is not a lying, cheating monster like Hillary Clinton. Also did I mention that Muslims in Holland love him?

Indiana Joe: Muslims love him?

Daniel: Oh yes, in all international polls he is by far the preferred candidate. In Europe, Africa and the Middle East!

Indiana Joe: Oh... I see.

Daniel: Yes, well I do rightfully hope I have helped you make a sensible decision today.

Indiana Joe: I dare say you have old chap.


Note that this play followed the script provided pretty accurately. I think we can all agree that even without my strawman portrayal, this is just a terrible idea for Obama's supporters.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

I Still Hate Claire McCaskill (JM)

I'll make a deal with all Obama supporters. I will start supporting him if you will join me in drumming Claire McCaskill out of the Democratic Party. Today she claimed the Clintons "keep throwing nails in front of the bus" as a justification for bringing up things like Whitewater and Clinton land deals for which they were long ago exonerated. I mean go negative if you want, I hope everyone enjoys a heaping dose of the "new politics" and "hope" we are getting. But there are two quick things I want to address here:

1. If you cannot beat Hillary and "unify" the Democratic party then how in the world are we supposed to believe that you can "unify" red and blue states. On face such a claim is absurdist, if you have to roll in the mud to beat someone with almost exactly the same positions as you then you are not going win against the GOP in any other way. In fact, if this is what it takes to win then why not nominate Hillary instead, she is much better at it and more competent.

2. I wish Obama supporters would understand the weird, disingenuous nature of phrases like "throwing nails in front of the bus". Essentially, since he won Iowa, his supporters are treating Hillary like a felon for trying to win the nomination. This is the presidency and quite frankly it deserves to be contested, especially between two very strong candidates. This weird notion that Obama's politics and negative campaigning somehow legitimate, but Hillary's is not is actually one of the slimier tactics used by Obama and his supporters.

Anyway, I still hate Claire McCaskill and I definitely hate self-righteousness. We are about to see how genuine is the Obama campaign's commitment to a "new politics". My guess is that they will have surrogates go negative and deny responsibility and when they go negative themselves they will blame Hillary. New politics, just like the old, but looks more like an iPhone.

(Hat tip: Ben Smith)

My Second Ever Celebrity Crush (JM)

So the last time I had a legit celebrity crush was when I was about eight years old. For some reason, eight year old Jonathan had a huge crush on the character Violet Beauregarde from the movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. I recall pulling my friend Dan aside and sheepishly admitting to him my secret shame.* Well it's been a long, hard slog between then and now, but I am fully prepared to admit to a new celebrity enchantment: Zooey Deschanel.

I went to go see She & Him last night, the band she co-anchors with M. Ward, and it was a pretty excellent show. Their music has a very 1950s feel to it, but with a slight edge. She was adorable, having lost her voice she held up signs of greeting and waved a lot, also she wore a really cute 50sish dress. So anyway, the music is great and I am totally crushing on Zooey Deschanel. I am sure something will come of this.**

Also apropos of nothing, for those of you who live in New York you may have noticed subway ads for This American Life. In love the show and I love Ira Glass, but does anyone else think he looks disappointingly toolish? Sigh, our heroes are never what we think they are... At least Carl Kassel doesn't disappoint, he looks precisely like I imagined.***

*I thought I was the only one with weird childhood crush shame until my best friend and college roommate informed me he used to have a thing for Penny from Inspector Gadget. Touche, sir, touche.

**Actually maybe it'll be like that episode of My Two Dads where Nicole's uncle shows up and promises that he can help her meet George Michael. But then Joey (as played by the esteemed Greg Evigan) has to warn her that her uncle is notoriously unreliable, explaining that the uncle had once promised him that he would get to meet Willie Mays and never came through on it. So Nicole got disappointed, but at the end of the episode the uncle brought in Willie Mays to meet Joey. The moral was that eventually he gets around to the things he promises. Anyway, so maybe, just maybe, I will start dating Violet Beauregarde soon, followed up by Zooey Deschanel when I am about 50.

***I decided that every paragraph needed a footnote, so how about a picture of Soterios Johnson, the man with the greatest name on radio. He looks nothing like I imagined, but it a much more palatable way than Ira Glass.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Best Columnist Out There (JM)

Normally I write to deride, not praise; to mock, not compliment; to be utterly unproductive, not helpful. But this morning I read David Brooks column and was once again reminded how just totally superior he is to pretty much all other columnists out there these days. He's intriguing without being glib and he is interesting without artifice. This morning he wrote a column about an essay he had read about how the night's sky looked to people in the Middle Ages. It was fascinating and a refreshing breather from the total banality that has infected the current political landscape.

There are times that I don't agree with Brooks. I strenuously disagreed when months ago he argued that Reagan's speech in Philadelphia, MS wasn't race baiting-it pretty clearly was. However, he writes well and engages arguments in a fresh a new way. So David Brooks, I salute you for actually doing a job worthy of the paper you're printed in.

McCain's Secret Weapon (JM)

McCain has unleashed his secret weapon and woe unto Barillary Obinton. Senator Orrin Hatch has crafted a song for the McCain campaign, and it's awesome:

By Senator Orrin G. Hatch & Philip Springer

Together forever
America is the country we all love
We believe our destiny
Comes from god above
Let's link our hands for all to see
Our country's majesty

Forever together
America is the land we're fighting for
There's a time in history
For a hero's destiny
Together forever more

Hey John
Say John
They're gonna hit you hard with ev'ry thing they've got

Hey John
Come on
They'll be calling you
Everything you're not!

But sure as heaven
We're gonna win
Start celebrating
Now let's begin

Together forever
America is the country we all love
Let's link our hands for all to see
Our country's majesty

Forever together
America is the land we're fighting for
There's a time in history
For a hero's destiny
Together for evermore

See awesome. Anyway, not only is the song a powerful tool in the fight against liberalism it has sparked some strong (and entertaining) debate amongst the conservative movement. For instance a McCain spokesman was quoted as saying,
"We'll see Barack Obama's Bruce Springsteen endorsement and raise them an Orrin Hatch." High praise indeed, but not all GOPers were quite as fond of the song. Jason Mattera, a representative of a conservative youth organization exclaimed, "Hatch's heart is in the right place, but he has the wrong decade." Oh man, Jason Mattera you did not just go there...

Either way, Jason is just wrong. This song is awesome and made easily more awesome, here's how: keep the lyrics, but sing them to the tune of Don't Dream It's Over by Crowded House. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised. Let's all try this together, shall we?

See what I mean? Even if you don't, you did get to listen to Crowded House. In fact, I am going to listen again... on repeat... for the next couple of hours. So if you need me, I'll be in heaven.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Ooh... Sorry Case Number 17 Has Another Stop-Loss In It (JM)

Well in the mother of all cross-promotions Howie Mandel will have a special guest star: Our right and honorable President, George W. Bush. You see they are having special contestants who are members of the military currently in Iraq and George is going to pop on by. Anyway, a few observations:

1. I have to imagine that the segment of the population who are still watching Deal or No Deal is congruent to the population of people who still support GWB, so this kind of makes sense.

2. Sgt. J. T. Snodgrass of Oklahoma, or whatever your name (the name is Capt. Kobes and GWB is one of his heroes, sometimes I should bother reading the articles I find, instead of just the headline. Either way, we'll stick with this) will be, please under no circumstances except the advice of the decider. And please, folks at NBC, please don't have our President say, "Deal or no deal?" Seriously, "Live from New York, it's Saturday Night!" is one thing, this would just be the end of all dignity.

3. Deal or No Deal is about the most banal game ever. The strategy is generally blindingly obvious and often unheeded. Either way, it's just a silly phenomenon. Well that's what I thought anyway, until I saw this. Meal or No Meal is just totally addictive, I dare you to play it once, an hour later you will wonder if humanity has any chance of surviving for another hundred or so years.

P.S. For all of our readers who care tonight marks the return of Gossip Girl and Thursday is the return of Lost. Get excited, get very excited.

Friday, April 18, 2008


I am turning this blog in to a celebrity personal ad site. Basically if you're a celebrity and you want to meet another celebrity, shoot us an e-mail. We'll make it happen. Our inaugural attempt:

Single 27 year old pitcher with decent stuff and an ERA+ over 100 in the last two years seeks star of amazing movie Along Came Polly. Loves to travel, has steady job and good sense of humor. Must love dogs.

So, anyway, I am basically just stealing this from Matt Cerrone over at MetsBlog, but it's really too good not to share with y'all. In an interview with Hollyscoop, which I can only assume is weblog devoted to all things Holly Hunter, Mets' pitcher John Maine expounds on his lifelong crush on Jennifer Aniston. When asked what he would do if he met her he said, "I guess I would take some pictures with her and give her a hug." Right there, that's too adorable for words. So if anyone out there can get John Maine her digits let me know, I think God would want this to happen.

P.S. I am totally serious about celebrity matchmaking, feel free to contact us over here at AOTG and Dennis and I will do our best to get you that special someone. We're looking at you Peter Frampton, we see how you've been making eyes at Helen Hunt. Call us.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Notes From an Obama Supporter About Last Night's Debate (JM)

Consider, if you will, a world in which a man has been born whose mere existence defies logic. A man who shines so very bright that the sun itself turns red with shame. A man whose very goodness makes faith a knowable thing. Consider, if you will, such a man that defines all the words in the dictionary and gave names to all of the animals. A man who, alone, conquered the entire Sahara Desert and through his sincerity and charm created a series of lakes and irrigating streams throughout the Sahara and then, by the power of his forthright honesty sped the erosion process to such a speed that within two months it was like living in South Carolina. A man who invented the envelope.

This man is Barack Obama and what those terrorists last night did to him was unconscionable. This was worse than when the Israelis were kidnapped in that movie Munich. This was more horrible than any experiment Dr. Mengele ever performed. Charles Gibson was Hitler and George Stephanopoulos was Super Dracula! The violated the Geneva Conventions, the Golden Rules, the Magna Carta, the 1812 Overture, the Brown University Honor Code, the Advice of Bazooka Joe on the Bazooka Joe comics and every single principle set forth in Nell Carter's diary. They are scum and slime and ought to be put in Guantanamo Bay and executed.

Perhaps... just perhaps that was a bit of an exaggeration. But how much really.... (From DailyKos):

You know, as I watched the "debate" last night (which was nothing more than a coordinated ambush), I started to cry. My tears were not from an emotion of anger nor were they from feeling sorry for Barack, as he had to defend himself against bogus, trivial, and already answered queries questioning every facet of his character. Rather, they were tears of realization. The way he rose above such filth in a calm and determined manner, appearing like a phoenix rising from the ashes - ashes that represented the sewage of the moderators and hillary. Never before in my lifetime had I seen a "politician" refute attack after personal attack and still when the opportunity presented itself - not demean himself by targeting his opponent in the same manner. It only reinforced my feeling that he is a once in a lifetime - nay - once in many centuries type leader - someone who could radically change the face of not only this nation but this world. Most amazingly - I don't think he even fully realizes his potential impact. So my tears were for our ridiculous luck in having such a man that wants to show us a better way - we, a people who are wholly ungrateful and truly ignorant of this moment. We, most certainly, do not deserve such a leader.

Yes, that's right, someone really believes that. There needs to be a little perspective on the questions in last night's debate. Honestly, they were pretty fair game questions with some tendency towards the petty politics. But Obama's the front runner now and this balances the history of targeting in the debates. Recall how brutal these debates were to Hillary in the past. It seems only fair play at this point. Moreover, Obama has to handle this stuff better, he has to stop complaining about politics (particularly politics he also engages in) and start defending himself more directly. I think he can beat most of this, but seems to just not try. If he can't take this McCain is going to eviscerate him. So, in short, Obama supporters quit the whining. Please, seriously, enough.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The World of Tomorrow, Today (JM)

We are truly entering a brave new world. One where we have a new generation of 90210, a New Kids on the Block Reunion Tour and, my new personal favorite, Bill Cosby's first rap album. That's right, the Cos, had went in to the studio to lay down some tracks and ill rhymes (actually, and sadly, he doesn't rap, but instead speaks around others rapping). Either way, this is assuredly going to be hilarious.

Here's the thing, I very much respect Dr. Cosby for his work, and generally agree with a lot of what he has to say about race relations. He is quite concerned with African-American culture and promoting a sense of personal responsibility. I have a problem with this type of venture, because it's simply never going to sell. It's kind of like Christian rock, the fact is that if you're inclined to listen to Crock in the first place, then you probably don't need the message it's sending. I am sorry Jars of Clay, you probably haven't saved too many souls with your delightful mid-90's Christian pop, even if Flood certainly has managed to at least soothe mine. The same goes for a rap album produced by Bill Cosby. I suspect it will be owned by two types of people: 1. People who had it bought for them by their parents; 2. Lovers of irony. In the first case these kids will learn that lesson very quickly when they bring up the latest Cosby album around their schoolyard chums. As for the second case, I will let you know how it is.

Gchat Proves That We're Taking This Election Too Seriously (JM)

Dennis: i am very tired i saw i got an email from barack saying "dissapointed" and i was for a moment scared that he was dissapointed in me


Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Great Blog Searches Throughout History (JM)

There have been a lot of entertaining ways people have found this blog. I truly appreciate the fact that this blog is most often found by Wilford Brimley aficionados. For you guys I have a special treat in store in the next day or so. However, in the last two days our blog was found by someone search for the answer to the question, "Why are Jews so neurotic?" Well my friend, inadvertently you have come to the right place. Here's the deal: Our mom's are crazy, our women also crazy, years of oppression and high expectations of success. Also controlling the media is a tough and demanding job. So next time you're wondering about this, there you are.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Bitter-gate (Dennis)

This is the first time I've seen Obama in full mock mode, and the shots he's able to lay on Hillary here shows us why (in both directions), misstatements and all we're better of with Obama the politician rather than Hillary Clinton the politician. Yes Obama showed a penchant for a novice mistake, but he's also pretty clever and has been able to wriggle himself out of things before. Some Democrat was going to have to shed the liberal elite label and I think we're better off with his skill.

Hillary, on the other hand is an enormous phony, and (worse) doesn't hide it very well. Another reason why both Gore and Kerry lost was that they were perceived as exaggerators who would do anything to get elected. Gore had all those incidents you've now forgotten from people believing he said he invented the internet to that horrendous fake kiss of Tipper at the DNC. With Kerry, it was the perception that he made up his Vietnam service record which gained traction because he was such a weasel in his political career.

On this whole bitter-gate, as Josh Marshall from TPM pointed out, most of the people we've heard saying this was an enormous error that will kill Obama are liberal supporters of Hillary Clinton, and "elite" John McCain fans. So, while I'm a little worried, forgive me if I'm not jumping out the window in a state of panic. Most of these geniuses were also the ones who told us that John Kerry was electable, that Democrats should support the Iraq war, that Hillary Clinton's money made her inevitable, and that her organization would outclass the bumbling Obama idealists and on and on and on. There's a tendency among people who watch politics to stereotype the race and the electorate so that they can make predictions (I'm including myself here). No surprise then that those predictions usually aren't accurate or are right for the wrong reasons.

So on this whole affair I'm taking a wait and see mode about what the effects will be, but I'm certainly not having second thoughts about my original pick. I've been swayed away too many times from the right choice via the kind of worry that's taking hold among liberals now.

A Tactical Mistake? Why Obama Should Face Clinggate Head On. (JM)

Greg Sargent over at TPM has a recording a robocall going out in PA, from the mayor of York. Essentially it is a push back over the bitterness comments, which you can read in the post below. However, the tactic seems to focus on the "bitter" portion of his remarks, rather than the idea of "clinging to religion and guns". This seems like a really poor decision on the part of the Obama camp. Obama supporters seem to be getting indignant and dismissive, saying that Obama misspoke but the "bitterness" is real. This is just not going to fly.

No one, no one in the world thinks that rural Pennsylvanians are not bitter. Of course they are. The question the Obama raised, and the one that is going to be constantly repeated by the GOP, is how Obama really sees both religious belief and gun-ownership. I think it is rather unambiguous that these comments tied their belief-systems to their social position and desperation and no amount of spin is going to make this disappear. Mickey Kaus, at Slate, had a very effective explanation of the real issues behind these remarks. What this leaves me with is the fear that at this point it won't be enough to turn things around for Hillary, but it'll be just enough to help McCain drub Obama in the general.

Let's take a quick look at a few key swing states:

1. Florida- Obama is already polling poorly against McCain here. McCain has strength amongst older voters, Jewish voters and Hispanic voters. These are all groups amongst which Obama runs quite weakly. But let's not forget Obama's weakness doesn't end here, because of the debacle with not allowing a revote in Florida. I am not excited to rehash the "Who Killed the Florida Relection Debate", though I suppose if you really want to do this throw it down in the comment section and bring it on, but either way Obama is clearly perceived as one of the key figures in preventing a revote. All of this spells a lot of bad news for the Dems in Florida.

2. Michigan- Obama appears to be running even with McCain here, though the fall out of not seating the delegates may impact him at some point in the future. Regarding his recent comments he is probably okay here. If the Dems are going to win Michigan it will be on the back of economic progress, not social issues.

3. Ohio- Very similar demographics to Pennsylvania with a little bit of Michigan on the side. This is not a disaster scenario for the Democrats, but this certainly hurts Obama amongst the Huckabee populists, a group he had hopes of courting before this debacle occurred. This is yet another state in which Hillary is running much stronger than Obama.

4. Pennsylvania- I honestly think that if things stand as they do now, this literally kills any chance Obama had of taking PA. We'll need to wait to see new polls, but there was already a dearth of support amongst the working class in Pennsylvania. Obama's PA base will stay with the party regardless of the nominee, Hillary's is far less likely to do so. It's hard to imagine Obama winning PA, but impossible if he doesn't address this issue head on, instead of pretend there is much ado about nothing.

5. The New Map- One of the cornerstone arguments amongst friends of mine regarding the ascendancy of Barack Obama, is that he redraws the electoral map for the Democrats. I very much look forward to this day, but I am more skeptical than others. Let's take one example of this kind of state, perhaps the most favorable one, Virginia. Certainly the demographics of Virginia have become more and more conduced to electing a Democratic candidate. As the northern suburbs fill out with D.C. commuters and traditional liberal households, Democrats gain strength. However, these very comments, ones that can easily be perceived as denigrating those that believe in both religion and guns, are likely to provoke resentment in the very swing voters we'd require to win the state. Religion and guns are not just core beliefs, but part of a fundamental identity of many of these individuals. If this is true, and these comments stick, there will be no new map and we will be listening to States of the Union from President McCain while Wilford Brimley stares sternly out at the television audience from his seat next to Nancy Pelosi (that's right, Vice President Brimley, you heard it here first).

This is not to say that I think superdelegates need to take a second look at Hillary. Well, I mean, I do, but I think it is pointless at this time. I think the Dems (the ones who are not me at least) are about to reap what they've sewed. If Obama's team and supporters continue to just pretend that this was no big deal this will never die. If this never dies then the Rascal Scooter ready for the White House, because John McCain is coming to stay.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

The Wisdom of "Bitterness" (JM)

I've been puzzling about what to think about the Obama comments in San Francisco. For those of you that are not aware, Obama essentially made a connection between the "bitterness" of rural Pennsylvanians and their love of guns and religion. Here is the relevant portion of the speech:

You go into these small towns in Pennsylvania and, like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing's replaced them. And they fell through the Clinton administration, and the Bush administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not.

And it's not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.

At first blush I was surprised and maybe a bit impressed with the boldness of a remark like this. But then I was blown away by the political inanity of this remark. Sure, no one is going to disagree with truth that a good portion of this population is quite bitter, they have every reason to be. However, to connect deeply held values to their social position is quite likely to be perceived as condescending. This harms Obama's "one of the people" image; one to which he has a right. I have never really bought in to this whole elitist Obama meme, one of his really impressive characteristics is that he really seems to understand most people, and can make pop culture references to boot. No, for me it has always been the experience question and the "unity" theme that drive me away from Obama. I think this statement is quite divisive to the particular Republican community that he had he best opportunity of co-opting: Huckabee Republicans. The populist, religious conservatives that simply don't believe in McCain would be a good group for Obama to court. Unfortunately, by appearing to denigrate the sincerity of religious ideals, he has probably burned a bridge to this community. Whether or not it is a correct sentiment.

But is it a correct sentiment? I certainly believe that social context largely determines our ideological perspective. In other words, it seems pretty clear that what we believe is very much a function of the places and lives we live. But I suspect that maybe the roots of religious belief and gun culture are tied up in longer standing history and tradition. I agree that anti-immigration beliefs have something to do with this "bitterness", there is pretty clearly a perceived economic effect of illegal immigration to particular communities, and thus a sensible link between the two. However, in the case of religion and guns, these have always been long standing beliefs in the South. Even some of these midwesterny, Pennsylvania-like areas are more a part of the southern community (geographically-speaking). These types of ideals very much grow out of the political history and Southern nationalism of these communities.

Perhaps I will post more on the idea of Southern nationalism in the future, there are a lot of very interesting connections between the historical trials of the South and its ideological formation. But for the purposes of this conversation, that it's enough to observe that very similar political perspectives rose from a particular region and region whose only other major correlation is happening to share Confederate roots. Though that implies that devastation resulted in these particular beliefs it makes no mention of why these particular beliefs arose from such devastation. This is why Obama was missing the point in attaching these beliefs to the "bitterness" of the rural Pennsylvanians. Sure, beliefs did spring out of their history and position in society, but it is the question of why these particular beliefs that matters. If you believe in agency then you can conclude that it was the choice and interests of this community the particular types of beliefs they would have. Either way, Obama's idea doesn't dig deep enough analytically, but does an effective (but not positive) job of digging quite deep psychologically in to the voters of Pennsylvania.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Sunt Lacrimae Rerum (JM)

Ice, apparently, is back with a brand new edition of prison time. Poor Vanilla, no luck since the Turtle movies... In other news, I may spend too much time reading celebrity gossip websites.

An Open Letter to New York Mets Fans, Willie Randolph and the Shea Stadium Media Operator (JM)

Dear Mets fans, Willie Randolph and Shea Stadium Media Operator,

I was at the game last night and I cannot say I was pleased with any of your performances. I am writing you all at the same time because, well, this is not really a letter I am send but rather a conceit to complain about and mock you all.

Mets fans: It's nine games in to the season, no one on the team deserves to be booed. In fact, why would you ever boo your own player. Scott Schowenweis was called in with two runners on in a tie ball game. He hadn't pitched yet in this game. Why in the world would you boo him before he ever throws the ball. Do you want him to fail? Are you guys actually Mets fans because you like the team or because you have a psychological addiction to failure and depression? Because I swear, there are better ways to get this fix. Lying in the dark in your room listening to Mazzy Star and Elliot Smith is way way more effective and doesn't screw with my life. So on this point, boo Jimmy Rollins, shut up when our players are around. The only case in which it is ever remotely acceptable to boo is if you're ready for a player to be off the team. But even then, keep quiet because I don't trust your judgment.

One other point guys. When Phillies fans show up at Shea Stadium and wander around yelling things at the crowd booing them and insulting them probably doesn't upset them. They are doing for the attention, the same way you would do it if you went down to Philly. Ignore them, it's much funnier. This is especially true when you're busy booing a Phillies fan when the Mets have two on in the bottom of the 10th inning. I assume you're all from New Jersey, because that just seems right, you would probably be much happier as Yankees fans. I know I would be happier if you were.

Willie Randolph: Jose Reyes is on first base, it's a tie game in the 9th inning and Angel Pagan, the guy who has been our best hitter thus far this year and through Spring Training, is up, what do you do? Your answer: give up an out for no reason. Sacrifice bunts are dumb. It wastes an out when there are so many better ways to move the inning along. But it is particularly dumb when Jose Reyes is the one first base (for those who are not familiar with baseball, Jose Reyes is the fastest human being alive, he once ran around the Earth so fast that he turned us back to yesterday and prevented Lex Luthor from conquering Earth). The statistical chances of this pair of incredibly fast runners getting in to a double play is negligible compared to the waste of an out in this inning. By the by, guess who eventually got the game winning hit in the 12th inning, Angel Pagan (this of course proves my point and should be seen as totally compelling evidence, rather than a random coincidence).

The second issue I have is not just for you, but all managers. There is nothing special about the 9th inning. I repeat, there is nothing special about the 9th inning. It is an inning, just like any other. When, in the 8th inning, you have Chase Utley and Ryan Howard coming up, two of the best left handed hitters in baseball coming up and in your bullpen you have the absolute best left handed closer in baseball, well this seems like a no-brainer. But instead you put in righty Aaron Heilman who proceeds to give up the lead. Look, Billy Wagner might have given up the runs, but he would have been way less likely to do so, and then Heilman could have safely pitched the 9th. It makes zero, nill, no sense whatsoever to save your best bullpen pitcher for an arbitrary inning, you throw him in at the highest leverage, most difficult moment in the game. Yes, at first the closer might grumble, but if you as team recognize that his value actually skyrockets in this situation (rather than gauge value on the totally arbitrary stat: the save) then he (and eventually the rest of baseball) will come aboard. Just because it's always how things have been done, doesn't make it a good idea.

Shea Stadium Media Operator: I just don't need hear Blur that much... ever. Stop inundating with music. When Jose Reyes gets a hit, let us do the Jose chant, don't play Rock n' Roll, Part II. P.S., perhaps we should stop playing that song at sporting events altogether, I know it's fun, but Gary Glitter was allegedly part of a child pornography ring, and I am not sure giving him royalties is all that awesome.

We don't need singalongs. If I wanted to hear sketchy Italian guys singing badly there are about a billion karaoke bars in NYC for me to attend. Sometimes it's okay to let other teams have their traditions and invent our own. I love Sweet Caroline as much as the next guy, but that's a Boston thing. Also, white rally towels?! I know that's not your fault media lady (I have decided you are a woman, and your name is Joan. You have two sons, one's named Hank, and you live in Bayside. You also have a dog.) but still this is just totally wretched. White rally towels are a Philly thing, they are our closest rivals these days. They also happened to be the team we were playing against last night. It looks cool, but it's just the height of lame to steal.

So anyway y'all, I am looking forward to a good season of baseball, but for god sakes shape up, because thus far you've been pretty mediocre.

End rant.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Chris Matthews: Portrait of a Truly Odd Man (JM)

In the New York Times Magazine this weekend Marc Leibovich has a nine page profile of Chris Matthews. Chris Matthews is a man who once referred to Barack Obama as Lawrence of Arabia, and that was a mild Matthews compliment. He is a fascinating man and this is one of the most fascinating psychological profiles of a media personality I have ever seen.

Matthews appears to be driving by a massive inferiority complex and an absolute love of politics. Which makes him more like most people I know than I would have imagined, but he is also something different. Sometimes it's deplorably different and sometimes laudably different, but always unique and interesting.

The best tidbit in this piece is that if NBC drops Matthews when his contact ends this year, he may run for Arlen Specter's seat in Pennsylvania. Could you even imagine those debates or that campaign. I actually think Chris Matthews for Senate would blow the craziness of Al Franken, Arnold Schwarzenegger and even Jesse Ventura straight out of the water.

Either way, do yourself a favor and read this profile. If Matthews were reviewing it he might say that is in many ways a portrait of a Shakespearian character, perhaps Falstaff, but with more wisdom and better looks. I might say it is a picture of man who is fascinating, you can't help but like a little and maybe can't help but feel a little sorry for.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Stossel the Apostle (JM)

Small Victories for Tort Reform

Just who decided to let Stossel write for the Wall Street Journal? I am serious about this. This is just crazy. Stop letting this man think he’s a legitimate journalist.

April 4, 2008; Page A12

Foes of lawsuit abuse have been writing gleefully about the fall of Dickie Scruggs, Bill Lerach and Melvyn Weiss. All three lawyers are likely to spend time in jail for plotting to bribe a judge (Scruggs) or paying kickbacks (Lerach and Weiss).

Good riddance.

Alright, for the first time we agree. Corrupt bad lawyers deserve to be punished, let’s just stop here and call it a day.

Locking them up will stop them from further damaging America – at least for a few years. But it's a small victory for reformers.

I call shenanigans on the word “reformers”. Jane Addams=reformer, Ralph Nader=reformer, Martin Luther=reform, John Stossel=selfish jackass.

New members of the parasite circus will just step forward to take their place. And what these aggressive class-action and securities lawyers do legally is more damaging to America than the crimes that Scruggs, Lerach and Weiss committed. They broke laws to cheat other lawyers out of some loot, but at least that barely hurt the public.

Ye gads, let’s begin with “parasite circus”. What in the world does this even mean. I suppose I would like to see a “parasite circus” it might be an interesting adventure involving a shrinking ray and Rick Moranis. I imagine this is very similar to what I imagined a “flea market” to be as a kid. Also, class action and securities lawyers are not a distinct type of people. Some class action suits are totally legitimate, like the ones against tobacco and that one in the book a “Civil Action” (Yes, I am aware that those were pretty obvious or silly examples, but Stossel does not deserve intensive research).

An editorial in this newspaper justifiably mocked Lerach for declaring his lawbreaking a mere "foot fault" ("I stepped over the line," he said). But at least paying off plaintiffs honestly reflects how such lawyers get rich. Often, they are less "officers of the court seeking justice" than businessmen colluding with plaintiffs in a lucrative extortion business. Legal extortion. But still extortion. Companies pay the lawyers to go away even when it's unclear that they did anything wrong.

I wish I could add a .wav file to this post with me saying “Whaaaaaaaaaaat?” in an incredulously cartoonish way. Not yelling “What?!” in anger, but more of a long, drawn out, deep voiced, sarcastic confusion.

A lot, and I mean a lot, of these companies are simply guilty. Just calling it “extortion” doesn’t mean it’s simply blackmail. They are forced to pay for having committed actions that harmed people. Yes, the system is not perfect, but the hell if you think I am going to start feeling bad for companies as opposed to the many people who had their life cut short because of, say, Vioxx.

Once companies pay, it's logical that the plaintiff/partner who helped the lawyers enrich themselves should get a cut of that loot. That's a fairer deal than what typical plaintiffs in class actions get: coupons or a check for perhaps $1.26.

What I appreciate about John Stossel is that he never exaggerates or strawmans. Nothing but straight talk from the man so bold he doesn’t believe in global warming.

A federal judge will soon decide whether to award Lerach his cut of what may be the biggest class-action legal fee ever. Lerach extorted – I mean persuaded – J.P. Morgan, Citigroup and a Canadian bank to give $695 million to him and other lawyers who claimed the banks were culpable in the Enron debacle. On March 19, 2007 an appellate court ruled that the banks were not culpable. But so what? Fairness doesn't necessarily govern this game. The game is more about rounding up lots of complainants and using America's one-sided legal system to terrorize businesses into settling.

Yes, one appellate court rules that these banks weren’t culpable, thus they were not. Q.E.D. Why did these banks settle? Is it because they were pretty certain a jury might hit them hard with a judgment? Yes. Here’s the thing, there are problems with tort law, but again “Woe is Citigroup and JPM!” is just not going to fly. Better that corporation get hurt than the people injured by said corporations, the deck is already completely stacked in their favor, so when corporations settle you can be pretty sure that most of time it is because they’ve done something questionable.

Companies could fight and win, but that distracts managers from what they ought to be doing. And they might get a bad jury and lose the entire company. It's safer to settle.

Companies balance these risks, they will often offer nuisance payments, but if there is no merit to the charge they usually fight it. What is your solution? Get rid of lawsuits?

Our legal system invites lawyers to act like bullies. For "20/20" tonight, I report on a class-action lawyer who's suing his neighbor for smoking in her own apartment. Toxins are "being breathed every day by our 4-year-old," says Jonathan Selbin of Lieff, Cabraser, Heimann & Bernstein. His frightened neighbor had the apartment manager seal off air ducts between the two apartments, but Mr. Selbin sued anyway, claiming smoke was in the hallway. Mr. Selbin's neighbor was unusually feisty in going to the media to fight back, at least for a while. But last night, she decided to settle. After all, Mr. Selbin had written her that he had a legal advantage, because he and his wife "are both lawyers, and both litigators, for whom the usual barriers to litigation are minimal." Right. Mr. Selbin wrote ABC, "I have recovered more than $2 billion in cash for consumers defrauded by companies. I am proud of what I do." He wouldn't tell us how much of the $2 billion he kept.

Way to plug your show there Stossel. Also cherry-picking stories is very very persuasive. Are you sure you couldn’t find a more frivolous lawsuit to profile?

What do we get from this kind of "private law enforcement"? Very little. James Copland of the Manhattan Institute points out, "The small, diversified investor is as likely to be a buyer as a seller and thus a payer in a class action settlement. The 'little guy' pays money to himself." Actually, it's worse than that: Little guys come out behind because the lawyers pocket so much.

Ahh, The Manhattan Institute, a place that promotes “economic choice” and “individual responsibility”, thus totally unbiased. Also I have no idea what in the world that above paragraph meant. Somehow, I think Stossel was trying to claim that the “little guy” was hurt by big business having to give these payouts. He doesn’t give any evidence, he just cites a vague study from a totally objective organization.

If securities class actions really deterred fraud, their high cost might be justified. But research from St. John's Law School Prof. Michael Perino shows that most of these lawsuits follow SEC investigations. The lawyers don't unearth frauds. They come in like vultures after the problem is already revealed. We pay for that.

Lawsuits aren’t supposed to unearth fraud, they deter fraud. I mean is this really that difficult of a concept. If I know that I can be hit with nearly unlimited legal penalties should I commit securities fraud I am less apt to take that risk. Financial experts are very good at risk calculation, if you take away the possibility of limitless penalties they will be able to game the system and determine when major fraud is worth the risk. This is very very bad.

Onerous as the legal fees are, the nastier cost is the loss of so many good things. Weiss's former firm got companies to pay $45 billion in damages. That's $45 billion that will not create new jobs or life-saving drugs.

Hah hah hah hah hah, this is the most disingenuous argument I have ever seen. I want people to just guess how much of that 45 billion would have been used to produce new jobs or drugs. Also in the Stossel world several suffering people would still be suffering with no compensation.

The fear also reduces options. After Dickie Scruggs filed his post-Katrina class action against insurance companies, State Farm, citing an "untenable legal environment," stopped insuring homes in Mississippi.

But having tons of options with no regulation or legal recourse is awesome. I can select between seven companies that can screw me at will. Yes, Mr. Stossel, may I please sign up to live in your Utopian society?

America needs judges willing to say "no" to legal bullies. America also needs the legal standard that works in most of the world: "loser pays." Without reform, the parasites will take away your money and your choices.

I am not even sure what Stossel is advocating for here. “Saying ‘no’”?! I mean, judges are free to throw out frivolous lawsuits. Are you just advocating to get rid of lawsuits altogether, I am confused. Why is this printed in the WSJ? Also, “loser pays” is a terrible system that deters poor people from suing companies and deters important class action suits from being filed. It’s just another statutory way to advantage the rich over the poor in the legal system. We already have a semblance of “loser pays”, judges and juries can award legal fees in the case of truly frivolous lawsuits. This is a much better system than a systematic rule that only advantages corporations and Stosselian crazies.

Why Do You Hate The Democratic Party So Much? (JM)

Me: Alright Obama fans, I don't like you and you don't like me.

Generic Obama Fan (GOF): I like you.

Me: Well, I don't like you.

GOF: Maybe you'd like me if you got to know me?

Me: Alright, fine, we can get drinks on Thursday.

GOF: I can't, I have to post comments on a blog about what a terrible person Hillary is and why Obama should run with Chuck Hagel for president, talk about unity!

Me: You're not serious?

GOF: Of course I am, we want to bring American together. We are sick of political infighting.

Me: Ummm.... okay I mean I like Chuck Hagel just fine, much like I am a fan of Arlen Specter. In fact, by all accounts Chuck Hagel seems to have a pretty good sense of humor. Apparently he dresses up for Halloween every year. One year he went as Joe Biden, another John McCain and perhaps my favorite Colin Powell. I kind of wonder how he pulled that last one off... Anyway, other than on the war and immigration he is a Republican through and through. For instance, he doesn't believe in abortion rights, affirmative action, most forms of welfare or labor rights. He is a Republican, why in the world would we want our leader-in-waiting to be a Republican.

GOF: Because it will bring us all together and help us win the election.

Me: I don't know what that means. Maybe it's because you're a fiction character created by me and I don't believe in any of your arguments thus you're just sort making weird strawman claims, but I fail to see why this unifies us. It's not like Republican will start believing that we should nominate liberal judges to the Supreme Court, is it? Also winning is not an end to itself, there are better ways to win and a more complete victory is worth it.

GOF: You just don't get it, politics are changing.

Me: No, no, a million times no they are not. Yes, internet donations have changed the influence big money will have on elections, but Republicans are still Republicans and they won't start agreeing with us just because we nominate one of their own as Vice President. The truth is that Obama's politics of change is simply brilliant politics and, I assume, he is simply hoping to get a massive title wave of support and new Democratic mandate which he'll use push a liberal agenda. Unity is for the losers, they can unify under our flag.

GOF: You're a bitter cynic.

Me: It's true. And you're the worst character ever.

GOF: I know.

The Decline of News and Knowledge (JM)

Do we read the news to be more informed or to feel more correct? Tony Blankley, loveable curmudgeon or pompous ass depending on your perspective (for instance, if you have a correct perspective you'd be more inclined towards the latter), has a fairly interesting op-ed piece this week. He brings forth two points, both ostensibly about how we have totally unreliable information about the events in Basra, Iraq this previous week and how that's played out rhetorically amongst this country's talking heads and politicos.

Rather than spend much time on details (you can read the column for that) let's discuss his major points. First, he claims that news organizations are slowly but surely getting rid of their incredibly expensive news gathering mechanism. CBS, for instance, is talking about farming out its investigative journalism to CNN's newswire. This type of change, Blankley argues, has lead to an increase in spin and opinion over the legitimate reporting of news. It's an interesting take, one I think has an aire of truth about it, but seems to be missing one bigger part of the picture. Yes, traditional news gathering organizations are falling apart. However, with the rise of the internet community amateur and primary source reporting has gone up about a million fold. We see clips from speeches throughout the country, transcripts of events to which we would never have had access in the past.

The real concern is that as news has been decentralized we face two very real consequences: a) much journalism is being done by people simply not trained to actually do journalism; b) traditional media outlets have trouble competing and no longer have critical resources. As for the first of these issues, I think it is largely a misguided notion. Sites like Talking Points Memo are an excellent (and occasionally my primary) source for news. There is a sense of ethics and legitimacy there that rivals any news organization. However, there is another side to this coin, certain Kos diarists, MyDD posters, rightwing nutbars and people of many different stripes will often post stories of questionable legitimacy or with very obvious spin. One of the values of big corporate news organizations is that they have a lot to lose when they get something wrong. By taking some semblance of risk with every story they publish it helps guarantee a high bar of accuracy. We gain a lot by having a lot of information out in the public sphere, but that information is often set loose on a sea of informational chaos leaving readers with little or no way to judge the merits of these stories. This brings us directly to Blankley's second point: people use this vague information to support their preconditioned ideology either way, instead of letting fact dictate ideology.

Now I want to avoid an epistemological debate here, because my beliefs about knowledge are bit off the beaten path. For instance, I don't think there's any such things as real truth, but all knowledge is conditioned and created by ideology, which in and of itself is conditioned and created by our social and material surroundings. Anyhoo, let's pretend real things are real. I think Blankley makes a small point in the search of a larger point. With this scattershot news gathering system, people tend to take news and spin it how they want. Sure. But the bigger problem is that news has become a part of an insidious division of labor and specialization that will make garnering anything that resembles the truth harder and harder. No longer are there news organization, but conservative news organization and liberal news organizations. The division has gone even further on the internets, for instance I can rarely bring myself to read DailyKos anymore because of how blatantly they are in the tank for Obama (I am sure there are sites, like MyDD, that have the same problem in reverse). At the point where news is marketed to segments of the population we are not just operating on different ideologies, but different sets of premises and facts.

The challenge of have a national dialogue between people of different ideologies is daunting. The challenge of have a national dialogue between people who ostensibly live in different factual realities is insurmountable. This is one of the primary reasons I have often been so cynical about Obama's claim that he can unify America. In becoming more connected we have become more segregated than ever before. Sure I can talk to almost anyone I want over the internet, but we believe different things about the world and learn different facts, the reality we see is so easily the reality we want to see that we can avoid ever having to question our beliefs so longer as we are careful. The decline of big news has some positives, but in the end it is more a decline of a common community. Sure, the world may be flat, but it's just made it easier for us to see all the people in the world we agree with and go huddle up with them for warmth.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Disgrace (JM)

Books for me are often metaphorical "one-night stands", I take what I can from the book and move on to the next one (BTW this is not an implicit endorsement of "one-night stands", if you prefer a more savory and nerdy analogy feel free to think of the Borg instead; Leon Uris will be assimilated.) However, I am having a good deal of trouble letting Disgrace, by J.M. Coetzee, go. The unfortunate thing about books, unlike relationships, is that even when you find the right fit you don't really have a choice about continuing the relationship. Books are transient.

Disgrace chronicles Prof. David Lurie's fall from a position as an esteemed literary academic, in Capetown, South Africa, after he is caught sleeping with one of his students. He then retires to a farm owned by his daughter. It is the story of his relationship with his daughter, society and life. It is an once powerful and yet strangely distant and removed.

There is no one particular thing that struck me about Disgrace. It's writing is both rigorous and tense, Coetzee has a felicity of expression that is remarkable, especially given the moralistic undertones of his writing. When an author is writing a "message" often the writing itself begins to lack (see Ayn Rand, but then her message was also lacking). However, Coetzee is an excellent communicator and thus can write novels substantial shorter than many of his compatriots, yet create worlds far greater.

His characters are strong, actually his male characters are strong. His female characters seem awfully one dimensional, the best of them showing no more life than their role in reflecting David Lurie's life and personality. However, I am not sure this was unintentional. I am not sure this didn't roll in to the greater tragedy of the book. Ultimately we see Lurie interact with and try to understand many people around him, from his young student to his daughter to a local native farmer. Throughout we see how vibrant and thoughtful Lurie can be, while he fails to persuade any of these other characters of his correctness and he ultimately fails to either understand them or protect them as they need protecting.

It's a tricky thing to write a book about a living being amongst characters. It requires a careful balance between the writer and reader, letting them in on the little secret while not destroying the play. Coetzee does this admirably, all the time we see through Lurie's eyes and mind, but we are always aware that something greater is missing, some lack of perspective and empathy.

Its sharp effect lies in its ability to unmask a very painful part of reality. Life is, in many ways, just like this sort of novel. To each and everyone of us all other people are no more than a cast of characters. This is not to be simple or solipsistic, nor does it imply that others have no actual worth to people. Rather, it is simple true that the people we know, even the people most close to us, are in our minds a collections of the things we know and think about them. We are constantly creating and recreating the people we know and love. Coetzee, in showing us the relationship between Lurie and his daughter plays with this notion at its extremes.

I suppose that this does not have to be a truly sad realization. It makes our realities rather less static and allows for us grow with the people we know and change. But there is something deeply untethering about such an idea. If none of us are any one thing, but rather the many different perceptions of us and our roles in those peoples' lives, we are less apart of a community. If a community is a set of shared values and expectations, but our individual identities are nothing more than shifting and ethereal, we are rather more alone than we think.

So, anyway, read Disgrace or don't if you like certain things such as being happy.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Mark Penn (Dennis)

Mark Penn, slithering Clinton strategist, exited the campaign today at age 53.

The Clinton campaign, like many defeated superpowers, appears to have lost this war of a campaign without ever losing a major battle. About a year ago today, the hosts of Clinton stood gleaming in the plains of Iowa and New Hamshire. At the front was Clinton herself, with the national political machine built up by herself and her husband over fifteen years as national figures in her party. At her side was Mark Penn, perhaps her closest campaign adviser, and the chief architect of her strategy.

The punditocracy depicted him then as a kind of evil genius, a Democratic version of Karl Rove, who would outflank and crush the pathetic forces of other Democrats. The other campaigns, they calculated, could not withstand the pure brute force of the Hillary divisions with their limitless funding and unprecedented cache (for a non incumbent). Other campaign advisers might not be cynical and calculating enough to exploit these innate advantages to their fullest extent, but Mark Penn was just the type to keep his candidate's eye fully focused on gaining the nomination and not on airy concepts like fairness.

It was at first unclear whether Mark Penn lived up to the tales the press spun, but he always seemed to exceed everyone's worst expectations. While it is certainly true that all campaigns borrow some from Machiavelli, none seemed more open and comfortable with that fact than the Clinton campaign under Penn.* On a political talk show he casually brought up Obama's use of cocaine, and smilingly denied that he had any ill intent. In a time when other candidates were talking about the promise of unity and the appeal of someone who fought for the poor, Penn was happy to let us know that he believed in identifying certain swing segments of the electorate and crafting policies to target them. It may not have been official Clinton gospel, but when voters saw a thousand tax deductions for a thousand different groups in the Clinton plans, Penn's previous statements left little doubt as to the purpose of the proposed policies.

At first the tactics seemed to work, and Clinton was far ahead in every poll, but a snowy caucus in Iowa in January put an end to Penn's initial strategy. Commanders at the head of impressive armies at times imagine themselves invincible and are able to be drawn into battles where they have a disadvantage. For Penn and team Clinton, Iowa was one of those battles. Had Clinton run as a normal candidate competing for the nomination, Clinton could have skipped Iowa, as John McCain and Bill Clinton had, and put all the emphasis on New Hamshire, where they had and advantage.

But it was not to be, they badly exposed themselves in a state where it was easy for less entrenched campaigns to organize quickly. They embarrassed themselves by somehow being the "inevitable" candidate and losing. They then quickly found themselves in an even fight for the nomination.

Penn (and Clinton) did not take this defeat as a chance to recalibrate their strategy. Amazingly, they believed that an even more hard edged campaign was needed. This determination alienated African Americans (who they had previously been winning) and deprived them of any chance of building an unstoppable coalition that would win the vast majority of primary states. They won some battles and they lost others, but they were never able to deliver the crushing blow they needed, especially on Super Tuesday where they had been counting to win an overwhelming victory.

It was about that time that Penn's menacing air became almost comical, like the failed assistant of a villain in a comedy. His tactics became so transparent and guileless that they ceased to be threatening. Penn himself became to perfect bogeyman for Obama supporters to bring up even when legitimate attacks were lobbed at their candidate. The final straw for Penn was his negotiating with a foreign government concerning a trade deal his candidate supposedly opposed. It was the sort of cartoonish villainy that eventually rendered Penn a caricature of himself, and made it necessary for him to shuffle off the scene as a visible campaign operative. I suspect this is the last time a campaign will employ him in such a capacity.

*With the possible exception of our dear friend Mittens.

Friday, April 4, 2008

RIP MLK (Dennis)

Here are the poignant closing moments of the last speech Martin Luther King gave before being gunned down 40 years ago, April 4, 1968:

Thursday, April 3, 2008

An Important Question (JM)

Does anyone think that the Berenstain Bears ever mauled anyone? I think we have a right to know.

Random Facts and Apologies (JM)

Hey all, mostly I just wanted to apologize for a lack of consistent updates over the past few days. It's been a slow news week combined with a substantial amount of personal and professional life tumult. We'll be up and rolling again soon. There are two longer pieces in the works, one on the pitfalls of home schooling, the other in defense of the medium of television. Both a guaranteed good time.

Now I promised you random facts, so here they are: Today is Amanda Bynes' birthday, it is also Jennie Garth's birthday. For those of you who are fans of What I Like About You, and I expect all of you are, you'll realize that it is weird that both co-stars, who played younger and older sister respectively, are born on the same day. Also, former Georgia crazy, Rep. Bob Barr is running for President on the Libertarian ticket. It is difficult to find someone who cares. But look I mentioned Jennie Garth and Bob Barr in the same paragraph, two points for me. Additional points for mentioning 90210 or its cast members two posts in a row.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Hamilton's Legacy (Dennis)

I just finished Ron Chernow's biography of Alexander Hamilton. It was an excellent book, and I would certainly recommend reading it if you are either interested in the early history of the United States or if you have little knowledge of said early history. Hamilton's life has made me reflect on two issues regarding the early history of the United States and its effect on us today.

On the economy, Hamilton was an unquestioned visionary. While Adam Smith and many economists of the day said that America should focus on agriculture given its large tracts of land, Hamilton saw a different destiny. America, he thought, would be a place where commerce would enrich the country, where industry would flourish, and where the opportunities created by both would attract immigrants from Europe to build the population and settle the continent.

He didn't just predict it, though; he crafted policy and institutions that made it possible. The Bank of the United States was his idea, and he outlined the world's first infant industry strategy to encourage what he, with his 18th century vocabulary, called "manufactures." Perhaps most importantly he bound the country together in a single financial and economic system through his assumption of state debts by the federal government, and through his overall promotion of a stronger federal branch of government.

While reading the book, I couldn't help but wonder where we would be without Hamilton. Was our eventual development inevitable? Were our natural advantages so great that we were destined to develop industry so quickly? Certainly, we would not have so quickly become an industrial nation, and that time lost would have changed the country's history.

But I think a more concrete point worth noting is that, well, Alexander Hamilton was one of those finance ministers who definitely wouldn't have gotten a loan from the IMF. I know that there is much theory to back up the proposition that countries develop best when allowed to exploit their comparative advantage, but I think the fact that virtually every industrialized country, from the United States all the way to Korea and Japan, became what it was today in part because of an infant industry strategy.

I know the world is vastly different than it was when Hamilton was forming his plans, but even today one of the more successful developing countries, China, is using a modified version of the Hamiltonian strategy to succeed rather than the IMF model. Given this information, is it really wise to pursue such a high handed approach toward developing countries when it comes to opening up their markets? Shouldn't we allow that, at least some of the time, the free trade and free capital market strategy just doesn't work for some countries? (For an excellent discussion of this, I suggest Globalization and Its Discontents by Joseph Stiglitz.)

As much of a visionary as Hamilton was on the economy, the book convinced me, despite the pro-Hamilton leaning of the author (no criticism on Chernow, once you get to know a subject so intimately, it is hard to not feel sympathy for them), that it was a good thing that he never became president and that his faction eventually lost to the Jefferson's in 1800.

Hamilton certainly comes across as one of the more principled characters in early American history, and he sincerely believed in a republican form of government. However, he had a deep distrust in democracy, and seemed perfectly willing, once things began to move against him, to use un-democratic means, like the Alien and Sedition Acts, to quash the "mob." His disregard for public opinion (he was faithful to his beliefs in a way that was admirable but stubborn) combined with that willingness, might have led to a civil war years before the country had become powerful enough to endure it, and before the North had gained an insurmountable advantage over the South. Even worse, he may have enshrined greater executive powers that, while good when entrusted to Washington and Hamilton, would be totally ruinous when given to crass men like Aaron Burr or Richard Nixon.

90210 Spinoff Spectacular!!! (JM)

I just cannot even conceive of how this slipped past me. I honestly just may have rollback my social calendar and spend more time on the internet, because my god, I did not know that producer Rob Thomas (of Veronica Mars fame) has now penned the pilot of a new 90210 spinoff. I am amazed, astounded and astonished all at the same time. They just casted their first person and there is talk of several old characters reappearing. Almost assuredly Tori Spelling has nothing better to do. I, for one, am simply excited that we'll be returning to The Peach Pit next fall.

(Hat tip: Pink Is The New Blog)

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

The Perils of Corporate Sponsorship (JM)

So some exciting news and some bad news. AOTG has received corporate sponsorship from a consortium that includes American Apparel. This is great because it will allow us to have more resources for blogging and to do more full scale research. However, posting will be lighter as the corporate communications department has to vett our posts to make sure they are appropriate.

We don't expect too much in the way of censorship. In fact, in the next few weeks I have a pretty interesting post on the controversial history of cotton to share with y'all. So please forgive the slower posting as we get adjusted to this new scenario. We look forward to what should be a great month here at AOTG.