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The Pie is High

[ 21 ] October 7, 2008 |

Shorter Verbatim Assrocket:

The fundamentals of the economy are indeed strong, and John McCain shouldn’t hesitate to say so.

I agree! Never mind that GDP is a more or less meaningless indicator of national economic health and can be inflated by, say, terribly conceived wars or speculative bubbles urged on by shortsighted deregulatory ideologues. It’s a winning strategy!

If we let the other team score, then The Terrorists will have won

[ 22 ] October 7, 2008 |

That’s apparently as good an explanation as any for the strange behavior of NFL coaches at the end of games. For instance, tonight Minnesota gets to the New Orleans 14-yard-line in a tie game with 1:10 to go. The Saints have two time outs left, which means that if the Vikings run the ball three times Ryan Longwell will attempt a chip shot field goal with about fifteen seconds left. Longwell has made his last 43 attempts from under 45 yards. Plus this game is inside, so weather is no factor. So unless Minnesota fumbles or commits a dumb penalty New Orleans is looking at close to a 100% probability of fielding a kickoff down by three points with about ten seconds to go — a situation in which the trailing team’s chances of winning are nearly zero.

On the other hand, if they let Minnesota score on the first play of the series, they get the ball back with a minute to go and two time outs down by seven. Not a good situation, of course, but not nearly as bad as what they’ll get if they play it straight up.

And it’s not as if this is an unusual thing — similar situations come up almost every week in the NFL. But I don’t think I’ve ever seen an NFL coach decide to just let the other team score.

A more general problem here is that NFL kickers have gotten too good. As Longwell’s streak illustrates, it’s now to the point where anything under 45 yards is almost an extra point for a lot of these guys. Nate Kaeding has made 49 of 50 career attempts at home from under *50* yards. It’s much, much easier for an offense to get inside the 30 than it is to score a TD, yet getting inside the 30 is now practically equivalent to half a touchdown.

Reputational Hits

[ 0 ] October 7, 2008 |

Ezra presents an optimistic perspective about whether McCain’s “dishonor before death” campaign will damage his reputation, at least if he loses. I’m not as sure.

In the long-term, I’m inclined to agree that (especially if Obama’s presidency is generally regarded as successful) McCain’s disgraceful campaign will be seen as the last gasp of Nixon’s Southern Strategy as a successful tool for the GOP. (I also think that it would eventually come to be seen that way even if he won, especially if he proved to be an unpopular one-termer.) In the short-term, though, I’m not sure. Given that even writers appalled by McCain seem to see his behavior as some sort of betrayal of McCain’s fundamental nature, my guess is that most of them will forgive him just as they’ve done so many times before. McCain will apologize, claim that Obama made him do it, serve some BBQ, and journalists will start swooning again.

The New Supreme Court Term

[ 4 ] October 6, 2008 |

Adam Liptak has a useful roundup, noting that the Court does not have any “blockbusters” comparable to last year’s Second Amendment, death penalty, and war powers decisions. There are, however, some cases that indicate the likely direction of the Roberts Court and why many of his holdings will matter more than you might think. In particular, it’s important not to focus excessively on whether the Court explicitly announces the overturning of precedents. There are two examples that are instructive:

  • Standing. “In Summers v. Earth Island Institute, the court will consider who has standing to challenge environmental regulations.” As we’ve already seen with respect to church and state issues, by narrowing standing rules the Court can nominally keep important precdents on the books but make it exceptionally difficult to actually enforce them by declaring that most people don’t have standing to challenge potentially unconstitutional state actions. Moreover, this narrowing of standing rules is likely to be a one-way ratchet; plaintiffs advancing claims that conservatives find sympathetic are unlikely to see their ability to bring suits affected. These cases seem technical, but substantially affect the substantive rights of individuals as well as areas like environmental policy.
  • Pre-emption. Wyeth v. Levine, concerns only implied pre-emption and is perhaps the most important business case of the term. Wyeth, a drug company, seeks to overturn a Vermont jury award of more than $6 million to Diana Levine, a musician who lost much of her right arm in a medical disaster caused by the injection of a Wyeth anti-nausea drug. Wyeth argues that it cannot be sued because it had complied with federal safety standards.” Again, business cases of this sort tend to attract less attention, but making it more difficult for states to punish corporate malfeasance in the courts is a potentially very important outcome. For several of the court’s conservatives, their alleged commitment to “federalism” will clash with business interests, and (especially for Roberts, Alito and Kennedy) I know how I’m betting. Also look for Breyer, at a minimum, to vote with Wyeth.

Another trend Liptak brings up: “The court will also return to an emerging theme of the Roberts court, which has repeatedly turned back general, or “facial,” challenges to laws in favor of more focused, or “as applied,” attacks.” Again, this seems tehcnical, but in any number of areas — including aboriton — it will make the enforcement of rights more difficult. Given the formal “minimalism” of the Court, many of its important decisions will fly under the radar — but that doesn’t mean they aren’t important.

The Sub Prime Kristol Meltdown

[ 30 ] October 6, 2008 |

Bill Kristol continues to push Sarah Palin, and hints at his own responsibility for the pick. It’s columns like this that make me wonder whether there’ll be a reckoning in the circles of conservative punditry/journalism/activism after the election. Republicans aren’t the sort of people who are willing to forgive defeat; if the current situation holds, with McCain losing badly, Palin not helping, and the Republicans suffering severe Congressional defeats, will we see a Night of Long Knives on the other side? Is Bill Kristol ever going to be forced to (shudder) admit that Palin was a disaster?

My first thought is that the mask will never drop; Bill Kristol is not the sort of man who will ever allow us that kind of satisfaction. For one, he’s built a career out of pushing an ideology that equates admitting mistakes with appeasement. Second, his own pundit persona is dependent upon an almost preternatural confidence, and in particular the maintenance of the “Joker” smile even when the world is collapsing around him. While both of these are important, however, they’re also personal to Kristol. I suspect that there is a larger reason that any Night of Long Knives in conservative journalism is likely to be muted, at least in respect to Kristol; he plays a key role in undergirding the structure of conservative journalism as it now exists.

Right wing journalism/punditry is absurdly nepotistic, and not just in the sense that many of the major pundit/journalists are second generation. Everything depends on relationships; this is of course true in every community of this sort, but the importance of relationships is more pronounced in the world of conservative punditry than in liberal or mainstream. Every conservative writer of note has a portfolio of these relationships, which allows said writer to place articles, give talks, find jobs, get invited on junkets, and even find the best parties. Each writer or pundit also contributes to the portfolios of others, and the relationships stack; knowing somebody who knows Michael Goldfarb or John Podhoretz isn’t quite a good as having them in your portfolio directly, but it doesn’t hurt to have the second-order relationship. These relationships are the grease that makes the world of conservative journalism run; it’s mildly absurd that a community whose ideological focus rests so firmly on conceptions of “merit” depends almost entirely on relationships, but nevertheless.

In the modern configuration of the conservative media machine, Kristol occupies an unparalleled central position of power. It’s not that Kristol knows everyone (although he knows a lot of people), or that he controls all the levers of power (although he clearly has substantial influence over how the Weekly Standard and other institutions of conservative journalism and punditry offer grants, assign articles, and provide jobs); it’s that Kristol always seems to be one of the most important “stocks” in a conservative writer’s portfolio. This is often a second or third order relationship, such that the conservative writer depends on a set of contacts that depend on Kristol. But these “Kristol derivatives”, so to speak, play a critical role in where a conservative pundit falls in the journalistic food chain. There are other derivatives as well, depended on other “nodes” of power, but the Kristol derivatives have the farthest reach. A remarkable number of conservative journalists and pundits have got there start with institutions, grants, or fellowships that originate in institutions that have Kristol’s fingerprints on them.

And herein lies the rub. Relationships are the currency of conservative punditry, and that currency is essentially secured by Kristol. If the bedrock of this currency starts to founder (if Kristol drops the mask, or comes under sustained attack from conservatives), then the entire financial system is in trouble. It’s not that people think that the entire system will collapse; they just don’t know what exactly will happen if the Kristol derivatives turn toxic. At the very least, the system will undergo an earthquake, and the result of that earthquake could be unpleasant. As such, the entire system has a vested interest in making sure that the Kristol derivatives don’t turn toxic, and thus that the bedrock currency remains stable.

And so we see a happy convergence trends that will work to prevent a reckoning in conservative punditry after the election. I’m not saying that the reckoning won’t happen, just that pulling at the Kristol thread is likely to have wide-ranging consequences in conservative journalism. As such, even though Kristol played an important role in many of most disastrous elements of this administration/campaign, those who might gun for him are going to have to be careful.

…Harry Hopkins, promoted from comments:

I remember back in the late ’90s when Ira Katznelson, an eminent political scientist at Columbia, came to deliver a guest lecture to an economic philosophy class I was taking. It was a great lecture, made more so by the fact that the class was only about ten or twelve students and we got got ask all kinds of questions and got a lot of great, provocative answers. Anyhow, Prof. Katznelson described a lunch he had with Irving Kristol back either during the first Bush administration. The talk turned to William Kristol, then Dan Quayle’s chief of staff, and how he got his start in politics. Irving recalled how he talked to his friend Harvey Mansfield at Harvard, who secured William a place there as both an undergrad and graduate student; how he talked to Pat Moynihan, then Nixon’s domestic policy adviser, and got William an internship at The White House; how he talked to friends at the RNC and secured a job for William after he got his Harvard Ph.D.; and how he arranged with still more friends for William to teach at UPenn and the Kennedy School of Government. With that, Prof. Katznelson recalled, he then asked Irving what he thought of affirmative action. “I oppose it”, Irving replied. “It subverts meritocracy.”

Glory be.


[ 32 ] October 6, 2008 |

This is interesting; I got the impression on Thursday night that Palin had intentionally mispronounced nuclear, presumably as some sort of anti-elitist message to the base. Before the first time she said the word, she seemed to pause, as if for effect. Did anyone else get that impression?

Back to the Blog

[ 19 ] October 6, 2008 |

With his beloved Rangers having opened their season in Prague, this seems like as good a time as any to note that world’s most dangerous professor Michael Berube has returned to his own blog. As happy as I am to have him back, however, I’m appalled that he could compile a list of bad cover songs that excludes Linda Ronstadt’s reading of “Sail Away.” (And while this doesn’t count because I only saw it live, Sting’s “Purple Haze” deserves a mention.)

Pre-Emptive Hackery

[ 1 ] October 6, 2008 |

To no non-wingnut’s surprise, Yoosta-Bee has-been David Zucker’s latest film Michael Moore is teh Fat Heh Indeed! has been a commercial and critical fiasco. So if you’re the kind of person for whom the failure of a liberal movie represents not a lack of interest in a particular film but massive public support for the Bush administration combined with a pent-up demand on the part of the public for Mallard Fillmore: The Movie!, what are you to do?

Well, if you’re Glenn Reynolds, you can start by exhorting your audience to shell out money to watch this crap. But then — perhaps realizing the magnitude of the dud you’ve been shilling for — you can then start making excuses, talking about how nobody goes to movies anymore and how it’s all about DVD sales. How the fact that some people prefer watching movies at home can explain the movie’s dismal performance relative to other movies is, needless to say, not explained. (We can also safely assume that as soon as Reynolds needs to for the umpteenth time claim that Hollywood is in deep trouble because of its alleged excess of liberal movies, box office figures will suddenly become relevant again.)
I’m looking forward to Reynolds’s upcoming post explaining how if you look at it properly The Right Brothers are more popular than Kanye West…

…also note the comparison with Religulous.

Sarah Palin Laugh Line of the Day

[ 24 ] October 6, 2008 |

From the political candidate who — for nearly six weeks now — hasn’t had a public thought that wasn’t handed to her on an index card, there’s this:

“The pundits today on TV—one of them was saying, check out the vice president’s schedule, check out where she’s going — she’s going to Nebraska,” Palin said.

“But the pundit was saying the only reason she’d be going there is ‘cause they’re scared, so they gotta go there and shore up votes. And I so wanted to reach into that TV and say no, I’m going to Nebraska because I want to go to Nebraska.”

Sure you do.

Today’s Marketing Tip

[ 4 ] October 5, 2008 |

I don’t have much invested in the outcome of the NL playoffs, though I suppose if pressed I’d have to root for the Phillies. And while the Phils appear to have a comfortable lead in today’s game, I can’t help but think it’s somewhat of a bad idea to have AIG as a “proud sponsor” of their radio broadcast.

Cubs Lose! Cubs Lose!

[ 214 ] October 5, 2008 |

Oh, this takes some of the sting out of the drubbing that USC applied to my beloved Ducks:

It wasn’t a collapse. “Collapse” is too nice of a word. A collapse would mean the Chicago Cubs actually showed up for the NLDS.

It wasn’t a choke. A choke is what happened in 2003, when the Cubs were exactly five outs away from their first World Series in seven decades. A choke is when you blame someone sitting in Section 4, Row 8, Seat 113 of Wrigley Field.

No, in some ways this latest Cubs’ playoff zombie film is worse than 2003, and definitely worse than last year’s October three-and-out.

Indeed. At such a time I have mixed emotions; on the one hand I do like to see the agony drawn out, as the pain of Cubs fans amuses me. Also, I had a good anti-Harry Caray screed prepared in case the Cubs had won the NLDS. I guess I’ll have to save that one for next year.

On the other hand, how many times in this one hundred year history of hilariously pathetic failure have the Cubs actually been the best team in the NL? Twice? Three times, maybe? That the Cubs had one of the strongest squads in their history makes their inept performance against a mediocre Dodgers team all the more satisfying. The Cubs weren’t scrappy underdogs who just couldn’t finish the deal; they were clearly the better team, a team that should have been in the World Series, and they could barely be bothered to show up. Oh, it’s sweeeeeet…..

Wait till next year, Cubbies. Root, root, root etc.

The Strange Friends of John McCain

[ 36 ] October 5, 2008 |

Since Barack Obama’s relationship with Bill Ayers is supposed to be the subject of the greatest media whitewash since the Clintons killed Vince Foster, I suppose it’s only fair to ask why John McCain has received multiple tongue baths from a Watergate co-conspirator and Nazi fetishist.

How close are McCain and Liddy? At least as close as Obama and Ayers appear to be. In 1998, Liddy’s home was the site of a McCain fundraiser. Over the years, he has made at least four contributions totaling $5,000 to the senator’s campaigns — including $1,000 this year.

Last November, McCain went on his radio show. Liddy greeted him as “an old friend,” and McCain sounded like one. “I’m proud of you, I’m proud of your family,” he gushed. “It’s always a pleasure for me to come on your program, Gordon, and congratulations on your continued success and adherence to the principles and philosophies that keep our nation great.”

Of course, this pales by comparison to the fact that Barack Obama and Bill Ayers worked on education policy together.