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Thanks Again Salon!

[ 35 ] October 8, 2008 |

Shorter Verbatim Camille Paglia: “Many others listening to Sarah Palin at her debate went into conniptions about what they assailed as her incoherence or incompetence. But I was never in doubt about what she intended at any given moment. On the contrary, I was admiring not only her always shapely and syncopated syllables but the innate structures of her discourse — which did seem to fly by in fragments at times but are plainly ready to be filled with deeper policy knowledge, as she gains it (hopefully over the next eight years of the Obama presidencies). Even if she disappears from the scene forever after a McCain defeat, Palin will still have made an enormous and lasting contribution to feminism. As I said in my last column, Palin has made the biggest step forward in reshaping the persona of female authority since Madonna danced her dominatrix way through the shattered puritan barricades of the feminist establishment.”

And now, the punchline:

“(The value of Ivy League degrees, like sub-prime mortgages, has certainly been plummeting. As a Yale Ph.D., I have a perfect right to my scorn.) People who can’t see how smart Palin is are trapped in their own narrow parochialism — the tedious, hackneyed forms of their upper-middle-class syntax and vocabulary.”

Yes, if only we could all adopt the lucid, simple syntax and vocabulary of Camille Pagilia. Who has a Yale Ph.D. Buy her crappy book!

On Added Value

[ 37 ] October 8, 2008 |

Gregg Easterbrook declares that Eli Manning is a better quarterback than Peyton Manning:

Eli Manning is now a better quarterback than Peyton Manning. At the current rate, his career achievements will at least match, and perhaps surpass, his big brother’s.

Four games into his fifth season, Eli is 44-30 as a starter and has a Super Bowl ring. At the same point in his career, Peyton was 35-35 and had not won a postseason game. In terms of passing stats, the two players are approximately the same.

Easterbrook is right that Eli currently has a higher passer rating than Peyton, although I wouldn’t necessarily bet that’ll be the case at the end of the year. It’s also true that passer rating isn’t the only metric of quarterback effectiveness. Nevertheless, Eli’s ratings in his first four complete seasons:



The gap isn’t as large as I thought it would be, but it’s still there, and it’s still a more useful metric for evaluating player performance than win-loss record. Peyton Manning was a significantly better QB in his first four years than Eli Manning; it’s very difficult to argue otherwise.

The problem here isn’t that Easterbrook is an idiot, although he very clearly is. The problem is that Easterbrook exemplifies a particular kind of contrarian writing that is dismissive of statistics and of specialized knowledge altogether. The argument goes something like this: Sure, I could write a column making the obvious point that Peyton Manning was a better QB than Eli Manning in their respective first four years, but everyone already knows that; I need to produce something new! I certainly understand the contrarian impulse in writing, because after all a column or article must be about something, and simply noting that Manny Ramirez is a better hitter than Andruw Jones won’t put food at the table.

However, there’s an alternative to the Easterbrookian model; it involves learning a lot about a subject and writing competently for an audience that’s willing to learn. This is, for lack of a better term, the Baseball Prospectus model. The Baseball Prospectus folks write for an audience literate in baseball statistics, but they can also translate their insights into writing for a larger audience. More importantly, they make their audience smarter; read one column, and you’re better able to understand the next. In short, the don’t have contempt for their audience. Reading Easterbrook, whether in his sports, science, or entertainment modes, tends to make one dumber. This is by design; Easterbrook can’t be bothered to learn enough about a subject to add value to whatever basic analysis he’s making. As any reader of Fivethirtyeight will quickly grasp, a good writer with a wide and deep knowledge of his or her subject can add a lot to any basic analysis; it just depends on having a basic level of respect for your audience.

Ayers and Kissinger

[ 0 ] October 8, 2008 |

I only allude to the point in this column, but what makes people like Ayers and Kissinger similar is that, if your socio-economic status is high enough, it’s very difficult not to remain “respectable” in the eyes of at least a good piece of the Establishment, no matter what you’ve done.

Nickel Summary

[ 11 ] October 8, 2008 |

Obama did his job (very well if you go by the instapolls.) Even if the numbers soften, in the big picture it’s a major victory. If you’ll forgive the analogy that I became fond of after being in the host city for the 1988 Olympics, he needed a Katarina Witt performance. That is, given his position if he didn’t make any major mistakes he’s the winner. And he didn’t. And to amplify what I said in the debate thread, Brokaw’s performance was poor-too-awful, but with one key caveat: the (generally poorly worded or poorly chosen) questions were about important substantive matters. He didn’t launder any questions about Ayers or other trivia in the manner of Stephanopolous. The standards for such things is so debased I can live with a moderator who doesn’t produce many interesting answers but at least doesn’t drag the debate into silly mudslinging.

Finally, kos makes a good point here; the snap polls combined with the blogosphere make it much more difficult for situations like 2000 — where a contemporaneous Gore victory among actual debate viewers was turned into a retrospective loss by the media (and not just the right-wing media) — much more difficult.

The Freepers have pretty much run up the white flag

[ 0 ] October 8, 2008 |

And I do mean white.

In case you’re not interested in doing a header into a cyber-sewer, here are some highlights:

“I have 14 grandchildren . I do not want them growing up for the next four years, in a society ran by a banana republic would be president. And a wife who has an attitude and a true dislike for the white race.Folks this is getting down right ridiculous!”

“I dread seeing that horsey militant Michelle Obama descreting the White House.”

Another commentator puzzles over what the possibility of one side winning a coin toss three times in a row is, and wonders if such an extraordinarily unlikely occurance might signal yet more media bias.

But the dominant attitude seems to be that God has decided to punish America by making Obama president.


[ 0 ] October 7, 2008 |

Discuss away if you’re so inclined…

[from davenoon]: I, for one, am glad to know that John McCain won’t be appointing Tom Brokaw as Treasury Secretary. And that he might be thinking of Meg Whitman, who described Sarah Palin as underqualified to run eBay.

[from scott] Shorter John McCain: My friends, I will not articulate any policies, my friends. I will talk about other politicians making other agreements, my friends. I will then lie about my tax policies and my opponent’s “that one’s” tax policies, my friends. Tip O’Neill was from Massachusetts, my friends…I also seem to be confusing the other Democratic candidate’s health care plan with that one’s, my friends.

[djw] Two things: 1. Brokaw is passive-agressive and whiny. 2. This health care discussion is boring, but if people actually manage to pay attention, this shouldn’t be any good for McCain.
Obama: McCain will destroy employer-based health care. McCain: Obama will try to make your employers give you health care.

[from davenoon] Eighty minutes in, and not a single question about Obama’s terrorist pals. Is this because Tom Brokaw is a useful idiot for the terrorist-loving left, or because no one gives a fuck?

[from scott] As bad as he’s been Brokaw has at least avoided meta-questions about tactics. But that “Evil Empire” question has to be one of the dumbest in history…

[from davenoon] Obama missed the last question badly: the correct response was “There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know.”

[from scott] What the hell — did McCain refuse to shake Obama’s hand? I rewinded it on TiVo and it looks like he just told Obama to shake his wife’s hand…did I miss something?…Josh has video. That’s still what it looks like to me…

…as a commenter noted, they apparently shook hands after the debate; it was only visible live on C-SPAN (which, if I had been thinking, I would have been watching.)


[ 15 ] October 7, 2008 |

A commenter protests in re: my assumption that the media will, as it always does, forgive John McCain his appalling campaign:

The media loved McCain for certain traits, traits that he’s abandoned in his pursuit of the Presidency. He’s never getting that back.

The obvious problem here is that the presence of traits such as “honor” in John McCain was always entirely imaginary. Since the idea that he was an honorable campaigner was always a media myth made up out of whole cloth, there’s absolutely no reason the media won’t re-attribute these traits to McCain after the campaign. “Look at that hang-dog expression! He’s learned his lesson!”

Spackerman reminds us of the most obvious precedent — his celebration of the Confederate flag during his (run-by-racists) 2000 primary campaign in South Carolina:

Remember in 2000 when McCain refused to call for the removal of the Confederate flag from the South Carolina statehouse? It was a blatant play to the ugliest aspects of American politics, an unsubtly coded attempt to identify himself with white resentment. But what was even more astonishing was what happened after he lost the GOP primary. Here’s CNN from April 19, 2000:

“Former GOP presidential candidate John McCain called for the removal of the Confederate battle flag from atop the South Carolina Statehouse on Wednesday, acknowledging that his refusal to take such a stance during his primary battle for the Palmetto State was a “sacrifice of principle for personal ambition.”

This was pretty widely hailed as a triumph of straight talk. McCain admitted such transparent cynicism! What a breath of fresh air! Now, there’s another way of looking at this moment. One that a less, frankly, white group of trail reporters might have picked up on: despite finding the flag personally offensive — because it is a symbol of racial subjugation; and treason in the interest of white supremacy — McCain didn’t mind exploiting it. He didn’t mind aggravating the most noxious division in America if it served his ambition.

To state the obvious, if you know that the Confederate flag is a symbol of treason in defense of slavery and lawlessness in defense of apartheid and just go ahead an exploit it anyway, this is much, much worse than someone who at least sincerely believes that it’s a symbol of “heritage” or some such. And yet, countless journalists took his self-promoting apology seriously. So why should another round of lying and race-baiting present a problem for his immediate reputation?

Silly Atrios

[ 17 ] October 7, 2008 |

I regret that I must disagree with Atrios when he said that “conservatives can’t whine that their hilarious vision [in An American Carol] was censored by the evil liberals.” Sadly, this underestimates the ability of modern conservatives to ride the waaaabmulance. I particularly treasure the idea that it’s likely evidence of “fraud” if there are “image or focus problems.” That would certainly be compelling to anyone who hasn’t seen a movie in an American theater since the Carter administration. The rest of us would be suspicious of a vast right-wing conspiracy if screenings of the movie generally involved decent prints shown in focus…

I hope the eight or nine people who go to see the movie also report it if theaters are serving cold, grossly overpriced popcorn.  You’d better believe that’s a liberal conspiracy!

The Viaduct

[ 48 ] October 7, 2008 |

Erik Loomis makes a stalwart defense of Seattle’s Alaska Way Viaduct, recently named the Worst Freeway in America:

The road sucks in a lot of ways. A big earthquake would remind us all of the Bay Bridge in 1989. It is pretty unattractive. It reminds us of a time when the United States made an awful lot of mistakes in its cities, leading to the urban crisis of the 1960s-1980s. We all want to save historic structures. Shouldn’t we save some of our poor decisions too, especially when they define a city as much as the Viaduct? Despite its many problems, the road is a democratic structure and a monument to the role of the car in reshaping Seattle. For that alone, it should be saved.

Meh. It’s ugly, dangerous, and not terribly convenient. To the extent that we’re going to preserve structures for historical and aesthetic purposes, I’d prefer they not be ugly and dangerous. Not every city, after all, can be Detroit…

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.