The Closet Moderate: 2008

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Still hopey

Just in time for Obama's birthday, his people have released this report, which clears him of all wrongdoing ever, but specifically with regard to the sale of his former Senate seat. And it's written by the lawyer, who represented John Hinckley, Bill Clinton, and Elian Gonzales's dad, so it will certainly be seen as fair and impartial by politicians throughout the country.

Also, if you're an mean-spirited, unemployed tax lawyer, you'll be sure to enjoy the typo on page 2. Happy festivus!

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Thursday, December 18, 2008

Recount reality show

Want to kill three hours? The Minneapolis Star-Tribune has all of the disputed ballots in the Minnesota Senate race, and you can vote on them!

As far as I can tell, the Lizard people are running away with it.

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Cabinet v. Bureaucracy

President-elect Obama has delighted his most hard-core constituency -- nerds -- by naming a Nobel Prize-winning physicist, Steven Chu, to be Secretary of Energy. And this guy won a real Nobel, not one of the ones they give to obscure Europeans who hate America. While a physicist might be useful as an advisor on physics, being the head of the Department of Energy will be a waste of Chu's brain.

I know what you poindexters are thinking: "It's the Department of Energy; this guy studied lasers, the awesomest kind of energy; therefore he should run all things energy. Q.E.D."

Not so fast, nerd. Answer me this: what does the Secretary of Energy do? Wikipedia says the DOE is in charge of "the nation's nuclear weapons program, nuclear reactor production for the United States Navy, energy conservation, energy-related research, radioactive waste disposal, and domestic energy production." OK, these are some scientific jobs, but what does the Secretary himself do? It can't be that technical, since Clinton nominated a couple of lawyers and a former Congressman with a political science degree to do the job. Bush picked another lawyer, then a chemical engineer. All of these people may have been good cabinet members, but I doubt any of them (except maybe Bodman, the engineer) knew dick about energy. In fact, the greatest use most Presidents have for the job is balancing the cabinet's race and sex quotas.

The cabinet is not supposed to be a collection of experts; it is a group of executives who run their departments and give the President advice. Being the smartest guy in the room -- and Dr. Chu probably will be -- doesn't mean you're smart or give good advice on governance. Politics is full of questions that don't have a single right answer. The cabinet should be made up of people who are practiced in the art of the possible, i.e., politics. Smart folks like Chu should advise the cabinet members, and occasionally advise the President, but as the head of a bureaucracy, their talents are wasted.

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They Call Me "Prognostradamus"

Remember when I predicted that al-Maliki would take advantage of American security guarantees to consolidate his power?

I'd like to take this opportunity to pat myself on the back. As the article mentions, this strike could be an effort to preempt a coup. Certainly, the Interior Ministry and National Security Ministry would be the likely originators of any coup. That said, America is still--for better or for worse--invested in Iraqi democracy and we'd be unlikely to let a coup attempt succeed.

More likely, al-Maliki has seen the writing on the wall and is moving against his enemies while he still has cover from Centcom and the British. If he can remove his political adversaries while the United States maintains a deterrent military presence, he's positioned himself well for post-occupation rule.

Unrelatedly, it turns out that "an elite counterterrorism force that reports directly to the office of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki" is a useful Praetorian tool when you're in the business of seizing power.

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Reaping What You Sow

President Elect Obama is going to find that pedestal that his rabid supporters on the left placed him upon a difficult place to govern from. In fact, he has already angered many lefties with his cabinet and advisory choices. Hilary Clinton is too old-school Washington politics, Rahm Emanuel is too vicious, Robert Gates works for the loathsome Bush.

And now, his choice of evangelic pastor, Rev. Rick Warren, to deliver the invocationation at his inauguration has outraged gays, liberals, and human rights folks. Rev. Warren is socially conservative and has publicly railed against the usual evangelical targets of abortion and gay marriage. However, he also promotes the "new evangelical" mission. He is not Fred Phelps, or even Jerry Falwell. He supports green environmental measures, works to help those infected with HIV/AIDS, and has several initiatives to improve communities in Africa. Liberals like that kind of stuff, don't they?

It is a good thing then, that it was those at the center who elected Mr. Obama. Because only in reaching out to those who think differently than him will he ever bring about the change that he promised. While it may have been those young people, who formerly felt distant or disenfranchised in the democratic process, that shook their political apathy and rallied behind Mr. Obama, giving him name recognition, cash, and a flood of cheesy YouTube videos, it was those in the political center who ultimately tipped the election in his favor.

The change that many who voted for Mr. Obama sought was not a dramatic one where American becomes a giant free-love hippie commune. The moderates who supported Mr. Obama wanted a change in the way that decisions are made. Many conservatives, such as your humble blogger, voted for Mr. Obama not because of his policies or as a reaction against Mr. Bush's policies, but rather because they wanted to see a man in office who would listen to many different sides.

Yes liberals, Mr. Obama's victory was a victory for you. But he is a man who has said from the beginning that he would invite all to the table, not just cronies and yes-men. That means dealing with people and even honoring people that you may not agree with 100%. Intolerance cuts both ways.

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Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Economy down generally; bribery holding steady.

Illinois's governor Blagojevich was faced with the difficult proposition of how to choose Obama's successor in the Senate. Lots of Democratic pols made worthy arguments about why they should be chosen, but only one can be Senator. Fortunately, he came up with a clever solution: sell that shit to the highest bidder. Who says Democrats don't believe in the free market?

Seriously, though, this is really dumb. Shouldn't all politicians, especially Chicago politicians, assume that the feds are listening to everything they say? They just got Ted Stevens for some shitty bribes that probably didn't even affect his vote, and this guy thinks he can sell a U.S. Senate seat? If you ever find yourself holding a political office and saying to someone that you'd like to "get some [money] up front, maybe" in return for an appointment, try to make sure you're not chatting with an informant wearing a wire, for fuck's sake.

I'm sure someone will try to tie this to Obama, but that person will not be me. I doubt Blago was planning on cutting him in.



UPDATE: The text of the complaint is here (PDF!) The part about the Senate seat begins on page 56.

UPDATE #2: So, Tony Rezko's name is all over this complaint. Shouldn't the news stories at least mention this?

UPDATE #3: Here are some choice lines from the guv'nor:
Page 60: "ROD BLAGOJEVICH stated, 'I want to make money.'"
Page 66: "ROD BLAGOJEVICH said that the consultants (Advisor B and another consultant are believed to be on the call at that time) are telling him that he has to 'suck it up' for two years and do nothing and give this 'motherfucker [the President-elect] his senator. Fuck him. For nothing? Fuck him.'"
Page 66: "Later in the conversation, ROD BLAGOJEVICH said he knows that the President-elect wants Senate Candidate 1 for the Senate seat but “they’re not willing to give me anything except appreciation. Fuck them.”"
Page 63: "ROD BLAGOJEVICH agreed it was unlikely that the President-elect would name him Secretary of Health and Human Services or give him an ambassadorship because of all of the negative publicity surrounding ROD BLAGOJEVICH." [This will likely turn out to be correct -- Cal]


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Monday, December 08, 2008

Good News, Everybody!

This is your semi-regular panic-inducing news update:

Terrorists set a bunch of stuff on fire in Mumbai (or, if you're an English alcoholic and all-around jackhole like Christopher Hitchens, "Bombay") and shot a bunch of people. Said assholes may be a splinter group of group of assholes (Lashkar-e-Taiba, Urdu for "Group of Assholes") that were sketchily supported by Pakistan's ISI. So now we've got one nuclear state thirsting for the blood of another nuclear state, which is awesome if you love having your dress pattern tattooed on your back via nuclear blast.

The total ratfucking of the US economy continues apace. Even Playboy is feeling the crunch and when our titty magazine industry founders, America is imperiled. Relatedly, major homeless person bedding distributor the Tribune Company declares bankruptcy under the weight of a astonishing 13 gigabucks of debt. Apparently, being helmed by an evil Patrick Stewart doesn't make you recession proof. Fortunately, the shitbox-on-wheels industry looks likely to stagger on, having persuaded Congress to give them money with the cunning argument "we make shitty cars, give us money or we'll fuck the entire state of Michigan into the ground."

The Israeli/Palestinian conflict may be heating up, planes are falling from the sky, piracy is on the rise, Al-Qaeda may have just taken over Somalia, the Taliban is apparently choking Karzai out with its bare metaphorical hands, my old thesis advisor is apparently rehabilitated enough to get some page-space (in all fairness, he actually knows what he's talking about this time), Stephanopolous impies that Dennis Kucinich either is a poseur or likes rough sex, and women are cutting babies out of themselves to give birth before they lose their healthcare.

THE END IS EXTREMELY FUCKING NIGH.

Don't worry though, we have a tag for all this shit.

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Israel's "Israel Lobby" Problem

Let's be clear, the central reason for the existence of Israel (as a state, not a nation) is as a form of reparation for the inhuman atrocities inflicted on European Jewry during the 20th century: pogroms, the Sho'ah, and anti-semitism. Given that, it seems rather idiotic for extremist settlers to embrace gut-churning acts of violence in defense of their illegal outposts in Palestinian territory. Daniel Levy has some intelligent thoughts on this issue. I'm going to skip the usual "a plague on both your houses" assessment of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and explain, instead, why I think that extremist settlers could be a serious threat to the state of Israel:

To keep this sort of short, I'm going to write at the highest level of abstraction. Israel is a state with some hierarchy of interests, presumably centered around territorial defense, economic prosperity and peace. These interests are probably shared by a fair number of Israelis as well. Most people would, ceteris paribus, prefer to be richer and not actively being shot at. The extremist elements within the Israeli settler movement do not share that hierarchy of interests. Their primary interest is in preserving their own existence and the rest of the world can go hang. Let me be a little more nuanced about that claim: settlers place a high enough value on the continued existence of their illegal settlements that they are willing to pursue actions in service of that goal the outcomes of which are likely to damage the Israeli political process and/or the Israeli citizenry (provoking Palestinian reprisals, polarizing the Israeli body politic, and so forth).

That's only a problem because as Israeli citizens they are entitled to the protection of the state in a way that the Palestinians, for example, are not. Thus, Israel finds itself in the unenviable position of protecting a group of people who not only don't share the interests of the Israeli people at large, but in fact are actively endangering those interests through their actions.

There are two other layers of complication here. First of all, the settlers are not just a bunch of nuts bivouacked on a hilltop somewhere. They are an active organized political constituency within Israel proper, with a number of influential allies in the Israeli right wing. On the level of optics, the image of a community of Jews surrounded by enemies and fighting to survive and keep what they have is a poignant one for a people who have such a profound history of oppression. Sure, it doesn't apprehend the truth of the situation, but it's truthy enough to be persistent and powerful.

Obviously, it's not a foregone conclusion. It may be that the settler groups overplay their hand and alienate their political benefactors (who find it too politically costly to support their agenda) and the Israeli public. It could also play out like the French confrontation with Algeria, in which Pied Noir intransigence and French paralysis eventually led to a series of brutal confrontations that both radicalized the Muslims of Algeria and felled several French governments.

I'm nowhere near enough of an expert on the I/P conflict or the Israeli political process to assess these probabilities, but the combination of Netanyahu's rise and last week's violence don't augur well.

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Thought for the Day

Sunday was Pearl Harbor Day, so it feels fitting to give a shoutout to the Ace of Aces, a legendary dubya-dubya-eye-eye pilot whose obit shared the front page with news of the Hiroshima bombing. His name? Dick Bong, leading to the (now) hilarious headline:

"Jet plane explosion kills Major Bong, Top U.S. Ace."

In this post-9/11 world of heavy, unironic patriotism, I think we could all stand to remember that there was a time in our history where we revered Major Dick Bong.

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Monday, December 01, 2008

Overreacting!

Usually after a big electoral victory, the punditry will suggest that maybe the losing party is completely destroyed and will never be seen again. I remember some of this in 2002 and 1994, and I'm sure older readers can remember similar examples (my dad says this was the talk in 1964, as well). This year should be no exception, and like those other years, the punditry will be wrong.

The two major parties have far too many connections and far too much money to simply collapse and drift away. There is one area of the country, however, where the the Republicans' nationwide network and public image is hurting its candidates: New England. After the 2006 elections, there was one Republican House member from New England, Christopher Shays of Connecticut. After the 2008 elections, there are none. On the familiar map of election results by county, there is only one colored red in all six states (Piscataquis County, Maine, population 17,235.)*

The picture is not all dire for New England Republicans. They still have some representation in the areas in which a party member may buck the party leadership: the Senate (two out of twelve are Republican) and the governorships (three out of six). These people would not be recognizable as Republicans in other ares of the country. Vermont's Governor Jim Douglas is a Middlebury graduate who signed a bill banning discrimination on the basis of "gender identity." I defy you to find a Republican south of the Potomac Rappahannock who even knows what that means.

How is a Republican moderate like Shays supposed to succeed in such a place when, even as his views are fairly close to the center for his area, he is relentlessly tied to the party's regionally unpopular leaders?

Here, the label is dragging down the product. The solution, then, is for New England Republicans to disassociate with the RNC. This isn't really a plea for a third party; it's more of a plea for a relabeled second party. A group that supports fiscal responsibility, reasonable patriotism, and freedom in your personal life could be a moderate counterweight to the welfare-state Democrats of the American Northeast. New England Republicans already differ from the rest of the country's Republicans on the issues -- they don't care if you're gay, and they don't get too upset if you smoke weed now and then. But neither are they Libertarians with a capital 'L' -- they don't want to return to the gold standard, and they don't think Social Security is the vanguard of socialism.

So what should they do to be competitive again? Secede from the national party. Mostly, this is just changing the name, like how the Minnesota Democrats are called the Democratic-Farmer-Labor party. But more than just a new sign on the front door, this new group would have independent leadership. They would vote how they want on issues in Congress, without regard to the regular Republican leadership (kind of like now). The new name, be it "Progressive Republican" or what have you, would let suspicious hippies know that voting for their candidate doesn't mean voting for Karl Rove, or whoever the new boogieman will be on lefty blogs.


*For comparison's sake, note that in 2000, George W. Bush won three counties in Vermont alone. Vermont.


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Friday, November 21, 2008

Top Gun

Apparently Tim Geithner is in at Treasury (and the markets rejoiced). While I'm not particularly familiar with Geithner, what I've read about him suggests that he's a pretty good pick. To review my criteria from my inaccurate prediction of Bloomberg as SecTreas:

1) Intimately familiar with Wall Street. The NY Fed (which Geithner was president of) deals extensively with Wall Street, and Geithner was heavily involved in the various bailings-out that Treasury and the Fed have undertaken. Grade: A

2) But not a Wall Street CEO. In fact, as far as I can tell, Geithner has never been paid a dime by any Wall Street firm. Grade: A

3) Somewhat non-partisan. Geithner was a moderate Republican in 1988 when he started working for the Treasury Department and became an Independent when he was working for the Clinton administration. Grade: A

4) Incorruptible. Here, he's got a bit of a leg down on Bloomberg. While I doubt he's going to pack the 0.7 teradollars into his suitcase and abscond with it, as a career public servant he ain't Bloomberg rich. On the other hand, as a veteran out-bailer from the Clinton years, he's presumably faced and overcome his share of absurd bribes. Grade: B+

Overall, an excellent pick.

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Thursday, November 20, 2008

Why deflation sucks

Having been prodded by my co-bloggards, I will now explain to the blog-reading public at large why deflation sucks.

I will first note that if you google "why is deflation bad", you'll probably get better explanations than the one I'm about to lay on you. But if you truly value getting taught economics by a someone with a nom de plume from The Muppet Show, this may your best resource.

There are a number of stories that can be told about this, depending on how you think the economy works. I'm going to go with a simple story, called "sticky wages".

What "sticky wages" mean is that, in many circumstances, nominal wages (that is, the number of dollars that get deposited in your bank account on a biweekly basis) do not adjust very nimbly. For instance, if GM sells fewer cars one month than it expected, it doesn't suddenly reduce the wages of all its workers: for one thing, those union workers are under contract, and their contract doesn't allow management to suddenly cut wages.

So, ignoring the causes of deflation for the moment, imagine prices of all goods dropped by 90%, so GM's cars now get sold for 10% less. Suddenly, GM is making a lot less profit per car. In a world with perfectly non-sticky wages, GM (and every other company) would cut nominal wages by 90% across the board, and the world would gone on as if nothing had happened, just moving the decimal places on all their checks one over. But if wages are sticky and don't shift, suddenly GM is losing a lot of money on each car it makes, and it has to cut production and lay off workers until its profitable again, which is a big blow to what economists like to call the "real economy", which deals directly with objects built rather than with money earned, because we've got a lot less cars being built now. And, of course, those workers who just got laid off are also the guys buying stuff, and they're not inclined to spend when they're unemployed, which means that companies need to lower prices in order to sell things, and because of sticky wages, that means they need to lay off more workers, until everyone in the country is unemployed.

So, when Bloomberg tells you deflation is coming, that is one reason to know cold, cold fear in your heart. Enjoy!

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Personality

I entered this blog into Typealyzer and it told me that we are, collectively, of Myers-Briggs personality type ISTP, or "Mechanics." According to the site's description:
The Mechanics enjoy working together with other independent and highly skilled people and often like seek fun and action both in their work and personal life. They enjoy adventure and risk such as in driving race cars or working as policemen and firefighters.
So, if my fellow bloggards and I ever form like Voltron into a single, obnoxious super-bloggard, we would likely drive race cars with fire hoses and go on moderate adventures.

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Deflation is great!

Mostly as a way to taunt more economically savvy members of our blog, I would like to list a few reasons why deflation is awesome. Feel free to join in in the comments:

1) Inflation = Bad -> Deflation = Good!

2) This five dollars I have in my pocket will soon buy me a house.

3) Better traction in desert environments, less chance of blowout at altitude.


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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Thought for the Day:

Fuck Chuck Klosterman.

Dear Chuck,

About GNR: if you like GNR, when you hear an awesome GNR song, you don't immediately shove three fingers up your butt and use your other hand to write a long-winded review of the album. Acceptable alternatives to the Klosterfuck?

1. Drink Heavily
2. Air Guitar
3. Uh, Drink Heavily?

(If you must meta-appreciate, play Sweet Child of Mine on Guitar Hero or watch Heavy Metal Parking Lot. Work in #1-3 as circumstances permit.)

If Axl Rose is who you say he is, I hope the two of you meet in a dark alley someday and engage in a loving 69 of forward-looking musical/critical insecurity. Maybe have John Woo nearby to release some pigeons at the moment of climax. You know, for gravitas.

Chuck Klosterman: History's Greatest Monster?

"At this juncture in history, rocking is not enough."

FUCK. YOU.

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Monday, November 17, 2008

Team of Rivals Cont'd.

I was going to post about the somewhat ill-considered love for the "team of rivals" concept, but it turns out Steven Teles @ JHU has already covered that ground. I don't have a doctorate, he does, read it.

Also, it helps put Mike Allen's report that the Obama team is exasperated with the Clinton drama into context.

h/t: Ta-Nehisi Coates.

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Ask The Tims: The Herpes Happening

Dear The Tims,

I have just met the most unbelievable man and have fallen completely in love. On our second date, he told me that he caught genital herpes in college. (He married the woman who gave it to him, and they have divorced.) At first, I was shocked and considered writing him off, but the more I thought about it, the more I didn't know what to do. I kept in contact with him, and every time we spoke or saw each other, I knew this was someone I wanted in my life. We have decided to hold off on being "completely intimate" with each other until the time is right. My concern is that the time may never be right. I truly love him and would never want to hurt him. Please help.

- Helpless


Dear Helpless,

Girl, please. I think he should get laid for being honest. I mean, shit. When you say "completely intimate," do you mean hitting that dick without preconditions? Because there's the crazy old man around my neighborhood right now going off about pre-conditions and a nuclear Iran, while occasionally sputtering out something about Hanoi... anyway, if anyone's lost their dad, please come pick him up in Berkeley. Back to the case at hand...

When you say "completely intimate," do you mean unprotected sex? Because if you have "fallen completely in love," as you say, having sex with him wearing a condom is the very definition of "acceptable risk." Yes, eventually you'll want to have unprotected sex, but by then they'll have some sort of laser that you can shove up your nose to cure all illnesses, and you'll have nothing to worry about. However, if, in fact, you decide to hit it raw dog, and shortly afterward, either of you decide to bail, you will be stuck with some extra luggage.

So yeah, I don't know.

- Tim



Dear Helpless,

Yes, unbelievable sounds about right. He certainly did not marry the woman who gave it to him. If he knew who gave him herpes, he would have beaten her ass, not married her. The woman in question was most likely a hooker from his Spring Break trip to Tijuana or some sorority skank he boned in a forgettable night of sloppy, clumsy drunken sex.

He does deserve some credit for telling you about his herpes on the second date. But that makes me question you. I doubt this came up over a fried mozzarella appetizer at Appleby's. I'm guessing he told you this in now regrettable fit of honestly in a moment of passion. Way to hold off until the second date, whore. Now instead of getting in your pants, he has to suffer and wait as a reward for his honesty.

If he is really that special and you "truly love him," just make him wrap it. I mean come on, were you going to let him go bareback right away anyway? Just avoid sex during outbreaks. Whore.

- Tim

Need advice? Send your questions to askthetims@gmail.com.

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Sunday, November 16, 2008

Hillary to State?

So, there's been a buzz that Hillary could be Secretary of State. I'm not in love with any of the candidates who've been floated for State.

Structurally, it's unclear how a Secretary of State under Obama/Biden is going to function. Joe Biden's knowledge of international affairs is pretty impressive, and he's already said that his decision to join the ticket was conditioned on Obama's promise that he would have a role in governing, shades-of-Cheney style. I suspect that may play out with Biden taking over a portion of what has traditionally been the SoS portfolio, since that's his strength and Obama's weakness.

Assuming we're looking at a situation like that, it sets up a potential turf war between Foggy Bottom and the White House. I could see Biden taking over some of the policy aspects of SoS while Hillary is the face of the administration. That said, one of the things that handicapped Powell as SoS was the perception that he didn't really have the President's ear. He was sort of a public-diplomat-in-chief, who made sales pitches to the world but wasn't necessarily effective at relaying their needs back to the Oval Office. Obama would have to manage the overlap very carefully, lest his loudmouth VP undermine his SoS.

Then there's the issue that Hillaryland seems to be a wilderness filled with type-a psychopaths. While the candidate acquits herself well in the linked article, there's the issue that she essentially allowed herself to be steamrolled by a bunch of lunatics. I don't have a good idea of how much capital those people still have with Hillary, but her unwillingness to have them fall on their swords is a concern in any high-level executive position.

Finally, I know everybody's high on the "Team of Rivals" idea, but I'm also a little worried that the three names floated thus far are all former candidates for the presidency. In Clinton's case it's a particular liability as she was a serious contender this cycle and her husband was the last Democratic president. I'm no Washington guy, but I think it's pretty clear that Washington is a place where there are established channels and then a whole lot of informal person-to-person politicking. So Obama would be appointing a SoS whose husband jumpstarted the careers of many of his most senior staff and cabinet members. That seems like it could be problematic, even if Bill has no formal role within the administration.

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Monday, November 10, 2008

Fuck Joe Lieberman!

Seriously, fuck that guy.

For those of you who haven't been keeping up on the Saga of Lieberman, he endorsed John McCain on December 17th, 2007. If you're keeping score, that was way before McCain even looked like he had a shot at winning, which I guess means that Lieberman had the courage of his convictions. Chief among those convictions is that we shouldn't be backing out of our hideously tragic, financially ruinous war with Iraq. I'm sure Joe has his reasons, but no matter what your premises you should never be able to argue yourself into putting your penis in a blender, much less keeping it there once you've punched the "liquify" button.

So Joe, lover of national-dick-in-blender foreign policy, gave a speech at the GOP convention, hurled a lot of slime at Barack Obama, and skulked around in the background during McCain's concession speech. In other words, he chose poorly.

Now he's trying to mend fences, and hopefully continue to drape his saggy posterior over the chairmanship of the Homeland Security and Government Affairs committee. Barack Obama has appealed for a less vindictive solution that keeps Lieberman in the Democratic Caucus, and Harry Reid is in talks with Benedict Joe. As Kos points out, there are essentially three outcomes for Joe:

1. No comeuppance--Joe keeps his chair, keeps his seniority, gets to pick Harry Reid's nose.
2. Some comeuppance--Joe loses his chair, keeps his seniority, has a good sulk before the new congress convenes.
3. Maximum comeuppance--Joe loses his chair, loses his seniority, is dragged down 1-95 by a sled team of cannibals.

Joe, with typical prescience, has indicated that everything except option 1 is unacceptable. That's essentially the equivalent of putting all your money on "Harry Reid is a wuss. D'you hear that Harry, you big wuss?!" Unfortunately, Lieberman's bargaining position is highly dubious. With an absolute majority short of 59 seats in the Senate, the Democrats need for a little Joementum has never been less acute. Of course, Joe has the weapon of last resort: he can hitch his wagon to the party that's compared BHO's volunteer corps to Soviet forced labor practices and the Holocaust. Oh, and let's not forget the incoherent GOP ravings about some sort of Obama-sponsored Marxist gestapo.

Yeah, that'll get him re-elected.

There is an alternate possibility. I'm sure Rahm Emanuel is pulling for option 3, possibly in the hopes of rustling up a replacement finger. Barack Obama may be burnishing his huggy bipartisan credentials while encouraging Reid to hang Lieberman out to dry. When Lieberman eventually walks the plank, Obama can be gravely disappointed while acknowledging the legislature's right to police its own. Reid gets a much-needed spinal graft, Obama isn't seen as vindictive, and Joe Lieberman and Ted Stevens can give each other reacharounds in hell.

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Friday, November 07, 2008

Strategy and Tactics

One of the recurring notes throughout this campaign has been the invocation of jargon like "strategy" and "tactics" as a way to establish foreign policy chops. John McCain attempted to do this during a presidential debate when he asserted that "Senator Obama doesn't know the difference between a strategy and a tactic." It would've been a real zinger if he hadn't thereby implied that THE SURGE was a strategy.

You can think of any large-scale military endeavor on a couple of levels. First, there are the tactical minutiae of combat: how do I kill those guys 300m away using the capabilities I have at my disposal? You can expand the lens of tactics to larger scale considerations as well, including securing an area so that supplies can move freely, and so on and so forth.

We can conceptualize a strategy as an overall plan for victory. A solid strategy contains an internal logic that propels it toward the accepted definition of victory for the current conflict. Because of its broad nature, a strategy influences decision making at many levels, from battlefield tactics to logistics.

This is all a little arcane, so let's take a look at these concepts in (hot, napalm-y) action: the Vietnam War. General Westmoreland implemented a strategy of attrition according to which the massive US military machine would be used to drive up costs on the North Vietnamese until they decided "fuck it, this communism shit just isn't worth it" and leave South Vietnam alone. Victory! All of the horrors of the war were to some extent connected by this strategy. Everything from the Rolling Thunder campaigns to free fire zones, from kill counts to My Lai could be seen in the context of a war of attrition. It didn't really matter who you killed, because murdering the fuck out of anyone would make life worse for the North Vietnamese. Anyway, you can see that the strategy was driving the tactics, and the strategy itself was pointing at a condition that we (mistakenly!) believed would cause N. Vietnam to break off hostilities.

As an aside, much like strategic bombing campaigns, these "morale breakers" didn't really work. When you slaughter the fuck out of someone's village, the survivors are A) completely dependent on the government and B) hate you with the fire of a thousand suns because you just destroyed their livelihood and their family. When there's a ready-made national unification movement for them to hitch their wagon to, things tend not to go so well for you.

Anyway, Iraq is a bit atypical because we have no clear idea of what victory looks like. Yes, we'd like it to be fully democratic, pluralist and free, but it's a bit unclear how we use the Marines to do that. The problem is that the internal logic of our occupation was a bit weak. To wit:

1. Topple Saddam.
2. ...
3. Democracy!

There's obviously no purely military solution to our problems in Iraq, but we can understand the Surge (tm) as part of a unified political and military strategy to allow national reconciliation. The problem is, that with the election coming up relatively soon after the Surge was announced and the Iraq War, the President and the GOP deeply unpopular in the United States, the incentive structure for Maliki was, shall we say, skewed. Did pissing on fires all over Iraq give us any increased leverage over Maliki that might lead him to share power with the other factions in Iraq? Probably not. On the other hand it definitely improved the optics of the Iraq War at home in the United States, enabling John McCain to run on the "Surge=Victory" platform and eventually make it to a debate in which he idiotically called out his opponent for not knowing the difference between a strategy and a tactic.

On a larger scale, the problem with the Surge is simple. If I were a betting man in Maliki's shoes, and some unpopular lame duck came to me and said "I'm going to fill your country with soldiers, calm shit down and suchlike and in the meantime I want you to make nice with these other factions." My answer would be "Sure thing, Hoss! How much longer will you be running things over there?" Then, immediately after our conversation I'd set about entrenching myself in power and building alliances with people who share my interests so that once he's quenched the fires with American blood and gone home, I would be in a position to outmaneuver my rivals and run the country as I saw fit.

Obviously, the situation is a good deal more complicated than that, and nobody is sure exactly how it will play out in '09 and '10. I am prepared to offer the following bit of sound tactical advice to the readership: don't turn into a snake. It never helps.

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Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Does something feel... wrong?

The election is over, and perhaps you feel something is missing. Something isn't quite sitting right with you and you can't figure out what it is. No, it's not that your party won (or lost), it's not that we aren't having recounts (et tu, Minnesota?). No, it's that Florida hasn't totally screwed the pooch.

Well, well, well, do I have a story for you.

So, it turns out, there exists a bunch of "Alien Land Laws" instituted in the 1910s and 20s (starting with CA - we are real trend setters out here), that kept Asian immigrants from owning land. Seems that Americans feared the "farming prowess" of the Asians. Regardless, all of these laws are now illegal under the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment to the US constitution (Sei Fujii v. California, 1952). But, since some of them were written into the constitutions of these states, one remains on the books.

Enter our favorite, gator-eatin', gramma-lovin', mojito-drinkin', chad-hangin', bass-ackwards state, Florida.

It is indeed the lovely state of Florida has the last one of these laws in its constitutions, and put a ballot measure on this year to remove it, following New Mexico, Wyoming and Kansas a few years back:

"Proposing an amendment to the State Constitution to delete provisions authorizing the Legislature to regulate or prohibit the ownership, inheritance, disposition, and possession of real property by aliens ineligible for citizenship."

Well, since no one really had a dog in this fight no one spent any money supporting the measure, although no one was ever really against it. There were some people in the legislature who (erroneously) thought that the law could be used to fight terrorism, but they didn't spend much effort to push it either. Many people who knew about it were worried that they might not get the 60% needed to amend the constitution.

It lost, 52%-48%. Never trust your citizens with your constitution. Particularly if all your citizens are Floridians.

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The Utley Award

So, Newsweek has had this "Special Election Project" running for some time, where reporters were embedded with the campaigns and their reports embargoed until after election day. They seem to have unearthed some gems, including this one from our 44th President:

So when Brian Williams is asking me about what's a personal thing that you've done [that's green], and I say, you know, "Well, I planted a bunch of trees." And he says, "I'm talking about personal." What I'm thinking in my head is, "Well, the truth is, Brian, we can't solve global warming because I fucking changed light bulbs in my house. It's because of something collective."

Collective, eh? Socialismo o Muerte! Seriously though, I'm very happy this guy is going to the White House. So on behalf of all of use at TCM, I'd like to congratulate Barack Obama for being the first recipient of the Chase Utley Award for Excellence in Dropping the F-Bomb.

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Monday, November 03, 2008

2008 Election endorsement

In these troubled times, with political partisans raising the level of rancor to ever-higher levels, it is difficult for a group as diverse as the bloggards of The Closet Moderate to agree on a candidate whom we all endorse. The state, federal, and local races all offer a variety of candidates that at least one of us, for whatever reason, despises.

All except one, that is.

In the race for Montana House of Representatives (District 15), the bloggards of The Closet Moderate wholeheartedly endorse the candidacy of Frosty Calf Boss Ribs, a Democrat from Heart Butte, Montana. Mrs. Calf Boss Ribs, a long-time resident of the Heart Butte area, and a mother of four, promises to balance budgets and keep tuition down at state colleges. But what's more important is that she has the most bad-ass name of any representative in the history of this grand republic. So, if any of you live in the Glacier County area, The Closet Moderate implores you to cast your ballot for Frosty Calf Boss Ribs.

Mrs. Calf Boss Ribs is running unopposed.


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Saturday, November 01, 2008

Utley tells it like it is.

Phillies win! And Philadelphians celebrate, as only we can:




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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Media Bias?

So, my one of my somewhat more rabid Republican uncles e-mailed me with a rather lengthy complaint about bias in the media. His central thesis, which I suppose has been iterated on many times, is that in non-opinion pieces in the MSM Obama-Biden is given a pass and McCain-Palin is trotted into the street. 

So, my question is: If there were media bias, how would we measure it? Clearly, the media is an imperfect instrument for this - they are the supposedly biased ones to begin with. Just asking whether there is fair coverage isn't reasonable: If the Ds ran Cynthia McKinney and the Rs ran Ronald Reagan, it seems to me that even handed coverage of the candidates would not be reasonable. There doesn't seem to be any particularly good numerical metric: any kind of measure could easily conflate public opinion with unfair bias. My uncle seemed to think a laundry list of bad, supposedly underreported things about Obama would count as evidence. To this I reply: data is not the plural of anecdote.

I pointed out that if there were very strong media bias toward Obama, you might expect pundits to call the debates, a famously spun result, against McCain. In fact, though, the pundits seemed to think that McCain did a lot better than the electorate thought he did (if you believe those biased pollsters, but that's another conversation). This is clearly also a tainted metric - the debates are a very particular kind of comparison, wherein the pundits and electorate may have very different measures of success. But I'd claim if the reverse were happening, some that see 'liberal' media bias would be crying bloody murder. 

It has been mentioned before that the MSM tends to be more educated than the populace they are addressing. And indeed, there is a well-documented correlation between being exposed to the liberal-elite professor class and becoming a dirty pinko. Or learning and becoming a dem, if you prefer. But perhaps it isn't a question of the messenger as much as the message. At least in the last few elections, it seems the Rs have been trading mostly on emotion and intuition and the Ds mostly on pragmatism and logic. So is it true that the MSM will naturally lean toward the dems in these elections because their message is better tailored to the medium? 

One last rambling point: as a scientist, I am very irked by the idea that a group of people in fierce competition with each other are somehow colluding to confuse the public. People are always leveling this accusation at scientists: group think or cover-up. But as we all know, the guy who disproves evolution or global warming or the gal who finds aliens or some kind or some new secret energy source would get a nobel prize in a heartbeat. Similarly, the reporter who breaks the story about how Obama actually is a Muslim would get plaudits six ways from Sunday. I think this concept that good ideas are being kept just defies the logic of self interest.




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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

WTF, MLB?


Seriously, who still thinks starting the games at 8:30 is a good idea? Who still thinks having a seven-game LCS is a good idea?
*
Here's what you're gonna do, Selig:
  • Make teams start games earlier -- no later than 7:30 in the time zone in which they are played. Californians aren't watching this thing anyhow.
  • Schedule regular season double-headers so that the season ends earlier. Also, because people like double-headers
  • Reduce the League Championship Series to five games like it used to be, so we aren't watching baseball in a blizzard. In cities like Philadelphia, Cleveland, New York, Boston, Chicago, and Denver, October 30 is way too late for outdoor baseball.


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Friday, October 24, 2008

Happy as a con

The Washington Post reports this morning on yet another survey showing that Republicans are, on average, happier than Democrats. You lefties reading this will no doubt leave me a comment saying "What about all those angry people at the Palin rallies? They don't seem happy." Yes, yes, they're not happy about creeping socialism, or secularism, or the gays, or whatever. But they're happier with their lives than you are. Grover Norquist, a taxation expert and lobbyist, explains:
"I'm very happy," says Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, and a Republican. "When I was 12, I realized the world was not organized around my desires and wishes. The problem with guys on the left is they never figured that out at age 12. And they're just irritated the world is not organized around their vision. This makes them grumpy."
I've tried explaining this idea to my wife, a socialist, but I think we're just talking past each other. There was a cartoon in the New Yorker about this a few weeks back that nailed it pretty well.*

What it boils down to, in my experience, is not how happy we are but what makes us happy. The Post article quotes Chris Lehane, a Democratic "consultant," for the proposition that Republicans are happy because we're all so wealthy and ignorant:
"The typical Republican is happy coming home to a 62-inch television, pulling out a fine bottle of cognac or Scotch, putting his feet on the table and enjoying the fruits of his labor, but not caring what's going on in the world outside their living room . . . and their gated community."**
This speaks to my point about the source of happiness. Lehane must believe that wealth is the source of happiness. He seems to be saying that anyone with the lush lifestyle he describes would obviously be happy as a pig in shit -- look at his fine possessions! He must be tickled pink! But this sort of materialism does not resonate in everyone. Some people are rich and sad. Some are poor and happy. Clearly, having a 50-inch screen and a leather sofa isn't cutting the mustard for some folks.

Neither does this materialism carry over to voting habits. In the last Presidential election, 9 of the 10 poorest states voted Republican, and 7 of the 10 richest voted Democratic. So what are these impoverished souls so pleased about? Something besides money? Something unrelated to politics? Heaven forfend!

Those of you who love politics above all things will be shocked at what I'm about to say, but I think it explains why I'm happy: if my party loses the election, but my baseball team wins the World Series, I'll still be happy. In fact, if I could control the outcome of either the election or the Series, I'm not sure which I'd pick. For me, happiness has many sources. All of the things the left doesn't understand (God, sports, etc.) give a great deal of pleasure to folks on the right, myself included.

If all I had to make me happy was cash money, I'd be very anxious right now, what with the recession and all, but because my happiness spring from many founts, I'll be OK either way. As long as the Phillies don't freakin' blow it.


*Yes, I looked at the New Yorker, but only for the pictures.
**Apparently, I'm not living up to typical Republican standards; my TV is too small and I drink lager out of a can. No gated community, either. I do like putting my feet on the coffee table, though.

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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Where's the beef?

In every election year, brain-addled journalists climb up on some word or phrase and ride it until they're sore all over. Last time, getting "thrown under the bus" made the rounds as the cliché of choice in the American press corps. This time, the banal phrase "game-changer" seems to be ascendant.

It's not terribly unusual for war or sports metaphors to cross over into politics -- indeed, the very word "campaign" was not used in the political sense until the 1920's, when veterans of the First World War connected the military term to the political world. Terms like "down the stretch" and "by a nose" have long been part of the political discussion, and demonstrate that lots more people used to watch horse racing. But, as the graph below shows, "game-changer" has come from behind and surged past "under the bus" in the past month, both in number of Google searches and number of news references:



So, who cares? If you only care about the facts behind the story, then the lack of literary art likely leaves you non-plussed. But if you believe that words mean something, that writing is an art, and that reporters should try to elevate discourse, not to homogenize it, then you're likely muttering the same things I am as you read or listen to political reportage.

What other words or phrases lately added to our lexicon have set your angry bones a'throbbin'?

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Dizzy on parties

Continuing our navel-gazing on the question of why leftists and rightists don't understand each other, I came across this passage from a speech Benjamin Disraeli gave in 1868:
In a progressive country change is constant; and the great question is not whether you should resist change, which is inevitable, but whether that change should be carried out in deference to the manners, the customs, the laws, and the traditions of a people, or whether it should be carried out in deference to abstract principles, and arbitrary and general doctrines. The one is a national system; the other ... is a philosophic system. Both have great advantages: the national party is supported by the fervor of patriotism; the philosophic party has a singular exception from the force of prejudice.
Disraeli was talking about the Conservative and Liberal parties of mid-19th-century Britain, but I think this distinction rings true for our own system.

Neither party has a monopoly on change. McCain and Obama both talk about changing this and reforming that, and they both mean it. But the source of that change, the theoretical first mover behind it, is quite different.

Obama, an ideological law professor, approaches problems as they fit into a grand unified theory of how things should work. People like this sort of consistency, I suppose, except when it contradicts something that is important to them. When the logic contradicts some national value or tradition, that makes Obama appear to be an elite arugula-eating fairy who doesn't share America's values. Taking things to their logical conclusion looks good in a law-review article, but in person it is cold, often uncomfortable.

McCain, an pragmatic military man, approaches problems by seeing what will work, what feels right. He does this whether his various solutions conform to an internally consistent logic of not. People think this makes him a rebel (or "maverick," if you must,) but to his mind it's the only thing that makes sense. While he's willing to risk non-conformity with rightist or leftist philosophy, McCain naturally gravitates toward tradition -- consider, for example, that he followed in the same career as his father and grandfather. For people who don't share his respect for tradition, this looks erratic or stupid, and makes people think he's just making shit up as he goes.

So which of these approaches to political decision-making makes sense to you? Which one infuriates you? As in Disraeli's day, practitioners of each theory may both be interested in change and progress, but will likely disagree strongly on what that change should be and how it should be accomplished.


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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Money Shot

The McCain campaign has told reputable news sources that they're going to "say it to [Obama's] face" tonight. When asked for comment, Bloomberg had this to offer: "Nobody wants to see McCain slug him." We here at TCM would like to object strenuously to this sentiment. It reeks of the sort of universalist arrogance and liberal nanny-statism that has become part and parcel of this election cycle, from alternative fuels to universal healthcare.

So, from all of us here at TCM: for God's sake, man, throw a punch! And remember, it's not a tumor--those are just lung calluses.



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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Election, eh?

So, election day is finally upon us. Not America's election, which will require three more excruciating weeks of campaigning, but that of our northern neighbor, Canada. Today, Canadians will decide whether to retain the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, or to elect a Parliament led by his Liberal and NDP foes.

Earlier, I blogged that it would be interesting to compare Canada's elections with ours. One thing that has already been better is that the whole campaign lasted five weeks. America's 2008 campaign started sometime around Bush's second inauguration. Another interesting thing in Canada: third parties matter. The New Democratic Party and the Bloc Québécois held, respectively, 9.8% and 15.8% of the seats in the House of Commons (i.e., the House that matters). Even the Greens have a member, kind of.* So, in Canada, Perot could have been elected King. Nader, however, is still irrelevant.

What is hardest for us Yanks is to avoid is turning the Canadian elections into an indication of our own situation. Our economies are similar, and are highly integrated with each other, but they do have their own issues up there. All the hippies who swore they'd move to Canada if Bush won in 2000 (and again in 2004) might be surprised to learn that the Conservative party is the largest in Parliament,** and is expected to remain so.

I was going to suggest you all monitor the results on PBS or C-SPAN, but even those lame networks don't appear to be covering it. So, instead, watch the Red Sox - Rays game, and check this blog occasionally -- if enough people seem interested, I may live-blog it until I fall asleep.


*He was elected as a Liberal and switched parties.
**They hold a plurality of seats, but not a majority.

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Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Return of the Shituation Room

Due to a pending lawsuit brought against us by Wolf Blitzer's beard, we will refrain from comparing this hard-hitting news outlet with any aspect of CNN. We have received an injunction allowing us to continue to badmouth Ted Turner, so expect a lot of that. Remember: it's not libel if you're drunk!



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To the Finland Station

U.S. District Court Judge Ricardo M. Urbina has ordered the federal government to release seventeen Uighur terrorists (or "terrorists," if you prefer the scare quotes) from Guantánamo Bay, according to the Washington Post. The judge, a Clinton appointee, held that the men could not be detained without trial indefinitely.

Whatever your opinion of this latest chapter in Gitmo jurisprudence, the most important thing to remember here is that the Uighurs (pronounced "wanksters") are not ordinary terrorists: they also make the terror against Red China. The Uighurs are fighting China (sporadically) for the right to a homeland in the are north of Tibet that is variously called East Turkestan, Uyghuristan, or Xinjiang.

So why mess with the Uighurs? Hating communism is something we and these terrorists have in common. Why not help them out in their struggle against the Red Army, like we did in Afghanistan in the '80s? That worked out, didn't it?

[puts fingers in ears] LALALALALALALALALALA....

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Lies, damned lies, and statistics

It's come down, now, to my least favorite part of the election cycle: the deluge of opinion polls. Partisans crow about polls the way normal people brag about actual results, and news reporters write stories about these imaginary elections as though there were no real news to cover. Worse, politicians substitute polling data for ideas and principles. Why take a position you believe is right, when you can determine which position would be more popular and pick that one?

So, what is to be done? Well, the solution is easy, America: lie to pollsters. It's all well and good to just hang up on them, but those clever bastards have taken to using the maths to account for that. We have to take it to the next level: make shit up. Come up with the craziest combination of facts you can. Tell them you're a ninety-year-old Jewish woman from Florida who's voting for a reactionary third-party candidate. Whatever it takes.

Maybe if we mess things up badly enough, the reporters will have to report actual news, and the politicians will have to say what they think we want to hear, not what they know we want to hear.

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Sunday, October 05, 2008

Dear Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Baseball 101: when a ball has been popped up, indicate that you will field it by shouting "I got it" to your teammates. This will prevent embarrassing postseason-ending gaffes in the future.

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A "Handy" Rule of Thumb

If you want to be taken seriously as a political commentator, don't talk about your penis (no, not even euphemistically) in public fora. On the other hand, Starburst probably has a lucrative advertising deal for Mr. Lowry.

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Thursday, October 02, 2008

The Shituation Room

At 9PM, those members of the Closet Moderate cabal that are not completely shitfaced will bring you insights, cursing, and "so's your mother" jokes that are tangentially related to today's VP debate. Even if we don't say a single thing, we can reliably guarantee that it'll be more insightful than anything that comes out of Wolf Blitzer's mouth all evening. Are you prepared?

Software is down. Promising start.

Kids soccer games! Yes! The needle on the folksy-o-meter is alive!

Biden, deferential. Who'd'a thunk it?

God, I'm not drunk enough for this.



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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

They're probably reading this right now...

Jesse Ventura is hosting a new TV show about conspiracy theories.

Sounds like some bullshit to me. If he was going to talk about real conspiracies, why would the Rockefellers and the Rothschilds even allow him on the air? The minute he breathes a word about who really controls the Swiss franc, Skull and Bones is going to take him down. Hard. He'll soon be cast from the highest whatever to the lowest whats-its, once the true masters of the universe find out about this.

My theory: he's really part of the conspiracy himself. By disseminating false rumors about 9-11 and the JFK assassination, he'll keep the public confused, unable to pierce the truth about who's behind it all.

Naturally, my fellow bloggards and I have long ago penetrated the secrets of the Bavarian Illuminati, but to reveal them here would be dangerous -- foolhardy, even. I'll just say this: if you've ever handled a two-dollar bill, you're already a part of it.

On the other hand, if Ventura turns up dead in the next few months, we'll know he was on to something. Watch your back, Jesse.


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Monday, September 29, 2008

Avast ye!

Today, we must take our attention away from our impending financial doom to address an equally compelling problem: pirates. According to the Washington Post, a publication notorious for its pro-piracy bias, Somali pirates have hijacked a cargo ship in the Arabian Sea. Its cargo: tanks. Not fish tanks, mind you, but honest-to-God Russian T-72 tanks.

This is the nightmare scenario, people. Pirates have always ruled the seas with their quick swordplay and judicious use of eyeliner, but now they could acheive land superiority as well. My advice: avoid the sea-shore until this crisis is resolved. And for God's sake, bury your gold and other booty in a secure location!

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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The real winner of Black September

While people are busy calling Hank Paulson "the most powerful Secretary of the Treasury since Alexander Hamilton" or just "Lord Paulson, Ruler of all Money", its worth noting that the person who's going to actually dispurse the 700,000,000,000 dollars that Paulson raises is the next Secretary of the Treasury, who will probably also be the most powerful Secretary of the Treasury since Alexander Hamilton. So its probably worth thinking about who this person might be, so that any would-be Aaron Burrs can start their target practice with the appropriate pictures.

I can certainly tell you some characteristics he will have:
1) Really, intimately familiar with Wall Street. The main job of the next Treasury Secretary will be to dole out 700,000,000,000 (I just love writing it all out) dollars to Wall Street firms, so he'd better be able to tell his Goldman Sachs from his Sarbanes-Oxley. This is so important that I think it rules out a lot of the usual suspects on each side; Austan Goolsbee and Jason Furman are very smart economists, but as I keep reminding my relatives, economics != finance. Similarly, Meg Whitman and Carli Fiorina are sharp businesswomen, but they didn't work on Wall Street.

2) But not a Wall Street CEO. We're not going to get another repeat of Paulson (unless we actually get a repeat of Paulson, which is not completely out of the question); anyone involved in the making of this fiasco is right out.

3) At least somewhat non-partisan. This is especially true if McCain is the next president, because he is probably facing down 54 Democratic Senators to get his pick confirmed, and they are not going to tolerate some Phil Gramm bullshit here. Even Obama is going to feel some pressure to tap someone on the "competent" side of the competent-ideologue continuum.

4) Incorruptible. Handing out (here it comes) 700,000,000,000 dollars is going to make the next Secretary of the Treasury an EXTREMELY popular guy with a lot of extremely wealthy people. Its got to be certain that he won't misuse his authority, either because he has an unimpeachable reputation or because he's just one rich motherfucker.

So who knows Wall Street, but isn't OF Wall Street, is famously non-partisan, and has so much money he couldn't be bribed by God himself? Not to mention is about to run smack dab into some term limits?

This guy
. That's right: Arnold Alois Schwarzenegger.

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Betting on fail

This bloggard purports to explain the AIG problems.

I think I understood all this except for this line: "Here is where it gets interesting: anyone could buy a swap from AIG, whether he owned the bond or not."

Isn't that a little improper? With life insurance, you have to have an "insurable interest." I can insure myself, or my family members, or my business partners, but not just a random guy I think is going to die. That would be what's known in the industry as "morbid as fuck-all."

Are there similar limits in credit default swaps? Should there be?

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Monday, September 22, 2008

Happy New Year!

No, I don't mean Rosh Hashanah, although that's just around the corner. Today we're celebrating the first day of the year in the French Republican Calendar, which was in force in France from 1793 to 1805.

The calendar came into force during the decidedly immoderate rule of the Jacobins during the French Revolution. Unlike our American Revolution, in which we rebelled for a bit then settled down, the French Revolution just got wackier and wackier, until half of France had executed the other half. In the interim, they drew up a new religion and a new calendar more befitting of the post-monarchical world being created. There was also a new decimal time system, but that didn't catch on too well.
*
Instead of a saint's day every day of the year, the French had a plant, except on certain days when an animal or farming tool was substituted. I've tried to get my blog-leagues to adopt this daily celebration of an ordinary foodstuff or antiquated tool, but they have ignored my pleas.
*
But don't let that stop you! The first day of the year, as one might expect of the oenophile French, was the day of the grape. So celebrate today, 1 Vendémiaire CCXVII, by eating a handful of grapes, drinking a bottle of wine, or throwing a handful of raisins at someone less fortunate. Bonne Année!


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Saturday, September 20, 2008

If I were Brad DeLong, I'd call this a death spiral

I'd like to say I've been following the situation in Zimbabwe with great interest, but I've basically been getting all my information from Chris Blattman's excellent development economics blog. However, it does seem to me that you shouldn't, in the course of a single article, credit a man for "successfully negotiating peace resolutions in Congo, Sudan, and, most recently, Zimbabwe", and then immediately claim that he "earned ignominy ... for refusing to join other world leaders in condemning Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe's brutal and ruinous rule", as if these two things existed in entirely separate, unrelated universes.

In this case, though, it might not be the Washington Post's fault exactly, but rather our stupid, stupid world for being a place where Mbeki has to take crap for resolving a crisis Zimbabwe when everyone else was standing around with their thumbs up their asses.

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Friday, September 19, 2008

Rah-Rah-Rasputin

Over the past couple of weeks, the Russians have been up to their old tricks: helping Cuba build a space program, selling military technology to Iran and Venezuela, test-firing a new long-range missile, sending a fleet into the Carribean and claiming dominion over the North Pole. (That said, once you've planted a flag on the Arctic seabed it's all good.) Oh, right, and the whole "invading another sovereign nation" thing.

Edit: And their secret underground vodka pipeline. Seriously.

Russia's recent shenanigans prompted Secretary of State Condi Rice to scold the Russians at length for their military adventures and assorted ne'er do well tendencies. I particularly enjoyed this part:
Russia’s attack on Georgia merely proved what we had already known – that Russia could use its overwhelming military advantage to punish a small neighbor... Russia’s invasion of Georgia has achieved – and will achieve – no enduring strategic objective... their choices could put Russia on a one-way path to self-imposed isolation and international irrelevance.

In a display of appalling racial insensitivity, the Russians in the audience burst into laughter and began banging pots and kettles together while chanting "black, black, black." Let me put it another way: when people talk about America's diminished standing abroad, they are referring to our inability to use the limp noodles of international norms/law to chastise other nations (or get others to do so on our behalf with a straight face). What I'm getting at is what every IR nerd secretly loves about the Russians: they just don't give a shit. Human rights? Fuck 'em. Democratic norms? Don't care. Rule of law? Go take a flying fuck at the moon. Which we own.

The last Russian leader to actually give a shit was Gorbachev, and that didn't really work out so well for him. Point being, this is not a new line of Russian foreign policy. From Tsarist times through the fall of the USSR, Russia has always played bare-knuckle politics with the rest of the world, and is ideally positioned to do so in the next few years. The interesting question is why they've started up again, and while I'm no commie-ologist, I'll speculate a bit below.

1. Opportunity--For a long time after the fall of the USSR, the balance of forces was so lopsided that the Russians, with virtually no relevant institutional power (not in NATO, etc) was basically unable to successfully oppose US measures in Europe and the Middle East. What coalition did they have? As they would see in the march to Iraq, the UK would bugger itself with a harpoon to avoid pissing off the US, and while France and Germany weren't that extreme, their strategic interest coincided with US interest far more than it did with Russian interests. In short, they couldn't insert themselves into the Cold War old boys network, because that network was built for the express purpose of not including Russia. The US misadventure in Iraq means that our forces are insufficient to either deter or contain Russia's ambitions vis-a-vis third rate countries like Georgia. In the end, while Condi talks a good game, she's basically saying to Europe "we got shit, it's up to you guys."

2. Strategic Interest--The "color revolutions" and NATO expansion have sharply curtailed what was traditionally Russia's sphere of influence. While NATO is no longer explicitly a hostile military alliance, we can forgive Russian strategic thinkers for feeling a little bit hemmed in by nations of questionable friendliness. It turns out, one way of opening a region up is to take it over and build bases/install friendly leaders. Another way is by building friendly relations with other powers opposed to the dominant paradigm.

3. Nationalism--Inasmuch as the end of the Cold War was a victory for the USA, it was a defeat for Russia. Although many sectors of Russian society railed against the oppressive policies of the USSR, there was a profound sense of national humiliation that spread throughout the Russian Federation in the aftermath of the fall. I wouldn't posit nationalism as a cause of Russia's ambitions, I would say that the legacy of that humiliation means that Russia flexing its muscles on the international stage is unlikely to meet a great deal of criticism at home. In short, it functions as an enabler.

The real question is how the international community will respond to these provocations, but my feeling is that it's hard to punch someone while you're busy grabbing your ass with both hands, but we'll see. One of the problems with the current US-led order is that there's no #2 to hold the fort while we're busy fucking up half a world away.

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Ask the Tims: The Handcuff Kerfuffle

Dear Tims,
My daughter was home for spring break and her somewhat older boyfriend came to visit for the first time. After he left, I found two pair of handcuffs next to where his luggage had been in the living room—obviously left behind. This man is not a policeman. While he seemed to treat my daughter well, I'm not sure what to do with these items, and the incident has left me with rather unpleasant feelings toward him. Do I send him a note thanking him for the interesting hostess gift? He is British, but I don't think their customs are that different. Do I mail them with a note: "I believe you left these behind?" Do I throw them out? I'm somewhat at a loss here. What would The Tims do?

—Nervous Mom



Dear Nervous Mom,
Asking your daughter if she left her bondage gear at your home accidentally is not worth the embarrassment it would cause to either of you. Seriously. She'll buy new handcuffs. They're cheap. However, this is not the crux of the issue.

Your daughter obviously has a healthier sex life than you. This presents an opportunity for you to relate to your child, whilst spicing up your own life. Why throw out a perfectly good pair of handcuffs? Put them to use! If these are the kind with comfortable fuzzy covers to prevent chaffing, I recommend removing the covers, hand-washing them in Woolite (or similar detergent suitable for delicates) hanging to dry, and enjoy!

If these handcuffs are without delightful fuzzy covers, I suggest you make some. I have found them to be quite easy to knit or crochet! First timers should not try the cuffs without some padding, but hopefully as you get more comfortable, you won't need it at all.

- Tim


Dear Nervous Mom,
What makes you so certain they were his? You don’t mention whether you let them stay in the same room or not. Regardless, I’m sure they were making good use of those handcuffs every time you went to work or ran out to the store so you could make them yummy blueberry pancakes.

Let’s face it. You mentioned he is “somewhat older.” Since you did not mention what your husband thought, it is safe to assume your daughter grew up without an adult male in her life. She is clearly seeking a father figure to make up for what she lacked in her childhood. I blame you for this. If you don’t know how to deal with the handcuffs in this situation, chances are, the unlucky guy who inseminated you only made that mistake once and avoided another boring night with you.

Long before she desperately sought approval from this older man as he handcuffed her to the bed she grew up in, surrounded by her teddy bears and Backstreet Boys posters while you were at church, I’m sure you’ve written to a number of advice columns, seeking the wisdom to deal with the problems you caused. I can see it now, “Dear Abby, my daughter won’t eat,” “Dear Ann Landers, my daughter has these mysterious cuts on her arms,” “Dear Miss Manners, how do convince my daughter that calling her mother a ‘lonely, pathetic bitch’ is impolite?”

Now, to answer your question, simply throw them out. Neither of you want to deal with the awkward situation involved in returning them. They can easily purchase a new pair.

- Tim

Need advice? Send your questions to askthetims@gmail.com.

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Thursday, September 18, 2008

Balderdash!

My fellow bloggard, Waldorf, sent me this latest abomination from the New York Times. Is this what happens when William Safire retires? The Times just makes up new words and writes articles on them? "Staycation" was bad enough, but "glamping"? The learned author explains:
If the eco-friendly idea of falling asleep under the stars and roasting marshmallows around a campfire appeals to you, but the reality of pitching a tent and sleeping on bumpy ground does not, glamping [sic], the new term being used for upscale — or glamorous — camping, could be your ideal green vacation.
This offends me for many reasons. The idea itself is ridiculous; why not just stay in a hotel and leave the windows open? It would be equally glamorous and would not require the "glamper" to stretch the boundaries of his dictionary (and credulity) in attempting to equate the experience to camping.

Equally ridiculous is the idea that this "glamping" is pitched as a "green" option. That's not too surprising; everything is pitched as "green" these days. But seriously, how can this level of luxury honestly be called environmental? Behold, their logic:
“We call it nature on a silver plate,” Terre Short, Paws Up’s general manager, said. “I think glamping has really hit its stride this summer as the ultimate connect [sic] with nature.”

No, friend, the ultimate connection with nature would be a lot closer to actual camping. The ultimate connection to nature would probably not involve "king-sized beds and art on the walls, a personal butler and private master bath." Neither, I suspect, would it include "a games tent, a library tent, dining tents, lounge tents and a spa tent."

True conservation, if that is your thing, can't include all the luxuries of normal life. If you want to reduce your carbon dioxide output, the best option (short of killing yourself) is to use less stuff. If you believe in this green crusade, instead of driving to a glamorous campsite, stay the fuck home. Tend your garden. Compost something. Make something out of hemp.

Reducing your consumption of whatever resource you think we're running out of means actually reducing your fancy lifestyle. You can't have it both ways.

Also, I hate neologisms because I am cranky and don't want to buy a new dictionary.

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What's Your Palin Name?

Regardless of where you fall on the political spectrum, and how you feel about Sarah Palin, I think we can all agree that she has a certain knack for naming her kids. There's Track, Trig, Bristol, Willow, and Piper. As a side note, I am interested in how two of her children were named after TV witches, but I digress. The point of this post, my friends, is to determine your own Palin name, with the help of this handy tool.

Mine is Ripper Shook Palin. Now that's a name!

t

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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

For godsakes, stop touching your heads!

People have come up with many reasons for the economic catastrophe of late: poor government oversight, greedy investors, deceitful home buyers, wrath of God. But I have another theory - excessive head-touching by stock traders. I submit for your consideration:









I think we need to act quickly here and require that all traders to keep their hands and arms below their shoulders at all times. Perhaps a hands-in-pockets policy might be prudent for the rest of the week. Alternatively, we could insist that all traders smile, cheer and pump their fists, which seems to cause dramatic upswings in the relevant stock indices.




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