The Closet Moderate: October 2008

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.


Tuesday, October 28, 2008


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.


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.


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'?


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.


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.


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.


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!


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....


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.


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.


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.


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.