Freedom from Blog

Don't call it a comeback . . . .

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


Palin thinking about 2012? Who would've thought it? That McCain would be thrown under the bus by his "beauty queen" veep pick? Nooooooooo!

Infotainment: Very Moving

Kind of a disjointed post on the 30 minute ad follows:

Some early excerpts: ". . . I still see optimism, and hope, and strength." "We've been talking about the same problems for decades . . . a defining moment . . . to keep faith with our people." "Their stories are American stories."

"None of that grows government."

Obama hits IRAQ hard in the infomercial. Good for him.

The thing that strikes me is that Obama actually is concerned about the little man. I think that has been true of other candidates in the recent past, but Obama knows these folks. He is a man of the people, even if he is super smart and super educated. That's not so strange. Many of us have humble roots, and even if we've "made it," we still feel the pain of family members (Obama speaks of his mother's last days with cancer and insurance forms, and just tonight my (retired) dad was telling me how his insurance premiums were increasing) and friends who don't have the same income, etc.

This video was great. I don't see the weaknesses, maybe, because I'm in the tank for the O-man. Maybe. But I believe it's safe to say that this was a marketing success. If people watched it, they were moved.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Too Cute

Closing Argument

When NBC is willing to say that Obama has 286 electoral votes as of today--without Ohio or Florida(!)--then you know things aren't going well for McCain. Obama has more money and has apparently bought every last second of media time out there. The economic crisis hasn't done McCain any favors. Bush's unpopularity is a problem. But I think that McCain faces the same problem Hillary faced in the primaries: Obama is just hard to attack.

Part of the reason for that is race. Of course. There are attacks that one might try but that might be perceived (in some cases, correctly) as race-baiting or even racist. It's never clear, in advance, how attacks will be perceived. You might get away with a race-baiting attack, or you might get reviled for a non-racist attack that gets perceived as racist. So you're never certain how to proceed.

Then there is Obama's personality. His cool. He doesn't seem like a dangerous person. He just doesn't. You may not like him, but it would be hard to question his temperament. Or his intellect.

You can go after his lack of experience, but he just seems competent. In debates, interviews, all the time. The "first crisis" is not a bad argument, but it doesn't seem to be working. And his lack of a track record means that he doesn't have a long history of things to use in attacks--votes, positions, etc. His newness also makes him hard to attack. He doesn't have a paper trail.

I've said for a long time that it's hard to make fun of Obama. What does one make fun of, exactly? The comedians have tended to go after Obama's supporters, which can be funny, indeed. But it doesn't really hit him.

The McCain campaign seems to have decided to attack Obama's so-called "spread the wealth" policies as socialist and to try to persuade undecided voters that he is a secret socialist, even a "Marxist." That might be effective with the base of the GOP--folks who already think that the modern welfare state is "socialist" or "Marxist" will easily accept that Obama is a socialist.

But I would be surprised if this is an effective attack. It doesn't actually go to Obama's record or character, and it doesn't go to the current concerns of voters. In a time of plenty, or perceived plenty, voters may be turned off by redistributionist policies (Obama's policies are not that redistributionist). But it's like arguing for cutting capital gains taxes when most people have capital losses. In some contexts it might work. But not now. When you're worried about losing your job and your house, you may be more willing to pay income and property taxes. Because that means that you have income and property. Taxes are never popular, but I don't think voters are focused on taxes right now.

Anyone else have any thought?

Monday, October 27, 2008

One Week to Go

Because Bee is ready for change. The first four months of her life have been, um, unsettled. Bring on some change, O-man.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Mind Reading

Readers of this blog (are there any?) know that I generally resist mind reading. As in, "John McCain doesn't like his campaign's negative turn." How do you know, PunditDude?

But I would like to know what JoeMentum himself, Joe Lieberman, is thinking these days. His choice to back McCain looks like a really bad bet at this point, no? He makes all those appearances, on stage with McCain, when McCain calls Obama a "socialist," because Obama would increase the marginal tax rate for those with incomes more than $250,000 by about 3% for taxable income over $250,000. Now, I'm no expert on socialism . . . but that doesn't look like socialism to me. Nationalizing the financial sector, maybe socialism. But Lieberman smiles, and claps, even though he was on a ticket just 8 years ago that opposed those tax cuts. Wasn't he?

Didn't Lieberman clap when Al Gore talked about "the people versus the powerful," or whatever it was? Because he chuckles and goes along with McCain now when he argues for cutting the capital gains and corporate income taxes . . . for siding with the powerful.

And, he drags his wife along. Does she agree with this?

Any mind readers out there who can tell me WTF is going on?

Are You Kidding?

For a long time, Al Franken has been talking about running for Senate in Minnesota. For a long time, he has been. For a long time, his polling numbers have been stagnant--just under 40%. But then an Independent entered the race, and, while Franken hasn't risen in the polls--in fact, he's actually declined, slightly--Norm Coleman has declined even more. Check it out. Coleman would be cruising at this point, but for the third candidate in the race. But Franken is probably in the lead at this point.

Too close to call at this point. Coleman might pull this one out. But the Independent in the Minnesota race . . . that's the sort of thing that happens when things are breaking one party's way.

Thursday, October 23, 2008


If you haven't seen this, what happens if the winner of a marathon doesn't start with the elite field? This happened at the Nike Womens Marathon. It turns out that the marathon organizers screw up and award the prize to the elite "winner." Then they change course and award both the winner and the "winner" first place. Can you do that? Apparently.

This reminds me of the time, in high school, when the two runners ahead of me made a wrong turn in a cross country race and thus cut off about a half mile of the course. They didn't mean to do so--it was a mistake. But they finished with such great times, and a number of us saw them make the wrong turn. So I won the race, right? No, the race organizers awarded the win, and second, to the wrong way guys. I finished "third."

Not still bitter though.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Just Nutty

Check out the latest Thomas Sowell's column comparing Obama to the Bolsheviks. I think that Sowell actually has his facts wrong--I'm not sure that the Russian people ever went with the Bolsheviks. The Bolsheviks seized power, no? Not that that matters. Just nutty.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

First Thing We Do

Did I really joke about a "terrorist" non-threat last week? Yesterday, in Dalton, GA, a 78-year old suicide bomber attacked a law firm where one of my old college buddies practices. Glad to see Smalley, who lived across the hall from me junior year and often goes to the NC mountain reunions, is OK. Not everyone got off so lucky. This is just weird. Small town red state America is not so placid a place as we'd imagine.

Friday, October 17, 2008

The Resistance to Sabermetrics

In the baseball fan debate over statistics, I occupy an awkward position. In my day job, I use statistics all the time. In my baseball life, I care about, and follow, the stats, but feel that the stats leave something out. I am a member of SABR (Society for American Baseball Research), but not a very active member.

I think I had the "a-ha" moment tonight. My problem is that I place myself in the analysis. Not as a baseball player. Let's just say that my boyhood dream of playing for the Detroit Tigers never came near fruition. (Although if I could just learn to throw a knuckleball, I my still have a shot at pitching an inning . . . .) But in my career, and in my current job.

Let's just say that, in sabermetric terms, I probably don't measure up too good. Sure, I hold my own, against the "players of the day," and if my boss today were drawing up the line-up, I'm starting. But am I an all-time great? A top 40 guy, HOF, etc. No, I'm not. If you had your pick of people to do my job, all-time, am I in that conversation? No.

Now, unlike a MLB ballplayer, I'm not facing the inevitable decline of age. Because I work with my mind, I may make the cut, eventually (although I will probably have to depend on a few great years rather than counting stats at this point). But I think that the deeper point is that lots of us smart guys, with plenty of talent, recognize that we're not the smartest, or sharpest, or whatever. That we're solid guys--hell, we always wish that there were a few more like us in the office--and not necessarily guys, don't mean to be sexist. We're in the top 20 percent, maybe top 15, but not in that elite group.

The problem with sabermetrics, it seems to me, is that it discounts these guys. The "very good" don't belong in the HOF. But there are many more "very good" cogs in the office machine than there are hall of fame players. And those of us who feel, rightly or wrongly, that we're in that category ("very good") have a somewhat visceral reaction to the sabermetric discussions of why, say, Jim Thome doesn't belong in the Hall of Fame. Or, say, Omar Vizquel. Omar may not have been the greatest of all time (GOAT), but who is? Ripken? If that's the mark, then no one else counts. And that can't be right, can it?

This is especially a problem with "fan favorites." Players that the fans love but who "come up short" in the numbers department. Sure, may of these players may be over-rated. But guys like me worry that maybe we're over-rated, too. We start to think that it should count that people like us. Because, frankly, that isn't always the easiest thing to accomplish. People liking you. Generally, you have to earn that, and in most professions it doesn't come easy. I know that as a baseball fan, I don't bestow my affections on just anyone. It is earned. I think that it's the same with me. Folks don't instantly cotton to you. You have to show them something.

But if the standard is GOAT, then, hell, that's a pretty lofty goal. And being "pretty good" usually entails knowing how to recognize greatness, and knowing that you're always going to fall a little short (at least). By contrast, incompetent people don't share this affliction. (They are truly MORONS.) But my people, we see. And we understand, and feel, well, under-appreciated.

Or, to say it differently, we appreciate the very good ball players. We see in them (project?) our own virtues. We like to believe that we are like them--we know that we are not like the GOATs, who are beyond us, but that we may be like the players who have some success, even if it's limited in time or scope. Not the mediocre and awful, but the very good (good-to-very-good?).

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Gratuitous Joe the Plumber Crack

Did Johnny just flush his campaign away tonight? I don't know, but that turd was circling the bowl even before tonight's sad display of dickishness. That Joe the Plumber gimmick was OK at first, but it got unbelievably annoying. Somebody should have told lil' Mac that the "Obama's gonna fine you" attack was BS before he invested so much anger in it. And why McCain thought he could score points with vouchers and abortion horror stories, I have no idea.

As I've said before, America is Andy Dufresne, and we're gonna have to crawl through several football fields of foul stench before we can wash clean. Tonight Johnny celebrated the sewer.

Memories of 1988

This is the 20th anniversary of the Kirk Gibson home run in Game One of the 1988 World Series. I, too, remember watching that game on teevee. I was home from college, for some reason (fall break?) and watched the game with my mom. I remember this very clearly. (Why I was home, I have no idea. I don't think we got fall break.) But I remember the home run, which was historic. I actually wrote a short story "loosely based" on it. Maybe I should post that?

Review: The Coldest Winter by David Halberstam

Halberstam's magisterial book on the Korean war is a worthwhile read if you're interested in the politics of the post-[WWII]war world. Because we still live in that world, really. The conservative argument in the 1950s was . . . "appeasement." Sound familiar? As I mentioned before, MacArthur is not so alien to the contemporary political sphere. Halberstam actually draws the parallel to the Iraq war at one point. Both wars, if not all wars, are based on miscalculations.

Plus, Halberstam excels at the short character study or vignette. He can give you a relatively full character study in 500 words. It's an amazing skill. I was also impressed by the research that went into this book. Halberstam spoke to scores, hundreds, of Korean war veterans. He tells their stories, and it's a beautiful thing, even when the stories are horrifying.

It's a long book, but worth the slog. At times, you will feel bogged down in Korea. But maybe that's the point.


And yes, the top picture is artsy.

The End is Nigh

The Tampa Bay [Devil] Rays one game away from the World Series? A black man less than three weeks from what looks like it will be a decisive presidential victory? A Republican administration partially nationalizing the banking sector? The media turning on their darling, John McCain?

You don't need a weatherman to tell which way the wind blows, my friends. Start stockpiling canned goods and fill the bathtub with potable water. The end is clearly nigh.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Fox News: "He's an Arab"

"Who is the real Barack Obama?" (quoting John McCain) According to the $ 20 million man, Sean Inhannity, he's the Manchurian candidate. The remake, not the original. Oh, yes, back to the 1990s. The days of the Clinton body counts, cocaine smuggling through Arkansas airfields, and KGB ties/Moscow visits. All on a video advertised on The Old Time Gospel Hour.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

The Break

I don't know if that's the right term. But it seems to me that media coverage of McCain's response to the crazy-old-woman-can't-trust-an-Arab at his rally has been really stoopid. The coverage fixates on how McCain is "torn," how he is uncomfortable with running the dirtiest, sleaziest campaign in moden political history . . . and maybe he is. I don't know, I can't read his effing mind, unlike the people on my teevee. (I wonder if Chris Matthews can tell what I'm thinking? If so, he not like it.)

When crazy-old-woman-can't-trust-an-Arab asked that question at the rally, that was potentially the decisive moment in the campaign. McCain was face-to-face (eek) with the ugly underbelly of anti-Obamaism. That's what I mean by the "break." If McCain doesn't step his crowd back at that point--if he doesn't say, "No, he's not"--then that moment defines the race and his reputation forever. It would have destroyed the remaining shreds of his credibility. It would have been the only thing talked about, in terms of the campaign, until the end of time: "The 2008 election? Oh, yeah, McCain called Obama an Arab at a campaign rally."

It's like a key play in a football game--the interception in the end zone, the fumble--or the pitch on a 3-1 count that just misses and is parked in the center field bleachers. I generally hate sports analogies, but I think that this one is right on.

McCain was essentially the WR on that pass play, and, seeing that he couldn't catch the ball, he knocked it down rather than let the DB intercept in the end zone.

In other words, McCain did what a smart, ambitious politician does--he played that one right. Does that mean he's torn, conflicted? Not necessarily. (Again, I can't read his mind.) But he clearly knows how the game is played.

Snow D-Day

Didn't have to go in to work today. School was canceled. Why, you ask? Yawn. Why, "credible threat" of "terrorism," of course. Yesterday--Thursday--campus was swarmed by helicopters and heavily armed swat teams. They shut it down, yo, at noon and canceled class for the remainder of the week, lengthening our fall break by a day and a half.

See, we're at the heart of the GWOT. Luckily, they caught the "terrorist" Thursday night. I think he may have been playing video games. Turns out, funny story, it was a freshman. And his brilliant, secret plot was to send some threatening e-mails to a couple of deans (re: shutting down school during midterms) and then leave some paper towels on a dorm stove top burner. Our new school motto: "training a smarter class of terrorists." I wonder if he's connected to Obama somehow. I'm sure Sarah Baracuda is already hot on the trail.

Friday, October 10, 2008


Who uses the phrase "the Charles Gibson-Katie Couric gilloutine"? Oh, yeah, VDH. As in McCain's treatment of VP pick Palin: "The Alaskan mom of five in near suicidal fashion was ordered by the campaign to put her head in the Charlie Gibson-Katie Couric guillotine."

I repeat: huh? Does any sane person fear an interview with these people? Katie Couric? It wasn't Katie's fault that Palin couldn't name a newspaper she read or a Supreme Court case she disagreed with, was it? Isn't this the ultimate softball question? "What newspapers do you read?"

I will help all future GOP candidates out by providing the conservative answer: "Well, [guillotine person], I read the Wall Street Journal, especially the op-ed page, and sometimes the Washington Times. If I'm traveling, the hotels usually provide U.S.A. Today, so I read that a fair amount. And, of course, my hometown paper, [name]. But no matter what paper I'm reading [except the WSJ], I start with the sports!"

Magazines: "Well, of course, [guillotine person], National Review and the Weekly Standard."

Suicide mission? Not Thermopylae, that's for sure.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

A Thrashing and Some Gnashing in Nashville

This was very much Obama's night. I thought he won in every aspect of the debate: substance, style, foreign, domestic, offense, defense, special teams. The first debate struck me as a solid if close Obama win, but this town hall debate was far better for Tall O. Unlike McCain, who seemed to be reciting well worn (and not always credible mantras), Obama actually engaged the audience and sought to explain the issues in the way friends or neighbors would talk across a dinner table. His response on why the bailout would help ordinary Americans was the best I've heard from any public official in the last few weeks. His very personal concluding remarks, speaking about his humble origins, was touching.

Mostly, he just looked presidential--the "calm hand at the tiller" that McCain invoked but could not embody. I was reminded of the famous Clinton-Bush town hall from 1992. The winds of change are blowin'.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Bourgeois Ideologists Beware

As some of you know, we're not a household that puts much stock in the concept of "ideology" as that term is used in contemporary parlance, i.e., in the sense that most political actors, perhaps including many if not most voters, act on the basis of ideological beliefs that can be arranged on a single dimension from "left" to "right." This is not to say that political actors don't have beliefs, and not to say that the terms "left" and "right" aren't useful terms. But, in pragmatic fashion, my view is that "left" and "right" have value in describing a range of issue positions in shorthand. So today to be on the "left" means to embrace a certain set of issue positions, and the same for the "right." Whether holding those issue positions together makes internal logical sense, not so important. The term "ideology" in the strongest sense means that the beliefs should fit into a coherent theoretical construct. I think that that is probably a bridge to nowhere too far.

Fronesis' post on the, um, non-conservative nature of contemporary conservatism from about a week ago makes this point from a slightly different angle. If you start from Plato, or Burke, there's really very little about contemporary conservatism that is Burkean or Platonic.

I would point Fronesis to the writings of Frank Meyers as the prime bourgeois ideologist (Marx!) of contemporary U.S. conservatism. Meyers did the intellectual spadework for uniting two divergent political factions: the economic libertarians (perhaps the last remaining truly ideological group) and the folks we call "social conservatives" today. This has always proved an uneasy alliance, but to the extent that there is still a "conservative" movement in the United States, it is fusionist.

At the root of politics isn't ideology, but interest. I'm not a Marxist, but I do believe that politics is driven by interests seeking advantage in the social, economic, and political spheres, and that these interests seek to influence government to achieve their ends; that in that effort, ideological constructs can be helpful. In the U.S., "free market," for example, is a powerful talisman to conjure with. It means nothing, of course. The idea that we have a "free market" economy is laughable. But powerful economic interests have a stake in (1) lots of people believing that we have relatively unfettered markets already and (2) the efficiency and desirability of such markets. So they promote these beliefs through their ideologists. The ones on my teevee always using the phrase "free market."

I think that the current crisis was driven less by ideology and more by a set of powerful interests discovering that they could amass great wealth through exploiting certain economic arrangements. Nothing new here. Only they weren't extracting raw materials from the earth (they weren't oilmen) or exploiting new technologies for greatly increased production (the industrial giants of the 19th and 20th centuries); they were exploiting the creation of paper wealth and paper profits through a speculative bubble. I actually don't think that that bubble was consciously created. I think that when the financial sector realized that it was there--and my guess is that this realization dawned piecemeal--they went nuts exploiting it.

But the interesting point is that there isn't an ideological construct to explain or justify this set of arrangements. Not with any specificity. It's almost like the interests, and the complexity of the economic arrangements, have outstripped the ability of the bourgeois ideologists to produce scripts.

So we're left with the nightmare scenario: another Great Depression will follow unless we protect these interests. Why? Something about credit. But aren't we rewarding "bad behavior"? They are too big to fail. Why? See the nightmare scenario.

Such arguments should be familiar, from the Iraq war. Saddam is going to get the bomb and kill you! Is "neo-conservatism" an ideology or tales told to frighten children?

Friday, October 03, 2008

VP Presiding over the Senate

In last night's debate Palin claimed that as VP she would "preside over the Senate." This got quite a reaction from Biden, who noted that the VP only presides over the Senate when casting a tie-breaking vote, after which the conversation quickly moved on. Ominously, I thought she was arguing for some expanded role for VP power to preside over the day to day matters of the Senate. Such a move would basically gut the power of the Senate and effectively turn us into a bisvirate, er bishominate. Am I wrong?

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Reconstructing Harry

So I'm reading David Halberstam's Coldest Winter, a history of the Korean War. (Definitely worth a read, FFBers.) And I've been thinking about how everyone today wants to claim to be Harry Truman--Palin, McCain (sort of), W.--but that the true historical analogy for these people, in Korean War terms, is Gen. Douglas MacArthur. MacArthur ignored, or rejected, or made it clear to his underlings that he didn't want to hear, intelligence reports that conflicted with his "view" that the Chinese would not intervene in Korea. Even after U.S. troops had captured Chinese troopers, and had reports from civilians that large masses of Chinese were in the area . . . MacArthur and his intelligence staff continued to discount intelligence that conflicted with their beliefs. MacArthur lived in a bubble, surrounded by yes men. Sound like anyone you know?

MacArthur was vainglorious, arrogant, megalomaniacal . . . he liked to play dress up.

He was a hard-liner, a never-say-die hero of U.S. conservatives back in the day. By the beginning of the Korean War, he was also old (70) and in questionable health.

One thing that is interesting to consider is how MacArthur has "faded away" as time has passed. He has never been discredited in the way that he deserves. Instead, he just isn't part of the conversation. In his place, today's conservatives embrace MacArthur's historical counterpart, Truman. Strange. It's time to bring Mac back.

"Mac is back," anyone?

"Can you think of any?"

Katie Couric asked both Joe Biden and Sarah Palin about Roe v. Wade, and then asked each about other Supreme Court decisions, specifically to name decisions, other than Roe, with which they disagreed. Asking Biden that question is a little bit like asking John Madden to name a manly linebacker or two, of course--he could, literally, talk for days on the question. Palin's response was, predictably, evasive. It actually seems like she can't name a Supreme Court case other than Roe:

Couric: What other Supreme Court decisions do you disagree with?

Palin: Well, let's see. There's, of course in the great history of America there have been rulings, that's never going to be absolute consensus by every American. And there are those issues, again, like Roe v. Wade, where I believe are best held on a state level and addressed there. So you know, going through the history of America, there would be others but …

Couric: Can you think of any?

Palin: Well, I could think of … any again, that could be best dealt with on a more local level. Maybe I would take issue with. But, you know, as mayor, and then as governor and even as a vice president, if I'm so privileged to serve, wouldn't be in a position of changing those things but in supporting the law of the land as it reads today.


But here's the fun part: If you had to prep Palin for this interview, other than Roe and other than Scott v. Sanford ("Dred Scott"), what is the perfect Supreme Court case for a conservative pol to disagree with. By that, I mean the decision that one can disagree with that would both signal one's conservative bona fides and, at the same time, not offend any mainstream sensibilities.

I think that Kelo, the recent Takings clause case involving use of eminent domain for economic redevelopment, is the perfect case. And it's actually surprising to me, given Palin's background in state but especially local government, that she couldn't come up with that. I guess that Takings issues (and community redevelopment issues) don't arise in Alaska?