Sunday, October 31, 2004

Rock On

Kelefa Sanneh's lead essay in the New York Times' Sunday arts coverage, "The Rap Against Rockism," is a phenomenon one sees too often: a critic spouts widely-accepted, conventional wisdom and tries to pass it off as a brave new vision.

Better watch it, Kelefa, for just as what's "classic" in rock regularly changes, so does what's fashionable in pop criticism. With the ground always shifting, yesterday's exciting new notions can become reactionary overnight.

So Who's This Bin Laden Guy Again?

OK, you spend the last two days at a junior soccer tournament and you miss a few things. Kidding aside, the Chicago papers thought that Osama's teleconference would help Bush, not Kerry. I still believe (without any empirical data to back it up, except my own unique brand of defeatist pessimism) that most of the undecideds will go with "the devil you know" (that incumbent fellow) on Tuesday. But the first presidential vote I cast was for John Anderson, so don't listen to me.

Keeping my priorities straight

Yeah, I know there's an election coming up and all that. But did you catch that UM/MSU game yesterday? It was one of the most exciting I've ever seen.

For the first 50 minutes, the Wolverines played like zombies. They were getting walloped by the Spartans. Then, somehow, they turned it on and scored 17 points to tie it up. Three overtimes later, somehow, they won 45-37.

When games are like this, it makes you think college football is the best sport around. Especially if you're a Wolverine fan.

Chicago Guy adds: I missed the Michigan-MSU tilt but did catch the end of North Carolina's upset of Miami--last second field goal, fans rush the field, etc. Great stuff. LAGuy is right that college football, even featuring teams you don't particularly care about, can be the most exciting sport there is. But they've got to do something about the length of the games. Between the clock stoppages on every first down and every out-of-bounds, and the glacially-paced halftimes, minimum time is three and a half hours (I'll wager that Michigan game was far longer). If they could just (it pains me to say this) borrow one thing from the NFL, it would be to somehow limit the first down and out-of-bounds clock stoppages, maybe to the last few minutes of each half.



Nothing New

Unless the final days' polls show a surprising surge in either direction (due or not due to UBL), things seem to have gotten closer, if anything, in the Presidential race. Some impartial (yes, they do exist) experts told me last week Bush had the slightest edge and now Kerry has the slightest edge. With the welter of polls, often going in different directions, I don't know how anyone can say who's in the lead, especially in the Electoral College.

So, same as before, only moreso: battleground states, turnout.

(Some treat polls like a horserace, but in a real sporting event, being ahead is something real. Right now the score is--not counting early voters--0-0.)

Ah yes, early voters. Their unprecedented high number is getting a lot of coverage. But the interesting question is do they reflect higher voter participation overall, or just higher early voter participation.

Oh, and don't forget to turn your clocks back.

I can't bear the suspense

The stark cover of the Los Angeles Times Sunday Book Review demands "Is Either Of These Books Worth A Damn?" The books in question are Unfit For Command, an attack on John Kerry, and Unfit Commander, an attack on George Bush.

WARNING! SPOILERS AHEAD! I'M NOW GOING TO REVEAL WHAT THE LOS ANGELES TIMES HAD TO SAY ABOUT THESE TWO BOOKS! IF YOU DON'T WANT TO KNOW, STOP READING! I'M NOT KIDDING!



(The anti-Bush book is great, the anti-Kerry book is garbage.)


Saturday, October 30, 2004

Walter Crankite

Walter Cronkite thinks Rove was behind the UBL tape. Hmmm. So Madeline Albright was right. That Bush has had UBL locked up somewhere for months. That Bush allowed the Democrats beat him up over his failure to catch UBL. That it was all a rope-a-dope tactic, with the evil genius Rove in Bush's corner, set to spring bin Laden on voters in Round 15.

But wouldn't Bush get more bang for his buck if Rove told the camera crew to videotape bin Laden getting deloused, instead of standing in front of a podium well-dressed, healthy and defiant?

LAGuy adds: Eminem's "Mosh" video subscribes to the same theory.

Usama bin Laden, future Nobel Laureate?

This article from the LA Times wonders whether UBL is beginning a Arafat-like transformation. The paper suggests the latest tape may be UBL's first step in "re-branding" (yup, that's the word the LAT uses) himself as a sort of senior stateman for Muslim extremists.

UBL tape helps Kerry?

The Democrats have done a poll and 46% apparently said that bin Laden's message "makes me think that George W. Bush took his eye of the ball in Afghanistan" while only 36% said the UBL tape "underscores the importance of George Bush's approach to terrorism."

One thing we know about the poll: it was a small sample. One thing we don't know: exactly how the question was asked. (The article linked to above says the respondents were read a "paraphrase" of what bin Laden says.) If, however, this was a legit survey, and not a push-poll, it's great news for Kerry.

Who knows

I think Pajama Guy has it right. Osama figures if Bush loses, which might happen, he can take credit. And his conciliatory (stop hitting me!) tone will then sound even better--he imagines.

What no one knows, though everyone speculates about, is how this pronouncement will play with the electorate. They already have such mixed feelings about almost everything--Iraq, the economy, Bush, Kerry--that anyone who claims to know how this'll play might as well be guessing.

Pajama Guy adds: The polls released Saturday show, if anything, a slight bump for Kerry, though NRO's Kerry spot suggests this is just because weekend sampling favors the Democrat. That said, unless there is a big move toward Bush Sunday morning, you will have to conclude the bin Laden tape didn't matter one whit. A bigger factor may turn out to be weather here in the Northeast. We're expecting scattered thunderstorms on Tuesday which I assume can only help Bush pick off a New Jersey, New Hampshire or Pennsylvania.

Forget the Reverse Psychology

If bin Laden's watching Farenheit 9/11, if he's reading the New York Times (much less the foreign papers), if he's surfing CNN, MSNBC, CNNi, BBC, he's gotta be thinking Bush is probably going to lose, or that at best this election will end in chaos. Assuming, as I do, that al Qaeda no longer has significant operational capability inside the US (God, I hope I'm right) bin Laden had to do something before November 2 to claim that he was the one who toppled Bush. His election-eve videotape is a lame effort, but if Bush loses, it will work.

Let's Make A Deal

Bin Laden, inserting himself into our election, makes the following arguments:

Bush is misleading Americans. Even the 2000 election was
fixed.

Part of the problem is Americans and Israelis oppressing the
Palestinians.

The Patriot Act is a form of oppression.

Bush showed he was unfit as Commander in Chief because he didn't leave a bunch of schoolchildren while the towers were being attacked.

America's fight against Iraq, before and after the war, has been immoral, resulting in massive civilian death, especially of children, and only happened so we could steal their oil.

The events of 9/11 were the inevitable answer to American oppression of Muslims. There were plenty of warnings that were ignored.

I think we can work something out. If he voluntarily surrenders, we can get him a work-release job either as a columnist for The Nation or a tenured history professor.

Friday, October 29, 2004

But I know that he knows that I know that he knows....

So Bin Laden is threatening us. It's pretty clear, regardless of what he thinks of Kerry (I doubt he's a fan) that he hates Bush. Bin Laden's people have committed many acts of terrorism, and it's not hard--despicable as the acts are--to figure why. They want to force their way of life on others, and they want those who oppose them to give in or get out.

I'm guessing Bin Laden is a lot more desperate than he used to be. This latest seems to be begging America, no matter who wins the election, to leave him alone. That's the sound of someone who's tired of being pounded.

Anyway, with their MO so clear, it's interesting how some are trying to spin this latest message. Remember Spain--huge terrorist attacks helped force those who supported the Iraq war out of office. It doesn't take a New York Times columnist to figure enemy number one is George Bush, the guy who started the war and guarantees its continuance.

Yet some bloggers (I won't hurt their rep by naming or linking them) actually think Bin Laden is threatening us because he knows that we hate him and won't do what he says, so when he tries to scare us away from Bush, we'll secretly turn toward Bush, which is just what evil genius Bin Laden wants, since constant worldwide pounding guarantees he'll get more volunteers (compared to those awful years when he could openly plot and plan to do anything anywhere across the world with all the henchmen he needed).

That's right, Bin Laden, master reverse psychologist! Next time he'll be saying we should support the state of Israel against Palestinian terrorism.

Wait, I just had a new idea. Bush actually could have captured Bin Laden, but let him go, because he knew that Bin Laden would mistakenly attack him just days before the election, driving voters toward Bush. Yeah, that's it. It all makes sense now.

Pull that lever, push that chad

Many doubt a sudden "rush" to Kerry in the last few days of the election. This makes some sense, especially since most polls, with a little pushing, don't show too many undecideds. But even if the polls are immovable, there's still that "moment of truth" when you've closed the curtain and it's just you and your conscience. That's when you stop pretending.

Four years ago, probably due to that "moment," there was an amazing rush to Gore. Five million voters were undecided and four million went to the Veep. Why? Well, he was tested, whereas this new guy only had his breath tested. (Does that make the "moment" a "moment of clarity.")

Which reminds me (this should be a separate post, but there are no rules here), it was four years ago when George W. Bush folded up his tent and decided to coast to victory. Even now I'm dumbfounded. Exactly what did he have to do that was more important?! I know he likes vacations, but couldn't he wait a few more days? He almost got a big vacation.

One more thing. I've already got expert analysis as to why Bush or Kerry won. Now all I need to do is await the results.

Soldier: I removed 200 tons of explosives

Fox News says that the Pentagon will soon hold a briefing in which a soldier from the 3rd Infantry Division will say his crew removed 200 tons of explosives from the Al Qaqaa bunkers on April 13th, 2003 before the ABC video was taken.

If this pans out, Kerry is going to feel like Charlie Brown and the football -- with the role of Lucy being played by the New York Times and CBS.




Chicago Guy Responds: Well, this certainly clears things up. The Pentagon is absolutely certain that it's not sure if the removed explosives were the missing explosives on the IAEA list, or something else, or whether who removed these things, or when, or how much. In fact, it's certain that we really don't know anything except that Kerry is not fit to lead. Oh, and freedom is on the march.

LAGuy Responds: No, Chicago Guy. We know one thing more for sure. If we hadn't kicked Saddam Hussein out (and Kerry didn't want to kick him out--of Kuwait) he'd right now be in charge of over a thousand time more explosives, not to mention a country. (Osama Bin Laden used to have free run of a country as well, when he wasn't busy holding international press conferences. Now he hides and begs us to stop fighting him.)

Schilling on DL

The Associated Press is reporting that baseball hero Curt Schilling -- who endorsed Bush on Good Morning America -- will be a no-show at a planned campaign event in swing state New Hampshire:

The Boston Red Sox player had planned to appear Friday with Bush, but his doctors advised him not to travel because of his injured ankle, Bush aides said.

Are they serious? He would have been able to throw 9 innings in St. Louis, but he couldn't deliver a single pitch for Bush in the state next door?

The waiting is the hardest part

The election is tense enough without the threat of terrorism hanging over our heads. I take this threat seriously and would never be flippant about it, but those who'd wish to harm America on our soil have had over three years to make a move and so far, nothing.

I'm not impressed with a masked guy in a video warning our streets will run with blood, but if it's going to happen, the terrorists' MO suggests it'll be in the next few days. Like most, I'm not too worried (then again, who was worried on 9/10?), but I know what would be nice. If Bush and Kerry could stop their campaigning, appear arm in arm on TV, and explain that no matter what other differences they may have, they are as one when it comes to fighting terrorism, and the terrorists will greatly regret any move they make against us.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Interesting stat

For the first time in a while (that I've noticed, anyway), Bush is ahead or tied in all the polls. Which polls do I mean? Rassmussen, Zogby, TIPP, ABC/Washington Post, ICR, LA Times (the one tie), Gallup, Battleground, Newsweek, Time.

Still, I wouldn't read too much into it. First, almost all the polls are "statistical" ties. Second, let's assume it means Bush has a 2% or 3% lead: 1) There certainly could be a last-second undecided rush to the challenger. 2) A close lead means turnout counts, and no one knows yet who that favors. 3) If the lead narrows, it'll come down to the battleground states, and the data there is, presently, not that promising for Bush. (In the key state of Ohio, the Democrat lawyers so far seem to be beating the Republican lawyers.)

Pajama Guy adds: Surely if these polls mean anything, the fact they're all lining up in the same direction means something.



Chicago Guy Responds: I don't see a last-second rush to Kerry. As a Republican operative I know told me (believe it or not, I know one and he will actually speak to me), "If you don't hate Bush by now, it's not going to happen in the next few days."

Red Hawaii?

Over at the Kerry Spot, Jim Geraghty is pushing the idea that Bush should make a campaign stop in Hawaii to pick up what seems to be some low-hanging electoral fruit. The problem is logistics: How can the President go such a distance in the campaign's home stretch?

My suggestion: Put that flight suit back on the Prez and let him take a fighter jet there and back.

LAGuy adds: Can you imagine if the election actually hinged on the Hawaii results? That would make for an interesting night.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Never happy

Recently, the staff of Slate revealed who they'll vote for. It was Kerry over Bush, 46-5. The Kerry voters dragged out the most inane, hoary and overstated arguments against Bush (harder to make arguments for Kerry) and today Slate published reader comments about the piece. And what's got their panties in a bunch? Why, one of the pro-Bush arguments, of course.

Pajama Guy adds: If most Democratic voters have the same level of enthusiasm as the Slate staffers, no way there's a big turnout for Kerry.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

NYTro-gate: Kerry blowback?

Dick Morris, on O'Reilly, says Kerry made a big mistake jumping onto the missing explosives story with both feet (plus a quick-turn TV commercial). If the story doesn't hold up, Kerry's comments the past two days sound pretty irresponsible, and could put him on the defensive for the rest of the week.

NYT, CBS about to implode?

NYTro-gate looks like it could be a repeat of the National Guard documents scandal. You've come to expect this from the New York Times, but the fact CBS was so quick to rush such a questionable story to air so soon after Rathergate is truly stunning. I can almost hear the giddy conversation that must have transpired between Ed Bradley and his "60 Minutes Sunday" producers when they got the tip from the IAEA: "We'll show those amateurs at "60 Minutes Wednesday" how to execute a late hit!"

Stay Home, It's Over

According to an ABC news poll, 9% of all likely voters have cast early ballots and Bush is ahead 51% to 47%. It's true early voters are traditionally more Republican than Democrat, but the much-vaunted Democrat rush to vote which was supposed to beat Bush this election has not yet materialized.

More good news for Bush. Even though the ABC tracking poll (which will keep changing, of course) at present shows Kerry with a 49%-48% lead over Bush, in the most contentious region, the Midwest, Bush leads Kerry 50%-46%.


Myths

The next seven days are Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas tied up in one for bloggers. And yet, since I expect to be very busy, my blogging may be light. Oh well, I never wanted to unduly influence this election.

Every election, certain analytical myths get trotted out. Occasionally, a new one arises. The latest, for instance, is that since a growing number of people use only cell phones, and pollsters call land lines, that polls are biased against Democrats. Or something like that. Now it's true pollsters will have to eventually adapt, but this argument is, at best, overstated.

My favorite myth, and it's been around at least a few election cycles, deals with "weekend polling." For some reason, many believe that polls done on the weekend are considerably different from those on the weekdays, and less reliable to boot. As far as I have been able to determine, there is simply nothing to this.

If anyone has any evidence I'm wrong, please send it in. By evidence, I don't mean "everyone I know believes it" or "here's the reasons weekends are different." The former is an argument from (questionable) authority and the latter is giving a reason for a non-existent phenomenon. What I would regard as proof is statistical research, with a large sampling, that shows weekends and weekdays provide predictably and significantly different results

NYT saves 60 Minutes bacon

I don't think the New York Times purposely published this false story, but clearly its propensity toward shoddy journalism (e.g. Jayson Blair) combined with its zeal to use its front page to defeat President Bush resulted in this Page 1 embarrassment. My favorite part about this story, however, is that the Gray Lady beat 60 Minutes to the punch. Had 60 Minutes broadcast this story first, CBS News would have gone the way of Matlock.

Monday, October 25, 2004

Kerry pulls out of Colorado

Or so reports the Rocky Mountain News. This despite the latest Zogby poll that has Kerry up four points in the state. So whom do you believe? The polls or your lying eyes?

Who's helped by Rehnquist news?

Andrew Sullivan thinks Kerry:
The health problems of William Rehnquist pose an interesting question: which party's base is more worried by the potential Supreme Court picks of the other side? I'd give it to Kerry's base by a small margin. The news is breaking his way.
Hmmm. I don't know. Other than the sui generis Bush v. Gore, this so-called conservative court has been pretty friendly to the left. On the other hand, conservatives feel they've been burned time and again. A Rehnquist resignation and a Bush win simply retains the status quo. That's a less worrisome scenario for liberals than a Rehnquist resignation and Kerry win would be for conservatives. What's more, the senate wins for Norm Coleman and John Sununu in 2002 -- a year in which the make-up of the Supremes was a major issue -- suggests the Court's future is something that motivates Republicans far more than Democrats.

Office Special

I just watched the two-hour special episode of The Office on BBC America. Very enjoyable--if you can call the cringe-inducing comedy of The Office enjoyable--but, ultimately, superfluous.

The Office had two seasons of six episodes each where we saw the rise and fall of David Brent, the unbearable regional manager of a paper company who just wants to be everyone's buddy (but only looks out for himself). We also got to know his employees, such as the indecisive sales rep Tim, the tightly-wound assistant to the manager (but not assistant manager) Gareth and the cute receptionist Dawn.

The conceit of the special is the series was a documentary seen on the BBC (the original series was filmed in documentary style) and now it's three years later and we're catching up with everyone. While the ensemble is still in fine form, the last time we left these characters, they were not in good shape. Now, perhaps as a sop to the fans, happy endings abound, with Tim and Dawn finally together and David meeting a gal he's crazy about.

I like happy endings, even when they're not deserved. Nevertheless, the drab life of The Office ending correctly the first time--with these sad sacks not getting what they want, but continuing on nevertheless.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Thriller

Thomas Vinciguerra begins his New York Times article on a Michael Jackson academic conference with this:

"I'm not like other guys," Michael Jackson sang in "Thriller," the 1982 hit song,video and album. That's for sure.
Actually, he didn't sing it. He said it. And only in the video. Also, while the album Thriller came out in 1982, the "Thriller" video was first shown in late 1983 and the song didn't hit the top 40 charts until 1984. Minor mistakes, to be sure, but not the best way to start an article.

Go home, it's over

Early voting results are in. Essentially, Democrats have succeeded in getting out the vote at much higher levels than 2000, not to mention at higher levels than Republicans.

This strongly suggests, in an tight election determined by turnout, that Kerry will win.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

True Believers Part 3

Following up on LA Guy's post, I bet there are many questions pollsters could ask that Kerry supporters would get objectively wrong. Here are a few:

1. True or False: The 9/11 Commission found no links between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda. Nearly every Kerry supporter I know would answer "true." The correct answer is false.

2. True or False: The 9/11 Commission concluded President Bush's actions since the al Qaeda attacks have not made America safer. I assume, because a Kerry commercial now running explicitly makes this claim, most of his supporters would answer "true." In fact, the report concluded we are safer (although not completely safe).

3. True of False: There are many documented abuses by AG John Ashcroft under the Patriot Act. Correct answer: False.

4. True or False: The unemployment rate right now is higher than the average jobless rate over the last thirty years. As Fox News demonstrated last spring, most Democrats would answer "true." The correct answer is that it's slightly lower now. In fact it's lower than when Bill Clinton was running for re-election, and bragging about the economy.

True Believers Part 2

A reader responds:

Your "This is minor" line is wrong.

You addressed the minor thing, and it's more or less interesting. Certainly worth posting, but hardly a surprise to anyone who's given these things any amount of thought.

The major thing is the thing you called minor. Pollsters will, in contexts that don't threaten them, tell you about "top of the mind" answers that yield important information (they say) even if the answers to the questions are technically "wrong." Conceptually, an
example might be where the pollster gives only three choices to a question, and none fit the response the responder would like to give, but they choose a "best" answer anyway. Rather than redraw their questions to handle this problem, the pollsters argue the method is valid nonetheless.

Probably a lot of things are going on with Iraq polls, which have been done several times, by the way, to force this same conclusion, that Bush voters are as stupid as Bush, but among them is this: For Bush, and Bush voters, it makes no sense to ask two questions, "Do you support the war on terror?" and "Do you support the war in Iraq?" They are one and the same, but the pollsters can't understand that, because the pollsters are opposed to Bush and opposed to what Bush is doing. (One possible cure for them would be for Kerry to come in and take up the same policies or even make them more aggressive. Then, magically, the pollsters would suddenly figure it out and the questions would change. A certain cure would be if Clinton could somehow be put into office and do it.)

The only real question the pollsters should be asking is, "Given American policies, why is Yassir Arafat still alive?"


True Believers

Over at the Volokh Conspiracy, Stuart Benjamin has a post that I think misses the point. He quotes at length from a PIPA (Program on International Policy Attitudes) press release from the University of Maryland.

The report is about the many misperceptions Bush supporters have regarding Iraq. It's the same list we've seen before--WMDs, Iraq and Al Qaeda, world perception, etc. According to PIPA, Bush voters are way off while Kerry voters are much better at getting their facts straight.

First, you don't need to be Clintonian to see ambiguity in the questions. Even after checking out the Duelfer report, for instance, it really does depend on what you mean as to whether or not Saddam had WMD programs. I'm afraid I'd still get a lot of the answers "wrong."

But this is minor. Let's assume Bush supporters do get all these things wrong. This is to be expected. People who support the war in Iraq are more likely to accept things that favor their beliefs, even if false, than those who oppose the war. Why do you think they support the war? In the same way, those who oppose the war are more likely to believe myths that go along with their beliefs.

However, the "non-partisan" PIPA report comes to a different conclusion:
"The roots of the Bush supporters' resistance to information very likely lie in the traumatic experience of 9/11 and equally in the near pitch-perfect leadership that President Bush showed in its immediate wake. This appears to have created a powerful bond between Bush and his supporters--and an idealized image of the President that makes it difficult for his supporters to imagine that he could have made incorrect judgments before the war, that world public opinion could be critical of his policies or that the President could hold foreign policy positions that are at odds with his supporters."

So, in other words, PIPA asks questions designed to show that only Bush supporters are wrong, and then comes up with one-sided reasons as to why Bush supporters are wrong. The more prosaic explanation--that people tend to believe things that support their side--is apparently not even considered, much less tested, by PIPA.

This psychological rule doesn't just apply to Iraq. Read The National Review. They're conservatives and--guess what?--they look at any issue and conclude conservative thinking is right. Read The Nation. They're liberals and--guess what?--they look at any issue and conclude liberal thinking is right. Now I'm not saying no one can be right. I'm not even saying either side can't be completely right. I'm just saying there's a tendency to fool yourself which is hard to get around.

Stuart Benjamin concludes his piece asking "Isn't it disappointing for so many supporters of any presidential candidate to have such misperceptions on issues as central as these?" Well, no. I'm pretty confident there has never been any considerable group of supporters for any important Presidential candidate at any time in our history who didn't have at least some significantly wrong perceptions.

Friday, October 22, 2004

Broadway the Hard Way

Earlier I tried to post something on PBS's six-hour special Broadway: The American Musical. For some reason, it didn't take. Does this blog have some sort of filter keeping out stuff that's too gay?

Which leads me to the question: Why is it that liking old Broadway musicals, which used to generate countless hit songs beloved by all, is now a sign of homosexuality?

Pajama Guy responds: Don't blame Marv Albert.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Who needs the suspense?

The latest AP Poll, with a three point lead for Kerry and a 47% approval rating for Bush, doesn't bode well for the President. Did I say "bode"? That suggests something that'll happen in the future. Too late.

The most interesting thing about the poll is 24% said they'd already voted or would vote before the election. Could that be true? This would mean that polls taken just before the election would be about hard votes--they'd practically be exit polls. Will the AP, happy to get a scoop, tell us who won the weekend before Election Day?

No animals were harmed during the production of this photo op

Oops. Scratch that.

Tax on Soda?

David Frum floats a suprising (for a conservative) proposal today: a 1 cent tax on every ounce of caloric soda. The idea is to lower the social costs of obesity. Frum doesn't say how his tax would be calculated when it comes to what I think is a bigger problem than Big Gulps -- free refills and caffeine. I have no proof, but I bet someone could trace the boom in soda consumption back to the day the first fast food joint decided to offer kids bottomless cups of mildly addictive caffeinated pops. (Incidently, I was surprised to learn from this site that Frum's native Canada bans caffeine in all non-cola sodas.)

A final point: I assume Frum would exempt diet sodas from his tax, which serves me just fine. I'm clearly not the only one who is convinced he's hooked on diet colas. The good news is that I'd have to drink 1,690 cans at a sitting to reach a toxic level, and I don't drink half that much.


Frum responds: Answer to your question about refills: I'd impose the tax at the wholesale level, so it would affect both in-restaurant and in-bottle consumption.

Re diet soda: No I would not tax it, but I do worry about the effects of the stuff. I think it does tend to change our expectations about how much sweet we need to consume. As your own experience suggests, diet soda does not just SUBSTITUTE for the 6 oz or 8 oz of regular soda that it's perfectly OK to enjoy as an occasional treat; it becomes a habit in its own right.

UPDATE: The Wall Street Journal today is reporting that Coke is helping finance a big scientific study that "it hopes will keep its drinks from being blamed for obesity."

What I want for Father's Day

International -- the guys that make dump trucks -- is rolling out the CXT which it calls "the world's biggest pick-up truck." It's 4 1/2 feet longer and two feet taller than a Hummer, and hits dealers this week. The $95,000 sticker price includes leather seats, black walnut wood trim and a DVD player. But, honey, please budget another $15K for bling.

The curse ain't over till they get the rings

Enough of this rubbish that the Red Sox have broken the curse of the Babe. That won't happen until they actually win the World Series. Who knows, after this year it may be the curse of the Rocket. Boston traded him 8 years, 136 wins and 3 Cy Youngs ago because he was "in the twilight of his career."

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Come on in, the water's fine.

Andrew Sullivan is now a little worried that Glenn Reynolds' Instapundit doesn't link to enough negative stories on Iraq. At least Sullivan recognizes Glenn Reynolds can do what he wants with his own blog, but he still goes too far.

First, he claims "if you read [Reynolds], you wouldn't be able to understand why there is even a debate about the management of the war in Iraq." This is nonsense. Instapundit might link mostly to pro-Iraq stuff, but usually within the context of the huge debate going on. If you read everything Glenn Reynolds links to (though I don't know how anyone could, even Reynolds), you would get a very clear idea what critics of the war are saying, even if you didn't agree.

Second, Sullivan complains his arguments against the war have lost him thousands of readers. Am I supposed to be impressed? Sell some more ads if you need the money. Take another month off while your readers send in contributions. I don't care. I'm more interested in the quality of your arguments, not the supposed bravery you show in making them.

Third, Sullivan claims "I cannot see I have much of a choice. Bush's failures are so glaring you have to put blinders on to ignore them."

Mr. Sullivan, there are a lot of different views of the war. Many are dead-set against everything about it. Others (like you) think it's a good idea that's gone horribly awry. Then there are those (like me and perhaps Glenn Reynolds) who favored it and think things are still moving in the right direction, even if there are significant problems to deal with. Just because you've gone off the deep end, Andrew, is no reason for everyone else to jump off the cliff.


The Last Time I Saw Harris

The latest Harris Poll gives us two choices for potential likely voters, with greatly varying leads (2% and 8%) for Bush. Apparently, they're not sure if they should measure likely voters in a new or traditional mode.

This won't do. Any pollster (heck, any person) can give you a bunch of different results based on different methods saying one of them is probably correct. The Harris Poll is a venerable institution, but if they can't tell us what they actually think is the best data, then who needs 'em?

Beyond the polls

Though the polls are tight, the Kerry campaign seems to be acting like it thinks Bush is pulling ahead. The Kerry spot points out that Kerry's pulling ads in West Virginia (suggesting surrender there) and plans to deploy Bill Clinton in Pennsylvania (suggesting that state's in play). On the stump, Kerry seems to be throwing a lot of wild charges against the wall -- e.g. Bush will bring back the draft, and stop payment on Social Security checks -- to see what sticks. Meanwhile, Bush is campaigning in Minnesota (a blue state in 2000) and seems to be sticking to a game plan. Then again, this time last election Bush was making the near-fatal mistake of stumping big time in California -- a state, it turns out, he had zero chance of winning.

Worst idea since New Coke

The Wall Street Journal (subscription required) reports "Coke's launch of C2, a cola with reduced calories and carbohydrates, appears to be a bust, with sales plunging since July." As an Atkins devotee with artificial sweeteners coursing through my veins at all times, I knew C2 would fizzle. Why the heck would someone counting carbs drink a soda with 18 carbs per 12-oz can, limiting your intake to at most 3 cans a day? Heck, you can drink Diet Coke by the bucket non-stop.

LAGuy adds: And since C2 and Diet Coke equally taste like crap, the launch never had a chance. You see, to us regular Coke drinkers, what we'd like is a product that has half the calories but doesn't taste like cough syrup strained through bug spray.

It's all about turnout

The write-up for the new Harris Poll(s) shows how the radically different results we've been getting is all about how the pollsters screens for likely voters.

With Friends Like These...

In an interview with Paula Zahn, Pat Robertson claims President Bush told him there'd be no casualties in Iraq. Roberston also believes the President hasn't admitted to any mistakes. Not to worry, however, since Bush will be reelected as he has "the blessing of heaven."

Could Robertson have been more damaging to Bush if he were trying?

No mentum

Congratulations to the Red Sox for making a series of it. Forcing a seventh game after being down 0-3 is unprecedented. If they beat the Yankees, it'll be a classic comeback, and if they lose, it'll be yet more proof of the Curse of the Bambino.

But please let's not talk about "momentum." Winning yesterday's game has no more effect on today's game than winning tomorrow's game does.

Politics is similar. Not that long ago, Kerry was ahead in the polls and some stated the election was his to lose. Following the RNC, Bush regained the lead--pundits said he now had momentum. Then, like the Red Sox, Bush went 0-3 in the debates, and Kerry caught up--some predicted he would soon surge ahead since he'd recaptured the Big Mo. Now he seems to have lost steam, for whatever reason. But hey, we've got a few weeks left...

Let's have a moratorium on the word "momentum." Unless referring to mass times velocity.

Pajamaguy responds: But isn't there something to the momentum in politics? Isn't that the same as jumping the "bandwagon" by what Mickey Kaus is calling the "landside faction"?

LAGuy responds: If there were a bandwagon, the voters sure must get tired jumping on and off it. I don't deny there are certain psychological effects in politics, since people vote based on what they're thinking (I know plenty of people who vote for sure losers so the winner doesn't get any ideas); but by the count listed above, in about two months the lead has shifted back and forth four times, and "momentum" is not a very impressive explanation. It's like sportscasters at a football game saying one team has momentum until the other team scores and then they have momentum--it's just a meaningless term to describe something that's happened after the fact.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Poor Richard

I've long admired Richard Dawkins. I think he's the finest popular writer on evolution in our day.

As an atheist, he's claimed religion has no "special expertise to offer us on moral questions." And certainly, he goes on, religious leaders have no special insight into science.

Fair enough.

Dawkins has been opposed to the Iraq war from its inception, regularly speaking out on the subject. His latest piece is part of a campaign in The Guardian of letters from prominent Britons to Clark County, Ohio, hoping to dissuade them from voting for Bush.

I'm not going to discuss his claims. They're the same arguments--baseless assumptions, flat-out incorrect facts and condescending Bush-bashing--we've been hearing for quite a while, reheated. Please read his letter if you don't believe me.

Here's my question, Professor Dawkins. You properly take religious leader to task for making arguments beyond their expertise. And here you are, a British scientist who's spent half his life in labs and the other half among a social set with rather limited politics. So why should anyone take your simplistic arguments regarding the complex questions of the war on Iraq seriously?

Monday, October 18, 2004

Vote Early (And Often?)

I always thought there was only one day to vote for President, but a bunch of states have decided it's just too strenuous an activity and we should have weeks instead.

Sure, I can understand where someone simply won't be available on election day that a pre-vote could be allowed, but weeks and weeks of votes rolling in? I like everyone being forced to come to a conclusion on the same day. Short of a hanging, nothing so concentrates the mind as an election.

Also (with both parties signing up tons of new voters) this is a new opportunity for chicanery. This country has an ugly history of making registration difficult for certain groups, but I fear the pendulum has swung in the opposite direction; registration nowadays is already quite easy, and attempts to make it easier also make voter fraud easier.

Friday, October 15, 2004

They Pre-Empted "Wife Swap" For This?

My boys were instructed to watch Wednesday's debate as homework. About ten minutes in, the complaints of "This is boring--can't we watch the baseball playoffs?" started up. The boys said, "Dad, we really have to watch this, just be patient."

Now, with 24 hours to reflect on this titanic struggle, I have come up with this summary of what I took away from the debate:

MR. SCHIEFFER: President Bush, the next question is for you, and--
PRES. BUSH: Education!

MR. SCHIEFFER: All right, turning to you, Senator Kerry, we--
SEN. KERRY: Cheney's daughter is a lesbian!

I know the instant polls all gave Kerry an edge, but that may be because he just seems stronger in the debate format. Since I'm not undecided, I couldn't tell you if he's winning any undecided voters (most of whom, I'm convinced, are people who say they're undecided so they can get interviewed on TV).

This'll all be moot anyway when Bin Laden is captured--I heard it's scheduled for October 28 to make sure the footage is available for the weekend news shows. Also, Bush was electronically wired for the debates because he had a bulge in his jacket. Also, aliens communicate with me through the fillings in my teeth.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Did you ever have the feeling that you wanted to go...

My place is being tented and I must evacuate for the rest of the week. I know, I know, no sooner do I return than I have to leave. But with yet another debate coming up, I have no doubt that ChicagoGuy and Pajama Guy will be blogging up a storm in my absence.

Novel interpretations

Interesting piece in Slate polling novelists on who they'll vote for. The results: 25-4 for Kerry, with one abstention and one surprise vote for Nixon.

Reading their comments, American novelists tend to live in a world that narrows their political options. It's hard for them to think beyond the received notions of their social set. As Joyce Carol Oates puts it, "[l]ike virtually everyone I know, I'm voting for Kerry."

What makes it sad is not that they're so predictable--many subgroups are. Nor is it that they support Kerry--it would be just as sad if they overwhelmingly supported Bush.

What is sad is they're novelists. If there's one group that needs to see the whole picture, you'd think it's them. To have them shown up as so limited in vision is disillusioning.

The comments range from rational to hysterical, with too many favoring the latter. I recognize these are short statements, but must they replace reasoned argument with petulance?

Dan Chaon, for example, rants about how Bush is almost pure evil. I assume Chaon could write an essay explaining Iago's motivations, but cutting Bush some slack is beyond him.

Amy Tan is equally clueless. Among other thing, she complains Bush doesn't spend enough--if only.

Rick Moody, with the sense of history of a child (I don't care about anything except what's happening now!) thinks the administration is the "most corrupt in modern history."

Judith Guest demonstrates a Moorean lack of understanding (either that or an unbearable coldness) when she manages to feel sorry for the children of Iraq only after we started fighting to kick out Saddam.

Edwidge Danticat fears that attacking Afghanistan has created more terrorists--a country where terrorists (in particular, those who planned 9/11) formerly had free rein.

Jane Smiley's paranoid rant is so amusing I'll quote it in full:
"I am voting for John Kerry. Would George Bush steal the election if he thought he could get away with it? The evidence is that he has (disenfranchising black voters in Florida in 2000) and wants to again (attempting the same trick already this year). That such a man, an amoral prevaricator and ruthless opportunist, actually has supporters in his bid to wreck American democracy appalls me. I think that the coming election will result in a constitutional crisis of unprecedented danger. I consider a vote for Bush a vote for tyranny."

Russell Banks reminds us, whoever wins, that we live in a "fascist plutocracy."

At least Gary Shteyngart, living in Italy, admits he gets his information filtered by the International Herald Tribune. (He also takes a second to stick a shiv in our ally Berlusconi.)

Thomas Beller feels Bush-Cheney are too angry, and resort to slander.

When Hollywood stars speak out on politics, it's like kids performing at a family get-together--no one takes them seriously, but it sure is cute. After reading this Slate article, I don't see why we should take novelists one whit more seriously.

Notes from the Counter-Coulter

In the latest Los Angeles City Beat, Ron Garmon reviews David Brock's The Republican Noise Machine. Midway through, I ran across this sentence:
"The entire conservative movement is a neo-fascist iron dream funded by a few very deep pockets and kept in power by systematic lying to voters dumb enough to believe in it."

Charming.

Monday, October 11, 2004

0-2, and still undefeated

I haven't seen a single poll (I admit I only saw four) that showed swing voters or voters in general felt Bush won the second presidential debate. In fact, most showed Kerry won, though by a small amount. I must repeat my belief, that the best way to win a debate is to win it.

If you're behind 28-0 at the end of the first quarter, and you're only outscored 7-6 in the second quarter, you may feel relieved, but you're still further behind.

I admit the analogy is weakened in that post-debate spinning can change perceptions. Nevertheless, I'm highly dubious that the second debate was a win for Bush.

Move along, nothing to see here

When the Gallup Poll showed a huge lead for George Bush a few weeks ago, MoveOn.Org attacked the messenger. In a full page ad, they claimed Gallup wasn't just wrong, but biased.

Now that the same poll gives Kerry a slight lead, is it still biased? (I don't think even MoveOn.Org has the audacity to claim their ad scared the venerable Gallup Organization into cleaning up its act.)

Saturday, October 09, 2004

Grudging Agreement with Pajama Guy

I also think Bush won, but not by much. He had the advantage of having nowhere to go but up after the first debate. I am also tremendously comforted to know that he will not appoint a Supreme Court Justice who agrees with the Dred Scott decision. As for Kerry, I wish he would just answer the questions instead of jumping into the talking points his handlers give him. The "weapons of mass deception" line was incredibly cheesy (I'm sure it seemed funny at 3 a.m. in the debate prep room).

The other question is where they found 200 "undecided" voters. Does anybody out there know any? The only "undecideds" I know are some folks who are just not sure how much they hate the guy they're voting against. I agree that the goal of the debates is to rev up the partisans and not say anything monumentally stupid. That's why Bush I got caught looking at his watch late in the '92 debates--he was trying to run out the clock.

Bush wins

I think Bush won, though Kerry did fine too. After listening to hours of analysis and spin last night, it seems to me these debates have become mainly exercises in morale-boosting for each camp. I've long contended that winning this election is not about convincing undecided voters that you're right, but making the people who already believe you're right worried enough about the other guy to get the polls.

Friday, October 08, 2004

Baring my soul in public

Hi, LAGuy here. My computer looks like it'll be out over the weekend. I'm only able to post right now by using the computer in a public library.

I know our many readers will miss my left coast take, but I'm sure you'll get by with Pajama Guy and ChicagoGuy to keep you informed over the weekend.

Sound like any boss you've ever had?

More from the Duelfer Report:

Saddam did not encourage advice from subordinates unless he had first signaled he wanted it.... Committees generally assumed Saddam already had a preferred position on such issues and commonly spent time trying to guess what it was and tailor their advice to it. More conscientious members of the Regime sought to work around sycophantic or timid superiors by cultivating alternative, direct lines of communication to Saddam—a development that pleased Saddam because it put another check on subordinates. The result, however, was a corrosive gossip culture in
senior government circles that further undercut any semblance of developing policy through conventional government procedures.

Maybe it was the beret

The Duelfer Report suggests that Saddam took advantage of the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal in 1998:
Baghdad viewed the domestic controversies in the United States as indicating, if not weakness, certainly a distraction to the White House. During the summer of 1998, when UNSCOM surfaced its concern over the evidence it found that Iraq had, contrary to its declarations, weaponized VX in missile warheads, Baghdad appears to have concluded that there was no prospect of satisfying the inspection teams. Cooperation with UNSCOM was seen as a trap, not a path to ending sanctions.

Baghdad ended full cooperation in August and began a series of confrontations with the UN that aimed at bringing its dialogue to the Secretary General and Security Council directly, and marginalizing UNSCOM. Baghdad was largely successful in drawing the Secretary General into the controversy and causing France and Russia to take firmer positions on its behalf. Ultimately, Iraq did not fully cooperate with UNSCOM in a test period of renewed inspection activity during. December 1998. The United States and United Kingdom reacted militarily with a circumscribed bombing campaign that took place between the time President Clinton completed a previously scheduled visit to Israel and the beginning of Ramadan, about four days later.

Does character count? Or was it Starr's fault?

This Just In: Bush "Inconsistent" on Iraq

OK, so first it was "He's got WMD." Then, it was "He's got WMD development programs." Now, it's "He was undermining sanctions by using his Oil-for-food money." This sounds to me like...like...flip-flopping, which, as we know, is the worst thing that a leader can do. Look, we all know Saddam Hussein is a bad guy. Kim Jong Il is a bad guy too. Those Iranians are no picnic. I could swear I saw the Prime Minister of Canada giving us a funny look last week. Where does it end?

The problem is it doesn't. The loud GOP screaming about Kerry using the words "global test" demonstrates the intractable nature of neocon foreign policy. When one gets past the false assertion that Kerry advocates a UN veto over U.S. military actions, it's not irrational to consider the positions of other nations--allies, nonallies, rogue states--when assessing the ramifications of U.S. intervention.

When your world view is based on the premise that you are never wrong and can do whatever you want, this is the result--continuing and essentially unilateral responsibility for protecting a powerless government in the middle of the most unstable section of the world.

Insecurity moms

Over the Labor Day weekend on the Jersey shore, my extended family had a heated conversation on the election, Iraq and the War on Terror. What really ignited the argument was the Russian school massacre -- and whether it could happen here. Absolutely, said the Bush voters - those killers were the same ilk we were fighting in the War on Terror. Never happen, said the Kerry supporters. The massacre was about Russia, Chechnya and nothing else. The undecideds among us -- 2 moms with six young kids between them -- were close to the tipping point. They said that if there was any indication that Islamic terrorists would even consider attacking a school in New Jersey, the hell with no-WMD, the hell with no-Saddam-9/11 links, the hell with the anti-Patriot Act crowd. They were voting for Bush. If you see the polls in New Jersey shift back to Bush in the next few days, this could be why.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Get your damn dirty paws off me you filthy ape!

Jockeying for that elusive Supreme Court nomination, Judge Richard Posner of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals supposes in his new book that humanity may soon be enslaved or slaughtered by intelligent robots who consider Homo sapiens primate forms: "Human beings may turn out to be the 21st century's chimpanzees, and if so the robots may have as little use and regard for us as we do for our fellow, but nonhuman, primates."

Bad news for Kerry

It seems to me that the Duelfer Report hurts Kerry more than Bush. Yes, it confirms that Saddam had no WMD stockpiles, undermining what became Bush's #1 -- though not only -- argument for the war. At the same time, the report supports his overall rationale for attacking Iraq: Saddam was indeed a cancer that, everbody agrees, had to be excised before it matastacized. Kerry's only quibble is over Bush's timing. On the other hand, the Duelfer Report explodes Kerry's entire worldview -- that "allies" like France can be trusted to be honest principled actors in decisions of war, peace and national security.

Welcome Chicago Guy

...and remember the Pajama Guy motto: Never blog in the raw.

New Guy From A Flyover State

PajamaGuy has graciously invited me to provide a Heartland counterpoint to his East Coast establishment screeds and LAGuy's sunbaked meanderings. Actually, I'll just be tossing in facile and shallow comments from time to time and scooting back to work before they think I'm in here looking at porn. Uh-oh, gotta go...

If not now, when?

Before I go on, let me welcome ChicagoGuy to our merry band. Pajama Guy and I met in Chicago before we went our separate ways, so it's good to see the Hog Butcher For The World represented.

I have a friend with a five-year old. The boy will misbehave and my friend gives him a "last chance." The boy keeps misbehaving and the father keeps giving him last chances. Sooner or later, however, there has to be a last "last chance" or the concept is meaningless.

I sometimes feel the same way about our invasion of Iraq. Iraq had defied us for years. We had gone the extra mile, gotten a unanimous UN resolution threatening consequences if Saddam didn't comply. He didn't and we invaded.

My friends reply couldn't we have waited just another six months? Sure, we could have waited six months. And then another six months. We could have given last chance after last chance, and Saddam would laugh at us while our credibility crumbled along with the sanctions. I told them you have to be pretty naive to think we'd have gotten more support if we'd just waited.

It seems to me the Duelfer Report supports my view. If it wasn't clear before, it sure is now that France, Russia and China were playing us--they were stringing us along, making meaningless statements against Iraq while secretly (and not so secretly) opposing any intervention. Ultimately, they wanted the sanctions to be lifted.

Much of the opposition was funded by Saddam, who spent billions siphoned from the UN Oil-for-Food Program to bribe politicians and others to see things his way. And now we know, falsely assured the US would not invade, Saddam was planning to quickly reconstitute his WMD programs as soon as he had the chance.

Imagine if we had waited. The pressure to drop sanctions would have increased, making any invasion impossible. (If you think it was hard after Saddam defied a U.N. resolution, imagine how hard it would be when relations with Iraq were being normalized.) Saddam would still be a powerful, loose cannon in the center of the Middle East, perhaps hoping to go out in a blaze of glory.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Exhibition game

I agree with the general consensus--Cheney won the debate, but not by much. And since it's only the Veeps, it probably won't matter.

Things got fairly nasty, which I found annoying, because I often didn't agree with the point being made, and hearing it expressed nastily just made it more grating. What annoyed me most was when Edwards told Cheney what America demanded of him and Bush. Speak for yourself, pretty boy.

Meanwhile, Bush is out giving real barn burners. He should save some of that fire for Friday, when people will be paying attention.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Did Cheney meet Edwards before last night?

The Kerry-Edwards campaign says yes -- and more than once. One example: Senator Elizabeth Dole's swearing in. But we're going to need pictures. In this one Edwards is nowhere to be found. Update: LAT has the story. Bush camp tells the Times that the meeting was "inconsequential." You decide: Kerry's posted a prayer breakfast pic.

Chris Matthews needs to do his homework

There was a link between Saddam and al Qaeda.

Did they see the same debate?

Andrew Sullivan says Cheney was "road kill." Kerry Spot says Cheney gave Edwards "the single most devastating one-sided drubbing since Lloyd Bentsen smacked Dan Quayle all around the stage in 1988."

"We have a plan"

... the four scariest words a politician can say.

Rodney

I just heard Rodney Dangerfield died. He was 82 and in a coma, so it wasn't a complete shock. Still, it's the end of an era. I'm not sure if Rodney was the last of the old-fashioned comics, or the first of the new. No question he was one of the funniest.

He operated in the "old style" of no-nonsense jokes. Not long stories, not political ruminations, not the world as I see it, but rat-a-tat gags. Once Henny Youngman left us, Rodney was the undisputed king of the one-liners. He's the kind of comedian whose jokes are irresistibly quotable. (But I'm going to resist. To read some, go here.)

But he was more than old school. Rodney had attitude. Whereas Youngman, or Myron Cohen or Milton Berle were telling jokes, he himself was the central joke. His "I don't get no respect" character was one of the greatest hooks ever in stand-up. It was the persona that launched a thousand laughs.

He had an odd career. A professional comedian as a teenager, he quit, discouraged, before he was 30. After a decade as a civilian, he relaunched his career at 40, a gutsy move. In a few years, he worked his way to the top of his field. His Tonight Show appearances were classics--he'd tell a barrage of jokes, sit down for the panel, and launch into a second routine.

He also opened his New York Club, Dangerfield's, and discovered many new comics (Roseanne, Sam Kinison, Bob Saget and others) on his HBO specials. Remembering how tough he'd had it, he was one of comedy's top mentors.

Then, at an age when many retire, he became a movie star. (He became hip when others were breaking theirs.) He was memorable in Caddyshack (1980) and became a full-fledged idol in the blockbuster Back To School (1986). Unfortunately, he waited too long and chose poor scripts, and never reached these Hollywood heights again.

Nevertheless, he remained until the end of his days a major headliner. I saw him in Vegas when he was in his mid-70s, and he gave his all. The audience wasn't there to catch a glimpse of a legend, they were there to be entertained, and Rodney always delivered.

Plug

Over the weekend, I saw a very funny film entitled Fellowship 9/11. Since it's a short, I don't want to give away too much, but I can tell you the premise is Michael Moore fearlessly sets out to investigate a questionable war taking place in Middle Earth.

The movie can be enjoyed by anyone, but the more you know about the Lord Of The Rings trilogy and Fahrenheit 9/11, the more you'll enjoy it.

To find out more about the short, and even contact the filmmakers, go here.

Once More, With Feeling

We'll soon have new debates to discuss, but I'm gonna take one more crack at the first.

Those who think Kerry lost keep harping on what he actually said. It's true, in trying to please an anti-war base while reaching out to pro-war voters, he had a tough time threading the needle. But the reason he won the debate isn't about substance, it's about Rush Limbaugh's favorite word, character.

Before the debate, the anti-Kerry people had done a great job painting him as irresolute and even devious. Meanwhile, Bush, at his convention, had reminded people of the focused, fearless leader he could be at his best.

So what did the public see at the debate? On one side, a man in full command, who speaks his mind and knows what he believes. On the other, canned lines, grimaces and awkward pauses. Which one looks like a President to you?

The debate gave an ailing Kerry a chance to reposition himself, and in the first face-to-face comparison with his opponent he did what a whole convention couldn't. Pajama Guy responds: Or did it? The new Fox poll is out -- I believe the first one that does not including weekend samples. Looks like if Kerry got a bump from the debate, it's a very small one.

Edward's Future

The conventional wisdom is that no matter who wins this election, John Edwards has a limitless political future. I'm not so sure. Clearly, if Kerry wins Edwards is the favorite to become America's 45th president. But the last time a losing VP candidate went on to win the big prize was FDR -- 72 years ago. Though Bob Dole (lost as VP in 1976) and Walter Mondale (lost in 1980) later won their parties' presidential nominations, the experiences of Gore, Lieberman, Quayle, Bentsen, Kemp and Ferraro suggests that if President Bush is re-elected, Edwards' political career will begin a downward trajectory. Needless to say, a defeated Dick Cheney is not likely to buck this trend, either.

0-1 and undefeated

I've been having technical difficulties on my end, so I'll keep this short.

I'm still having trouble understanding how Bush won the debate by losing it. His lead in most polls has narrowed or evaporated. The response apparently goes that Kerry's mistakes will hurt him in the long run. I got news for you--the run ain't much longer, we got four weeks left. If Bush "wins" two more debates like this....

Pajama Guy reponds: Well.... The idea was this: Kerry was smoother and more articulate -- but he also positioned himself more emphatically than ever as the anti-war guy. Like David Frum, I thought "Kerry [had] locked himself in a strategic box," and that would cost him votes.

Remember, Mondale wiped the floor with Reagan in the first 1984 debate -- by arguing for a big tax hike.

Bush, the flip side of my argument goes, was clumsy and repetitve, but left no doubt that he was in the war to win it. According to yesterday's New York Times (hat tip: Taranto) even former Clinton lawyer Greg Craig -- who played Bush in Kerry's preps -- saw virtue in Bush's style:
"I've learned to admire, more than I would have, his compulsion for simplicity," Mr. Craig said. "I understand there's some content to it, and I understand the power of the simple phrase. Prior to this, I would have just shrugged it off as an empty slogan."

That said, it is getting harder argue Bush won the debate. Frum now says that at the very least Kerry has won the post-debate debate, and this morning John Podhoretz belatedly concedes that "Bush stunk up the place."

But I'm standing pat -- for now -- until I see some polls that don't include weekend repondents.


Monday, October 04, 2004

Bush won, still

I still say, for now, that Kerry lost the debate by making as clear as ever he's the anti-war candidate by leaving the impression, I think, that he will fight terrorism less aggressively -- for better or worse -- than Bush. (Global test, anyone?) I'm not alone. John Tabin and Mark Levin make similar arguments.

Newsweek and Gallup polls suggest I'm wrong, I know. But for reasons set out by the indispensable Mystery Pollster (among others) I'll wait to backtrack until polls with post-Sunday sampling come out.

In the meantime, Bush supporters like Fred Barnes are saying it's time for the President to "turn it on." Dream on! Bush was at the top of his game Thursday.

Other than some occasional, unplanned emotional, from-the-heart moments like this one, Bush has always been a barely adequate off-the-cuff speaker. (Republicans should be glad he didn't give GOP spinners the job of cleaning up a major gaffe -- like the one he made on the Today Show last month.) Granted, the President's acquired a superb ability to deliver a well-written speech on an issue he cares deeply about, but he's never truly been comfortable performing for the camera. That's the difference between him and Reagan.

All this said, Novak's column today has a item that should anger the GOP: "Republican inner circles have been grumbling for months about Bush's reluctance to take questions even from his own supporters. "

Those supporters elected him knowing he wasn't the second coming of Pericles. Still, Bush owes them at least a college try.

No bull

I haven't had a chance yet to pick up Philip Roth's latest, The Plot Against America, but good or bad, isn't it time for the Nobel Foundation to stop screwing around and give him the Literature Prize already?

Sunday, October 03, 2004

The Phantom Menace

Both sides were so burned by the 2000 election aftermath that they're now worried about things not worth worrying about. Stuart Taylor in the National Journal argues that with all the partisan lawyers spoiling for a fight, judges may yet again decide the Presidency. I doubt it.

First, you'd have to have a very close electoral college result. The electoral college tends to amplify the difference in the popular vote. Bush lost the popular vote by .5% and only won in the electoral college by 5 votes. (If Florida had gone to Gore, he'd have only won the electoral college by 20 votes). Compare this to Carter in 1976, who won the popular vote by 2% and the electoral college by 57 votes, or Nixon in 1968 who won the popular vote by a mere .7% and won the electoral college by 101 votes.

Second, you'd need an extremely close state election for a recount to overturn things. If the difference is not within 1000 votes, it's, statistically speaking, highly doubtful any proper recounting will change the result (unless there was a massive technical error or serious corruption). Even a 100-vote difference is unlikely to be overturned.

These two factors combined make a seriously contested election rare.

If the courts learned anything in 2000 (and I doubt they did), it's that while a quick technical recount to check for obvious mistakes is a good thing, anything after that is as likely to introduce error into the system--intentional or otherwise--as fix it. Once the voting is over and everyone knows the results, the last thing we need is some partisan (and they're all partisans) at a bridge table holding up a punch card to the light to decide whether to award his guy another vote.

Critical Time

In her short review of Shark Tale, the LA Weekly's Ella Taylor calls the film a "blatant effort to cash in on the fruits of the delightful Finding Nemo." Taylor's been at this game a long time, so I'm surprised she seems to think someone at DreamWorks noticed the grosses last summer for Finding Nemo and decided to "cash in." It takes years to plan and produce an animated feature--Shark Tale was well on its way long before anyone had any idea how well Finding Nemo would do. Pajama Guy asks: Then why do we so often see so many movies coming out at about the same time that are so similar?

LAGuy responds: I'm not sure this is the case. Generally, the studios avoid two similar films being released at the same time. It is true that sometimes certain ideas are in the air--volcanoes, first daughters, body-switching, Robin Hood, Alexander the Great, etc.--and there can be several similar films planned simultaneously. In these cases, often certain projects fall by the wayside because they come in second, and at other times the studios make sure one film gets fully played out before the next one gets released. Moreover, those who pitch ideas too similar to films already in development generally get the thumbs down.

This is not to deny there are trends. When you have a hit film like Animal House or Star Wars or Clueless or The Matrix, you get copies. And since at any given time there are thousands of ideas being pitched, if the studio wants to change direction, it has a lot to choose from right away. But all this is irrelevant. Ella Taylor claims Shark Tale is cashing in on a huge hit, Finding Nemo. This is ridiculous. Finding Nemo was released in May 2003. You can't "cash in" on a hit until you know it's a hit, and I can guarantee you that by May 2002 Shark Tale had a script, voice work, and plenty of animators aboard.

Saturday, October 02, 2004

Update: Kerry loses by winning

Mark Steyn makes a similar point, with more humor and elegance than I ever could:


Speaking as a third-rate hack, I'd say that as a general rule articulacy is greatly over-rated. It's not what it's about: Noel Coward would run rings round Mike Tyson in the prematch press conference, but then what? But, if articulacy is the measure, how come Kerry can't articulate an Iraq policy any of us can understand? By contrast, for an inarticulate man, Bush seems to communicate pretty clearly. He communicates the reality of the post-9/11 world, a world where you can't afford to err on the side of multilateral consensus and Hague-approved legalisms and transatlantic chit-chatting and tentativeness and faintheartedness about the projection of American power in America's interest.

A majority of the American people -- albeit not as big a majority as it ought to be -- get this. John Kerry still does not. Which means he lost the debate. He got a technical win on points from the pundits, but this election won't be won on points. It's primal. The pundits keep missing this. They thought Kerry was good in the debate, just as he was good in his convention speech, because on both occasions he was tactically artful. But that's not going to cut it. We're post-Clinton: you can't triangulate your way to victory.

Strong Medicine

It's not fair to mock film critics for small mistakes. No one's perfect. But when they're published in the Los Angeles Times, shouldn't someone catch these things?

In I [Heart Symbol] Huckabees, two characters take turns hitting each other in the face with a light, inflatable ball as a distraction therapy. However, Carina Chocano, in her Times' review, states "...Tommy and Albert bash each other in the head with medicine balls to stop thinking."

Medicine balls are best known as those massive things guys in a gymnasium throw around for unexplained and non-aerobic reasons in movies set about a century ago. The Merriam-Webster OnLine Dictionary defines a medicine ball as "a heavy stuffed leather-covered ball used for conditioning exercises." Getting hit by one would stop you from thinking, alright.

Friday, October 01, 2004

Attack Of The Auteurs

It's been a pretty dismal year so far, cinematically. But things are looking up. Three of our younger, more talented writer-directors have films coming out.

Today sees the relase of David O. Russell's I [heart symbol] Huckabees. I liked Russell's Spanking The Monkey (1994) and thought Flirting With Disaster (1996) was superb. He stumbled, though, with Three Kings (1999), even though that film has been insanely overpraised in some quarters. (I've also heard the best stuff came from the original John Ridley script, but can't confirm that.)

So far, the reviews of Huckabees have not been great, but that doesn't bother me. Strong vision often creates divided critical reaction.

And sometimes it doesn't: the early word on Alexander Payne's latest, Sideways, is it's a near masterpiece. To be honest, the plot--two old pals go on a wine-drinking trip and explore their failed relationships--doesn't sound compelling. But it's what you do with the story that counts.

Payne has done fine work such as Citizen Ruth (1996) and Election (1999). I was less impressed with his becalmed About Schmidt (2002), but even that showed clear talent. Sideways should be out in a few weeks.

A bit later, we'll get Wes Anderson's The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou. Anderson knocked me out with his feature debut, Bottle Rocket (1996). Since then, his films (Rushmore (1998) and The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)) have been a bit cutesy, but undeniably filled with great imagination. He also has pretty cool taste in music.

The Life Aquatic appears to be a weird comedy starring Bill Murray as some sort of Jacques Cousteau character. Whether it's a classic or a classic miscalculation, I'll be there opening night.

Personal Reaction

Unlike Pajamaguy, I believe the best way to win a debate is to win it. But who knows, maybe he's right--maybe when the dust clears the first debate will not go to Kerry. Anyway, I don't enjoy political prognostication, it's tougher than predicting the path of a hurricane.

But I just read the debate transcript and will give my personal reaction. A poor thing, perhaps, but at least my own.

Bush did not do well. To me, the central issue of this campaign is Iraq. As astute readers of this blog already know, I support the war. However, Bush still has trouble articulating why we're there and what we'll be doing. (He has trouble articulating a lot of things.) He keeps repeating catch phrases and avoids significant content. But...since I already know why I support the war, I don't care--Bush doesn't have to explain it to me.

Kerry was more interesting. He was definitely smooth, but vague, and even contradictory. There was nothing new here, but it was concentrated Kerry--he gave a dazzling display of all the things he might do without ever really saying what he will do. All along, my vote has depended on his plan for Iraq and after a whole debate on the issue, it's still impossible to figure out his stance. He has a split constituency and was trying to be all things to all people. It'll be fascinating to see how well it works.

Bush loses, and wins

Howard Fineman had a good line on MSNBC last night: President Bush came to a 90-minute debate with 30 minutes of material. Of course, the debate was mostly Iraq and the War on Terror, and Bush's really only has about 30 seconds to say those issues: Kill the bad guys before they kill you. Saddam was a threat, and the world's better off without him. We must win the war, but we can't if the leader of the free world goes around denigrating our allies and calling the war a catastrophic diversion. Oh, and Kerry used to agree with all this.

So the simplicity of Bush's positions didn't help him fill the last half of the debate. But it is helping him win the morning-after soundbite wars. Today it's Kerry's "This war was a mistake" versus Bush's "You can't win in Iraq by saying it's the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time." Bush's message to the undecided: If Kerry's elected, he's really going to screw things up.

No doubt, Bush could improve on style. He had more than a few awkward pauses. He used the term "hard work" too much, and in inappropriate places -- like in a discussion of American casualties in Iraq. He missed several chances to slam Kerry: He could have pointed out that the Senate rejected the Kyoto treaty 95-0. He should have ridiculed Kerry's praise of Ronald Reagan by citing Kerry's criticism of the Gipper at the time. When Kerry said "help is on the way" Bush should have hit him with the Zell Miller litany of the military hardware Kerry didn't want to buy. And he should have told Kerry that the problem with the $87 billion wasn't how Kerry spoke, but how he voted.

That said, I predict history will record Bush as the winner of the debate. The main reason: Bush played the (cautiously hopeful) optimist while Kerry was gloom and doom. When was the last time Americans had this kind a choice and didn't elect the optimist?

Kerry lost by winning

Unlike LAGuy, I watched. I think the main reason Kerry won the style contest, is simply that he cleared the bar set by Al Gore in 2000. He didn't come off like the weirdo. That said, Kerry absolutely had a smoother delivery, more material and was clearer and crisper than he's been in the past. The question is whether the positions he clearly and crisply staked out will help him win the election. Here are the top 5 reasons I think Gore hurt himself last night: 1. He is now unabashedly the anti-war candidate, having morphed into Howard Dean without the scream. 2. By staking out that territory, however, he risks the credibility he may have built up with voters who worry Bush is losing the peace, but who still want to win the war. 3. His "Global Test" for pre-emptive strikes will come back to haunt him. 4. His big line -- "I made a mistake in how I talk about the war. But the president made a mistake in invading Iraq" doesn't hold up. Republicans will soon be pointing out that Kerry's mistake wasn't what he said, but how he voted. 5. He, inexplicably, took this opportunity to condemn a tax cut. Where the heck did this come from? A totally unforced error.

web page hit counter