October 30, 2008

Elections In Azeroth

How many electors does Azeroth get? Link.

October 28, 2008


This last weekend I told my friends about an idea that I had had: That if Obama is elected, MSNBC will be transformed into a respectable news station just as Fox was under the Bush Administration. Before 2001, Fox was a joke. Everyone knew they were just a collection of right wing nutjobs with an insane drive to take down Clinton. With Bush in the Whitehouse, however, suddenly they were getting all kinds of increased access. Fresh talking points came to Fox first. Politically powerful people did interviews on Fox shows. Everyone knew they were still hardcore to the Right, but they were legitimized by the patronage of the powerful.

This, I theorized, is about to happen to MSNBC, which floundered for several years as the poor man's CNN until after 2004, when their primetime programming started drifting leftwards. But in an era of conservative dominance they weren't taken seriously. Keith Olberman was just the angry guy with no ratings. Chris Matthews was (and to some extent remains) a hack with a penchant for man crushes on tough-seeming pols. But it's all about to change, I said. Scoffed at, I was. Difficult to see. Always in motion, the future is. Where was I?

Oh, well now MSNBC is beating FOX in primetime four out of ten days. That's not dominence, but it's not nothing. Oh, and with a week left in the most important election in his lifetime, where is Obama going for an interview? Rachel Maddow.

October 23, 2008

My Bad Dawgs

I accidentally slept in. We'll get 'em next time though, right? Link.

Who's Elitist Now?

Look, I don't care about gaudy shopping sprees on the Republican contributor's dime. I'm sure a few of them might not like having bought ridiculously expensive clothing for the VP candidate and her humongoid family, but it's just not a big deal to me, personally. But I remember not too long ago we heard all kinds of outrage about Obama buying expensive Burberry suits. Can we at least now get a break from the elitist rap? Of course not...that'd be silly.

October 22, 2008

The wealthiest, most powerful third-world nation

Two things from this Guardian piece:

In a survey of 120 major cities New York was found to be the ninth most unequal in the world and Atlanta, New Orleans, Washington, and Miami had similar inequality levels to those of Nairobi, Kenya and Abidjan, Ivory Coast. Many were above an internationally recognised acceptable 'alert' line used to warn governments.

"In western New York state nearly 40% of the black, Hispanic and mixed-race households earned less than $15,000 compared with 15% of white households. The life expectancy of African-Americans in the US is about the same as that of people living in China and some states of India, despite the fact that the US is far richer than the other two countries," it said.

Obnoxiously, the article provides no information that you can use to actually find and read the report they're summarising. (It's from a `new United Nations report on the urban environment'. Thanks, John Vidal!)

October 16, 2008

OMFG! Obama campaign and NYT both use the English language!

Truly, truly damning evidence that the NYT is in the tank for Obama: both the Obama campaign talking points and the NYT debate preview
  1. quote John McCain!
  2. mention the economy!
  3. talk about the McCain campaign's ineffective negative campaigning!
  4. use punctuation!
  5. spend lots of time praising Obama's `Rescue Plan for the Middle Class'!

Oh, wait, no. Not that last one. The Times doesn't so much as mention Obama's economic policies. Via Pandagon.

David Brooks doesn't believe that he believes the things that he believes

Things like this

In 1976, in a close election, Gerald Ford won the entire West Coast along with northeastern states like New Jersey, Connecticut, Vermont and Maine. In 1984, Reagan won every state but Minnesota.

But over the past few decades, the Republican Party has driven away people who live in cities, in highly educated regions and on the coasts. This expulsion has had many causes. But the big one is this: Republican political tacticians decided to mobilize their coalition with a form of social class warfare. Democrats kept nominating coastal pointy-heads like Michael Dukakis so Republicans attacked coastal pointy-heads.

Over the past 15 years, the same argument has been heard from a thousand politicians and a hundred television and talk-radio jocks. The nation is divided between the wholesome Joe Sixpacks in the heartland and the oversophisticated, overeducated, oversecularized denizens of the coasts.

What had been a disdain for liberal intellectuals slipped into a disdain for the educated class as a whole. The liberals had coastal condescension, so the conservatives developed their own anti-elitism, with mirror-image categories and mirror-image resentments, but with the same corrosive effect.

would come across as a lot less disingenuous if they weren't written by the guy who said this just over four months ago:

Well, the movement [Obama's primary campaign] hit some natural parameters among highly educated, affluent people, people who live in places like Portland, Oregon. There is a movement, and that movement is still going on. And it's big. It's a big, historic movement, but the magic is not felt by a lot of people. It's not felt, obviously, by a lot of less educated people, downscale people. They just look at Obama, and they don't see anything. And so, Obama's problem is he doesn't seem like the kind of guy who could go into an Applebee's salad bar, and people think he fits in naturally there. And so he's had to change to try to be more like that Applebee's guy, and as he's done that, he's become much more transactional, much more, "I'm going to deliver this, and this, and this for you" on policy.

The Debate

After every debate of the presidential election this year the media has called it a win for McCain/Pailin, and then polls following the debate show that Obama/Biden won all the debates by double digits. You'd think that would have given commentators pause yesterday before saying that McCain beat Obama and gave his best performance, but it didn't and then they were all shocked, *shocked*, when the snap polls showed Obama winning by around 30 points. Link.

October 12, 2008


I'm not as hesitant as Erza to withhold credit from John McCain for telling his supporters to back off some of the crazy things they've been saying at his rallys. Yeah, he's really the source for a lot of what his supporters are going around saying. Still, the news is only partially going to be that McCain is being reasonable. Mostly it's going to be that he doesn't think people need to be scared of an Obama presidency and doesn't think Obama is a terrorist. To a certain extent, I think this undercuts his own campaign's ads. Link.

On a related note, I'm absolutely *done* with people talking about how negative "this campaign" has gotten. 100% of McCain's ads lately have been negative against Obama while 33% of Obama's ads have been negative against McCain. That's simply not equivalent, which would justify talking about "the campaign" in general terms applying to both candidates. McCain has gone completely negative and Obama is responding while continuing to put out a positive message.

I'm Back!

Ugh, my laptop, which was running perfectly fine even though it was around four years old, fell a week or so ago and was irreparably damaged. So here I am, blogging on my fancy new desktop computer! Anyway, I'll certainly be around more now.

P.S. I haven't been able to play anything close to modern PC games for a long time, so if anyone has any recommendations, I'm open. I just picked up Sins of a Solar Empire. Noumena, how are you liking Spore? I certainly salivated over that game for a long time.

Feed The Animals

Thanks NPR! I heard about DJ Girl Talk's new mashup album, "Feed The Animals" on, I think, Radio Times the other day. If you're into mashups at all it's worth checking out, particularly as he's distributing the album on a donation basis. But let me say that if this album doesn't make you feel like dancing, or at least bob your head, you have the emotional capacity of Data pre-emotions chip. Link.

October 03, 2008

The cause of the housing market meltdown, according to libertarians

Conventional wisdom blames the collapse of the housing market -- and, thereby, the broader credit market collapse which appears to be about to drive us into recession -- on the deregulation of the mortgage and financial industry that, first, allowed lenders to offer homeowners ill-advised mortgages and, second, allowed financiers to build complex investment instruments on top of these ill-advised mortgages. Or, as an economist writing for that most infamous of socialist organisations, the Bank for International Settlements (an international organization of central banks), put it (PDF),

Compared with other countries, the United States seems to have: built up a larger overhang of excess housing supply; experienced a greater easing in mortgage lending standards; and ended up with a household sector more vulnerable to falling housing prices.

Since the obvious long-term remedy on this account -- stronger government regulation of the housing market -- is antithetical to libertarian principles, I've been wondering for the past week what libertarians think caused this mess, and what should be done (including nothing because the market will sort itself out, &c.). Not so much that I've bothered to ask any of my libertarian friends. Just an idle curiosity. In particular, after reading Andrew Leonard's schadenfreudisch announcement that deregulation is, essentially, dead, I wandered over to Reason. Where I read this:

Easy money from the Federal Reserve, coupled with easy credit provided indirectly via the Community Reinvestment Act and directly via government-sponsored-enterprises Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac created an unsustainable housing bubble. By corrupting the standard of value and bullying financial institutions into giving loans to the unqualified, these government actions distorted relative prices and caused generalized errors in economic calculations and investment decisions.

Now, the next paragraph is an argument that the just-passed bailout plan is tantamount to Soviet-style economic planning. And he later misconstrues the bailout as `[a]llowing investment banks to go to the government for a $700 billion line of credit'. So perhaps your sensible intellectual libertarian isn't going to consider this the libertarian analysis of the housing market over the last five years.

But what the hell. Let's take a closer look at the account. If it's right, the housing bubble was created by a confluence of three factors. We'll take them one at a time.
  1. `Easy money from the Federal Reserve'

    I simply have no idea what this is supposed to mean. The Fed does three things: buy and sell US treasury securities on the open market, make short-term loans to private banks so they can maintain liquidity, and specify the amount of funds banks must keep on hand (ie, not loan out). They don't just give money away.

  2. `easy credit provided indirectly via the Community Reinvestment Act'

    The Community Reinvestment Act is a 1977 bill designed to prevent redlining -- offering borrowers worse terms on their mortgages based on their race, ethnicity, or neighbourhood. The idea, I guess, is that requiring banks to offers loans based on quantifiable criteria effectively required them to offer loans that lenders couldn't pay back. I'm far from an expert, but the quotations, paraphrases, and references on this Wikipedia page seem to be telling: there appears to be a great deal of empirical evidence against this claim, and little to none in support of it.

  3. `easy credit provided ... directly via government-sponsored-enterprises Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac'

    Again, I have no idea what this is supposed to mean. `Fannie Mae receives no direct government funding or backing; Fannie Mae securities carry no government guarantee of being repaid. This is explicitly stated in the law that authorizes GSEs [Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac], on the securities themselves, and in many public communications issued by Fannie Mae.' So neither is government sponsored. At least in any sense of the term that would imply they receive sponsorship from the government. They also don't provide credit. They buy mortgages in the secondary market, ie, from the lenders that do provide credit. This helps create liquidity, thereby making it easier to get a loan -- not because the loan costs less, but because lenders have more money with which to make loans.

So. `The' libertarian account blames the housing market collapse on government interference, in the form of three purported causal factors. Two of which are incoherent on their face, and third that seems to lack empirical support. Maybe I'm missing something, but it's not exactly a compelling laissez-faire alternative to mainstream narrative.

By the way, if you were wondering how our Reason writer would actually fix the mess, he says we need `a more rational conversation about how to remove real barriers to better-functioning markets'. I'm guessing this translates into `talking the markets up' and more deregulation.

October 01, 2008

Palin wants abortion to be both illegal and legal

From the last part of the Palin-Couric interview:

Couric: But ideally, you think it should be illegal for a girl who was raped or the victim of incest to get an abortion?

Palin: I'm saying that, personally, I would counsel the person to choose life, despite horrific, horrific circumstances that this person would find themselves in. And, um, if you're asking, though, kind of foundationally here, should anyone end up in jail for having an … abortion, absolutely not. That's nothing I would ever support.

To be fair, she never comes out and says that she thinks abortion should be illegal. But the alternative just makes her `pro-life' position vapid rather than incoherent -- which doesn't strike me as a significant improvement.