Thursday, September 30, 2004

How to Pull No Punches, Below the Belt

I'm bemused by the latest lie from the White House: that George Bush is 6' 0", when he's really just shy of 5' 11". I'm sure that consideration went into the elaborate negotiations over minutiae of tonight's debate, like the lectern height.

Being a former State Champion debater myself, I always felt constrained by the rules. Assuming Kerry is willing to go the distance for the American people, here are some suggestions for how he, or the panel, can get in a few good ones.

  • Ask President Bush about the prospect of the government of Vurkmenistan getting nuclear weapons and the relationship of Al-Qaeda to the Vurkmenistani government. Then after he gives a vague general answer, reveal to him there is no country called Vurkmenistan.
  • Tell him, "Your fly is open," and watch him check.
  • Say to him, "Mr. President, a liar says what?" and no matter what he says, "Oh, so that's what a liar says."
  • Ask him to swear on a bible in front of the nation that he's never done cocaine. Offer to do the same.
  • Ask him if he's for or against a Constitutional amendment banning sodomy. Then ask him if he actually knows what sodomy is. Then ask him how he knows.
  • Ask him to quote one full verse from the Bible from memory, with appropriate citation.
  • Ask him who said this: "Do not give a man a fish, but teach him how to fish" - Jesus, Mohammed, or Sadaam Hussein?
  • Run over to the podium like you're going to punch him, watch him flinch, and say "PSYCH!" When he flinches, say "MADE YA FLINCH!"
  • Ask him why, if we don't negotiate with terrorists, we negotiated with Al-Sadr in Fallujah instad of letting the Marines finish the freaking job. Then say, "we didn't %)@(ing negotiate with Charlie."
  • Ask him how he made $10 million on an investment of $105,000 in the Texas Rangers, and how he justified using eminent domain to seize private property to give to the Rangers to build a publically-financed stadium and property that was then handed over to the Rangers.
  • Announce Vanessa Kerry has signed up to fight in Iraq.
  • Ask him to name the order of Presidential succession in its entirety. When he can't do it, ask him if he doesn't even know who's in line to succceed him constitutionally, how he can be trusted to manage the government?
  • When you shake hands after the debate, pull yours back at the last minute and run your hand over your hair.
  • Ask him if he'll ask for Cheney's resignation if it turns out he was responsible for outing Valerie Plame. Ask him how the Department of Justice can be trusted to find terrorists when his own administration can't produce one little old leaker. Ask him when he found out the yelowcake documents from Nigeria were forged and what he's done to fire the people who authenticated them.
  • Use lots of military acronyms, and slip some fake ones in and ask the President to explain them.
  • Don't sigh. Instead, laugh aloud a lot when the President speaks. Except when he tries to make a joke, in which case you should pull your lips back in an exaggerated manner over your teeth and say 'ha ha ha ha ha. ha. ha. ha....ha,' trailing off...
  • Ask him how tall he is. Then get out a measuring tape.
These points can be re-applied in future debates.

Monday, September 27, 2004

Elvis Costello's Suicide Note: The Deluxe Twenty-Fifth Anniversary Edition

Francoise Sagan died Friday, author of Bonjour Tristesse. She couldn't have been that sad if after her teen angst novel was published she lived another 51 years. I vaguely remember reading this about twenty years ago and never thinking twice about it again, although maybe I should check out that Otto Preminger version with David Niven and Deborah Kerr sometime. What a curse to have your first novel become a hit at 18 and a major Hollywood motion picture at 21. I suspect in the end she will be the Bret Easton Ellis of France's Beatnik generation, but I'm not a fan so it's not for me to say in the end.

I have, however, listened to Get Happy a few hundred times, at least, since I first listened to it in 1980, and that's what I put on the old laser turntable Friday. It was a sort of non-Proustian association: Bonjour Tristesse, Get Happy, no wafty madeleine odor required.

Get Happy was the most complete concept album of the fraying post-punk period. (I used to think Zen Arcade had that distinction until I realized it was about utterly nothing.) After punk buried everything, including itself, there was all sorts of indy revival activity going on, from rockabilly to blue-eyed soul to neopsychedelia (speaking of Zen Arcade). It was as if we were going through the old closet, trying on old clothes to see if any of them would fit comfortably in the new climate.

The concept behind Get Happy, of course, is take the happiest music style on earth, Motown, slip it on over your depression, mix in a little Stax and 1962 soul, let the personal angst and despair bleed out into the fabric, and end up with a complete inversion: bouncy dance music and slow dreamy ballads all written and performed as music to blow your brains out by.

Elvis' angry-young-man-pub-rocker albums went like this: pissed off and raw - My Aim is True (my interepretation of the album title has always been this is from the sniper's perspective); pissed off and tightly rocking - This Year's Model (now ludicrously misinterpreted as theme music on stadium PAs and PBS); pissed, off, political, and playing the pop heart strings (under Nick Lowe's theory of an apocalypse you can tap your toes to) - Armed Forces.

So when you drain yourself through anger and booze and railing against the machine and none of your first three albums seem to do anything, there's only one thing left to do: write your suicide note and get it all over with. Lots of bands just skip to self-implosion at this point without bothering to write their last testament, and some artistes in particular just get on with the big black with or without bothering to tie up the loose ends of their singer-songwriter doodles.

Here's how the LP ended up, if you played it in the proper order of the UK release:

doesn't mean forever anymore
I said forever
But it doesn't look like I'm gonna be around much anymore
"Riot Act", is pretty straightforward in saying 'this is it'. The context of the album, of course, was the incident where he called Ray Charles the N-word and said something unfavorable about James Brown in a stupid drunken argument with a red-neck Amuhricuhn band and was on the verge of being blacklisted; he may have meant it as a commentary on his career, of course, and not his mere existence.

Of course, us Yanks were under a curious misimpression. 'Riot Act' finished side one on our version of an LP whose songs were so tightly spaced together on the vinyl to accomodate the 20 cuts that it didn't play on every turntable out there. Our LP had the sides reversed and ended up with 'High Fidelity', which sounded like an update of 'Radio Radio', saying that he didn't give a shit, after all, if he wasn't going to get played on the radio:

Maybe I got above my station
Maybe you're only changing the channel

[Nick Hornby, being a Brit, no doubt listened to the record in the correct ordering when it came out, but apparently only heard it as a record of depression over lost loves. 'High Fidelity' didn't even appear on the soundtrack of High Fidelity, possibly because Roky Erickson was a better avatar for that kind of love-angst. I love Hornby's books, but they seem to uniformly make better movies because, in part, you can listen to the soundtrack he compiled while he was writing. That, plus his directors fix the narrative problems in the books. I will say this for Hornby: he articulately formulated the essential question -- Do you start listening to pop music because you're depressed, or are you depressed because you listen to pop music? But there's a reason the book/movie wasn't called 'Riot Act' - the guy who listened to the LP in that order gave up, in desperation, before he finished the book Riot Act.]

Kurt Cobain had the peculiar misfortune of being a depression-era Cassandra in a boomtown, the classic introspective self-destructive folk daddy with lead in his pockets without the buoyancy of anything bigger than himself and a wide world of rosy prognostications to keep his head above water. He was a heroin yowler in a world of wake-up latte. Every little cry of help he yelped out seemed self-indulgent when times were good; every time he put a new suicide note out on a recording everybody told him how awesome he was, instead of throwing cold water on his face or at least kicking him in the nards. I'm sure it was just like the deceased 60s generation who all checked out at 27, after their good buds offered them another jug of wine to go on top of the grass and reds. So instead of getting punched back down where he could've toiled in happy cult obscurity, he got his hit record, and instead of making everything better like he'd dreamed when he was fourteen it just seemed like there was nothing left to try. Like maybe, a Motown record. More's the pity.

The difference between "Riot Act" and, say, "All Apologies" (not even to mention "I Hate Myself and I Want to Die") among recorded suicide notes, is that the former contained the understanding that an apology wasn't ever quite good enough and that you had to slog on and hope that actions would speak louder than words:

(the narrator of the song, speaking to himself:)

Why do you talk such stupid nonsense?
When my mind could rest much easier
Instead of all this dumb dumb insolence
I would be happier with amnesia
Riot Act - you can read me the Riot Act
You can make me a matter of fact
Or a villain in a million
A slip of the tongue is gonna keep me civilian

...while the latter song is just an imagistic fade-out, hoping that the apology he leaves behind will suffice to keep his connection to the humanity he left behind, or maybe a rationalization he wasn't going to do any more damage. Elvis himself, only a couple of years later on Imperial Bedroom, decried the evil trail of consequence of suicide on the survivors in "The Loved Ones".

I think Elvis trusted himself enough to know his talent was above it all. To know that it's a damned pity Buddy Holly didn't live past 21 or Jimi past 28, all that great music never written, that Sam Cooke never made it out of the Hacienda Motel:

Somwhere in the distance I can hear "Who Shot Sam?"
This is my conviction, that I am an innocent man
Though you say I'm unkind
I'm being as nice as I can

...and he was smart enough to put it in the musical vernacular. He may not have meant it, but the best apology is hommage and the best therapy talk therapy, not pharmaceuticals.

"Riot Act" is -- hell, I'd be happier if it all hadn't happened, but it did. Elvis figured, in the end - if they're not going to take my apology at face value, fuck 'em, I'm moving on and they can kiss by black ass. Which, at 25 and 26 and 27, when you are faced with the choice of dying before you get old and moving into the great unknown of middle age, is the correct attitude to take. There's something about having the young snot slapped out of you that is just totally, wonderfully character-building if you accept the challenge kismet throws at your dirty feet.

I don't mean to make this whole essay about just one song on the LP, especially since it isn't even close to being the best song in the collection. One of the reasons his fans loved Elvis back then was the prolific nature of his output (his legendarily short early live concerts notwithstanding) -- he cared enough to just keep piling it on, cut after cut, and he was good enough to make most of it enjoyable. That there was, as it turns out, lots of editing and re-working makes it even more remarkable after the fact.

Get Happy, for reasons unknown to me, was the last of the early Elvis to make it onto CD. A limited edition of the UK record was available, then not available, briefly some years ago. If you wanted to listen to the record, you had to put on the record, for the most part, or at least fire up the cassette deck. But what I threw into the CD drive the other day is not that record. It's a weird Borges-like version of Don Quixote that provides the antidote to it own peculiar poison.

The re-issue of Get Happy is, in its way, a weird revival of that giddy overproduction of the period. The first disc is the full UK-ordered LP, and then there's a bonus disc with thirty cuts - like Taking Liberties on steroids. It's full of alternate versions, demos, live performances, and outtakes from both Get Happy and the other sessions around the Taking Liberties period. And to further highlight the DVD audio commentary feel to the whole thing, you not only get a lyrics sheet but copious song by song commmentary from the surivor himself, Elvis Costello. Not too many men get to re-write their own obituaries, quoting their own suicide notes, and stand laughing looking towards the next surely-fruitful twenty-five years.

The second disc is a defusion of the first disc's ticking bomb, and for us survivors it's a way of cooling down after a hot workout of the soul and feet. I'm not saying I would necessarily recommend it, but if you want to skip the mere risk of sliding into the depths of depression in the original Get Happy, put the second disc into the CD changer and then something truly lite and less filling and happy pop into the third slot. I'd suggest the first Hanson CD.

The real bonus in the liner notes is a coda written in 2003, which I will quote in part:

I was standing backstage at a gala show in Los Angeles with a group of friends in the dingy, concrete loading bay when I saw a man in dark sunglasses being led in our direction. It was Ray Charles, and as he drew level, his assistant stopped to introduce him to the singer at my side. Realising that to try to offer any apology after all these years would do little more than embarrass everyone present, all I could do was turn my head away with shame and frustration knowing that this was a hand that I will probably never shake.

One would hope that it is evident in many of my songs that I understand dignity to be the right of all humanity, whether one's ancestors walked in chains in Rome or were put up for sale in an American market place, or were driven from their homes by the duel oppressions of fanaticism and poverty. Nevertheless, in every encounter with an African-American musician, I have to wonder whether the distorted and obscure fragment of my biography will have filtered through unexplained. I have also found that guilt is a burden without any statute of limitations.

If there's anything to encapsulate the ultimate in regret, it's the inability to apologize to a guy who is now dead.

But wait...just to show he really does want to still bite the hand that feeds him, Elvis goes on to savage Rolling Stone, which made him their cover boy with a sympathetic article by Greil Marcus just after the N-word Holiday Inn incident, saying

...this rag has, over the years, undergone a remarkable transformation from an organ of the supposed counterculture to shallow pop-culture shop window for starlets and acrobats while funding their efforts with generous amounts of Big Tobacco advertising reveue and offers of penis enlargement to easily deluded teenage boys. I can only hope that those responsible continue to sleep untroubled by the illusion of moral superiority that laid me so low in a dark Holiday Inn bar in 1979, the consequences of which I suppose I will carry all of my days. For now, I have done explaining.

I don't think it's a coincidence that the next LP Elvis put out was a less successful and in its own way campy country-tribute record, Almost Blue. At the time, I recall being outraged and unhappy, since we all knew country music was boring and uncool. But the great themes of country, like the blues, are of finding yourself on the bottom of the barroom floor covered in your own filth, with nobody showing any interest in whether you're unconscious or dead, and then finding something within you to pull yourself up, wipe the sick off your shirt, and stagger home to see a new day. It wasn't a great effort, but man, was he trying. And you know what, that's all any of us can be expected to do: keep trying. Get Happy.

Friday, September 24, 2004

God Asks for a Recount

How unusual is it for two hurricanes to do a three-sixty in the same season?

graphic discourtesy New York Times

I believe this annotated version of the map above may explain the weather phenomenon:

graphic courtesy CBS News

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Washington Insiders Back Inside Washington

[Editorial note: a rare cross-posting from my baseball blogging at The Diamond Angle.]

It looks like old Cranky was wrong once again: the Expos will not be awarded to Northern Virginia, but instead to one of the Washington D.C. groups. You can go to official web site of the Washington DC Baseball Club and suggest a name for the new club: in honor of its racist football cousin, I sugggested the Washington Whiteskins. But The Washington Insiders may be the most appropriate name.

Who's behind the new ownership group?

Why, Frederic Malek, former Nixon aide and campaign manager of the Bush/Quayle 1992 campaign, and a former partner with -- guess who? -- in the Texas Rangers. (Malek is alleged to have been the Nixon aide entrusted with compiling lists of jews in various federal agencies.) Just so everything's bipartisan, Vernon Jordan is included among the limited partners.

Why, will this new stadium be publically financed at taxpayer expense in a time of record deficits, just like the Texas Rangers' stadium, you ask?

Why, yes, why do you ask?

Monday, September 20, 2004

The Little Teapot's Undecided Voter Quiz

Don’t be a Fence Sitter! Find out your future self!
How to land the Candidate of your dreams!
Could you be a Nasty Neocon? A Nader Raider? Or -- a Flaming Liberal?
10 Steps to being a Sexy, Sexy Swing Voter

(As a service to our readers, The Little Teapot fills the void between The New York Times Poll and Cosmopolitan.)

Circle your answers for each of the questions below.

1. When grocery shopping, I:

a. Buy only organic, non-genetically engineered foods.
b. Carefully read the label’s nutrition information for each product before making a purchase decision.
c. Buy whatever name brand is on sale.
d. Buy whatever the hell I feel like eating.

2. When I see another person fail to pick up after his or her dog’s deposits, I:

a. Always tell them to pick it up, explaining the mess and inconvenience they’re causing everybody else.
b. Usually pick it up and dispose of it myself, making a big show so as to remind the dog owner what the right thing to do is.
c. Look the other way.
d. Let my dog poop there, too.

3. The most politically meaningful movie of the year for me was:

a. Fahrenheit 9/11.
b. The Day After Tomorrow.
c. Shrek 2.
d. The Passion of the Christ. No, strike that, White Chicks.

4. If I caught my child using drugs, I would:

a. Respect his/her privacy. And be very, very tempted to join in before making the correct ethical choice.
b. Explain the effects of drugs, why I hope the choices he/she makes are different from the erroneous choices I made in an earlier era with a completely different context, and trust him/her to do the right thing.
c. Really want to tan the kid within an inch of his life, but since I can’t get away with that in this day and age, ground him/her for the rest of eternity.
d. Check the prescription label for proper dosage.

5. I am hoping for a speedy end to the war in Iraq because:

a. It is an unjust conflict causing unnecessary death and suffering to the people of Iraq.
b. I am worried we’re being distracted from the war on terrorism.
c. I have a son/daughter/husband/wife/brother/sister serving in Iraq.
d. I shorted Brown & Root for the third quarter based on a conversation I overheard on the sixteenth green.

6. When shopping for a car, the most important factor to me is:

a. Finding a hybrid that will take my bike rack.
b. Gas mileage. No, honestly, safety: I don’t actually pay attention to the gas mileage.
c. How much the car payments and insurance will be.
d. What the Governator is driving now he can’t be seen in a Hummer.

7. My favorite news/talk radio program/station is ____, but sometimes I listen to _______ as a guilty pleasure.

a. Pacifica on college radio…the BBC on shortwave.
b. NPR on my car radio…the O’Franken Factor on internet stream.
c. Howard Stern, simulcast on E!…Rush Limbaugh on ClearChannel AM.
d. Rush Limbaugh on Sirius 142…The Charles Osgood Report on my Bose wave radio.

8. To balance work with child care, I:

a. Work from home on a flex-time arrangement with an internet company so I can be fully involved with my child’s upbringing.
b. Carefully researched all the available daycare centers for an ideal learning environment for the precious next generation before selecting one.
c. Juggle the kids between my spouse, my parents, and two different daycare centers so I can work the swing shift.
d. Applied for amnesty under the new guest worker program.

9. The big trial this year, by which our country’s ability to bring justice to wrongdoers or free the innocent is going to be measured, is:

a. The Ken Lay trial.
b. The Abu Graib courts-martial. No, wait, I better say the Sadaam Hussein trial.
c. The Scott Peterson trial.
d. The Kobe Bryant trial.

10. I would describe myself as:

a. A mainstream political moderate and an average middle class American.
b. A mainstream political moderate and an average middle class American.
c. A mainstream political moderate and an average middle class American.
d. A mainstream political moderate and an average middle class American.

There is no points system for scoring, as we are realistic about the average voter’s ability to add columns of numbers. Use the simplified letter-guide below:

If you answered “A” more than any other answer:

You are a Nader Voter! Good luck terraforming Mars!

If you answered “B” more than any other answer:

You probably already know it in your heart of hearts -- you’re going to pull the lever for two men named John! Use your tax refund to buy an upgraded computer and a DSL line to make the political process quicker when you click-to-contribute.

If you answered “C” more than any other answer:

You are a Swing Voter. You are going to vote based on the impression you get from the last political ad you see on the October 31st Fox Sunday football broadcast. Just be careful not to vote for Pat Buchanan.

If you answered “D” more than any other answer:

You are a Jeb Bush ’08 Voter! Congratulations on how well the status quo is going! (Psst: don’t worry about the election, it’s been taken care of!)

If you cannot figure out which letter you answered more than any other, and/or if you actually circled the answers on your computer screen instead of printing out this quiz first and now can’t tell what you answered because the page has scrolled past the circles:

Congratulations to you as well! You are not registered to vote! No need to worry about anything that’s not your problem.

Saturday, September 18, 2004

Wanted: Office Boy -- No Experience Necessary

[Editorial Note: this is another unsold article that's a little out of date now, but it's Saturday. Call me a La-Z-boy.]

The rap on Senator John Edwards from the Republicans upon his selection as John Kerry’s Vice Presidential ticket-mate was that he did not have enough experience to be President – a thought perhaps shared at one point by Kerry. Being ready to assume the Presidency is one of only two duties spelled out in the Constitution for the Vice President (the other is as titular presiding officer of the Senate). It’s an open question as to what constitutes enough “experience” to qualify one for a job once described by its very first holder, John Adams, as "… the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived". In context the charge seems leveled at Edwards’ short resumé in government office -- a single term in the US Senate.

The short governmental resumé among candidates for Vice President -- and President -- is not unprecedented in U.S. history. Americans have often preferred candidates with little to no experience, particularly at the federal level, to fill out both the top and bottom of the ticket. We certainly expressed this preference in 2000 with the election to the No. 1 job of a Governor with only six years’ experience in public service of any sort.

Richard Nixon was in the second year of his first term as the junior Senator from California in 1952 and barely 39 years old when he was tapped as Dwight Eisenhower’s running mate. Ike himself only had his military career to recommend him, and while he had impressive credentials in diplomacy as a result of running the Allied coalition in World War II, he had no domestic record – and precious few positions on the issues -- to call his own. Nixon had a relatively undistinguished term of service in the Navy during the war, serving as an air transport coordinator in the rear areas of the South Pacific and then as a Navy lawyer stateside. He served two terms in Congress before being elected to the Senate, bringing his total time in federal office before assuming the Vice Presidency to less than six years.

Nixon’s own running mate in the 1968 Presidential election was Governor Spiro Agnew of Maryland. Agnew has been governor only two years, and prior to that had spent four years as county executive of Baltimore. Agnew had served in the US Army in World War II and Korea, winning a bronze star, adding some gravitas to Nixon’s lighter credentials as a potential war president. Still, Agnew’s primary attraction to Nixon at the time seemed to be the certitude that he would not outshine the President in any arena.

The ticket of Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge in 1920 was perhaps the least illustrious national ticket of the twentieth century. Harding was a one-term Senator and newspaper editor from Ohio who was tapped to run for President by back room pols who thought he looked the part. Coolidge had been governor of Massachussetts for just a year prior to being nominated as Vice President; his most famous achievement was breaking a Boston police strike. Upon Harding’s death in 1923, Coolidge became President and proved somewhat more able than the detached Harding, who cared more for card-playing than the messy details of his scandal-plagued administration. “Silent Cal” chose not to run in 1928, leaving the more experienced Herbert Hoover to take the blame for the Great Depression.

Woodrow Wilson, whose two terms are notable for a variety of progressive reforms and the entry of the United States into World War I, had served two years as Governor of New Jersey prior to receiving the Democratic nomination in 1912. He was elected largely due to a split in the Republican party of the time between the party-machine-oriented incumbent William Taft, and Theodore Roosevelt, running his own reform platform as a third-party candidate. Prior to serving as Governor, Wilson’s entire executive experience was as President of Princeton University.

Wilson suffered a debilitating stroke in late 1919 with eighteen months remaining in his second term, and his wife Edith is famously thought to have run the government for him. Prior to the adoption of the 25th amendment to the Constitution in 1967, there was no mechanism for removing a President from office under such circumstances. Thomas R. Marshall, Wilson’s two-term Vice President, had entered office with only a single term as Governor of Indiana under his belt after conducting a sleepy law practice for three decades. Marshall reportedly did not see Wilson a single time in the remaining year and a half of his term after the stroke, nor did any cabinet member. Neither did Marshall seem particularly interested in assuming the office. It’s possible that Edith Wilson was in fact better-prepared to be President than Marshall, however constitutionally shaky her “regency” might have been.

“Now look,” Republican power broker Mark Hanna is said to have fumed upon Theodore Roosevelt’s ascendancy to the Presidency following the assassination of William McKinley in 1901. “That damn cowboy is President.” Roosevelt, at 43, became the youngest President to assume the office. Roosevelt had briefly been a real cowboy, but made more of a name for himself leading the Rough Riders in Cuba during the Spanish-American war (during which Roosevelt had less than four months “in country” and spent just over a year in the military) His capacity for self-promotion and the willingness of the press of the day to embrace his image of manliness rocketed him into political prominence. He rode the war hero image to the office of Governor of New York, where he was enough of a thorn in the side of the Republican machine of the day that they thought he’d be less of a nuisance in the quietude of the Vice Presidency. As the candidate for the number two job, Roosevelt was thought to lend a touch of excitement to the relatively bland William McKinley, a minor bonus in addition to the main goal of getting him out of the way in New York.

Perhaps the least experienced holder of executive office in the history of the country was Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln’s entire career of elected office prior to being elected President was a single two-year term as a Congressman in 1848-1850. His ability to carry his home state of Illinois in the 1860 election was in question, as he’d been unable to beat Stephen Douglas in a campaign for Senator in 1858 (conducted by proxy; Senators were chosen by the state legislature until passage of the 17th amendment to the US Constitution in 1913). Lincoln’s entire professional career other than his single term in Congress was, of course, as a celebrated Trial Lawyer.

Friday, September 17, 2004

Blue States, Red Sox, and Black and White Pinstripes

Yankee Ingenuity and The Secret Strategy for Victory for the Kerry Campaign

[Editorial note: this article also appeared on The Diamond Angle under my byline there as the Baseball Crank.]

John Kerry started out the week of the Democratic National Convention in Boston with a surprise unannounced visit to the Boston Red Sox New York Yankees game at Fenway Park on Sunday, July 25th. Kerry threw out the first pitch of the game like, well...a girly man. His fastball proved to be a wild changeup that took two hops and then rolled to the catcher.

At the time, the Red Sox were floundering and the Yankees were widely believed to have already run away with the AL East division. The Red Sox outslugged the Yankees to win 9-6. Bucking the traditional middle-innings exit favored by most politicians, Kerry stayed until the end of the game.

The Boston Red Sox, the team nearly synonymous with coming oh-so-close and then blowing it, have since gone 30-10 and pulled within a series victory of overtaking the Yankees. The team the President once owned, the Texas Rangers, in the same interval has passed from a playoff contender to a third-place non-entity in the AL West race. Kerry, if you want to take extremes in the polls, has dropped nearly 20 points in the polls relative to President Bush. There are two theories of linkage of the inverse fortunes of the Kerry campaign and the Red Sox since late July. One is it's a coincidence. The other is a manifestation of the phenomenon my Dad (a Washington Senators fan) calls Anti-Reverse Negative Karma: Kerry has acquired The Curse.

There's a chain of connection between the eternal Yankees-Red Sox struggle and the Bush-Kerry contest that's easier to make than linking Swift Boat Veterans for Truth with Karl Rove. The Curse of the Bambino is the well-known superstition of New Englanders, gleefully encouraged by opposing fans, that the Red Sox are fated to never again win the World Series after their feckless owner, Harry Frazee, sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees to finance a Broadway Show.

In 1947, George Herbert Walker Bush, then Captain of the Yale baseball nine, accepted on behalf of the university an autographed copy of the autobiography "The Babe Ruth Story" from the author himself on the pitcher's mound at Yale Field. (Reports that John Kerry's father once saw "No No Nanette" have not been confirmed.) Since Ruth was sold, there have been 26 New York Yankee World's Championships and two Bush Presidencies. 'Nuff Ced, as the Red Sox Royal Rooters liked to say back when Boston owned Ruth and won championships.

Kerry, need it be said, risks blowing a chance at winning his own crown faster than you can say Bucky Bleeping Dent.

The winning strategy for the Kerry campaign: embrace the Red Sox. Claim a Red Sox victory over the Yankees as a sign of Kerry being the Comeback kid, that fate can be defeated, and that hard work and dedication can triumph over the entrenched money special interests.

This is not a suggestion on my part of baseball-as-metaphor. This is as real as any politics can be said to be real.

The President, like the Yankees, is a master of using political symbols that resonate with average Americans. His first public appearance after 9/11 was to throw out the first ball at Yankee Stadium (he threw a hard strike down the middle of the zone). His favorite surrogate for strength in the crisis on 9/11 is former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, famous Yankee fan who still shows up at games wearing NYPD baseball hats with a Yankee emblem crammed alongside.

The Yankees have embraced the symbolism of 9/11 to a degree that would make even Ed Gillespie blush. The Yankees continue to force fans to stand for the playing of "America" during the seventh inning stretch for every game. Carlos Delgado, first baseman for the Toronto Blue Jays, turns his back on the song as an anti-Iraq war protest, an act which got him booed at Yankee Stadium (not to conflate 9/11 with Iraq or anything). The Yankees have made a great show of periodic appearances by the bald eagle "Challenger" (no comments on naming a bird after an exploded space shuttle, please), who, in a demonstration of the meaning of freedom, is forced to fly from centerfield back into captivity at home plate before selected Yankee games.

The Yankees themselves are not exactly out of contention when it comes to Republican politics. Yankee owner George Steinbrenner has a felony rap sheet for making illegal contributions to the 1972 Nixon campaign. Steinbrenner is a Tampa Bay resident, but can vote legally there since he was pardoned by President Ronald Reagan. And he can donate to federal elections again, including the maximum to the Bush campaign this year.

Nor are the Yankees alone among the baseball establishment in supporting the President's re-election. The Associated Press recently released a compilation of reports on contributions made by individuals associated with Major League Baseball. Not surprisingly, the ranks of Major League owners features many Bush "Pioneers" and "Rangers", champion designations of fund-raising, and over a dozen owners. (We're sure this has nothing to do with Major League Baseball's unique, Supreme-Court-enforced, exemption from federal anti-trust laws. As sure as we are that Abner Doubleday invented the game in 1839 in Cooperstown.) Kerry received contributions from only three part-owners of baseball teams, including Tom Werner of the Red Sox.

Beyond the practical support from baseball and the Yankees, it's the symbolism that the Bush campaign has capitalized on. You can bet that if the Yankees make the World Series -- which is scheduled to finish up only days before the November election -- President Bush will be throwing out the ball at the first Yankee home game. What better way to wrap up a traditional American symbol, a reminder of the country's resiliency after 9/11, and the bandwagon effect of being associated with a winning dynasty?

That's why my suggestion to the Kerry campaign is to reduce the number of sound bites about 'Wrong Choices' and start showing up for the Red Sox-Yankees game wearing full red team regalia. He can utter pronouncements like, "Come November, we're all going to be in Red States -- Red Sox States!" Should the Red Sox catch lightning in a bottle -- and the signs are good that this might indeed be the year -- there's no better coat-tails to ride than a club constantly belittled for losing that finally pulls out the big one.

Politics, it is often said, has been reduced to horse-race reporting, and modern campaigns veer from issues to meaningless negative attacks. If there's one thing an 18-55 year old male undecided voter in this country understands, it's not the Medicare system, it's sports metaphors. The Yankees are old and tired and playing on fumes, despite having a $200 million payroll. The Red Sox are playing loose, having fun, and refusing to believe in destiny or dynasties. If Kerry makes a grandstand play - literally - and the Red Sox cooperate by winning, it could be enough to swing him the election.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

It's the End of the Ramones

It's so sad but we all know it's the end of the Ramones.

Here's how they died:

Joey was a vegetable, resulting in lymphatic cancer.
Dee Dee went bald, causing him to OD on heroin.
Johnny got kicked in the head, which gave him prostate cancer.
But, it's true, the kids still love them all.

Tho, think on this: here's how they will be remembered by the masses:

The Blitzkrieg Bop being played in ten-second snippets at ballparks ("Hi Ho Let's Go").

Maybe by the use of the song in commercials.

They were big enough to have the deaths of Johnny and Joey make national news (Dee Dee's demise was oddly buried), although I have my suspicions that, "Bonzo Goes to Bitburg" notwithstanding, it was due in part to their celebrated conservatism. (Still, it's hard to imagine that the neocons like to hang out and put "Road to Ruin' on the turntable and pogo after a busy day of reconstructing Iraq.) Maybe it was that web of "influence" the obits talk about, but I honestly don't hear any real influence of the Ramones in anybody this side of the MTX. How can such purity devolve? No, the Ramones, at this particular juncture in history, are remembered by their fans -- and my remembrance follows below -- and noted in passing by pop culture, which at best had a tiny ripple in one still corner of the pond from the Ramones' tenure.

And Johnny died at his home in Los Angeles, visited by some of his Hollywood actor friends. It sounded very peaceful, not quite the punk rock death. For that, I am happy for him. The high mortality rate at a young middle-age among the Ramones cannot be a coincidence. I've been in CBGB's, and it smelt of corruption of the flesh, in the 19th century sense. (Parenthetically, I think it's possible Roger Daltrey just might bury us all. He looks great.)

Were the Ramones something to believe in?

I went to five Ramones concerts over the years. The first time was in 1982, when they were supporting "Pleasant Dreams". It was a great show at the Cleveland Agora, and it was very much in format and tenor what all the other concerts I went to were like. Insofar as there was anything ever to believe in about the Ramones, that was it. There were rumours when their first few records came out that they sounded that way because they just couldn't play -- such was the aesthetic of 1976 -- but this was disproved by the fact that they continued to make records in basically the same style forever. The Ramones found their Ramoneness early on, stuck with it, were consistent, and like the nine innings of a baseball game, you could expect the same format with a few cool variations every time you went to see them.

Here's the kicker: by the first time I saw them, most of my hipster friends considered the Ramones passe, sell-outs who recorded with Phil Spector on big labels, stuck in a rut. The Ramones had been in a movie. They were the least obscure of the right-left-wing fringe of punk. The emerging hardcore scene loved the Ramones, but as the old school. They weren't, really, cool compared to an Ian MacKaye or even a Jello Biafra. (I do not make this up out of whole cloth: I remember having that conversation with a DC punk at a hole known as The Dale in 1983, in the middle of a debate about whether "Straight Edge" was a political movement or not. It's hard to remember the days when I actually cared about such distinctions.) The Ramones, regardless of any intended aesthetic, really didn't mean anything, because you just couldn't make any sense out of the string of imagery linking lobotomies to Nazis to the California Sun. And ultimately that may have been why I and my scary-ass hardcore colleagues and college dink buddies and so forth kept going back to the Ramones. It was just fun, and you could scream out the lyrics like a sort of aural rorschach blot that could mean pretty much anything and nothing. The stakes were as high or low as you wanted to make them. But: they were an oldies act five years after their debut album.

When "Too Tough to Die" came out in 1985, I was in college, and on the review I wrote for the record sleeve at good old WSRN, I scrawled in capital letters "PUNK ROCK NOT DEAD!" This was, as I recall, specifically in reaction to 'Wart Hog', the song where Dee Dee was allowed to show he could be just as bad-ass-fast-bass as any hardcore band. And in general in reaction to the hardcore of the hardcore school that rejected the popism of punk.

Boy, was I wrong. Dr. Frank had it right. I enjoyed the album, but it's not one I feel compelled to go take out of the old vinyl archive a lot. It was nostalgia, at least personally. That's not a slam on the Ramones: it's just the way the record wore.

The last time I saw the Ramones was in Pittsburgh at the IC Light Ampitheatre in the 90s, a temporary outdoor venue named after the absolute worst beer ever. The capacity was, oh, four or five thousand, and the venue faced downtown. It was cloudy and humid and languid like being drunk on bad beer and needing to take a leak. The crowd, while in Pittsburgh, was what I'd call a mixture of Queens (the burough) and Qollege. The only black leather in evidence other than on Johnny was worn by actual bikers. The crowd skewed much older than previous shows I'd been to, and as part of the several "farewell" tours, I suppose it was indeed a nostalgia trip, or at least a swan song. They were pretty good. If I could play back the concert in my head, I'm sure it would've been just as good as all the others; but it didn't feel like it. It felt like eating expired potato chips.

The second time I saw the Ramones was in New York in the mid-80s. I can't remember the club, but it was the "club" experience at a time when the Ramones were playing middle-sized venues. Two guys tried to sell me heroin (like a dummy, I only realized it after the fact). The only dancing was done by males under the influence: you had to be anaesthetized to take the kind of abuse the mosh pit gave out. There was no joy of the crowd-surfing like there was at hardcore concerts of the day. Most of the crowd just stood around and looked at the stage and danced with their heads or occasionally their shoulders. I enjoyed the music, but it wasn't a great concert. The zeitgeist was artificial to the point of being absent.

I saw the Moaners play twice more, both at the TLA in Philadelphia, in the mid-80s. One of these shows as after Johnny was getting over his fractured skull, and he had anachronistically short and spiky hair. I got into the front, and spent the whole show dodging Johnny's guitar neck. I still have one of the guitar picks I got at that show. Johnny threw them freely to the crowd in those days, but I got mine by swiping it off the lower part of his strings in the middle of some typically-long medley. Johnny was such a professional he didn't miss a beat, but he did take an especially vicious swing of the guitar neck at me a few minutes later. They were great shows, it was a great mix of a crowd, and everybody, EVERYBODY, danced.

So that's all there is. Rock and roll is about performance. A good band can make a thrashing great time out of Mary Had a Little Lamb (particularly if they have a good drummer and don't play too many guitar solos). The records don't matter, in the end, as much as the moment, and the moment comes and goes on its own. For that reason, I find myself today not putting on a bunch of old records in maudlin nostalgia -- as I did when Joe Strummer died -- but sitting here quietly, resurrecting that great feeling inside me of jumping up and down for no good reason, yelling out the lyrics to songs that had no particular meaning, and ducking when Johnny tried to smack my head with the neck of his guitar.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Al Gore's Take on Our National Intelligence Assessment

There's a nice profile of former Vice President Al Gore in the September 13, 2004 New Yorker by David Remnick -- a strange sort of "Where are they now?" piece which is as much a rumination on "Where's his head now?" as a profile piece. It's fascinating in that the depth of an intellect like Gore's can seemingly only be unleashed fully when freed of the requirements of attaining elected office. We often lament that we do not attract the best and the brightest to electoral politics, yet the piece makes it clear that in Gore we really did have the best and brightest -- but there's something about the system that literally couldn't elect him despite our best efforts to do so, something about the character of being essentially honest that kept him from fighting as dirty as his opposition, which is what was required to win. A scalawag like Clinton has enough of the buccaneer in him to be clever and occasionally nasty and be enough of a good old boy to win. A boy scout like Gore, with all his merit badges intact and fully-earned, can only get by if people care enough to read his resume. Which is not to say Clinton isn't an extremely bright man - he is. The Clinton-Gore administration is, without a doubt, the biggest combined IQ in executive office since Adams and Jefferson. But Clinton was sneaky, and Gore was not. Gore ran for national office in 1988, 1992, 1996, and 2000 -- a mark exceeded in the last century only by Nixon and FDR, and equalled by the first Bush. Like Nixon, he made his first try for executive office at the age of 39; unlike Nixon, at 54, Gore appears to be out of the game and happier than he's ever been and bitter at the same time. You won't have old Al Gore to kick around anymore. This is not just sad, because Gore clearly is at peace and enjoying life; it's tragic, for the nation, that we didn't have this guy at the helm for the past four years and we probably will never have his direct service.

But the freedom from the political process that has been granted to Gore may, at least, bring one truth-teller to the table. It would be interesting to see whether Gore can become a senior statesman in the way that Clinton may become a Hall of Fame political coach.

As a potential preview, embedded in the profile is a very concise assessment from Gore on Bush:

"I wasn't surprised by Bush's economic policies, but I was surprised by the foreign policy, and I think he was, too," Gore told me. "The real distinction of this Presidency is that, at its core, he is a very weak man. He projects himself as incredibly strong, but behind closed doors he is incapable of saying no to his biggest financial supporters and his coalition in the Oval Office. He's been shockingly malleable to Cheney and Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz and the whole New American Century bunch. He was rolled in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. He was too weak to resist it.

"I'm not of the school that questions his intelligence," Gore went on. "There are different kinds of intelligence, and it's arrogant for a person with one kind of intelligence to question someone with another kind. He certainly is a master at some things, and he has a following. He seeks strength in simplicity. But, in today's world, that's often a problem. I don't think that he's weak intellectually. I think he is incurious. It's astonishing to me that he'd spend an hour with his incoming Secretary of Treasury and not ask him a single question. But I think his weakness is a moral weakness. I think he is a bully, and like all bullies, he's a coward when confronted with a force that he's fearful of. His reaction to the extravagant and unbelievably selfish wish list of the wealthy interest groups that put him in the White House is obsequious. The degree of obsequiousness that is involved is saying 'yes, yes, yes, yes, yes' to whatever these people want, no matter the damage and harm done to the nation as a whole -- that can come only from genuine moral cowardice. I don't see any other explanation for it, because it's not a question of principle. The only common denominator is each of the groups has a lot of money that they're willing to put in service to his political fortunes and their ferocious and unyielding pursuit of public policies that benefit them at the expense of the nation."

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Our National Hobgoblin

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do...Speak what you think to-day in words as hard as cannon-balls, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day.

- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Of course, if you quoted Emerson to the President -- after you explained what a "hobgoblin" was -- Bush would no doubt attack him as a Massachussetts Liberal (which he was, much more so than Kerry.) He was out on the stump again today pimping the idea that a "clear and consistent" President is more important than one who will get it right.

Kerry, on the other hand, has got to stop giving the public the benefit of the doubt and believing that they can understand, as filtered by the media, any sentence with a subordinate clause in it. It's admirably liberal of him to believe in the better angels of human nature, but stunningly ineffective.

I'm going to help by drafting a few speeches for Kerry in future posts, but let's start out by sticking to the basic points. The fewer syllables that can be used to express these ideas on the stump, the better.

  • The Iraq War is a huge mistake. That's my position now, and talking about anything else is irrelevant. Bush broke it, he bought it, and he showed up without any money in his wallet. Time for somebody else, me, to try.
  • Yes, I would have liked to see Sadaam dead. If we'd had a functioning CIA, we might've gotten him without spending $200 billion and over 1000 lives. Because that's the only reason we went into Iraq.
  • Iraq is in civil war with our troops there. I don't see how it could get any worse if we pulled the troops out.
  • We're $422 billion in the hole this year alone. (Everytime Kerry is attacked for spending this or that or raising taxes or whatever, he should just respond by saying "I didn't write $422 billion in hot checks. Everything they say about me is speculative. The $422 billion Bush blew this year alone is real.")
  • If Bush has all these great ideas about the economy, and medicare, and education -- how come he didn't do anything about it his first four years? The President says he's against social promotion. I agree. Don't give him another four years just because he says he's going to try harder.
  • Bush is either lying or incompetent.
  • Cheney is both lying and incompetent.
  • Cheney's really in charge.
That's it. Just be consistent. Don't start in on anything else. The hobgoblin vote will swing this election.

Monday, September 13, 2004

Sadaam Jones' Locker

So THAT'S where the weapons of mass destruction were!

Yes, boys and girls, there are 11 missing nuclear weapons out there somewhere. Ours, thank god. If they were missing terrorist weapons, God knows what kind of trouble we'd be in.

Holy Grave Robbers of Gotham, Batman

Holy forty pieces of silver, Judas. This may be in even worse taste than the President using pictures of corpses from Ground Zero in his political advertising.: coins struck from silver recovered from Ground Zero, bearing the image of the WTC. OK, maybe not quite as bad as the Bush ads, but it's pretty close.

So, I'm asking myself, how the heck did an ad for it show up on my blog? Yes, it's true, we've signed on to Google Ad Sense for The Little Teapot. Yes, I did it for the marginal amount of money it may or may not bring, and I'm going to justify it by citing the costs involved in blogging, etc. Writers write, unless they don't get paid.

The content of the site drives the selection of the ads (which, I must point out, I've got utterly no control over) and for some reason a bunch of "9/11" ads come up. In some ways this is the best form of free speech as far as advertisers are concerned. I got ads up from both the RNC and John Kerry's campaign the other day, so I must be doing something good, right?

Therein is my secret agenda for the ads by google: I've been really fascinated with the auto-content-discovery of my Google Mail account. It's not as uncanny as in picking out what I'm interested in just yet (far from it), but it's definitely a source of entertainment to see a clipping forwarded by my Dad generate an ad for lowering my mortgage rate and that sort of thing.

So, I guess, on one level I'm just as disgusting as the people trying to sell you a coin made from silver recovered from 9/11. Or I will if I ever get a check.

I'm reminded of when the brouhaha over the "Internet Decency Act" came up in 1994 or so. Boy, that was a long time ago. I wrote a piece for the editorial page of the Philadelphia Inquirer describing the Internet as it was back then -- it was new to most people, remember? -- and essentially pointing out: (A) Free speech means you have to tolerate disgusting speech, which may not be disgusting to other people, and (b) Technically, it's a fool's errand to try to regulate content delivery on an essentially unbounded medium.

The article got mish-mashed, the Inquirer didn't buy it, and I ended up being quoted (without permission) in an editorial by the editorial board which completely missed the point. Part of the mish-mosh was a description of me "hunched over his keyboard", writing my piece. The misquotation made it seem like I was advocating internet porno -- on the contrary, I was advocating unrestricted free speech so that something other than porno would start showing up on the internet. Needless to say, the print media's misinterpretation of what I wrote ended up causing me some grief, mostly in the form of anonymous letters and phone calls from what I'm sure were well-meaning defenders of morality.

I wrote a follow-up piece for what I guess you could call a pre-blogging blog on one of my web pages the following year called "How I Became the Hunchback Pornographer of the Internet" about the reaction I got to my name appearing in the editorial. The title of the second piece came from one letter that arrived, wherein the writewr apparently misinterpreted even the Inquirer's gratuitous description of me, and drew what I'm sure was a very vivid mental picture of me, my deformities, and my computer bright with interneto porn.

The piece wasn't really about the dolts who wrote to me telling me how hot I was going to burn in hell. It was about the danger of taking things like keywords too literally. The issue of the day was in part whether the FBI was going to start searching for perverts and child molesters and the like on the internet, being "proactive" about targeting such people on-line, by, for instance, searching for the words "child" and "molester" in close proximity to one another. Text searching has advanced a long way since then -- I'm really jazzed by the emergence of semi-adaptive technologies, even if their primary application thus far is ads -- but I'm pretty sure it was a good point at the time, and in the post 9/11 environment, one wonders about its use and misuse for finding terrorists. The problem, as ever, is the false positive rate, and the resources it takes away from "traditional" anti-crime efforts. In all fairness, it looks like some of the sting approaches taken by the FBI have been effective in targeting sexual predators, although not without some controversy. The same issues have been ramped up to the max with the passage of the USA PATRIOT [sic] Act.

So, I guess I'm going to hold my moral outrage at the ad appearing on my site, but I will let it all flow toward the source, which is the ghouls trying to sell back-door souvenirs of 3000 dead. At the risk of costing me pennies, if you see an ad for souvenir coins struck from silver recovered from Ground Zero, DON'T click through them. Thanks.

But if you do want to buy one, make sure you click through from this website.

I'll use the money to upgrade to a silver teapot.

Post-9/11 Postscript
After I posted this, I came back this evening and the following ad was up - quoted verbatim in all its erroneous typographical glory:
God, Eternity, & Sept. 11
Why does God allow evil? Was God present at Gound Zero?

Weapons of Mass Destruction Related Program Activities Part II

OK, let me make sure I've got this straight. After years of UN inspections followed by a year and a half on the ground in Iraq, the Bush administration remains convinced that Sadaam had active weapons programs to acquire nuclear weapons, etc. But in North Korea, they keep claiming the North has no nuclear capabilities even though the North Koreans are bragging about it.

So a mushroom cloud appears over North Korea, and Colin Powell's first reaction is they need to wait for more information about it?!? What the heck is the Bush administration going to need for proof?

Maybe there's a "historical" Presidential Daily briefing on the Korean war they could read up on. Or they could show the President a few episodes of "MASH"....

Saturday, September 11, 2004

Poll Dancers

One of the great failings of the media in this era has been the refusal to examine the issues, the objectivity of the facts of allegations put forth by various campaigns, or do much in the way of deeper investigations of real voters and the conditions in which they make decisions. They prefer instead to focus on the "horse race". The reasons for this are several. It's a lot easier. All one has to do is pretend to sit back and assess where one candidate stands relative to another. News organizations can pretend to be objective if they're not actually discussing any issues, or making editorial judgments about what issues to cover, but instead calling the game. This turns the Wolf Blitzers and Peter Jennings of the world into Vin Scullys and Dan Patricks.

The 'black baby' smears against the McCain campaign in 2000 were conducted in part by the use of push polling, that practice where paid pols pose as scientific pollsters but ask loaded questions in order to try to influence the result of the polls. Not just the polls, of course: the point of the poll is to push the voter, not actually get a result. Push polling is a deception, in that it masks a political organization within the seeming objectivity (for whatever that's worth these days) of a news-gathering organization. It's a form of lying and manipulation, which takes the horse race mentality to its logical conclusion. "Would you be more or less likely to want the Red Sox to win the World Series if you knew Pedro Martinez illegally imported llama fur and sold it as school lunches?" "Would you be more or less likely to want Smarty Jones to win the Belmont Stakes if you knew his owner supported thousands of 9/11 orphans?" But that kind of poll question won't change the outcome of an event: push polling will.

So where is the media coverage on the push polling campaign that's going on out there?

What push polling campaign, you might ask?

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported on August 4th about push polling being done in Wisconsin. The item appeared in a column by Cary spivak and Dan Bice, was only posted to the internet on August 31st, and has received scant attention near as I can tell. (I only spotted this on the excellent web page in their analysis of some state poll results.)

The Journal-Sentinel site requires a (free) subscription, so I'll clip bits of it here in case you don't have the patience to register:

This month, Oregon-based Moore Information called hundreds of [Wisconsin] state residents to ask them questions about the presidential contest.


"Whose position do you think is closer to the truth - those 'veterans who served with John Kerry' and say that he does not deserve the medals that he received, or John Kerry who disagrees with the veterans that he served with and who appear in the ad?"

That is, to put it mildly, a nudge, if not an all-out shove.

Days after conducting the poll, the firm put out a news release nationally, saying it had found that President Bush was slightly ahead of his Democratic challenger in Wisconsin, though the lead was within the 4 percentage point margin of error. The release said the poll was conducted "for our own consumption."


Bob Moore, the firm's president and founder, declined to discuss any of the questions in the poll, including the one on the controversial ads put out by Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.


As for who paid for the poll, Moore said his firm picked up the cost for the single question about which presidential candidate Wisconsin residents support.

He wouldn't disclose who paid for any of the other questions.

"I don't want to open that Pandora's box," said Moore, whose 20-year-old firm does polling for a variety of businesses but handles only Republican political clients.

Actually, Wisconsin law requires pollsters to disclose who is paying them if a person being questioned asks for that info. And - no surprise here - Krajewski swears he repeatedly demanded the info of the questioner, her supervisor and, ultimately, Moore himself.

Moore told us, "I never heard of that law before."

Learn something new every day - even after 20 years in the business.

Is it a surprise that Moore polls only for Republican clients? But they're only doing it for 'their own consumption'. This kind of activity is either electioneering, and needs to be reported to the FEC as such, or in violation of Wisconsin state law, or both.

It's unclear whether the Moore firm was doing this in concert with the Bush campaign or the Swift Boat group or not, but the activity is clearly in support of the smear.

What is not surprising is that this was being done at a time calculated to maximum the effectiveness of the Swift Boat smear. Let's say you're the average undecided Wisconsin voter in early August. You've probably just found out John Kerry was more than just a Vietnam Vet, he's a bona fide hero. You're starting to wonder about the kids in the next town over who got killed in Iraq. It's August and you might not be paying attention much, but all of a sudden an ad shows up in the middle of the Brewers game that says John Kerry faked his injuries and lied to get his medals. That sounds pretty bad, but maybe a bit over the top.

Then you get a call from an "news" organization asking you this question:

"Whose position do you think is closer to the truth - those 'veterans who served with John Kerry' and say that he does not deserve the medals that he received, or John Kerry who disagrees with the veterans that he served with and who appear in the ad?"

...and then you see straight news organizations reporting the Swift Boat allegations without analysis of the factual basis?

Back to the topic at hand: national poll data and the horse-race friendly, fact-checking averse media. The "bandwagon effect" is a well-known feature of electoral behavior, in which people on the fence will tend to go to the candidate they think is more likely to win, because they want to be associated with a winner. It may not be terribly principled, but we're talking about voters who are on the fence after four years of clear divisions in the practices, competence, and policies of the camps involved. It's nevertheless real.

The Time magazine poll that came out after the Republican convention showing a 10% lead for President Bush in a race thought to be neck and neck and "stuck" for ten months is rather suspicious. Without getting into the nuts and bolts of polling methodology or ana analysis of same in the Time poll, it's enough to point out that a good horse race has the horses pulling ahead and then dropping behind to keep each horse's fans on an emotional roller coaster. So much the better to keep tuned in, and so much the worse to stop the roller coaster by pausing to address issues, facts, and so forth.

But there are lots and lots of polls, some done by firms like the Moore company that have very specific political allegiances. The constant release of poll results after results feeds the horse race announcers, who keep out reporting on world events and facts and issues so they can keep in the safe space of pretending to call the ball and strike counts. Oops, mixed sports metaphor.

The continuing use of polls to define the race is just the biggest use of the bandwagon effect. I have suspicions that specific polls are designed to start pushing people into going with the winner, as they are told, and thus making the polls a self-fulfilling prophecy. "Losers" are less likely to show up at the polls if they think their vote won't count. The weird anti-democratic effects of the Electoral College continue to feed these manipulations of voter behavior, further suppressing votes from those "undecided" or who will vote "only if it counts".

A push poll serves two purposes. It pushes voters in one direction, and the bogus results, released to the public, and apparently as valid as any other poll, make that bandwagon go just a bit faster.

And why isn't there reporting about the use of push polling in swing states? Could it be that media outlets don't want the very idea of the poll to be questioned by raising doubts about the truthfulness of the polling? Or that they'd have to make actual factual judgments about which polls are trash, and then have their viewers change channels, the same way I change to ESPN News when I miss the score of the game on ESPN2?

Friday, September 10, 2004

Flying Low

Here's one high on the list of boring campaign issues nobody is paying any attention to: the federal government's "bail out" of the airline industry following 9/11. (It seems kinf of unfortunate to use the image of jumping out of a plane to describe a subsidy of the airline industry.)

The US Government (also known as you, taxpayer) has thrown at least $15 billion towards the airline industry since then. Well, not towards the industry: towards specific airlines. The worse off the airline, apparently, the more money it gets.

There seems to be little sentiment in Congress for another bailout, which may be a good thing, but it's illogical. If 9/11 caused a disruption in the airline industry, why then wouldn't the current world situation with high oil prices, resulting in high fuel prices, also be considered a war on terrorism-related 'act of god' requiring a bailout?

It's abundantly obvious that the major airlines are not constructed in an economical way, and are doomed, like most behemoth industries, to bankruptcy. It's called competition. Supply and demand will alter the fortunes of specific players within the industry, and that in turn means, if we're going to accept deregulation of industries like transportation, that we have to accept temporary shortages of supply when corrections (via bankruptcies) are made.

The hard part about all this is the completely outrageous loss of some workers' pensions, which, if they're honored, will in turn be paid out by the government (you, taxpayer). Yes, it's like paying into somebody else's 401(K) on top of paying your own social security and that for somebody else.

There's nothing really new here. The government felt obliged to bailout bankrupt passenger railroads like the Penn Central back in the early 1970s, when it had for years been stifling the effects of the marketplace by subsidizing road travel and forcing railroads to operate unprofitable branches. And remember the Chrysler bailout in the 1970s? Maybe that was a good thing, maybe it wasn't. But it's hardly fair to competitors within the industry to reward a company just for being incompetent.

This is the type of issue that should really be discussed in the Presidential election. It's bound to come up again. Under what circumstances would you, as President, agree to subsidize an industry? What's the relationship between the nation's strategic interests and the health of its domestic industries? Is the shipment of capital to foreign countries related to our domestic security and tranquility?

At the very least, the Congress and President ought to be held accountable for the money blown on the US Airline industry. Whatever problems resulted from 9/11, as the Business Week article from 2001 linked above indicates, they were trivial compared to fundamental flaws in the companies at hand. What role do special interests have in this kind of legislation? Which Presidential candidate is getting support from the airline industry?

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Friday, September 03, 2004

The Lyingator

The Governor thinks he saw Russian tanks when he was a kid, but the Russians were out of his part of Austria by the time he was born. The Governor thinks he grew up under the boot of socialism, when in fact Austria never had a socialist government while Arnold lived there, and had the most conservative government on record when he left for the United States (which was then under the liberal Lyndon Johnson administration).

Have we got a Manchurian Governor on our hands?

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Burritos at four a.m....and TWINS!

Editor's Note: the following is a parody. It is not in any way, shape, or form meant to represent the actual remarks of the Bush twins to the Republican National Convention on August 30, 2004.
Jenna Bush: It's great to be here. We love Arnold. Isn't he awesome? Thanks to him, if one of us ever decides to marry a Democrat, nobody can complain.

Except maybe our Grandmother, Barbara. And, if she didn't like it, we would definitely hear about it. We already know she doesn't like some of our clothes, or music, or most of the TV shows we watch. Ganny, we love you dearly, but you\'re just not very hip. She thinks "Sex in the City" is something married people do, but never talk about.

We spent the last four years trying to stay out of the spotlight. Sometimes we did a little better than others. We kept trying to explain to Dad that when we were young and irresponsible. Well, we were young and irresponsible.

Barbara Bush: Jenna and I are really not very political, but we love our Dad too much to stand back and watch from the sidelines. We realized that this would be his last campaign, and we wanted to be a part of it. Besides, since we've graduated from college, we're looking around for something to do for the next few years ... kind of like Dad.

Jenna Bush: Our parents always encouraged us to be independent, and to dream big. We've spent a lot of time at the White House, so when we showed up for work the first day, we thought we had it all figured out. But, apparently, my Dad already has a chief of staff ... named Andy.

Barbara Bush: When your Dad's a Republican and you go to Yale, you learn to stand up for yourself. So I knew I wasn't quite ready to be President - but #2 sounded good - who is this man they call Dick Cheney?

Jenna Bush: I think I know a lot about campaigns, after all my Dad and Grandfather have both run for President, so I put myself in charge of Strategy. Then I got an angry call from some guy named... 'Karl'?

Barbara Bush: We knew we had something to offer. I mean, we've traveled the world. We've studied abroad. But, when we started coming home with foreign policy advice, Dad made us call ... Condi?

Jenna Bush: Not to be deterred, we thought surely there's a place for strong willed, opinionated women in communications... and next thing we know, Karen's back! So, we decided the best thing we could do here tonight would be to introduce someone we know and love. You know all those times when you were growing up and your parents embarrassed you? Well, this is payback time ... on LIVE TV!!!

Barbara Bush: Take this... I know it's hard to believe, but our parents favorite term of endearment for each other is actually "Bushie". And, we had a hamster, too let's just say...ours didn't make it.

Jenna Bush: But, contrary to what you might read in the papers... our parents are actually pretty cool. They do know the difference between mono... and Bono. When we tell them we're going to see Outkast, they know it's a band... and not a bunch of misfits. And, if we really beg them, they will even 'Shake it Like a Polaroid Picture'.

Barbara Bush: So, okay - maybe they have learned a little pop culture from us... But, we've learned a lot more from them. About what matters in life. About unconditional love. About focus and discipline. They taught us the importance of a good sense of humor. Of being open-minded and treating everyone with respect. And, we learned the true value of honesty and integrity.

Jenna Bush: When you grow up as the daughters of George and Laura Bush, you develop a special appreciation for how blessed we are to live in this great country. We are so proud to be here tonight to introduce someone who read us bedtime stories, picked up carpool, made us our favorite peanut butter and jelly sandwich and cheered for us when we scored a goal - even when it was for the wrong team.

Barbara Bush: Someone who told us we actually looked "cute" in braces, always welcomed our friends and, was there waiting when we came home at curfew.

Jenna Bush: Ladies and Gentlemen, one of the two most loving, thoughtful people we know

Barbara Bush: Your President ... and, our Dad - GEORGE W. BUSH!