July 09, 2005

Operation Yellow Elephant: First of all, it's not true that every Young Republican (or hawk) of age to serve his country is sitting this one out. I had the privilege of eating lunch last week with a beautiful and courageous attorney, Natalie Panossian, who is very active in local GOP politics (she volunteered for Bush-Cheney in New Mexico last year), has formed a Federalist Society branch out in Ventura County, and still has found time in her schedule to enlist in the Army Reserve. If the war in Iraq continues, she will likely be sent over there (as a JAG, of course), probably not on the front lines, but it seems that won't make much of a difference when you're fighting a non-conventional war. What I found to be most interesting about her is that she is not a hawk; she thinks the President should come up with an exit-strategy, pronto, and that it's time for the Iraqis to defend their own freedoms. She supports the mission, but her qualms are that of a serious person. Her courage and integrity make a mockery of my own.

And her qualities certainly make a mockery of these chickenhawks convening this weekend at the Mandalay Resort in Las Vegas. The issue, of course, isn't whether people need to enlist to have "the right" to opine about U.S. foreign policy; the First Amendment protects saints and assholes alike, and therefore allows all people within its borders the right to make whatever political statements they want. The issue, instead, is whether anyone who parades in front a banner "Supporting our Troops, Honoring the Fallen" at a desert resort and argues that this war is the paramount battle of our generation, but does nothing to take part in said battle, can ever be taken seriously. To put it another way, it's like being counseled by Ben Affleck on how to vote in an upcoming election, only to find out that he has not bothered to register.

Ms. Panossian has earned the right to be taken seriously when she discusses her feelings on the War on Terror. The assembled Dekes and Tri-Delts in Vegas, like their many comrades in the blogosphere, have not.

July 08, 2005

Reading this article is sad for those of us who grew up admiring Joe Morgan. It's also puzzling to me, since I could swear I read a profile in People fifteen years ago on Bill James, which included a quote from Little Joe praising baseball's Galileo. [link via Hit&Run]

UPDATE: I was right; Joe Morgan has flip-flopped on the issue of sabermetrics and its most famous practitioner:
"One of the problems in baseball is being able to judge a guy's value to the team," says Joe Morgan, the Hall of Fame infielder now broadcasting for ESPN. "A .260 hitter can be more valuable than a .300 hitter. A player who hits 35 home runs may not drive in 100 runs. All those things were brought into focus by Bill James."[emphasis mine]
"Holy R.B.I. -- It's Statman!; Super stastician Bill James has baseball's numbers", People, June 3, 1991.
Warped Priorities: In the day following the worst terrorist attack in English history, only hours after the G-8 Summit concluded, and in the middle of what may be the most important Supreme Court confirmation battle(s) in history, can you believe that not a single question was asked by the White House press corps this morning about the IOC's decision to discontinue our national pastime as an Olympic sport? Or about Karl Rove, for that matter?
When George Bush was first told about a plane crashing into the WTC on September 11, supposedly his first thought was about the type of moron who had been allowed to fly that plane. A lot of people had hissy-fits about that, and the deer-caught-in-the-headlights expression he had immediately thereafter certainly didn't help, but that was always one criticism of the President that I couldn't buy, since I had the exact same reaction. When I logged in to the 'net on 9/11, and saw the headline, "Plane Crashes Into Twin Towers", my first thought related to the recent deaths of JFK II and Payne Stewart, and was along the lines, "dammit, when are they going to ground these amateur pilots anyways?", and not, "oh god we've been attacked by an Islamofascist terror network based in Afghanistan--The Battle is Joined, at last--Let's man the barricades, and keep the aspidistra flying !!" Maybe that wasn't the classiest sort of thought that a President needed to share with the American People during a time of war, even one engaged against a metaphor, but I could appreciate the sentiment.

So let's just say that I'm not going to join in the public condemnation over Brit Hume's remarks yesterday morning. He probably would like to rephrase what he said, but admitting that you briefly thought about how this would impact investments on Wall Street, immediately after you've been asked a question about how the stock market reacted in the wake of the bombings, is quite human. A lot of the things I thought about yesterday (as well as on 9/11) were selfish and petty as well, and if you don't live in the immediate vicinity of such a tragedy, I expect that the same was true with most of you.

That's why days like July 7, 2005 are such terrible days for blogging; one of our more annoying habits as a species is the attempt to cram events into little pigeonholes of our own devising. We bring certain beliefs to the table, and then when a traumatic event happens, we immediately attempt to shape the contours of that event to fit our world view. It takes time to reconsider our positions, but blogging is a craft that rewards snap judgments, harsh (even violent) rhetoric, and a manichaen, polarized mindset. So why should Brit Hume have been any different than you or me?

July 07, 2005

Strike Out: Seems I spoke to soon about the advent of British baseball and softball at the 2012 Olympics. The IOC has voted to eliminate both sports after the next Games, in Beijing: baseball, because the top professional players weren't competing (the sport's leaders are focused instead on a World Cup, scheduled for next March); and softball, because no one played it outside of the U.S., Australia and China. Among the potential replacements: rugby, golf, and karate.
Frankly, it's a bad day to be a blogger. The London attacks understandably cause a visceral reaction, and blogging, which rewards the ability to make strong, ideologically-extreme statements, as well as the ability to do so quickly, generates all heat on a day like this, and almost no light. We really don't know shit about what happened, who did it, and how it managed to occur, so any finger-pointing at this stage isn't merely ridiculous, it's cancerous.

As others have taken their predictably partisan stances, and used the deaths of the innocent to reaffirm their earlier position on U.S. military involvement in Iraq, I thinks it's fair to point out that in terms of preventing attacks, such as the ones today and on 9/11, our current war in the Middle East is worthlessly irrelevant. Having a democratic government in Iraq will not stop terrorism. Detaining any suspicious-looking Arab emigre will not stop terrorism. Passing the Patriot Act has not made us any safer than we would have been if we had done nothing at all, nor will the extension of certain provisions make future attacks less certain; Great Britain, for example, has even more onerous laws to that effect, but, at least today, they were to no avail.

Typically, Josh Marshall makes the most sense on this issue:
Beside the threat we face from the bacillus of Islamic terror, President Bush has created a great running wound on the whole country in the form of the mess he's created in Iraq -- a wound bleeding blood, treasure and a scourge of national division which is now impossible to ignore but which we can ill-afford. Even now his cheerleaders are trying to enlist this outrage in the battle to prop up their folly in Iraq. If anything our folly in Iraq has made the immediacy and intensity of this basic threat worse. But let's not be blinded by our outrage at that folly or distracted from thinking concretely, together and resolutely, how we defend our innocents from such religious fanaticism and the violence it spawns.
What we need is some acknowledgment of good faith on the issue of fighting terrorism, what it will entail, how best to go about the task, and not score-settling, or worse, demagoguery that focuses the blame on people other than the thugs who planted the bombs.

UPDATE: For an amazing example of the good the web can do on a day like this, check out the Wikipedia page on today's tragedy. [link via Hit & Run] Also, there has been amazing coverage from bloggers on the scene in London that puts the armchair punditry of the rest of the blogosphere to shame.
Terrorists attack London Tube. This would appear to be the work of Al Qaeda, if only because it's ambition is so grand. It's probably connected to the G-8 Summit; something like this would have required months of training, and yesterday's awarding of the 2012 Olympics was a bit of a surprise. To any and all readers in London: this blog is at your disposal.

July 06, 2005

"Reporter" jailed.
London sneaks past Paris at the last second to win the 2012 Summer Olympics. The host country gets an automatic slot in every event, so get prepared to see Her Majesty's finest baseball, softball, volleyball and basketball players in action. Both Blair and Chirac made last-minute appeals in person, but what may have screwed the French was a gaffe President Chirac made last week about British and Finnish cuisine. Didn't a wise man once say that a "gaffe" was anytime a politician got caught telling the truth?

July 05, 2005

Sarah Vowell gives a tip of the cap to Pat Robertson, of all people. And he might even deserve it !!
YBK [Part 9]: As if rising foreclosures and the looming housing bubble weren't enough to worry about, here's something about to come down the pipeline from the credit card industry: rising monthly payments. According to MarketWatch, credit card companies are expected to raise the minimum monthly payment from 2 to 4% of the balance in the next couple of months:
"Ultimately, the new policies are better because it can take forever to pay off the principal under current credit-card policies," says Michael Keene, vice president of new program development for nonprofit Money Management International, also known as Consumer Credit Counseling.

"But it will present some short-term problems for a lot of folks living on the edge, barely able to make minimum payments now."
Things might get very ugly pretty soon for people already in default on their monthly mortgage.
[My previous YBK posts are here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here].
The irony of this story, of course, is that the World's Most Overrated Athlete plays a sport that his home country has refused to participate in past Olympics, due to the divided nature of the British soccer federations. In this country, we've had a lot of nimbyish opposition to the Big Apple's bid for 2012, but I'm curious if there's been similar opposition to the Paris and London bids. For what it's worth, those who have opposed Olympics for various localities since 1984 do not have a very good track record when it comes to their predictions. I have yet to meet an Angeleno who does not have warm memories of the '84 Games; it has always served as an example that we can collectively accomplish great things when we put our minds to it. And they never lose as much money, congest as much traffic, or cause as much havoc as even the proponents of the Games anticipate.
Not a Happy Fifth for the Duke, either. It now seems that he sold his personal yacht a few years back (the yacht he's currently living on is owned by Mitchell Wade) to a convicted felon who had recently served time for bribery and bid-fixing. He made a 200% mark-up on the deal. The new purchaser did not bother to change the registration on the yacht, as he intended to resell the boat to Cunningham soon afterward. But he did seek the Congressman's assistance on obtaining a pardon for his earlier misdeeds, and, perhaps in return for that mitzva, arranged to buy out the second deed of trust on Cunningham's new villa in Rancho Santa Fe.

July 04, 2005

A brave soldier, silenced....
Not a Happy Fourth for the Duke. On Friday, the Federales raided his Rancho Santa Fe villa, as well as the private yacht and business offices of his former benefactor, Mitchell Wade. Now, he's cancelled all public activities scheduled for July 4th, which for a politician is tantamount to getting hit on the head three times with a silver hammer while being asked his name. The only reason to cancel would be if he already knew he had lost the support of the local party...I wrote awhile back that Cunningham's seat was borderline safe; he was expected to win, but with a much lower percentage (betw. 57-62%) than other California incumbents. However, Boxer barely lost carried the district last year in her Senate victory, in spite of the GOP registration edge, and it's clear that the seat can't be taken for granted. At this point, he's Condit.

UPDATE: Yeah, I checked, and Boxer lost the 50th C.D. by 306 votes, out of 287,000 cast. Of course, she was running against a well-respected opponent who had won statewide office before, and who had not the whiff of scandal to him, so I think the point still holds.

July 03, 2005

Inhale, relax...This article, about the conventional wisdom that because of last month's deal, any filibuster against a Supreme Court nominee based on ideological grounds is now verboten, seems to have given a number of my bloggish cohabitants a bad case of the vapors. Rather than becoming emotionally overwrought about the alleged spinelessness of Ben Nelson, et al., let's remember the critical language in the deal, that all 14 signatories agreed that the Senate's role in giving "advice and consent" actually meant precisely that. To quote the agreement:
We believe that, under Article II, Section 2, of the United States Constitution, the word "Advice" speaks to consultation between the Senate and the President with regard to the use of the President's power to make nominations. We encourage the Executive branch of government to consult with members of the Senate, both Democratic and Republican, prior to submitting a judicial nomination to the Senate for consideration.
Now, does anyone think Bush is going to seek the "advice and consent" of any Democratic Senator before he nominates someone? Of course not. And that's going to be the hook that will be used to justify any filibuster, because let's face it, if we appear to be doing nothing more than the bidding of liberal interest groups, we're going to get slaughtered in the court of public opinion, just as we did during the Clarence Thomas nomination. The Bushies will stress the personal story of whomever the nominee is, about how he grew up the son of a sharecropper who had to walk ten miles to school every day, and paid his way through law school performing menial jobs, and we're supposed to respond by shouting, "he doesn't support Roe v. Wade," or "he'll end affirmative action," and get our asses kicked like we always do.

The "advice and consent" rationale, on the other hand, is about fairness, consensus, and adhering to the Constitution, and one that is easily saleable to the American people. It can also be tied to any ideological qualms we may have about a nominee, since we can always say that if the President had sought our advice, we would have recommended a more moderate, mainstream selection. And best of all, Lindsay Graham, whose role in the agreement was basically to mediate (he supports the "nuclear option"), and the other six Republican signatories have signed off on that. So chill out, my friends; that language was in the agreement for a reason.
I've received a lot of response about last month's post describing the strong correlation between the appreciation in the value of homes and voter behavior in the last election (which we will henceforth call "The Sailer Effect", after the conservative blogger who independently discovered the same phenomenum last December), thanks to Mickey Kaus (with some assistance from James Taranto, who helpfully pointed out to the world that "correllation" is not only not causation, it's not correlation either, and Mark Kleiman).

There seems to be some confusion about what the housing figures cited in my chart reflect. The numbers, based on the Housing Price Index put out by the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight, measure the amount single-family homes have appreciated in value, not the average price of a home. If my reading of the methodology used is correct, the numbers I cited were based on homes that existed in 1980, and have been sold at least twice since then. Also, multi-unit properties, such as condominiums and duplexes (duplexi?), are not counted in the survey.

The explanations I've seen for the Sailer Effect are quite interesting. They include population density, immigration levels, higher birthrates in Red States, the preponderence of college towns and dual-income families in Blue States, and the positive effect rigorous zoning, labor, and planning laws have in creating wealth for homeowners. One commenter even linked the correlation to abortion.

There is probably truth to each of the explanations, but what really intrigued me about the Sailer Effect was that it was a long-term phenomenum. Both 1980 and 2004 featured Republican victories across the board, but if you look at the states that Carter either won that year or came close, for the most part you are seeing a different collection of states than those that went for Kerry last year. Even though Carter lost big, he still carried two states (Georgia and West Virginia) that went for Bush last time, and ran relatively well in most of the South. With the exception of Florida, every Southern state is in the lower half of the chart. On the other hand, a number of states that Reagan carried easily that year, such as California, Michigan and Illinois, as well as small states like New Hampshire, are now in the Blue column. And each of those states is in the top half; in fact, generally speaking, the greater the increase, the larger Kerry's margin was (and vice versa).

Moreover, the shifting political allegiances of West Virginia and New Hampshire at the Presidential level call into question the view that it is liberal policies that cause housing scarcity, which in turn drives up home values. West Virginia, although it has become an increasingly safe Red State, has been controlled at the state level by Democrats for the most part since the 1930's, and it has a well-deserved reputation for having an activist, pro-labor government. New Hampshire, on the other hand, remains a Republican state down-ticket, and its policies at the state level are notoriously conservative.

In addition, while most of the commenters assume that the rate of growth in housing prices is a bad thing, since many people are priced out of the market, it's pure nirvana if you happen to own a home. People who set up roots in a particular state by buying (and keeping) a home gain a nice little nest egg, and what the Sailer Effect shows is that homeowners who live in states that favor liberal Presidential candidates make more money out of the sale of their homes than voters in states that back conservatives. I still have not seen an explanation as to why this form of wealth-creation should be more conducive to creating a Democratic base, or why people who lack access to that in a particular state would be more likely to vote Republican.

In the meantime, here's a related chart, showing a noticeable but weaker correlation between bankruptcy rates and the state's 2004 preference. More to follow....
Just thinking about the possibility that Karl Rove is the principal target of a special prosecutor and a runaway grand jury is enough to give any self-respecting liberal blogger some serious wood...btw, wasn't Rove recently in the news for some speech he gave? As a wise and learned professor once said, "heh !".