March 14, 2007

Two of the three Finalists for the Pulitzer Prize for criticism (both from the L.A. Times) nominated themselves, beating out the critics who had the official nomination from the paper. [link via LA Observed] But of course, we already knew that all it takes to get "nominated" for a Pulitzer is an application and a $75 fee.
For those of you who plan to drop off the face of the planet the next four days, in deep immersion in college basketball, here's a bit of arcana for you: John McCain's personal brackets. His Final Four are the four Number One seeds, and he picks the higher seed in almost every game. For a conventional pool, that's not a bad strategy, since it assures the player of consistent results throughout the NCAA's, with an almost absolute certainty that at least one of your teams will get to the Final Four. It discounts the first round, when most of the upsets occur, to almost complete insignificance, while boosting the later rounds, when form begins to reassert itself, and number one and two seeds tally the lion's share of points.

In a small pool, then, McCain stands a good chance of finishing in the money, although there has never been a tournament in which all four Number One seeds made it to the Final Four. Even in the sort of mega-pool he's engaging in, he will likely finish in the top half, although with many thousands of people participating, the odds that at least one player will correctly pick all four Final Four teams are almost certain. Some "maverick."

Which is one of the reasons why most sophisticated pools don't operate in that fashion; in order to reflect the wild, random nature of March Madness, a player who picks only the favorites shouldn't be allowed to reap the benefits over those who seek out the upsets that make the event so unique. In the pool which I participate, the first round is apportioned by seeding, not by the number of correct guesses. If you pick a 12-seed to beat a 5, you get 12 points. If you think Kansas is going to squeak by Niagra on Friday, you get one. People who correctly pick upsets benefit, although the real key is nailing the 8-9 and 7-10 games. After the first round, the scoring is proportional and based on successful guess, which is S.O.P. in most pools.

March 13, 2007

Purgegate ?!? Tapped and Kevin Drum, rolling out the same cliched suffix for use in a serious some pride, will you?
Worthwhile Republican Initiative: If you live long enough, eventually a miracle will happen. Of course, you have to go deep into a state legislature in the Midwest to find it, but kudos to Rep. Kim Meltzer for proposing to do away with the idiotic, albeit unenforceable, legal ban on college basketball tournament pools.

March 12, 2007

Since I began this blog nearly five years ago, I've been wondering when more famous people would take the plunge. I don't mean pundits or journalists, or other people who write for a living, but honest-to-goodness amateurs with nothing but some free time and a desire to share themselves with the outside world. Well, two who have taken the plunge recently are David Byrne, who sporadically updates his site with Digbyesque posts about the war and related matters, and now Curt Schilling, future HOF pitching ace for the Boston Red Sox. Schilling seems to be plunging into the new media full throttle; here's hoping he can maintain this pace over the course of the season, and give his readers some idea what the everyday life is for a baseball player. And if he feels obliged to drop one of his right wing opinions into the mix, I guess that's the price to be paid.
Right now, the focus on the White House's purge of the US Attorneys has been on the sleazy manner in which the firings were handled, and the possibility that it may lead to the cashiering of Attorney General Alfredo Gonzalez. The firings are coming to symbolize the brazen abuse of power by this Administration, and the unchecked arrogance that characterized the first six years of Bush's tenure in office.

But even more important may be the long-term ramifications this scandal will have on the Republican Party. You see, US Attorneys not only serve a very important role within the bureaucracy of the Justice Department, they also hold a very key position in the pipeline for future stars in the judiciary and in the political system. Each of the people who were fired were Republican stalwarts, attorneys who had proven their partisan bona fides in the past. These were lawyers who were being groomed for bigger and better things.

And now, these same people are being told that this Administration, the same cabal that wouldn't fire Rumsfeld or Rice or the numbskulls around Cheney, no matter how stupid or incompetent they were, was using "job performance" as the excuse to terminate their careers at Justice. It isn't just humiliating; it's needlessly insulting, and it's being done to the best and brightest in the Republican Party, the men and women who were going to be the future Cabinet secretaries, federal court judges, and elected officeholders for the GOP. And the people who have the ignomonious distinction of replacing them will hold tainted positions, and accrue none of the benefits of the position. For a party that has been atrophying at its lower ranks the past few years, this scandal is akin to a major league baseball team seeing its farm system wiped out in a plane crash.
Matt Stoller spotlights a potential "Sister Soulja" moment for Barack Obama, allowing him to kill two birds (Al Sharpton and the loonier elements of the blogosphere) with one stone. A twofer like that doesn't come along every day. Sharpton is one of the more toxic political elements in New York politics, and a huge reason why New York City hasn't elected a Democratic mayor since 1989. The netroots are good for energy and money, but are impossible for a serious campaign to manage, as Ned Lamont found out when his campaign was flushed down the toilet after one of his bloggers drew Joe Lieberman in blackface.

And it's not like either constituency is going to vote Republican, or stay home, in 2008. Obama has been particularly good at counterpunching, as Hillary Clinton and John Howard can attest. Responding to an attack by Sharpton or one of the uberbloggers should be like shooting fish in a barrel for the Illinois Senator.
To answer Ezra Klein's question, he's the best actor ever to have a successful political career in the U.S. If you ever saw the "Wise Guy" story cycle he was featured in, you know he'll fit right in with the mainstream of the GOP.
Why not Boy-Girl-Boy-Girl?
Sens. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut and Susan Collins of Maine are mixing it up at the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee.

For future hearings, Democrats and Republicans won’t sit on opposite sides of the dais but rather, next to each other — alternating Democrat, Republican, Democrat, Republican etc.

In a joint statement , Chairman Lieberman, an independent, and ranking Republican Collins, said “In the last election, the voters said they were sick of the partisanship that produces gridlock… So, as a start, instead of sitting on opposite sides of the room like a house divided, we want the American people to see us sitting side by side as our committee members work together make our nation more secure and our government more efficient.
Of all the things you can say that the last election was about, voter revulsion at gridlock wasn't it. From 2002 to 2006, we didn't have divided government; we had a unitary executive branch that pretty much did whatever it wanted, and an acquiescent legislature that rubberstamped whatever the Bushies put before them. There was no gridlock, and certainly no desire to make policy decisions easier for the party in power to enact. The voters were in no desire to hold hands and sign Kumbaya with current Administration.

The theme of the 2006 elections was the virtue of divided government, and a demand for a more partisan opposition. The voters weren't demanding an end to gridlock; they were voting for its restoration. Bipartisanship, in spite of what many of the mouth breathers on the left and right might suggest, isn't an undesirable goal, since, after all, consensus solutions to problems are the ones most likely to endure. But the 2006 election wasn't about finding a bipartisan solution to, say, the war in Iraq, it was about bringing American boys and girls home from Iraq, pronto.

March 11, 2007

Doing the Lambeth Walk: Traffic has been a little slow lately, but one advantage to that is I can track who's visiting, and why. One of the more inexplicable patterns has been the frequency of visitors from the Lambeth section of London, a place I've never visited, usually for the same 2004 post. Do I know you? Does all London internet traffic get filtered through Lambeth? Is Lambeth a hotbed of interest concerning the subject of the post? A couple of years ago, I was getting several visits a day from someone at a Norwegian college, which was equally inexplicable; I never wrote about topics relating to Scandinavia, and I'm certain I don't know anyone from that country. Then suddenly, it just stopped, and I never found out why I had such a devoted fan.

I don't want to put my fan(s) in Lambeth on the spot, but I am intrigued. Since I now have a MySpace page, as part of my continuing quest to reach that most vital of all demographic groups for political bloggers, feel free to contact me there, or e-mail me. I won't bite, and I probably won't even laugh at you. We can talk about the recent closure of the rear yard of the Lambeth Town Hall, or the pro-Labour surge in the town hall elections last year, or whether on a typical early evening millions of people do indeed swarm like houseflies round Waterloo Underground.
Is David Irving Next? Remember that convention of Holocaust deniers that took place in Iran last December? You know, the one that included several rabbis, and all the merriment that caused on "The Daily Show"...well, AIPAC, perhaps the most important lobbying group for the state of Israel, is throwing its annual shindig this week, and one of the featured speakers is Pastor John Hagee, an evangelist who blames Jews for the Holocaust, and supports a preemptive nuclear strike on Iran because it will speed up the End of Days.

But he supports Israel. According to Abraham Foxman, national director of the ADL, “I think there is a role for him. He has earned a certain recognition with the community because of his support for Israel.” Foxman, who has become a shill for far right causes in recent years, went on to tell The Jewish Week that "It’s a friendly platform. I’m sure an overwhelming majority may be pleased with what he says.”