December 25, 2008

The Marriage Counselor: As I read this, I thought it was a spoof of some sort, like Swift's "A Modest Proposal." But no, Dennis Prager is serious about this. Kinda reminds me of a story told about the late USC and Tampa Bay football coach John McKay, who once explained to reporters that he hadn't actually made a certain derogatory comment about his longtime coaching rival from Stanford (and the Denver Broncos), John Ralston, after he had run up the score against McKay's winless '76 Buccaneers: "I would have called him a prick, but a prick has a head." [link via Mark Kleiman]

December 23, 2008

A good primer on what motivates the New Deal Denialists, here. One nice thing to remember is that most of the stimulus package that will come out of Congress will not be subject to a filibuster in the Senate, since it's a budgetary matter. So by all means, GOP, oppose away....

December 14, 2008

Matthew Yglesias seems bemused that Amity Shlaes, the David Irving of New Deal Denialism, is a "senior fellow in economic history from the Council on Foreign Relations," even though she is as qualified to dish on economic history as Heidi Montag. Indeed, one of the great joys in the coming Liberal Age will be the growing marginalization for the recipients of what has come to be known as "wingnut welfare." A thinktank like the CFR is going to be less-inclined in the future to give out goodies to ideological hacks like Ms. Shlaes when all the action is likely going to be on the other side of the spectrum.

December 12, 2008

It had been my hope to go on vacation from the blog until our new President was sworn in, and start afresh in what I hope to be the beginning of a new liberal era in American politics. But I couldn't let the opportunity go without recommending one of the best political blogs out there, ArchPundit, which specializes in Illinois politics, and which has been the one go-to sight since the Blagojevich Follies started. He's been right on this subject from the start, as this post from the week before the scandal broke nationally shows.

November 04, 2008

November 03, 2008

Election Eve News: Besides the favorable polls, and the bellweather result of the final Redskin home game, there's Dixville Notch and Pete Carroll, both for Obama. Also, Luc Robataille....

October 31, 2008

The Bradley Effect:
There should be a support group for all those beleaguered progressives who over the years anxiously awaited elections in the futile hope that the polls showing their candidate behind would turn out to be wrong -- but who this year are fretting just as much that the polls showing their candidate ahead are wrong.
--David Kurtz, TPM

In 1982, Tom Bradley led in the polls from the start of the California governor's race up to election day. The exit polls showed him winning a clear victory over the GOP nominee, George Deukmejian, and seemed to be on the verge of becoming the nation's first black governor since Reconstruction.

And in the end, he lost. Since then, every time an African-American politician underperforms his poll numbers, the phenomenum known as the "Bradley Effect." It happened when Douglas Wilder actually became the nation's first black governor in 1989 by a margin much smaller than his projected total from exit polls, and then when Harvey Gantt was beaten by Jesse Helms in 1990 for the US Senate, and even more recently, when Barack Obama was unexpectedly defeated in the New Hampshire primary by Hillary Clinton at the beginning of the year.

The "Bradley Effect," the notion that there is a hidden racist vote that doesn't appear in the polls, is an anchor that every African-American politician has to carry when seeking office before a predominantly white electorate. And it is the chief reason why even four days before the election, with a larger lead in the polls than anything Bradley or Gantt had at this time in their losing efforts, there is still some skepticism among liberals that Senator Obama really has this one in the bag.

Clearly, the Bradley Effect is something that has diminshed over time; as political historian Sherry Bebitch Jeffe points out, Tom Bradley was really screwed by a hidden racist vote in his first, unsuccessful campaign to be Mayor of Los Angeles, when Sam Yorty, one of the last vestiges of the pre-Depression Democratic Party in California that was more allied with William McAdoo and the South, painted the former cop as a secret Black Panther, and turned a sixteen-point Bradley lead into a six-point deficit on election day. Four years later, Bradley decisively defeated Yorty in the rematch, and went on to win a record five terms as Mayor.

Still, there is some reason for discomfort. Obama consistently underperformed his polling numbers when it actually came time to vote during the primaries; first in New Hampshire, then on Super Tuesday in states like Massachusetts and California, then later in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas. He ultimately won his party's nomination because he was better organized, state-by-state, than his opponent, allowing him to survive some early defeats and take charge of the race after Super Tuesday, when Hillary Clinton's campaign ran out of money.

And there's the original Bradley Effect, in 1982. There has been quite a bit of revisionist claims that even in 1982, there was no hidden racist vote. Both Lance Tarrance, who polled for the winner, and William Bradley (no relation), who worked for the loser, as well as Prof. Jeffe, point to other factors in Deukmejian's win, including a gun control measure on the ballot that pulled in a lot of conservative voters, as well as a first-rate absentee voter drive that year by the GOP. In particular, William Bradley focuses on the flawed sample of voters polled by Mervyn Field on Election Day, a sample that also caused his outfit to project a victory for Jerry Brown in his losing Senate race against Pete Wilson; anyone who remembers the 2004 Presidential Election knows to take exit polling with a grain of salt when it comes to projecting elections.

But there was a Bradley Effect in 1982, and it can be found not in the exit polls, but in the final polling Mervyn Field did before election day. The link is to every major statewide race Field polled since 1948, when he, like the rest of his brethren, blew the Truman-Dewey election. Since then, Field's final polls have correctly predicted the winner in all but three races, and two of those races involved picks that held tiny pre-election leads and lost by slim margins. The outlier was the 1982 governor's race: Field's last poll showed Bradley with a comfortable eight-point lead, whereas the actual vote showed a two-point margin, a 10-point switch.

OK, so maybe his sample wasn't an accurate cross-section of California voters, as his exit-polling on Election Day would indicate, and as Tarrance, Jeffe and the other would concur. But the real problem with that argument is Field's final poll of the aforementioned US Senate race, showing then-Governor Brown losing by six points to Pete Wilson. As the chart shows, that was the exact margin Brown lost to Wilson. And it was a concurrent poll, taken in the final week of the campaign.

So the same polling sample, conducted concurrently, correctly predicted not only the win by the Republican Senate candidate, but the ultimate margin as well, while blowing the governor's race by ten points. I find it hard to believe that Field nailed the race that involved two white candidates, but somehow didn't pick up some trend having nothing to do with racism that would have skewed the same polling sample when it came to the governor's race.

October 30, 2008

A Critical Retraction:
From British theatre critic Mark Shenton: Critics are only human - we all make mistakes. And no one beats me up more for mine than me! So today it’s time to fess up, as they say Stateside, to one of mine: I’ve already admitted here to attending Waste at the Almeida (not so) fresh from a transatlantic return journey, and now I’ve discovered that I must have written my review, too, in an advanced state of jetlag, too.

In my Sunday Express notice, I referred to a fine ensemble cast that includes “Will Keen as the politician and the superb, graceful Phoebe Nicholls as his long-suffering wife. ” Except, of course, that Phoebe Nicholls is playing his sister, not wife.

(snip)

But at least I am not alone: I did a quick trawl of other reviews, and discovered that the identical mistake was perpetrated by two other colleagues! In his Tribune notice, Aleks Sierz even draws the conclusion that it reveals that the play suggests that the English are not much good at love: “When his wife, Frances, finally confronts him at the end of the story, Henry shows a sublime indifference which makes you wonder why the couple haven’t gone their separate ways long ago. No, the chief erotic drive in the play - and the only thing that makes it bearable to watch- is its boys’ club politics: not sex, but power. When the men talk affairs of state, the pulse quickens. Directed stolidly by Samuel West, Waste is a perfect example of the ghastly lack of warmth between the sexes among the English upper classes during the first part of the last century.”

And in the
Jewish Chronicle, John Nathan writes, “Phoebe Nicholls as Trebell’s loving but sexually uninterested wife outshines even Keen’s excellent performance.” Those two further wrongs, of course, don’t make it right that I got it so wrong, too - and of course our common mistake is now embedded for posterity in the pages of Theatre Record and/or the internet. So I apologise unreservedly and publicly to Ms Nicholls....
His blunder was apparently the result of his having fallen asleep in the middle of the play, which I assume is a common West End malady, much like heading to the exits in the seventh inning is at Dodger Stadium. And of course, some of the responsibility for that snafu has to be shouldered by Phoebe Nicholls, an actress of such refined skill and classic beauty that she possesses the power to cloud the minds of even the most hardened critic into confusing filial devotion with marital ennui. Nevertheless, I may be making a quick, post-election trip to London to see Waste, so long as I can find lodging of some sort; before I die, I have to see the Phoenician on stage at least once.

October 26, 2008

October 21, 2008

The Dowd Report: Christendom's most obnoxious corporate lawyer weighs in on behalf of his client, the Senior Senator from Arizona, in a letter to the editor of the New York Times:
I am advised that you have assigned two of your top reporters to spend an extensive amount of time in Arizona and around the country investigating Cindy (McCain)'s life including her charity, her addiction and her marriage to Senator McCain. None of these subjects are news.

(snip)

These allegations and efforts to hurt Cindy have been a matter of public record for sixteen years. Cindy has been quite open and frank anbert her issues for all these years. Any further attempts to harass and injure based on the information from Gosinski and Clark will be met with an appropriate response. While she may be in the public eye, she is not public property nor the property of the press to abuse and defame.

It is worth noting that you have not employed your investigative assets looking into Michelle Obama. You have not tried to find Barack Obama’s drug dealer that he wrote about in his book, Dreams of My Father. Nor have you interviewed his poor relatives in Kenya and determined why Barack Obama has not rescured them. Thus there is a terrific lack of balance here.
The reference to Obama's "poor relatives in Kenya" is a nice touch. This is the same John Dowd who spent a good deal of the late-eighties conducting a fatwa against Pete Rose, investigating his private life over a subject that had a good deal less importance than the behavior of the life-partner of a potential future President. More recently, Dowd had a very different attitude when it came to the private life of past and present major league baseball players.

So stay classy, John.

October 20, 2008

The '56 Conundrum: In every close Presidential election, some notice is usually paid to the uncanny record of Missouri in picking the winning candidate. Since 1900, the Show Me State has backed the next President in all but one election, with the exception being the narrow vote for Adlai Stevenson over Dwight Eisenhower in 1956. With its location, just about dead-center of the country, and its urban-rural split, it should be inevitable that it would play such a role historically.

But the one thing that never gets explained is what the hell happened in '56. Why did Adlai Stevenson, who was essentially a sacrificial lamb going up against perhaps the most popular man of the 20th Century, who failed to win any other electoral votes outside the Deep South (and even there, he did poorly for a pre-Civil Rights Era Democratic nominee, losing Louisiana, Florida, and Texas, as well as several border states), capture the state that year, when he failed to do so four years earlier, when he ran a more competitive campaign?

In the context of this election, it is usually pointed out that Stevenson, like Obama, was a popular politician from the neighboring state of Illinois. But in '52, Stevenson was an incumbent governor, whereas in '56, he had been out of office for four years, with no recent record to allure Missouri voters. And Stevenson was crushed both times in his home state. Do you think there's any chance Obama will do worse in Illinois than he does in Missouri this time around?

And it wasn't as if some local trend was pushing Missouri into the Democratic column at that time. Four years later, the state went for JFK, but by a margin barely greater than Stevenson's win in '56; in other words, it went back to reflecting the national mood.

So what was it? Was there some local issue in Missouri that swung the ultimate Swing State towards the Man from Libertyville in a year when he was losing by 20 points to Ike everywhere else? Did they feel some degree of kinship to former corporate lawyers from Chicago? Or did they just wake up on election morning and decide they liked the only Presidential nominee in history to have been born in Los Angeles? Your guess is as good as mine....

October 19, 2008

Where we were eight years ago: The last time two non-incumbants battled for the Presidency, Bush had a lead similar to the margin now enjoyed by Obama. Of course, Gore not only closed the gap, he won the popular vote, and only through some legal machinations in the Supreme Court was Bush able to hoist the Presidency.

A couple of points should be made from reviewing those numbers. Bush had a much larger lead throughout the summer than Obama had, but like Obama, lost all of it and then some after the other party's convention. Without a market crash or a boneheaded Veep pick, Gore maintained the lead through early October, when a series of poor debate performances allowed Bush to surge into the lead.

Second, the perception that Bush was headed into a decisive victory seems to have been shaped by two really awful tracking polls, by USA Today-Gallup and by an outfit called Voter.com. Both gave the Texas Governor sizeable, double-digit leads, while other polling outfits showed a much closer race. Voter.com doesn't seem to have done much more damage to the Republic since 2000, but USA Today-Gallup has been the consistent outlier showing a dead-even race this time. [link via Volokh]

October 18, 2008

Bigots for Barack: It's mostly anecdotal, but Politico has an interesting piece on a trend involving an oft-misunderstood group of swing voters. In the end, I still doubt Obama will capture a majority of those voters....

October 13, 2008

Although I agree, generally, with Prof. Warren's advocacy against the 2005 BARF Act, there seems to be a real world perspective missing from her analysis, at least as it applies to the actual practice of bankruptcy law, that causes a blind spot in her writing. Here, she seems to argue that the 2005 law has exacerbated the meltdown of the housing market by making it harder for debtors to file Chapter 7, which enables a person to get a quick discharge of his unsecured debts (ie., credit cards).

I haven't seen much a decline, frankly; most of the people who want to file under Chapter 7 do so anyway, even if their income exceeds the state median, and most of the potential clients I meet who happen to own homes are looking to do a Chapter 13 repayment, not a straight Chapter 7. The reason why there was an initial precipitous decline in bankruptcy filings was due to the YBK panic on the eve of the new law in October, 2005. Everyone who ever thought about filing bankruptcy did so because they were led to believe that the new law would handicap them at the expense of their creditors. If anything impacted the currect credit crunch, it was the panic caused by the pending new law causing tens of thousands of people to file bankruptcy, and discharge debt, at the same time, not that those people can't file Chapter 7 cases now.

Of course, debtors have to jump through more hoops nowadays, thanks to the new law. If a filer's income exceeds the state median income, he is viewed as having presumptively filed in bad faith, which typically means...nothing. In some instances, the attorney will be sent an audit letter from the US Trustee, requiring him to produce certain financial statements and tax returns, as well as justifying certain monthly expenditures. But in most cases, debtors who make more than the median income who need to file Chapter 7 don't have a surplus income, once reasonable expenses are taken into account, and the present-day nightmare of skyrocketing adjustable rate mortgages is making the whole issue moot. According to the local US Trustee, less than one percent of all Chapter 7 filings that fall into this category are ultimately dismissed.

Moreover, Chapter 13 cases have become more routine, in large part because it is a more effective way to deal with secured debt, such as mortgages and car payments. Under Chapter 13, if the value of the home is less than the amount owed on the first trust deed, all deeds of trust that are junior to the first can be treated as unsecured debts, and potentially discharged completely at the end of the plan. Where I practice, this can be done with little more than a motion to the court seeking declaratory relief as to the value of the property; at a time when the housing market has been in free fall, such motions are infrequently opposed by lenders.

And that aspect of bankruptcy was unaffected by the passage of the 2005 BARF Act. That law has proved nothing more than an inconvenience to the experienced practitioner, since it only tangentially impacts a fraction of cases. In large part, that is due to the fact that it was drafted by lobbyists for the credit card industry, not attorneys with actual hands-on experience in the trenches of consumer bankruptcy.

Sure, there are more forms to fill out, but almost every practitioner has electronic forms that can be prepared within minutes. Potential filers have to take a pre-petition credit counseling course, but this step has proved to be ineffectual at providing debtors with non-bankruptcy alternatives, and the suspicion that many of these outfits have a conflict of interest in remaining on the good side of consumer attorneys is not unwarranted. And due to incompetent drafting, some of the more worthwhile provisions of the 2005 legislation, such as the attempt to terminate the automatic stay for repeat filers (which has proved to be illusory in Chapter 7 cases, since the law only halts the stay against debtors, not against the estate itself, which means that creditors still have to waste time seeking judicial relief), have been nullified.

The big winners of the 2005 BARF act, were, not surprisingly, bankruptcy lawyers. Its convoluted provisions took what was one of the few areas of the law that a smart, cost-conscious layperson could do by himself, and necessitated the hiring of licensed professionals at a much higher cost (try to fill out a Statement of Current Monthly Income at home if you don't believe me). And as I noted above, it hasn't done much to stem abusive filings, or check any of the shady abuses that existed before. But one thing the 2005 law didn't do was change how people could use Chapter 7 filings to save their homes, since it simply isn't an effective legal strategy, either before or after the law went into effect.
L.A. Is Burning: In fact, the fire shown here is about seven miles from my office, in the same vicinity as that train collision last month that killed several dozen. If you don't have to be outdoors for any reason, stay inside....

October 03, 2008

It seems I was the only sentient person in the blogosphere who blew off the Veep debate last night (I saw the Dodger playoff game at the local tavern instead), so all this talk about whether Gov. Palin exceeded the low expectations given her means little to me. In fact, televised campaign debates aren't that meaningful to me, insofar as I made up my mind on whom to vote for in this election as soon as the Democratic nominee was determined. As a partisan, it is unlikely I would be swayed by anything McCain or Palin might argue in one of these staged debates, so the only purpose to watch one of these things is to see if someone screws up, which I guess isn't much different from people who watch Formula 1 or NASCAR because of the possibility someone might crash. I just have better things to do.

Still, this bit of spin is pretty lame, even by the standards of modern political campaigns. No wonder McCain has lost ten points to Obama in two weeks.

October 02, 2008

Best Title of a Blogpost Ever: "The Successful Failure of the Angels' Strategy" by Matt Welch, who's spinning the Halos' tenth straight playoff loss (yawn) to the Boston Red Sox the way Reason Mag has been spinning the failure of free market policies on Wall Street the past two weeks. Give it up, Matt: '02 was a fluke, and the Rally Monkey is as dead as Dale Earnhardt !!!

September 26, 2008

There really very little to add to this:
Palin filibusters. She repeats words, filling space with deadwood. Cut the verbiage and there’s not much content there. Here’s but one example of many from her interview with Hannity: “Well, there is a danger in allowing some obsessive partisanship to get into the issue that we’re talking about today. And that’s something that John McCain, too, his track record, proving that he can work both sides of the aisle, he can surpass the partisanship that must be surpassed to deal with an issue like this.

When Couric pointed to polls showing that the financial crisis had boosted Obama’s numbers, Palin blustered wordily: “I’m not looking at poll numbers. What I think Americans at the end of the day are going to be able to go back and look at track records and see who’s more apt to be talking about solutions and wishing for and hoping for solutions for some opportunity to change, and who’s actually done it?

If BS were currency, Palin could bail out Wall Street herself.
--Kathleen Parker, National Review

September 25, 2008

Not the first time: As with Captain Queeg and the strawberries, McCain has resorted to the old "I must suspend my campaign to deal with the important issue facing the country" excuse before, as Matt Welch points out.

September 19, 2008

A Heartbeat Away? I believe this has something to do with "energy":
Of course, it's a fungible commodity and they don't flag, you know, the molecules, where it's going and where it's not. But in the sense of the Congress today, they know that there are very, very hungry domestic markets that need that oil first. So, I believe that what Congress is going to do, also, is not to allow the export bans to such a degree that it's Americans who get stuck holding the bag without the energy source that is produced here, pumped here. It's got to flow into our domestic markets first.
--Sarah Palin, sans teleprompter, at a McCain-staged "town-hall" meeting yesterday.



Remember when we thought the Republic was doomed because Dan Quayle was next-in-line....

September 15, 2008

Although I practice bankruptcy law, the type of filing that Lehman Brothers initiated this morning is way out of my league. Although Chapter 11 filings have become more popular for individuals in recent years, mainly due to the archaic secured debt limitations of Chapter 13 cases, there tends to be very little overlap between practitioners of consumer and business bankruptcies. Business bankruptcies are almost always filed by large, corporate law firms with a huge support staff, whilst consumer cases are typically handled by humble country lawyers like myself.

For those of you who are interested, here is a copy of the Voluntary Petition filed by Lehman, and the supporting affidavit by its CFO describing how Lehman got into this position. More to come....

September 10, 2008

Princess Sarah: I come back from a lovely half-month in the Old World, only to find out that the usual suspects are playing the same game. When I first heard Governor Palin use the line about lipstick and pit bulls, my first reaction was to darkly note that "it was more like putting lipstick on a pig," but that it was a shame the Democrats couldn't use that line without seeming sexist. Little did I realize that Obama didn't have to, since the McCain camp would do the dirty work for them. I don't know if Barack Obama deliberately used that hoary cliche to rattle the McCain campaign (since he's used that line about a dozen times before McCain picked his running-mate, I would tend to doubt it), but McCain's reaction to the line seems so overblown as to enter a realm of imbecility not seen in Presidential elections since the Goldwater campaign complained about the once-aired Daisy Ad.

Think about the ways the McCain campaign has bulloxed this. First, they publicized an unfavorable image of the best thing it has going right now. I suspect one of the big reasons why Sarah Palin has struck a nerve among white voters is her attitude: tough, sassy, one-of-the-guys, a "pitbull with lipstick," to use her memorable phrase. By equating that phrase with the line, "lipstick on a pig," they have now created a counter-image that will float in the subconscious of every voter from now until Election Day, foe and supporter alike. They've taken a favorable metaphor about their candidate and turned it into an albatross.

The second thing they botched is much more in the tradition of the modern Republican Party, something that inevitably arises out of the fact that the GOP is the nation's white male party. Whenever the Republican Party tries to hype a non-white or non-male as a potential leader, it has attempted to create a narrative about how that person doesn't perceive him or herself as a "victim," unlike those pesky Democrats who are always trying to fight racism or sexism in whichever form it takes.

Their work in trying to portray Palin as a qualified candidate for the Presidency was always going to be difficult, but her cutting speech at last week's convention seemed to offer a way forward. Even the media seemed sold on the notion that she was a tough partisan who was unafraid to mix it up. By playing the sexism card, and creating the appearance that Palin is willing to dish out the sarcasm but has a case of the vapors when a joke is aimed at her, they've made her into a female version of Clarence Thomas, a bully who resorts to the same cliches of victimization that conservatives have long accused others of doing.

Lastly, in exchange for a couple of hours of media hype, the McCain camp has drawn the scorn of many of the same pundits who had placed on an Olympian pedastal in the past. They not only change the narrative about their Veep selection, but they also manage to erode McCain's support among his most loyal constituency, the Beltway Punditocracy. In the future, it will be more difficult to gin up "crocodile tears," as conservative Mark Halperin so aptly put it, at attacks from the Obama campaign because they went so overboard on this one.

But for now, I'm going to say that the first f***-up was the most important. You don't want to have potential voters look at a candidate's cosmetics during a debate and think of an animal that cavorts in its own excrement. And that's an image that's not Barack Obama's fault.

September 03, 2008

Spiro: Since the apparent goal of the GOP is to utilize their Veep-nominee as a smug attack dog, I think it bears noting the somewhat eerie similarities between Gov. Palin and a previous Republican nominee for that position, Spiro Agnew. Both were governors of small states for less than two years when they were tapped by their party's standard bearer for the number two spot on the ticket, and both had spent most of their adult life in politics holding down local political offices. And apparently after tonight, both were adept at using code to disparage their political adversaries (as if there is any doubt as to who "cosmopolitan elites" are).

But Agnew presents an even more fruitful point of comparison, for two reasons. First, the consensus about the pick at the time it was made was almost completely wrong. At the time, Agnew was viewed as an attempt by Nixon to appeal to the liberal, "Rockefeller Wing" of the Republican Party. Agnew had been elected governor in 1966 running to the left of his Democratic opponent, who was a Zell Miller-type States Rights segregationist. '66 was a very good year for the Republican Party, and the mid-term elections turned out to be the last hurrah for the Eastern, liberal wing of the party: not only did it's symbolic leader, Nelson Rockefeller, win reelection as governor of New York for a third term, but his brother Winthrop defeated a racist Democrat to become the first Republican governor of a Deep South state, Arkansas, since Reconstruction, and men such as Edward Brooke, Clifford Case and Charles Percy also won terms to the Senate. Agnew's victory that year was seen in that context, and he was, not surprisingly, an early supporter of Rockefeller's expected run for the White House in 1968.

According to Gerry Wills, whose Nixon Agonistes was the Myth of a Maverick of its era, Agnew had expected an important role in any Rockefeller Administration, and was shocked to learn that Rocky didn't think so highly of him. When Rockefeller made the decision not to run for the Presidency, he failed to consult with his backer, causing Agnew considerable embarrassment. And his performance in office gave clues to anyone who was interested what his true politics were: partisan, vicious, smug, and contemptous of "elites."

Thus, anyone looking for clues as to Palin's true priorities should look not to either her banal obeisance to far right positions on social issues, or to her recent flip-flopping on the "Bridge to Nowhere" and pork barrell spending in general, or even on her willingness to raise taxes on Big Oil (a position which, more than anything, has ensured that most of her deadliest political foes in Alaska are from her own party), but instead on that ever-present chip on her shoulder, a chip that she has borrowed from every small town and suburban hack who has been made to feel like a hick every time she visits the Big City.

And of course, the second important point of comparison with Agnew was in their shared careers in local politics, and all the small-time corruption that has traditionally entailed. Since the media has already begun looking down that avenue, whether she is as big a crook as Spiro Agnew remains to be seen.

September 02, 2008

Obama by Eight: Since it's too late to use the "Juno Alaska" reference, let me say that concerning McCain's Palin-drome, that ain't no etch-a-sketch: This is one doodle that can't be un-did, homeskillet. A bad Veep pick, and the subsequent delay in rectifying the problem, is how the Nixon-McGovern race transformed suddenly into an historic rout.

And yes, the Governor not only praised her daughter for choosing to keep the child, an option she would deprive every other woman, but she also mandated "abstinence only" sex-ed for Alaska's children. Phuket, Thailand !!!

August 30, 2008

Needless to say, Europe seems to be having a blast with the creationist-spouting, ex-in-law firing, Pat Buchanan in 2000-supporting Veep nominee of the GOP. I fear they may be laughing at us, since the assumption has been over here that there is no way America will elect a black man to the Presidency....

August 28, 2008

Mile High: Understanding, of course, that I was watching the speech at 4 in the morning (en route to Marseille), it was the best performance at a political convention that I've ever seen. Obama is the Sinatra of politics.

August 26, 2008

For the poli-blogs, the Conventions are our Summer Olympics, a four-day excuse to pretend that what we do is important, and thereby obsess over every speech for the four days. In that spirit, I would like to remind everyone that, concerning the event that the blogosphere will be liveblogging over the next two weeks, there is one big difference between, say, the Democratic Convention and the Olympics: people at least give a rat's ass about the Olympics.

Anyone who believes that George Bush won the last two elections because the GOP threw a better, more partisan convention each time is too retarded to be allowed near machinery as sophisticated as a computer. No one is watching that which you care so much about. No one changed their vote from Kerry to Bush in 2004 because of Zell Miller, just as no one jumped on the Kerry bandwagon because they liked Obama's Keynote. As far as the voters are concerned, the only thing that mattered last night was that Ted Kennedy pulled a Lou Gehrig, and that Michelle Obama may not, in fact, be a dragon lady. Beyond that, anything else written about last night is waste of brain activity.

August 25, 2008

A tip for the traveler: Do not order the BBQ ribs at the diner in the international terminal in Toronto. The meat does not exactly "fall off the bone."

Meanwhile, I'm in Barcelona, celebrating the start of a cruise in the Mediterranean for the next two weeks. Hopefully, this will be the first of many such indulgences, now that Obama has assured the nation's bankruptcy lawyers a continuation of this Administration's policies in that area through his nomination of the Democrat who helped design them.

August 23, 2008

When you have a very common name, this sort of thing happens a lot. My late father and namesake was also a bankruptcy lawyer, and we happened to share the same moniker ("Steven E. Smith") as another bankruptcy lawyer in Century City. I remember appearing in court representing my dad on a matter in which he was the Chapter 7 Trustee, and the other Steven E. Smith represented an objecting creditor on a disbursement motion. We made our appearances, and hilarity and hijinks ensued.

August 18, 2008

During the 2004 election, John Kerry had a bit of an embarrassment when it turned out that a story he had told years before about listening to Richard Nixon lie about Americans not fighting in Cambodia, when he happened to be in Cambodia at the time, turned out to have some discrepancies. In what was supposedly "seared" into his memory, he claimed to be on the border on Christmas, 1968, listening to South Vietnamese shooting off rockets to celebrate the holiday, when his own diary placed him hundreds of miles away that day, and it's as likely that the disproportionately Buddhist demography of the Vietnamese would have permitted a raucous Yuletide celebration as it would be for an American unit in Iraq to go overboard celebrating Purim. Also, Nixon wasn't President, yet, in December 1968.

It turns out the candidate had confused his big holidays. He was in Cambodia, but six weeks after Christmas, during the Tet Holiday, when it is common for celebrants to shoot off rockets and go crazy. By then, Nixon had already been President for about a month, so the story rang true in most of its particulars. But the damage had been done. No matter how many times the addled memories of the "Swift Boaters" were shown to be false or fabricated about other aspects of Kerry's wartime accomplishments, the Right could always point to this and proclaim that Kerry could not be trusted, since he wasn't in Cambodia at Christmas.

I wonder how much slack the American people will give John McCain about his likely-aprocryphal "Cross Story." Making up an anecdote about faith, like George Bush pretending to have been brought to Jesus by Billy Graham, isn't really judged harshly by the true believers; what's important is the Pander, and secondarily the possibility that the candidate might be one of the them. In McCain's case, stealing an anecdote from Alexander Solzhenitzen Charles Colsen has the added benefit of tying his experience with that of one of the most famous prisoners of the 20th Century; even if the story was false (and I wouldn't be surprised if the late Russian writer and virulent anti-Semite had copped the story himself; it sounds like something that might have appeared in one of the stories of the early Christian martyrs), the important thing is that McCain was still in a POW camp for five years, and suffered brutal torture almost every day.

But it's still embarassing to have been caught embellishing one's past with a clearly plagiarized anecdote. The human memory is a tricky and unreliable thing, geared mainly towards validating our own importance. We tend to place ourself more in the center of things than the facts can justify, and it's not hard to catch us out when it turns our memories are faulty, as any good criminal lawyer will tell you.

For most of my life, I had a vivid memory of meeting Robert Kennedy when I was four years old. It was in San Francisco, and he was already putting out feelers for his crusade for the Presidency in 1968. My father, who worked for RFK's major backer in the state, Jesse Unruh, was in town to strategize, and my mother and I went up to the Bay Area to be with him. One afternoon, my nanny, Mary Jane, came in and excitedly told me that we could go meet the Senator, who was already my hero. I felt like I was meeting a god; I even told him that his brother was my favorite President, because he had died in 1963, the year I was born. He smiled at what must have been a very painful and callous thing to say, and said something nice to me.

It was, as I said, a very vivid and powerful memory for me, and most of the particulars are true, especially my father's role in the California campaign, and the fact that I went with him and my mother to San Francisco when I was four. What wasn't true, though, was the fact that I ever met Robert Kennedy. It never happened. I had picked up enough details over the years, from my parents, the aforementioned nanny, and from what little I remembered of my early childhood, to piece together an incident that I thought had actually happened, and even now the incident is still quite vivid and real. But it wasn't.

So I'm going to be a bit hesitant about calling John McCain a "liar" about this story. He may not have started using this story until after reading The Gulag Archipelago, and the exact details may not be true, but it wouldn't surprise me if he thought that an incident like that had happened to him at the Hanoi Hilton, even if he wasn't simply confusing some other random act of kindness by a prison guard with SolzhenitzenColsen's religious story.

UPDATE [8/18]: The story originated with Charles Colsen, Nixon's former hatchet-man, who had erroneously attributed it to Solzhenitzen years ago. In fact, McCain isn't even the first ex-POW U.S. Senator to have told a similar tale. Apparently, the "guard drawing a cross in the dirt" is a hardy chestnut that probably predates the Crucifixion.

August 13, 2008

Hit&Run, the blog run under the aegis of Reason Magazine, usually posts contrarian bullshit about how sweatshops and slave labor are kinda cool, or why anabolic steroids are fun for the whole family, so it's not surprising that they've taken the pro-dictatorship position on why the President was right to slouch his way through the Opening Ceremonies in Beijing last week:
Carter's boycott, done in the name of human rights, accomplished absolutely nothing. I'm willing to say that Bush is a worse president than Carter (who at least deregulated airline ticket pricing and interstate trucking, and invited Willie Nelson to the White House), but it's Bush who has gotten it right when it comes to superpower-charged Olympics.

To have Bush out there, saying what he's saying where he's saying it—and pursuing a larger policy of engagement via trade and other forms of exchange—is absolutely the best way to pull China into something approaching Western-style democracy, complete with robust individual rights and the sort of economy that will ultimately force governments to loosen up. Milton Friedman famously said that as people get richer, they demand the ability to live however they want—that economic freedom, which increases prosperity, helps create the conditions for political freedom. It seems clear that the Chinese government, like all governments, doesn't want to yield power if it can avoid doing so. It's also clear that the more a country trades with the world—for goods, services, and even cultural identities—the less its government can control its people. Here's hoping that the Beijing Olympics, regardless of the predictable and bizarre repressions going on right now to ensure a "stain-free" event, push that process along.
My take on boycotting the Olympics can be found here; there are plenty of good reasons to send a team to China, although we could have saved a lot of money and just sent Michael Phelps for all the medals we're going to win. The canard that unrestricted trade leads inexorably to "freedom" (which is belied, obviously, by the fact that our liberalized dealings with Russia and China don't seem to have done much to make those societies "free") clearly isn't one of them. And far from accomplishing nothing, the 1980 boycott effectively diminished that event in the eyes of the world; without the U.S. (and West Germany, Japan, Australia, Canada, etc.), those Olympics were little more than an Iron Curtain track meet, and the enormous propaganda benefit that Hitler received in 1936, and that the Chinese are getting this year, was denied the Soviet Union.

It's safe to say that the 2008 Olympics will bring as much positive change to China as the '36 Games brought to Germany.

August 10, 2008

The Elephant in the Room: Josh Marshall, on what the Edwards Admission on Friday really means:
I have a very hard time seeing how Edwards' affair reflects on Obama. What I do know is that this is another of those cases where there is a tacit but uniform agreement among pretty much all reporters and close campaign watchers not to publicly state the obvious: that this is a perilous development for John McCain. Just as Bill Clinton's public undressing in the Lewinsky scandal led indirectly to the exposure of several high-profile Republican affairs, Edwards' revelation will inevitably put pressure on the press in general to scrutinize John McCain under something more searching than the JFK rules they've applied to date. I assure you that this dimension of the story occurred to every reporter even tangentially involved in reporting this race soon after the Edwards story hit yesterday afternoon.
What he's talking about, of course, is this incident, where the presumptive nominee dumped his ailing first wife in favor of a much younger (and richer) woman in 1979. It's hard to imagine an incident occurring thirty years ago to be particularly relevant in determining who should be Commander-in-Chief, but there it is.

August 08, 2008

Let the closure commence...Edwards admits he did have sexual relations with that woman, but was not the baby-daddy...if true, the Democrats can slot him just before Elvis, Wednesday night at the Convention. As far as days to leak the story, the day the Olympics starts is almost as good as Super Bowl Sunday.

August 05, 2008

The Panty-Sniffers Manifesto: Mickey Kaus gamefully tries to provide an ex post justification for obsessing about the comings and goings of a former Senator from North Carolina, and some of what he says bears true. Edwards remains an important figure in American politics, and even if the recent rumors about him are correct, stands to play an important role in any future Democratic Administration (fortunately for Edwards, the "scandal" is coming out almost a half-year before any future Obama Cabinet is selected, more than enough time for the public to come to terms with the issue). If he's been cheating on his dying wife (the woman whom Kaus sarcastically has named, "St. Elizabeth"), he's disgusting.

But he doesn't quite explain why he's so obsessed with the issue, why he has spent almost the last two weeks writing about nothing but this story, which so far hasn't progressed much beyond the charge that Edwards was in the same thousand-room hotel as his alleged mistress in the wee hours of the morning, or Kaus' demand that other organs of the "MSM," particularly the Los Angeles Times, should drop every other story they're working on to focus on this tawdry episode. Kaus didn't spend two weeks hectoring others when another newspaper made some rather similarly-vague allegations about John McCain and a blonde lobbyist, or even when the National Enquirer identified a woman who was Bill Clinton's mistress last month.

I mean, it's not like there's a Presidential campaign going on, or an Olympic Games about to start. It's no wonder that the Times is losing readers, when it insists on breaking stories about the identity of the real Anthrax Terrorist and other such trivia, rather than letting its bloggers regurgitate this week's Enquirer headline.

There is a good reason why the National Enquirer, in spite of its rather lame record in defending libel suits, still enjoys one of the largest circulations in the country. People who are interested in gossip, who enjoy panty-sniffing and everything that comes with it, who can't get through the week without a crotch-shot of Britney or Lindsey, can have their interests sated through the Enquirer. If the Enquirer wants to send two reporters to stalk a failed Presidential candidate with an interesting personal life, then let them. That sort of reporting is a different skill set from the type of reporting that breaks the Anthrax story.

But there should be newspapers for those of us who aren't focused on that sort of thing, who think a pol's proclivity for adultery is not the most important thing in the world. For us, we expect that a newspaper is going to be cautious when it reports, that it doesn't simply repeat hearsay, particularly from gossip rags. If the Times (or, more appropriately, one of Edwards' home state newspapers, where he continues to be an important public figure in spite of his unsuccessful role on the national stage), does pursue this story, or better yet, any such story involving McCain or Obama, then it should apply the same investigative standards it applies to any other story it covers.

August 04, 2008

Andrew Sullivan, on the "Aragula Card":
For all McCain's personal qualities, we're learning that the machine behind the GOP simply re-makes the campaign in its own Coulterite image. Instead of actually fighting on the core questions - how do we get out of Iraq with the least damage? how do we get past carbon-based energy? how do we tackle al Qaeda's new base in Pakistan and within the nuclear-armed Pakistani government? how will we reduce the massive debt bequeathed us by the Bush-Rove GOP? how do we restore the Geneva Conventions? - we are debating people's cultural insecurities and food choices.
I suspect that McCain's recent improvement in the polls has come at a cost: the perception that he was a different type of Republican politician, one who campaigned with a sense of honor and integrity, is gone. Something like this happened in the summer of 1980, when Jimmy Carter overturned a double-digit lead by Ronald Reagan to pull even in the polls, by going hard negative against his opponent. That turned out to be a short-term palliative: once the American people were reminded of how crappy the economy was, and discovered that Ronald Reagan wasn't as much of an ogre as he had been portrayed by Carter, the jig was up. But it did make that race closer for most of the campaign than it had any right to be.

UPDATE: And one of Senator McCain's more famous contributors agrees.

July 25, 2008

One of the scummier sidelights to the Presidential campaign has been the whispering campaign against former candidate John Edwards. Sex scandals have always been a favorite way to target political figures who threaten the status quo, from Charles Parnell to Martin Luther King, so it shouldn't surprise that John Edwards has been the focus of one such fatwa. Mickey Kaus has hyped this story since it began (in fact, I think he might have actually dreamt this one up by his lonesome), and hasn't stopped since, even after Edwards dropped out of the race in February. Since Kaus hates Democrats, and liberal Democrats especially, his prudishness may blind him to the fact that sex scandals, so long as they involve two consenting adults engaged in legal activity, don't actually do much to derail the political fortunes of progressive pols (in fact, it's money scandals that usually derail the good guys; having a mistress is disproportionately harmful to conservative pols).

Much of the original dirt came from Ann Coulter, who attempted to float the meme that the former Senator from North Carolina was a "faggot." Needless to say, when NaziPundit speaks, few listen, and the Edwards-as-a-closeted-gay-candidate rumor didn't catch fire. Subsequent efforts to nickname the candidate the "Breck Girl" were confined to the habitats of her homophobic ilk, and like the "Barack Hussein Osama" meme, was considered to be part of that dark corner of the political sphere that viewed Jesse Helms as a "patriot," and used the word "illegal" as a noun and "jew" as a verb.

Then, some months ago, Mickey Kaus began hyping the rumor that Edwards had an affair with a staffer. The story was denied by all concerned, and seemed to have died a natural death until last week, when the National Enquirer "broke" the story that the former candidate had visited said staffer at an hotel in Los Angeles, along with several other parties. Frustrated that most of the organs of the "MSM" did not pass along the story, unfiltered from a source known for making up stories whole cloth, to the masses, Kaus began targeting his favorite bete noire, the Los Angeles Times.

This morning, Kaus chose to publish an e-mail sent by the LA Times internet supremo, Tony Pierce, which broached the controversy in the following manner:
In a move that has apparently stirred up some internal discontent, the Los Angeles Times has banned its bloggers, including political bloggers, from mentioning the Edwards/Rielle Hunter story. Even bloggers who want to mention the story in order to make a skeptical we-don't-trust-the-Enquirer point are forbidden from doing so. Kausfiles has obtained a copy of the email Times bloggers received from editor Tony Pierce. [I've excised the recipient list and omitted Pierce's email address]:

From: "Pierce, Tony"

Date: July 24, 2008 10:54:41 AM PDT

To: [XXX]

Subject: john edwards

Hey bloggers,

There has been a little buzz surrounding John Edwards and his alleged affair. Because the only source has been the National Enquirer we have decided not to cover the rumors or salacious speculations. So I am asking you all not to blog about this topic until further notified.

If you have any questions or are ever in need of story ideas that would best fit your blog, please don't hesitate to ask

Keep rockin,

Tony
That will certainly calm paranoia about the Mainstream Media (MSM) suppressing the Edwards scandal. ...
It's hard to guess what's more pathetic: Kaus' obsession with the private life of a former political office seeker, or Kaus' disingenuous summary of Pierce's e-mail. To put it simply, an editor instructing his minions that the Times would prefer that they not use their unmediated blogspace to comment on a story in which the only source is one of the few American publications that actually loses defamation actions brought by public figures, is not the same thing as a newspaper "forbidding" or "banning" discussion of same. Since Kaus admits that another Times blogger went ahead and wrote about the controversy anyway, it can hardly be said that Tony Pierce "silenced" anybody.

I guess it must have been a slow day on the immigrant-bashing front. Pierce is one of the true gentlemen of the blogosphere, a nice, friendly mensch who is as good to his friends as he is generous to strangers, as I found out the first night I met him. It is thanks to Pierce that the Times has one of the liveliest blogging sections of any major newspaper; that he chose to remind his staff that the obligations of posting at one of the country's most important newspapers means being careful with the facts is a tribute to his journalistic integrity, and should not be used to settle old scores. Whatever the reason for his hatred of John Edwards (Kaus later cruelly derides the Senator's wife, who suffers from terminal cancer, as "Saint Elizabeth"), he should leave good people out of it.

July 21, 2008

Those of us who support the legal recognition of gay marriage can be cautiously optimistic from this poll, which shows the initiative to outlaw such ceremonies already trailing by a significant margin. The Field Poll, which conducted the survey, has an uncommonly eerie track record of accuracy in California, and historically, ballot initiatives are much like golfers who find themselves trailing Tiger Woods going into the final day of a major: they are doomed to defeat.

July 18, 2008

Just on the off chance he wins, I've been torn by whether Obama should begin the process of assuring that a debacle like the last eight years never happens again by creating an American version of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, or simply deporting Cheney, Yoo, Rumsfeld, and their enablers in the punditocracy to the Hague. Here, Andrew Sullivan eloquently lays out the case for the latter option:
These people knew full well what they were doing; there is a growing documentary record of their criminality; and their own "subjective views" that they were only doing it to save the state are what every war criminal has always claimed. Yoo's memo, drawing on Serbian fascist precedents, cannot conceivably be understood as anything but a candid backing for torture. The man has said he'd be fine if the president crushed the testicles of a terror suspect's child to get a confession, true or not.

Rumsfeld's own hand-writing is on a memo fiddling with techniques
devised by the Gestapo. And what does Stu think Cheney meant by "the dark side", for Pete's sake? That we know these people, that they are part of the Washington elite, even friends, should not render us indifferent to the most basic principles of decency and the rule of law.

Cheney and Addington and Bush actively, relentlessly and surreptitiously broke the law, rescinded the Geneva Conventions, approved memos that are laughable hack work in retrospect, used false confessions procured by torture as rationales to go to war, and destroyed the moral reputation of the US, the honor of the armed services and the rule of law. They are immensely powerful, privileged, wealthy men. And they are war criminals, under the strictest interpretation of that term. They have shifted blame on the lowest of the low, while fixing the system to protect them from accountability.

America doesn't pardon war criminals. It prosecutes and, in the past, has even executed them for the same techniques that Bush and Rumsfeld and Cheney endorsed.
BTW, the "Stu" referenced above is Stuart Taylor, a writer who first came to prominence with his fatwa against former President Clinton, when lying under oath about an affair was considered an impeachable offense. No doubt, Taylor can ably perform the role of defense attorney in Belgium.

July 07, 2008

Kudos to the Washington Post for re-running this 2001 piece by, of all people, David Broder, on the true legacy of the late Jesse Helms. One should be respectful of the friends and family members of the deceased Senator during their time of mourning, and still not shirk the truth, that for most of his public life, Jesse Helms was a blight on American politics, a racist, sexist, homophobic bigot, a man whose politics may finally be getting their final repudiation by the voters in this election.

The fact that he was an unwavering foe of the Soviet Empire gets no credit at this end, no more than I would give Franco or Duvalier or Pinochet such credit; his anti-Communism was based not on a love of freedom and civil liberties, but on his belief that Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and other stalwarts of the fight to end apartheid on this planet were Communists too. That he became more humane at the end of his life has more to do with Bono than any core principles he held. Having lived much of his life in the public sphere, it does a disservice to Helms not to acknowledge the accuracy of what the New Yorker said about him at the time of retirement:
But Helms never bothered with the soft bigotry of low expectations. He has always preferred the hard stuff, undiluted by the branch water of euphemism.

July 05, 2008

The math may be difficult to follow, but at least as it concerns the movies of 2007, there was a direct correlation between successful box office and good reviews, according to Slate.

June 29, 2008

For those people who, like myself, so enjoyed taking the California Bar Exam that we just had to do it a second time, this documentary is for you.
Guess which Presidential candidate was right from the start on Robert Mugabe.

June 26, 2008

Not exactly the romantic coupling I'm dying to see on the giant screen....

June 20, 2008

Exhibit 1 concering the decline of blogging: Jemele Hill. Not the fact that she blogged that rooting for the Celtics was like being sympathetic to Hitler. But that her employer, ESPN, suspended her for that banality.

Let me put this as simply and succinctly as possible: any blog that is run under the aegis of a newspaper, magazine, opinion journal or any other journalistic organ of Big Business is a compromised piece of shit. It's not even a blog, really; it's an inauthentic, corporatized version, a fauxblog. Once a blogger allows a third party to pay his salary and provide him with a larger megaphone to reach the audience, he is allowing that party to limit where he can go, or what opinions he can express. In short, he is not a blogger, he's a company man, giving a pitch.

A good blogger can never be afraid of offending others, of embarassing himself, or of revealing his true nature to the reader. If the reader doesn't like it, there are plenty of other bloggers out there to make him comfortable. What ESPN and some easily offended Bostonians don't seem to understand is that real sports fans have opinions like Ms. Hill's, and a good sports blogger is going to express those opinions in an unfiltered manner. By putting limits on what a blogger can think or say, ESPN is basically announcing that those employees who don't get suspended are safe and inoffensive hacks.

And no, I don't believe that rooting for the Celtics is like believing Hitler was a victim, or that the Soviets should have won the Cold War. I wish Ms. Hill had shown a little more originality in that regard, since 90% of all bad blogging combines Nazi analogies with accusations of deceit by the other side. And everyone knows that pulling for the Celtics is like saying you'd vote for Robert Mugabe....

June 15, 2008

I really have to wonder which Finals Matt Yglesias has been watching. In many respects, the 2008 Finals have been as one-sided as the 2007 Finals, which the Spurs won in four. The big difference was the Celtics' atrocious performance in Game 3, where both Pierce and Garnett were MIA the entire game, and Boston still had the lead entering the final quarter. There was also the Lakers' comeback in Game 2, in which they almost overcame a 24-point deficit in the final seven minutes. But the difference between the two comebacks is telling: the Lakers' run in the 4th quarter of the second game was sparked by a smaller lineup forcing turnovers against a complacent Celtics team that had yet to be challenged, while the Celtics' comeback on Thursday reflected a return to the normalcy of the way the other five games (both regular season games were routs, notwithstanding the participation of Andrew Bynum) between the teams were played.

To believe that the Lakers have a realistic chance to overcome a 3-1 deficit, with two of the games to be played in Boston, is to assume that somehow that dynamic is going to miraculously change, and that the Lakers will, for the first time this season, play like they belong on the same court with the Celtics. They don't, and we shouldn't pretend that Boston's struggle to get past Atlanta one month ago is in anyway germane to this point. The Lakers should consider themselves lucky not to have been swept.

June 10, 2008

Shorter Dennis Prager: When I was a boy, we'd never think of electing a schvartza President.

June 08, 2008

Two differing takes on the Lakers-Celtics rivalry, here and here. Concerning the first article, one of the things that made the mid-80's match-ups so memorable was the thinly-veiled racial animus between the followers of the two teams. In that more beknighted age, stereotyping was much more casual; sportwriters could get away with the extolling the "blue collar," "lunch-bucket" approach that the "heady" Celtics utilized against the "athletic," "talented" Lakers. White stars like McHale and Bird were assumed to be great "clutch" players, and conversely, if the Lakers lost, the hoary stereotype of black athletes "choking" in big games was resurrected.

It went both ways: in spite of having a black coach and one of the finest traditions in integrating sports this side of the Brooklyn Dodgers, the Celtics became the team African-Americans loved to hate. In Do the Right Thing, Spike Lee has a white yuppie who is moving into the neighborhood wear a Celtics jersey, a not so subtle way of suggesting that the gentrifying character was a racist. A hardy perennial of sports pages at the time was the article on African-Americans in Boston, openly rooting against the local team and in favor of the Lakers or Pistons. But since the mainstream media of the time was so overwhelmingly white, it was the Celtics who were celebrated, and the Lakers who were made to play the villains.

And it wasn't just the Lakers; in the '86 Finals, a white Celtic benchwarmer cheapshotted Ralph Sampson in Game 5, leading to a melee that got the Rocket center ejected, and for years after was vilified for fighting a white player. Zeke finally called bullshit on all that after a tough Eastern Conference Finals in 1987, just a month after Al Campanis had gone on Nightline and stretched the envelope for what could be considered acceptable racial stereotyping, and a heated debate on the subject resulted. You still see a semblance of that stereotyping, but I have the impression that reporters are now more careful about the terms they use to describe the ability of top players.

June 01, 2008

What with the foreclosure crisis keeping me at the office seven days a week, I haven't had much time to contribute any pearls of wisdom to the goings-on along the campaign trail, but I suppose if there was actually any suspense left in who would be my party's nominee, I would have found the time. But the Obama-Clinton battle has been over for four weeks, since he blew her out of the water in the Tar Heel State, and I could frankly give a rat's ass as to how the party apportions delegates from two states that had fake elections last January, or the nomination preferences of people from an American colony.

And, it seems, I'm not the only person who sees Clinton's strange kabuki ritual in pretending there's still a race going on as just a wee bit boring. From an on-line chat with Washington Post political reporter Paul Kane:
Washington: Looking at the most recent Rasmussen daily polls, I see that Hillary manages a tie today against McCain, but Barack is down by five points to McCain. What piqued my interest was that while Hillary had a "highly unfavorable" rating of 32 percent (i.e., as I see it, people who never will vote for her) Barack was at 35 percent. On Jan. 30, as we entered primary season's main show, Barack's "highly unfavorables" were 20 percent and Clinton's were 35 percent. Is this something superdelegates may be watching?

Paul Kane: I've spent the past several months talking to as many super-delegates as any reporter in America, I'd guess, since I cover on a day-to-day basis about 280 of them here on Capitol Hill.

I hate saying this, because all the Clinton people are going to flip
out and say, You're biased, you're biased, you're biased. So go ahead and flip out if you want, but the simple basic truth is that the super-delegates stopped paying attention to the Clinton-Obama race about a couple days after the Indiana and North Carolina primaries.

They've stopped paying attention to the primary, and instead they're
focused on an Obama-McCain matchup in November. That's the basic, simple, definitive reality that has happened in this race. The "undecided" super-delegates at this moment are not going to "decide" any time soon, because to them the race is over, they're just waiting for Clinton to drop out.
And later:
Centreville, Va.: I was surprised and disappointed that The Post did not seem to address the Gallup poll yesterday which seemed to say Hillary Clinton had somewhat of an advantage over Barack Obama in the so-called swing states. The news of that poll was bandied about all day on the political blogs, and I have to say the Obama supporters seemed to be getting the worst of it. (Or is it "worse" with only two candidates in the poll?)

Paul Kane: Again, don't yell at me because I'm only the messenger here. But the super-delegates have moved on, they're no longer looking at how Hillary Clinton fares in battleground states against McCain. This is very hard for Clinton supporters to hear, I'm sorry, but the super-delegates are not paying attention to your candidate anymore. These head-to-head matchup polls (Clinton v. McCain, Obama v. McCain) are not having the impact on people's thinking anymore.
Mr. Kane also doesn't seem to think much of the Green Party or Ralph Nader, for that matter (link via Kos and AmericaBlog). I suspect that if Obama were getting trounced by McCain, while Clinton had a clear lead, such things might be getting more play, but right now the relative differences between the two in national surveys are insignificant, statistical noise that seasoned pols have learned to tune out.

May 27, 2008

HEEEAAAAALLLLL !!!! Thirty years ago, no Sunday at the Smith Household was complete without a late night visit with the good Reverend, and it appears that not only is he still alive, but that this career has outlived his former imitator....

May 26, 2008

Back from a weekend getaway in Capitola with my college chums, and I'm greated with this little gem of civility, from the folks at Fox News:

May 21, 2008

MUNICH !!!!
Lost in the discussion of Obama's troubles wooing the white uneducated in Appalachia has been his success in wooing what could be called "Hegel Republicans." Clearly, he's making up the "blue collar" votes he's losing somewhere, since he continues to have a healthy lead over McCain nationwide, and I suspect that there are a fair share of conservatives out there whose damascene experience was the Iraq War. Needless to say, in this election cycle, the public perceives the support of Nebraska's senior senator a lot more positively than Connecticut's junior senator.

May 20, 2008

EMK: This diagnosis is one that is very familiar to my family, since it was a brain tumor that led to the death of my father, the first Steven Smith, ten years ago. Over the course of a month in early-1997, he had begun acting very erratically, at least from what we knew of his personality. His speech patterns had become more rushed, his actions seemed to take on a greater sense of urgency and intensity, and his usual mild-mannered demeanor had dissipated.

One day in March, he just dropped off the radar for a couple of hours, and we spent a horrifying afternoon trying to figure out what happened to him. Finally, we received a call from a Highway Patrolman, who informed us that he had been taken to UCLA Medical after suffering a seizure driving northbound on the 405. It turned out that after meeting with another attorney in the South Bay area, he had driven aimlessly for awhile, sideswapping another car without stopping, before finally getting on the San Diego Freeway, where he eventually careened into the center divider. The CHIPs thought he was drunk, at first, but it soon became apparent that something else was wrong.

Crashing his car in the vicinity of Westwood turned out to be one of the few breaks my father got over the next year and a half. Several days later, he was diagnosed with brain cancer, a metastization of the melanoma he had from nine years earlier. UCLA Medical Center has one of the top cancer research departments on the planet, and considering the initial diagnosis that he had about six months to live, undergoing one of their experimental regiments seemed like the way to go. Believing he was a part of something bigger than himself was one of the things that kept him going for the next year and a half, and my family got to spend more time with him as a result of the innovative treatment he endured. It was painful, nonetheless, and I recall being asked by my dad if I knew where he could get some cannibus, which was ironic, since I've pretty much eschewed drugs my whole life thanks to his draconian anti-drug policies.

He also found another reason to live, at the office. He became determined to keep his position as a Chapter 7 Trustee, and he discovered that the Americans with Disabilities Act* gave him certain protections that could not be denied by the Justice Department. The fact that he his speech had been altered and his reflexes less quick were not excuses to deprive him of a job that he loved. And after eight years of divorce, he found the time to remarry our mother; it was one of life's little oddities that my parents seemed to get closer after they got divorced than while they were married.

In the end, though, it wasn't enough. In August, 1998, he began to fade, frustratingly unable to communicate what was on his still-vibrant mind. He returned to UCLA, and they confirmed what we had feared, that the cancer had returned, and was inoperable. The only thing left to do was to wait for the inevitable, which finally occurred on October 11, 1998, during the fourth game of the NLCS.

*He even went so far as to write a letter to George H.W. Bush, thanking him for signing the ADA into law, while admitting he had never voted for him and that he had even said some cross things about the President during that administration. The first President Bush handwrote a very nice and classy response.

May 19, 2008

Sorry for the lack of content lately. When I first started blogging six years ago, it was around the same time I hung up my office shingle for the first time. There wasn't a lot of work for awhile, and blogging was simply a way to kill time at the office between cases. I had always fantasized about being a pundit, and this gave me a way to pontificate to my hearts content, especially about issues on which I had opinions but little expertise.

Most of the other people who had taken up this hobby were conservative, hawkish, and otherwise indistinguishable, even to the point that it was assumed that "warblogging" was the de facto language of the new medium, so being a lefty blogger in the spring of '02 allowed me to stand out from the crowd. I have always been grateful to the people who, in spite of never having met me, still saw fit to write me and give encouragement about something I said at this site.

But my target audience was always my immediate circle of friends, and I think once I realized that most of my readers were either other bloggers, or were people who read hundreds of blogs a day, much of the fun went out of it. In the early days I used to write about a night at the pub with my pals, or the joys of eating a Dodger Dog at the Stadium, with a lot of sports recaps from the night before. Political opinions were much less frequent.

Now, it's been mainly politics, and I'm bored. Some time ago, I realized my voice was not an indispensible one in the blogosphere, that I could just save myself a lot of time and link to whatever Kevin Drum or Matthew Yglesias posted today, rather than trying to come up with anything original, and it would still encompass whatever it was I felt needed to be said (except for Yglesias' occasional [Jonah] Goldbergian-takes on basketball, a sport about which he knows precious little).

Not getting much in the way of links was also a killer. Blogging, like journalism as a whole, shares many of the same characteristics as high school, with cliques of popular kids, nerds, jocks and goths segregating themselves. I suppose it's human nature; we want to be with people like ourselves, and we can be quite ruthless when it comes to blowing off former buddies who turned out to be not as popular as we would have liked. The social gatherings that I used to enjoy, that were such a vital part of the joy of blogging, have now vanished, or at least as far as I am a part of same.

However, ennui cannot explain the dearth of recent postings. The collapse of the housing market, combined with the convoluted nature of the 2005 BARF Act, has made this an extraordinary time to be a bankruptcy lawyer, and my practice is not unaffected. Whereas I used to blog about as often as I generated billable hours, I am now working at full capacity, seven days a week. For the past three weeks, I have not left the office until 8 p.m. every week night, while putting in half-days on Saturday and Sunday. If I can help someone save their house, or at least extend their stay for a year, it's far more satisfying than anything I might write about here.

Of course, hard times can't last forever, and eventually the caseload at my office will return to the lethargic mean that is the life of any bankruptcy lawyer during a Democratic Presidency. It is my intention that once the economy starts to soar in the Obama Administration, and I am forced to scrounge for work again, my blog will focus on the very unique life that is mine, and not on the humdrum, banal goings-on inside the Beltway.

May 16, 2008

Food for Thought: Supreme Court justices and Mid-East entanglements aside, the mid-term election of 2010 is arguably more important than the Obama-McCain race this year. Those elections will determine who gets to draw the lines in most states for the next reapportionment, something which would give the Democratic Party long-term hegemony in Congress.

This could be further underlined if the party does well in the congressional elections this year, as seems likely even if McCain should win.* Since the party out of the White House tends to gain seats in mid-term elections, the Democratic Party would not only add to what is becoming a sizable majority in the House, but could even further marginalize the GOP in the Senate, where they would have to defend 19 of the 33 seats.

On the other hand, an Obama victory in November would put the Republicans in a more advantageous situation in 2010. It is not difficult to imagine that the new President's honeymoon would not be much longer than Clinton's was in 1993. A repeat of the 1994 debacle for the party would enable the Republicans to regain control of the state capitals, and with it the power to gerrymander the Democrats out of power in the House.

*Having an unsuccessful candidate at the top of the ticket is not always a death knell for the party. Presidential coattails were nearly non-existent in 1984, 1988, 1992 and 1996. In 2000, the Democratic Party actually gained four seats in the Senate while Bush was "winning" his first term. Going back even further, the Party picked up a pair of Senate seats in 1972, including knocking off four Republican incumbents, with George McGovern as the nominee; the ability of the man at the top to bring in new voters, then and now, seems to trump all other considerations.

May 15, 2008

A rhetorical gambit almost as profoundly futile as Godwin's Law is the Law of Appeasement: anytime someone feels the need to compare one's opponent to Neville Chamberlain, and/or to analogize the art of diplomacy with "appeasement," there really isn't much left to discuss. As it turns out, most people who appeal to the Law of Appeasement have no idea what "appeasement" is, why (or even, if) it led to World War II, or how, as a policy, it differs from, say, the US policy towards China since 1972, or the Soviet Union from 1941 to 1989, or even the British policy towards the United States between 1815 and 1917. They just know that hashing out differences with an enemy leads inexorably to the Final Solution and 9/11.

The "lessons of Iraq" will surely become the counterpoint to "Munich" in future debates on foreign policy....

May 13, 2008

Drum and Yglesias try to make sense out of why the home field (or, in this case, court) edge is much greater in basketball than it is in other sports. Unlike football, where the reigning Super Bowl champion had a .500 home record last season, the likely NBA winner will likely have a much better record at home than on the road.

The usual explanations get trotted out (the benefits of a friendly crowd, intimidated refs), but those seem to be common to all spectator sports. Ice hockey, for example, is played in similar arenas (often the same arenas), but the home ice advantage is slight, and hockey refs play a much more important role in determining the outcome of the game than their hoops counterparts.

And as far as accruing the benefits of the home crowd are concerned, then why don't college teams maintain the same edge when they play at a local, but not home, arena, as often happens during post-season play. Indiana U. has a much greater home court advantage when they play in Bloomington than when the play a few miles away at the Hoosierdome, even though the RCA is a much larger venue, and can thus hold more of their fans. And of course, other sports have loud, boisterous crowds, too.

My hypothesis is that depth perception is paramount in a game like basketball. The more you have a read on where the basket really is vis a vis the stands, the better chance you have of making shots. Since basketball is a sport of 12-2 runs, the more opportunities you have to make such runs, the higher likelihood your team has to win.

May 12, 2008

Hollywood's O.B.P.: I don't quite understand why no one in Hollywood has been smart enough to incorporate the principles of MoneyBall into film and TV production. Well, I take that back. Having read several weeks of Allison Hope Weiner's dispatches on the Pellicano Trial, I can see why the "star" mentality has, in spite of all the evidence that it does nothing to improve a film's bottom line, managed to take on nearly sacrosanct status in the "industry": the people who get hired to run studios don't exactly come from the top of the class from the Ivy League. A-students don't greenlight Speed Racer or Jumper, or spend years in court trying to put Napster out of business.

But you would figure at least one studio exec would figure out there are very, very few performers who can actually make a difference at the box office, and there are very, very many people with a SAG card out there who can do as good a job at a tenth of the cost. How many more bombs will George Clooney or Tom Cruise or Uma Thurmon detonate before someone realizes that the conglomerate's shareholders would get more value from Jon Hamm, to pick just one example? And it isn't simply the flops that produce the biggest wastes of money; does anyone believe that Gwyneth Paltrow, in her riveting portrayal of the "blonde sidekick" to the real star of the film, drew a single person to the multiplex to see Iron Man, or at least one more than would have gone if her role had been inhabited by Rebecca Romijn or Amber Valletta?

I suspect Hollywood is at the same stage that baseball was in back in the 1980's, when people like Bill James and Pete Palmer were just starting to attract a readership around the startling idea that the men who ran ballclubs didn't know what they were doing. On the diamond, it was the belief that batting average was the most important indicator of talent; in Hollywood, it's the equally stupid dogma that how famous a star is the determiner of how profitable a TV series or movie will be.

The suits who run TV networks already seem to have caught on to that. There are a great deal more networks than there are studios to divide the money, thanks to cable, and the willingness of the people who have run HBO and FX, to name two examples, to take risks on shows which initially feature no-name talents has produced extraordinary results. But film has been much slower to grasp the new reality. The next person to run Paramount or Sony who figures out that the type of movies that make a ton of money aren't star vehicles anyways, and that the cost of doing business will go way, way down once it is understood that screenacting talent is not a rare or limited resource, will revolutionize the business more than Louis Mayer.

May 09, 2008

I suppose we all have our critics, but this one's a bitch.

May 06, 2008

Jeremiah Who? Obama may have timed this surge in the polls just perfectly....

May 04, 2008

They Shoot Horses, Don't They? Kevin Drum has a contest. FWIW, my money is on MoDo....

May 03, 2008

How is it exactly that in the first decade of the Twenty-first Century, America still has colonies?

May 02, 2008

Kevin Drum, on the "power" of the blogosphere:
If the respective left and right blogospheres had any real say in things, would we be looking at a McCain vs. Obama contest in November? Or McCain vs. Hillary? We would not. It would be Giuliani vs. Edwards, or maybe Romney vs. Dodd. The blogosphere is good at raising modest sums of money, and it likewise plays a modest role at the congressional level, but its influence on the national stage appears to be pretty close to nil. That was true in 2004, when Kerry won the Democratic nomination, and it appears to still be true four years later.
I think that's about right. Obama didn't really excite any of the Kool Kidz on the left until Super Tuesday; Edwards was the candidate who made the most conscientious effort to woo bloggers during the run-up to Iowa. And I'm not aware of any popular conservative blogger who backed McCain; even now, most of them are more anti-Obama than enthusiastic backers of the presumptive Republican nominee.

However, there is more to the netroots than just the blogs at the top of the Technorati 100. Even if bloggers like Kos were slow to warm to Obama, other bloggers were much more enthusiastic; even if their daily hits were a fraction of Daily Kos or Atrios, their combined totals were more impressive. Obama has been the most effective in raising funds over the internet, in large part because he pursued a "long tail" strategy concerning the blogosphere.