Pur Autre Vie

I'm not wrong, I'm just an asshole

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Shake My Baby and Please Bring Her Back

This is the kind of shit I'm talking about. It makes me like Clinton more:

But remember, this is part of the effect McCain wants. I think the smart move for Obama is not necessarily to criticize Clinton, but to say something designed to please liberals and piss off conservatives - in other words, draw some of the fire currently being directed at Clinton. Here's my stab at it:

"You know, I saw that Senator McCain, over on the other side, has been running an ad attacking Senator Clinton because she supported a Woodstock Museum. McCain jokes that he couldn't go to Woodstock because he was 'tied up at the time.' Of course we all respect his service, but this kind of attack is unfair and it shows what's the matter with today's GOP. The Republicans like to practice the politics of resentment, to use people's decent emotions to mislead them into supporting confrontations that we don't need and that we are paying too high a price for.

"You see, I might have my disagreements with Senator Clinton on foreign policy, but I think McCain's ad tells you everything you need to know about why Senator Clinton, or any of the candidates on this stage, is preferable to the delusions coming from the Right. Take a closer look at the ad: the idea is to capitalize on McCain's military background and Clinton's perceived sympathy with the hippies. But the presidency isn't a reward for having been a POW, even though McCain's service was very honorable. The president is supposed to protect Americans, to prevent the next American soldier from being taken prisoner. And by that standard Clinton is looking awfully good. By that standard, Clinton looked very good when she opposed the war in Vietnam. Because remember, the hippies were right about Vietnam. If they had been in charge, if more people had listened to them, maybe McCain wouldn't have been in Vietnam in the first place. You don't have to like their clothes, you don't have to like their music, but if Senator McCain is honest with himself he'll admit that the hippies, along with civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King, and veterans like John Kerry, and yes, Hillary Clinton, were trying to save lives and end a disgraceful blemish on our history.

"So when Senator McCain pokes fun at Clinton and the hippie he imagines she was, remember that he's the same candidate who thought it was funny to sing, 'Bomb, bomb, bomb bomb Iran.' Remember that he's the one who wants to put more of our young men and women into harm's way in the Middle East. Having been the victim of one misguided war is no excuse for perpetrating another. Senator McCain should be ashamed of himself."

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

You Can't Break Even, You Can't Even Quit the Game

I didn't watch the debate tonight, and I can't really comment on Obama's latest tactics. I am, however, distressed about what I see as a series of attacks designed to knock him out of the race. Before I get into that, though, a quick note on the fact that leading GOP candidates are attacking Clinton. First of all, a lot of this simply reflects the animus of the GOP base toward the Clintons. It's an easy way to get applause lines. More importantly, though, Democrats need to be careful about two things. First, a lot of these attacks are unfair, and we have a natural inclination to defend her. Fair enough, but don't let that emotion carry over into the intra-party conflict. The mere fact that Republicans hate her doesn't mean she will be a good candidate. By that standard Ted Kennedy would be a great candidate.

The other big problem is that by rallying around Clinton we are essentially ratifying the choice of the Republicans. The correct response to these attacks is to glean whatever information about Republican tactics you can and ignore the rest. If you let the attacks affect your choice of candidate, you effectively give the Republicans a way to pick the candidate they want to face.

Now, the attacks on Obama. See Krugman and Savage. On some level these attacks are justified on the merits, but everyone should recognize how minor these incidents are. Obama isn't selling out social security and he doesn't hate gays. These attacks are a massive overreaction and are grossly unfair. If Democrats let themselves get distracted by this stuff, they will regret it. There's a natural temptation to emulate the rabid right wing of the GOP. I sense that a lot of what's going on is intra-group loyalty-signaling, along the lines of Sunstein's group polarization. A little of that stuff is inevitable and probably helpful, but remember the attendant pathologies. We will have a better candidate and a better president if we're honest and rational.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007


"This is not a time to point fingers — except perhaps to the developers who have profited greatly by overdeveloping SoCal at the expense of wildlife."

So says Sandy Somers on the NYTimes website. I don't really think I can add anything that will make this post funnier. I will mention that Sandy goes on to diagnose the alleged arsonist with a psychopathology - it's unclear whether we should point our fingers at him (her?) too.

I'm in a New York State of Mind (i.e., I want to punch someone)

The New York Times must think that its readers have incredibly short attention spans:

"In a statement, the chief executive, E. Stanley O’Neal, Merrill’s chief executive, said the firm still faces uncertainty with mortgage-related investments."

While I'm on the subject of New York, I should mention something that's been bothering me. You see, people who have lived in New York their whole lives might not realize it, but in general it's considered advisable to design things in a way that isn't retarded. So for instance, say you want to design a covered walkway over a busy street. The idea of covering it is to protect pedestrians from the elements - or at least, that's the idea in most cities. In New York it's considered helpful to build the shelter in such a way that almost all the water drips down on the pedestrians. It's actually worse than being outside, because then you're just getting pelted by small raindrops. Under the shelter, you have to walk through dozens of little waterfalls, gushing down from what is no doubt a filthy metal roof.

My next installment in the "things New Yorkers don't realize" series will be "Do cities inherently have to smell like urine?" I won't spoil the surprise.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

I Don't Look Like a Steer to You?

So I remember sitting in a park in the Pearl District (overrated!) in Portland, Oregon. It was a lovely summer day, and I had been reading the fantastic Nature's Metropolis, by William Cronon, about the meteoric rise of Chicago (short version: Chicago is pure awesomeness). I called home to let them know I'd gotten into Portland okay (I had taken the train from Eugene, a very pretty ride).

The bond markets were going crazy at the time, and I discussed this with my mom. She had just read Liar's Poker, by Michael Lewis, and she knew that mortgage-backed securities were part of the recent convulsions on Wall Street. She said that the problems must stem from the weird logic of securitization. Her point was that the person who ends up owning a mortgage didn't originate the loan and doesn't know much about the borrower.

I agreed, but I pointed out that we rarely know the people who slaughter our meat, and yet we trust the butcher shop. The reason is that we have a set of market and governmental institutions that work to provide us, almost always, with safe meat. The problem is not just that loan originators don't hold onto the loans for very long, but that the institutions that safeguard the transactions don't seem to be working.

All of this is by way of introducing Paul Krugman's latest column. Let's just say that one of his examples seems very familiar to me.

Monday, October 15, 2007

James, James

Twice at work today I typed things that, while incorrect, wouldn't have been caught by spellcheck.

The first one came when I was describing a lawyer's approach to an area of law. I meant to type, "By the same token..." but I ended up typing, "By the same toke..." This would be a funny thing to slip into someone's thesis while he's away from his computer, although I guess it's a little contingent.

The other one was slightly more worrisome. A lawyer named Chris told me to check in with another lawyer. I was running late, so I sent him an e-mail: "Christ told me to stop by at..." I caught it in time, but how awkward would that be? How would that look on my performance review? "James is lazy and turns in mediocre work product, and he thinks that God talks to him."

If you want to know what's causing all these problems, see my previous post.

Roll Me Under New Madrid

Is this what I think it is?

Monday, October 08, 2007

Rare Bad Krugman Column

So I like most Krugman columns, but I think today's is a bit of a stretch. Or rather, its conclusion is probably right, but his evidence doesn't really get you there. Krugman basically argues that a lot of the flaws in the Bush administration follow naturally from conservatism, and are not deviations from it. I think that's true, but Krugman has a bad habit of citing not-so-persuasive evidence for his argument. So for instance, he quotes Irving Kristol exhibiting disdain for fiscal responsibility, and later he cites an article in the American Prospect arguing that privatization had gone too far under Reagan and Bush.

I use the word "cite" because I think Krugman is making the same mistake I often make when I'm starting to research an assignment at work. I'll find a case that says exactly what I want to argue, and I'll be elated. What happens next, though, is crucial. I check to see which court issued the opinion. I check to see if it's been overruled ("shepardize" it). I check to see if other opinions undermine its usefulness.

Ultimately, I think this is where Krugman goes wrong in columns like this one. He doesn't give any indication that he hasn't cherry-picked a few examples that happen to support his case. It's not that his examples are useless. It's that they're at best suggestive - it's like finding a bankruptcy case from the northern district of Illinois and trying to use it in a case in the southern district of New York. Sure, the judge is going to give it consideration, but it's not binding. Likewise, maybe Irving Kristol was a maverick or idiosyncratic about deficits. Maybe the American Prospect will write anything critical of Republican administrations.

Maybe not, of course. These data points are worth something, but it's hard to say how much. You can't really assess the column without making judgments about how valid and representative his examples are, and so it ends up being the kind of thing that doesn't really change minds.