The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom. - Wm. Blake

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Consistent American Public

So as I said, I was, for unimportant reasons, looking at Atrios' archives for the second week of the war. Aside from posts bringing back the sickening feeling of those war-mad times, there was one that had fascinating polling data from Zogby on the eve of the war.
Currently, would you strongly support, somewhat support, somewhat oppose, or strongly oppose a war against Iraq?"
Support 54%
Oppose 41%
Not Sure 5%

"Would you support or oppose a war against Iraq if it included sending in hundreds of thousands of U.S. ground troops?"
Support 47%
Oppose 45%
Not Sure 8%

"Would you support or oppose a war against Iraq if there were hundreds of American casualties?"
Support 46%
Oppose 47%
Not Sure 7%

"Would you support or oppose a war against Iraq if there were thousands of American casualties?"
Support 41%
Oppose 51%
Not Sure 8%

"Would you support or oppose a war against Iraq if it meant thousands of Iraqi civilian casualties?"
Support 40%
Oppose 53%
Not Sure 7%
Atrios noted the balance between opinion based on American & Iraqi civilian casualties, which obviously didn't pan out - perhaps if you add "tens of" to the Iraqi question, you'd get a more honest gauge of American attitudes towards US & Iraqi suffering.

But that's a sidenote. What's amazing, in retrospect, is that the poll was predictive. Support was tempered - albeit not down to even - once casualties were well into the hundreds. And by the time they were in the thousands, Americans threw the bums out over a war that seemed a sure political winner just a few years before.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

All They Are Saying....

OK, Blue Tuesday was great news and all, but here's a nice sign that the country is getting its head straight again:
Last week, a couple were threatened with fines of $25 a day by their homeowners’ association unless they removed a four-foot wreath shaped like a peace symbol from the front of their house.

The fines have been dropped, and the three-member board of the association has resigned, according to an e-mail message sent to residents on Monday.


The former president [of the homeowners’ association for the community where Mr. Trimarco lives, who said Tuesday that he had stepped in to help form an interim association] described himself in a telephone interview as a military veteran who would fight for anyone’s right to free speech, peace symbols included.

Town Manager Mark Garcia said Pagosa Springs was building its own peace wreath, too. Mr. Garcia said it would be finished by late Tuesday and installed on a bell tower in the center of town.
This is in some community 200 miles from Denver, where Colorado gets seriously red (this town may not be bright red, but it ain't Boulder, either). And in a matter of days, the community, with near-unanimity, utterly annihilated this attempt at anti-American censorship.

I was just perusing some Eschaton from late March 2003, and it's striking to remember just how bad things were then. NBC bragging about their great combat cameras, Drum was touting crazy liberal professors, and it was entirely unclear where things were headed in Iraq (there was talk about how Americans would respond to more than a few dozen casualties). But here we are, 3 1/2 years later, and sanity is returning. There's no strife in Pagosa Springs, no one marching with flags past the Trimarcos' home, no BS. Just a community coming together to defend their collective right to express their beliefs.

Something to be thankful for.


Dems take PA State House.

We split the two exceptionally closely contested races in Chester County, giving us a 102-101 majority in the State Legislature. The most satisfying thing about this is that the now-exiting Speaker, John Perzel, was an absolute prick last week, bragging about how the Republicans wouldn't let Ed Rendell pursue his agenda. He even claimed that a guy who won by 20 points didn't have any kind of popular support, as compared with a Republican majority that would have been 1.

You know, I still have my Casey sign out front of my house, because every time I see someone else's Santorum sign, I laugh and laugh....

Friday, November 17, 2006

GOP Torn by Infighting


The Republican Majority for Choice is running ads here in PA that explicitly draw a line between Republicans' roots in Lincoln, TR, and Reagan (?) and extremists such as Haggard, Robertson, and Santorum. The ad originally included images of Tom Ridge and Arlen Specter as non-extremists, but the two objected to being contrasted against Santorum.

I can't find the ad online - I'll keep looking - but the sponsors are explicit about trying to be divisive. They want an open discussion about the direction of the party, and they want it to be more than just John McCain running into the arms of Bob Jones.

I think this is important on the merits - if moderate(ish) and libertarian(ish) Republicans can admit to themselves that the GOP is a party of, by, and for the Radical Right, then they will either change the direction of the party, making it less dangerous (in addition to pro-choice rhetoric, the group also talks about "less intrusive gov't"), or they'll start sitting out elections, and the actual Good Guys will win. Either outcome would be an improvement over the last dozen years.

Setting aside the merits, this of course leads to the meta-question: will the national media talk about this? I mean, this is an intentionally controversial ad, attacking not only religious figures but also (formerly - ha!) elected politicians. The group is supported by the likes of Specter, Jerry Ford, and Goldwater's widow. This should be a big story - bigger than Hoyer/Murtha, since it could have long-term implications for the viability of one of our two parties. But of course our media is in utter denial that the GOP is becoming (or at least in danger of becoming) a regional, minority party. The success or failure of this group, and its allies, will have a huge impact on whether or not that happens.

But then, did you hear about Pelosi's lose-lose?

Update: A thoughtful Republican operative in comments has given us the URL to see the aforementioned ad. On viewing, I gotta say, I'm all for it. It really seems to be the sort of thing we've been waiting for as the GOP has lurched rightward over the past 6, 12, 26, 40 years. Yeah, arguably a long time coming. But hey, at least someone's saying it - and without first innoculating themselves by attacking liberals or foreigners to prove themselves "good conservatives." Bully.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Rime of the Ancient Blogger

The Ghost Ship revives!

The Mighty Reason Man is Back.

And we are all very, very happy....

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Regional Parties

So I'd say that the underreported story of this election is the death of the Republican Party in the Northeast. It's been coming for awhile, but the South seems to loom so much larger in the national imagination than the Northeast (probably because the Northeast really includes both the Midatlantic states and New England, plus the distorting presence of New York City, its own region) that people don't really talk about it. There are a few reasons, but implicit in all of them is the idea that The South is critical to national power, while the Northeast is not. Presumably this dates back to the region's historic schizophrenia between mildly conservative Rockefeller Republicans and tough machine Democrats. Whereas the South has - except for relatively brief transitions - always been fairly unified, whether Democrat or Republican.

And just today some flack from AEI dismissed concerns about the GOP disappearing in the NE by pointing to "real problems" for Dems in the South. So I decided to do some counting.

Well, lo and behold. Looking at the above map (from the Times), we see 4 regions in the country: the "Solid South," the Northeast, the West Coast, and the Middle. The Solid South turns out to be not-so-solid (more on that in a moment), but if we look at the old Confederacy plus reliably Red KY and OK, we get a region that's almost 2/3 GOP in the House, and almost 100% GOP in the Senate. The Northeast, from PA & MD up to Maine, is actually much more thoroughly blue, as is the West Coast. The Middle, for our purposes, is the remainder - states that are either pretty well mixed, or don't add up to much electorally (I know those empty Plains states can add up in the Electoral College, but I think Senate Dems have shown that they're attainable for Team Blue).

So is it true? Do you need to compete in the South to win? Here's the breakdown by region:

South: 26 Senators, 141 Representatives
NE: 20 Senators, 91 Representatives
West Coast: 6 Senators, 67 Representatives
Middle: Doesn't matter for this discussion - it's not a cohesive region, culturally or politically

So we can see that the two Blue regions equal the South in the Senate. What about the House? Surely the Solid South gives the GOP a huge head start in the House? Not so much. The two Blue regions are much bluer than the South is red, and have more Representatives. The NE is now 77% blue in the House, the West Coast 66%, for a total of 72%. The Solid South, in contrast, is just 61% red. And while some of that is due to states like FL and AK that have never wholly left the Dems, you actually find Deep South states like GA and MS that have scant, if any, red majorities in their delegations. What's the upshot? 114 Dems come from their home regions, where the GOP gets only 86.

Obviously, none of this is set in stone, and political tides run both ways. But it turns out that, while the Dems need to retain credibility in the South, they don't necessarily need to do much more. They've got a decent presence there, and they OWN two regions that, combined, are significantly bigger.

So I can't wait for the anguished new stories about How Can the GOP Win Without New England.

Yup. Any day now.

Oh, fer cryin' out loud

Pa. House control could come down to 1 race

That's the headline in the Post-Gazette today (online only). A race for an open seat in Chester County (near Philly) was down to a 19 vote lead for the R, when they found 250 uncounted absentee ballots, plus 40 provisional ballots that will need to be judged. And then there are overseas absentee ballots still not in hand. They're saying it could be another week. Oy vey.

By the way, I haven't seen a breakdown, but scanning a list over at the Philly Inquirer yesterday, it appeared to me that there was not, in fact, a huge anti-incumbent wave. But these things are relative, and the whole thing is skewed by the significant number of incumbents thrown out in primaries. Indeed, in my quick scanning, it looked like at least as many races had no incumbent as had an incumbent losing. Clearly, many of those would be retirements, but some portion must have been seats where the incumbent lost the primary due to the payraise scandal.

Either way, stay tuned.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

PA House Update

After being generally ignored in the excitement last night, the (very important) status of state legislatures is being discussed, both in blogs and elsewhere. As you might expect, Dems did well, and now control most governorships and most state leges - they were behind in both before last night. This is huge, since it makes it much more likely that the redistricting after the next census will be favorable to Dems. It also ups the number of states who might enact anti-Electoral College legislation (saying that, as long as an electroal majority of states also do so, the state will throw its electoral votes to the popular vote winner).

Meanwhile, PA remains an unkown. There are 5 undetermined districts, and the Dems lead in 2. They need 3 to take the House, although party-switching is possible (especially among old line GOPers in the Philly 'burbs who may not be comfortable with their redneck brethren from mid-state).

If the GOP holds on, Rendell will be in a stronger position, but still unable to really promote an agenda, which is a shame. While he was in some ways a proto-McAuliffe at the DNC, he's also a big city paleo-Dem, and would do some nice, liberal things given the chance.

Another failure for the Boy Genius

Lynn Swann - who lost to Governor Rendell by even more than Santorum lost to Casey - was apparently pushed on state GOPers by none other than Rove:
The decision to coalesce around Mr. Swann as the most viable candidate against Mr. Rendell took place at the highest levels of the state's Republican establishment. With encouragement from presidential adviser Karl Rove, members of the Pennsylvania leadership quickly signed on.
One of the things that has long struck me about Rove is how transparent most of his tactics - especially the non-dirty ones - are. Harriet Miers? USS Abraham Lincoln? Gonzalez and Alito (especially with the endlessly-repeated talking point of "what are you, anti-Catholic?")? Run a black football hero in PA - he can't lose!

Maybe part of what held Dems and the press (especially the press) in thrall to him was that he won with such blatantly showy political moves. It was brazen, like Jordan taking three-and-a-half strides to the basket (you see, kids, there was a time when travelling was called on almost everybody...). If he could run right past the ref like that, and not get called, then what couldn't he do?

But, as this election has shown, Rove's ham-handed tactics always were just that. It wasn't the show-pieces that won - it was the fearlessly dirty tactics going on behind the scenes (from calling a child advocate judge a pedophile to rioting in FL to illegal robocalling in 2002 and 2006). And for all his dirt, he never would have won in 2000 if not for the butterfly ballot; even after 9/11, it was only shamelessly politicizing Iraq that gained (a few) seats in 2002; whether Ohio was stolen in 2004 or not, he barely beat Kerry. And now he's been crushed in 2006, all his "you're not seeing the polls I'm looking at" bullshit now just comical (think Robert Siegel of NPR will call him out on it?).

Turd blossom.

PA State Legislature Goes Blue!?!?

OK, this is my own late-night count, and the stupid fucking State House has 202 seats, but I think the Dems have taken it!

Based on this official Commonwealth page, with 92.44% reporting statewide, Dems hold a 104-98 lead! I could be wrong - I could have miscounted, some races could flip (scanning through, I saw maybe a half dozen within a point), and at least 3 uncontested candidates are listed as D/R - I have no idea how they'd caucus. But as I've been reporting for months, the groundwork was laid for a big shekup in Harrisburg, and we appear to have had it.

BTW, you heard it here first - the Post-Gazette appears to have no stories whatsoever about the state races, except for one high profile incumbent upset.

PS - Santorum and Hart gone in one night! Fantastic.

UPDATE: The Post-Gazette still hasn't called it, and is skeptical of Dem chances. WDUQ this morning said the Dems had netted at least 4 seats, but didn't announce how many races were still unknown. Two Dem incumbents in western Pa. lost, which sets us back considerably. We needed 9 before the night began, and thus needed at least 11 gains elsewhere. We'll see.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Election Night Top 5

I've been too nervous and pessimistic to get really excited about tonight, even after America's Worst Senator was sent home. The first smile of the night came courtesy of the good majority of South Dakotans. The second came courtesy of my national anthem:

Star Spangled Banner - Jimi Hendrix
Exhuming McCarthy - REM (only to chuck the bones in the Potomac, we hope)
My Orphanage - Rasputina (foreshadowing Newt's '08 run?)
Why Don't You Do Right - Rasputina (they did, Melora, they did)
Satisfaction Guaranteed - The Firm (well, we'll see about MT, TN, VA, & MO...)

The best thing about Hendrix's anmthem, to me, was his response to Dick Cavett, who asked him about all the people who thought it was disrespectful, or unAmerican, or whatever: "I thought it was beautiful...."

Monday, November 06, 2006

Maybe it was Godwin?

A more cynical thought occurred to me right after I posted about the hunter-gatherer to farmer transition below. One thing David wrote was
I believe that writ large, over many decades or centuries, people get the kind of societies they want and choose.
But, of course, in the shorter term, we have seen societies go drastically wrong, not through revolution, but through small, inceremental steps that don't portend their outcome. Sara Robinson posted the following excerpt from Milton Mayer's They Thought They Were Free over at Orcinus today:
"What happened here was the gradual habituation of the people, little by little, to being governed by surprise; to receiving decisions deliberated in secret; to believing that the situation was so complicated that the government had to act on information which the people could not understand, or so dangerous that, even if the people could understand it, it could not be released because of national security. And their sense of identification with Hitler, their trust in him, made it easier to widen this gap and reassured those who would otherwise have worried about it."

Each step was so small, so inconsequential, so well explained or, on occasion, "regretted," that, unless one were detached from the whole process from the beginning, unless one understood what the whole thing was in principle, what all these "little measures" that no "patriotic German" could resent must some day lead to, one no more saw it developing from day to day than a farmer in his field sees the corn growing. One day it is over his head.

"How is this to be avoided, among ordinary men, even highly educated ordinary men? Frankly, I do not know. I do not see, even now. Many, many times since it all happened I have pondered that pair of great maxims, Principiis obsta and Finem respice - "Resist the beginnings" and "consider the end." But one must foresee the end in order to resist, or even see, the beginnings."
Do you think that Americans have decided that we should be a torturing, kidnapping, wiretapping autocracy? Or do you think that each little step towards that end was taken without any sense of where it might lead? And if the pressures I speculate on below are generally right - if agriculture is hard to reverse, and if it can grow in power without benefitting most of its individual constituents, then all it takes (in each location) is one ill-considered transition.

No do-overs.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Whose dumb idea was this, anyway?

David Sucher, over at City Comforts, takes a break from blogging about the Viaduct debate in Seattle to wonder
Were they stupid?

An academic suggests that

only recently has the European standard of living surpassed that of hunter-gatherer societies.

Interesting. That implies an odd choice by all those hunter gatherers, no? Why would they step from a higher to a lower standard?
This has puzzled me for a number of years. It seems quite clear that, by certain significant measures (lifespan, caloric consumption, nutritional intake), farming was a loser of a decision for H-Gs. But I think that there are a number of explanations entirely consonant with that basic story.

1. H-Gs couldn't analyze this. Agriculture must have offered a number of comprehensible advantages, and it would have been hard to judge - especially in advance - the disadvantages.

1a. Comprehensible advantages may have included stability - I think it's easy to see ways in which humans to this day value quotidian certainty over high return uncertainty. Actually, I can imagine the New Yorker cartoon (or maybe Far Side) in my head - haggard H-G sees his compatriots mauled by a saber-toothed tiger, and thinks "maybe a nice place in the country, just a few acres with some proto-wheat...."

1b. Another (likely) comprehensible advantage would have been culture. I may be wrong about this, but I would imagine that semi-dedicated agriculture would almost instantly offer the benefits of specialization, etc. It wouldn't take much experience of pottery made by full-time potters, or clothing made by full-time tailors, to value that material improvement.

2. Agriculture benefits societies more than it does individuals. So the farming village is able to outcompete the nearby H-Gs, even though each farmer is doing (a bit) worse than each H-G. It's not as if one farmer can say, "Fuck it, I'm going to hunt and gather."

2a. Obviously, you start to get into politics and power here, as well. If that village leader has a couple dozen dedicated warriors at his disposal, he grows far more powerful than any neighbors. Aside from what that does for him (booty, wives, ego), it also makes him a more desirable leader in the eyes of his tribe. And other tribes. So they join him, whether directly or in imitation.

3. Deny the premise of the question: what village life lacks in longevity, it gains in culture. Straight-up superiority, even if the life is shorter. Hell, this is easy to see: do you want 75 years without any products of culture (save, perhaps, bardery), or 50 years with expert-made goods, art, literature, etc.

4. Directionality. It's not clear that H-G to farmer is reversible, maybe not even after just one full generation. Studies of modern H-G societies show staggering levels of detailed, sophisticated environmental knowledge. But how would you retain that after a decade of disuse?

So let's posit the transitional, horticultural H-G tribe - they have some known gathering areas where they've learned to tend the berries for better yield. They realize that, with a bit more attention, yields keep growing. At some point, in a good year (or three), they do better without so much wandering. Soon, the H-G becomes supplementary, thus becoming less all-consuming. H-G knowledge atrophies, replaced by horticultural/agricultural knowledge. A few more years, and the H-G lifestyle can't compete, because they can't do it as well anymore. And, as they fail to find quarry, or are less successful in utilizing it, they think back on that nice, reliable crop. And the words drought, blight, and (animal-borne) disease don't even exist yet....

PS - Actually, I think Jared Diamond says herding preceeds agriculture, not the other way around, but I'm not sure that affects my argument in any meaningful way.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

By the way, that was me

I meant to take credit (or blame) last week for this. Bob Somerby took a break from talking about the War on Gore to eulogize the late mayor of Pittsburgh. He (Somerby, not the dead Mayor) was at an event in town a couple weeks ago (with Will Durst - wish I could've made it) at which the Mayor's son spoke. Bob was touched:
To us as outsiders, it was obvious that Pittsburgh’s Democrats remember Mayor O’Connor with feeling. His son wasted few words in describing a man who had earned that warm regard.
I felt obliged to set him straight:
[excerpt from email]

The man you heard eulogized was a legend in his own time - in the sense that his public persona was a feel-good story bearing only limited relation to the facts. My wife is a city employee who dealt with O'Connor when he was in City Council and when he became mayor, so the following is based on a firsthand witness.

Bob was a wholly-owned corporate shill. In a city with a functioning two-party system, he never would have run as a Democrat. His funding came largely from developers (many from out of town) who wanted him to give them what they wanted. His first acts as mayor advanced their interests, booting out companies with existing projects in favor of those who had given him the cash to run for mayor 3 times.

He hired a City Planning Director whose most noteworthy accomplishment as Zoning Administrator, several years before, was meeting behind closed doors to "make deals" with zoning applicants. Bob's right hand man was a long-time friend with no qualifications for government, who was recently fired for using his position to help a cop friend avoid an official reprimand.

His status as a man beloved of the people derived entirely from a genial disposition, an ability to deliver pork, not progress, for his Council District, and the provinciality of a small city that viewed him as a favorite son.

I don't know if you'll appreciate this speaking ill of the dead, but I've been biting my tongue around here for a month, and to see this fairy tale passed on to the world at large, by a source I respect, is just too much. The lessons of Bob O'Connor are strikingly similar to those of George Bush - both of them strikingly unintelligent, both of them in favor of corporate interests over the public interest - to the point where one doubts that they even understand the latter term - and both of them hailed for being fun to have a beer with. And, of course, both of them popularly elected by people who would bristle at hearing the above assessment. How liberalism and good government can survive in such an environment is the great problem of our day.
And it's that last that I find critical. I don't think that what Somerby meant what he wrote "But then, it’s “average people” who decide the nation’s course when they go to the polls and vote. Their values and opinions must be addressed when progressives and liberals do politics." was what I took away. What I took away was, "How the hell can progressives and liberals win when the grass roots, when the populus, is taken in by corporate tools like Bob O'Connor?" But whether Somerby meant that or not, he's right that it's the essential problem of our time.

Even if this election is the sea change that it looks like it could be (ohplease ohplease ohplease), that's only Step One. And it doesn't do anything to undermine the natural advantages held by well-funded "nice guys" like O'Connor and Bush. Maybe Good Government liberals will always be at a disadvantage in that fight. But we need to acknowledge it, and deal with it.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Maximum R+B

I grew up in the aftermath of the rock era, when the airwaves were dominated by bands ten or twenty years past their primes, but whose new albums were still as anticipated as their more worthy predecessors. As any of you who've read my Friday Random Tens can attest, some of those have retained their hold over me, but I'm jaded - and mostly bored - by the majority.

The Who are a rather major exception. I find Pete Townsend an intriguing artist and individual, and the power of the band in their heyday leaves me wistful. I still resent that, for various reasons, my sister got my ticket to see them at Giants Stadium in '89. And though it's fallen into utter neglect - and disdain - by practically everybody, I still like Psychoderelict.

So as a result, I've been irresistably drawn to their new album, Endless Wire. Yes, I know that "they" is only half the band, including the individual that Pete, in an interview with the NY Times, identified as the bandmate who was least important to him. But, ultimately, it's Pete's songs, written with The Who in mind, and I want it to work.

Early indications have been positive, and the 3 tunes the Times had up were OK. But it was this video of the band (and the "new guys" have mostly been playing with the band for years and years - dig Zak Starkey's fantastic drumming) that made my heart race. In some ways, it's a throwback - Roger belts, Pete strums. But my response was visceral, not based on "oh good, more Who's Next." I dunno. Maybe it's just my viscera saying that, and my brain is rationalizing. I don't care. All I know is, there's a new Who album out. And I want it.