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Back to Reality

Monday, December 31, 2007
But it's New Years Eve! How can I be back at work?

Excellent question. The answer is that I'm out of days off and have a ton of work piling up. What makes it all very creepy is that the office is completely empty. Did they cancel work for everybody today and not tell me?

This is not doing wonders for my motivation.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 8:33 AM

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Happy Yule!

Tuesday, December 25, 2007
Or whatever holiday this is. I read somewhere that before it was Christmas, December 25 was the day Mithras was born to a virgin (!).

Right now I'm at the in-laws house and the only one awake (the dog waits for no man or woman). Lazy gits - I want to open presents. Last night there was a party with a bunch of Brazen's friends & family. My brother and his new fiancee came too, and it was a lot of fun. Right now it's very dark and quiet in the house, and even the dog has gone back to sleep, but once I'm up, I'm up.

I really have nothing special to write about. I'd just like to hope everybody has a lovely day, wherever you and whatever you're doing.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 7:49 AM

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J. Edgar Malkin

Sunday, December 23, 2007
Hoover would have fit right in the modern conservative movement. Thank God Bush wasn't President when Hoover was running the FBI. Shudder.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 6:39 AM

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Why So Quiet?

Saturday, December 22, 2007
It might surprise my long-time readers that with such an exciting presidential race going on, I haven't been writing much. There are a couple of reasons for this.

1) My dissertation is almost done and my brain is full. I am also exhausted all the time. Are grown-ups allowed to go to bed at 8PM?

2) I really have no idea what it is going to happen, or even how to lay out plausible alternative scenarios. The only things I can say with confidence is that to have a chance, Edwards has to win Iowa and Obama has to win New Hampshire. On the Republican side, Huckabee has to win Iowa and Romney & McCain both have to win New Hampshire. I'm not to sure about Clinton, but I bet she has to win New Hampshire as well. Beyond this, I am completely bewildered. The flow of the race has changed every week and I'm through trying to make predictions.

3) I decided a long time ago to resist attacking any of the Democratic candidates, all of whom have their strong and weak points. It should be pretty clear whom I lean towards, but it's not a powerful lean. I originally planned on rebutting attacks on Democrats by Democrats, but then realized that this was a form of attack too - so I've been shutting up about it. In addition, I am extremely annoyed by the tenor of one of the candidate's campaigns recently, but I'm going to keep my word and stay mum about it.

I really can't wait until the nominations are decided and I can start attacking the Republican nominee every day.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 9:30 AM

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Personal Update

Wednesday, December 19, 2007
Morning all. Like everybody else, the blogging has been light lately. I've been trying to finish my last chapter for my dissertation. I managed to get the model right after about a week, but then I wasted another week trying to acquire the program I needed to run it! Stupid thing costs $100 to get the license, and I certainly didn't need it for a whole year. But I finally found a copy and now I'm pretty sure I'm going to make my self-imposed January 1 deadline for having drafts of all the chapters completed (except for the conclusion, which doesn't count!). At which point I have to start nagging my advisor to read the thing. Not that I can blame him. I wouldn't want to either.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 8:02 AM

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The Fatal Delusion

Saturday, December 15, 2007
Sorry everybody, but with the presidential nomination contests in their last month, I'm obsessed.

I've always been very interested in the dynamics of campaign strategy, because I think policy is boring, but because I think strategy is fascinating. And I keep noticing that journalists and even some political operatives think candidates can "skip" the first few primaries and still be competitive for the nomination. Both Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani have been running around for months saying that they can lose Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina and still be the frontrunner because they have huge leads on the February 5 mega-tuesday primaries. With their typical vapidity, pundits have written that if Barack or Romney sweep the early states, they'll "have a chance" at toppling the national frontrunners. The most egregious example of this treatment right now is Florida, which both Clinton and Giuliani have been treating as a "firewall" - where they have a huge lead that will act to break any momentum by their rivals and secure them victory going into February 5's national primary day.

To which I say: what a bunch of hooey.

There are instances in which a strategy of delay (waiting for another state) will help, but only when there is a pronounced difference between the early and late primaries' constituencies. So for example Al Gore in 1988 skipped the early primaries and focused on the southern states in the old Super Tuesday, and was a reasonable candidate for the nomination in that year - although not for long. Similarly, John McCain skipped Iowa in 2000 to focus on New Hampshire, winning it and becoming a serious rival to George Bush - for about a week until South Carolina killed him. New Hampshire has a very different political character than Iowa, and in 1988 there still was such a thing as Southern Democrats.

The fact is that the value of later primaries are discounted at a steady rate as time goes on, a tendency magnified by front-loading. A lead in a later state will wilt under the glare of earlier defeats. Iowa is the most important by far, since it's first. New Hampshire still has a lot of independence, so a candidate can skip Iowa and get away with it - but not so easily as they used to. And then there's South Carolina, a southern state with all the idiosyncrasies that brings. But by that point you've had the Midwest, Northeast, and South all make their voices heard - which represents most of the basic constituent regions in the country, haven't you?

Florida is fool's gold. It has no one distinct political identity, and hence no real ability to fend off the momentum coming into it that is generated by 2-3 previous wins. This is why Florida ALWAYS votes for whoever has the political momentum going into it. A quick list of Florida winners

1976: Jimmy Carter (coming off wins in IA and NH), Ford (win in NH)
1980: Jimmy Carter (IA and NH), Reagan (NH)
1984: Hart (NH)
1988: Dukakis (NH), Bush (NH)
1992: Clinton (GA)
1996: Dole (IA)
2000: Gore (IA and NH), Bush (SC)
2004: Kerry (IA and NH)

Get the picture? Heck, the state went to the winner of New Hampshire in most cases, but in every instance Florida supported a candidate that had won one of the early primaries. In all but once case (1996), the candidate had won the major contested primary immediately previous to it. I would argue that Dole's win was kind of a special case, since he was competing with 2 essentially fringe candidates (Forbes and Buchanan).

So let me gaze into my crystal ball and give you a prediction. If Hillary Clinton or Rudy Giuliani lose Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, then he or she will be defeated in Florida and crushed on Mega Tuesday. Three straight defeats emblazoned in the national media will brand either of them "losers", and nobody wants to vote for one of those.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 8:43 AM

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It's All The Parents' Fault

Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Via the 2007 Brookings Report "How Well are American Students Learning":

In a 1996 Gallup Poll, parents were asked to pick between the following: their oldest child being a straight-A student with only a few friends and extracurricular activities, or a C student with a lot of friends and extracurricular activities. By a two to one margin, they picked the busy, socially active C student.

I'm coining a new phrase: Parental Malpractice.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 4:16 PM

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One Last Thought On The Primary System

Since the primaries are going to start and end very soon, I'd like to toss out a thought I had about them the other day. Like many people, I've been frustrated with what I see as vapid coverage by the national press corps, which has an alarming ability to make or break candidates at the national level. What's interesting is that the press can't do this in Iowa and New Hampshire. Say what you like about the arbitrary selection of these two states, or their lack of representativeness, but at least some folks somewhere get to see the candidates up close without a crazy D.C. media filter.

So I suppose what I'm saying is that those of us who assail the mainstream media and ALSO attack the privileged position of Iowa and New Hampshire might have contradictory positions.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 3:20 PM

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Whereas I Am Justified

Tuesday, December 11, 2007
In response to criticism of dynastic politics, it was suggested by some commenters that the real problem isn't dynasty politics per se, but the money that adheres to high name recognition. I argued, on the other hand, that voters have a tendency to ascribe the characteristics of one family member to another, meaning that there is an inherent, rather than merely instrumental, advantage to being related to a public official. Without statistical support, it's hard to settle the matter, but the recent NYT poll certainly provides a powerful endorsement of my position:

In fact, about as many of Mrs. Clinton’s backers say they are supporting her because of her husband as say they are supporting her because of her own experience.

If this is accurate, then voters are indeed psychologically vulnerable to dynastic politics. As such, we need a sustained effort that a) weans voters off this dangerous habit, and b) provides institutional safeguards against the creation of political dynasties.

So there.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 3:59 PM

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Seeing Around Corners

Monday, December 10, 2007
Everybody's mad at the Democratic majority in Congress for passing war funds. The game has been played all year, and it's as dispiriting as it is predictable: Democrats threaten, Bush calls bluff, Democrats cave and give him his money. The cynical analysis would be that Pelosi and Reid, or perhaps just the timorous Blue Dogs, are too afraid of the being attacked for "not supporting the troops", that they're still hypnotized by the debacle of the 2002 midterms.

But there is a more charitable interpretation of what's happening: that Democrats in Congress know what the next move in the game would be. Let's imagine it, shall we? If the Democrats zero out war funding, the assumption is that Bush would have to bring the troops home. But this is only an assumption, isn't it? What's to prevent Bush from not issuing the necessary orders? If the troops remained anyway, they'd be trapped in Iraq with no supplies and would doubtlessly suffer a sharp increase in attacks, and thus additional casualties.

In the crass political sense, Bush could very easily pin the blame on the Democrats for "not supporting the troops," a narrative that would be aided and abetted by his tame press corps. And from a moral perspective, the Congress would have been indirectly responsible for the deaths of thousands more American lives.

It wouldn't be fair, of course. Bush would be engaging in blackmail, holding U.S. forces in Iraq hostage for political gain. And anyone who doesn't think Bush would do something so reckless and destructive simply hasn't been paying attention.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 2:20 PM

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A Totally Different Subject

Saturday, December 08, 2007
Those of you not interested in an appallingly schmaltzy statement, please disregard this post. (By the way, did you know that "schmaltz" refers both to sentimentalism and chicken fat? How odd.)

I just wanted to say that I love Brazen Hussy. When I wake up in the morning; get an email or call from her while I'm at work; when she picks me up; when we're going out or just sitting around talking; I think: "Yay!"
Posted by Arbitrista @ 9:12 AM

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Barack Obama & the Media Primary

While Barack Obama has been rising in the polls - and now seems to have a reasonable chance to win the Democratic nomination - at the same time he's giving a lot of liberals heartburn. When Obama first emerged, he seemed like a candidate with tremendous potential, and I suppose he still is. I was excited not just because he was the first African-American with a chance at the presidency, but because he's a brilliant orator who uses appeals to idealism and national unity to justify liberalism.

I haven't been one of those who saw Liebermanesque posturing in his statements about bipartisanship, rather I saw it as an effort to broaden the liberal coalition - which is, after all, what you need to do to create a real political majority. His support for coal liquefaction I ascribed to his representation of Illinois. His health care plan lacked a personal mandate, but that didn't bother me, because I have serious questions about the political viability of such an approach, as well as skepticism that the subsidies for lower & middle income people would be sufficient. (By the way, the Massachusetts plan has been struggling for the very reasons I articulated here). And finally I think lifting the income cap on the payroll tax paying for Social Security is probably a good idea.

But Krugman and Ezra Klein (although I disagree with them on the individual mandate), are right about one thing - Obama's rhetoric on these issues has been bizarre. Why focus on Social Security at all, since it's not really a big problem? Why attack health care plans that have mandates, rather than say why your approach is better? And why in the world would your campaign attack Paul Krugman??

I've been considering these questions for some time, and I'm becoming more and more convinced that Obama is trying to win the "media primary" (which I referred to awhile ago). My suspicion is that Barack is attempting to appease/manipulate the class of establishment pundits, and with them the press corps as a whole. It's not a bad strategy as far as it goes. As Rove knew, if you can get the press to attack a candidate, you don't have to do it (or pay the price with higher negatives). An opponent, no matter how formidable, isn't so scary if he or she is busy fighting the press AND the opposing campaign. By making noises about Social Security and mandates, Obama is feeding the media beast. Heck, it might even work, if recent polls are any evidence.

What concerns me is that the beast is always hungry. I know Obama doesn't want to go on some crusade against the powers that be (look what that's done for Edwards), but do you really have to suck up to them that much? Do you really think the press will stay friendly to you forever? Did you read that execrable Washington Post piece on the "Madrassa" rumor?

So while Obama's (or should I say David Axelrod's) strategy might make sense, I find it very, very worrisome.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 8:26 AM

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7 Things

Friday, December 07, 2007
Obviously I haven't felt very bloggerific lately, being obsessed with my dissertation and all. But I figured I'd go ahead and do the 7 things meme that MaggieMay tagged me for.

1. Link to the person that tagged you and post the rules on your blog.
2. Share 7 random and/or weird things about yourself.
3. Tag 7 random people at the end of your post and include links to their blogs.
4. Let each person know that they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.

Since I'm so late in the process, I'll skip the tagging.

So, weird things:

1) I am map-crazy. I can spend hours and hours examining historical maps. When I was a kid I used to trace them by holding xerox copies against the window.

2) I hated food until I got married. I had gotten so tired of bland and fried foods that I dreaded eating - until I went to New York! Now I have extra weight spend an absurd amount on nice food.

3) Another strange effect of getting married: Before living with Brazen Hussy, I had terrible insomnia. I'd spend hours and hours every night staring at my ceiling. But now I sleep like a baby. Brazen is so jealous...

4) I can't have an imbalance in my pockets. If there's something in the left front pocket, I have to put something in the right - even if I don't need it. On the other hand, I can't have anything in my back left pocket any heavier than a folded piece of paper.

5) I can only work if I can do it for at least an hour. If I have less than an hour to write or do analysis, then I just can't concentrate. I just space out waiting for the time to be over. But give me a spare second and my face is in a book.

6) I am bizarrely flexible. I've never needed to stretch before working out (although I know I should), and until I added some extra weight a few years ago I could put my feet behind my head.

7) I despise cheesecake. As far as I can tell, this makes me a minority of one. Everybody else loves it.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 11:16 AM

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One Of Arbitrista's Rules of Politics

Tuesday, December 04, 2007
Okay, I'm only going to say this one more time:

Never run a purely negative campaign in a multi-candidate primary, especially not in the rural Midwest. Ever.

This suggestion applies only to Democratic candidates. The Republicans are free to savage one another. In fact I encourage it.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 10:43 AM

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Because I'm Not Working

Monday, December 03, 2007
As seen at Geeka's

"Brokeback Mountain" is not just a movie. It's also what Arbitrista calls the pile of dead ninjas in his front yard.

(from this website)
Posted by Arbitrista @ 11:02 AM

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Well, I Like to EAT Garlic, Anyway

Your Score: Garlic

You scored 50% intoxication, 75% hotness, 75% complexity, and 50% craziness!

You are Garlic!

No offence, but you stink. Pretty much everyone loves you, though. You're smart and pretty hot and you fit in with about any culture. You're a total cut-up; in fact, the more cut-up you get, the hotter you become. But be careful, when you get embarrassed, you turn really sweet.

Link: The Which Spice Are You Test written by jodiesattva on OkCupid Free Online Dating, home of the The Dating Persona Test
Posted by Arbitrista @ 10:57 AM

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Presidential Politics

Sunday, December 02, 2007
I should be working on my dissertation right now, so of course I'm going to write about the presidential nominating contest. Typical.

This has been the wackiest presidential race in both parties that I've ever seen (i.e. since 1988). On the surface, the Democratic contest looks pretty unremarkable: a prohibitive frontrunner with a national reputation and massive institutional support is facing a major challenge from an insurgent. But a closer examination makes the whole thing look bizarre. You have a former first lady as the frontrunner who is perceived as the most liberal but who's actually the most centrist, a black Senator who's been in office for 4 years who's having to fight for black votes and raising as much money as the frontrunner, and a southerner running the first credible populist campaign since, well, maybe William Jennings Bryan.

If the Democratic side is weird, the Republican contest is just a carnival. A moderate Massachusetts pro-choice, pro-gay rights Governor running as the champion of conservative values? A thrice divorced, pro-choice, pro-gay rights Mayor of New York as the national frontrunner, campaigning on national defense credentials? A former preacher and now Governor who wants to have a national sales tax, pardons murderers, and has absolutely no money or organization as the insurgent? What in the hell is going on? I'm afraid I'm going to have to echo Mort Kondracke: if somebody held a gun to my head and asked me to say who was going to win the Republican nomination, I'd say "shoot."

By the way, I think Obama's surge in New Hampshire and Iowa is very interesting. He must be running some great T.V. spots out there. The national polls don't mean much because we're not really seeing the candidates' campaigns, only the dribs and drabs handed out by the national press, and through their inevitably distorted filter. So the general population doesn't really have any idea what sort of candidates these are - only voters in the early primary states do.

I for one think that January 3 to February 5 is going to be very exciting in both contests, which is just cool. Thank god I'll be pretty much done with my dissertation by then!
Posted by Arbitrista @ 10:05 AM

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Dissertation Optimism

Saturday, December 01, 2007
So obviously I didn't hit my 20,000 word goal for this month, but then again I never really expected to. I did write 13760 words and finished several chapters. I'm now very much on track to finish drafts of the substantive chapters (sans introduction and conclusion) by the end of December. Regrettably I had to add a chapter I'd been waffling on, but oh well. As hard as it is to believe, I'm write...er...right on schedule for the overly optimistic scenario I laid out in early October. Pretty amazing, given how much trouble I had at the beginning, and how busy I've been at work.

Dynasty watch: Two Udalls in the U.S. Senate? My word. Morris Udall was a great congressman, but do we really need cousins serving in the U.S. Senate (with the same last name). Yes they're pretty good liberals, but is Democratic political talent in the interior West really concentrated in one family? Somehow I doubt it.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 9:50 AM

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