Posts tagged "america"

I reviewed John Sides and Lynn Vavreck’s The Gamble for the magazine!

In many ways, The Gamble acts as a counter to the addictive and gossipy Game Change series Washington journalists John Heilemann and Mark Halperin have penned during the past two campaigns (see Nicole Hemmer’s review). The contrast might even be deliberate; The Gamble reveals in its opening line that 68 individual moments during the 2012 campaign were described as “game-changers” somewhere in the American media, and Sides and Vavreck have a decidedly more sober view of electoral politics. “The continual search for game-changers treats a campaign like a boxing match, where the momentum may be shifting back and forth with every punch and the knockout blow could come at any moment,” they write. “In reality, there are few knockout punches, and most game-changers do not really change the game that much.”
This means — as the authors demonstrate with exhaustive reference to polling, modelling, and charts aplenty — that such widely touted news events as Barack Obama’s “You didn’t build that” comment or the “47% video” leaked to liberal website Mother Jones, which showed Mitt Romney dismissing close to half the American public as “dependent on the government,” had almost no impact on voters whatsoever. 
Also meaningless in terms of shifting voter opinion: any of Romney’s widely reported “gaffes,” the Obama campaign’s summer advertising blitz hammering Romney for his connection to private equity firm Bain Capital, and the disruptive effects of Hurricane Sandy, which struck the east coast in the last week of October. 

On one level, I think this is a really important book, and it would be great if loads of people read it — especially people interested in American politics, and especially people professionally interested in American politics. (Though I’d much rather such people first read Red State, Blue State, Rich State, Poor State; Talking Right; or Nixonland.) But on the other hand, for me it unexpectedly exposed the limits of political science — something I hinted at previously. Reading The Gamble, I started to think about the strengths of the Game Change books: how they portray the human side of politics, how even if elections aren’t driven by personalities, politicians can be, how our first draft of history will inevitably be messy and impressionistic and foolish. Don’t get me wrong, Halperin and Heilemann are exactly the kinds of reporters who would benefit having their exuberances tempered by Sides and Vavreck. But journalists exist for a reason, and though the authors of The Gamble are quite capable communicators (you don’t write for WaPo if you’re not), they’re researchers first and writers second, and you can tell. And I firmly believe that good writing isn’t window-dressing; how you say something is as meaningful as what you’re saying.
The other thing is that if you paid attention to the right blogs throughout the campaign, a lot of this stuff isn’t new. Which doesn’t mean The Gamble isn’t worthwhile — a book is more permanent than a blog post, and has a wider reach — but it does mean that for certain folks, its revelations are less stunning than might be supposed.
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I reviewed John Sides and Lynn Vavreck’s The Gamble for the magazine!

In many ways, The Gamble acts as a counter to the addictive and gossipy Game Change series Washington journalists John Heilemann and Mark Halperin have penned during the past two campaigns (see Nicole Hemmer’s review). The contrast might even be deliberate; The Gamble reveals in its opening line that 68 individual moments during the 2012 campaign were described as “game-changers” somewhere in the American media, and Sides and Vavreck have a decidedly more sober view of electoral politics. “The continual search for game-changers treats a campaign like a boxing match, where the momentum may be shifting back and forth with every punch and the knockout blow could come at any moment,” they write. “In reality, there are few knockout punches, and most game-changers do not really change the game that much.”

This means — as the authors demonstrate with exhaustive reference to polling, modelling, and charts aplenty — that such widely touted news events as Barack Obama’s “You didn’t build that” comment or the “47% video” leaked to liberal website Mother Jones, which showed Mitt Romney dismissing close to half the American public as “dependent on the government,” had almost no impact on voters whatsoever. 

Also meaningless in terms of shifting voter opinion: any of Romney’s widely reported “gaffes,” the Obama campaign’s summer advertising blitz hammering Romney for his connection to private equity firm Bain Capital, and the disruptive effects of Hurricane Sandy, which struck the east coast in the last week of October. 

On one level, I think this is a really important book, and it would be great if loads of people read it — especially people interested in American politics, and especially people professionally interested in American politics. (Though I’d much rather such people first read Red State, Blue State, Rich State, Poor State; Talking Right; or Nixonland.) But on the other hand, for me it unexpectedly exposed the limits of political science — something I hinted at previously. Reading The Gamble, I started to think about the strengths of the Game Change books: how they portray the human side of politics, how even if elections aren’t driven by personalities, politicians can be, how our first draft of history will inevitably be messy and impressionistic and foolish. Don’t get me wrong, Halperin and Heilemann are exactly the kinds of reporters who would benefit having their exuberances tempered by Sides and Vavreck. But journalists exist for a reason, and though the authors of The Gamble are quite capable communicators (you don’t write for WaPo if you’re not), they’re researchers first and writers second, and you can tell. And I firmly believe that good writing isn’t window-dressing; how you say something is as meaningful as what you’re saying.

The other thing is that if you paid attention to the right blogs throughout the campaign, a lot of this stuff isn’t new. Which doesn’t mean The Gamble isn’t worthwhile — a book is more permanent than a blog post, and has a wider reach — but it does mean that for certain folks, its revelations are less stunning than might be supposed.

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Krugman is talking inequality with reference to this chart, and it’s not the first time I’ve seen liberals who are discussing the issue use men’s wages as a base. (The point here being that, in real terms, 60 per cent of American men have seen their income fall over the past 40 years.) I think the idea is that if you use men’s wages as a measure, you’re accessing a controlled sample, since social changes haven’t altered men’s participation in the workforce and remuneration the way it has women’s. Ceteris Paribus.
But… why should men be the control? I mean, if we’re trying to gauge inequality, surely change in gender-induced inequality is just as meaningful as changes in class-induced inequality? Person A’s lower wage compared to Person B’s doesn’t become more excusable if Person A is a woman.
And, while in my brief search, I couldn’t find the exact data Krugman sourced, this similar set suggests that women’s wages have risen in real terms across all percentiles since 1973. (Though, dismally, for some they’ve fallen since 1979 — thanks Ronald Reagan.) That’s an important data point when considering inequality, and the liberal desire to draw attention to class-based inequality shouldn’t permit putting the thumb on the scale by comparing the situation of men now to the situation when women’s wages were even more artificially depressed than they are now.
One way to look at this, incidentally, is that as women have made gains, men have lost; men, forced to compete against new talent, are unable to maintain as high a living standard as they once did. But this doesn’t take into account the increased productivity from abandoning the inefficiencies of a workforce that doesn’t provide proper consideration to the talents of fifty per cent of its number.
Which brings me to a question about productivity: why isn’t gender equality a big part of the discussion of increasing productivity? If women’s wages are being artificially constrained (and they are), then that means the economy isn’t operating at peak efficiency. Men are, effectively, seeking rent on their penises. Considering American women earn 81 cents on the dollar compared to American men, addressing this disparity seems to be ripe grounds for easy gains in productivity. Jus spitballing, but, anyone interested in supply-side inefficiencies should probably be very interested in gender inequality, I reckon.

Krugman is talking inequality with reference to this chart, and it’s not the first time I’ve seen liberals who are discussing the issue use men’s wages as a base. (The point here being that, in real terms, 60 per cent of American men have seen their income fall over the past 40 years.) I think the idea is that if you use men’s wages as a measure, you’re accessing a controlled sample, since social changes haven’t altered men’s participation in the workforce and remuneration the way it has women’s. Ceteris Paribus.

But… why should men be the control? I mean, if we’re trying to gauge inequality, surely change in gender-induced inequality is just as meaningful as changes in class-induced inequality? Person A’s lower wage compared to Person B’s doesn’t become more excusable if Person A is a woman.

And, while in my brief search, I couldn’t find the exact data Krugman sourced, this similar set suggests that women’s wages have risen in real terms across all percentiles since 1973. (Though, dismally, for some they’ve fallen since 1979 — thanks Ronald Reagan.) That’s an important data point when considering inequality, and the liberal desire to draw attention to class-based inequality shouldn’t permit putting the thumb on the scale by comparing the situation of men now to the situation when women’s wages were even more artificially depressed than they are now.

One way to look at this, incidentally, is that as women have made gains, men have lost; men, forced to compete against new talent, are unable to maintain as high a living standard as they once did. But this doesn’t take into account the increased productivity from abandoning the inefficiencies of a workforce that doesn’t provide proper consideration to the talents of fifty per cent of its number.

Which brings me to a question about productivity: why isn’t gender equality a big part of the discussion of increasing productivity? If women’s wages are being artificially constrained (and they are), then that means the economy isn’t operating at peak efficiency. Men are, effectively, seeking rent on their penises. Considering American women earn 81 cents on the dollar compared to American men, addressing this disparity seems to be ripe grounds for easy gains in productivity. Jus spitballing, but, anyone interested in supply-side inefficiencies should probably be very interested in gender inequality, I reckon.


Sepinwall:

But Pelton’s freestyle rap apology about the delayed payday — while dressed as a Payday bar — at a minimum came awfully close, especially given the Dean’s terrified reaction at the close of it. (“I don’t know what that was! I DON’T KNOW WHAT THAT WAS!”)

I missed the joke until I read this review; we don’t have Payday bars in Australia. And this is kind of the thing Americans don’t understand about being not-American. Whenever American media portrays foreigners as being confused about American culture, it’s the big and obvious things we’re meant to be ignorant about. (The way Americans are ignorant of the big and obvious things in our cultures.) What is this freedom you speak of? Please explain “Friends.” But, no, it’s that there will be a joke about a candy bar, and we won’t even realize we’re missing something, because, well, a man rapping in a candy bar outfit is pretty funny anyways, right?


[M]ost conservatives are not libertarians, even if they like to use libertarian rhetoric now and then.

Think about it: the modern Republican party may be the party of deregulation and low taxes, but it’s also the party of social illiberalism. Someone like Rick Santorum firmly believes that the government has no right to tell business owners what they can do in the workplace, but has every right to tell ordinary citizens what they can do in the bedroom. William Buckley’s God and Man at Yale was in large part a diatribe against the notion that colleges were teaching students about unemployment and how to fight it; but what Buckley wanted was, in effect, for those colleges to get back to their proper role, which was religious indoctrination. In its heyday National Review was a staunch supporter of free markets; but it was also a staunch supporter of Jim Crow — which wasn’t just about the right of white business owners to discriminate against blacks, it was about a system of laws designed to protect white privilege.

All of this makes no sense if you think of liberalism versus conservatism as a simple argument about the size and role of the state

Now, there are some real libertarians out there, particularly in the realm of economics bloggers, but they have no real power base. Even when politicians claim to be libertarian, there are telltale giveaways: the two R. Pauls, father and son, may be unusual in questioning the national security state, but they both have a remarkable tendency to cater to and/or employ white supremacists.

Paul Krugman, “Conservatives Are (Mostly) Not Libertarians,” The New York Times, August 17, 2013

This is really important in two ways. First, no, there are actually really very few libertarians in existence. They are entirely marginal to mainstream politics and very few people are interested in their ideas. The purest, most honest libertarians are fairly hostile to democracy, both because they recognize that democratic systems of governance are designed to act as a counterbalance to the power of the propertied (and therefore with the best opportunity to exploit property rights) and because the demos is actively hostile to their prescriptions, regardless of any conservative fantasies regarding “libertarian populism.” 

It’s no mistake that, of all the wacky ideological minorities out there — libertarians, communists, Five Percenters, LaRouchers — the only ones to get real play amongst the punditry are those who predominantly belong to the same social caste as political reporters: white, urbane, male, upper-middle class.

The other important point is that it’s easy to exaggerate the crossover between libertarianism and conservatism by pretending conservatism actually cares about the dorky philosophical arguments libertarians have regarding what freedom really means. It doesn’t. Our collective persuasion that it does is both a credit to conservative rhetoric and symptomatic of the way too many academics and political journalists think that just because they have libertarian friends, so does everyone else.


But there’s also the Madisonian version of this, which would stress that these majorities are almost always illusions. Returning to abortion: it’s true that pollsters can obtain answers from most people about the topic, but the truth is that many people (most people?) don’t actually care very much about abortion at all. That’s sometimes hard for those of us who spend a lot of time thinking about politics to understand, because we’re likely to care about plenty of issues as a function of caring about politics at all. But plenty of people only care about a handful of issues, or just one, or even none. They’ll vote (at least in most major elections), and pay some attention when elections get near, but they just aren’t engaged with “the issues” the way that those who really care about politics are. Among other things, that’s one of the reasons why changing polling questions in subtle ways can produce very different answers: Most respondents don’t have deep-seated opinions, and therefore will respond differently to slightly different versions of a question. You aren’t going to get a true pro-life or pro-choice believer to give the “wrong” answer by stacking a question, but you’ll get the people who don’t care much about the issue to flip, because for them there is no “right” answer that reveals what they “really” think. They don’t really think about it. (They might in the future if something happens to get them involved. That’s not their current position, however).

In this way of thinking about things, there’s really no “majority” on most issues. There are only pluralities (and multiple pluralities) of those who have real positions, and then lots of people who don’t care very much. As for Fiorina’s argument, the more attentive people are, the more likely they are to adhere to the party’s (relatively extreme) positions, which makes it even less likely that his “majority” of the middle is any more legitimate than the “majorities” created by either side.

Jonathan Bernstein, “In Politics, ‘Majority Is a Complicated Idea,” Bloomberg View, February 25, 2014

And here’s the problem with the quirk in the Australian electoral system that is mandatory voting: it puts decisive electoral questions in the hands of these voters who have few real opinions.

Add to that:

On the other hand, make it too easy for the parties to enact those constructed majorities and too many people and groups can no longer be “heard effectively.” Especially if the parties themselves aren’t sufficiently permeable. If those majorities were real, that wouldn’t be a problem, because as long as one of the parties faithfully represented that majority, then the parties would be doing their job. But since the majorities don’t precede the political system, it’s important that everyone have an opportunity to construct them. Even if, in the event, few do.

So not only do we ask people who have little interest to cast the deciding vote in choosing a government, we then create a government from parties that are composed exactly as Bernstein warns they should not be: impermeable, and acting upon policies a select group of insiders have decided represent majority opinion.


In New York, where thousands of bearded hipsters scamper around Williamsburg or Brooklyn reading Kerouac and drinking whisky, a new trend in facial hair has emerged.

Rachel Clun, “’Beard transplants’ are now a thing,” The Sydney Morning Herald, February 26, 2014

So, yeah, “Williamsburg or Brooklyn” is what happens when you start thinking of real places as trendpiece shorthand.


From the air, flying over Phoenix, you notice the nothingness first of all. It resembles a tan- and cocoa-colored moon, except that there are vast splotches of green-golf courses and the other pampered land where irrigation systems have been installed. From my Geology course, I knew that everything below me had once been a shallow ocean; and at dusk, when I flew into Phoenix, the shadows on the rocks were a tropical-sea purple, and the tumbleweeds were aquamarine — so that I could actually imagine the ocean that once was there. In truth, Phoenix still resembled a shallow sea, marred by the fake greens and blues of swimming pools. Some ten or twenty miles in the distance, a jagged ridge of reddish, tea-colored mountains were here and there capped with waxy deposits of limestone — to a New Englander, they looked like dirty snow. But it was far too hot for snow.

Although, at dusk, the sun had lost its intensity, the dry heat shimmered above the tarmac; despite a breeze, the heat persisted with furnacelike generation. After the heat, I noticed the palm trees — all the beautiful, towering palm trees.
John Irving, A Prayer for Owen Meany (1989)

thesinglesjukebox:

MIRANDA LAMBERT - AUTOMATIC
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"My Nokia 5150 didn’t have Flappy Bird but, by gum, that was a cell phone with heart…"

Jonathan Bradley: “Where the traditionalist takes the objects of his desire for granted, the conservative cannot. He seeks to enjoy them precisely as they are being — or have been — taken away,” Corey Robin wrote. “But as soon as those objects enter the medium of political speech, they cease to be items of lived experience and become incidents of an ideology.” I’m tempted to end my blurb there: return fire in a culture war against a singer who, if you’ve convinced yourself that all her words are polemic, prefers women to end marriages through murder rather than divorce. But though ideology and culture are intertwined, they’re not equivalent, and, truthfully, most Americans are simply not political. Lines on “Automatic” like “We drove all the way to Dallas just to buy an Easter dress/We’d take along a Rand McNally, stand in line to pay for gas” are about memory and the hazy process of constructing personal narrative, not literal Luddism. There are more moments in “Automatic” like this, but there are also list items, which are not particularly interesting, especially not over a guitar arrangement that remembers what it was like to wait for hours until that OneRepublic download had completed. “‘Remember when’ is the lowest form of conversation,” Tony Soprano once sniped, and even if he’s right, it’s one in which we are nonetheless all too likely to engage. That propensity crosses party lines.

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[Read, comment and vote on The Singles Jukebox ]

What was I just saying b/w the footnote here b/w stop thinking like a campaign consultant. With bonus track: look, if Miranda Lambert’s obviously not interested in maintaining ideological consistency across her work, why should I go looking for it?

Maybe also check Soto on Eric Church.


So here is a story about friendship and Taylor Swift (but mostly about friendship)

I wrote a thing about felon disenfranchisement in America and how Eric Holder says it should stop, but then it became about how America and Australia actually have quite different understandings of the relationship between voting and democracy (that pic above is from the Australian Electoral Commission’s FAQ for people in prison). And then I quoted a bunch of stuff the Founding Fathers said at the Constitutional Convention because American history who can resist. And I could do it because I’m my own editor what do you mean I can’t ramble on about differing cultural approaches to government when I started out commenting on a speech by the US attorney general?
And now you can go read it.

I wrote a thing about felon disenfranchisement in America and how Eric Holder says it should stop, but then it became about how America and Australia actually have quite different understandings of the relationship between voting and democracy (that pic above is from the Australian Electoral Commission’s FAQ for people in prison). And then I quoted a bunch of stuff the Founding Fathers said at the Constitutional Convention because American history who can resist. And I could do it because I’m my own editor what do you mean I can’t ramble on about differing cultural approaches to government when I started out commenting on a speech by the US attorney general?

And now you can go read it.



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