Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween!

Sorry for the blog-silence today. I woke up this morning with a nasty stomach flu, and haven't had the energy to do much of anything, including blog, all day long. I'm feeling a bit better now, and hopefully I'll be in good shape by morning -- if I am, and if Becky doesn't come down with the same bug, we plan to drive down to Pueblo for the Barack and Michelle Obama rally.

I'm hoping to make it out to as many election-related events as possible over the next few days, like for example this McCain event, to take pictures for my election photo gallery. (Unfortunately, I missed this rally because of my stomach flu. Harumph!)

Electoral College Contest reminder

Just a reminder that time is running out to enter the Electoral College Contest. The deadline is noon Eastern Time on Monday. That's also the deadline for previous entrants to change their picks. (Full rules here.)

Here is the current aggregate map of all picks, with the lighter shades indicating less unanimity in the predictions:

That map translates to a 338-200 victory for Obama. And the average popular-vote prediction is roughly 52-46 Obama.

Again, you can enter your picks here.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

We're here!

Finally! At our place in Denver. Yay!

UPDATE: Here's a photo of the Mazda crossing the Colorado state line this afternoon, as related live in this audioblog post:

And here's a shot of me in Russell, Kansas this morning:

Rocky Mountains!

We just caught our first glimpse of the Rockies in the distance! Passing through Limon now. 85 miles to Denver.

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The open road

In western Kansas. Just entered the Mountain Time Zone -- our home time zone from now on!

(Posted via cell phone using Flickr.)

Almost there, kitties!

Saw Bob Dole's old house, got picture with Russell water tower. Now heading back to freeway for the final stretch of our drive. Roughly five hours to Denver.

(Posted via cell phone using Flickr.)

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

It's all about the senators

When I wake up tomorrow morning, it'll be my 27th birthday -- and I will officially start the 28th year of my life in Russell, Kansas, the hometown of former U.S. Senator and presidential candidate Bob Dole.

That's right -- we're spending the night in Russell, the small city of 5,000 people that was made famous by Dole's biographical campaign videos in 1996 and his Super Bowl Visa commercial in 1997. Given what a political junkie (and, on a personal level, a Bob Dole fan) I am, this stop is sort of like "my Kentwood" for the road trip: Becky got to visit Britney Spears's hometown, and I get to spend the night in Bob Dole's. :)

But our stop in Russell -- which is also the birthplace of Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania -- isn't even the most momentous Senate-related event of the day. As I mentioned and audioblogged earlier, we chanced upon Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) during lunch in Ardmore, Oklahoma, this afternoon, and got a picture with him. As any politician worth his salt would, Inhofe made a beeline for the cute baby:


Heh. More photos from Day 3 of our road trip here and here.

Tomorrow, we finish our drive, and officially arrive in our new home: Denver!

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Phillies win!

(Posted via cell phone using Flickr.)

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We met a U.S. Senator!

Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) walked into the Two Frogs restaurant about five minutes after we did. What luck! He's campaigning for re-election, and stopped here in Ardmore to meet voters. We got a photo with the senator, Loyette and me; stay tuned for that.

(Posted via cell phone using Flickr.)

Real food!

Stopped for a sit-down lunch at the Two Frogs Grill in Ardmore, Oklahoma. Man cannot live on fast food alone!

(Posted via cell phone using Flickr.)

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Day 2

First of all, as promised, here's the video of Becky and Loyette entering Louisiana -- Becky's 50th state, and Loyette's 16th.

Thrilling stuff, I know. ;)

Loyette, it should be noted, later added a 17th state, Texas, to her list. She'll get #18 and #19, Oklahoma and Kansas, tomorrow. But for Becky, there are no more "new" states to visit. She's been to all fifty!


See also here, and of course here. As for me, I'd already been to Louisiana, and am still "stuck" at 49 states -- I've been to all of 'em except Alaska. Grumble, grumble.

Anyway, it was another long but enjoyable day of road-tripping in the general direction, roughly speaking, of Denver. The weather has been beautiful, if a bit chilly and blustery, throughout our drive so far -- and although the scenery has been limited by the fact that we're staying mostly on the interstates, there have still been some very pretty stretches. Today's highlight was probably I-10 between Baton Rouge and Lafayette, which has all sorts of neat swampy and watery views.

Besides, to me, the open road is itself a form of scenery.


The reddish speck ahead in the left lane is the Mazda, driven by Becky. And, yes, I took the picture while driving. So sue me. :) When the road is that flat, straight, and empty...

Anyway, we've stopped for the night in Canton, Texas -- county seat of Van Zandt County, target of a Stephen Colbert insult, and home of the Dairy Palace and its "World-Famous Hamburgers":


Notice the message on the white sign: "MAY GOD ALMIGHTY HAVE MERCY UPON THIS NATION OF." Of what?!? Inquiring minds want to know!

As I mentioned in my last audioblog, the Texas state-line sign boasts of the Lone Star State's status as the "home of President George W. Bush" -- and so does the hotel we're staying in. When you walk into the lobby, you see this:


Upon seeing the photos, I asked, tongue-in-cheek, whether the photos were up because President Bush had stayed here. The friendly manager lady responded, equally tongue-in-cheek, that indeed he had, and we'd be staying in the room he'd used. Heh. She then added, "Naw, I don't think he's ever even heard of Canton, Texas." The pictures, she said, are up for general "Texas pride" reasons.

Later, when I came back to ask if I could take a pictures of the Bush photos, she happily agreed but then quipped, "You're not working for the Obama campaign, are you? I don't want to be next week's Joe the Plumber on the news." LOL!!

It's a good thing she didn't get a look at my car, because it does have an Obama sign in the window, and an Obama bumper sticker on the back:


I actually wondered, as I was driving through Baton Rouge, which of the above-pictured car decorations is more inflammatory and offensive, from a typical Louisianan's perspective: the Obama stuff, or the USC Trojans license-plate holder? :)

I did get questioned about my political allegiances once today, by a convenience-store employee in Amite, Louisiana. I had mentioned something during our first conversation about being originally from the North, and then when I returned to the store to buy something else a few minutes later, she asked -- having evidently seen my car -- "You said you're a Northerner, right? So you're for Obama?" Heh. When I responded in the affirmative, she left it there, though I had the distinct feeling she was biting her tongue.

I saw one car in Baton Rouge with Obama stickers on it, but, as expected, most of the presidential paraphernailia we've seen on this trip (of which there has not been much in any event) has been of the pro-McCain variety. For example, a pair of stickers on a car parked near ours in Osyka, Mississippi, just across the border from Louisiana:


Where to tomorrow? Well, now that our southward dip to "tag" Louisiana is over with, our route is pretty straightforward from here on out:

View Larger Map

The main issue tomorrow promises to be the morning rush hour heading into Dallas, which I'm not sure we can leave early enough to avoid -- unless we decide to get off the interstate and bypass the city entirely, perhaps by way of the Salt Palace. I sort of doubt that will happen, but we'll see.

And now, to bed.

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Becky's 50th state


Video later.


Becky has now been to all 50 states -- stay tuned for photo and video of her crossing the Louisiana border :) -- and we visited the Kentwood Museum, with its Britney exhibit. Now in Amite, stopping
for lunch.

(Posted via cell phone using Flickr.)

Frost in Mississippi!

(Posted via cell phone using Flickr.)

Monday, October 27, 2008

Awake in Mississippi

Day 1 of our road trip to Denver is complete. We've stopped for the night in Pearl, Mississippi, after a long, but relatively uneventful, afternoon and evening of driving. The weather was beautiful, and some of the roadside scenery was quite pretty, especially up in the Tennessee-Georgia-Alabama border area. Still, we're all glad to be out of the cars and in the comparatively spacious confines of our motel room. Especially the cats:


Heh. That's the dog kennel, which we've rigged up as a massive cat carrier in the Mazda. It works pretty well, though it rattles a bit. It's also partially visible from the car seat, which gives Loyette something to look at during the drive: annoyed kitties prowling around. :)

Anyway, as I mentioned in my final audioblog post of the evening, although I've been to Mississippi before, this is the first time I've ever been awake in the Magnolia State. In the summer of 2002, I took an Amtrak train from New Orleans to Washington, D.C., and it passed through Mississippi -- but I slept through the whole thing, having fallen asleep near Lake Pontchartrain and not awakened until the train stopped in Birmingham. So, although I've been able to say since January 2005 that I've been to all of the contiguous 48 states, my claim on Mississippi was the most tenuous. Not anymore.

Tomorrow, Becky will get her 50th state -- Louisiana -- and then she'll make her pilgrimage to Britney Spears's hometown of Kentwood. Our chosen stopping place puts us about 90 minutes from there, so that'll all happen pretty early in the morning. Then we'll head to Baton Rouge and Shreveport, eventually stopping for the night, I'm guessing, somewhere in the vicinity of Dallas:

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You know, if we time this right, maybe we can stop in Bob Dole's hometown of Russell, Kansas tomorrow night. :) I'm sure the folks there would appreciate my car's decor. Heh.

And now, I'm going to stop blogging, and do what I did the last time I was in Mississippi: sleep. G'nite all.

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A sign of the Apocalypse?

Ted Stevens convicted. Ty Willingham resigns. We're in Union, Alabama... where there are Obama hats on sale at the gas station!!

(Posted via cell phone using Flickr.)

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Rollin', rollin', rollin'

We're in Alabama, home of the #2 Crimson Tide.

(Posted via cell phone using Flickr.)

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And we're off!

(Posted via cell phone using Flickr.)

I Voted Today

For Barack and Lamar -- a symbolic vote for divided government. Loyette got a little cranky while we were in the voting booth. Maybe she wanted me to vote for McCain? Or, y'know, maybe she's hungry
and/or sleepy. :)

(Posted via cell phone using Flickr.)

Movers are here

Meanwhile, Loyette and I will be going to the polling place shortly, to vote.

(Posted via cell phone using Flickr.)

Go west, young man

As I mention in my audio post below, Becky, Loyette and I will shove off for Colorado later today. Our exact departure time depends on when the movers finish loading up our furniture and all of our boxes... of which there are quite a few:


That's like half of 'em. :) Anyway, I'm guessing we'll leave sometime in the afternoon.

Our planned route is somewhat, er, circuitous:

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There are three reasons for this. First of all, Louisiana is the only state Becky hasn't yet been to, and she'll be damned if she leaves the South without finally crossing its borders, so she can say she's been in all fifty states! Secondly, and relatedly, Becky wants to stop in Kentwood, Louisiana, hometown of Britney Spears (her Master's thesis topic, you might recall), and visit the Kentwood Museum, which has a Britney exhibit. Heh.

Last but not least, well, this might be our last ever cross-country move, and it would just be boring if the road trip was a simple straight shot! Besides, we've taken the 70 across Missouri and Kansas like a half-dozen times already, or at least it seems that way. So, yeah, we're crazy dorks, but we're going like 10 hours out of our way -- with a baby and three cats in tow -- just for the heck of it. :)

Anyway... blogging will be light this week, for obvious reasons. Because Becky and I will be driving separate cars, I won't be able to blog from the road like usual, except perhaps the occasional audio update via my cell phone's wireless headset, and maybe a regular post or two from our hotels along the route. We expect to arrive in Denver on Thursday -- my birthday.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

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Breaking news

Drudge siren: "U.S. CHOPPERS STRIKE TARGETS IN SYRIA." October surprise?

Saturday, October 25, 2008

College football Week 9 open thread

I'm a little late with this, but... here's today's scoreboard.



UPDATE: Also underway: Game 3 of the World Series.

UPDATE, 2:00 AM: Irish win, Trojans win, Phillies win. And I'm going to bed.

Friday, October 24, 2008

The runoff to end all runoffs?

Five Thirty Eight points out something intriguing that I hadn't realized about the crucial U.S. Senate race in Georgia between Republican incumbent Saxby Chambliss and Democratic challenger Jim Martin:
A run-off will occur in December if neither candidate achieves a 50 percent majority (a distinct possibility as Libertarian Allan Buckley is likely to draw somewhere between 1 and 4 percent of the vote). It is hard to say which candidate would benefit from a run-off, but the default assumption is probably Saxby Chambliss, who wouldn't have to contend with an Obama turnout surge then, and who might benefit from an appeal to divided government (assuming that Obama wins the Presidency). Then again, in a world where Obama has prevailed, Democratic morale is likely to be much, much higher than Republican morale, and Democratic wallets are likely to be a bit more open; we could easily see eight figures pumped into a run-off election from each side.
Imagine if the Democrats pick up eight seats on November 4, getting them to 59, and the Georgia runoff determines whether they get to a 60-seat, filibuster-proof supermajority. (Or imagine if, perhaps just as crucially, they get to 60 on November 4, and the Georgia runoff determines whether they get to 61, which would give them a Lieberman-proof, filibuster-proof supermajority.) That could be one helluva runoff.

P.S. One factor that increases the odds of a runoff: the Bob Barr effect. Barr, the Libertarian candidate for president, is, of course, a native of Georgia, and presumably he'll do a bit better there than nationally. If so, his candidacy could have some "coattails," causing more votes for down-ballot Libertarian candidates, including the potential Senate spoiler, Buckley. It will be a relatively small effect, but it could be enough to push a close call over the edge into runoff territory.

Will the Phillies doom John McCain?

John McCain is seemingly staking his electoral hopes on Pennsylvania -- a state where he doesn't look competitive right now (see poll chart at the end of this post), but never mind that for a moment -- and, in particular, on the Philadelphia suburbs.

But something else is happening in Philadelphia right now, something much bigger than a presidential election: a World Series! :)

I kid, sort of, but actually this is a serious question. With the best-of-seven series tied at 1-1, there are guaranteed to be three World Series games in Philly -- tomorrow, Sunday and Monday -- and, depending on how things go, there could potentially be a Game 6 and 7 back in Tampa on Wednesday and Thursday. If the Phillies win, we could be looking at a victory parade in Philadelphia next weekend... two or three days before the election!

So, the question is: how difficult is it going to be for McCain to break through all the baseball-related noise, which I imagine must be pretty huge in the local media and around area water coolers, to capture the public's attention in the coming week? (It'll be equally difficult for Obama, of course, but he's already ahead, so he doesn't really need the public to pay attention.)

Say what you will about the relative importance of sports and politics, but there's a reason the parties avoid scheduling their conventions during the Olympics, and it isn't because these sorts of distractions don't matter. Indeed, once upon a time, it was widely assumed that the World Series was such a distraction for the whole nation that presidential campaigning would drastically taper off during the Series. Baseball doesn't enjoy that sort of stature anymore, but when the local team in the nation's most important swing region (if you believe the McCain strategy, anyway) is playing for its first championship since 1980, that's a whole different story.

Bottom line, there's only so much news that the average Joe Sixpack the Plumber Citizen can take in at once, and right now, I would think the average Philadelphia-area resident's news-watching priorities are something like: 1. Phillies. 2. Phillies. 3. The election. 4. Annoyance at campaign ads during Phillies games. 5. GO PHILLIES!!! Am I wrong about this?

* * * * *

Anyway, about those polls:

Unless there's something very screwy with a whole lot of polls, this Phillies thing may be a moot point.

Where things stand

In case anybody was wondering, here's what the "aggregate" Electoral College Contest prediction map looks like right now, with 18 predictions in:

The two "up for grabs" states are perfect ties -- nine people are picking McCain, nine are picking Obama.

Remember: the deadline to enter (or change your picks) is Monday, November 3 at noon EDT. Here's the signup form.

Tuke vs. Alexander

Sometime on Monday, I'll cast my vote in the 2008 election at an "early voting" polling place here in Knoxville. I've already made up my mind about the presidential race, but I'm still undecided between Bob Tuke and Lamar Alexander for the U.S. Senate.

Admittedly, this is really an academic exercise, since Lamar is going to win easily. (My vote for Obama is equally pointless, since he's going to lose by a landslide here. But I digress.) Still, I want to make an informed choice.

I don't know how many Tennessee readers I have these days, but if you're out there, I'm asking for your input: can anybody point me toward -- or, for that matter, would anyone care to make -- a good argument, one way or the other, about the Tuke-Alexander race? Or, if not an "argument" per se, any good information that might be lurking on the Interwebs? (No source is too obvious. I haven't done my homework on this yet. This weekend I will.)

My inclination, at present, is to vote for Alexander, resulting in my casting a "split ticket" ballot: Barack and Lamar. I am so inclined mostly as a symbolic vote against a filibuster-proof Senate, which I think would be a bad thing. (I say "symbolic" because, as I already noted, Alexander isn't one of the threatened GOP senators. If this is such a "wave election" that he loses, we could be talking about a 70-seat Dem majority. Heh.)

But I must admit, I haven't followed the race very closely, so I don't know much about either Alexander or Tuke. I remember Lamar's checkered lumberjack shirts from the 1996 presidential campaign, of course, but he's been largely off my personal radar since then. That said, I found the Tennessean's endorsement -- "this newspaper has not always endorsed [Alexander's] campaigns ... but we recognize Alexander's emergence in the past few years as a consensus-builder in a highly partisan U.S. Senate" -- pretty convincing. Conversely, I found the Democratic arguments against Alexander rather unconvincing when I heard both Tuke and one of his primary opponents, Bob Padgett, speak at the Truman Day Dinner back in May. It was pretty basic, boilerplate stuff: Alexander is a Republican, he votes with Bush a lot, he's "lost touch" with his home state, he's a "Washington, D.C." guy now, he doesn't care about "average Tennesseans," etc. etc. Basically just your standard-fare anti-incumbent, anti-GOP arguments. I couldn't help but think, "Is that all you got?"

But anyway... I'm definitely open to persuasion, so if anybody here, Tennessean or not, has strong feelings about either Alexander or Tuke, or has read anything interesting about 'em and would like to send along the link, consider this an open invitation to try and sway my vote. :)

[Posted on 10/23 at 1:23 PM; bumped to top. -ed.]

Thursday, October 23, 2008

All together now: The chart weight in grams... a mole, is a mole!

Dear readers, I have a confession to make. I almost forgot that today is National Mole Day. A major hat tip to alert reader JT for preventing such a calamity (calamole-ty?).

Anyway... Happy Mole Day!!!

Alas, interest is apparently so high that the National Mole Day Foundation's website has actually crashed under the traffic strain. OH, THE MOLE-MANITY!!! I blame Ned Lamont supporters. :P

P.S. In honor of the day, ACORN has registered another 6.02 x 1023 new voters in Indianapolis. Meanwhile, earlier today, Barack Obama was seen palling around with several elitist, unrepentant chemists.

Not to be outdone, Sarah Palin celebrated Mole Day by shooting six moles from a helicopter. (She was unable to figure out how to shoot an additional .02 of a mole.) Asked whether she understands that Mole Day is actually about molecular chemistry, not furry animals, Palin replied, "You betcha!"

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Geeking out

I've just discovered Congressional Quarterly's map of all 435 House races. It's awesome. By default, it shows you the "Projected Landscape" -- every single district is mapped, and shaded in either red (safe GOP), dark pink (GOP favored), light pink (leans GOP), yellow (tossup), light blue (leans Dem), medium blue (Dem favored), or dark blue (safe Dem).

That's already more than most polling & prognostication sites offer. (, for instance, doesn't bother with most of the "safe" House races, and doesn't map the individual districts; it just has little boxes for 'em. Real Clear Politics just has a table of the competitive seats -- no map, no safe seats. Same goes for And Five Thirty Eight doesn't cover the House at all.)

But CQ doesn't stop there! Click "Races to Watch," and the map colors all the "safe" district sa neutral gray, allowing you to focus on the contested races. Click on a state, and it gives you a close-up map of that state, from which you can click an individual district for more information on that race. As I said: awesome!

Meanwhile, back on the national map: click "Current Landscape," and it shows you which party holds the seats now. Click "2004 Presidential Results," and it shows you how each district voted between Bush and Kerry. Last but not least, if you prefer your House data in tabular form, they have that too, for all 435 races. Whee!! Political nerd heaven!!

The crisis continues

After recovering somewhat in the past few days from their slow-motion crash of recent weeks, stocks are down again today. But really, the news coverage of this financial/economic crisis has been far too stock-focused, and specifically Dow-focused. Even if the Dow's squiggly line goes back up, and we manage to go a few days without any new doom-and-gloom headlines about the happenings on Wall Street, that doesn't mean the broader crisis is over. On the contrary:
The commodity and emerging market booms are breaking in unison, leaving no more bubbles left to burst. Almost every corner of the world is now being drawn into the vortex of debt deflation. ...

From what I have been able to find out, shipping is slowing as fast as it did in the grim months of late 1931. “The crisis is now in full swing across the entire world,” said Giulio Tremonti, Italy’s finance minister. “It is hitting the real economy, the productive forces of industry. It’s global, it’s total, and it’s everywhere,” he said.
(Hat tip: InstaPundit.)

P.S. On other hand, there's this chart and this analysis suggesting that the credit markets are not "frozen" anymore -- they're "melting," slowly but surely.

Quote of the day

Politico's Roger Simon:
You are at home, it is dinnertime (which is when they call you because they figure you are at home then), and you are either trying to relax or get the kids fed, and the phone rings and it is this recorded voice saying: “I’m calling for John McCain and the RNC because you need to know that Barack Obama has worked with domestic terrorist Bill Ayers.”

And does that make you feel more or less positive about John McCain? Does it persuade you that McCain has a plan to save the economy? Or to help you pay your mortgage? Or that he has a steady hand on the tiller?

For the robocalls to be effective, the Republicans would need Bill Ayers to plant bombs today and not when Barack Obama was 8 years old. They need Ayers to plant bombs in key states right now with stickers on them that say: “I am Barack Obama, and I endorse this bomb.”

Monday, October 20, 2008

Electoral College contest underway!

With two weeks and a day until the election, it's time to get the second quadrennial Electoral College Contest started. You can enter the contest here.

The deadline to enter is noon EDT on the day before the election, Monday, November 3. If you enter and then change your mind, you can re-submit your picks at any time up until the deadline, either by filling out the above-linked form again from scratch, or by simply e-mailing me your new "embed code" and "link URL." (You'll understand what that means after you fill out the form.) Your latest entry will automatically replace any earlier entries.

If you have any technical difficulties signing up, particularly with the Flash map, or if anything is confusing, please let me know. Thanks!

As I explained previously, I've simplified the rules this year: the winner will simply be the person who gets the least number of electoral votes wrong. The "differential" between the candidates' EV totals and each contestant's prediction of their EV totals will be used only as a tiebreaker, not as a determining factor in the standings, as it was four years ago. This mostly eliminates the advantage of making multiple "offsetting" errors. For a further elucidation of the significance of this change, go here.

There is no requirement that the contest winner must necessarily have predicted the correct overall winner in the election. Fundamentally, this is a state-by-state prediction contest, not a national prediction contest. However, there is a tiebreaker that rewards getting the overall winner right. More on this in the "UPDATE" below.

Just like four years ago, I will abide by the final popular-vote result in each state (and, in the case of Maine and Nebraska, each congressional district), as certified by the relevant governing authority in that state; “faithless electors” will not be taken into account. A winner will be declared as soon as the state-by-state election results are sufficiently complete that such a declaration is possible.

Initial results will be posted on Election Night, during the planned Mother of All Liveblogs, using my nifty map / table / liveblog / livechat interface. :) However, those initial results are subject to change in the event of reversed media “calls,” recounts, lawsuits and so forth. I will have the ultimate discretion to determine, within the letter and spirit of the rules and in the interests of fairness, how to deal with unforeseen controversies that may arise in the event of disputed state elections.

The main prize is bragging rights, but the winner will also get a fun CafePress goodie of some kind. Four years ago, Mike Wiser's perfect map earned him a coffee mug with that selfsame map printed on it, along with a printed message declaring him the contest "champion":

Anyway, good luck, everyone! Again, the entry form is here.

UPDATE: I've changed the tiebreakers around a bit, and I'm moving their full text into this post:

Tiebreaker #1: Whoever comes closer, in absolute value terms, to predicting Obama's electoral-vote margin of victory/defeat, wins. (This is the "differential" rule.)

Tiebreaker #2: Any contestant who predicts the correct national EV winner finishes ahead of a tied contestant who predicted the wrong winner. For purposes of this rule, a 269-269 map is regarded as predicting an Obama victory. However, if the actual result is a 269-269 tie, this rule is inoperative, and we skip to tiebreaker #3.

Tiebreaker #3: Whoever has the least number of states wrong, wins. (The District of Columbia counts as a "state." As for Maine and Nebraska, if a contestant gets the at-large result right, but one or two congressional districts wrong, this will be counted as a "half-state" wrong.)

Tiebreaker #4: Whoever comes closer, in absolute value terms, to predicting Obama's national popular-vote margin of victory/defeat, wins.

Tiebreaker #5: Any contestant who correctly predicted the state with the closest popular-vote margin, in percentage terms, defeats any tied contestant who failed to do so.

Tiebreaker #6: Whoever comes closer, in absolute value terms, to predicting the number of Democratic Senate seats, wins.

Tiebreaker #7: Whoever comes closer, in absolute value terms, to predicting the number of Democratic House seats, wins.

Tiebreaker #8: Whoever comes closer, in absolute value terms, to predicting Obama's raw vote total in Colorado, wins.

In all cases, "faithless electors" will not be factored in, nor will any post-election party switches in Congress.

The reason I added an explicit "correct national EV winner" tiebreaker is because I realized I misspoke earlier when I said the "differential" tiebreaker guarantees that a tie would go to the contestant who got the right winner. For instance, suppose Obama wins 273-265, based on this map. Contestant A has a perfect map except he thought Obama would win Nevada (5 EVs). Contestant B has a perfect map except he thought McCain would win New Mexico (5 EVs). So, both contestants made 5 EVs worth of mistakes, and both have a "differential" of 10. (Contestant A predicted an Obama margin of +18; Contestant B predicted an Obama margin of -2; Obama's actual margin was +8, halfway in between the two.) In my view, Contestant A should win in this scenario, because he got the actual winner right.

UPDATE 2: Upon further review, I've decided to have "differential" be the first tiebreaker, and "right winner" the second tiebreaker. I could make a case for either order, but I think, on balance, this order is fairer. Of course, in the scenario I described above, this would make no difference, since the differentials are identical, but in some cases it could make a difference. So, the way the rules are now written, the "right winner" rule only applies if the tied contestants have the same number of EVs wrong and the same EV "differential."

Sunday, October 19, 2008

BCS standings & ALCS open thread

First of all... my baseball blogging has been woefully subpar, indeed almost nonexistent, this postseason. Honestly, I've just been too consumed with politics and other things (my job, my baby, our impending move, college football, etc.) to pay all that much attention. But with the Red Sox playing in the Game 7 of the ALCS tonight, I figure an open thread is the least I can do. So, if anybody is hanging out here while watching the game, comment away. Oh, and GO SAWX!!

[UPDATE: Rays win. Darn it. ... David Price, a 2007 draft pick from Vanderbilt who is practically fresh out of the minors, got Tampa Bay out of a two-out, bases-loaded jam in the eighth, then earned the save in the ninth. Remarkable! ... So it's Rays vs. Phillies in the World Series. Who'd have thunk it?]

Meanwhile, in college football, the first BCS standings are out. No surprise on the top 3: Texas, Alabama and Penn State. The other major-conference unbeatens, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech, are #6 and #8, but would undoubtedly jump over everyone except Alabama (sorry, JoePa) if they win out. Among the one-loss teams, Oklahoma is #4, USC is #5, Georgia is #7, Ohio State is #9 and Florida is #10. With the strongest part of their schedule behind them, the Trojans could very well get leapfrogged even if they win out, as their already-low computer rating declines further, and other one-loss teams have more high-profile opportunities for quality wins. They're safe vis a vis Ohio State, for obvious reasons, but I would put Georgia, Florida and possibly #13 LSU ahead of them in the pecking order, as well as a one-loss Alabama or one-loss Texas, if those teams lose soon but rally to win their conferences. (Not sure about one-loss Okie State or Texas Tech.)

The race for an automatic at-large bid among the non-BCS conference teams is also pretty interesting. There are six contenders: unbeatens Utah (#11), Boise State (#12), Tulsa (#19) and Ball State (#21), and one-loss teams TCU (#15) and BYU (#21). Although currently ahead of Boise State by just a whisker, Utah is by far the leading contender; the Utes are ranked #8 by the computers, and will inevitably climb in the human polls if they win out, especially with big games remaining against both TCU and BYU. (With Fresno State being such a disappointment, Boise State has no equivalently big games left.) Indeed, I still think Utah could even climb into the national title game if everything breaks right, particularly if it's a battle for the #2 spot against USC. (Utah beat Oregon State the week after the Beavers beat the Trojans, and the Mountain West went 6-1 against the Pac-10. How could the unbeaten Utes be denied against the one-loss Trojans?)

If Utah doesn't go undefeated, Boise State is next in line for a BCS at-large bid. After that, it could be a dogfight between a one-loss Mountain West champ (TCU, BYU or Utah) and an undefeated Conference USA champ (Tulsa) or MAC champ (Ball State) for the lone big-money bowl spot. Don't laugh: if undefeated Hawaii, with its incredibly weak schedule, could get a bid last year, so can undefeated Ball State or Tulsa. They may be down around 20th now, but they'll rise by attrition if they keep winning. (Hawaii was #18 in the first BCS standings last year.) All in all, it seems very likely that, for the third straight year, somebody from a non-BCS conference will get a BCS at-large bid -- especially given the possibility that either the Big East or the ACC (or both) will produce a lowly ranking champion, thus lowering the bar for at-large inclusion (Top 16 instead of Top 12).

Saturday, October 18, 2008

College football Week 8 open thread

USC is a 43-point favorite against Washington State, whose games against Division I-A competition have been universally ugly, losing 39-13 to Oklahoma State, 66-3 to Cal, 45-17 to Baylor, 63-14 to Oregon, 28-3 to UCLA, and 66-13 to Oregon State.

Of course, USC was a 41-point favorite against Stanford last season, and we all remember how that turned out. Anyway, kickoff is at 3:30 PM EDT. Fight on Trojans, Beat the Cougars!

Here's today's scoreboard. Comment away.

UPDATE: USC 69, Wazzu 0. Um, ouch. (And yet, USC's computer ranking will plummet this week, simply because they had to play the Cougars. If there was ever a good example of why it's unfair to consider strength of schedule without somehow accounting for margin of victory, this is it.)

Meanwhile, Buffalo improved to 3-4 with a 27-24 home win over Army in overtime, as the Bulls rallied from not one, but two, 14-point deficits. Nice!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Noonan: Palin "not a leader," not fit for high office

Amen to Peggy Noonan, who turns decisively against Sarah Palin in today's column. The sub-headline -- "What is it she stands for? After seven weeks, we don't know." -- is good. The text is even better. I excerpt:
[W]e have seen Mrs. Palin on the national stage for seven weeks now, and there is little sign that she has the tools, the equipment, the knowledge or the philosophical grounding one hopes for, and expects, in a holder of high office. She is a person of great ambition, but the question remains: What is the purpose of the ambition? She wants to rise, but what for? For seven weeks I've listened to her, trying to understand if she is Bushian or Reaganite ... But it's unclear whether she is Bushian or Reaganite. She doesn't think aloud. She just . . . says things.

Her supporters accuse her critics of snobbery: Maybe she's not a big "egghead" but she has brilliant instincts and inner toughness. But what instincts? "I'm Joe Six-Pack"? She does not speak seriously but attempts to excite sensation—"palling around with terrorists." If the Ayers case is a serious issue, treat it seriously. She is not as thoughtful or persuasive as Joe the Plumber, who in an extended cable interview Thursday made a better case for the Republican ticket than the Republican ticket has made. In the past two weeks she has spent her time throwing out tinny lines to crowds she doesn't, really, understand. This is not a leader, this is a follower, and she follows what she imagines is the base, which is in fact a vast and broken-hearted thing whose pain she cannot, actually, imagine. She could reinspire and reinspirit; she chooses merely to excite. She doesn't seem to understand the implications of her own thoughts.

No news conferences? Interviews now only with friendly journalists? You can't be president or vice president and govern in that style, as a sequestered figure. This has been Mr. Bush's style the past few years, and see where it got us. You must address America in its entirety, not as a sliver or a series of slivers but as a full and whole entity, a great nation trying to hold together. When you don't, when you play only to your little piece, you contribute to its fracturing.

In the end the Palin candidacy is a symptom and expression of a new vulgarization in American politics. It's no good, not for conservatism and not for the country. And yes, it is a mark against John McCain, against his judgment and idealism.
One supposes Peggy Noonan is now to be labeled a sexist, or a closet Obamamaniac, or a cocktail-circuit faux-conservative, or some such thing. But regardless, bravo for speaking truth to power self-deluded fools.

(Hat tip: Becky.)

Matt Drudge is so... subtle

Less than a week after running a totally irrelevant photo of Barack Obama kissing a white woman near the top of his homepage for something like 24 hours straight, Matt Drudge is now inexplicably (ha!) illustrating the story "Colin Powell might endorse Obama" with a photo of Powell dancing with rappers:

The photo is from an event on Tuesday, and obviously has nothing, from the perspective of actual news judgment, to do with Powell potentially endorsing Obama. But it's fairly obvious what Drudge is doing here, just as it was fairly obvious what he was doing with the miscegenation, cough, excuse me, ahem, Obama-kissing-a-white-chick photo. In this case, Drudge's message to Middle America can be summed up as: "Colin Powell's going to endorse Obama? So? Who cares what Powell thinks? He isn't actually a revered elder Republican statesman whose opinion you should respect. No, he's just a black guy who likes to dance with thug rappers! By the way, did I mention Obama is black, too, and likes to kiss blonde, fair-skinned white women?"

I have tried, throughout this campaign, to avoid falling into the trap of seeing subliminal racism wherever I look. But damn, this is pretty blatant. Drudge has really lowered himself in the last week -- and that's saying something.

P.S. A bit of clarification on the "trap" I just mentioned. Often, I believe, liberals are too quick to assume that anything which could be racist, is racist. Subliminal racism is, by its nature, open to interpretation, but the liberal tendency is to adhere to the most uncharitable interpretation possible -- so, for instance, Bill Clinton's "fairy tale" comment, or John McCain's "that one" remark, somehow become "racist," just because it is conceivable that someone could say those things with racist intent, no matter how unlikely it is that such intent was actually present in the given case.

Conservatives have the opposite problematic tendency. They are prone to follow the most charitable interpretation possible, no matter how likely it seems, given the context and the possible alternative wordings and the potential benefits of playing the race card in a particular situation, that some subliminal racism was actually in play. Conservatives, in short, tend to defend any remark that could conceivably have been intended in a non-racist fashion. This is problematic because subliminal racism is, well, subliminal -- there's always going to be some alternative, legitimate, non-racist explanation for what's being said; otherwise it would be "blatant racism" instead of "subliminal racism"! Yet conservatives tend to give almost endless benefit of the doubt to those alternative explanations, even when the legitimate aspect of the remark in question could easily have been stated in a far less inflammatory way, if the speaker truly had no racist or race-related intent. Thus, for instance, no matter how strong the evidence is that the Republicans' "palling around with terrorists" line of attack has simultaneous dual purposes -- one legitimate purpose, to raise doubts about Obama's character and judgment, and one illegitimate purpose, to stoke the Manchurian Muslim and Radical Black Guy smears and rumors -- conservatives totally ignore the latter purpose or even the possibility thereof, and indeed act like it's completely outrageous that anyone would suggest that any such thing could be happening. (Liberals, of course, totally ignore the legitimate purpose.)

In other words, both sides get it wrong. (I spent more time explaining the conservatives' error because it's more subtle and nuanced, not because I necessarily think it's a graver or more common error.) Liberals act like everything is subliminal racism; conservatives act like there's no such thing as subliminal racism. This same duality will manifest itself, I guarantee you, if Obama loses the election: liberals will assume that the only possible explanation is voter racism (wrong), while conservatives will react against this assumption by asserting that racism couldn't possibly have been the cause, or part of it (also wrong). Liberals will scoff at even legitimate skepticism of race-based explanations, while conservatives will react furiously against anyone who even suggests that part of the explanation might have been racism. In the eyes of the Right, any such suggestion makes you a vile race-baiter who thinks all Flyover Country voters are racist hicks clinging to their guns and religion!

Needless to say, this is not a healthy mode of discussion, but it's where we're at as a country, and I don't know how to fix it. I do know, however, that Matt Drudge's drudgery with those two photos crosses the line to where I'm perfectly prepared to say that subliminal racism is clearly at work. The alternative explanations are just too flimsy, and the racist explanations are just too obvious, to conclude anything else.

More election photos

These ladies, employees of nearby Spa Visage, offered early voters goodies as they left the polls Friday afternoon: a bag of free spa products, a free cookie, or, for $2, a bar of soap that says "VOTE."

These gentlemen, a pair of young Republicans, tried to catch voters on their way into the polls, and convince them to vote against two amendments to the Knox County charter. The guy on the left also informed me that Barack Obama would not be eligible to serve as an FBI agent or a federal law enforcement officer because he "associates with a known terrorist." He presented this as if it were a legally operative fact.

Alleged terroristic ties notwithstanding :), I've given into Obamamania and festooned my car (seen here in downtown Knoxville, with the Sunsphere in the background) with campaign paraphernalia this week. See also here and here. There are actually a surprising number of Obama bumper stickers around town, given Knox County's strong Republicanism. Apropos of which, here's an interesting article on political diversity in Knoxville, linked by InstaPundit yesterday.

A rather amusing pro-Palin t-shirt for sale at the local GOP/McCain headquarters, showing a "pitbull with lipstick."

More here.

Apropos of nothing...

I think this would qualify as what Andrew Sullivan calls a "mental health break":

I've been known to sing that song to Loyette, which always makes Becky smile -- or perhaps smirk? -- just a little bit. :)

About those ACORN allegations...

Brendan Loy, on Wednesday: "I fail to see how 'Mickey Mouse' registering to vote threatens the foundations of our democracy -- it's not as if 'Mickey' will actually be able to vote on Election Day."

John McCain, a few hours later, in the debate: " now on the verge of maybe perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history in this country, maybe destroying the fabric of democracy."

Really, my friends? Hmm. Knoxville blogger R. Neal writes:
[I]f I told you that an organization was hired by a national political party to go out to swing states and pre-screen voters and only register new voters for their party and then shred applications for any others that slipped through, you'd be outraged that such a thing could happen.

But that's exactly what the Republican National Committee and Voter Outreach of America were accused of in the 2004 election. Investigations were launched in Nevada and Oregon, and the FBI was called in.

In contrast, no such allegations have surfaced against ACORN. At worst they are guilty of hiring people literally off the street and setting up voter registration quotas that dishonest employees game to get paid. And when these employees are caught, ACORN turns them in. In fact, ACORN is the victim of employee fraud, not to mention the baseless lies being spread by the GOP.

Ultimately, it's up to each secretary of state and county election board to verify voter registration forms, which ACORN is required by law to submit even if they are suspect (and which ACORN identifies as such). Election boards aren't going to register the same guy fifteen times, and they aren't going to register Bugs Bunny. And if you don't register in person you have to bring proof of identity when you show up to vote the first time. In short, there are plenty of checks and safeguards in place.

So this is much ado about nothing, and just another misdirection play by increasingly desperate Republican dead-enders who don't want to talk about the economy, foreign policy, or anything else of substance.
I'd love to see an intelligent, substantive rebuttal -- particularly to the points in the second-to-last paragraph, which seem common-sensical to me -- from a conservative. Can someone point me to one?

P.S. See also Josh Marshall:

The Republican party is grasping on to the ACORN story as a way to delegitimize what now looks like the probable outcome of the November election. It is also a way to stoke the paranoia of their base, lay the groundwork for legal challenges of close outcomes in various states and promote new legal restrictions on legitimate voting by lower income voters and minorities. The big picture is that these claims of 'voter fraud' are themselves a fraud, a tool to aid in suppressing Democratic voter turnout. But I want give readers a bit more detail to understand what is going because the right-wing freak out about ACORN happens pretty much on schedule every two years. The whole scam is premised on having enough people who don't remember when they tried it before who they can then confuse and lie to. And this is clearly important because I'm hearing from a lot of people whose heart is in the right place thinking some real voter fraud conspiracy has been uncovered and that Obama has to distance himself from it post-haste.

ACORN registers lots of lower income and/or minority voters. They operate all across the country and do a lot of things beside voter registration. What's key to understand is their method. By and large they do not rely on volunteers to register voters. They hire people -- often people with low incomes or even the unemployed. This has the dual effect of not only registering people but also providing some work and income for people who are out of work. But because a lot of these people are doing it for the money, inevitably, a few of them cut corners or even cheat. So someone will end up filling out cards for nonexistent names and some of those slip through ACORN's own efforts to catch errors. (It's important to note that in many of the recent ACORN cases that have gotten the most attention it's ACORN itself that has turned the people in who did the fake registrations.) These reports start buzzing through the right-wing media every two years and every time the anecdotal reports of 'thousands' of fraudulent registrations turns out, on closer inspection, to be either totally bogus themselves or wildly exaggerated. So thousands of phony registrations ends up being, like, twelve.

I've always had questions about whether this is a good way to do voter registration. And Democratic campaigns usually keep their distance. But here's the key. This is fraud against ACORN. They end up paying people for registering more people then they actually signed up. If you register me three times to vote, the registrar will see two new registrations of an already registered person and the ones won't count. If I successfully register Mickey Mouse to vote, on election day, Mickey Mouse will still be a cartoon character who cannot go to the local voting station and vote. Logically speaking there's very little way a few phony names on the voting rolls could be used to commit actual vote fraud. And much more importantly, numerous studies and investigations have shown no evidence of anything more than a handful of isolated cases of actual instances of vote fraud.

Read the whole thing.

Also, from ACORN's press release about this issue:

1. In order to help 1.3 million people register to vote, we hired more than 13,000 registration assistance workers. As with any business or agency that operates at this scale, there are always some people who want to get paid without really doing the job, or who aim to defraud their employer. Any large department store will have some workers who shoplift.

2. Any large voter registration operation will have a small percentage of workers who turn in bogus registration forms. Their goal clearly is not to cast a fraudulent vote. It is simply to defraud their employer, ACORN, by getting a paycheck without earning it. ACORN is the victim of this fraud – not the perpetrator.

3. In nearly every case that has been reported, it was ACORN that discovered the bad forms, and called them to the attention of election authorities, putting the forms in a package that identified them in writing as suspicious, encouraging election officials to investigate, and offering to help with prosecutions. We are required by law to turn in all forms, but instead of just turning them in and figuring that it is the responsibility of the board of elections to figure out which are valid, we spend millions of dollars verifying that forms are valid, and then separate out those that are suspicious.

4. This has nothing to do with “voter fraud” – nothing at all to do with anyone trying to cast an extra vote. There has never been a single reported instance in which bogus registration forms have led to anyone voting improperly. To do that, they would have to show up at the polls, prove their identity as all first-time registrants must, and risk jail. The people who turned in these forms did so not because they wanted an extra vote, but because they didn’t care enough to make sure eligible people got to vote at all.

5. When a department store calls the police to report a shoplifting employee, no one says the department store is guilty of consumer fraud. But for some reason, when ACORN turns voter registration workers over to the authorities for filling out bogus forms, it gets accused of “voter fraud.” This is a classic case of blaming the victim; indeed, these charges are outrageous, libelous, and often politically motivated.

6. Similar attacks were launched against ACORN and other voter registration organizations in 2004 and 2006. The bogus charges were at the heart of the U.S. Attorney-gate scandal that led to the resignations of Karl Rove, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and other top Justice Department Officials. It turned out that it was the charges that were fraudulent, and that they were part of a systematic partisan agenda of voter suppression. Republican U.S. Attorneys David Iglesias (NM), Todd Graves (MO), and John McKay (WA) all were fired primarily because they refused to prosecute similar bogus charges of “voter fraud.” Another U.S. Attorney, Bradley Schlozman, who did politicize prosecutions against former ACORN canvassers, was forced to acknowledge under cross examination by the Senate Judiciary Committee that ACORN was the victim of fraud by its employees and ACORN had caught the employees and had identified them to law enforcement.

7. The goals of the people orchestrating these attacks are to distract ACORN from helping people vote and to justify massive voter suppression. That’s the real voter fraud; the noise about a small fraction of the forms ACORN has turned in is meant to get the press and public take their eyes off the real threat, while those hurling the charges are stealing people’s right to vote in broad daylight. They have already tried to prevent Ohio from registering voters at its early voting sites. In Michigan, they planned to use foreclosure notices to challenge thousands of voters. And if this year is like past years, they are preparing to use this so-called voter fraud to justify massive challenges to voters in minority precincts on Election Day.

Again: I am genuinely interested in reading an intelligent, substantive, specific rebuttal of these points from a conservative who believes the allegations against ACORN are legit, and can demonstrate why. If anyone knows of such a rebuttal, please point me to it.

Sometimes, you gotta laugh

I think the Al Smith Dinner is one of the greatest traditions in American politics. I was totally bummed when Bush and Kerry weren't invited in 2004; I'm glad things are back on track in 2008. Here are McCain and Obama, roasting themselves and each other Thursday night:

Thursday, October 16, 2008


Er, so, about that whole BYU to the national championship game thing?

Um, yeah. Nevermind.

P.S. This is also a blow to Utah's title hopes. The Utes, though they have better computer ratings than the Cougars -- indeed, they're #4 in the country -- lag in the polls, and thus they needed a big, season-ending win over an undefeated, highly-ranked BYU team to give their ranking a late boost. Now they won't get that.

But hey, what do you expect? The Mountain West is a war. ;)

P.P.S. The BYU-Air Force game that I have tickets to, on November 15, just became a considerably less hot ticket. Harumph.

P.P.P.S. The AP article begins with the sentence "BYU can stop worrying about reaching the BCS." Not so fast, my friends. Don't be surprised if BYU sneaks back into consideration for a BCS bowl -- though not, of course, the title game -- by season's end. They just need to win out (including a win over Utah in the finale) and finish in the Top 16, ahead of a major-conference champion (I'm looking at you, Big East or ACC), and ahead of Boise State and all other mid-major conference champs. I'm not necessarily saying it's likely, but it's definitely not impossible. (Remember, Boise State had a shot as a one-loss team last year, if they'd beaten Hawaii.)

Pondering Election Night

Notwithstanding Drudge's desperate attempts to cherry-pick poll results demonstrating a McCain comeback, at present my predictive hunch of two-and-a-half weeks ago is looking pretty damn good. Barring a major shift in the electorate's mood, a very significant October surprise, the gaffe to end all gaffes by Obama, or a shockingly powerful rebirth of the Bradley Effect, it seems like there will really be only three major items of suspense on Election Night: how big will Obama's margin be; will he "clinch" before the polls close in California; and will the Democrats get a filibuster-proof Senate majority?

The first two items will make 2008 reminiscent of the relatively boring Election Nights of 1988, 1992 and 1996 (I'm too young to remember any before that, though 1984 can't have been scintillating either), rather than the thrilling, late-night roller-coaster rides of 2000 and 2004. The third item will make it feel a bit like a midterm election.

Oh, well. Either way, I'll still have fun with the Mother Of All Liveblogs. :)

P.S. Er, knock on wood.

The election begins in Tennessee

As I've mentioned several times, Wednesday was the first day of early voting here in Tennessee. Here are a few photos of the day by yours truly:

The first voter. Mary Fearey, right, of North Knoxville, arrived early at the downtown polling place, and was adamant that she be the first to vote. She was quite a character. She's sitting with her husband, who was voter #2. I didn't ask Mrs. Fearey who she was voting for, but I'm guessing it wasn't Obama: you can't see it here, but on the rim of her Yankees hat was a Duncan sticker.

The first-time voter. James Howell, 74, led Obama supporters' "march to the polls" Wednesday after giving a speech outside the campaign headquarters, in which he revealed that he had just now registered to vote for the first time in his life, and urged young people not to make the same mistake he did in staying uninvolved for so long.

Walking next to Howell, incidentally, is Kevin Barry, vice chairman of the Knox County Democratic Party, who suggested at the pre-march rally that Obama might have a shot in the solid-red Volunteer State. "Tennessee's closing," he asserted, "just like Georgia's closing, just like the other states are closing." Alas, I must have missed the polls that show Tennessee "closing." ;)

For what it's worth, Five Thirty Eight's model gives Obama a 1 percent chance of winning Tennessee. (So you're saying there's a chance!) But don't tell that to the Obama supporters I met yesterday -- they were plenty enthusiastic. And, heck, I bought a bumpersticker and a button, and festooned my car with a pair of Obama rally signs, so I'm hardly in a position to mock anyone for passionately supporting a lost cause here. :)

Speaking of the Volunteer State...

The Volunteer. I didn't get this guy's name, but I loved his shirt. And, coincidentally enough, the Tennessee Volunteers probably have about as good a chance of winning the SEC this year as Obama does of winning the Volunteer State! Heh.

The young Democrat. This kid was the life of the party at the rally. He got the crowd started with a rousing chant of "O-BA-MA! O-BA-MA!" His proud papa -- who is wearing a t-shirt from local business Yee-Haw Industries -- didn't seem to mind having an Obama sign directly in front of his face.

Last, but not least...

The Congressman? Bob Scott, Democratic candidate for Congress, listens to a speech at the pre-march rally outside the campaign headquarters. Scott, whose shoestring campaign consists mostly of a website and a prayer, faces overwhelming odds in his bid to unseat 10-term congressman Jimmy Duncan from a House seat that has been held by Republicans continuously since 1873 (and by Duncans continuously since 1964; Jimmy's father, John Duncan, Sr., held the seat for 12 terms, then died in office and was succeeded by his son John Jr., a.k.a. Jimmy).

Again, here is my Election 2008 photo gallery in full. It stretches all the day back to January. To view just Wednesday's photos, go to Page 1, Page 2 and Page 3.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Liveblog and livechat underway!

Click here to read and participate.

The liveblog/livechat page also features a live updating Phillies-Dodgers scoreboard widget. :) In addition, it displays a constantly updating, randomly selected collection of photos from my Election 2008 gallery.

UPDATE: Here's the liveblog replay:

Liveblog tonight at 8:30!

The final debate liveblog & livechat will begin tonight at 8:30 PM EDT. I decided to go with Youngblai's suggestion for the title: "Two Men and a Handbasket: McCain v. Obama III."

The "handbasket" theme seems rather appropriate, particularly with stocks tanking again today. Unfortunately, the title doesn't display quite right in the preview thingy...

...but it'll appear in full in the actual liveblog window.

Anyway, join us tonight at 8:30! And also, stay tuned for more Election 2008 photos, including a picture of the very first voter at the downtown Knoxville early-voting station.

Not Voting Today

As of yesterday, I was planning to vote today -- the first day of early voting here in Tennessee. I even changed my Facebook status yesterday to "Brendan is voting tomorrow!" But I've decided to wait. It just feels weird to cast my ballot so early. Even though I'm 99.99% sure I want to vote for Obama, what if that somehow changes? What if he comes out in tonight's debate and says, "Why actually, yes, I am a socialist and a terrorist"? ;)

Okay, that's not going to happen, but still, I'd rather wait a while longer. I have to vote early (though not often!) because of our unique geographic situation, but I figure I'll probably wait until Monday, October 27. That's just a week and a day before the actual election, which seems much more reasonable.

That said, I'm still going to take pictures of the Obama folks' march to the polls this afternoon, and of various other first-day-of-voting festivities, and post 'em in my Election 2008 gallery.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Into the trash

Recently, as part of the process of packing up for our big move to Denver, I was going through a bunch of old newspapers and magazines that I'd saved, throwing most of 'em away. One of the throwaways was the June 5 issue of The Economist, declaring the coming McCain-Obama general election to be "America at its best." How long ago that seems.

After I finished going through a particular pile of stuff, I noticed that the Economist in question happened to be at the top of my trash bag. The image struck me as rather evocative, in an ironic sort of way, so I snapped a picture:


That picture, incidentally, is part of my new Election 2008 gallery, which stretches all the way back to January, and also features a bunch of photos I just took today at the local Obama and McCain headquarters. You can view the most recent pictures easily here.

I'll be adding more photos tomorrow, as early voting officially begins at 10:00 AM, and the Obama people are doing a march to the polls at 5:30 PM. (They're meeting in front of HQ, which is at 207 W. Clinch Avenue downtown, at 4:45.) I'll also try to get some shots of the McCain people doing "visibility" in front of the polling place near their headquarters at 1539 Downtown West.

Voter fraud update

BREAKING NEWS: has uncovered more shocking evidence of ACORN voter fraud, right here in Knoxville! We have the smoking gun: photographic proof that these election-stealing "community organizers" recently tried to register a 10-foot-tall witch to vote, in broad daylight on Market Square!!

First dead voters, then Disney characters, and now supernatural, possibly satanic creatures? Have they no shame??

I blame Obama. :P

Liveblog title suggestions needed!

All right, here's a question for y'all. What should I call tomorrow night's debate liveblog? The first one was called "Unsuspended Tour 2008: McCain v. Obama I," a reference to McCain's erstwhile "suspension" of his campaign and empty threats of skipping the debate. Last week, we had "Take no prisoners: McCain v. Obama II," a reference to McCain's threat (again, empty) to "take the gloves off" -- and, of course, his oft-repeated P.O.W. status.

In between those liveblogs, the Biden-Palin showdown inspired the title "Lipstick vs. The Pig: VP debate liveblog." Also, thinking back to the conventions, you might remember the "Obamessiah & Goreacle liveblog," the "RNC liveblog: Huck + Mitt + 9/11!," and the sadly-cancelled liveblog for RNC Day 4, which was to be titled "Grandpa McCain's Fireside Chat with America."

Anyway... I'm having trouble coming up with a good, pithy name for the final debate liveblog -- which, incidentally, will start tomorrow night at 8pm. I'd like to roughly follow the model of the first two presidential debate liveblog names (i.e., "Something something: McCain v. Obama III"), and the "something something" needs to be fairly short -- around 18-24 characters, roughly -- in order to make the title look good on the screen. Here are the options I've come up with so far:

Johnny Mac's Last Stand: McCain v. Obama III
Palling Around: McCain v. Obama III
Warmonger vs. Terrorist: McCain-Obama III

(Credit where due: I got the idea for the last one from Ambinder.)

I'm open to better ideas, though. In particular, I'm trying to come up with something that uses "POW" and/or "ACORN," but I haven't hit on the right name just yet. So, if you have any suggestions, fire away!

BYU/Utah/Boise vs. the ACC champ?

From the "getting way ahead of ourselves" file...

Glancing at the BCS bowl selection order just now, I realized something dreadfully annoying. The Orange Bowl gets last pick in the BCS rotation this year, meaning the least attractive "at-large" team (from the bowls' money-grubbing perspective) will fall to them. If there's an automatic mid-major qualifier, that team almost always ends up in this final slot, like the fat kid in kickball. So, barring unforeseen developments, you can slot the BYU/Utah winner -- or, if both of those teams end up with a loss, then Boise State, if the Broncos win out -- into the Orange Bowl.

And who will they play? Why, the ACC champion, of course -- i.e., the "tallest person in a group of midgets," as a pundit once aptly put it. So we could easily end up with a situation where an unbeaten BYU, Utah or Boise State gets the "opportunity" to "prove itself" against... a totally disrespected ACC champ, thus earning zero respect with a win. This would be like Utah vs. Pittsburgh all over again. Argh.

The best hope for the mid-majors in this regard, aside from sneaking into the national title game (which looks increasingly unlikely, as the pollsters leapfrog various one-loss teams ahead of the mid-major contenders), is for the Big East to produce a champion that's totally unattractive from a bowl's perspective -- say, UConn or Cincinnati, for example -- such that the Sugar Bowl, which picks second-to-last, would actually prefer BYU, Utah or Boise to the alternative.

If that happens, we could end up with a juicy Sugar Bowl matchup between the SEC champ (or a top-notch at-large team, if the SEC champ goes to the title game) and a mid-major. This, unlike the Orange Bowl scenario, would give the mid-major team an actual opportunity to prove something in the eyes of the public. It would also, of course, render the Orange Bowl completely irrelevant to the national discussion, as it again hosts a Big East vs. ACC snooze-fest. But that's a small price to pay for a potential genuine BCS-buster, an Oklahoma-Boise type showdown. The 2009 Sugar Bowl would like the 2008 Georgia vs. Hawaii matchup, except this year, the mid-major team might actually have a snowball's chance in Hell.

P.S. One caveat: if North Carolina is the ACC champ, and UConn is the Big East champ, the powers-that-be would almost certainly try to avoid a UConn-UNC rematch in the Orange Bowl, which would probably set low-ratings records. Thus, even though the Sugar Bowl would probably prefer BYU/Utah/Boise to UConn, I suspect some deal would be worked out whereby the mid-major team would end up playing either the Huskies or the Tar Heels. In which case, again, argh.

P.P.S. On an utterly unrelated note, Rich Tellshow says Buffalo, currently 2-4, should be favored to win 5 of its remaining 6 games. That would get the Bulls to 7-5 -- their first winning season since joining Division 1-A -- and, dare I say it, bowl eligibility. Now let's see them do it! :)

Monday, October 13, 2008

We'll rant and we'll roar...

If you couldn't tell from my cell-phone post, we had really good seats for the Great Big Sea concert in Denver on Thursday night. Here's a photo demonstrating that fact:

As I recall, that shot was completely zoomed out. :) It pays to take advantage of pre-sales!

Anyway, it was a blast. I've posted some photos of the concert over on my Photoblog, and still more at Flickr.

Incidentally, this was my fifth Great Big Sea concert, all in different cities: Los Angeles, New York City, Buffalo, Providence and Denver. GBS rocks!

Want to buy a bank?

Or rather, shares in a bank? How about a couple thousand banks? Because you're about to:
The Bush administration is expected to take stakes in the nation's top financial institutions as part of a wide-ranging effort to restore confidence to the battered banking system, following similar moves by European governments that sent global stock markets soaring.

[I object to this wording. The "Bush administration" isn't taking stakes in a damn thing. The Bush administration will cease to exist in three months. The United States government is the stakeholder. -ed.]

As part of its new plan, the government is set to buy preferred equity stakes in nine top financial institutions, according to people familiar with the situation. It's unclear how much would be invested in each institution. The move is designed to remove any stigma that might come with a government investment.

Banks receiving government funds include Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Morgan Stanley, J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., Bank of America Corp., Citigroup Inc., Wells Fargo & Co. and Bank of New York Mellon.

Not all of the banks involved are happy with the move, but agreed under pressure from the government.

The new plan is designed to bolster bank balance sheets by providing new capital, removing rotten assets and taking new steps to make sure they have access to the funds they use to operate. All told, the moves are designed to get money flowing through the system so that banks will lend to companies, consumers and each other.

The initiatives, which will likely supersede many of the government's previous efforts, ensure that the U.S. banking sector will be tied to the federal government for years to come. They are being formulated jointly by the Treasury Department, the Federal Reserve and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

One central plank of these new efforts is a plan for the Treasury to take approximately $250 billion in equity stakes in potentially thousands of banks, according to people familiar with the matter, using funds approved by Congress through the $700 billion bailout bill.

In addition, the FDIC is expected to temporarily extend its guarantee of bank deposits to include certain new funds raised by banks and thrifts for three years. That would be an aid to lenders that have had a hard time raising capital without government assistance.

Other moves could include temporary loan guarantees aimed at helping banks borrow the money they need to do business. Officials are still working through how such a plan would work.

All told, the program would put the guarantee of the government behind much of the plumbing of American financial markets, a step that would have appeared inconceivable a few months ago. But the seizure in credit markets and last week's plunging stock markets forced policy makers around the world to shift gears.
Incidentally, on the topic of stock markets, I was struck by this handy WSJ chart of the Dow Jones average over the last 12 months:

Today's big rally is nice, but, um, it's still been a rough year. And nobody is quite sure what's going to happen next.

Stocks soar, LIBOR rate drops

From the worst week ever to the best day ever:
Wall Street stormed back from last week's devastating losses Monday, sending the Dow Jones industrials soaring a nearly inconceivable 936 points after major governments' plans to support the global banking system reassured distraught investors. All the major indexes rose more than 11 percent.

The market was likely to rebound after eight days of precipitous losses that took the Dow down nearly 2,400 points, but no one expected this kind of advance, which saw the Dow by far outstrip its previous record for a one-day point gain, 499.19, set during the waning days of the dot-com boom.
A bad day for the photoblog "Sad Guys on Trading Floors," but a good day for just about everyone else. And it gets better:
Money-market rates in London fell after policy makers offered banks unlimited dollar funding and European governments pledged to take "all necessary steps" to shore up confidence among lenders.

The London interbank offered rate, or Libor, for three-month dollar loans dropped 7 basis points to 4.75 percent today, tied for the largest drop since March 17, the British Bankers' Association said. The one-month dollar rate declined to 4.56 percent, while the one-week euro rate fell to 4.34 percent, the BBA said. There was no overnight dollar price today because of the Columbus Day holiday in the U.S.

The Federal Reserve said today central banks around the world will offer as much dollar funding as required. Leaders of the 15 nations using the common currency agreed yesterday to guarantee new debt from financial institutions and use taxpayers' money to keep lenders afloat. The three-month rate banks charge for euro loans dropped by the most since Dec. 28.

"Taken together, the latest moves increase the chances that we will begin to see some relaxation of the intense funding stresses that have prevailed in commercial paper and inter-bank markets," a team including Dominic Wilson, senior global economist at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. in New York, wrote in an investor report today. "This is because bank solvency risk should decline as the government offers protection."
I don't understand very much about this stuff, but I gather that those sky-high LIBOR rates, the frozen commercial-paper markets, and several other unsexy indicators, are much more important than the ephemeral ups and downs of the stock market. Which, incidentally, will probably go back down tomorrow. :)


Is John McCain about to "reboot" his campaign? Five Thirty Eight's Nate Silver thinks so, and he points to this morning's Bill Kristol column as a possible "trial balloon" for this strategy. Kristol writes:
It’s time for John McCain to fire his campaign.

He has nothing to lose. His campaign is totally overmatched by Obama’s. The Obama team is well organized, flush with resources, and the candidate and the campaign are in sync. The McCain campaign, once merely problematic, is now close to being out-and-out dysfunctional. Its combination of strategic incoherence and operational incompetence has become toxic. If the race continues over the next three weeks to be a conventional one, McCain is doomed. ...

The 2008 campaign is now about something very big — both our future prosperity and our national security. Yet the McCain campaign has become smaller.

What McCain needs to do is junk the whole thing and start over. Shut down the rapid responses, end the frantic e-mails, bench the spinning surrogates, stop putting up new TV and Internet ads every minute. In fact, pull all the ads — they’re doing no good anyway. Use that money for televised town halls and half-hour addresses in prime time.

And let McCain go back to what he’s been good at in the past — running as a cheerful, open and accessible candidate. Palin should follow suit. The two of them are attractive and competent politicians. They’re happy warriors and good campaigners. Set them free.

Provide total media accessibility on their campaign planes and buses. Kick most of the aides off and send them out to swing states to work for the state coordinators on getting voters to the polls. Keep just a minimal staff to help organize the press conferences McCain and Palin should have at every stop and the TV interviews they should do at every location. Do town halls, do the Sunday TV shows, do talk radio — and invite Obama and Biden to join them in some of these venues, on the ground that more joint appearances might restore civility and substance to the contest ...

At Wednesday night’s debate at Hofstra, McCain might want to volunteer a mild mea culpa about the extent to which the presidential race has degenerated into a shouting match. And then he can pledge to the voters that the last three weeks will feature a contest worthy of this moment in our history.

He’d enjoy it. And he might even win it.
Silver suggests that Matt Drudge is now trumpeting a McCain "comeback" -- based on very questionable evidence -- in order to pave the way for a post-reboot argument that "firing the campaign" wasn't a "desperate stunt," because McCain "already had the momentum." Hmm.

My initial thoughts on this: 1) it all seems highly unlikely; 2) if McCain tries it, it won't work (the media won't buy it, and Obama will deftly deflect it, as he's deflected McCain's previous stunts); 3) McCain is much more likely to pretend to do it than to actually do it (just like he pretended to suspend his campaign); 4) one of the reasons McCain won't do it is because he isn't actually that much of a "happy warrior"; and/but 5) if McCain were to actually do what Kristol suggests, I'd be favorably impressed... but I'd still almost certainly vote for Obama. (Though Kristol's "Democratic Congress" argument is reasonably compelling. For my part, I'm definitely rooting against a filibuster-proof Senate -- though, as a Tennessee voter, I have no say over that, as Lamar Alexander is not one of the threatened Republicans.)

Early voting in Tennessee, incidentally, begins on Wednesday.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

College football Week 7 open thread

It's a huge day of college football, what with #1 Oklahoma playing #5 Texas at high noon, #3 Missouri hosting #17 Oklahoma State at 8:00 PM, #4 LSU visiting #11 Florida at 8pm, and #6 Penn State visiting Wisconsin, also at 8pm. And of course, Notre Dame visits #22 North Carolina, #8 USC hosts Arizona State, and Buffalo hosts Western Michigan, all at 3:30 PM.

I won't be blogging much, if at all, about these football events, as I expect to have another busy day in Denver. But feel free to comment on the day's happenings here.

UPDATE: The top three teams in the coaches' poll -- #1 Oklahoma, #2 Missouri and #3 LSU -- all lost Saturday, leaving either Texas (which beat Oklahoma) or Alabama (which was idle) to take over the #1 spot. My guess: Texas will be #1 in the coaches' poll, Alabama will be #1 in the AP poll.

USC beat Arizona State in an ugly game, Notre Dame lost to North Carolina in a thriller, and Buffalo fell to Western Michigan in overtime.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Worst. Week. Ever.

I've been too busy in Denver -- house-hunting, Great Big Sea-watching, and hanging out with our friends and family -- to blog about the financial events of the last two days. But in case you've been living under a rock:
The Dow Jones Industrial Average capped the worst week in its 112-year history with its most volatile day ever, as hopes for a major international bank-rescue plan were overwhelmed at day's end by another wave of selling.

Some investors who normally would be jumping to buy beaten-down stocks after a 22% drop over eight trading days said the relentless declines have left them shell-shocked and unwilling to take new risks. Some spent the day trying to protect themselves from further declines. ...

After regular stock trading ended, the G-7 nations agreed on guidelines to address the crisis, but stopped short of the kind of concrete action plan investors had sought, raising the risk of further market chaos. ...

This week's 18% decline, and Friday's 1018.77-point swing from low to high, were the biggest since the Dow was created in 1896. Until now, the Dow's worst week was in 1933. Total trading volume of stocks listed on the New York Stock Exchange also hit a record, 11.16 billion shares. ...

The blue-chip average is down 40% from last October's record, its biggest decline since 1974.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Great Big Sea!!

(Posted via cell phone using Flickr.)

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Sell, baby, sell

Sounds like today is going to be another fun day at the markets:
Japanese share prices plunged 9.38 percent Wednesday, the biggest loss in more than two decades as panic-selling erupted over the global financial crisis.
Meanwhile, the Fed has cut interest rates -- along with the Canadian and European central banks, in an unprecedented coordinated move -- this morning. Which would be helpful, if anyone could get a loan for anything...

UPDATE, 10:50 AM: The Dow fell more than 200 points at the opening bell, then rallied more than 350 points within the next 35 minutes, and is now plummeting again. I think they call this "volatility." The S&P 500 is behaving similarly. So far, not as bad as Europe or Asia, though.

Bush to hold global finance summit

The lame duck quacks:
George Bush is expected to summon Gordon Brown and other European leaders to an emergency summit to discuss the economic crisis.

The prospect of a high-level global meeting came as the US central bank launched a new bid to unfreeze credit markets by effectively lending billions of dollars to US companies.

The Federal Reserve moved after lending in the commercial paper market - where companies raise money from the open money markets - all but ceased, raising a serious threat to many American businesses' operations.

"This facility should encourage investors to once again engage in term lending in the commercial paper market," the Fed said.

The Fed's move -- which puts billions of dollars of US taxpayers' money at risk -- was the latest sign of how desperate American leaders are to unblock the global financial system and avert a severe recession.

Mr Bush underlined that message personally on Tuesday in conversations with other world leaders.

The Prime Minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, the French President and Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian Prime Minister, spoke with the United States President by telephone.

Mr Bush urged his European counterparts to coordinate efforts to solve financial crisis spreading around the globe. All are expected to agree to attend a meeting if the details can be thrashed out.
If Bush can figure out some way to help soften the global economy's landing, it could rehabilitate his legacy a bit, long term. On the other hand, if he can't, and if the ultimate ramifications of this crisis are bad enough, he may go from simply being an epically unpopular present to becoming a Herbert Hoover figure in American history.

P.S. Honestly, I kind of feel bad for the guy. How does one president manage to preside over 9/11, Katrina, and this financial meltdown? Remarkable.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Liveblog underway!

My third Election 2008 debate liveblog & livechat is now underway! Click here to join the fun!

[UPDATE: For posterity's sake, I'm posting the liveblog window here, although it didn't originally appear on the homepage.

Original post continues below.]

I've tried to achieve maximum flexibility in designing the liveblog/livechat page. You can now choose your own layout -- selecting between a three-column, 1000-pixel-wide layout; a two-column, 800-pixel-wide layout; or a two-column, 700-pixel-wide layout -- depending on what best fits your screen and suits your fancy.

Just use the "Change this page's layout" drop-down menu, immediately above the live-chat window. Please let me know what you think of these layout options -- and the process of switching between them -- and if there are any additional alternative layout options you'd like to see for the next debate (and Election Night).

In addition, I've added a live webcam of myself watching of the debate -- very exciting, I know -- and also a window for a live video stream of the debate itself, assuming I can find one that's embeddable. Importantly, both of these windows can be toggled on and off at the viewer's discretion. This is accomplished through multiple layers of IFRAMES, so it's possible there will be browser issues; if so, please let me know.

I'll also doing "beta test 0.2" of my Election Night results calculator thingy. I'll probably try to input most of those "fake results" during the 8:00-9:00 hour, before the debate begins, and I'll be asking the live-chat audience for feedback on what they see. I think I've solved the problem we had last week, with the lag time between the text results updating and the graphical map updating, but tonight will be the big test of that.

Again, if you have any problems with anything, please let me know -- via the live-chat, preferably, or else in comments here, or via e-mail at irishtrojan[at] (but I may not see a comment or an e-mail right away). This whole thing is really an elaborate test for the Mother Of All Liveblogs on Election Night, and I want to get everything running smoothly now, because that's going to be a hectic night! So I appreciate any and all feedback, positive or negative. The more specific, the better! In particular, iformation about operating system, browser version, etc., is always helpful for troubleshooting.

Anyway, again, here's the link for the liveblog & livechat. Enjoy!

Well, gosh darn it

Say it ain't so, Dow, there you go again, falling downwards, doggone it.

Another 508.39 (5.11%) lost today, to 9,447.11 points.

Oh yeah, and the S&P 500 fell sharply, too -- it's now down to triple digits (996.23), after a 5.74% drop today.

But the fundamentals of the economy... oh, nevermind.

Liveblog tonight, 8pm EDT

Come one, come all, for the third debate liveblog and livechat -- not to mention, beta test 0.2b of my Election Night setup -- starting tonight at 8:00 PM EDT.

I'm calling the liveblog "take no prisoners" because McCain has promised to "take the gloves off" -- at the urging of a certain lipstick-wearing pitbull, among others -- at tonight's debate. Also, you may not have heard this, but John McCain was a P.O.W.!

Anyway, join us for another fun bloggy pow-wow. I'll even remember to link it from the homepage this time! ;)

How about some straight talk?

[UPDATE: Welcome, InstaPundit readers! Please come back tonight for my debate liveblog & livechat, starting at 8:00 PM EDT. Here's a preview of the setup. It'll be dorky fun for the whole family!

The livechat audience has skewed heavily pro-Obama in the first two debates, so InstaPundit readers could help provide some much-needed balance! :) I myself support Obama, but I always prefer to avoid the echo chamber effect. So come on over, and tell us bleeding-heart liberals what's what! Heh.]


The reeling economy almost certainly will dominate tonight's town hall debate between John McCain and Barack Obama. While the current crisis is understandably top of voters' minds, it's actually small beer compared with what America faces in a few years, when the federal government has to make good on its Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security promises to retiring baby boomers.

We're looking at a $53 trillion projected deficit – or $455,000 per household.

Anti-deficit crusaders Peter G. Peterson and David Walker went so far as to buy an ad in The New York Times, trying to rouse voters to the desperate need for entitlement reform, barely a blip on the campaign radar.

It is nothing short of appalling that both presidential candidates and their running mates have repeatedly ducked direct debate questions asking them to name specific spending cuts they would make in light of the $700 billion the bailout would add to the federal deficit. It is a dead certainty that the next president and Congress must look hard at taxing and spending priorities to deal with the debt disaster.

Voters should not be satisfied with evasive generalities from these candidates. Voters should demand that Mr. Obama and Mr. McCain level with them.
But with a putrid debate format that doesn't allow for follow-up questions -- from the questioning voters, from the "moderator," or from the candidates themselves -- how can anyone "demand" anything? Evasive generalities it is, then. And lots of irrelevant prattle from McCain about "pork" (which makes up less than 1% of the federal budget), and absurd unreality from Obama about how he'll still be able to pursue his entire domestic agenda (which he obviously won't). Argh. This is presidential politics in America -- fundamentally unserious, at a time of grave peril for the nation.

P.S. The unseriousness is partly our, the voters', fault, because although we say we want "straight talk," and although we say we hate negativity and personal attacks, we tend to rebel against politicians who tell us unpleasant truths, and we tend to make decisions based on the trivialities that attack ads generally focus on. But it's the politicians' fault, too (to say nothing of their political consultants), because they're catering to our worst impulses. Above all, what we need right now is leadership, which sometimes requires taking real political risks (not phony, stunt-like risks, a la McCain, but real risks, like telling voters things they don't want to hear) -- and there seems to be a total dearth of political leadership in this country right now, on both sides of the aisle. It isn't just that McCain and Obama are flawed candidates; it's that there aren't really any better alternatives. Who would you rather see up there? Hillary Clinton? Mitt Romney? John Edwards? Mike Huckabee? Joe Biden? Sarah Palin? Nancy Pelosi? John Boehner? Harry Reid? Mitch McConnell? George W. Bush? John Kerry? Dick Cheney? Al Gore? Please. Our political class is totally failing us, almost as much as we're failing ourselves.

The ten-mile-wide hurricane?

Tropical Storm Marco has formed in the Bay of Campeche, and may become a hurricane before hitting Mexico around midday today. But Marco is teeny tiny, with a tropical-storm wind field that's literally ten miles wide. The NHC says it may be the smallest tropical cyclone in recorded history. Take a look at the wind-field map:

Remarkable. Full coverage at Weather Nerd.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Stocks rally late after free fall

After a big global sell-off overnight, the Dow Jones has dipped below 10,000 and is still falling (down 369 points, or 3.58%), and the S&P 500 and Nasdaq are off even more sharply.

funny pictures

UPDATE, 12:30 PM: Dow down 492.86 (4.77%). S&P down 58.17 (5.29%). Nasdaq down 110.17 (5.66%). Youngblai e-mails, "I'm not saying I'd hit the panic button yet...but I just might find that SOB."

UPDATE, 4:35 PM: The Dow dropped as low as 9,525.32, a fall of 797.20 points (7.7%), but rallied to finish down "only" 369.88 points (3.6%). The S&P also recovered from an intra-day low of -89.59 (-8.2%) to finish a mere 42.34 (3.85%) below its opening price.

See? The stock market is fine! ...

[Post bumped to top. Originally posted at 10:18 AM.]

Rant of the day

Why -- WHY?!? -- do so many apartment complexes impose an arbitrary, no-exceptions, across-the-board "two pet limit"? We always run into this issue when we're moving, because we have three cats. I understand not wanting to have a "crazy lady with lots of cats" in residence, but a family with two adults, a child and three cats -- who we've had since 2002 (Toby) and 2003 (Sasha and Butter) -- hardly qualifies. If they're afraid we're hoarders, we'd be happy to sign paperwork promising not to buy any additional cats. But nooo, we're already out of luck because we have -- gasp -- three cats. OH THE HUMANITY!!!

The rigidity of this rule makes absolutely no sense to me. Whether we have two cats or three cats makes no practical difference to our landlord, our neighbors, or anyone else. What are they afraid our cats are going to do?? And what could three of them do, that two couldn't?? Meow more loudly? WTF?

One small yippy dog -- like the Jack Russell Terrier who lives upstairs at our current place -- can do about 1,000 times more damage to an apartment, and cause 1,000 times more annoyance to the neighbors, than three quiet, spayed, indoor cats ever could. Yet Jack Russells, and similar dogs, are almost always allowed by "pet-friendly" complexes, while lots of places have the asinine, no-exceptions "two cat limit." (Many also have a ban on "big dogs," which makes even less sense, given that many large breeds like greyhounds and great danes are actually the best apartment dogs. I understand banning specific aggressive breeds, but size is an incredibly poor, almost nonsensical factor for determining problem-dog status.)

Anyway... ARGH!! I guess we could lie and say we have 2 cats, and there's a 99% chance nobody would ever know. But I wouldn't feel right doing that, and the potential consequences if they do find out -- we would have misrepresented material facts in our lease, so theoretically they could evict us, right? -- are too harsh to risk. Plus there's the whole issue of ethics, particularly now that I'm an attorney. So we always get stuck with this absurd problem. It seems so random and arbitrary. Does anyone know the reason for this? Is it an insurance thing? Is there some dumb federal legislation that somehow causes this? Or are apartment complex owners just generally stupid?

CoverItLive tries to reassure users after VP debate server overload

Tomorrow night, of course, is the second presidential debate, and I'll be live-blogging it here, starting at 8:00 PM EDT. (The actual debate starts at 9:00.) I was originally thinking of driving to Nashville and trying to go to some pre- and post-debate rallies, but it sounds like neither candidate is actually planning to make an appearance (and why would they? Tennessee is about as safe of a "safe state" as there is, outside of Utah). And anyway we're heading to Denver on Wednesday night, to look for a place to live, flying out of Nashville, no less. So making Tuesday a crazy, wee-hours, driving-across-the-state sort of night might not be the best idea. Accordingly, I'll be live-blogging from my couch, with Becky -- and possibly Dmytro, who is coming to visit us -- at my side. There may even be a webcam this time, at least for part of the debate. :)

My liveblog software of choice will, again, be CoverItLive. This is something of a leap of faith, as they experienced a server crash during the vice presidential debate last Thursday, then put a throttle on new viewers, which was very annoying. I obviously wasn't the only person annoyed, as this morning they sent out a mass e-mail to their users, trying to reassure us that they're ready to handle high-traffic events going forward:

My name is Keith McSpurren. I am the President of CoveritLive.

We have put the necessary upgrades in place to ensure that 100% of your readers will be able to enjoy/participate in your live blogs of the upcoming Presidential debate on Tuesday and beyond.

As some of you may have noticed, as a precaution during last weeks’ Vice Presidential debate, we held back any new readers at different times so that we could ensure the tens of thousands of readers and the writers using CoveritLive could stay online without interruption. Although blunt, it appeared to do the job. Based on our information, the systemwide readership could have been higher by another 30% had we not had this limitation. Of course, that number would vary depending on when your event started and when your readers wanted to join. We hope the times we need to use this technique are few and far between.

To be clear, this was a system wide capacity notification. No one, even our largest users, has ever approached reader limitations during one of their events. The issue was primarily due to: a) the incredible interest in the debate; and, b) the thousands of new users who have begun using CoveritLive in the past three months.

We always try to keep our available capacity at 3X our previous largest day which up until that date had served us well. We will continue to do our best to stay well ahead of our usage but will keep this safeguard ready to ensure that if this type of anomaly happens again, the impact will be marginal.
In my private e-mail correspondence with CIL last week, I was told the traffic for the VP debate was five times the traffic for the first presidential debate. They weren't expecting quite that big of a surge, which is why they were caught off guard.

One thing their e-mail fails to acknowledge is that, prior to the institution of the "blunt" limits on new readers last Thursday, there was a server overload -- between roughly 9:00 and 9:09 PM EDT, by my reckoning -- which prevented "the tens of thousands of readers and the writers using CoveritLive [from staying] online without interruption." Perhaps this overload only affected some folks, but I know in my case, I was unable to blog during that time, as my liveblog console was replaced by a CoverItLive server error message. Several readers told me an error appeared on their screens as well. This was actually the second time I'd seen such an error -- it also happened just after the first presidential debate, preventing me from logging out of that liveblog until morning.

I am, for the moment, trusting CIL that these issues will not be repeated in future debates, nor (most importantly) on election night. (If nothing else, last week's problems will probably scare some users away, reducing the strain.) But I'm also readying a backup plan: in the event CoverItLive crashes again, I'll have an alternative liveblogging page, perhaps a WordPress post or perhaps a live-Twittering widget (I haven't decided yet), ready to take its place on my blog at a moment's notice.

What I'm not planning to do is switch my whole liveblog into the Chatroll "live chat" window, as several readers suggested last week. I actually received an e-mail from Chatroll after Thursday's debate, picking up on those suggestions and asking "what features or changes [I] might suggest which would enable [me] to use Chatroll more effectively for live blogging." I happily wrote back with a long list of suggestions, which are reproduced, in part, below:
First and foremost, the "holy grail" would be the ability to automatically, in real time, separate out MY comments into an separate window (which would not allow for reader response), while ALSO having them appear in the full chat window (which would). Thus, for instance, I could have a version of the embedded chat on my homepage, showing only MY liveblogging, with a "click here to read and make comments" link, which would then go to the full version of the same chat, which would contain my liveblogging AND other people's chatting. This is, in my mind, crucial to the concept of "liveblogging": if I'm liveblogging an event, that means I'm describing it chronologically, from my perspective, not merely as a single participant in a large chat room, wherein my comments quickly scroll away and get lost in the noise. The chat room is a bonus feature for people who want to get more deeply involved, but the core premise of the "liveblog" is that *I* am blogging it, and people can read what I'm writing. ... This is the #1 reason why I currently use CoverItLive for liveblogging, because it allows me to turn off reader comments and just *blog*. But then I couple it with Chatroll, so readers can "talk back" in real time, too. It's a bit of an awkward arrangement, but it at least attempts to serve the two purposes simultaneously: allowing me to truly liveblog, while allowing readers to talk back. But it would be even better if I could combine the two functions in an automated fashion, so that if I type something, it would effectively appear in BOTH the liveblog AND the livechat. And then I could let each individual reader choose which window they prefer.

Another important feature would be the ability to have more than the 10 most recent comments appear in the chat wiidow. With CoverItLive, you can scroll all the way back up to the top of the liveblog. With Chatroll, you have to go to the "archive" page to do that, and then go through page-by-page. That's way too cumbersome to allow someone to "catch up" on portions of a liveblog, or live chat, that they've missed.

Also, live polls would be great. CoverItLive handles that feature very, very well, and it's one reason I'd be loathe to give CIL up. ...

I'd [also] like to see...the ability to EDIT my comments (another crucially important CoverItLive feature, which I've used repeatedly to correct typos, fix HTML, etc.), and the ability to ban abusive users by nickname or IP address (this has not been a problem yet, but I imagine it could potentially become one). ...

[I'd also like] the ability to turn off a chat room when I'm done with it. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think this is possible now -- and my last chat (from the presidential debate) has been receiving some after-the-fact traffic that essentially amounts to political spam. It's not hard to imagine commercial spam filling that niche eventually. I should be able to shut the chat off when I'm done with it. Ideally, the embed window would then either have a "replay" gloss, like CoverItLive's does, or else it would default back to the top of the chat, with the user having the ability to scroll all the way from the beginning to the end.

Also, another somewhat big deal: it would be great if I could export the contents of the chat somehow. Into an HTML file, a text file, an excel file, whatever. But some sort of explicit export feature, so that I would feel comfortable that, even if Chatroll disappears at some point (no offense!), I won't lose my data.
I seriously doubt those suggestions -- particularly the first one, which arguably runs counter to the whole concept of what Chatroll fundamentally is, as a live-chat service -- will all be implemented before election day. So I will most likely stick with CoverItLive. But it's great to see both services making active strides to improve what they offer users.

The LSU Trojans?

If you go to ESPN's "clubhouse" page for LSU right now, you'll see this:

Heh. That just happens to be the signature image for ESPN's "Week 6 Montage" video, and thus it probably appears on a lot of "clubhouse" pages right now (though not, alas, UCLA's or Notre Dame's; yes, I checked). But I saw it on LSU's page, and I couldn't resist the opportunity to annoy any Tiger fans who might be reading this. :)

And then there were 15

After a weekend in which the Big East joined the ACC on the list of conferences almost certainly irrelevant to the national title hunt (courtesy of losses by remaining unbeatens South Florida and UConn), the list of undefeated teams in college football dwindled to 15: five from the Big 12 (Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech), three from the SEC (Alabama, LSU, Vanderbilt), two from the Big Ten (Penn State, Northwestern) and five mid-majors (BYU, Utah, Boise State, Ball State and Tulsa).

Of those 15 teams, all but Ball State and Tulsa have at least an outside shot at playing for a national title -- though Boise State's slim hopes are slipping; the Broncos need Oregon and Fresno State, its two best quality opponents, not to go into free fall. Both lost last weekend, and now have two losses apiece.

The list of unbeatens is guaranteed to shrink by at least two next week, as Texas plays Oklahoma and Oklahoma State plays Missouri. But that's only the beginning. The maximum number of teams that can potentially finish undefeated is already down to eight. Only one Big 12 team and only one SEC team can do so, and either BYU or Utah is guaranteed to eventually lose. That shaves at least seven teams off the current list. (Penn State and Northwestern could potentially both finish unbeaten, as they don't play each other, and the Big Ten doesn't have a championship game.)

Here is my updated, totally unscientific estimate of the BCS "pecking order," which goes beyond merely looking at the current polls and instead tries to project how the landscape would look if various currently unlikely scenarios (e.g., Northwestern going undefeated, Notre Dame finishing with one loss, etc.) were to happen:

1. Undefeated SEC champ
2. Undefeated Big 12 champ
3. Undefeated Penn State
4. One-loss SEC champ
5. One-loss Big 12 champ
6. Undefeated BYU or Utah
7. One-loss USC
8. One-loss Notre Dame
9. Undefeated Northwestern
10. One-loss Big Ten champ, if Penn State, Michigan State or Ohio State
11(t). Two-loss SEC or Big 12 champ; one-loss Pac 10 champ, if Cal or Arizona; one-loss SEC or Big 12 non-champion; one-loss Big East or ACC champ; one-loss Big Ten champ, if Northwestern or Minnesota; undefeated Boise State.

The teams "tied" for #11 aren't actually tied, of course, but I really can't differentiate between them at this point, and I've listed them in no particular order. Furthermore, I'm not actually sure that #10 is ahead of those #11s in all scenarios. For instance, if it's one-loss Ohio State against a two-loss SEC champ, are voters really going to give the Buckeyes the edge, after the last two years? Hmm.

Furthermore, I think #6 through #9 on my list are all bunched very, very close together, and could really go in just about any order. (Of course, #7 and #8 cannot both happen, so that distinction doesn't really matter.) In particular, I really have no idea how the pollsters would treat an undefeated Northwestern, which would have, arguably, exactly one "quality win" -- over a damaged-goods Ohio State team with at least two losses -- and a very, very weak schedule overall. The Wildcats would be a bit like Kansas last year, but without the potential to earn two big wins at the very end of the season and thus prove their mettle. In addition, they would carry the baggage of Ohio State's failures the last two years. Are voters really going to put Northwestern in the title game after two straight SEC-over-Big-Ten drubbings? This is the main reason I think undefeated BYU or Utah would probably have an edge over undefeated Northwestern.

But of course, Northwestern probably isn't going to go undefeated at all. The most likely debate, in my #6-9 range, is between an undefeated BYU/Utah and a one-loss USC. And the Cougars/Utes and Trojans are really #4 and #5 in the pecking order, when you consider that the SEC and Big 12 can each only produce one champion apiece. So this is a real possibility; #4 and #5 isn't all that far removed from #2 and #3. If Penn State loses, and if either the SEC or Big 12 produces a two-loss champion, I think we will see a serious controversy between USC and the Mountain West champ, if both win out.

I'm not sure who will win that debate, but I don't agree with those who think it's an obvious, foregone conclusion that USC would definitely win it. The voters can't ignore the Mountain West's 5-1 record against the Pac-10, including Utah's 31-28 victory this past Thursday over Oregon State -- the very team that beat USC -- and BYU's ridiculous 59-0 rout of UCLA last month. And even if the voters do ignore these things, the computers certainly won't. Nor will they ignore the simple fact of BYU/Utah being undefeated, versus USC having one loss. The computers give the difference in the number of losses a lot of weight, even if the pollsters are inclined to look past it because USC has the "big name."

The Cougars' destruction of the Bruins actually creates a very interesting potential scenario. If BYU wins out, including the "Holy War" against Utah on November 22, they'll be "in the clubhouse" with a 12-0 record, while USC will still have two games left: at home vs. Notre Dame on November 29, and at -- guess who? -- UCLA on December 6. If the Trojans and Cougars emerge as BCS title game contenders, all eyes will be on the USC-UCLA game on the season's final day, to see not just whether USC can beat the Bruins, but how badly they can beat them. "Style points" will be the order of the day. If the Trojans just squeak by, or even win by a reasonably comfortable but not overwhelming margin, the combination of BYU's undefeated record, its conference's overall success against the Pac-10, and the Cougars' 59-0 win over those same Bruins, will make a pretty damn compelling argument.

My guess? In most scenarios, the polls would give USC a very slight edge; the computers would significantly favor BYU; the Cougars would get in. But that's purely a guess.

P.S. Right now, the computers prefer USC to BYU. But if you look at the respective schedules of the Trojans and Cougars, you'll see that -- going by computer rankings -- BYU has played the worst part of its schedule, and has a bunch of better opponents ahead, whereas USC has played the best part of its schedule, and has several weaker opponents ahead. Thus, we can expect BYU to gain ground on USC in the computers if both teams win out. To help their computer ratings (and, to a lesser extent, their poll numbers), the Trojans need to root for Ohio State and Notre Dame to do well; the Cougars need to root for UCLA and Washington to make some noise in the Pac-10. Considering the odds of each of those things happening... I may be getting ahead of myself when I say "the computers would significantly favor BYU." :) A tossup or slight USC edge seems the more likely scenario.

Meanwhile, the computers like Utah significantly better than USC. Hmm. Maybe I ought to separate out BYU and Utah in the "pecking order":

6. Undefeated Utah
7. One-loss USC
8. Undefeated BYU

I'm not sure how Utah could be denied vs. USC, given that the Utes beat Oregon State one week after USC lost to them. It also doesn't hurt that Utah went into the Big House and beat Michigan (though the Utes need to hope Michigan, now 2-3, doesn't totally crash and burn). Those wins are both looking better than BYU's wins over UCLA and Washington, so I'm inclined to think Utah would have the stronger case -- against anyone, but especially against the Trojans.

Saturday, October 4, 2008


FIGHT ON TROJANS! BEAT THE DUCKS! Also: Gooo Irish! Beeeat Drunken Trees!

(Posted via cell phone using Flickr.)

The Juice is no longer loose

13 years to the day after being acquitted of murder, O.J. Simpson was convicted of 12 counts of armed robbery yesterday. Sentencing is set for December 5; he could spend the rest of his life in prison.

I guess this means he won't be coming to any more USC practices. :P

P.S. For the uninitiated -- which is about 99.9% of my audience in this instance -- the title of this post is a reference to the headline in my unofficial high-school newspaper, The Living Room Times, 13 years ago today: "THE JUICE IS LOOSE." Ah yes, that choice of headline was one of the finest moments in my brief journalistic career. ;)

Friday, October 3, 2008

This is a test. This is only a test.

Can y'all see this webcam, live? Leave a comment and let me know. [UPDATE: Test over, for now.]

UPDATE: Okay, another test, this one aimed specifically at those who thought last night's chat window was too narrow, and/or the page as a whole was too wide. How do you like this layout?

UPDATE 2: You can now choose your preferred layout, using the drop-down list above the chat window on the linked page. Are there any other layout options that people would like to see?

Incidentally, I'll be doing another full-fledged "beta test" during one of the remaining debates.

Is Florida the new Florida?

[I wrote this yesterday, and meant to post it after the debate, but forgot. Anyway, here it is now.]

For months, everybody's been talking about a "new electoral map," with states like Colorado (which was, two weeks ago, declared most important state in the election) and Virginia playing crucial roles. But take a look at the latest version of Five Thirty Eight's "tipping point states" chart, which shows the states most likely to single-handedly "tip" the election to one candidate or the other, according to the site's automated scenario analysis thingy. The top two states: #1 Florida. #2 Ohio.

Heh. It's like the 2000 and 2004 elections -- or, if you prefer, the 2006 college football season -- all over again.

States #3 and #4 on 538's list aren't very novel, either: Pennsylvania and Michigan, which were among the "big three" swing states (along with Florida) in pre-election conventional wisdom back in 2000. So much for a redrawn electoral map!

(Oddly, McCain has apparently conceded Michigan, pulling his resources out and redirecting them elsewhere. Meanwhile, he is still contesting states like Iowa, where he personally campaigned earlier in the week. Either he knows something we don't, or his campaign is inexplicably blundering here. Remember Al Gore's visit to California on November 2, 2000? This may not be as bad as that, but...)

The "new hotness" states aren't entirely off the radar screen, of course. Virginia and Colorado now clock in at #5 and #6, followed by #7 North Carolina (!), #8 New Jersey (?!), #9 Missouri, #10 New Mexico, #11 Nevada and #12 Indiana (!!). And who knows, this could all change tomorrow.

For now, though, the big news (aside from the Michigan thing) is Florida's ascendancy on the swing-state list. Until recently, the Sunshine State -- which, let's remember, Bush won by fully 5 percent in 2004, just his sixth-narrowest margin (New Mexico, Iowa, Nevada, Ohio and Colorado were all closer) -- was assumed to be safe McCain territory. Now there's a bit of Republican panic as Obama gains in the polls there:
Florida Republican leaders hastily convened a top secret meeting this week to grapple with Sen. John McCain's sagging performance in this must-win state.

Their fears were confirmed Wednesday when four new polls showed Sen. Barack Obama leading, a reversal from just a few weeks ago when McCain was opening up an advantage. ...

Over the course of an hour, described by some as tense, Greer offered a forceful assessment of where McCain stands in Florida and what needs to be done to win in a battleground state that could decide the election.
I continue to suspect that, if Obama wins Florida, he won't need it. But you never know.

Worst-case scenarios

Conor Friedersdorf:
I ask the following of everyone who watched tonight’s debate — were John McCain assassinated at his inauguration by terrorists, even as two American cities saw buildings partially blown up by truck bombs, and Vladimir Putin used the opportunity to move troops into a former Soviet Repulic, would you trust that Governor Palin would have the knowledge, credibility, bearing and calming influence on the country to handle the situation? Or would having her in the Oval Office freak you out in a deep way? I’d be frightened, and I expect a lot of people now supporting Governor Palin would think, "Oh God, what have I done." I was hoping I’d change my mind about that tonight, for I really am all about not wanting worse case scenarios to happen, but alas I still worry about it.
He later clarifies:
Let me state for the record that I would worry were Barack Obama, Joe Biden or John McCain put in the same situation. What I should have made clearer, however, is that among all these folks I’d be more worried about Governor Palin by a wide margin, partly because each of the other people I mention have spent more time thinking about the right thing to do in scenarios like this one, partly because Barack Obama is tempermentally cool and analytical, which is what I’d want in that situation, and partly because I imagine Governor Palin would be the least self-assured.
Daniel Larison chimes in:
Of course, the honest answer that I think most people would have to give [to Friedersdorf's initial qusetion] is clearly no. In other words, if you try to imagine how she would handle such a scenario, you would have to acknowledge that she is not ready to be President. Being unprepared and overwhelmed, she would probably overreact and make such a situation far worse than it had to be. As it is, I don’t trust McCain’s “knowledge, credibility, bearing and calming influence” were the Russians to send forces into a neighboring state, because I already know that McCain responds very poorly when the Russians do this. A President Palin would be even more pliable and susceptible to the worst impulses of her anti-Russian advisors. It also seems obvious to me that Obama, who isn’t really fit to be President (but then neither is McCain), is certainly on balance more competent than McCain and the prospect of him responding to these events is slightly less horrifying. It is a measure of how profoundly unsuited he is to the office McCain is seeking that even Obama inspires more confidence in most people in this country.
Fundamentally, this is why I'll be voting for Obama and Biden: because, for all their faults and flaws, I trust them more -- both of them, both of the potential presidents I'll be trying to help elect -- than either of the potential presidents on the other ticket. Of the four major-party candidates running to become, potentially, President of the United States, McCain is the third-best-suited for the job; he has the experience, but not the judgment or the temperament, at least not reliably or consistently. Biden is the best-suited, having all three (though he's hardly a perfect choice either, obviously). Obama is second-best, having the judgment and the temperament, though not the experience. Palin has none of the above; she is, and remains, a total joke of a candidate in this regard. She has, at this particular moment, not a shred of qualification for the Oval Office, beyond "folksiness" and "relatability," neither of which are actually qualifications at all, so I don't know why I just bothered to add them.

Could that change by, say, 2012? Maybe, but what she has now isn't nearly good enough. The debate certainly did not change that. As I wrote in comments yesterday, even if Obama and Biden were completely unacceptable to me on whatever grounds, I would literally cast a protest vote for a third party, or even abstain altogether, before I would vote for the McCain-Palin ticket. The same wouldn't be true of, say, a McCain-Romney ticket, much as I dislike Romney, and much as I don't trust McCain's judgment. (Of course, if McCain had picked Romney instead of Palin, I would trust his judgment a bit more, as that would have been a serious choice -- a defensible judgment, if you will.) But the Palin choice is completely disqualifying. Indeed, if this were an election between McCain-Palin and Hillary Clinton & Whomever -- Hillary, who, you might recall, I swore never to support for president, for decidedly different reasons (not her fundamental lack of qualifications, but her fundamental lack of honesty, integrity or a moral center) -- I would most likely be voting for Bob Barr. (Not that Barr is qualified to be president, mind you, but while I normally advocate voting for the best candidate for president regardless of party label, under certain circumstances -- namely where both major-party tickets are just totally unacceptable -- I think it is permissible to lower one's standards to cast a protest vote for a third-party candidate with effectively zero chance of winning, as an alternative to not voting at all. Though I would wrestle with that issue.)

Bail! Bail! Bail!

The House is voting on the revised bailout economic recsue bill. CNN is live-streaming. 218 votes are needed. It looks like it may pass this time.

Investors trading in the Dow Jones, S&P 500, and Nasdaq certainly seem to think it's going to.

UPDATE: The bailout bill is good for pirates! Arrr!

UPDATE 2: It passed! Applause broke out moments ago, as the bill topped the magic number. It's now 226-143, with 65 who haven't voted yet. (I imagine a disproportionate share of those 65 will vote "no," now that they know it's safe to do so.)

UPDATE 3: 263-171 was the final vote. Those last 65 voted 37-28 in favor, which is only slightly off the overall ratio.

Meanwhile, stocks are actually going sharply down at the moment, which I confess I don't really understand.

Bill and Barney go at it

Good lord:

Bailing out Ahnold?

California wants a $7 billion emergency loan from the federal government "within weeks."

Good luck with that.

The soft bigotry of low expectations

Marc Ambinder:
To practiced ears, Palin memorized and repeated talking points and Biden responded to the questions and argued. Palin dodged questions and seemed vague; but then again, for those whose only impression of Palin has been the one Tina Fey performed on Saturday Night Live, she cleared the bar.
A cursory review of blogospheric commentary this morning suggests that, as I suspected while watching it, last night's debate has basically reinforced convictions on both sides of the aisle. Palin's critics, myself included, saw her regurgitate talking points, usually more coherently than with Couric, but nevertheless demonstrating no ability whatsoever to think on her feet (even explicitly announcing early on that she had no intention of answering the questions if she didn't feel like it). We saw her prove her mastery of the "glittering generality" without being forced, by either her gun-shy opponent or the neutered moderator, to clarify her contradictions, clear up her occasionally jumbled utterances, or otherwise defend her positions in any sort of detail. We saw, in Jason Zengerle's words, someone whose "style wasn't strong enough to cover up her total lack of substance," giving, as Michael Crowley said, "a cosmetically strong performance" that "on the substance [was] a horrorshow." We saw, again, a candidate in severely over her head, unfit for high office, unready to lead.

Palin's defenders, on the other hand, saw -- well, I won't even try to characterize what they saw, because honestly, I don't understand it. Usually I can see both sides of an argument, but not in this case. Obviously she beat expectations, and I can see people finding her personally appealing, but I'm afraid I just can't wrap my head around the notion that she was truly impressive, that she was vice presidential, that she demonstrated her readiness and silenced her critics last night. I just don't see it; I just don't get it. And I'd just end up caricaturing this position if I tried to explain it. But, suffice it to say, Palin's defenders saw something very different than I did (see, e.g., Malkin), and now any notion that conservatives might desert Palin en masse is out the window. Instead, the Right is back to its old tricks, drawing false equivalances between Biden and Palin, and blaming the media for everything. Great. So basically, we're back to the pre-Couric state of affairs.

John Edwards was right. There are two Americas: one that thinks Sarah Palin is the second coming, and one that thinks she's demonstrably unfit to be vice president. Never the twain shall meet.

What did swing voters see? I have no idea. My initial assumption was that they'd love Palin, and the Luntz focus group did. The CNN focus group, on the other hand, preferred Biden. Insta-polls have generally favored Biden. Overall, the debate seems likely to have very little impact on the race, beyond perhaps "stopping the bleeding" for McCain (especially if it's coupled with House approval of the bailout today, thus changing the subject) and allowing him the opportunity to try and seize the offensive, and change the dynamic of the race, next week. Then it's just a matter of whether he can successfully do that.

I'm going to try to refrain from further commentary on this today, because I have other things to do, and because arguing about Palin tends to make me quite angry -- much like banging one's head against a brick wall might. I'd rather keep my blood pressure low today, so I'm going to take a deep breath and just... let it go. :)

Thursday, October 2, 2008


At 8pm EDT, I redirected traffic from to the liveblog / livechat / beta-test page, but I forgot to post the link here, for anyone who was coming to instead of Oops! Sorry!

Anyway, here's the liveblog:

Debate liveblog tonight!

Come one, come all, for the vice-presidential debate liveblog, starting at 8:00 PM EDT tonight!

Once again, there will be an accompanying live chat, so y'all can "talk back" and discuss things amongst yourselves.

In addition, I'll be "beta testing" the setup for my Election Night Liveblog, so fake election results -- and fake Electoral College Contest standings -- will be updating on the liveblog page throughout the night. I'll be very interested in your feedback about the setup.

I think I may redirect all homepage traffic directly to the liveblog page, also as a test for Election Night, so if you come here after 8:00 tonight and find yourself looking at an unfamiliar layout, don't be surprised.

Anyway, while we anticipate tonight's debate, here's a little preview, courtesy of the anchorwoman who has suddenly become so central to American political life, Katie Couric:

Quote of the day

Conservative Palin critic Rod Dreher:
So I was on Larry King Live last night for one segment, talking about my doubts about Palin. Opposite me was the radio talker Lars Larson, who kept robotically repeating the line that he trusts Palin's "judgment," and that she talks in ways that the "East Coast media elites" hate, but that normal people understand. I should have pointed out that that's an insult to the people Larson thinks he's defending; if expecting a politician running for vice president of the United States to give clear, lucid answers to basic questions having to do with running the country is somehow elitist, and rattling off discombobulated talking points is how normal non-elitist people talk, I fail to see how that's an argument in favor of the masses.
Dreher, Kathleen Parker and other conservative critics of Palin are now being called idiots and traitors -- and, by John McCain himself, "Georgetown cocktail party" faux-conservatives -- for daring to voice critical opinions of Palin. One supposes George F. Will will be next in line for excoriation and excommunication. If you're not with us, you're with the terrorists Democrats!

Unlike Andrew Sullivan, I don't think this phenomenon is necessarily a sign of a unique sickness within the conservative movement. I think it's more an aspect of human nature than anything else -- a stage of grief, really. When one's "side" is losing, one tends to go through a phase that involves denial and lashing out in anger at "traitors" and other scapegoats. The "Angry Left" made this an artform between 2002 and 2006. Now the "Angry Right" is doing precisely the sort of thing that it has long denounced on the Left. That's disappointing, and it certainly punctures any notion that the Right is uniquely rational, introspective, or intellectually honest. But it's not terribly surprising, I suppose.

CLARIFICATION: When I say that conservatives' "side is losing," I am not referring to John McCain's current standing in the polls, which may or may not be ephemeral. I'm talking about the overall decline of the GOP and conservatism in this country. While the presidential election remains up for grabs, it is clear that the Republican Party is severely on the wane right now, just as it was clear that the Democratic Party was out in the political wilderness from 2002-2006. If McCain wins, it'll be in spite of the "R" next to his name, not because of it.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Wanted: Electoral College Contest beta-testers!

I've been working on setting up the second quadrennial Electoral College Contest, and tomorrow night, during the VP debate liveblog, I'll be doing some testing of my Election Night live-results-posting system. To facilitate this process, I need 10 beta-testers to submit electoral picks today. They can be fake picks -- you're not really signing up for the contest, just helping me test the signup system. So, by all means, pick Obama to win Texas or McCain to win California. It doesn't matter. :)

[UPDATE: Beta-testing is now closed. Thanks, everybody! Stay tuned for tomorrow night's liveblog and live test of the results-posting thingy.]

Incidentally, I'll be changing and simplifying the rules of the contest this year. Long-time readers might remember that there was some controversy four years ago about my scorekeeping system. It didn't affect the result, since Mike Wiser was a perfect 538-for-538, and thus would have won in any imaginable system. However, it caused some consternation that, for instance, Scott Schmidt finished ahead of Brooke Bennett, even though Brooke only got one state wrong (Ohio), while Scott got Ohio and four other states wrong, but had a lower "differential" because his errors roughly "canceled each other out." This year, I'm going to use the "differential" only as a tiebreaker; the winner will simply be the person who gets the lowest number of electoral votes wrong. So, under these rules, Brooke would finish 3rd instead of 7th, and Scott would finish 10th instead of 3rd.

To understand what this means, suppose Obama "flips" Iowa, New Mexico and Colorado from 2004, resulting in a 273-265 victory. Now suppose Contestant A has a perfect map except New Mexico, which he thought McCain would win, thus winning the election 270-268. This means that Contestant A, despite picking the wrong winner, was just 5 electoral votes off from the actual result. Meanwhile, suppose Contestant B has a perfect map except for two mistakes: he thought McCain would win New Mexico, and he thought Obama would win Nevada. Because NM and NV have 5 electoral votes apiece, these mistakes "cancel out" perfectly, and Contestant B correctly predicts, with perfect precision, the overall result: a 273-265 Obama victory. Under last year's "hybrid" scorekeeping system, Contestant B would defeat Contestant A because of his zero differential, even though he got 10 electoral votes wrong (compared to Contestant A's 5 wrong). However, under this year's system, Contestant A would win, because he made the fewest mistakes, as judged by the number of EVs predicted incorrectly. Upon reflection, I think this is fairer, and it's certainly simpler.

Anyway, I'll have more to say about the contest when I officially open it for entries later this month. (And, in the mean time, if someone wants to make the case for a better scoring system, go right ahead. First, though, you may want to review the scenarios discussed here.)