Saturday, September 29, 2007

There's Something About Hillary

Just days after 9/11 they had a benefit concert for firefighters and policemen at Madison Square Garden. Free tickets were distributed to firehouses and precincts. Newly elected Senator Hillary Clinton came out to greet the audience... and was roundly booed. So much so that she seemed shaken. Minutes later, Bill came out and was applauded wildly. She hadn't established a separate political identity at all from him yet. Why was one of them so popular and the other so unpopular? Sure, Bill is charismatic and emotionally warm... and Hillary does come off as a little stiff and cool. But does that explain the visceral dislike she inspired?

I don't think the reactions to Hillary are all due to her personality. The first lady plays an archetypal role in the national dream life: she is the mother figure. This particular mother had professional accomplishments; she went to work on health care. On a subconscious plane, this raised Hillary into a role she didn't choose. In our minds Hillary came to represent the greatest social transformation of our time: the entry of women and mothers into the work force. This revolution widened the productive resources of our society and has allowed many women to realize their full human potential. That is wonderful and it has been much celebrated. But it also created a lot of suppressed anger and resentment.

Freudians would call it projection. A lot of the good feelings, but mainly the bad feelings about absent mothers are overlayed on her. By being emotionally cool, Hillary unfortunately wears the role of the absent and rejecting mother too well. In the distorted faces of those firefighters and policemen -- a little tipsy and booing lustily -- there were lonely latchkey kids.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Apple Watch

You may have read recently that NBC will no longer be selling its video downloads on the iTunes store after a pricing dispute with Apple. Today, the New York Times reports that the network will be offering free downloads on its own website. Advertising you can't fast forward through will be embedded in the shows, which will become unviewable after seven days.

NBC is putting its chips on the winning square (although I doubt consumers will be patient enough to download a different player from every content provider out there.) Paid downloads will maintain a share of the market, but advertising-supported downloads will be dominant. We have already played this out with cable: advertisers are willing to outbid us for our eyeballs... that's a proven. I hope I'm wrong, but I fear that Apple is too attached to providing a pristine customer experience to recognize this fact and offer advertising supported content on iTunes. If they don't, they will get left behind.

Also, for some time now Netflix has been offering its subscribers downloadable movies at no extra charge. I have not been able to sample this since currently it is available only on the PC side, but friends who have tried it praise this service. If Apple can't match this offering, they ought to partner with Netflix and host it on AppleTV.

Finally, when I was at Siggraph, the 3D convention, Apple was recruiting 3D animators at the job fair. Just this morning I saw an ad they were running for a games producer. The fact that Apple is producing games themselves, rather than outsourcing it to a strategic partner, indicates to me that Apple is very committed to games. I would expect that both the iPhone and the iPod could become PSP-like game platforms, and the AppleTV could also become a game console.

The reason that AppleTV hasn't been a runaway success is because there simply isn't enough content to justify its price tag. If the AppleTV starts running free TV, movies on subscription, and a great collection of games then it could become a breakout hit that defines the Digital Living Room revolution.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Dubious Abbreviation Watch

One of the more annoying traits of the blogosphere is its fondness for questionable abbreviations. Today, Andrew Sullivan titles a post MGM Update.

Well? Is he going to update his take on the classic Hollywood musicals? No, silly. Everyone knows MGM stands for Male Genital Mutiliation.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

A Royalist Reading

I was taken back by George Will's assertion on This Week that Jim Webb's law to make troop at-home time as long as deployments was unconstitutional. A little googling reveals that John McCain is making the same claim:
"Where in the Constitution of the United States does it say that the Congress decides how long people will spend on tours of duty and how long they will spend back in the United States? It's blatantly unconstitutional," McCain said. "The Constitution of the United States said Congress will declare wars and fund wars."

Will and McCain need to re-read Article 1, Section 8. The following power is explicitly granted to Congress:

To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces

There is no ambiguity here.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Senate Tsunami?

Fourteen months to election day and I'm already handicapping the Senate races? Yes, I know. I'm a pathetic political junkie.

The first thing to realize is that the Republicans are defending far more seats than the Democrats: 22 to 12. We can organize the possible Democratic pickups in these broad caterogies:

Return of the Prodigal Sons: Mark Warner has announced that he will run for the open VA senate. (The other Virginia Warner, John, is retiring.) Mark is a popular former Governor and a superb candidate -- I'd count that seat as a gimme. Also, Bob Kerrey, a former Nebraska Senator, is considering running for the seat of the retiring Chuck Hagel. If he runs he would be expected to win.

What Will I do? I'm Red in a State That's All Blue!: Susan Collins, Norm Coleman, John Sununu, and Gordon Smith are defending their seats in states that have a strong Democratic preference. Susan Collins is the likeliest to squeeze by; John Sununu won't be so lucky. He just beat Ex-Gov Jeanne Shaheen by 51%-47% in 2002, a good year for Republicans. The polling now makes it look like a landslide for Shaheen.

Scandal-bait: Ted Stevens of Alaska seems to be sinking deeper into a bribery scandal every day. He's survived allegations of shadiness before, but this seems to be of a different magnitude. If this becomes an open seat it's possible that Red Alaska will tire of their corrupt local Republicans. Larry Craig is going to quit soon, but unfortunately he's from Idaho. Let's call that safe Republican.

On the bubble: Wayne Allard is retiring in Colorado. It's a purple state, and there is no leading Dem contender yet. Let's call that 50/50. Other candidates mentioned as vulnerable are Mitch McConnell from Kentucky, Elizabeth Dole from North Carolina, and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee. Let's call them leaning Republican.

Safe as Subprime Houses: The other Republicans seem reasonably safe, but so did George Allen around this time in 2005. A perennial like Pete Domenici could easily be surprised.

Are there any seats on the Dem side that are in jeopardy? Mary Landrieu might be vulnerable. Also, Tim Johnson's health might be an issue after his recent stroke. However, if the environment is anything like it was in 2006 or is now, it'll be difficult for the Republicans to flip an incumbent.

The Democrats currently have 51 seats. I would consider it likely that they will gain six seats at this stage, but with perfect storm like there was in 2006, a filibuster proof senate is not out of the question.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Fun With Graphs

Yes, Powerpoint has been the butt of parody before. Rarely, however, has it served the Confused God of Obfuscation as well as it did in General Petraeus's hands yesterday. Matthew Yglesias has the rundown on one particularly dishonest graph and Kevin Drum marvels at another.

UPDATE: Via Andrew Sullivan, here's an astonishing quote from Petraeus's PhD dissertation:
The Vietnam experience left the military leadership feeling that they should advise against involvement in counterinsurgencies unless specific, perhaps unlikely, circumstances obtain -- i.e. domestic public support, the promise of a quick campaign, and freedom to employ whatever force is necessary to achieve rapid victory. In light of such criteria, committing U.S. units to counterinsurgencies appears to be a very problematic proposition, difficult to conclude before domestic support erodes and costly enough to threaten the well-being of all America's military forces (and hence the country's national security), not just those involved in the actual counterinsurgency.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Inhale and Hold

Many of you might already be enjoying the third season of Weeds; since I don't have Showtime, I am just now catching up with the second season on DVD. May I just marvel at this show for a minute? Mary-Louise Parker is a miracle of nature and the rest of the cast is fine too... especially Kevin Nealon, who squeezes out the comic relief generously. I love how they've started to get a different cover for the theme song every episode. And most importantly, the writing is some of the best on television.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Learned Fecklessness

In 1965, Martin Seligman conducted an experiment extending Pavlov's work on classical conditioning. First, he would expose a dog in a hammock to a harmless -- but painful -- electric shock while he played a tone. This happened often enough that the dog associated the tone with the shock.

Later, Seligman took the dog out of the hammock and put him in a small box. The dog was no longer constrained. Now, he played a tone as he electrified the floor. A normal dog in this situation would simply jump over a low fence to escape the shock -- escape was simple. But not for our dog. He had learned that the tone and the shock were inextricably linked, that any attempts at escape were futile. He had learned to be helpless.

This is what has happened to Democrats.

It all began when Nancy Pelosi took cutting off funds for the war off the table before she even took office. "As long as our troops are in harm’s way, Democrats will be there to support them," she said. Even if the Dems didn't want to end the war this way, agreeing to the Republican frame (cutting funds = not supporting troops) was asinine. It would be far better to keep the threat of a funds cut-off in your pocket.

Now, the New York Times reports that Dems are considering coming to a 'bi-partisan' compromise:
Senator Carl Levin, Democrat of Michigan, said, “If we have to make the spring part a goal, rather than something that is binding, and if that is able to produce some additional votes to get us over the filibuster, my own inclination would be to consider that.”

How is a non-binding resolution going to end this President's war? How will meekly suggesting a withdrawal in the spring, which we know is going to happen anyway, going to end this President's war? The only thing such a vote will do is give the Republicans political cover. In 2008 they will be able to run ads saying "See, folks! I voted to end this war. You don't have to be angry at me!"

Conservative Andrew Sullivan is right. There is a whole generation of traumatized Democrats. Here he is about Clinton vis-à-vis Obama:

Clinton is from the traumatized generation; Obama isn't. Clinton has internalized to her bones the 1990s sense that conservatism is ascendant, that what she really believes is unpopular, that the Republicans have structural, latent power of having a majority of Americans on their side. Hence the fact that she reeks of fear, of calculation, of focus groups, of triangulation. She might once have had ideals keenly felt; she might once have actually relished fighting for them and arguing in their defense. But she has not been like that for a very long time. She has political post-traumatic stress disorder.

We need to replace a whole generation of Democratic leaders. The ones we have now will never learn that all they need to do to avoid the electrical shock is to just jump over the damn fence.