Saturday, February 28, 2009

Eric Zorn takes Steve Rhodes apart

Hey this would be kind of fun if I still lived in Chicago***: Eric Zorn unloads on Steve Rhodes. Like, really unloads, pretty much devastates. (Fun starts at the post's update and gets really good in update two.) Steve Rhodes offers some feeble and unconvincing responses here.

I'd note that I strongly disagree with the original proposal of Zorn's that seems to have started the tiff, which Zorn summarizes as "mainstream news gathering organizations ought to stop giving everything away on the internet, band together and offer bulk subscriptions to their online content." That's a bad idea.

But on pretty much everything he writes about Rhodes, he is right on!

Notable in Rhodes' response: The distinctly insecure and defensive tone. Samples:
  • "I'm not a self-styled visionary, I'm a real one"
  • "I have created a community -- one that I think is far more loyal to me and the Beachwood Reporter than to Eric Zorn and Change of Subject"
  • "As far as advertising and revenue streams, again, the Beachwood Reporter proper is not a model and I've never claimed it to be"
  • "in terms of paying writers, my writers are partners in this venture, not hired hands"
  • "Zorn pretends that I don't have 20 years of experience behind me"
This last one is followed by 1,537 words of Steve Rhodes' personal resume. That is not a made-up number of words, that is actually how many words Rhodes spends on his personal resume in this post.

Now, to you, as a reader, does the inclusion of a 1,537-word resume make you more or less confident that this is a guy willing to let his arguments stand or fall on their merits? ... And when a guy says, like, "I am too a visionary!" and "I have too created community!" and "I'm just intentionally not making any money or paying anybody!" ... Does this make you more or less confident in this person? Just wondering...

***In other news, I am still very glad I no longer live in Chicago.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Party of hip-hop

As a politics and (occasional) hip-hop blog, I feel that I cannot let this one pass. Noted rap fan and McCarthyist Rep. Michele Bachman, at CPAC, offers to GOP Chair Michael Steele: "You be da man! You be da man."

We commend Rep. Bachman on her fluent, totally appropriate and non-condescending use of urban slang, and congratulate Michael Steele on this early success translating GOP principles into "hip-hop settings."

Thursday, February 26, 2009

How the White House sells policies

Greg Sargent:
So the question some Dems on the Hill are asking is this. Now that we’re seeing the outlines of Obama’s budget, which sets up major looming fights with the opposition over health care and many other items, will we see the White House sporting a meaner operation this time around? Is the White House determined to learn from their stim missteps, such as they were, and gear up the right message faster?

To be sure, polling indicated that the Obama team had won the stimulus war. But some Dems -- Rahm included -- think that the White House could nonetheless have done a better job, and Dems on the Hill say they’re hoping the White House takes the last fight to heart.
I don't know if others have said this already, but it seems obvious to me that passing an economic stimulus package was simply never an animating issue to the White House in the same way something like health care or energy reform would be. As much as the policy was seen as genuinely necessary by Democratic lawmakers up to and including the president, it clearly was not the sort of thing liberals have been dreaming about -- and plotting out an approach to -- for ages.

In light of this, is it really a surprise that the White House wasn't maximally politically effective selling it?

Now, the result may or may not be any different with future legislation. A stimulus package that passes with three Republican votes still passes, and indeed the pick-off-a-few-Republican-senators model may end up being the story of the next couple of years. But I would be very surprised if the political theater around health care reform and the rest weren't much smoother and better-thought-out, and not just because of things the White House learned during the stimulus battle. They're just things that Democrats have been thinking about for a lot longer.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Is Jindal finished?

Everyone is talking about what a flop his response speech was last night, and I agree that it was a flop. Giving an opposition response to the president is a tough gig under any circumstances. At the same time, the list of SOTU-rebuttals does not contain a lot of names of people who went on to great political stardom, and a lot of the names are people who flamed out badly. Fair or not fair, it seems to be absolutely possible for a single flubbed high-profile speech to basically end the rise of a young pol. Kathleen Sebelius is probably one example.

So, did this happen to Jindal last night? We won't know for a long time. If we learn one thing from political history it is that there are no real rules and anything can happen. But Jindal's speech has some of the hallmarks of a career-killer: a.) high expectations vs. genuinely underwhelming performance, b.) a politician who entered the speech with a relatively unformed image in the public mind, c.) an easy-to-mock delivery -- the whole Kenneth-the-page thing is a bit mean but the sort of thing that sticks, d.) an accruing pundit-class consensus that the speech was flubbed.

I find Jindal to be a likable guy, and I know Saxdrop has been a fan. I wonder if he'll be able to bounce back.

UPDATE [2/25 3:18pm] ... Marc Ambinder says Jindal hasn't damaged his prospects in the slightest:
Politicians use charisma -- call it authentic presence -- to cover up their human quirks. Luckily for Jindal, other WH 2012 or 2016 contenders (and remember, Jindal's said he's not running for president in 2012, although, as with our current president, voters don't seem to care about these promises), aren't terribly charismatic either, aside from Ex-Gov. Mike Huckabee, who has a tenuous relationship to certain parts of the Republican base. The good news for Jindal is that expectations have been lowered a bit, and if you believe him to be serious about not running until at least 2016, not a thing has happened to change his prospects.

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Credit Crisis in Two lessons

This is by far the most clear explanation of what went wrong I've seen in several months of studying the subject.

Part II is here. Of course the creator finds it necessary to gloss over some more subtle points in order to keep the story moving, but he basically gets it right.

Bonus Points: Identify the points left out where government and market failures exacerbated the underlying problem.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

"Baby Mama" inexplicably overlooked by Oscars

Am I wrong, or was every single Oscar except Supporting Actor awarded mistakenly?

I guess in some sense the whole point of watching this ceremony, which I did not do, is to feel superior to the Academy's choices. So I will not make a big thing of this. But still. I hated that Slumdog movie down in my bones, hated it so much it ruined my whole weekend a few weeks ago.

Meanwhile Laura and I watched "Baby Mama" tonight and we declare it pretty good. Cute, you know, and funny. And it was not even nominated! What a travesty... Okay, maybe not a travesty, but it is the most recent example at hand of my general aesthetic proposition that funny and cute is better than self-serious and cheaply manipulative. And if there is one thing that virtually all the Oscar-nominated films and roles have in common, it is that they are all cheaply manipulative and utterly self-serious.

But then again I barely watch movies, what do I know.

Carol Brown just took a bus out of town

It's a week old by now, but as it happens this Flight of the Conchords song is probably my favorite song of the past week or so:

Via The Chief.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Where do our ideas about elites come from?

This Ross Douthat post beget this Marginal Revolution post which led me to an Arnold Kling post which says something I don't quite understand:
Suppose that we could "out" the top policy wonks and leaders of both parties. My guess is that we would see a Democratic elite that views poor people with more disgust than sympathy. And I suspect that we would see a Republican elite that finds religious fervor more disturbing than congenial.
For all I know Kling has firsthand experience with the views of "top policy wonks and leaders of both parties," though he doesn't claim to be speaking from experience here. What I want to know is where this intuition about the views of elites -- which certainly did not originate with Kling -- comes from. Why couldn't Republican elites also be religious fundamentalists? Why couldn't Democratic elites be genuine populists?

The thing about elites is that there are very few of them compared to we hoi polloi. And yet this Kling is hardly the first to claim to know their "real" views. How does he know? It could be that the knowledge filters down -- the small group of people who actually know and interact with these people talk to a few more people who talk to a few more people and so on -- but I doubt it.

Here's what I think is going on. I think Kling's own opinion is that religious fervor on the right and populism on the left are both sub-rational, baser instincts, opium-of-the-masses-type beliefs. And he assumes that elites must necessarily be rational beings not governed by such base, reptile-brain instincts -- after all, they're the elites!

But as anyone knows, if there is one lesson to be learned throughout human history, it is that powerful people are still people, governed by the same ridiculous irrationalities as the rest of us. So I think some caution is in order when divining what our elites really, really believe as distinct from what they do and say.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Did Senate Dems roll House Dems?

I don't know how significant this really is, but I have a little bit of news on some the palace-intrigue aspect of the stimulus bill negotiations over at the other place.

I have questions

Not defending Judd Gregg, just asking: Is there anything Daily Kos diarists don't think "reveals the futility of bipartisanship"?

... Also, can someone please explain to me what a Commerce Secretary even is?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

"No, no, I don't want my soul shipped to New Jersey!"

A line said by Paul Giamatti's character in the new indie "Cold Souls."

If you haven’t heard of “Cold Souls”, it stars Paul Giamatti as a famous actor named Paul Giamatti, and it follows him as he explores getting his soul removed as a relief from the burdens of daily life.
It goes on to imply it's "Vanilla Sky" as if reimagined by Charlie Kaufman. See here for clips.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Angler by Barton Gellman

Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency by Barton Gellman

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
Pretty bad-ass reporting and taut storytelling. Cheney set policy goals and accomplished them, is the essence of it, but how that happened it is still fascinating.

There is a large cast of supporting players -- Alberto Gonzales comes off especially badly -- but in a curious way it's the vice president's lawyer David Addington who dominates this book. Addington, who I've heard called "Cheney's Cheney," seems to be forever shouting at people in meetings, pushing through secret directives, holding fast to an ultra-radical idea of executive authority even as the rationales drop away. He was in some ways the enforcer, but he was also the ideologue, theorist and writer who helped to give Cheney enormous influence. At least through about 2005 or 2006, anyway. There was a rise and fall of Cheney's influence in the administration that gives "Angler" its shape.

There are a lot of anonymous sources throughout the book, which I suppose is a necessary evil. Still, I would have liked to know which "close ally of Cheney's" on p. 173 referred to the U.S. State Department "basically an al Qaeda cell." There are a bunch of other quotes that have a similar effect -- I don't doubt that the quotes came from someone important, but from a reader's perspective it's a bit of a distraction, because who is saying this junk?

Good book, good read, important piece of history. Cheney is contemptuous of the public record; without "Angler" we literally would never have known a lot of this stuff.

View all my reviews.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Lil Wayne is back on my stereo

"Weezy F. Baby and the 'F' is for phenomenal."

Did he ever leave? Kind of. I was just telling Dino, I stopped following all the Wayne mixtapes around the time Tha Carter III came out. Because, who could keep up?

But now I am wondering what I missed. Have they all been great, or is this one a return to form? I mean even the weird heavy metal songs and ballads are kind of mesmerizing.

Also, is that a didgeridoo sample on "Yes"? I believe it is.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Keeping an eye on things

My colleague and Apple-products maven Jerry Brito recently launched, along with some volunteer developers, Stimulus Watch.

Hoping to harness the power of crowd-sourcing: was built to to help the new administration keep its pledge to invest stimulus money smartly, and to hold public officials to account for the taxpayer money they spend. We do this by allowing you, citizens around the country with local knowledge about the proposed "shovel-ready" projects in your city, to find, discuss and rate those projects.
Its a very slick, but spartan, design and based on the number of votes they've tallied after only one day, I this this site might really catch on.