We love the Economist

Unsurprisingly, they’ve endorsed Obama:

IT IS impossible to forecast how important any presidency will be. Back in 2000 America stood tall as the undisputed superpower, at peace with a generally admiring world. The main argument was over what to do with the federal government’s huge budget surplus. Nobody foresaw the seismic events of the next eight years. When Americans go to the polls next week the mood will be very different. The United States is unhappy, divided and foundering both at home and abroad. Its self-belief and values are under attack.

For all the shortcomings of the campaign, both John McCain and Barack Obama offer hope of national redemption. Now America has to choose between them. The Economist does not have a vote, but if it did, it would cast it for Mr Obama. We do so wholeheartedly: the Democratic candidate has clearly shown that he offers the better chance of restoring America’s self-confidence. But we acknowledge it is a gamble. Given Mr Obama’s inexperience, the lack of clarity about some of his beliefs and the prospect of a stridently Democratic Congress, voting for him is a risk. Yet it is one America should take, given the steep road ahead.


At the beginning of this election year, there were strong arguments against putting another Republican in the White House. A spell in opposition seemed apt punishment for the incompetence, cronyism and extremism of the Bush presidency. Conservative America also needs to recover its vim. Somehow Ronald Reagan’s party of western individualism and limited government has ended up not just increasing the size of the state but turning it into a tool of southern-fried moralism.

The selection of Mr McCain as the Republicans’ candidate was a powerful reason to reconsider. Mr McCain has his faults: he is an instinctive politician, quick to judge and with a sharp temper. And his age has long been a concern (how many global companies in distress would bring in a new 72-year-old boss?). Yet he has bravely taken unpopular positions—for free trade, immigration reform, the surge in Iraq, tackling climate change and campaign-finance reform. A western Republican in the Reagan mould, he has a long record of working with both Democrats and America’s allies. If only the real John McCain had been running

That, however, was Senator McCain; the Candidate McCain of the past six months has too often seemed the victim of political sorcery, his good features magically inverted, his bad ones exaggerated. The fiscal conservative who once tackled Mr Bush over his unaffordable tax cuts now proposes not just to keep the cuts, but to deepen them. The man who denounced the religious right as “agents of intolerance” now embraces theocratic culture warriors. The campaigner against ethanol subsidies (who had a better record on global warming than most Democrats) came out in favour of a petrol-tax holiday. It has not all disappeared: his support for free trade has never wavered. Yet rather than heading towards the centre after he won the nomination, Mr McCain moved to the right.


The choice of Sarah Palin epitomised the sloppiness. It is not just that she is an unconvincing stand-in, nor even that she seems to have been chosen partly for her views on divisive social issues, notably abortion. Mr McCain made his most important appointment having met her just twice.

Ironically, given that he first won over so many independents by speaking his mind, the case for Mr McCain comes down to a piece of artifice: vote for him on the assumption that he does not believe a word of what he has been saying. Once he reaches the White House, runs this argument, he will put Mrs Palin back in her box, throw away his unrealistic tax plan and begin negotiations with the Democratic Congress. That is plausible; but it is a long way from the convincing case that Mr McCain could have made. Had he become president in 2000 instead of Mr Bush, the world might have had fewer problems. But this time it is beset by problems, and Mr McCain has not proved that he knows how to deal with them.

Is Mr Obama any better? Most of the hoopla about him has been about what he is, rather than what he would do. His identity is not as irrelevant as it sounds. Merely by becoming president, he would dispel many of the myths built up about America: it would be far harder for the spreaders of hate in the Islamic world to denounce the Great Satan if it were led by a black man whose middle name is Hussein; and far harder for autocrats around the world to claim that American democracy is a sham. America’s allies would rally to him: the global electoral college on our website shows a landslide in his favour. At home he would salve, if not close, the ugly racial wound left by America’s history and lessen the tendency of American blacks to blame all their problems on racism.

So Mr Obama’s star quality will be useful to him as president. But that alone is not enough to earn him the job. Charisma will not fix Medicare nor deal with Iran. Can he govern well? Two doubts present themselves: his lack of executive experience; and the suspicion that he is too far to the left.

There is no getting around the fact that Mr Obama’s résumé is thin for the world’s biggest job. But the exceptionally assured way in which he has run his campaign is a considerable comfort. It is not just that he has more than held his own against Mr McCain in the debates. A man who started with no money and few supporters has out-thought, out-organised and outfought the two mightiest machines in American politics—the Clintons and the conservative right.

Political fire, far from rattling Mr Obama, seems to bring out the best in him: the furore about his (admittedly ghastly) preacher prompted one of the most thoughtful speeches of the campaign. On the financial crisis his performance has been as assured as Mr McCain’s has been febrile. He seems a quick learner and has built up an impressive team of advisers, drawing in seasoned hands like Paul Volcker, Robert Rubin and Larry Summers. Of course, Mr Obama will make mistakes; but this is a man who listens, learns and manages well.

Just so you know

We don’t do anonymous comments here. Identify yourself, or don’t comment. Thanks.

Update: Let me be clear. I’m more than willing to engage anyone here, on Facebook, or wherever, but not anonymously. If you’re too cowardly to argue under your own name, you’re not worth my time.

Silly but fun

Boing Boing has a few selections from an election-themed and twitter-based round of Dozens, including such gems as:

  • Yo mama so fat, her other biography is called “The Audacity of Hardee’s.

  • Yo moms so fat Russia can see her from their house.

  • Yo mama so fat, the only Supreme Court verdict she wants to overturn is HomeTown Buffet v. Yo Mama.

Schneier, once again, right as rain

Here he points out that there are, in effect, two classes of airport contraband:

There are two classes of contraband at airport security checkpoints: the class that will get you in trouble if you try to bring it on an airplane, and the class that will cheerily be taken away from you if you try to bring it on an airplane. This difference is important: Making security screeners confiscate anything from that second class is a waste of time. All it does is harm innocents; it doesn’t stop terrorists at all.

Let me explain. If you’re caught at airport security with a bomb or a gun, the screeners aren’t just going to take it away from you. They’re going to call the police, and you’re going to be stuck for a few hours answering a lot of awkward questions. You may be arrested, and you’ll almost certainly miss your flight. At best, you’re going to have a very unpleasant day.

This is why articles about how screeners don’t catch every — or even a majority — of guns and bombs that go through the checkpoints don’t bother me. The screeners don’t have to be perfect; they just have to be good enough. No terrorist is going to base his plot on getting a gun through airport security if there’s a decent chance of getting caught, because the consequences of getting caught are too great.

Contrast that with a terrorist plot that requires a 12-ounce bottle of liquid. There’s no evidence that the London liquid bombers actually had a workable plot, but assume for the moment they did. If some copycat terrorists try to bring their liquid bomb through airport security and the screeners catch them — like they caught me with my bottle of pasta sauce — the terrorists can simply try again. They can try again and again. They can keep trying until they succeed. Because there are no consequences to trying and failing, the screeners have to be 100 percent effective. Even if they slip up one in a hundred times, the plot can succeed.

The same is true for knitting needles, pocketknives, scissors, corkscrews, cigarette lighters and whatever else the airport screeners are confiscating this week. If there’s no consequence to getting caught with it, then confiscating it only hurts innocent people. At best, it mildly annoys the terrorists.

To fix this, airport security has to make a choice. If something is dangerous, treat it as dangerous and treat anyone who tries to bring it on as potentially dangerous. If it’s not dangerous, then stop trying to keep it off airplanes. Trying to have it both ways just distracts the screeners from actually making us safer.

Really, Sarah?

Over at BoingBoing, we have our attention called to a video wherein Republican vice-presidential nominee complains that Obama will create a socialist state wherein our very freedoms are endangered.

Really? That’s the line you’re going with? Well, Harper’s writer Scott Horton has a bit to say about that:

Does Sarah mean a state:

  • That snatches its victims off the street, denies them all form of legal process and whisks them away to secret “blacksites” where they can be tortured using all the techniques described in Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon?

  • That arrests and prosecutes its political adversaries for imaginary crimes so as to eliminate them from the running in election cycles in which they could do some damage?

  • That destroys the careers of professional military men because they got promotions under a prior regime and therefore considers them disloyal?

  • That believes it can detain and hold its enemies forever without any charges or any evidence against them, denying them access to courts to prove their innocence?

Because, Sarah, that’s what your party has done for us in just 8 short years.

In which we are amused by Amex’s offerings

So, Amex has a great program wherein you accumulate a point for every dollar you spend. These points are then redeemable for, principally, travel benefits like free rooms, free car rentals, free airfare, or free upgrades to first class; Mrs Heathen and I used these points to fly in First to San Francisco for our honeymoon, for example.

As it happens, it’s also possible to redeem these points for goods via any of a number of catalogs that show up in our mailbox from time to time. Usually, these merch deals are curiously bad ones; $400 items for, say, 50,000 points or more (airfare can be had for 25K points, for example).

Comes now, then, the First Collection, a fancy catalog of very high-end items available in exchange for truly unreasonable point totals; it includes high-end Bourdeaux for 30K to 50K per bottle, for example. The particular item that prompted this post, however is a 12-month lease on a Lamborghini Gallardo for 9.5 million points.

It’s funny on the face of it, clearly, but then you realize it’s aspirational marketing. No one will redeem his points for this. Just having it in the catalog makes the catalog fancier, and helps emphasize the luxe aspects of the Amex program as well as, to a point, Lambo. But it’s still funny.

More of the same, mostly

Another weekend, another tight win for Texas, Alabama spanked Tennessee, and Penn State edged past Ohio State. No real movement on any rankings, and an increasingly likely shakeout for 2 of these 3 to play for the title in January. Alabama will have the toughest road, since they’ll still have to play either Florida or Georgia for the SEC title in order to advance; neither other school has any real contenders left to play (unless Texas Tech turns out to be realer than anyone believes).

Some crystal balls suggests a Penn State – Texas championship game, which would be fun to watch only because the pansy-ass yankees would get destroyed by the Longhorns. For that to work, though, Alabama would have to lose the SEC title game, and the BCS would have to ignore PSU’s puffball schedule. This kind of calculus reminds us all, yet again, that college football needs a fucking playoff like nobody’s business — it’s the only major sport without one, and leads to absurd outcomes as often as not. Of course, it’s also led to blowouts of Ohio State two years in a row, and there’s pretty much nothing to dislike about that aspect. As noted below, PSU and JoePa have no place in title contention this year. Any one-loss SEC team would make a better opponent for the hypothetically lossless Longhorns come January.

Next up for Texas: Texas Tech, currently ranked #7, and famous for a highly productive offense. Look for a shootout. After that, they should be able to coast — Baylor, Kansas, and A&M finish out their season, plus the Big XII championship game with (probably) Mizzou.

Next up for Alabama: Nonconference Arkansas State, followed by #19 LSU, Mississippi State, and Auburn. After that, the SEC championship game against either Florida or Georgia.

Dear Joe Pa:

You’re not fooling anybody: Penn is WAY overrated.

It’s foolish to think a Big Ten team has any business on college football’s biggest stage. […]

{T]his team – and this conference – doesn’t deserve another chance at college football’s biggest prize. Besides, Paterno is used to fashioning an unbeaten team, then getting left out of the championship party. That has happened four times: 1968, 1969, 1973 and 1994.

So, please, don’t give us Penn State on Jan. 8, 2009, in Dolphin Stadium. Give us life, give us liberty, give us hope for a good game. That means give us Texas, Florida, Alabama, Georgia or USC. Heck, we’ll even take Texas Tech and its diabolical offense and kooky coach. They all have been more impressive than – and likely would beat – any Big Ten team.

Even a perfect Penn State.

We pray that America won’t have to watch another Big Ten belly-flop in the BCS title game. The Buckeyes have perfected that dive the past two seasons.

Look at the hideous history. First, there was Florida 41, Ohio State 14. Next, there was LSU 38, Ohio State 24. There is no need for a trilogy. If you’ve seen one slasher flick, you’ve seen them all.

Good News/Bad News

The good news is that a local TV repair shop was interested in hauling off the 55″ Mitsubishi for free, presumably for parts or even cheap-rehab for second-hand sale.

The bad news is that i had to help the little Chinese dude get the monster down the stairs, and it’s too early for beer yet.

Patton Oswalt on Sarah Palin

This is fucking priceless:

I’ve been saying bad things about Sarah Palin before right now in the past ago. But that’s only because I thought she was an unqualified, passive-aggressive, hypocritical cunt.

However, I was hit over the head 11 times with an amber paperweight this morning. Then, seventeen minutes ago, I got my head trapped in a big plastic bag, and was not able to get any oxygen into my breath-hole for several minutes. And then I paid the mailman to give me a screwdriver lobotomy.

And so now I see things different and also clearer than before back then.

For first things, everyone who’s laughing about her on the TV with Couric needs to understand that, when it comes to the country’s money and bank outlook, we need to consider what Sarah said about jobs making and also the shoring up of our proud country and the mountains of glory and tradition that we, as a people, have forever held. And don’t forget the health care which for the body of Americans as people and as a whole is critical. Do you remember the people who died in the towers?

It keeps going. Go read the whole thing.

Actually, I’m pretty sure that figure’s low

From the Onion: Study: 38 Percent Of People Not Actually Entitled To Their Opinion.

CHICAGO—In a surprising refutation of the conventional wisdom on opinion entitlement, a study conducted by the University of Chicago’s School for Behavioral Science concluded that more than one-third of the U.S. population is neither entitled nor qualified to have opinions.

“On topics from evolution to the environment to gay marriage to immigration reform, we found that many of the opinions expressed were so off-base and ill-informed that they actually hurt society by being voiced,” said chief researcher Professor Mark Fultz, who based the findings on hundreds of telephone, office, and dinner-party conversations compiled over a three-year period. “While people have long asserted that it takes all kinds, our research shows that American society currently has a drastic oversupply of the kinds who don’t have any good or worthwhile thoughts whatsoever. We could actually do just fine without them.”

In 2002, Fultz’s team shook the academic world by conclusively proving the existence of both bad ideas during brainstorming and dumb questions during question-and-answer sessions.


This will be screamingly funny to like three of you, and completely incomprehensible to the rest. Hint: if you know what “saving throw” means, go ahead and click. SFW.

TSA Responds

Kip Hawley — the mushmouthed factotum in charge of TSA — responded to day to the Atlantic piece on TSA penetration; Bruce Schneier has more. It should come as no surprise that Hawley says virtually nothing of substance or value.

Balko on the GOP: They must lose for America

This is awesome and completely correct:

First, they had their shot at holding power, and they failed. They’ve failed in staying true to their principles of limited government and free markets. They’ve failed in preventing elected leaders of their party from becoming corrupted by the trappings of power, and they’ve failed to hold those leaders accountable after the fact. Congressional Republicans failed to rein in the Bush administration’s naked bid to vastly expand the power of the presidency (a failure they’re going to come to regret should Obama take office in January). They failed to apply due scrutiny and skepticism to the administration’s claims before undertaking Congress’ most solemn task—sending the nation to war. I could go on.

As for the Bush administration, the only consistent principle we’ve seen from the White House over the last eight years is that of elevating the American president (and, I guess, the vice president) to that of an elected dictator. That isn’t hyperbole. This administration believes that on any issue that can remotely be tied to foreign policy or national security (and on quite a few other issues as well), the president has boundless, limitless, unchecked power to do anything he wants. They believe that on these matters, neither Congress nor the courts can restrain him.

That’s the second reason the GOP needs to lose. American voters need to send a clear, convincing repudiation of these dangerous ideas.

Background on FiveThirtyEight

FiveThirtyEight.com is the most interesting electoral stats site out there this campaign season, and it should be, given its author’s statistical pedigree. Nate Silver’s day job is in the rarefied world of baseball stats; he works for Baseball Prospectus, who, according to the linked story, have “a reputation in sports-media circles for being unfailingly rigorous, occasionally arrogant, and almost always correct.”

A little background:

The site earned some national recognition back in May, during the Democratic primaries, when almost every other commentator was celebrating Hillary Clinton’s resurgent momentum. Reading the polls, most pundits predicted she’d win Indiana by five points and noted she’d narrowed the gap with Obama in North Carolina to just eight.

Silver, who was writing anonymously as “Poblano” and receiving about 800 visits a day, disagreed with this consensus. He’d broken the numbers down demographically and come up with a much less encouraging outcome for Clinton: a two-point squeaker in Indiana, and a seventeen-point drubbing in North Carolina. On the night of the primaries, Clinton took Indiana by one and lost North Carolina by fifteen. The national pundits were doubly shocked: one, because the results were so divergent from the polls, and two, because some guy named after a chili pepper had predicted the outcome better than anyone else.

Silver and his colleagues, for example, were virtually alone in predicting that now-World Series bound Tampa would win 90 games this year.

Silver’s current projection is a 344 to 193 electoral vote victory for Obama, with 51.1% of the popular vote. Overall, he sees a 93.4% chance of an Obama victory. It changes slightly every day, as his models incorporate more and newer data.

Dear Gadget Brain Trust…

…. last night our 8-year-old rear-projection TV developed a very ugly convergence problem that renders it essentially unwatchable, and the quotes I’m getting for repair are well in excess of what I’m willing to throw at an 8-year-old TV.

Consequently, it looks like I’m TV shopping.

My initial research suggests that LCD is probably a better fit for our room (due to the large amount of natural light; the rear-proj set was unwatchable for about 2h in the middle of the day, not normally a problem except in football season). We also like the lower energy consumption; a friend just got a (very large, very high-end) plasma, and you can feel the heat coming off of it from a foot away.

Given that we’ve tried to be careful and ended up with some Tivo-related burn-in anyway, I also like that LCD is said to be much less prone to the problem than plasma. For a while, it looked like DLP was a good idea, but those sets seem to have nearly vanished from the marketplace, so I’m gonna ignore them unless someone can tell me a good reason not to.

We’re going to try to be frugal here and not spend a fortune, so the ideal television will be:

  • Probably 42″ or 47″ (replacing 55″)
  • Will eventually go on the wall
  • 720p is fine; 1080p is nice, but I don’t know how much I really care.
  • Under $1700 or so; I don’t need to surf the ragged edge of quality here. Also, if we spend less and need to bump up in 5 years, it hurts less.
  • Obviously HDMI is key, but I’m guessing it’s hard to avoid that at this point.
  • Right now, we’re on standard def DirecTV, because we prefer the Tivo software to any of the generic DVRs. It’s possible we’ll upgrade to HD DirecTV next year, when DTV releases a Tivo-brand DVR again, but not before. (Basically, we find reliable and friendly DVR software to be a bigger value than higher resolution sitcoms.)
  • We don’t currently have a Blu-Ray or HD-DVD deck, and have no plans for one YET. An upsampling player might be on offer, but we’re not feeling the need for more expensive movies given how good regular DVD can look with a proper upconversion.

We hear good things, and see good prices, about LG. The big boys (Sony, Pioneer) are very spendy, and I’m particularly unwilling to spend on Sony given their corporate behavior. What other brands should we look hard at, or avoid?

Any input is appreciated. Thanks in advance. Comments or direct email are fine.

The Weekend of No Surprises

All our top three managed to dispatch their opponents with varying degrees of drama. Colt and the Longhorns put a Texas-sized hurt on critical darling Mizzou; Alabama faced down in-conference rival Ole Miss despite some sloppy second half play. And PSU won, not that anyone cares.

The real news of the weekend is the reaction to the rankings, especially now that BCS is out and in play. Texas’ national credentials are worth questioning, given that the Big XII appears to have given up on the whole idea of defense (n.b. that they gave up 30+ in their win over Mizz). Frankly, despite the nostalgia factor, I hope UT hangs on so that, should Alabama win out, the big game is Tide vs. Longhorns instead of Tide vs. JoePa. Granted, I think we’d win either one…

They SAY it’s for economics, but what of his other work?

Paul Krugman, of course, won the Nobel in economics earlier this week, and bully for him. However, Tor books points out that perhaps Krugman’s most interesting work came early in his career:

Krugman is famous for his work on the economics of international trade, but as our corporate cousins at Nature remind us, one of his early works was a pioneering examination entitled The Theory of Interstellar Trade:

Abstract: This paper extends interplanetary trade theory to an interstellar setting. It is chiefly concerned with the following question: how should interest charges on goods in transit be computed when the goods travel at close to the speed of light? This is a problem because the time taken in transit will appear less to an observer travelling with the goods than to a stationary observer. A solution is derived from economic theory, and two useless but true theorems are proved.

The young Krugman observed that “This paper, then, is a serious analysis of a ridiculous subject, which is of course the opposite of what is usual in economics.”

(Krugman is also known as an unapologetic fan of SF.)

As it turns out, there is at least one principled and sane conservative

Christopher Buckley, son of right-wing firebrand William F. Buckley, has endorsed Barack Obama.

Of course, he was promptly let go by his father’s magazine as a consequence.

Mr. Buckley said he did not understand the sense of betrayal that some of his conservative colleagues felt, but said that the fury and ugly comments his endorsement generated is “part of the calcification of modern discourse. It’s so angry.” Paraphrasing Ronald Reagan’s quote about the Democrats, Mr. Buckley added, “I haven’t left the Republican Party. It left me.”

Social Networking Weirdness

Facebook thinks I should be friends with lots of people I don’t know, mostly because of shared friends. If five folks I know also know John Doe, it stands to reason I might know him, too. You get false positives with this approach, but that’s ok, because you also end up with renewed connections to people you haven’t seen or spoken to in years.

What’s weird is when you get strange friend intersections. Right now, there’s someone on my “you may know…” list that I do not know, but with whom I share three completely unrelated friends, at least from my perspective.

The first shared friends is someone I know from The Well, an online community I’ve been a member of for a decade or more.

The second is from my high school in Mississippi.

The third is a playwrite my wife and I hosted in Houston when she was working on a piece for a local group we volunteered with.


It’s time to consider a replacement GOP VP candidate

Roseanne Cash tosses her hat in:

In summation, I present myself to the GOP as a woman, and I repeat, woman, who has held a passport for thirty-eight years, a lip gloss-wearing soccer-volleyball-softball-gymnastics mom of five, who can carry a six-pack home to her husband like nobody’s business, whose will is firmly aligned with God’s will, a neo-natal conservative and legally savvy public figure, a border-watching, trigonometry-credited, breastfeeding, BlackBerry-tapping, cat-throwing maverick whose daughters are out of their teens, therefore immune to teenage pregnancy (although this is a private, family matter), and whose dad’s head (or an eerie facsimile) adorns a state airline.

Read the whole thing. It’s hilarious.

In which I admit to watching goofy TV

I’ve been taken in by HBO’s True Blood, which is at least fun. Last night, however, when I watched Sunday’s episode, I found myself kind of uncomfortable with the final scenes — not because of any plot development, and not because of what Joe Bob Briggs called “aardvarking”, but because of who one of the aardvarkers was.

She’s grown up very nicely, and is (according to IMDB), a healthy 26 years old, but it still made me feel vaguely creepy to watch half-naked Anna “The Piano” Paquin in a sex scene.