Monday, October 31, 2016

R.I.P. Zacherley (September 26, 1918 – October 27, 2016)

He almost made it to Halloween.

A bit of history from Wikipedia:

In October 1957, Screen Gems released a bundle of old Universal horror movies to syndicated television, naming the collection "Shock!". They encouraged the use of hosts for the broadcasts. This is why many of the early programs were called "Shock Theater". Viewers loved the package, as well as the concept, and ratings soared. A "Son of Shock!" package was released in 1958.

Creature Features was another film package that was released in the early 1960s and added to in the 1970s. The films in this package ranged from horror and science-fiction films of the 1950s, British horror films of the 1960s, and the Japanese "giant monster" movies of the 1960s, and 1970s. This package also included an uncut print of Night of the Living Dead.


The first television horror host is generally accepted to be Vampira. The Vampira Show featured mostly low budget suspense films, as few horror films had yet been released for television broadcast. Despite its short 1954-1955 run, The Vampira Show set the standard format for horror host shows to follow.

Hosts were often plucked from the ranks of the studio staff. In the days of live television, it was not uncommon for the weather man or booth announcer to finish a nightly news broadcast and race madly to another part of the soundstage for a quick costume change to present the evening's monster tale.

While a few early hosts like Zacherley and Vampira became the icons of this nationwide movement, most hosts were locals. The impact of these friendly revenants on their young fans cannot be overestimated. The earliest hosts are still remembered with great affection today.

It's also worth noting that among the kids staying up late to watch Shock Theater were the aspiring film makers like Spielberg and Lucas who would be greatly influenced by what they saw when they went on to largely invent the modern blockbuster era.

Happy Halloween from the Mercury Theatre

The debut production of the Mercury Theatre of the Air, Dracula.

And, of course, the Mercury production of War of the Worlds.

While we're at it, here's a tour de force from Welles' favorite, Agnes Moorehead (don't let the corny intro turn you off) Sorry, Wrong Number.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Not so much being asked to dig your own grave, as being charged for the shovel

This appears to be our busy season so I'll just pass on the following from Charles Pierce without comment:

The indefatigable David Sirota, and his team at The International Business Times, has been doing god's work tracking how the various hedge-fund cowboys and Wall Street sharpers who have been tasked with "managing" the pension plans of various states have, in turn, shoveled millions in campaign donations to those same politicians who handed them the pension money in the first place.
Ceresney, who is head of the SEC's division of enforcement, said his team is now working with other federal law enforcement agencies to do "all we can to shine light in this opaque area." His warning spotlighted the fact that — six years after the SEC enacted its pay-to-play rule — financial executives have found ways around the strictures as they seek lucrative deals to manage portions of the nation's $3 trillion public pension system. A new International Business Times/MapLight review found that in the 2016 cycle, executives at firms managing state pension money have donated nearly $1.3 million to the Republican Governors Association, on top of the more than $6.8 million such firms gave to the RGA in 2013 and 2014. Those donors gave to the RGA while the group was helping the campaigns of governors with influence over state pension funds — funds that have invested with the donors' firms. Democrats weren't forgotten: the Democratic Governors Association received $151,000 from firms managing public pension money in states where the DGA was involved in gubernatorial races in the 2014 election cycle.
And now this Circle of Grift has come around to Massachusetts. It seems that the Wall Streeters who have been "managing" the pension money of the state's public school teachers have been plowing cash into support for the ballot question to lift the cap on charter schools. In other words, the state's public school teachers are fighting a juggernaut for which their own money paid. Again, from the IBTimes:
"This is a morally bankrupt situation," said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, which opposes the ballot measure. "These managers are using money they've earned from teacher pensions to try to destroy the same public education system that teachers have worked in mightily to help children." "It's the most insulting f___ing thing, and it makes me so angry," said Laura Henderson, an 11-year veteran of Massachusetts public schools, who now teaches English and special education in Newton. She spends many of her weekends going door to door, trying to persuade voters to oppose Question 2. For Henderson, more charters means fewer unionized teaching jobs and the erosion of public education standards. In her view, the money behind Question 2 is motivated by a desire to ultimately privatize public education.
No, Laura. It's all for poor children. Can't you see that? The noted compassion for the poor that has been a hallmark of the modern Wall Street financiers is once again in evidence. (As is their long record of careful oversight of public pension money.) And I am the Tsar of all the Russias.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Growing up in Arkansas...

Tracts from the Alamo Church and Chick Publications were ubiquitous. The latter bore a remarkable resemblance in both format and style to the notorious Tijuana bibles of previous generations and I'm sure that, at some point,  people looking for one or the other got a big surprise. Being the son of a zoology professor meant I got a disproportionate share of anti-evolution eight-pagers thrust upon me by generally well-meaning fundamentalists.

Jack Chick died this week. Jeet Heer of the New Republic has a good retrospective.

Jack T. Chick Was the Leni Riefenstahl of American Cartooning

Jack T. Chick, the cartoonist who died Sunday at the age of 92, almost certainly thought you deserved to burn in Hell. It wasn’t personal—strictly theology. Adhering to one of the most exclusionary forms of fundamentalist Protestantism this side of the Westboro Baptist Church, Chick spent a lifetime drawing cartoon warning of the eternal damnation due to all non-Christians (including Muslims and Jews), believers in false forms of Christianity (the Catholic Church was an especial object of hatred), Mormons, liberal Protestants, homosexuals, and anyone who partook of a wide range of Satanic activities (ranging from trick or treating on Halloween to playing Dungeons and Dragons). Beloved by his fellow fundamentalists, who bought his tracts by the hundreds of millions and seeded them in bus stops and diners all over the world, Chick was widely derided by the world at large where he was seen, accurately, as a producer of hate literature.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Following up on "Calling all political science grad students"

From back in August:
Consider definitely non-purple states with open primaries. We can often get the situation we have now in California where voters in the minority party know that their vote for the president will almost certainly have no impact on the outcome and they have no option to vote for a member of their own party in one or more major state-wide race. What impact might this have on minority party districts in the state?

While it is still too early to say what that impact might be, it is fair to say that it does have some people worried.

Matthew Artz writing for the Mercury News [emphasis added]:

While Democrats have little chance of winning the 30 seats needed to retake the House, they could make a bigger dent than expected in California with four Republican incumbents now facing competitive races: Jeff Denham and David Valadao in the Central Valley, Steve Knight in Los Angeles County, and Darrell Issa in the San Diego suburbs.

The nonpartisan Cook Political Report recently declared three of those races “tossups” while downgrading Valadao’s seat from “likely Republican” to “lean Republican.”

Local GOP candidates were never going to get much help from a ballot in which two Democrats are competing for the open U.S. Senate seat, and no ballot measure has captured the imagination of Republican voters. But Trump’s dismal poll numbers makes their plight even more difficult, said Bill Whalen, a former Republican operative who is now a research fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution.

“Twenty-eight percent is uncharted territory,” he said, noting that the worst showing by a Republican presidential nominee in California was Alfred Landon, who won 31 percent of the vote in 1936. John McCain and Mitt Romney each won 37 percent.

“Republicans should be concerned,” Whalen said. “The numbers are dreadful.”

Why I no longer wait to post speculations on the campaign

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Trump as stressor -- yet another evangelical edition

I've been arguing for a while that the evangelical movement has largely been gutted of its once central religious aspects and left with little more than a social reactionary agenda and a sharp tendency to vote Republican. This gutting did create significant tension in the movement but the rumblings were fairly quiet and attracted little outside attention until the arrival of Trump threw everything into high relief.

Eric Zorn of the Chicago Tribune lists some of the reasons why devout, Bible-toting evangelicals are having so much trouble with the GOP ticket.
During a televised interview with John Heilemann and Mark Halperin of Bloomberg Politics in August 2015, …

"Are you an Old Testament guy or a New Testament guy?" Heilemann asked.

"Probably equal," Trump said. "I think it's just incredible, the whole Bible is incredible."

Later that month at a news conference in South Carolina, he said "I am Presbyterian Protestant. I go to Marble Collegiate Church ... as often as I can, a lot."

Two problems with that. First, Marble Collegiate, on New York's 5th Avenue, is a Reformed, not Presbyterian, church. And second, though the Trump family does have a history of attending Marble, officials there quickly sent a statement to CNN saying Trump "is not an active member."

[Speaking as a lapsed Presbyterian, do you have any idea how little attendance it takes to be an active member of that denomination? If you showed up for Easter service back in 2010, you're probably still on the mailing list. -- MP]

The following month, David Brody of the Christian Broadcasting Network asked Trump on camera why it was he expressed such fondness for the Bible.

"So many things, like you know, you take, whatever you want to say, there's so many things that you can learn from it," Trump said. "Proverbs. The chapter, 'never bend to envy.' I've had that thing all of my life where people are bending to envy."

It probably won't surprise you to learn that the words "never bend to envy" do not appear in any common translations of the Bible.

Trump plunged on in, full essay-exam mode, emulating the wheel-spinning argle-bargle of a middle school student trying to fill up the blank space under a test question with halfway plausible verbiage.

"And there's just, actually, it's an incredible book, so many things you can learn from the Bible," he told Brody. "And you can lead your life — and I'm not just talking in terms of religion I'm talking in terms of leading a life even beyond a religion. There are so many brilliant things in the Bible. … The Bible is the most special thing."


That unfamiliarity showed up again in April when host Bob Lonsberry of WHAM-AM in Rochester, N.Y., broached the subject in a phone interview: "Is there a favorite Bible verse or Bible story that has informed your thinking or your character through life, sir?"

"Well, I think many," answered the would-be exegete-in-chief. "I mean, you know, when we get into the Bible, I think many, so many. And I tell people, look, 'An eye for an eye,' you can almost say that."

You can, sure.

But not only is "An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth" an Old Testament verse that condones barbaric vengeance ("… hand for hand, foot for foot," it goes on, "burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise") it was also expressly repudiated by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount: "You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.' But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also" (Matthew 5:38-39).

Is Trump the first politician to exaggerate his piety in order to win favor with the American public, 70 percent of which identifies as Christian and 6 percent of which identifies as belonging to another faith tradition?

No, but he's the worst at it — the most transparent — that we've ever seen on the national stage.

Despite all to this, Trump will probably still do well with the evangelical vote, but his long-term impact on the movement remains very much an open question.

Aspect Dominance or just reporters loking for a man biting a dog? -- repost and update

[Remember back in the summer when the bedwetting faction was busy coming up with reasons why Trump was unstoppable? One of the favorite scenarios was that the fickle millennials, having lost Sanders, would stay home or go with Stein or Johnson or even Trump. These predictions have aged very badly, but even at the time they were rather silly.]

From back in July:

The neverhillary crowd certainly can be vocal and they get a lot of press, but how much of a factor are they? 

Harold Meyerson writing for the American Prospect (via Lemieux) [emphasis added]:
As the convention began, a new Pew poll showed that 88.5 percent of voters who’d consistently backed Sanders throughout the primary season now favored Clinton. A majority of the Sanders delegates in the hall in Philadelphia also back Clinton, but a loud Blinkered minority has managed to command disproportionate media coverage, which ever favors the loud. This disconsolate fringe—not just delegates but also the demonstrators lined up outside the convention area’s fencing—is almost entirely white and non-immigrant, people, that is, with less reason than some to fear a Trump presidency will overturn their lives. Nor are the demonstrators I’ve talked to preponderantly local, but rather have come from across the country to shout their rage and discontent. In short, the Blinkered are a fraction of the left, the Naderites come again. They are people who wouldn’t normally be involved either in Democratic politics or real-world progressive organizations, who hitched their wagon to Sanders’s star while many more experienced progressive activists failed to grasp Sanders’s potential for moving the world further in their direction than any political phenomenon in years.

Obviously, it is dangerous to infer too much from the decidedly nonrandom sample of "people you know," but I am Southern California based and I work with a program that relies heavily on millennial volunteers -- pretty much Bernie ground zero -- and this is entirely in line with what I've seen. Not only did all of the Bernie Sanders supporters I knew say they would support Hillary Clinton if she won the nomination, almost all of them found the thought of doing anything else laughably absurd. Everyone I talked to considered the difference between Sanders and Clinton somewhere between minor and vanishingly small compared to the difference between either and Trump.

As mentioned above, it is dangerous to infer too much from personal experience, but when that experience is backed up with both common sense and polling data, it is okay to infer a little. Specifically. I'd  suggest that the political press has overstated the size and strength of this segment of the party.

[insert sarcastic comment about the recent performance of the political press here.]

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

When we finally get around to discussing range-of-data issues

From Josh Marshall [emphasis added]
There may be an additional factor as well. Presidential campaigns, national parties and individual candidates each have overlapping ground operations. But a big, big part of that mix is driven by the presidential campaign. We're accustomed to presidential races where the campaigns have at least broad parity. On any given Sunday the worst team in the NFL might beat the best. They're broadly comparable. But the Trump campaign's field operation might be more like a pro football team squaring off against a high school squad or no team at all. We just don't have any track record for a competition that mismatched.

Case in point (from Eric Levitz):

Clinton has led Trump in 10 of the last 11 polls of the Sunshine State; she is outspending him over the airwaves $51 million to $30 million; she has 68 offices in the state to his 29: and she has nearly erased the GOP candidate’s traditional advantage among absentee voters.

But the lion’s share of Trump’s troubles are self-created. The GOP nominee’s limited presence on both the ground and airwaves are a product of his refusal to put as much effort into fundraising as Romney did four years ago. And his Florida campaign got off to a late start by every metric: Two-thirds of the campaign’s TV ads just started airing this month, all but one of his Florida offices opened after September, and his absentee-ballot-“chasing” operation only kicked into full gear after Democrats briefly overtook Republicans in the mail-in vote last week.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Breaking the laugh barrier

One of the many ironies of the Trump campaign is the way that it has seriously underlined so many of the journalistic conventions that made it possible.

The laugh barrier is the strong taboo that most in the mainstream media have against reacting naturally to absurd statements. Conservatives in particular have become quite adept at using this to defuse potentially embarrassing issues. For example, the assertion that George W. Bush's war record compares favorably to that of John Kerry was laughable, but the people making this argument were reasonably confident that few if any of the interviewers would actually laugh. The objective of this tactic is generally not to convince but rather to shove the topic of into an opinions–differ limbo and move on to more favorable territory.

The laugh barrier is deeply entrenched in our journalistic culture and can withstand remarkable amounts of force, but it does have its limits.

From TPM's Allegra Kirkland:

CNN analyst Bakari Sellers launched into a summary of Trump’s past treatment of black Americans, citing the housing discrimination lawsuits his family was forced to settle for refusing to rent to black tenants and the full-page New York Times Trump took out calling for the wrongfully incarcerated Central Park Five to be executed.

“Donald Trump had nothing do with that!” [Gina] Loudon said.

“Wait, wait wait,” host Don Lemon cut in. “You said Donald Trump had nothing do for taking out ads on the Central Park Five?”

“Donald Trump himself,” she answered. “It was not Donald Trump himself.”

Lemon later showed Loudon a photograph of the ad, which bore Trump’s signature.

Things really dissolved when Sellers asked Loudon to name senior black staffers advising Trump’s campaign.

“You named Katrina Pierson. I bet you can’t name two,” he challenged.

“I could go on all day,” Loudon replied. “Omorosa. I mean I could go on all day. I’m not going to play into your little tester—”

Lemon and the rest of the four-person panel burst into laughter, and apparently some CNN staffers did as well.

“Stop. Stop it y’all. People in the studio are even laughing,” Lemon said.

The Trump campaign has effectively opened a hole in the laugh barrier. The question now is whether or not that gap will still be there the next time we have an election.

Monday, October 24, 2016

An open letter to Brian Beutler and Ed Kilgore

Dear Brian and Ed,

I am a big fan of your work but, after having read your recent pieces on the still unlikely but potentially devastating effects of a Trump election boycott, I would like to suggest that, at least during the next election, it might be worth your while to keep an eye on West Coast Stat Views.

I'm not saying you should come by every day, but at least during the campaign season, an occasional visit might tip you off to some interesting possibilities. For example, you both had columns today on the implication of Trump threatening to boycott the election.

Here's the key paragraph from the New Republic piece.
Thus, the bleakest possible scenario for Republicans isn’t that Trump loses badly and refuses to admit defeat. It’s that he rejects the notion that a fair election is even possible with him on the ticket, and announces he’s boycotting it. His supporters, only a small fraction of whom would have refused to vote for Trump turncoats down the ballot, stay home en masse instead. The Democrats take back the House.

And from New York Magazine:
But down there in the bunker of an embattled, losing campaign, despised by respectable people almost everywhere, a candidate can nourish fantasies of destructive vengeance. Does anyone doubt Trump is capable of ending this election cycle that he has dominated with one last audacious gesture that denies the clean and overwhelming defeat he has earned? The prospect has to occur to him every time he sees a GOP ad urging voters to elect Republicans to exert some control over President Hillary Clinton. That has to be so, so disgusting to him, believe me.

And here's what we were saying last year about the possible consequences of the Republican Party taking extraordinary measures to deny Donald Trump the nomination.

From: Distracted by the large flock of black swans
Monday, December 14, 2015

I don't want to get sucked into trying to guess what constitute reasonable probabilities here – – I'm just throwing out scenarios – – but it certainly does seem likely that, if he doesn't get the nomination and does not choose to run as an independent, Trump will still make trouble and things will get ugly.

Keep in mind, Trump's base started out as the birther movement. They came into this primed to see conspiracies against them. Now the RNC has given them what appears to be an actual conspiracy to focus on.

I don't think we can entirely rule out the possibility of Trump calling for a boycott of the vote to protest his treatment but even if it doesn't come to that, it seems probable that, should we see a great deal of bitterness and paranoia after the convention, the result will not help Republican turnout.

Obviously, Trump did get the nomination, but the broader argument still stands.

You also might want to check out what we said in that same post about the unintended consequences of delegitimizing the election with charges of fraud and rigging.


[I had a really funny title for this post, honest]

But it played off of a Red Meat cartoon and I can't find the original online. This one has nothing to do with the topic at hand, but since I brought up the comic strip...

There are two ways of reading the collapse of traditional data journalism that started about a year ago. Neither of them had anything to do with "listening to the data." (Unless you are seriously off your meds, data never tell you anything; you draw inferences from data. That's an important distinction but we'll have to wait till later to explore in depth.)

What the data journalists were arguing was that, at that early stage of the election, certain other metrics and historical patterns (which not coincidentally happened to support the standard narrative) were far better indicators of primary results than were traditional opinion polls. This preferred set of indicators changed from week to week – – depending on how you count, there were somewhere between five or six of them – – but they always reached the same conclusions.

This could be looked at as a case of extended cherry picking, rummaging through the data until you come up with a statistic that points in a direction that does not upend your worldview. The other way of looking at it (which is not entirely mutually exclusive) is that the arguments had been valid in the past and would have been valid during the primary if things were still the same. In other words, the underlying assumptions about fundamental relationships and mechanisms were breaking down.

The second interpretation reflects much better on the people like Nate Silver who were making the arguments, but it has far more troubling broader implications. If this truly is a case of previously reliable indicators losing their predictive power, then we need to start asking serious questions about the stability of all of our models.

And range of data. We definitely need to talk about range of data.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Saying your opponents won't show up to vote may work as unintentional reverse psychology

[I wrote this Saturday with the intention of posting it Monday, but events are moving rapidly so I decided to bump it up.]

A popular sidewalk stencil in Echo Park.

I don't want to get too bogged down in the details of this specific case which may well come to nothing. The interview could, however, turn out to have legs and, even if it doesn't, it's representative of a larger class of stories.

In a strange way, the official message of the Trump campaign to both supporters and opponents has been "your vote does not matter." For supporters, the message has been that the election will be rigged, and their votes stolen. For opponents, the often explicit and always blatant strategy has been one of suppression and counting on low turnout.

These strategies have a great potential for unintended consequences and when you combine them with other aspects of this campaign such as the uniquely bad standing of Trump among Latinos, African-Americans, and women or the unprecedented imbalance in ground game, you have the potential for some serious synergistic effects.

Under those circumstances, this article by Allegra Kirkland is the last thing the Trump campaign needs to go viral.

Former Arizona governor Jan Brewer declared Friday that Arizona won’t go blue for Hillary Clinton because Hispanic Democrats “don’t vote.”

“They don’t get out and vote. They don’t vote,” she told the Boston Globe when asked if those constituents could help tip the historically conservative state to a Democratic presidential nominee.


Nationally, Donald Trump’s rhetoric about Latino immigrants has also helped boost Clinton’s popularity among Latino voters, with one recent Pew Research survey handing her a 39-point advantage over her Republican opponent.


“It’s wishful thinking on their behalf,” Brewer told the Globe of the Clinton campaign’s efforts to win the Grand Canyon State. “Donald Trump is going to secure the border and that is a very important issue in Arizona.”

Brewer was an early supporter of the real estate mogul who has praised his disparaging comments about Latinos.

After the real estate mogul made his infamous campaign announcement speech denigrating Mexican immigrants as “rapists” and “criminals,” Brewer commended him for “telling it like it really, truly is.”

And there's already evidence that the attempts at suppression are backfiring (this time from Kirkland's editor, Josh Marshall):

We're now seeing numerous examples across the country of extremely long lines and long waits to vote - especially in states which took steps since 2012 to make it harder to vote and vote early. North Carolina is one of the best examples of this. People are waiting three and four hours to vote. It's genuinely shameful that we, as a society, find this acceptable. And yet millions of people are lining up to vote. They are undeterred.

Mormons, Evangelicals and...

Having a Jesuit in the Vatican was always going to be trouble for the GOP. Having a Trump at the top of their ticket at the same time makes it potentially catastrophic.

 David Gibson Religion News Service
 Vatican City

Figuring out why Pope Francis has upended so many expectations, how exactly he's changed the Catholic church in his first year and what he might be contemplating for the future has become a Catholic parlor game that is almost as popular as the pontiff himself.

A single key can best answer all of these questions: Francis' longstanding identity as a Jesuit priest.

It's an all-encompassing personal and professional definition that the former Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio brought with him from Buenos Aires, Argentina, and one that continues to shape almost everything he does as Pope Francis.

"He may act like a Franciscan, but he thinks like a Jesuit," quipped Fr. Thomas Reese, a fellow Jesuit who is a columnist for National Catholic Reporter.

In fact, it would be easy to mistake this new pope for a Franciscan, given his emphasis on helping society's outcasts and his decision to become the first pope to take the name of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of the poor. Yet he's the first pope from the Society of Jesus, the religious community whose worldly, wise intellectuals are as famous as its missionaries and martyrs.

Indeed, behind that "Jesuit" label lies a centuries-old history and a unique brand of spiritual formation that go a long way toward understanding who Francis is and where he is taking the church.

From his passion for social justice and his missionary zeal to his focus on engaging the wider world and his preference for collaboration over peremptory action, Francis is a Jesuit through and through. And as the first Jesuit pope, he brings sharply etched memories of being part of a community that's been viewed with deep suspicion by Rome, most recently by his own predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI.

From Ed Kilgore:

One of the pivotal demographic groups Donald Trump is struggling with is Catholics, who often closely represent American public opinion as a whole (Obama won them by 2 points in 2012). You might guess Trump’s “Catholic problem” is largely the result of his manifest unpopularity among Latinos, the fastest-growing category of U.S. Catholics. But no: A recent poll from the Public Religion Research Institute showed him running behind Hillary Clinton among white Catholics, a pretty reliable GOP-leaning group for many years.

It is hard to sort out cause and effect here, but Trump continues to blunder in ways that hurt him with Catholics. Trying to show his religion bona fides early in the nomination contest, the mogul talked about eating “my little cracker,” a reference to the Eucharist that probably drew a wince from a lot of Catholics (and, for that matter, Orthodox Christians or some Protestants) who are highly reverent toward the Most Blessed Sacrament. This was the same Frank Luntz interview, moreover, when Trump seemed puzzled at the idea of asking God for forgiveness, which likely offended Christians of every persuasion. Then there was the Sunday when he dropped cash in a communion plate — a pretty dramatic exhibition of his leanings toward the Church of the Golden Calf. That was shortly before he called Pope Francis “disgraceful” for questioning the compatibility of nativism with Christianity.

Perhaps justifiably frantic about Trump’s weakness among Catholics, his supporters tried to make the case that one of John Podesta’s illegally stolen batch of emails showed Clinton staffers betraying a hatred of Catholicism. This claim did not much survive the realization that all of the staffers involved in the brief discussion of Catholicism in question are themselves Catholics. And as conservative Catholic Ross Douthat quickly explained, the “anti-Catholic” utterances in those emails actually reflect differences of opinion between progressive and “traditionalist” Catholics.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

I don't have time to discuss how bad this is

AT&T to Purchase Time Warner for $80 Billion in Latest Media Megamerger by Eric Levitz
Good news for anyone who thinks America’s leading telecom companies are too small and powerless — AT&T has agreed to buy Time Warner for more than $80 billion, according to the New York Times. The reported deal, which is largest merger of content and distribution since Comcast purchased NBC Universal in 2011, follows an earlier Wall Street Journal report on Friday that talks were underway.

Even the guy with the axe...

I'm not going to connect all of the dots and risk ruining the punchline, but lots of recent news stories have reminded me of closing reaction of the hitchhiker with the axe.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Do you realize we've been telling these jokes for almost thirty years?

And in all that time, the butt of the jokes has never seen the humor.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Evangelicals and clarifying shocks continued [insert Road to Damascus reference here]

Following up on this, the backlash against evangelical leaders' support of Donald Trump appears to be growing. I think there's a decent chance that Trump may have permanently affected the relationship between the GOP and the evangelical movement.

Here's Scott Jaschik writing for Inside Higher Ed:
[emphasis added]

Liberty University students issued a statement last week criticizing their president, Jerry Falwell Jr., for his endorsement of and campaigning for Donald Trump, even after the release of a video of Trump boasting about sexually assaulting women (boasts he describes as "locker room talk"). Falwell responded by issuing his own statement, criticizing the students' views but saying that their ability to speak out was "a testament to the fact that Liberty University promotes the free expression of ideas, unlike many major universities where political correctness prevents conservative students from speaking out."

Despite the rhetoric, the university prevented Joel Schmieg, the sports editor of its student newspaper, The Liberty Champion, from running a column criticizing Trump.


Frank D. LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, said via email that he was concerned about any such censorship -- and he added that such censorship simply isn't effective, either. "Of course, Liberty is a private university not subject to First Amendment constraints, but the best private universities voluntarily maintain a hands-off policy respectful of the integrity of independent journalism. Leaving aside the civic and educational benefits of fostering critical-thinking skills on a college campus, it's just self-defeating in the year 2016 to think you can suppress unwanted ideas by tearing articles out of paper newspapers. When you censor an article in the 21st century, you're just guaranteeing it a wider audience. I doubt many 20-year-old sports columnists are being read across the country, but by censoring Joel's column, the university has exponentially increased its impact. There's nothing more irresistible than journalism powerful authority figures don't want you to read."

A spokesman for Liberty, Len Stevens, reached at home Tuesday night, said he heard about the controversy when President Falwell shared with him texts the president exchanged with his son Trey (as Jerry Falwell III is known). The texts confirmed that the university prevented the column from being published, but did not indicate that President Falwell was involved directly, said Stevens. Stevens said that Schmieg's column was "redundant" with another piece and was blocked because of space constraints, as an "editorial decision." Stevens did not respond to questions about how blocking a column critical of Trump might not be consistent with President Falwell's statements about free expression.

Falwell tweeted last night in a way that suggested he made the decision, and he also cited the issue of redundancy.

Schmieg noted that, as sports editor, he has a regular column that does not compete with other pieces for space. As a result, Schmieg said that he had to write another column when his piece about Trump was pulled. "It's not an issue of space," he said.

And here's Jack Jenkins, Senior Religion Reporter at ThinkProgress

Regardless, the censorship accusation comes as Falwell — a prominent leader of the Religious Right — grapples with a growing movement among students to distance themselves from the his consistent support for Trump. One group, Liberty United Against Trump, launched a online petition last week for those who are “disappointed with President Falwell’s endorsement and are tired of being associated with one of the worst presidential candidates in American history.”

Falwell has dismissed the group as only a “few students,” but the petition now boasts more than 3,200 signatures — 1,700 of whom used Liberty University email addresses — and organizers insist they represent the larger student body.


The group’s organizers also repeatedly referenced an eyebrow-raising statistic: despite Falwell’s endorsement ahead of the Virginia Republican primary, Trump received a mere 90 votes from Liberty students on election, placing fourth behind Rubio, Cruz, and Carson.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Vivendi, where the shamelessness goes to 11

Via Mark Evanier, we have yet another reminder that, while Hollywood has always leaned toward the evil, executives for the massive mass media conglomerates/walking anti-trust violations are determined to keep pushing the envelope.

This Is Spinal Tap star Harry Shearer is suing Universal parent Vivendi for what he alleges is dramatic and deliberate under-payment of music royalties from the classic spoof rockumentary.

In a lawsuit filed at the Central District Court of California yesterday (October 17), Shearer accuses Vivendi of “fraudulent accounting for revenues from music copyrights” – through Universal – as well as mismanaging film and merchandising rights through UMG sister companies such as StudioCanal.

Shearer co-created the film, co-wrote the soundtrack and starred as the Spinal Tap band’s bassist, Derek Smalls.

He claims that between 1989 and 2006, total income from soundtrack music sales for the four creators of the film was reported by Vivendi as just $98. (Yes, ninety-eight dollars.)

In addition, he claims that Vivendi ‘asserts that the four creators’ share of total worldwide merchandising income between 1984 and 2006 was $81’.


 “Vivendi and its subsidiaries – which own the rights to thousands and thousands of creative works – have, at least in our case, conducted blatantly unfair business practices,” Shearer continued.

“But I wouldn’t be surprised if our example were the tip of the iceberg.  Though I’ve launched this lawsuit on my own, it is in reality a challenge to the company on behalf of all creators of popular films whose talent has not been fairly remunerated.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

A mean looking kid walking by a row of glass houses with a big ol' bag of rocks -- repost

[The nomination of Donald Trump was made possible by numerous failures of the news media to do its job. Therefore it is useful to look back at how things got this bad. Here's a post we did in 2013 (almost exactly three years ago) where we talked about how Paul Krugman, who would be, by far, the paper's most prescient voice in 2016, was dismissed as a loose cannon by the NYT.]

TPM has a short but fascinating revelation
MSNBC host Joe Scarborough said Thursday that a public editor at the New York Times considers liberal columnist Paul Krugman's work to be an ongoing "nightmare."

During a segment on "Morning Joe," conservative historian Niall Ferguson joined Scarborough to pile on Krugman. Ferguson said that Krugman lacks "humility, honesty and civility."

"And there's no accountability," Ferguson said. "No one seems to edit that blog at the New York Times. And it's time that somebody called him out. People are afraid of him. I'm not."

Scarborough then recalled a conversation he had with a Times editor following his televised debate with Krugman earlier this year.

"I actually won't tell you which public editor it was but one of the public editors of the New York Times told me off the record after my debate that their biggest nightmare was his column every week," Scarborough said.
Assuming that Scarborough is on the level (and putting aside Ferguson's self-awareness issues), this would seem to echo the New York Times' reaction to Nate Silver. In both cases, the supposedly liberal staff seemed to take an instant dislike to highly respected liberal writer/researchers who appear to have brought in a large number of traditional and digital subscribers. What's going on?

As regulars have probably guessed, I see this as another result of an increasingly dysfunctional culture of journalism, specifically the way that journalists react to having someone on the inside who ignores the implicit code of conduct.

This is not a left/right matter -- it cuts across pretty much all of the media establishment -- but conservatives have tended to make better tactical use of the rules we're talking about, for instance, using pox-on-both-their-houses conventions to provide cover for unpopular positions. As a result, there are more obvious targets on the right but that's a fairly trivial factor.

Silver and Krugman prompted such a strong reaction not because they were too liberal (despite seeing the world through an overwhelmingly upper class perspective, the NYT cannot be considered a right-wing paper); but because they were insiders who refused to follow the rules of the culture, and who therefore threatened that culture.

Over the past two decades, journalists have fashioned a remarkably self-serving code of conduct: de- emphasizing factual accuracy; embracing a lazy herd mentality with talk of narratives and memes; avoiding tough confrontations through false equivalencies; and passing the buck on keeping their audience informed.

When Nate Silver pointed out both that the data didn't support many of the popular narratives and that the journalists pushing those narratives were contributing nothing, he threatened reputations, business models and the underlying culture of the institutions. The fact that he was right was beside the point; he was ignoring the conventions of the journalistic establishment and there is no greater bastion of that establishment than the New York Times. By the same token, when Krugman points out that "centrist" pundits have a huge personal and professional interest in pushing the "Paul Ryan, serious policy guy" narrative, he was expressing a fact that was widely known but which was not supposed to be said aloud.

The paper has never been exactly friendly to blunt, independent writers with satirical tendencies as Molly Ivins discovered way back in the Seventies, but things have only gotten worse since then. Almost everybody lives in glass houses now and Paul Krugman does not look like someone you'd trust with a rock in that situation.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Rabbit season! Duck season! Rabbit season!

I'm planning on coming back and elaborating more on this later, but, as frequently noted here and elsewhere, while most commentators have fared extraordinarily poorly over the past year, a handful (including, yes, your not-so-humble hosts) have had a good run. Though they may not have framed it in exactly these terms, pretty much everybody who has gotten it mostly right has approached the election as the final stages of a massive social engineering experiment conducted by the conservative movement.

A key component of this experiment involved setting up radically different information streams for different target audiences. We talked about this before but one aspect that I've always wanted to address but never managed to get to is the way that this dual stream can explain seeming paradoxes in the radically different reactions of different groups of people to the same information.

In order to get a handle on this, it might be useful to think back to that time in psych 101 when the professor brought out the ambiguous pictures.The standard example is the old woman and young woman (originally captioned in a cartoon as  "my wife and my mother-in-law"). For the sake of variety, let's go with another.

The psych lecture would go something like this. Half the class was told to cover their eyes, the other half was shown a series of slides of birds. Then that half of the class was told to cover their eyes and the other half was shown a series of slides of small mammals. After being thus prepared, everyone looks at the following picture and is asked to write down what they see.

For the commentators who took the time to dig through the various media streams and put themselves in the place of each target audience (most notably Josh Marshall), it has been obvious for quite a while that those in the right-wing media bubble have a strong tendency to interpret events in a way that is consistent with the information, framing and narratives of the bubble. Donald Trump succeeded in the primaries because both his arguments and his affect seemed reasonable in the context of Fox News and Rush Limbaugh.

I'll come back and fill in some more details later but, as much as I want to avoid oversimplifying, this really is pretty simple. The journalists who have come off as sharp and ahead of the curve, have all (as far as I can tell) looked seriously at right-wing media and have asked themselves, if I actually believed everything I just heard, how would I react to the different candidates and their proposals?

This begs loads of questions and I don't want to oversell the explanatory power here, but given all of the overheated rhetoric about how chaotic and unpredictable this election has been, it's worth noting when those getting it right have something in common.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

What they're reading today in Utah

Pat Bagley cartoon from the Salt Lake Tribune, Sunday, Oct. 16, 2016

A few quick notes:

1. The Salt Lake Tribune is not a particularly right-wing paper (it endorsed Obama over Romney) but it does have the city's largest weekday circulation and it obviously speaks for a substantial part of the population;

2.  The city's other major paper, the Deseret News also came out strongly  against Trump;

3. Just to be clear, the point of this and other recent posts on the subject is not that the Republican Party is about to lose the support of groups like Mormons and evangelicals. I'm just saying that there are signs that these longstanding relationships are growing unstable, which does push some interesting scenarios into the realm of the plausible.

Friday, October 14, 2016

If you're following politics, you need to be following the religious right. If you're following the religious right, you should be following Charles Pierce.

When it comes to the intersection between politics and the Catholic Church, there's no better source than the old Irishman. This bit of territory has become particularly interesting because the religious right and most of the conventional poli-sci wisdom around it evolved under John Paul II and Benedict XVI. The Vatican is now a very different place, and those differences have already started
destabilizing what a lot of people had assumed were immutable political relationships.

Here's Pierce on the reaction the comments about the Church in the leaked Clinton emails.

Just take that old post I wrote and substitute "Mormon" for "Evangelical"

When two denominations of the same religion recognize sharply different sacred texts, there will always be tremendous tension, particularly when one or both have fundamentalist tendencies. In a sense, the similarities feed the tension as much as the differences do.

With Mormons and evangelicals, the similarities are remarkable. In terms of piety and personal morality, there is a great deal of common ground and in both cases, sincere believers who tend to be conservative face a real crisis of conscience when it comes to supporting the current Republican nominees.
SALT LAKE CITY — Republican Donald Trump appears to have, in his earlier words, "a tremendous problem in Utah" as a new poll shows him slipping into a dead heat with Democrat Hillary Clinton since crude comments he made about women surfaced last weekend.

And along with the billionaire businessman's sudden fall, independent candidate and BYU graduate Evan McMullin surged into a statistical tie with the two major party presidential nominees, according to survey conducted Monday and Tuesday by Salt Lake City-based Y2 Analytics.

"A third-party candidate could win Utah as Utahns settle on one," said Quin Monson, Y2 Analytics founding partner.

McMullin may well have caught lightning in a bottle.

The poll shows Clinton and Trump tied at 26 percent, McMullin with 22 percent and Libertarian Gary Johnson getting 14 percent if the election were held today. Y2 Analytics surveyed 500 likely Utah voters over landlines and cellphones Oct. 10-11 The poll has a plus or minus 4.4 percent margin of error.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Thinking about the rigged election narrative in catastrophe theory terms

Couple of quick notes before we start. First, I haven't looked at a book on catastrophe theory for many, many years. Therefore, the chances of my saying something stupid are even higher than normal. Second, I have a feeling that we've had this conversation before, but I am kind of rushed and, to be perfectly honest, it's quicker for me to dictate this into my phone then to dig through the archives of the blog. Apologies for any disconcerting sense of déjà vu that might result.

First, a relevant paragraph from Josh Marshall:
It now seems quite likely that Hillary Clinton will win the November election and become the next President of the United States. But Donald Trump has been for months pushing the idea that the election may be stolen from him by some mix of voter fraud (by racial and ethnic minorities) or more systemic election rigging by persons unknown. Polls show that large numbers of his supporters believe this.

We are deep in bifurcation territory. Every snowflake that falls will have the likely effect of either slightly increasing the depth of the pile for sharply diminishing it.

One of the fundamental assumptions of the conservative movement has been that the angrier you get your base, the more you can count on their votes and their money. If you accept that, there is an undeniable logic behind the decision to portray lost elections as "stolen."

Unfortunately, it is also logical to assume that the argument "it is absolutely essential that you vote even though you know your vote won't matter" will eventually reach some breaking point. This can be particularly dangerous because it has the potential to strike across the spectrum of support. That's because the damage here can come both from those who question the official party narrative (who think you're a whiner) and  from those who believe it (who have no reason t go to the polls)..

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

And you thought #LeaveItBlank was out there

Insert Peter Thiel joke here.

From the New Republic:
On Wednesday #repealthe19th started trending among male Trump supporters, after an article by FiveThirtyEight observed that if women didn’t vote, Trump would have a far better chance of winning the presidential election.

Evangelicals and the clarifying shock

Remember our long-running thread on the curious relationship between the evangelicals and the conservative movement?

[From 2015]

I grew up in the Bible Belt and spent all of my formative years arguing with fundamentalists so I feel comfortable with the following claim: in the past 40 years, the conservative movement has had a larger impact on the evangelical community than the evangelical community has had on the conservative movement. Obviously in these situations, influence always runs both ways, but the changes on one side have been greater and far more strategically useful. The very fact that we have an alliance between conservative Catholics, Protestants, and Mormons says volumes.

There have always been tensions inherent in this relationship and they have grown over the years. Fortunately for the leaders of the evangelical movement, the GOP has generally tried to minimize those tensions by picking acceptable candidates who, in turn, went out of their way to show respect to members of the religious right.

As he does in so many contexts, Donald Trump has thrown the long-standing conflicts and contradictions into stark relief.

Sarah Jones writing for the New Republic:

Among his hardcore fans, Trump will survive these scandals; his supporters are now making that clear to his detractors. But his pious boosters can’t count on the same. Trump’s principal appeal to voters is his devotion to capitalism, not God. The religious right, meanwhile, pins itself to a claim of moral superiority. It always had more to lose.

Some evangelicals, like the Southern Baptist Convention’s Russell Moore, understand this, and have publicly criticized Trump’s convenient conversion. But their voices were never enough to sway the rank-and-file. The religious right was never as unique as it wanted everyone to believe, and now Trump has revealed the movement’s superiority to be the ruse it’s always been.

The religious right isn’t dead yet. But after this election becomes history, the movement will be forced to reckon with the consequences of its quest for power. Young adults, who overwhelmingly oppose Trump, are already leaving conservative churches, and the religious right’s Trump moment will surely only fuel this trend. If it had maintained a consistent public morality, maybe it could have retained some countercultural appeal. Now that its most visible leaders have sacrificed that authority, it has nothing left.

The statements of Perkins et al may well be considered their movement’s suicide note. Who will now believe they care for the sanctity of so-called “traditional marriage?” They anointed an infamous philanderer their standard-bearer. And who will believe they oppose abortion because they care for women? They backed a man who thinks sexual assault makes a good joke. Generations will remember their support for one of the most publicly misogynist and racist presidential candidates in American history.

In the Gospel of Matthew, Christ tells his disciples that no one can serve two masters; you’ll be loyal to one and not to the other. By endorsing Trump, the religious right chose a master—and sacrificed everything it says it stands for.

Ed Kilgore writing for New York Magazine:

Describing the Christian right as a by-product of cultural panic rather than religious fidelity is not something that would have ever occurred to the older generation of conservative Evangelical leaders. And so it does not occur to them — in public, anyway — to doubt the calculations that brought them to the awkward position of supporting Donald Trump, a man who, aside from his crudeness and prejudice and history of sexual immorality, clearly and openly worships the golden calf of worldly success.

The intergenerational tensions among conservative Evangelicals likely won’t matter at all on November 8. But down the road, the experience of sacrificing their integrity for a failed presidential campaign may have an impact on Christian conservative leaders who haven’t already traded their birthright of independence for a mess of Republican Party pottage. As it happens, America’s largest conservative Evangelical faith community, the Southern Baptist Convention, is home both to Russell Moore and to Jerry Falwell Jr., heir to the “moral majority” mantle of his late father and Trump’s earliest and most stolid clerical supporter. The two men represent very different paths ahead for the people in the pews they represent.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

I've got this idea for a movie about a celebrity fascist propelled to power through the support of baby boomers

I saw Wild in the Street the other night on the terrestrial superstation the Works. The 1968 film was pretty awful, but it is an interesting time capsule with a decent sound track (the hit was Shape Of Things To Come {at 7:25}, but the statisticians and demographers in the audience might want to check out Fifty Two Per Cent {at 4:42})

Pauline Kael talked about the film in her 1969 essay Trash, Art and the Movies. For the record, I'm in full agreement on The Scalphunters, was far less entertained by Wild in the Streets (I suspect it was more effective at the time), thought she was overly hard on Wild Angels and way off on 2001, but even when Kael's wrong, she's wrong in an interesting and insightful way. (if you need a review, pick up a used copy of Maltin's Movie Guide.)

 There is so much talk now about the art of the film that we may be in danger of forgetting that most of the movies we enjoy are not works of art. “The Scalphunters,” for example, was one of the few entertaining American movies this past year, but skillful though it was, one could hardly call it a work of art—if such terms are to have any useful meaning. Or, to take a really gross example, a movie that is as crudely made as “Wild in the Streets”—slammed together with spit and hysteria and opportunism—can nevertheless be enjoyable, though it is almost a classic example of an inartistic movie. What makes these movies—that are not works of art—enjoyable? “The Scalphunters” was more entertaining than most Westerns largely because Burt Lancaster and Ossie Davis were peculiarly funny together; part of the pleasure of the movie was trying to figure out what made them so funny. Burt Lancaster is an odd kind of comedian: what’s distinctive about him is that his comedy seems to come out of his physicality. In serious roles an undistinguished and too obviously hard-working actor, he has an apparently effortless flair for comedy and nothing is more infectious than an actor who can relax in front of the camera as if he were having a good time. (George Segal sometimes seems to have this gift of a wonderful amiability, and Brigitte Bardot was radiant with it in “Viva Maria!”) Somehow the alchemy of personality in the pairing of Lancaster and Ossie Davis—another powerfully funny actor of tremendous physical presence—worked, and the director Sydney Pollack kept tight control so that it wasn’t overdone.
        And “Wild in the Streets?” It’s a blatantly crummy-looking picture, but that somehow works for it instead of against it because it’s smart in a lot of ways that better-made pictures aren’t. It looks like other recent products from American International Pictures but it’s as if one were reading a comic strip that looked just like the strip of the day before, and yet on this new one there are surprising expressions on the faces and some of the balloons are really witty. There’s not a trace of sensitivity in the drawing or in the ideas, and there’s something rather specially funny about wit without any grace at all; it can be enjoyed in a particularly crude way—as Pop wit. The basic idea is corny—It Can’t Happen Here with the freaked-out young as a new breed of fascists—but it’s treated in the paranoid style of editorials about youth (it even begins by blaming everything on the parents). And a cheap idea that is this current and widespread has an almost lunatic charm, a nightmare gaiety. There’s a relish that people have for the idea of drug-taking kids as monsters threatening them—the daily papers merging into “Village of the Damned.” Tapping and exploiting this kind of hysteria for a satirical fantasy, the writer Robert Thom has used what is available and obvious but he’s done it with just enough mockery and style to make it funny. He throws in touches of characterization and occasional lines that are not there just to further the plot, and these throwaways make odd connections so that the movie becomes almost frolicsome in its paranoia (and in its delight in its own cleverness).
        If you went to “Wild in the Streets” expecting a good movie, you’d probably be appalled because the directing is unskilled and the music is banal and many of the ideas in the script are scarcely even carried out, and almost every detail is messed up (the casting director has used bit players and extras who are decades too old for their roles). It’s a paste-up job of cheap movie-making, but it has genuinely funny performers who seize their opportunities and throw their good lines like boomerangs—Diane Varsi (like an even more zonked-out Geraldine Page) doing a perfectly quietly convincing freak-out as if it were truly a put-on of the whole straight world; Hal Holbrook with his inexpressive actorish face that is opaque and uninteresting in long shot but in close-up reveals tiny little shifts of expression, slight tightenings of the features that are like the movement of thought; and Shelley Winters, of course, and Christopher Jones. It’s not so terrible—it may even be a relief—for a movie to be without the look of art; there are much worse things aesthetically than the crude good-natured crumminess, the undisguised reach for a fast buck, of movies without art. From “I Was a Teen-Age Werewolf” through the beach parties to “Wild in the Streets” and “The Savage Seven,” American International Pictures has sold a cheap commodity, which in its lack of artistry and in its blatant and sometimes funny way of delivering action serves to remind us that one of the great appeals of movies is that we don’t have to take them too seriously.
        “Wild in the Streets” is a fluke—a borderline, special case of a movie that is entertaining because some talented people got a chance to do something at American International that the more respectable companies were too nervous to try. But though I don’t enjoy a movie so obvious and badly done as the big American International hit, “The Wild Angels,” it’s easy to see why kids do and why many people in other countries do. Their reasons are basically why we all started going to the movies. After a time, we may want more, but audiences who have been forced to wade through the thick middle-class padding of more expensively made movies to get to the action enjoy the nose-thumbing at “good taste” of cheap movies that stick to the raw materials. At some basic level they like the pictures to be cheaply done, they enjoy the crudeness; it’s a breather, a vacation from proper behavior and good taste and required responses. Patrons of burlesque applaud politely for the graceful erotic dancer but go wild for the lewd lummox who bangs her big hips around. That’s what they go to burlesque for. Personally, I hope for a reasonable minimum of finesse, and movies like “Planet of the Apes” or “The Scalphunters” or “The Thomas Crown Affair” seem to me minimal entertainment for a relaxed evening’s pleasure. These are, to use traditional common-sense language, “good movies” or “good bad movies”—slick, reasonably inventive, well crafted. They are not art. But they are almost the maximum of what we’re now getting from American movies, and not only these but much worse movies are talked about as “art”—and are beginning to be taken seriously in our schools.
        It’s preposterously egocentric to call anything we enjoy art—as if we could not be entertained by it if it were not; it’s just as preposterous to let prestigious, expensive advertising snow us into thinking we’re getting art for our money when we haven’t even had a good time. I did have a good time at “Wild in the Streets,” which is more than I can say for “Petulia” or “2001” or a lot of other highly praised pictures. “Wild in the Streets” is not a work of art, but then I don’t think “Petulia” or “2001” is either, though “Petulia” has that kaleidoscopic hip look and “2001” that new-techniques look which combined with “swinging” or “serious” ideas often pass for motion picture art.

Monday, October 10, 2016

On Sunday posts, electoral math, voter psychology, marketability, and the care and feeding of black swans.

[This is try number two. The first was lost when my iPhone decided that a 40% charge on the battery was dangerously low and decided to shut down just as I was about to hit send on the email of my dictation. This is yet another issue I wish Apple had prioritized over coming up with new headphone jacks.]

I recently posted a couple of items on undervoting and its implications. These were done in haste and there were a few points I did not have a chance to get to.

Sunday posting

Regular readers know that we generally take the weekends off here at West Coast Stat Views. Recently, though, events have been moving so rapidly that a delay of 48 or even 24 hours can mean the difference between looking prescient  and being behind the curve.

Electoral math

I may not have been clear about this the previous posts. In terms of electoral outcomes, there is virtually no difference between the undervoting I described and voting for a fringe candidate ('fringe' implying that here she has no chance of winning).

Voter psychology

Here is where we start seeing a difference. The meaning of fringe party votes is inevitably muddy. Are you voting for them because you genuinely think they are the best candidates or simply because they do not have Democratic or Republican after their names? Leaving the race blank on the ballot sends a clean message.


In terms of going viral on a national level, one of the problems with fringe-vote as protest is that the voters' options vary from state to state and race to race.  #LeaveItBlank is simply more manageable than...


Care and feeding

I apologize, but the discussion is going to get a bit meta now. I may get some pushback on this, but I believe that most data journalists and quite a few political scientists covering this race have made one of the most fundamental errors in analytic thinking. They have all acknowledged that these are abnormal times but they have locked themselves into normal mode. Think about all of the articles we've seen over the past year that start by admitting that long-held assumptions have been violated and that well-established models are proving unstable, then go on to use those same assumptions and models to make confident predictions.

I'm not making predictions here. I am simply throwing out what I think are plausible but generally not likely scenarios. I have no intention of applying even a rough subjective probability at this point. I've been watching this game for a while and I've seen way too many people fail to find the queen.

What I am saying is that we need to think about these problems using tools and approaches that are appropriate for abnormal times.

Sunday, October 9, 2016


Following up on the idea of undervoting. Take a look at these stories from Yahoo
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump took to Twitter on Sunday morning to push back against the GOP officials calling for him to drop out of the race in the aftermath of his lewd-video scandal.

“So many self-righteous hypocrites. Watch their poll numbers — and elections — go down!” he exclaimed.

Trump posted that tweet shortly after sharing messages from supporters railing against Republican “traitors” for bailing on their own party’s nominee.

and Josh Marshall
Yesterday I noted that there were two conversations going on in the GOP. One is party elites and officeholders finally distancing themselves or fully cutting ties with Donald Trump. The other is GOP voters themselves. They only started to make themselves heard yesterday afternoon when they booed and heckled Paul Ryan, Nevada Senate candidate Joe Heck and others in afternoon rallies. We can now see them in a fuller light in the first post-Trump Tape poll.

The poll is from Politico and Morning Consult. I've stated elsewhere that I'm somewhat skeptical of the methodology used by MC and some similar digital pollsters. But in this case we're not talking about matters of a few percentage points in a horse race poll but rather a very broad brush look at immediate public reactions to the tape. The upshot is that while GOP elites may finally be done with Trump they appear not to speak, even remotely, for base Republican voters. According to the Politico/MC poll, only 12% of Republicans want Trump to drop out of the race. And 74% say party leaders should continue to stand behind him.

There are various permutations of these numbers in the poll - how negatively people felt watching the video, how they feel about Trump personally, etc. But they all echo the point from those first two numbers. Republican voters aren't done with Trump, not remotely. And they overwhelmingly want party leaders to stand behind him.

The political drama of the last two days reminds me of those days in the Spring when #NeverTrump Republicans were spinning out theories about how they were going to use this or that trick to deny Trump the nomination. All great plans except for the fact that they hadn't taken into account that the people who they count on for votes did want Trump. In the end none of it came to anything after Republican elites (and I use the term here in the purely descriptive sense of the word) made contact with their voters.

Yesterday evening, after I watched more of the heckling and saw Trump fixing on the same as a show of support for him, it occurred to me that the presidential race's impact on Congress could be dramatically greater than we've imagined. This isn't a matter of people being so deeply outraged about the tape. It's more structural than that. The party leadership, at least as of last night, is in the midst of abandoning Trump. They're not quite there yet. But they're close. They probably saw overnight polls crating on Friday. I've seen various reports of private campaign polls registering this as a first response to the tape. It's worth remembering that even 10% of Republicans moving away from Trump would show up in a big way on those reports. But seeing those polls, retreating to their own instinctive suspicion and in many cases hostility toward Trump, they didn't give a lot of immediate thought to where the bulk of their voters stand. This poll makes pretty clear - as the booing and heckling did anecdotally - that they're with Trump.

With this in mind, think about this scenario. Just to be clear, I'm not making a prediction here, just throwing out some hypotheticals to play with.

Imagine the following – – For lack of a better word let's call it a meme – – takes hold among hard-core Trump supporters angry at these Republican defections.


The idea being that you should still show up to the polls and vote, but when you get to a race where the Republican candidate has offended you, you leave that section blank. I'm not saying this is likely, but it's not exactly unimaginable at the moment either. If emotions continue to run high or even intensify, one could easily picture this sort of thing happening either from the bottom up or from the top down.

Let's think about the second possibility. Is anyone out there prepared to say with absolute confidence that Donald Trump is incapable of standing up at a rally in, say, Arizona and telling his supporters "if you don't like either of the candidates for the [pause] I don't know, senate race, you can just leave it blank."

I don't think this is particularly likely, but stranger things have certainly happened over the past 12 months.

There's a much bigger topic here (way to big for a Sunday afternoon post) about range of data and model stability and the way that chaotic conditions and unsustainable situations can make what was unthinkable merely unlikely.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

If you start hearing this word a lot a month from now, remember you heard it here first

I'm not saying this is likely; I'm just saying that it might be a concept to have on your radar, particularly in places like New Hampshire.

Undervote (from Wikipedia)
An undervote occurs when the number of choices selected by a voter in a contest is less than the minimum number allowed for that contest or when no selection is made for a single choice contest.

In a contested election, an undervote can be construed as active voter disaffection - a voter engaged enough to cast a vote without the willingness to give the vote to any candidate.

Friday, October 7, 2016

"The Conspiracy Behind Your Glasses"

I have a couple of reasons for posting this.

First, I never need much of an excuse to plug a College Humor video, particularly from the "Adam Ruins Everything" spinoff series.

Second, this ties in with our ongoing thread about monopolies. You would think I'd be used to it by now, but it still catches me offguard when I'm reminded how bad things have gotten and how blatant and openly abused monopolistic power can be before anyone steps in and mentions the dreaded A word.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

It was good enough for Robert Redford in Three Days of the Condor

I'm probably the only person who had this reaction to this weekend's Trump taxes story.

There seem to be two parts to the story as originally presented (it's evolving rapidly). The first, which was generally the primary focus of reports and interviews on the subject, was that we now have evidence that supports a scenario by which Donald Trump might have legally avoided paying taxes for almost two decades.

Even with a conventional candidate, I'm not certain how big a story this would be. Of course, not paying taxes always looks bad, but does this seem that much worse to the general audience than any of the other byzantine maneuvers be very rich use to minimize their tax burden? (Assuming that all of this is legal, but more on that in a minute)

How do you make a small fortune? Give Donald Trump a large one.

Then there's the part about losing a billion dollars. In some sense, I think it might have been better for Trump had he been caught evading taxes in a less legal but more clever way. If it came down to a choice, he would much rather be seen as sharp and successful than as honest and ethical. It is no coincidence that when the subject came up during the debate, Trump pointed at not paying taxes as evidence that he was "smart." Not paying taxes, even for a number of years, because you lost a huge amount of money does not send the proper message.

Now we're learning that Trump's accountants were a bit more clever and considerably more sleazy than initially reported, but I suspect that those later developments are playing more to the news junkie crowd, and even that crowd seems to be ignoring the question that interests me.

Why the New York Times?

As we have frequently mentioned before, the best news analyst of the campaign has clearly been Josh Marshall. Talking Points Memo is a small organization, but pound for pound they do unequaled work. If you wanted to leak details of Trump's finances to the people who could best make sense of it, that would be an excellent choice.

If, however, you wanted to limit yourself to a large organization, the obvious choice would be the Washington Post. In terms of both quality and quantity, the paper's reporting on Trump (particularly that of David Fahrenthold) has left all of its peers in the dust.

If you were basing your decision on individual journalists rather than organizations, Marshall and Fahrenthold would certainly be good choices, but given the combination of Trump and taxes, I might go with David Cay Johnston.

If, however, you wanted to make an impact, wanted to dominate the conversation the next day, you would probably do what the source did in this case and send your information to the New York Times.

The New York Times continues to hold the most valuable real estate in journalism. If you have a cause you want to promote or a narrative you want to shape, there is simply no one else who can compete. This has all sorts of implications for the paper and for journalism in general.

To be fair, the paper has a large number of fantastic reporters and when it focuses its efforts on solid, old-fashioned investigative journalism, the results can be remarkable, but the paper's position also means that it can scoop the competition with little or no effort. In a very real sense, the news comes to it.

This access to sources can easily become a dependence on them. We previously talked about the decade of terrible journalism marked by Whitewater, the 2000 election, and the build up to the Iraq war. We also talked about the lead role that the New York Times played in all three of those stories.

One important common thread in all three stories was that none of them were driven in a significant way by real original investigative reporting. In all the cases, the narratives were largely shaped by sources with ulterior motives who found cooperative reporters such as Judith Miller who were willing to pass on what they were told.

So, what are the lessons we should draw from this?

1. In journalism as in so many other things, it is good to be the king. As we just said, the news often comes to you. On top of that, when multiple organizations are reporting the same story, yours is the one that tends to be quoted the most, even when your coverage is based on reporting of others. These and other factors make it relatively easy for the perceived industry leader to maintain its position. They also present a strong temptation to rest on your laurels.

2. Being the king also brings with it huge responsibilities. Bad journalism from the New York Times can do more damage than bad journalism from any other publication.

3. The New York Times unique access to leaks and highly placed sources is both a resource and a risk. In the case of the Trump tax returns. In the case of the Trump tax returns, it was the former but recently it has often been more the latter.

Consider this passage from then public editor Margaret Sullivan (I wonder if anyone at the paper realizes how much they lost when she left).

    Mistakes are bound to happen in the news business, but some are worse than others.

    What I’ll lay out here was a bad one. It involved a failure of sufficient skepticism at every level of the reporting and editing process — especially since the story in question relied on anonymous government sources, as too many Times articles do.


    The Times needs to fix its overuse of unnamed government sources. And it needs to slow down the reporting and editing process, especially in the fever-pitch atmosphere surrounding a major news event. Those are procedural changes, and they are needed. But most of all, and more fundamental, the paper needs to show far more skepticism – a kind of prosecutorial scrutiny — at every level of the process.

    Two front-page, anonymously sourced stories in a few months have required editors’ notes that corrected key elements – elements that were integral enough to form the basis of the headlines in both cases. That’s not acceptable for Times readers or for the paper’s credibility, which is its most precious asset.

    If this isn’t a red alert, I don’t know what will be.

This is the irony of the New York Times. Its greatest advantage often leads to its worst moments.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Inheritance Tax

This is Joseph.

An interesting comment from the Baseline Scenario (by commentator John Thacker, replying to James Kwak):
More interesting is to discuss the combination of eliminating the estate tax plus eliminating basis step-up. It would get rid of some of the biggest sob stories that people dislike about the estate tax (some closely held sole proprietorship or family farm is forced to sell out in order to pay the taxes; they’d owe nothing right now if there weren’t intending to sell, only owe capital gains when selling.) It would discourage selling and transfer of assets, to be sure, by comparison to the current situation, though I think it’s fair to consider the current situation as biased towards selling.
I think that this is actually intriguing for discussion for capital assets.  Inherited assets could be retained but, if they were ever sold, they would pay a great deal in capital gains tax.  Now, in practice, I suspect few family farms are ever really lost due to inheritance tax.  But it does seem to be a neat twist that gets at the emotional issue -- we don't necessarily want to preserve the right of people to make out like bandits when selling the beloved family farm.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

A very brief Robert Benchley film festival

The terrestrial superstations have recently started rerunning talk shows from the pre-cable era. Tribune media started it with Johnny Carson on AntennaTV, GetTV followed with Merv Griffith, and the Weigel/CBS collaborative effort Decades has now started running the best of Dick Cavett. (I keep meaning to do a post on Decades which is exploring some cool and interesting programming ideas but that will need to wait for another day.) I have sampled all three and only Cavett is consistently watchable, due, no doubt, both to the quality of the original shows and the excellent job Weigel  does in culling the highlights.
During a wonderful interview with Bob and Ray ("the two and only"), the subject turned to comic influences and specifically the humorist Robert Benchley. They observed that while his short subjects had been hugely popular and influential when they were young, the one-reelers were at the time of the interview almost impossible to find.

As the saying goes, that was then and this is now. These days, only the most tightly guarded or vanishingly obscure is more than a click away. Benchley is neither, so it only takes a few minutes to get up to speed on one of the 20th Century's most influential comic voices.

Like most work associated with the Algonquin Roundtable, Robert Benchley's humorous pieces have not aged all that well. They do, however, retain a certain light charm of their own and can be quite interesting as historical documents.

Like many of his peers, Robert Benchley was drawn to Hollywood by the promise of easy money but unlike Dorothy Parker and Herman Mankiewicz, Benchley found his niche primarily as a performer, albeit one who wrote his own material. The first big success along these lines was a stage review written by Benchley and his peers. The big hit of the show was a monologue called "the Treasurer's Report."

Robert Benchley was a prolific writer and cranked out numerous short subjects for MGM, including the Oscar-winning "How to Sleep."

I tossed in the last two for historical interest. The first, though satiric, provides a glimpse into attitudes toward diet and nutrition circa 1935. Note in particular the concern about maintaining an appetite. "The causes of the depression" speaks for itself.

The Treasurer's Report

How to sleep

How To Eat

The Causes of the Depression

Monday, October 3, 2016

Why AP? -- another assault on conventional wisdom from your friends at West Coast Stat Views

I always got the feeling that others saw something in the advanced placement program that I didn't. It was never entirely clear to me why people who so often complained that our schools were doing a poor job teaching secondary-level courses were so damned happy about the same schools trying to teach college-level.

I did understand the argument for key prerequisite courses like calculus or statistics. Getting those out of the way in high school could be very helpful when trying to complete, say, an engineering degree in four years. Putting aside those exceptions, though, there didn't seem to be much point. We already had a program set up for self-study and testing out of courses. CLEP-based approaches are flexible, self-paced and cheap. They reward initiative and independence. They provide an excellent ready-made foundation when you're experimenting with new methods (If the people behind MOOCs were serious…). AP courses are, by comparison, expensive, tradition bound, cumbersome, difficult to schedule, and best serve students who are already well served by the conventional high school classroom approach.

From the moment they were introduced, AP courses tended to force out more varied and interesting elective courses for a standard slate of General Ed classes. In terms of quality of instruction, it was a Peter Principle anecdote waiting to happen. At best, you had teachers who were good at algebra and geometry being pushed out of their depth. At worst, you had faculty members who were good at sucking up to the administration being rewarded with plum positions.

Worse still was the inequality question. The schools that already had an unfair advantage in terms of financing and demographics were the very ones that could attract the highly qualified teachers with advanced degrees.

AP classes also play to one of the worst trends in education, the bury-the-kids-in-work approach which brings us to this recent essay from the Washington Post.

From Why I regret letting my teen sign up for an AP course by Kate Haas

My misgivings started when the homework began to pile up. I knew my son would have a lot of material to cover — the syllabus had been explicit about the required reading. But most of his homework seemed to consist of filling in charts. Night after night, I watched him spend hours scanning the pages of his textbook for relevant facts about ancient civilizations. He was not reading to learn but simply to plug correct bits of information into appropriate boxes.

“But you talk about this stuff in class, right?” I asked him. “You discuss the Code of Hammurabi, and all that?”

No, he told me, they did not. They took notes from the teacher’s slideshow presentations.

This did not remind me of college.

I graduated from an academically rigorous liberal arts school. In my freshman humanities class, I read a book a week: philosophy, literature, biographies, social science. But my classmates and I did not spend our time charting the number of syllables in Emily Dickinson’s poems or listing all the noble houses in Ssu-ma Chien’s chronicle of Chinese history. We were asked to think critically, raise questions, cite relevant passages and discuss a work’s implications in the wider world.

Nothing like that appeared to be taking place in my son’s AP history class. But I kept my mouth shut.

“I would enjoy learning about this,” he told me one night, “if the whole point wasn’t to go through it as fast as possible and then take a kajillion quizzes.”

“I’m sure that’s not the whole point,” I said.

At back-to-school night, I looked forward to meeting the teacher, who would undoubtedly put all this in perspective. Instead, she talked for 15 minutes about tests and grading policies.

At the end, my husband raised his hand. “What’s the main thing you want students to get from this class?” he asked.

I leaned forward expectantly. Now, surely, the teacher would mention an appreciation for the sweep of human history or the importance of an informed perspective on world events.

“Test-taking strategies and study skills,” she said briskly. “That’s the main thing.”