about neither hurricanes nor politics

My initial reaction to the news that Disney has agreed to purchase Lucasfilm and will be making Star Wars Episodes 7-9 (and beyond) was horror leavened by dread. As a lifelong fan, I am still stinging from the awfulness of Episodes 1 and 2 (3 was OK, if only by comparison). I was happy and ready to let the film franchise fade into memory. I imagine I am far from alone in that sentiment.

Of course, given that every other big-budget Hollywood movie today is either a sequel, a re-boot, or a shitty remake, it was completely unrealistic to expect a multi-billion dollar franchise to remain fallow for long. And while I am far from excited about the prospect of the Force being in the hands of Mauschwitz, the one bright spot in all of this is that George Lucas won't be writing and directing any more Star Wars movies.

This presents a great creative opportunity--should someone be wise enough to exploit it--to bring in some top-shelf creative talent and approach the galactic saga from a fresh perspective.

Here are some modest proposals for directors for Episode 7:

Alexander Payne--Luke returns to Tatooine in his 60s, wonders what life is all about. Feels empty and untethered. Has an an affair with an inappropriately young woman (Dakota Fanning).

Lars von Trier--Han and Leia's marriage has settled into a dull, soulless routine as Leia pursues her political career on Coruscant and Han tries to make a living as a novelist. Their love has long since given way to mutual contempt, explored in excruciating detail through the first hour of the film. Then, Han returns from a book tour early to find Leia in bed with Chewbacca, and attempts to kill them both. Chewbacca breaks Han's neck in the ensuing struggle, paralyzing him but leaving him alive. Grieved by what he has done to his best friend, Chewbacca jumps to his death from the balcony of their high-rise apartment. The movie ends with a black hole destroying the galaxy.

Daren Aronovsky--Set in the new Jedi Academy, this taut, often hallucinatory exploration of obsession centers on the extremes the young students are willing to push themselves to in order to fulfill their dreams of wielding the Force. Critics love it. Audiences mostly hate it. The soundtrack is awesome.

Joel and Ethan Cohen--This prequel follows a young Han Solo and Lando Calrissian as they double-cross their way across the galaxy in a desperate attempt to scam a motley cast of characters from Greedo (John Turturo) to Jabba the Hutt (John Goodman).

Eli Roth--Basically just two hours of Jar Jar Binks being tortured to death.


revenge of the nerds

I had jotted down a few points of what I'd hoped to be a short post on the bizarre backlash against Nate Silver, but Ezra Klein has already made every single point I'd wanted to make. So, over to you, Ezra:
If Mitt Romney wins on election day, it doesn’t mean Silver’s model was wrong. After all, the model has been fluctuating between giving Romney a 25 percent and 40 percent chance of winning the election. That’s a pretty good chance! If you told me I had a 35 percent chance of winning a million dollars tomorrow, I’d be excited. And if I won the money, I wouldn’t turn around and tell you your information was wrong. I’d still have no evidence I’d ever had anything more than a 35 percent chance.
I wouldn't get on a plane if you told me it had a 25% chance of crashing, either. Would you?

Also, this:
The answer to this is simple enough: If Silver’s model is systematically biased, there’s a market opportunity for anyone who wants to build a better model. That person would stand to gain hugely if they outpredicted punditry’s reigning forecaster (not to mention all the betting markets and all the other forecasters). The math behind what Silver is doing isn’t that complicated and the polls are easily available.
If you sincerely believe that numbers guys are actually just in the can for Obama, get thyself over to Intrade and put your money where your mouth is. If you buy shares in Romney right now at ~$3.66, you can nearly triple your money by this time next week if he wins.

Funny how nobody seems to be doing enough of that to move the prediction markets further away from Silver et al.

Finally, a little self-awareness from Mr. Klein:
Come to think of it, a lot of the odder critiques of Silver have been coming out of Politico. But that makes a kind of sense. Silver’s work poses a threat to more traditional — and, in particular, to more excitable — forms of political punditry and horse-race journalism.

If you had to distill the work of a political pundit down to a single question, you’d have to pick the perennial “who will win the election?” During election years, that’s the question at the base of most careers in punditry, almost all cable news appearances, and most A1 news articles. Traditionally, we’ve answered that question by drawing on some combination of experience, intuition, reporting and polls. Now Silver — and Silver’s  imitators and political scientists — are taking that question away from us. It would be shocking if the profession didn’t try and defend itself.


more of this, please

Seattle Police held a community meeting yesterday to discuss their intended use of aerial drones in the city. It did not go well:

The first community meeting seeking public opinion on the department's plans to use unmanned aerial systems, or drones, for law enforcement was taken over by protesters who prevented McDonagh from talking for more than half of the two-hour meeting.
The meeting, held at the Garfield Community Center, was attended by about 100 people. A few sat quietly and tried to listen, a few wanted to see the drones for themselves, but the majority were there to challenge police powers.
"We don't trust you with the weapons you do have," shouted a man who said his name was General Malaise. "We are not going to tolerate this in our city. This is unacceptable," yelled Emma Kaplan from The October 22 Coalition to Stop Police Brutality. "NO DRONES!"
Some days I really do love this town.

Most troubling (besides the fact that they would be used at all) is that the guidelines that SPD claims will limit how drones will be used in the city will be a matter of police policy, rather than city ordinance. In other words, completely unaccountable to the public.

This is also disappointing:

That causes concern for the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, which has called for police and city leaders to tightly regulate what kind of information can be collected by drones, who can collect it, how the information can be used and how long it will be kept.

Screw that. If anyone should be taking a hard line on drones, it's the freaking ACLU. "Tight regulation" means little more than letting the camel's nose under the tent, especially when we are talking expansion of police powers. The ACLU ought to know that better than anyone.


lightening round

--This, this, a thousand times this.

--Turns out, God can be a real dick sometimes.

--Great piece on the late George McGovern.

--I'd call Donald Trump and Gloria Allred attention whores, but I don't want to insult them. (Whores, I mean.)

my life as a republican: epilogue

It only occurred to me yesterday, while hearing a story about how sophisticated political campaigns have gotten in terms of identifying likely voters and targeting them specifically for mailers, emails, and phone calls, that I haven't gotten a single solicitation for my vote* by any of those means.

The email doesn't surprise me; I have spam filters for my spam filters.

However, I know for a fact that the King County Republicans have my name, address, and phone number, thanks to my participation in their pooled caucuses and in the 43rd Legislative District caucus. I know this not only because I had to give that information to them in order to participate, but also because I got about 30 (seriously) phone calls from the Ron Paul campaign up to and even during the 43rd's caucus. Voter records are public, and I have voted in every election since moving to Seattle (even local primaries).

If I'm not a "likely voter" I don't know who would be.

Other information they have about me: I live in a moderately affluent zip code, I'm in my 30s, and I'm male. I live in Seattle and have an English surname, so it's a reasonably safe bet that I'm white.

Of course, I also live in an LD whose candidates for the state house this cycle are a Democrat and a Socialist.

I'm not complaining, mind you. Not at all. But I do think it is funny, since they made such a big point of encouraging the young(er) Ron Paul delegates to continue to be engaged with party after the caucuses, and of saying that they wanted that influx of youth and enthusiasm, that they seem to have decided to forget that we exist.

*By which I mean I'm surprised no one has tried to get my vote for the governor's race, which is a dead heat. Romney and Ryan have only come to WA once each, and both times it was just for private fundraising events. They know where not to waste their time. 

american football could be the next generation's smoking in hospitals

Ta-Nehisi Coates, longtime football fan--but more importantly, football dad--shares a pretty jarring story:

Six plays into the game, another Brave was removed after a hard hit. An official with the Tantasqua team said the eyes of one of the boys were rolling back in his head.
But the game, an obvious mismatch between teams from neighboring towns in central Massachusetts, went on, with Southbridge building a 28-0 lead in the first quarter. The game went on without the officials intervening. It went on despite the fact that the Braves, with three of their players already knocked out of the game, no longer had the required number of players to participate. Even with what are known as "mercy rules"—regulations designed to limit a dominant team's ability to run up scores—the touchdowns kept coming, and so did the concussions. When the game ended, the final score was 52-0, and five preadolescent boys had head injuries, the last hurt on the final play of the game.

That's a Pop Warner game, based on the description in the article, in the "Peewee" division (9-12 years old, 75-120 pounds!)

A lot has been made over the ill health effects of repeated head traumas suffered by NFL players. But it is looking more like the problems of concussions are not at all limited to the extremes of size and speed.

I've mentioned a couple of times that I saw a presentation a few months back that gave me pause about my own football fandom. I'm still not at liberty to discuss the particulars of the study. However, I do think I can mention a few things, and they really do bear mentioning sooner rather than later.

1) It's a longitudinal study, meaning that they are following a cohort over time (which is why the data aren't published yet, and probably won't be for a few more years.) This is a really powerful study design, because you have baseline data for every person in the study--much better than the standard epidemiological type study in which you look at groups of people after the fact (e.g., "people who played football for X years" and "people who played soccer for X years") and make inferences about relative risk based on how many people in each group have a particular health outcome. If 5% of your football players have (say) migraines* and only 2.5% of your soccer players do, then you can say playing football is associated with doubling your risk of having migraines. But it doesn't tell you anything about an individual's risk of migraine, or what specifically leads to that outcome.

2) Early data on the outcomes they are looking at are astonishingly robust, and they  correlate almost perfectly among the subjects with how many hits they take over the course of their playing careers. 

3) The cohort are high school players.

*This study does not look at migraine, at least to my knowledge.


the math (final edition*)

Two weeks out, the debates are behind us, and we throw ourselves on the mercy of low-information voters in Virginia, New Hampshire, Colorado, Florida, and Ohio, and maybe Iowa, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Nevada.

I'm going to stick my neck out and make a real prediction, here, because what's the fun in equivocating until it doesn't matter anymore? I correctly predicted that the Dems would take the House and Senate in 2006, when everyone was saying that GOP would hold on to the latter. I also famously** predicted sometime in 2007 that "there is no way in hell the first black president is going to be a guy whose name rhymes with 'Osama'". So caveat emptor, and all of that.

I think Obama holds onto his leaners (PA, IA, OH, WI, and NV), ekes it out in NH and CO, while Romney holds onto FL, wins handily in NC, and just barely takes VA. Obama gets one district in NE. The Electoral College goes to Obama, 291-247.

If you want to stick out your neck too, put it in the comments. If you don't do that, you don't get to come back and gloat about me being wrong on November7***.

*unless I change my mind
**not really famously, more of a comment on RW's blog, a couple of blogs ago
***obviously, you could still do that, but it would be kind of a dick move, don't you think?


the limits of bootstraps

Too many Americans, goes the common complaint, want other people to pay for them. Yet the same is true in generational terms. We have been able to live well, and do well, because we inherited a rich, well-functioning country, but for a long time now—I’m thinking of the tax revolt that began in 1978—we have refused to do our share to keep it going. Essentially, the bootstrap crowd is living off the civic-minded willingness to sacrifice of those who came before. The problem, in India, isn’t simply that the country is poor, but also that it has a very weak idea of the public good.
Read the whole thing.

For me, a few days in Cambodia undid more of my youthful, reflexive libertarianism than a thousand editorials or blog posts ever could. Infrastructure matters, a lot. Public goods exist. And Americans in this era are much more used to having them than we are to the idea that we actually have to keep paying for them.


(don't criticize it)

Things are looking good for Washington's Great Green Experiment of 2012:

First, a survey conducted by SurveyUSA and KING 5 NEWS showed 55 percent of voters were planning to vote YES on I-502, which would decriminalize and regulate marijuana use in the state. Only, thirty-six percent said they oppose it and 8 percent remained undecided.

Other data just released by KCTS9 Washington, has I-502 ahead among both registered and likely voters. 50.9% of registered voters support the measure, with 40.8% against it. Likely voters back I-502 by 47.1% with 40.1% opposed. Unlike many marijuana initiatives, I-502 has strong support among female voters, 49.5% of whom support the initiative and only 39.9% oppose it.
OK, folks: whatever you do, don't space out and forget to send that ballot in!

what did thomas jefferson sound like?

I'm a little bit obsessed with accents, perhaps in part because 85% of the time I meet someone, I have some version of this exchange:

"Where are you from?"

"Atlanta, originally."

"What happened to your accent?"

[Explanation that variously includes me pointing out that regional accents tend to be muted in large metro areas, that I've moved around a lot, that I work with people from all over the world, and that I'm married to a Canadian. Some of which may or may not even be explanatory, in fact.]

In historical movies about the American Revolutionary period, or in documentaries where actors read the words of various historical people "in character", Thomas Jefferson is frequently given the genteel, upper crust southern accent most people would associate with a wealthy Virginia farmer. George Washington, on the other hand--who fits the exact same demographic--almost never is. And I cannot think of an example in which John Adams or John Hancock are made to sound like they are from Boston.

Of course, we have no idea what any of these men really sounded like. In fact, we can really only make an educated guess about what anyone sounded like in 18th century America. But I'd be willing to bet that we would have a hard time recognizing their regional accents today. After all, if you listen to how people spoke in movies from the early 20th century--or even better, in "man on the street" type interviews from the early days of radio, it's pretty clear that Americans now don't even really sound like they did 70 years ago, much less 240.

Given the years he spent in the British military, I'd be willing to bet Washington sounded a lot more English than Jefferson did. But then again, there's really no reason to assume that English accents in the 18th century sound like they do now, either.


small screen, small reviews

I got an iPad (more precisely, I got my wife to get me an iPad) primarily for use as a reading/storage device for scientific papers (if you read/scan/at least look at 300-400 papers a year, the paper can really, really pile up.) And to be sure, I use it for that, quite a lot.

But it's also a great way to watch movies on airplanes.

Since I logged just shy of 13 hours in the air this last week--and since I wasn't traveling for work--I took in a few flicks. Here's a quick rundown:

Iron Sky--A Finnish film, mostly in English and German, with a completely ludicrous premise: at the end of WWII, a contingent of Nazis escaped earth and set up base on the dark side of the moon, plotting their eventual return and revenge. This is a film that makes no attempt to be taken seriously, yet manages to be incredibly smart satire at the same time. Equal parts Battlestar Galactica (2003 version), Dr. Strangelove, and Hogan's Heroes. I loved it. (If the trailer appeals to you, you probably will, as well.)

Cabin in the Woods--Written by Joss Whedon, this might be the most innovative horror movie I've seen in a very long time. Both genuinely scary and genuinely funny. To get into the plot would be to ruin the movie. Horror movie geekery is rewarded. I recommend it highly, as long as you don't have a problem with horror movie gore.

Sound of my Voice--A small indy about a couple who infiltrate a cult to make a documentary. Some very good film making of the "get a lot out of a little" school. The pace is deliberate and the tone is understated, but it works at an hour and a half. It's a long way from being a "thriller" but they manage to milk an awful lot of tension out of some scenes. Brit Marling (who wrote it and stars as the cult leader) pulls off ethereal and menacing at the same time, which strikes me as a bit of a feat.

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Part I--Though this animated adaptation of Frank Miller's classic graphic novel is a direct to video release, it's actually quite good. It's very faithful to the plot and and overall look of the book, though the animation is much cleaner than Miller's characteristically dirty-to-the-point-of-grotesque style of drawing. Some scenes--particularly those involving contrasting light and rain--are quite beautifully done. The rougher edges of the content are reigned in a bit as well to give it a PG-13 rating. Personally, my favorite thing about the comic was the first-person narration that was often superimposed on the action--I guess it wouldn't be practical to do this with an action scene moving in real time--the timing would be off--but I would have really loved to hear a few lines like "It was tough work, carrying 220 pounds of sociopath to the top of Gotham Towers — the highest spot in the city. The scream alone is worth it," in Peter Weller's voice.


the math

Ballots are being in mailed out in Washington state this very morning. Early voting has already started in several states. This is the proverbial wire, and we are down to it.

I thought about altering the criteria for the "true toss-up" category to a margin of less than 1 point in either direction, but I decided to keep this thing consistent. (It is worth pointing out that both CO and VA would be in that category, were such a change to be made, though.)

At this point we can maybe say what the most significant effect of the first debate was: Obama may have lost Florida. And as I mentioned in the very first in this series of posts, Florida likely signifies the difference between Obama walking away with the election before polls close on the west coast (which seems very unlikely at this point) and a nail-biter.

Romney has narrowed the margins in the states leaning Obama's way, but he has yet to consolidate any of this into moving a single state into his "likely" category, leaving his baseline of 191 electoral votes exactly where it was when we started tracking this 6 weeks ago. He may be able to do so with NC.

Regardless of whether you think Obama "won" last night's debate or not, there's no question that he did much, much better than in the first. It is unlikely that we are going to see the any other swings like we did with Florida after the first one (in either direction) as a result of the second debate.

Where I'm sitting, Romney still has to do something extraordinary (or benefit from some extraordinary inaccuracies in polling) to win the Electoral College, or Obama has to really step in it.

I can't wait for this shit to be over with.

jet lagged debate blogging

I've been back in North Carolina the last few days helping a couple of dear friends celebrate their undermining of my marriage by promising in front of family and friends to be faithful to each other for the rest of their lives. Didn't spend a lot of time in front of screens, except to watch a few movies on the iPad during some long flights.

We got home in time to catch the last 25 minutes or so of the debate, so what follows is not intended to be a comprehensive analysis (though is it ever, really?)

-I'm glad to see Obama get angry over the politicizing of Benghazi, and stand up for his State Department.

-I thought both candidates' answers to the China question (it was technically a question about jobs moving overseas) were unsatisfactory, but Obama's was closer. What they both missed is that China's competitive advantage *now* isn't really lower labor costs--those have risen and are largely offset by the costs of shipping--in fact, the reason things are made in China now is because that's where all the manufacturing infrastructure is. They are bigger, more flexible, and closer to their own suppliers. They can re-tool in a matter of weeks. American plants, by and large, simply cannot do that anymore. You could slap a 20% tariff on Chinese goods tomorrow and this would still be true.

-The common thread through both Fast and Furious and an awful lot of gun violence here is the drug war, which of course neither candidate mentioned. One of them is going to have to deal with at least one state legalizing marijuana, possibly as early as next year. It would be good to get a sense of what they are actually going to do about it.

-If you find yourself complaining about the moderator, your guy lost.


soundtrack to the obamacolypse

(This song doesn't really have anything to do with the post; I just heard it over the weekend and really liked it.) 

I thought Dave Weigel's response to the responses to polls was pretty dead on. And I kind of just want to give Andrew Sullivan big old hug right now.

One of the joys of political ambivalence (and I use the term loosely*) is that even when things look grim for your chosen horse, it's relatively easy to shrug it off and get on with your life. That said, I think it is worth considering for a moment the Big Swing. I'd offer up three (not mutually exclusive) hypotheses: 

1) Polls really aren't that accurate after all.
2) The number of persuadable voters in this election has been vastly underestimated, by me and damn near everyone else.
3) This is an outlier election.

Addressing (1) is kind of a Schrodinger's Cat sort of situation, in that you only ever get to test the accuracy of any given poll once.  Looking retrospectively at the data, it's pretty clear that poll accuracy (globally) is a roughly inverse function of time before the actual election. (Of course exceptions exist, particularly with exit polls.) But this doesn't exclude the possibility that polls are in fact very accurate snapshots of the electorate at the time they are taken. We just can't ever really know if this is true or not. So let's leave it.

Personally, I think that we're looking at roughly equal parts (2) and (3), and these are interrelated. The theme that could run through them both is that we have an incumbent that a lot of people are really unhappy with and a challenger that a lot of the same people are also really unhappy with. To my mind, that leaves a lot of people on the fence just waiting for someone to give them a reason to break one way or another. And the president's lousy performance in the debate may very well have been just the thing.

The Romney camp has been trying to paint this as a replay of 1980; Obama, as 1996. It's not hard to see why each would pick those years. But I actually think the best precedent in the modern era is 2004. Plenty of people were highly motivated to unseat GW Bush; very few of them (us) were terribly excited about voting for John Kerry. And we know how that went.

Obama would do well to learn from that election, and by that I do not mean taking heart in the result. This is the rare time when I would admonish him to emulate his predecessor--get out there, defend your record like you mean it, and act like you want to be the fucking president for another four years. 

*Joy, I mean.


programming note

I stopped paying attention to blog stats a while back, and actually "unplugged" the Sitemeter I'd had for ages. Haven't really given it much of a thought since.

Blogger now has limited traffic stats built in, but again, I usually just zip right past all that on my way to the composition page.

Except today, when it caught my eye that this post has just south of 800 page views, which is (I think) about 750 more page views than anything I've ever posted (or at least for a very long time.) Moral of the story: if you want more traffic, write about obscure comic books.

Which reminds me of a draft post I started about The Boys and The Authority that I really ought to finish sometime soon...

the math (if you find that you don't like my ways...)

Things continue to get tighter...most notably, CO and FL are now dead ties. Margins are tighter still in OH, VA, and WI, and NC is now just barely (RCP average 0.8 points) leaning in Romney's favor. The only race that seems to be moving in Obama's direction right now is Missouri, which still has a way to go before we can really consider it a toss-up.

Before you go chalking this up to Mr. Obama's lackluster performance in the debate, it is worth pointing out that while this reflects polls reported through today, only the latest from Wisconsin and Colorado actually include sampling that took place after the debate. So the real effect of the debate (if any) won't really be seen until next week.

(Headline assistance for the hip-hop impaired here.)


I'm very happy to see that Kerry Howley is blogging more regularly at Slate these days. She's been on a roll this week. Check her out.

congratulations, michael baumgartner

You just won my vote.

Other Republicans, make a note of it. 

fair ≠ balanced ≠ objective

The Stranger has given its news and politics blog Slog over to Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob McKenna and his campaign today. That approximately half of the commentariat there are completely convinced this is an elaborate joke  should give some hint that this is not exactly friendly territory. So, kudos to Mr. McKenna for taking his licks today. [Ed: as the day has gone on, I am starting to wonder whether this is a joke, myself. The first few posts seemed totally legit. Some of the later ones are reading a bit more like parody, to me. Anyway, I think the larger point here still stands.]

[UPDATE, 1:50PM--it is indeed an elaborate joke.]

This is timely, because in the ongoing discussion of media bias, I have wanted to make the point that fairness, balance, and objectivity are not all the same things. Dominic Holden makes a very good point of one distinction in introducing Mr. McKenna this morning:

It's no secret to readers of The Stranger that we're in the tank for Jay Inslee, the Democrat running for Washington State governor. Hell, writers on our staff have donated to Inslee and even filed a No ROB PAC.
The Stranger isn't always balanced, but we do try to be fair. And in the interests of fairness and balance, Rob McKenna will be blogging in this space today. We were actually impressed when McKenna agreed to post on Slog—maybe he is a different kind of Republican after all?—and we encourage readers to engage with McKenna respectfully in the comments threads.
Thus, one can be fair, without necessarily being strictly "balanced." [And, it turns out, this is the case of The Stranger being neither fair nor balanced, but definitely making their biases clear.]

"Objectivity" is, to my mind, both the highest ideal for a news organization and the most difficult to achieve and maintain; simply put, humans are not actually capable of being truly objective. In the journalistic context, objectivity tends to refer to presentation of independent facts without judgement, and in as neutral a way as possible.

It gets complicated, however, when objectivity becomes conflated with balance. In some arguments, the objective facts really do favor one side. To pick (what at least ought to be) an easy example: there is a mountain of scientific evidence supporting the general notion that the earth is a couple of billion years old, that life arose in single-cell form here about a billion years ago, evolved into progressively more complex forms, and that the first hominids arose from this process  about 15 million years ago, the first anatomically modern humans 200,000 years ago, and the first behaviorally modern humans about 50,000 years ago.

An alternative view exists, which posits that the world and mankind were created by God in the space of a week about 6000 years ago.* The evidence for this view consists of very old mythological texts, dubious pseudoscience, and the fervent beliefs of some people.

To give equal weight and time to both arguments would certainly be balanced. It may even be fair. But it is not objective.

*And of course, a host of views exist which posit theistic evolution with the biblical account being a metaphorical description of the scientific one, which is fine and good. These generally aren't the people who go to school board meetings and bitch about "teaching the debate".


If everyone who has spoken highly of Simpson Bowles on the campaign trail had actually acted on that plan, we'd be cutting the deficit to a sustainable level by now.
--Scott Horsley on NPR this morning


on intelligence

This accusation [that the administration is lying about Benghazi] not only misses the mark but also demonstrates how profoundly the accusers misunderstand how intelligence works. In fact, the White House's evolving timeline for what happened in Benghazi is proof of precisely the opposite of what the breathless accusers suggest -- it is a sign of a normal, healthy intelligence process.
To believe that the initial statements about what happened in Benghazi were a lie, one has to assume: (1) The administration had all the facts, even as the situation was evolving; (2) the administration chose to tell a deliberately false story about those facts; and (3) the story it told was consistent, with no administration official contradicting the official line. There is little evidence to support any of these three pillars of the Republican case against the White House.

First, it's clear that Obama was presented with a changing and muddied intelligence picture. The administration still hasn't finished gathering the evidence, and it had even less in the hours just after the attack.
Second, the criticisms of the administration's response are limited to parsing, not refuting the facts as they've stated them. Were the assailants "extremists" or "terrorists"? Either way, America is committed to finding them and bringing them to justice.
Third, the evolution of the explanation itself is an indication of candid and careful re-assessment, not of a consistent lie. An administration forthright enough to tell the world when its first findings were wrong should be applauded, not pilloried.
Finally, our government is too vast and far too leaky to support such a conspiracy. We aren't seeing a cover-up; rather, we are seeing the mundane workings of the intelligence community as it is attempting, however imperfectly, to keep up with fast-moving events.
 --Aki Peritz, tool of the left-wing media former CIA analyst during the Bush administration

the master

(Been meaning to get this on the page since I saw The Master a couple of weekends back.)

It's a pure coincidence that I happened to be reading Janet Reitman's very good book Inside Scientology just as Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master hit theaters. However, I did make it point to get through L. Ron Hubbard's death in the book before I saw the movie.

Anderson has been a bit coy about the extent to which the plot of his movie is informed by the events surrounding the founding and growth of the Church of Scientology. I have to say that it is pretty clear--at least inasmuch as Reitman's book is accurate--that the extent can be accurately described as "quite a lot, with the names changed".

"Processing" looks a great deal like auditing. There is the general idea that negative emotions arise from previous traumas, going back into previous lives, and that by repeatedly confronting these traumas one can reduce their reactivity to them, thus lessening their power. Adherents spend hours trying to alter their perceptions and their environments with their minds. The Xenu myth is referenced obliquely, in Lancaster Dodd's assertion that these past lives go back "trillions" of years. And even some biographical details--such as Dodd's dubious business of sailing other people's yachts around, his exile to England, and his strained relationship with his son--look an awful lot like Hubbard's.

That said, I think it is fair to say that The Master isn't a veiled takedown of the CoS so much as a meditation on how trauma and alienation can lead people to embrace some very odd things. The story focuses not on Dodd, but on Freddie Quell (Joachin Phoenix), a WWII vet who is utterly shredded by his experiences in the war, who encounters Dodd and "The Cause" when he drunkenly stows away on one of the aforementioned yachts.

The movie is bleak and atmosheric (much like in Anderson's There Will Be Blood, this is helped along considerably by a haunting and unsettling soundtrack by Radiohead's Johny Greenwood.) The camera work is gorgeous, and solid performances are delivered by Phoenix, the always-excellent Phillip Seymour Hoffman, and Amy Adams. Plot is very nearly an afterthought, but that really isn't the point. We're not working towards resolution so much as peeking in on something much bigger and more complicated than we can unravel in a couple of hours.

This is probably not a film for everybody, maybe not even everybody who likes Anderson's previous stuff. But I liked it, and perhaps more importantly...I'm still thinking about it.


i'd like to hear this question asked tomorrow night, too


What are the main differences between your domestic and foreign policies and those of the last Republican president, George W. Bush?
 Of course, I'd like to hear this asked of both participants in the debate.


the math (pre-debate baseline)

Margins have shrunk sufficiently to warrant reclassification of Iowa, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Missouri. Arizona is also creeping towards the middle.

I'd expect that trend to continue. But the thing I'm still struck by is how stable the overall picture seems to be in post-conventions month. I don't expect the debates to move things much. And at this point, if you think there is enough volatility left in the system to swing the election to Mr. Romney, you also have to accept that the same level of volatility could give Mr Obama a victory in the range of 350+ electoral votes. That's certainly not 1972 or 1984 territory, but it is decisive.

Just to be clear: I personally expect a regression to the mean. But the mean is on the left hand side of the graph.

denialism, summarized

"This is the world now. Just talk to doctors. They all spend half their time explaining themselves to patients who looked stuff up on the Internet and think their doctor is wrong.”

--Mike Murphy, presumably acting his part in the Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy of 2012.