Saturday, July 31, 2004

The Thing Itself is the Abuse

I have a lot of friends who are not fans of George Bush. To put it mildly. They wish him no harm, certainly not Nicholson Baker's dadaist fantasy of flying saws, but they think he is the worst President since...well, ever.

These same people, without exception, talk about how great and important the "state" is.

Me, I wonder what the "state" is. There is a guy, George Bush, who in many ways runs the state, but my statist friends hate him. The state must be something else. It could be Louis XIV, of course, because he said "l'Etat, c'est moi !". But my friends don't really think Louis XIV was the ideal form of government. What is the answer? What is the state?

I think I found it. The state is Cherrail Curry-Hagler, of the DC Transit Police.

The Washington Post ran a
story, and another, about a scientist who got arrested for taking three or four seconds too long to obey the state.

Here are the facts, which (remarkably) are not in dispute. Seriously, the arresting officer (Ms. C-H) agrees that these are the facts.

Participants:
Stephanie Willett, EPA Scientist, 45
Cherrail Curry-Hagler, DC Transit Policewoman

About 6:30 p.m. July 16, Willett was riding the escalator from 11th Street NW (DC transit map) into the station, and eating a "PayDay" candy bar. Cherrail Curry-Hagler, D.C. transit policewoman, was riding up on the other escalator. Officer Curry-Hagler warned Willett to finish the candy before entering the station.

Willett nodded but kept chewing the peanut-and-caramel bar as she walked through the fare gates. Curry-Hagler, who had turned around and followed Willett, warned her again as she stuffed the last bit into her mouth before throwing the wrapper into the trash can near the station manager's kiosk, according to both Willett and the officer.

Curry-Hagler ordered Willett to stop and show ID, because she (Ms. C-H) intended to write a citation. Willett said she refused to stop and told the officer, "Why don't you go and take care of some real crime?" while still chewing the PayDay bar as she rode a second escalator to catch her Orange Line train.

At that point, Willett said, Curry-Hagler grabbed her and patted her down, running her hands around Willett's bust, under her bra and around her waist. She put Willett in a police cruiser and took her to the D.C. police 1st District headquarters, where she was locked in a cell. At 9:30 p.m., after she paid a $10 fee, Willett was released to her husband. She is scheduled to appear in court in October for a hearing.

Okay, now here's the thing:
1. Ms. Willett was on a DOWN ESCALATOR. She couldn't turn around.
2. She was already chewing the candy bar. She couldn't spit it out, without littering. Even I think you should be given a ticket if you spit chewed up food on a public escalator.
3. When Willett got to the bottom of the escalator, she put the last bit into her mouth, threw the wrapper into the trash can, and continued on toward her train.

There is no way that Ms. Willett could have obeyed the instruction not to eat in the station, unless she had run back up the escalator, or spit out candy bar.

The real reason that Ms. Willett (who, if it matters, is African-American, as is Ms. Curry-Hagler) got smacked down is that she brought out some attitude. She said, "Why don't you go and take care of some real crime?"

And here is the answer: given the law on the books, Ms. Willett had flagrantly committed "a real crime." You can't take food into a station, and you can't eat in the station. Ms. Curry-Hagler had not, in fact, committed an abuse of the system. Ms. Curry-Hagler, and all the other eager beaver Transit Gestapo in DC, are out there with their gimlet-eyed vigilance for EXACTLY offenses like these.

Which brings me to brilliant, but not nearly well-known enough, observation by Edmund Burke, in A Vindication of Natural Society.

In vain you tell me that Artificial Government is good, but that I fall out only with the Abuse. The Thing! the Thing itself is the Abuse! Observe, my Lord, I pray you, that grand Error upon which all artificial legislative Power is founded. It was observed, that Men had ungovernable Passions, which made it necessary to guard against the Violence they might offer to each other. They appointed Governors over them for this Reason; but a worse and more perplexing Difficulty arises, how to be defended against the Governors? Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

[The Latin bit at the end means, "Who will guard the guardians?" But you knew that.]

The U.S. has criminalized so much behavior, from eating a candy bar on an escalator while moving toward a Metro station to mild drug use to consensual sexual practices, that our prisons are full of people innocent of any real crime. The only reason that we are even talking about the case of Ms. Willett is that she was middle class and an employed professional. In poor areas all over the U.S., police harass and beat nameless citizens while trying to enforce unenforceable laws. Those cops, and those bureaucrats who try to enforce the tax laws and the regulations on transactions and safety standards and a thousand other things, may or may not be good people. I expect that Ms. Curry-Hagler took her tin Transit Cop badge, and herself, a little too seriously in handcuffing Ms. Willett. But we don't fall out only with the abuse. The state, the state itself, with its hydra-headed legal restrictions on liberty and its extraordinarily complex and expensive mechanisms of support and oppression....the thing itself is the abuse.



Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Baseball: Kellogg, Brown, and Root, Root, Root for the Home Team

So, I had this great idea: compare the Red Sox to the Democrats, and the Yankees to the Republicans. Seemed like a natural. After all, the Dems are meeting in Boston, and the Repub confab is in New York. And Kerry actually threw out the first pitch at Fenway, and said "go Red Sox" on national TV.

But, Mike Pesca at NPR seems to have nailed it. Of course, he did it on National People's Radio, so he had a little bit different spin. I am still going to take my shot, but with a little more edge to it.

Consider the key features of the two teams. (Color hint: Red Sox are for blue states, Yankees are for red states)

Red Sox

  • Extremely, embarrassingly weak on defense. As a team they had 79 errors, as of Monday. Suppose we could tack on a new stat, "suck." The Sox might lead the league. It certainly describes the Sox' outfield: "Oh, gosh, that last play was a Suck-7! Manny turned the wrong way, completely misplayed the bounce, and then made a bad throw! Actually, there could have been two sucks on that one play!"
  • Center Fielder Johnny Damon looks like a street person, someone who needs government handouts right away, so he can get out of the "Quest for Fire" look. He's very fast, but has an incredibly weak arm. (Actually, this may be a problem for my theory, because Damon can't get the ball to second base. A real Democrat, like Bill Clinton, Mario Cuomo, Jesse Jackson, Gary Hart [I could go on], gets to second base every time, as long as their wives are not in the room.)
  • The Sox strike out a lot. 738 times, for an average of 7.5 strikeouts per game. Why in the world does John Kerry think he can get the UN to help out in Iraq? He'd just strike out again.
  • You might think of the Democratic approach as standing around a lot, talking about things, and then deciding not to do much. And...that's the Red Sox. They have a total of 40 stolen bases. One guy, Carl Crawford of the Devil Rays, has stolen more (41) than the entire Red Sox team.
  • The Red Sox have a team payroll of $105 million, fifth highest in all of baseball. So, it's not like they are poor or anything. You'd think they would realize how hypocritical it is to whine about those "rich people," when they have tons of money, too. (I was talking about the Kerrys; I was also talking about the Edwards; did you think I was still talking about the Red Sox? Jeez, pay attention.)
  • The Red Sox pitchers are handing out free passes to pretty much everyone who comes to the plate. Their 184 walks given up, combined with the total of zero times (I'm not kidding) they have held their opponents scoreless, tell me one thing: The Red Sox, like the Democrats, really don't want anyone to be shut out, or to feel bad about themselves. Can't we just all get along?
  • That is worth emphasizing: The Sox starters have given up nearly 30% more walks than the Yankees starters. That is a lot of free passes. But liberals can't help it. They see a guy standing there...and they say, "You go ahead...go to first base. You don't have to swing, or do anything, just go. But we won't give you any real credit for it. We won't count it as an at bat, and it won't help your average. We just want you to take this free thing, and become dependent on it as your way of getting on base. That way, you won't ever learn to hit on your own, and you can vote Democrat forever."

Yankees

  • A bunch of strong-arm guys. They have perhaps the TWO best shortstops in baseball, so one of them (A-Rod) has to play third. You'd think they would say, "No, we already have a great shortstop (Jeter); we'll share the extra one." But that would not be the Republican way.
  • The Yankees payroll is by far the largest in baseball. They pay their players $180 million per year. If you add up the lowest paid teams, you get FOUR TEAMS before you get the Yankees' total. That means the Devil Rays, Expos, Brewers and Royals, COMBINED, still make less than the Yankees' roster. ( I can't resist adding that the best team in baseball, the St. Louis Cardinals, has a relatively modest $101 million payroll.)
  • The Red Sox have 27% more errors than the Yankees. So, yes, the Yankees are strong on defense.
  • The Yankees have stolen nearly 20% more bases than the Red Sox. They think you should try to get something started. Of course, if you get caught stealing second, you can go back to the dugout. If you get caught without any allies in Iraq, you have to stick around and take casualties for a long time. Maybe it's better to be aggressive on the basepaths than on foreign policy....
  • The Yankees starters have given up 145 walks, which is really stingy. This is the equivalent of telling panhandlers, "Hey, buddy, get a job!" On the other hand, the reason the Yankees starters haven't given up as many walks is that they don't work very hard. The Sox starters stay out there and sweat, like good working men: Sox starters have thrown more than 606 innings. The Yankee starters don't need to work that hard (560 innings). Besides, the Yankees starters have some foreign worker come in and clean up the mess they have left: Mariano Rivera has 35 saves, and an ERA under 1.45.
  • None of the Yankees seem to have that much fun. When your team spends $ 64 million more in payroll than the next guys (that would be Mets: second in payroll, first in suck, now motoring along at five games under .500), you are SUPPOSED to win. It would be like some guy who was born into a wealthy, politically connected family, and ended up being President. How could you say that he really achieved anything? He hardly deserved to win, but he was SUPPOSED to.

Now, there are some possible counterarguments. One could say that Billy Crystal, who made "61*" and has long worn his Yankee-love on his tiny little sleeve, is a big Democrat. There was Billy, calling the President a thug, and laughing at Whoopi's very clever "Bush" jokes. Okay, there was only one joke, about the President's name and a woman's private parts, one W probably heard in the third grade, but gosh did Billy Crystal (Yankee fan) think it was funny, over and over. How can a Yankee fan be a Dem?

The answer is this: Bill Kristol, the conservative editor of the Weekly Standard, is a big Red Sox fan. So, I can explain the apparent anomaly: someone just got their crystal ball mixed up.

FOLLOW UP: See Frederic Frommer, of AP, with a little different take on the same idea. (Thanks to MWT for the tip...)





Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Control of the Senate?

By rights, the Republicans should either maintain their slim Senate majority, or increase it by a few seats.  But the Democrats are doing much better than anyone expected in fund-raising.  A strong Presidential campaign showing, and an economy anything less than robustly expanding, could turn the tide for Democrats.

Basic math and hoary wisdom favor Republicans in the upcoming votes, because Democrats control 19 of the 34 Senate seats up for election this fall; Republicans hold only 15.   That means that Democrats are more exposed, right at the beginning.  Any surprises are likely to harm the Dems.  Furthermore, the set of seats up for grabs is heavily southern:  North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, and Louisiana all have retiring Democratic incumbents.  Not one of those states is easy pickings for the men and women in blue.

But…it may not be that simple.  Several of the states (Louisiana may be the best example, but there are others) are “red” in Presidential politics, but “blue” for everything else.  Louisiana has a Democratic governor, and both Senate seats are held by the Dems. And the White House campaign androids are increasingly concerned about, and focused on, the swing states for the Prez race.  The campaign is showing little willingness to help Republicans in close races where Electoral College votes are not at risk.  So, Louisiana will get Prez attention, because it might go either way.  But North Dakota and South Dakota, each of whom have Democratic incumbents who might be vulnerable, aren’t going to get help from the national ticket, because (a) ND and SD are solidly Republican, for the Electoral College, and (b) Louisiana has 9 EC votes, all in one place, while ND and SD have a total 6 votes combined, and that is spread out over 150,000 square miles.

Further, and perhaps more surprisingly, the Republican leadership has repeatedly failed this time around to attract first rate candidates for the open Senate seats.  In 2002, the Republicans really pulled out all the stops, and managed to hold the Senate when the numbers (Republican seats to defend) were reversed.  Maybe they used up all the top candidates in their Rolodex, but the difference is stark.

I have said before, and still believe, that 9 Senate seats are actually in the “can’t predict winner” or else the “probably will change partisan control” categories.  Democrats face strong challenges in five states: Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina and South Carolina; Republicans are at risk in Alaska, Colorado, Illinois and Oklahoma.

If the elections were held today, the likely outcome would be that the Dems would lose current seats in Georgia and South Carolina, but would pick up the currently Republican seat in Illinois.  That leaves six too close to call, and those six are evenly split in terms of current control, 3 D (FL, LA, NC) and 3 R (AK, CO, OK)

With normal luck, then, the six toss-ups should split evenly.  The result would be (as the conventional wisdom would suggest) that the Republicans pick up one seat net (losing two seats currently in the R column, but gaining three seats now in the D column).

If that arithmetic is correct, that would leave the Senate with 52 Republican seats, 47 Democrats and one Independent.

But things could easily be different.  I am no believer in “coattails,” but in this case the response to campaigning for the Presidency could change everything.  After all, suppose just two seats break the Dems’ way.  That would mean 50 R, 49 D, and 1 Jeffords.  (If you have ever met him, you can tell he is his own party.  What a jolly fellow.)  And that, in turn, would mean that the Vice President, whoever he is, will determine control of the Senate.

So, if Kerry wins, and if Kerry is able to influence just two Senate races, then the Senate will change hands.  But if Bush wins, and Bush can find time to campaign in some of the now dormant states and bring the Senate seats into play, the Republicans could tread water, or even pick up a seat or two.

Check out the Iowa Stock Market results on Senate Control.  Prices fluctuate, of course, but traders have been increasingly optimistic about a Senate takeover by the Dems, starting at about the beginning of July 2004.  The numbers on the graph aren’t big, but I wouldn’t have believed this a year ago.



 

 

Sunday, July 25, 2004

I'm not Lisa, my name is Julie

(with apologies to Jessi Colter, because she wrote the song)

In answer to your emails, I'm also not Dave, or any of the other (probably much better) Munger blogs.

Here is a very partial list of the Munger blogs that I am not associated with...

Proof that not all Mungers are conservative…:
Christine Munger’s blog from Leon, Nicaragua.
http://mn-leon.org/blog/6

An out-of-control, over-the-top Munger:  Dave (aka “Bill”, of course)
http://davemunger.blogspot.com/
(for proof of the o-o-c, o-t-t bit, see http://weblog.herald.com/column/davebarry/archives/013212.html )

You can be a data Munger, or a word Munger (if you know PERL)
Writings from the Edge:  The “morass of civilization”
http://wordmunger.com/
(wouldn’t civilization be fun if we all got morass?)

A Canadian, also not conservative, world-travelling journalist M. Munger.
http://www.munger.ca/
(are you kidding me?  www.munger.ca?  that is such a great URL…)

Links -- May be offensive

Some funny, some offensive, most both

A jibjab movie, equal opportunity bashing, excellent voicing and graphics. Hard to say which part is my favorite, though the Howard Dean bit is hard to beat, except the very end part where Cheney gets his props, which is even better.

A fair and balanced book. Not. (Just kidding. It really is a book)

Assassination fantasies, and a liberal trying to pretend it's okay (just fiction, don't you know)

"Kerry is Bin Laden's Man / President Bush is mine" -- commentary asks the question: who would Bin Laden vote for? See also the very nice Kerry-Edwards Vietnam riff, with desperately many refugees trying to get into the desperately small helicopter.

John Kerry's excellent adventure book, New Soldier: interesting comments. I hope those people all get the help they need, or the drugs.

These people are eligible to vote. That should terrify you.

The End of the World: unbelievably popular bit about ....well, about what the title says.




Don't It Make Your Red States Blue?

Yes, Virginia, there is a North Carolina.  But, no, it is not “in play”, as the appalling political vernacularites have come to describe states that might actually see a contest for Electoral College votes in November.

Or, more accurately, if North Carolina is actually in play, it will be because the economy has tanked, AND there is a renewed full-scale war in Iraq, AND George Bush has announced that he is gay.  Seriously, the set of things that would have to be true for Kerry to win NC are not entirely implausible, but Kerry takes the state only as part of a “Bush will be playing the role of Mondale” landslide.

But then why choose Breck boy John Edwards for VP?  I have seen questions among the cognoscenti, or at least those who, when they look in a mirror, think they see one of the cognoscenti:  “Why choose a guy who can’t help win his home state?”  As George Will points out, it actually happens fairly often.  But the better question might be, why appoint a guy who couldn’t carry his home state even if he were at the top of the ticket?

Thinking that Edwards will help win in the South fundamentally misunderstands the dynamics of the Electoral College.  But Edwards does sharply affect the dynamics of the race.  Let me see if I can clear this up.  (My students sometimes claim that they know less after a lecture than before, a net learning negative, so “clear up” may not be what happens).  But, here goes.

Democrats look at a map of the U.S, and they hear a version of the country song: "Don't it make your red states blue?" (sing along!)  It’s been a sad song now, for some time, except for the Clinton years, when it was a bizarre song.

Democratic presidential candidates can count on four states for sure: California, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York. That's 113 Electoral College votes. Throw in the little sure things for the Dems -- Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Maine, Rhode Island, Vermont -- and you are up to 141.  (Note:  You can do this game yourself, at the Electoral College Calculator!  Honestly, though, it will make you nuts...)

Now take the states outside the South where the Repubs are a sure thing. I'll use the 11 non-southern states that voted for Dole in 1996 (if they voted for that guy, they are REAL Red states). That gives the Repubs a base of 55.

In the states that might be called "Southern" (I'll be expansive and use Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia), there are 168 Electoral College votes.

So, the math is simple: if the Dems concede the South (except for Florida:  let's make it blue, just for fun), they start out at a 196-168 disadvantage. To catch up, the Dems have to sweep Illinois, Maryland,  and Washington. If they win all those (if the race is close, they won't), the count stands at 196 R-210 D.  Remember, the Dems need 270 EC votes to put their weeping, whining, waffling selves back in the White House, where the cognoscenti think they belong.

The problem is that the election would come down to the big close middle states:  Michigan (17), Minnesota (10), Missouri (11) Ohio (20), Oregon (7), Pennsylvania (21), and Wisconsin (10) -- with a total of 96 electoral votes. Those states were all close in 2000, and are likely to be close again. Somehow the winner is going to have to take 60 or more votes from a group of hotly contested states, when normal luck is going to yield no more than 40 or 50.

And...THAT IS WHY JOHN EDWARDS WAS APPOINTED VICE PRESIDENT!  The Dems have to take 60 votes from Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.  In 2000, the Dems harvested 69 EC votes from those states, and several were by razor-thin margins.

John Edwards has two effects on the election; each is important, and together they could make the difference.

First, having Edwards on the ticket means that Bush-Cheney have to play some defense.  They could lose Louisiana, Florida, Georgia, or Virginia if they ignore the South.  If they spend their time and treasure in those states (and, yes, in North Carolina, too), they will not lose those states (though remember I counted Florida as a Kerry-Edwards win).  But every minute, and every dollar, spent in southern states playing defense means that it is not spent in the M-M-M-O-O-P-W states that will determine the outcome.  Edwards makes Bush spread out his defense, a lot. 

(Some reporters have told me that they believe the Repubs have infinite money, and this won't matter.  But the campaign only has so much time, and so much money where you can say, "My name is Dubya, and I approved this ad".  The shadowy bogeymen with money, like George Soros and Barbara Streisand, are giving like crazy to the Dems, anyway) 

A spread out defense really helps the ground game of the offense.  (Yes, a football metaphor.  Sue me).  And that is the other factor that makes Edwards matter:  His ground game is perfect for the M-....-W states.  "Two Americas, you people have been done wrong, but you should be proud to be Americans, vague optimism, short on specifics, I love all of you, check out my hair":  I'm not quoting, of course, but that is the robotically recorded stump speech Edwards has been repeating since December.  He is sufficiently life-like that you can't tell he is animatronic, and the speech is PERFECT for the economically damaged states of the midwest.

So, in a nutshell.  Edwards doesn't win the South, or even Southern states.  But his Southern attraction, and his message, may mean that Kerry wins the industrial midwest, and the election.