Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Shoot 'Em 'Fore He Run Now

(apologies to Jr. Walker)
I'm not usually in the forecasting game, on account of I lose bets, card games, and trivial pursuits, but Wobblie informs us of the buzz about Bristolevi Johnstin Governor Palin's daughter tying the knot pre-election. Doubt me if you wish.

Here's the program:

Palin-Johnston Wedding
Monday, November 3, 2008
8 pm Eastern/4 pm Aleutian
Fox News

4 pm: Pledge of Allegiance by Henry Kissinger
4:30 pm: Abraham Lincoln's great- great- great- grandniece welcomes the crowd
5 pm: Ronald Reagan's frozen corpse gives a reading
5:15 pm: Sarah Palin arrives, hair in an updo, glasses glamorously absent
5:30 pm: Levi Johnston, who wrote his own vows, tells Bristol he "f***ing loves kids" and wants to "have like a million" so he can "f***ing teach them how to slap the s*** out of a puck! Aw hell yeah!"
6:00 pm: Shot of Todd Palin crying tears, presumably of joy
7 pm: Wasilla Assembly of God congregation puts aside their doubts about the politicization of marriage and engages in blessing of couple
7:30 pm: Punditry! I just hope I don't sleep in past votin' time.

Thursday, September 18, 2008


I, too, am feeling like I'm really down to nothing lately. I have spent the better part of the last two weeks writing personal statements for a post-doc that is due at the end of the month. This has left me little time and energy to write anything except said personal statements. Not to mention the internal guilt that shows up every time I try to do or write something besides these personal statements. Today, however, I am making an exception because I am running into a wall and I just need to do something besides continue to bang my head into it.

I don't know what my problem is. Perhaps it's the fact that my dissertation remains in a constant state of flux[1] and I have very few empirical results to describe in the personal statements. Or, it might be because I really want this post-doc and I am psyching myself out over the application because I am nervous about it. Either way, it is preventing me from doing much else right now and has made me feel very one-dimensional and lonely. I'm sure that it will get better and I've started to put together the sound-bite/cocktail party version of my research which will help for the remaining applications. But, damn, if it is this bad this year, I am really not looking forward to the full-on job search process!

[1]Part of this flux was caused by the fact that, upon meeting with my advisor three weeks ago, he suggested that a chapter and a half of my dissertation might not be viable with the data that we have and I should wait until we have more data. The good news is that I have research ideas for two to three years down the line. Of course, the bad news is this left me without a substantial part of my dissertation and required simultaneously re-formulating my dissertation concept and trying to re-work this application. But, my dissertation is certainly better for it and is actually becoming more coherent as a result, so I am grateful for that.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Obama and Palin/McCain by the Numbers

The last two weeks of Palinomania have been depressing. Or irritating. Or frustrating. Or maddening. I don't know the word, but it seems like there is a sort of listlessness on the left side of the political spectrum. The polls have swung hard for Palin...er, I mean, McCain after the convention, the mainstream media seems to have fallen for all of the red meat put in front of it (or white meat as the case may be), and Obama's campaign has running to the middle irritating it's base. It's no wonder Jeremy felt desolate this afternoon about PalinMcCain overtaking Obama in the Intrade markets.

While the polls are all over the place (see here for a great graph from political scientist Charles Franklin showing the poll spread), I think that much of this concern is displaced nervousness about the way Palin's introduction into the race has made her the story rather than the campaign itself. Why do I think this? Because (unfortunately) in the U.S. we don't elect our president by national vote. As dr mentioned, the important vote is capturing enough electoral votes and in this, I think (as dr does), that Obama is doing pretty damn well.

[After trying for twenty minutes to get the table to format properly, I'm giving up on it. So, if you are so inclined, please continue reading after the big blank space]

DelegatesObama MarginPolls after GOP Convention
New Mexico57.20
New Hampshire40.71

This table is long, but this is why I'm encouraged. There are 538 electoral votes (two for each state senators, one for each Congressperson, and 3 for D.C.) and Obama needs 270 to win. Assuming that Obama wins all five states leaning his direction (a reasonable assumption looking at the map), Obama would have 243 electoral votes. This means he needs 27 of the remaining electoral votes to win, which, looking at the list above looks entirely doable for Obama to pull off. Although this list is virtually unchanged from the map Kerry was facing four years ago (the exception being that Wisconsin was much more of a toss-up, even up to election-eve polls), I don't think that any of us would disagree that Obama's campaign is much more talented than Kerry's.

A look at the "toss-up" states at the bottom of this list suggests that Obama has several different outcomes that could win this election. Let's assume that a combination of racists, hardcore conservatives, and Israel supporters wary of Obama makes Florida unobtainable. It makes sense to run a few ads, make sure McCain spends money there, and keep a minimal ground operation in a few strongholds in case there is a break. Although I don't want to count on it, I also think that Michigan will go for Obama. Michigan certainly has its fair share of racists and it is the state that made the term "Reagan Democrats" a political truism; but in the last several elections it has had a tradition of swinging Democratic late in races. While not counting on it, let's just play out the scenario where Michigan goes to Obama.

That leaves six more states. Winning either Ohio or Virginia wins the election for Obama outright. Winning only Colorado means that the electoral college will tie[1]. However, winning Colorado plus any other state also wins without requiring a win in Ohio. This means that, conditional on winning Michigan, Obama has three plausible ways to pull off a victory: win Ohio, win Virginia, or win Colorado with any other state. Thus, with the combination of Obama's fundraising advantage, superior ground campaigns built from the grueling primary campaign with Clinton, and the obvious skill of Obama's campaign to develop a winning strategy, I am feeling cautiously optimistic that our country might be headed in a new direction come January.

All of the data is based on figures from Pollster.com
[1] This would be the worst of all possible situations. The tie would then go to Congress with one vote going to each state delegation. Despite Democratic gains in Congress, this would certainly go to the Republicans and have the added "benefit" of creating a second Constitutional crisis in eight years.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Port Authority Salaries

I usually avoid ribbing civil servants about their salaries, because a) they are usually low, and b) if they're high, many (perhaps most?) of our public servants are talented, unsung heroes who could have made bank with their skills but chose to serve the public instead, so bravo if they can make a decent living.
Today, however, I freely mock the reported salaries of employees at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, generally speaking. Here's a public agency that just raised its tolls (so the fat salaries look bad), has failed to rebuild the WTC site projects in a respectable time frame (so the fat salaries look bad), and seemingly towards giving at least one airport tenant a free pass on a recently passed labor harmony/employee retention policy (which just makes me angry) and turns out fully one sixth of Port Authority employees make upwards of $100 K a year.
The one caveat is that I think the outrage over police officers making over $100 K a year is distasteful. Why shouldn't someone who risks his or her life to save your ass make just as much as the bureaucrat who processes his paperwork?


Hey everyone, my sister has a blog! I wouldn't have pegged her for the type, because she is normally far too cool for that kind of shit. But apparently she's a huge frigging nerd, just like the rest of us. It's moderated by The Man, but I'm sure she's injecting as much hilarious subversiveness as semi-fascist private universities allow.

Monets vs. Seurats: I'm A Jerk

My father is a fattist. I.e., he can't stand overweight people the way some people can't abide smokers. They say the apple doesn't fall far from the tree, so here goes:
I'm obsessed with weight. America is a fat, fat place, but living and working in New York City is somewhat of an anomaly, at least when it comes to women, because that's the gender whose trim, healthy members I'm enviously glaring at every morning. Everywhere I turn are model-actresses with youthful calves and slender hips. But when you look closer, these willowy femmes seem--I don't know, craggier. More lines on their faces. Worse teeth.
By comparison, in the odd event that I do see a larger person, it's more often that I observe fine grooming and much attention to detail in appearance.
Very unscientific, because I am in no way qualified to comment on this, but the psychology (mine and theirs) is interesting. Are the skinny, craggy people native NYCers, who have suffered more air pollution and are more hardened in general? Are the larger, better-coiffed women compensating by adorning themselves with manicures, highlights and carefully-applied lipliner?
As a tweener-hovering between normal and overweight, I'm just curious. And a bad person.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Living Your Values? How About Governing With Them?

I find it hard to believe that Gov. Palin really "used her line-item veto to slash funding for a state program benefiting teen mothers in need of a place to live." But there it is, in black-and-white. What was wrong with this program? Was it not functioning? A sham? Such a veto seems like a terrible conflict of Palin's platform.

Jamie Lynn Spears aside, most pregnant teens are not well-positioned financially and may have, shall we say, recalcitrant parents. This is the kind of governing that makes you realize that what drives so many pols on "right to life" is purely Machiavellian.

Hear me now: if you take a pro-life stance, it shouldn't end at a child's birth. Adopt an unwanted baby, fund pre-kindergarten education, and please, for the love of God, support basic funding for teen moms! Does Palin do any of these things???

Monday, September 1, 2008

Shameful Addiction

Confession time: I enjoy, among other non-educational, non-news shows, Jon and Kate Plus 8. It's about two sets of IUI multiples--twins and sextuplets--growing up somewhere in Eastern Pennsylvania. (And those of you who know me, please spare me the argument that this is the time in my life when I am thinking about kids because a) it's not and b) I've been obsessing about shows like this for a long, long time.) So, it's time to break down my reasons for hunkering down with my watermelon slices and staring at this clan for hours at a time.

1. The energy level required to keep up with these cats is amazing. There are 8 children, and they are so young and loud, loud, loud. I get exhausted watching them.

2. Those fantastic Pennsylvania accents! I get really nostalgic thinking about my family in PA and my classmates at college in Philly.

3. I have so many questions! How will you pay for college? Braces? Really, how much neighbor help do you get? Free family babysitting? Do your neighbors resent you, because I cannot imagine that you are in a position to reciprocate? Do you feel guilty as the world population is exploding? I could ask them directly (they have email addresses) but my questions are too obnoxious.

4. The husband-and-wife spats remind me of the sniping between the older generation of Mr. and Mrs. E. I really like to watch it with Mike, because his most exuberant guffaws are reserved for Jon's most blatant public-humiliation at the hands of Kate--so close to home? It's sad to watch Jon look defeated in the face of the yelling, but heartening when he bites back. Mostly, it makes me miss living with my parents. Sick, huh.

5. Like living in Park Slope with cranky yuppie mommies wealthy enough for the Ford Excursion of Strollers, but without enough love to treat their neighbors and coworkers like human beings, watching this show is great birth-control. A parent's life is so different from my sleep-in, late-night, bar-going, traveling, carefree life that I love so much, and it makes me realize that having even one child, let alone eight, changes Everything. Perhaps if I got to spend more time with parents who manage to maintain some of that fun--traveling, date-night more than once a year--I'd be more tempted.

6. All the cord-blood, life-alert (C. Everett Koop!) and fertility treatment commercials.