Archive for August, 2004

Dissecting The Undecideds

August 30, 2004

Check out this page of Zogby internal numbers from an August 11-24 poll. It’s a rundown of the subset of undecideds. There were only 501 of them, out of a poll of over 19,000 likely voters. The results are counter-intuitive at first glance. Bush’s job performance number is abysmal: 23% approve, 77% disapprove. His re-elect number is better, but still not good, at 43% for and 53% against.

But he’s still favored over Kerry by 15 points, 35%-10%, with the various wannabe third parties collecting 16% and 38% of the undecided still really undecided.

While this poll, like any single poll, ought to be taken with many grains of salt, I think it’s an instructive look at this vanishingly-small cohort of remaining undecideds. They think things are generally gloomy (59% pick the “wrong track,” vs. only 19% for “right track”), they’re in agreement with the media by a large plurality (47%) that Iraq is Bush’s “most significant failure,” but they’re still trending his way by a very considerable margin. Why?

Check out this number: when asked whether they like Bush “as a person,” the numbers are staggering: 68% like, only 15% dislike. Those numbers are virtually reversed for Kerry, 52% dislike, only 16% like. That large of a difference, paired with Bush’s overall lead, suggests these voters are making their choices based on emotion, and a gut reaction of “who do I like better” that isn’t necessarily grounded in any ideology or policy stance. And frankly, what do you expect of people who’re still undecided in a race this polarized? Let’s face it–they’re not likely to be policy junkies.

On the other hand, even this cohort of the terminally undecided have apparently decided that the 2004 race is going to turn on foreign and defense matters. Interestingly, the only issues that really stand out in the policy questions are Iraq (see above)–and September 11, which is named by a large plurality (46%) as Bush’s “most significant achievement” (one must assume they mean Bush’s response to the attacks, and not the attacks themselves). Even more intriguing, Iraq is number two on that list, at 20%.

UPDATE: In the comments, a couple of readers have come up with a possible explaination that would keep Bob Schrum up at night: What if they’re dissatisfied with Bush’s job performance because they think he hasn’t been tough enough in Iraq and elsewhere?

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There He Goes Again

August 30, 2004

Soxblog tosses up a rumor, courtesy of the Weekly Standard’s Bill Krystol, that George W. Bush will dump Dick Cheney in favor of John McCain. I have but one word to offer:

Hooey.

Okay, a few more words: After blatantly campaigning for press secretary in a presumed McCain Administration during the ’00 primaries, Bill Krystol has been floating this and similar trial balloons for years, hoping against hope that it’ll go over with the Bushies, and that he, Krystol the Younger, might ascend with McCain back into the White House firmament.

He might as well hang it up. Bush and McCain don’t trust or even particularly like each other, even though they do agree on a few–but certainly not all–key policies. There’s no chance (and no reason, at this point) for Dubya to dump somebody he trusts implicitly for a wild-card like McCain. If there were to be a replacement for Cheney (not gonna happen), that individual would almost certainly come from within Bush’s inner circle–which definitely does not include John McCain.

If it comes to that, nobody in the Bush White House is likely to give much creedence to Krystol in the first place. There’s an old animus between Bush and Krystol, going back to Dubya’s advising his father to dump Dan Quayle in 1992; Krystol was then Quayle’s chief of staff.

Advantage: Powerline

August 29, 2004

Ten years ago, an old high school buddy and I wrote a book about our mutual favorite subject, Auburn and Alabama football. It was published in 1995 as “The Uncivil War,” and proved to be a strong regional seller, going back to press less than two months after publication. When we set out to promote the book, Scott Brown and I were surprised at how much trouble we had getting reviewed in the state newspapers. Radio and television were no problem at all (and fair to say, much more fun), but the book was barely noted in the four largest papers. It took nearly a year before I found out why.

I was appearing on a Montgomery, Alabama radio show one afternoon early in the 1996 football season, and remarked off the air to one of the hosts that despite the book’s success and subject matter (easily the most popular topic in the state at any given moment) we still hadn’t been reviewed in any of the big papers. “Well, that’s easy to figure out,” the host said. “Y’all aren’t in the fraternity.”

“Huh?” I asked intelligently.

“Neither of you two guys graduated in journalism. Neither of you has worked for a paper. Neither of you spent ten years covering junior-high track before you were allowed to write about college football. But then you come out of nowhere get published on your first time out. There’s a whole lot of guys who’ve been working in sports sections for ten, fifteen, twenty years who think that’s un-cool. Y’all aren’t in the fraternity, and that’s why they’re trying to ignore you.”

For a more recent example of newspaper parochialism, check out today’s Powerline Blog. John Hinderaker and Scott Johnson, having embarrassed Minneapolis Star-Tribune editorial page editor Jim Boyd by calling him out on a frankly slanderous column directed at the two of them, got the opportunity to respond–very much to Boyd’s discontent. Boyd replied to the response on the same page, in one of the most tendentious, pompous, and unintentionally revealing looks into the media mindset that you’re ever likely to read. Here’s a tidbit of Boyd’s column:

We are in the middle of an important national event: the real-time confrontation of a political smear. In previous elections, the examination has almost always been in retrospect. Now the smear, against John Kerry’s military service, is being critically examined as it happens. Vigilance is required, and a little courage.

I see the recent commentary by John H. Hinderaker and Scott W. Johnson (“Unwrapping Kerry’s story of Christmas in Cambodia,” Aug. 18) as part of that smear. It did not meet what I believe should be the standards of the Star Tribune’s editorial pages. Such pieces should not appear here, and that one does so for the second time in 10 days pains me greatly.

I’ve no doubt that Boyd is pained by the reappearance of Hinderaker and Johnson–because these two “amateurs” simply buried the “professional” journalist on his own turf. The Powerline columns are pointed, fact-oriented, and light on invective. Boyd’s responses amount to nothing more than a few quibbles surrounded by a whole pile of ad hominem attacks, wrapped with a bow of silly self-righteousness.

Mr. Boyd, I’ll tell you what I previously told your like-minded collegue, Randell Beck of the Argus Leader (South Dakota):

You are a hack, and a dinosaur. You clearly can’t stand it that the “little people” out here aren’t subject to your personal political filter.

Get used to it. We don’t work for you, and… we aren’t terribly interested in your take on things. Your tar pit isn’t getting any smaller–but your influence is.

NOTE: There were two writers in the Alabama press who gave us more than a fair shake during the run of “The Uncivil War.” They were Clyde Bolton of the Birmingham News, then the dean of the state’s sportswriters, and Rick Harmon, the entertainment editor of the Montgomery Advertiser. Scott and I were and remain deeply grateful for their consideration and recognition.

As a second footnote, after the experience of writing the book, Scott became a professional sports writer himself, leaving a successful career as a computer programmer to go back to school and get a journalism degree. He is a staff writer at the Orange County Register (CA) today.

Predicting Chapter 3

August 29, 2004

Ann Althouse has a nice piece today about the way the press has written their first drafts of the 2004 presidential campaign. In brief, Althouse says that Howard Dean’s rise and fall were Chapter 1, and Kerry’s sudden surge to the nomination was Chapter 2:

So Kerry rolled into the nomination, and the media were prepared to keep a steady flattering light on him until he ascended into the presidency in November. They thought the Kerry ascendancy would be chapter two of the history of the 2004 election, and they thought they were looking good and getting the story right.

But what if chapter two was the story of Kerry making Vietnam the centerpiece of his candidacy setting off an out-of-nowhere takedown by a bunch of veterans who have been pissed off at him for 35 years? No, no way could that be the story! We aren’t going to talk about that. No, no

Cable Companies Are Scum, Part MCMXLIV

August 26, 2004

Early this year, I switched from DSL to a cable modem. My local provider, Charter Cable, had cut its rates and better yet, dropped their requirement that internet users also have their cable TV service. Until this month, I had no complaints.

Then I get the bill for September. It’s $10 higher, no explaination. So I call Charter. Apparently they have suddenly re-instated a $10 extortion fee if you don’t have their TV serrvice (I switched to satellite in 1997, and I will never have cable TV again). Customer service agreed to drop the fee for the first month, but said they couldn’t do anything about the succeeding months. I explained that I switched from DSL to Charter specifically because Charter had dropped the additional fee, and that the next month I saw that fee on a bill, I would cut them off entirely.

I was transferred from there to the retention department, where the rep first tried to sell me on a 10-times slower speed service for the same rate I’ve been paying since January. I refused flat-out. She then said she would give me a $10 service credit every month for the next six months at my current service level. I agreed, but told her that “we’ll have another talk in six months.”

I will never pay an extortion fee to a cable company for not agreeing to a bundle with their crappy TV service (ditto for monopoly phone companies). If I can’t get the $10 waved again at the end of six months, I’ll tell Charter to go piss up a rope. This kind of arbitrary Mickey-Mouse fee nonsense is exactly why I haven’t had cable TV for nearly seven years, and reminds me of the fact that cable companies are peopled by the lowest forms of life.

I suspect this fee is going to go away anyway sometime next year, accompanied by considerable rate cuts. Once the wireless broadband network (scroll to third item) gets a foothold, the old monopoly cable and telco companies are going to be forced to cut their rates substantially. My guess would be that Charter’s double-game with the $10 extortion fee is their attempt to make a few extra bucks before they have to compete with wireless broadband.

Happy Hour With Chris Rose

August 20, 2004

Chris Rose, of the New Orleans Times-Picayune, is one of the best and most unjustly-unknown writers in the country. Think James Lileks crossed with Dave Barry and Lewis Grizzard, except Rose spends more time in bars than with Gnats (in retrospect, that’s a horrible comparison; Chris Rose is just Chris Rose, and his work can stand on its own with no help from me). His columns about a customer revolt involving a long-term waiter at Galatoire’s are already legendary in New Orleans, and an utter delight to read, even if you’ve never been there. They’re fall-on-the-floor funny if you know the city at all (I’d link it in a heartbeat if I could find the complete text; here’s a tiny excerpt from an old blog page).

Here’s a sample from his latest, particularly appropriate for this site:

This scenario is reproduced dozens, hundreds, thousands of times a night in New Orleans. A single drinker at the bar, a touchy-feely couple in a dark corner, an office party in a side booth, a mob of singles clogging up some tony Uptown saloon.

People are enjoying their cocktails, a word so square that it’s hip again. The definition of “cocktail” varies, depending on whom you ask and where you look it up and what year you’re talking about, but suffice it to say it’s a mixed drink, served chilled in a glass, and it packs a punch. This much has been constant since the beginning.

And in the beginning, there was the word.

Although it sometimes seems like New Orleans claims that everything related to poker, music, prostitution and liquor was invented here, the fact is: A lot of it was.

Go make yourself a drink, then read the rest. If this doesn’t start your weekend off right, you’re doing something wrong.

Just Which Allies Are Due An Apology, Senator?

August 20, 2004

A while back, I related my belief that John Kerry, while playing to his base and listening to his own East-coast elite sensibilities, has dug himself into a considerable hole regarding foreign policy. Previously, I talked about how Kerry

Roadblog

August 18, 2004

In Seattle for a business meeting. Checked into my hotel, walked around the corner looking for a cafe with free wireless, and wound up at the city library (brand-new and very nice; I’m typing this from near the Microsoft Auditorium–hopefully I won’t get booted out for using an iBook).

The DNC has college kids staked out all up and down the sidewalk. Their pitch to passers by: “Would you like to learn about defeating George Bush?”

I’m not in the habit of giving advice to the DNC, but the thought that keeps coming to my mind is, these guys have forgotten 1996. Remember that one? War hero nominated by the out-of-power party, but that party’s entire focus was on how much they couldn’t stand the incumbent. And they got shellacked.

Hatred didn’t beat Clinton, it didn’t beat Reagan, and what the hell, it didn’t even beat Richard Nixon.

At any rate, it’s sunny and beautiful outside, and I don’t have any meetings until tomorrow morning. I’m off to dodge the DNC gauntlet and start enjoying myself.

And Now For Something Completely Different

August 17, 2004

Exceptionally weird dreams the last two nights. A sampling; make of it what you will:

Picture a long wooden table on top of a vast, wind-swept plateau, not unlike the one in the movie of “The Two Towers.” Seated around the table are the members of Aerosmith, dressed in heavy, ornate robes and furs. At one head of the table is Moe Syzlak from The Simpsons, but Moe isn’t a cartoon; he looks a lot like one of the lizard guards from “Den” in “Heavy Metal.” Moe’s voice-over says, “And now for another edition of, Ask Aerosmith!”

Moe asks a philosophical question (I can’t remember it exactly) of Brad Whitford, who’s wearing a dark blue fur-trimmed robe. There’s a large, nasty-looking knife embedded in the back of Whitford’s high-backed chair, just to the left of his head. Whitford does not answer to Moe’s satisfaction. Moe picks up an identical thick-bladed knife and hurls it at Whitford with an epithet. It thunks into his chest, and Whitford flips backwards out of his chair and off the edge of the plateau, falling hundreds of feet to the valley floor below. Then Moe turns to Steven Tyler, seated at the far end of the table.

And I wake up.

I am not an Aerosmith fan. Go figure.

Then there’s last night. I’m watching a documentary about a country-bluegrass-mariachi-tinged trio (possibly related to my seeing BR549 and ZZ Top a few hours earlier, in waking life). They’re not bad, either. Not great, but not “ugh, let’s go somewhere else” bad. Mildly entertaining, in a kitchy way. After listening to them play for a bit, the story focuses in on one of the members, a stout, balding Mexican guy who plays some kind of funky accordion. We see him cleaning up a large, dingy, industrial-looking bathroom. Perhaps this is his day job?

But then we see him applying vast amounts of a gooey soap to some kind of dispenser on the wall, meticulously cleaning it out with a dirty rag. His face is twisted in painful concentration. Then we see him standing on a sink, reaching up into an overhead air vent. He begins to pull out wiring, metal ducts, plastic parts, vast amounts of old hardware strapped together in a large, precarious column.

Eventually, we realize that he is an obsessive-compulsive, driven to take apart and clean these fixtures madly. His hands are slashed to ribbons by his efforts, the blood mingling with water and thick liquid soap as he scrubs parts in a filthy sink.

Then the dog had a dream, too, and his whimpering woke me up.

Boo. Freakin’. Hoo.

August 16, 2004

Germans Wary of U.S. Troop Withdrawal

Look at it this way, Euros: if you don’t behave yourselves, they’ll be back.

Maybe.

Or maybe not.