Wit

November 25, 2012


Some old, dead writer defined "Wit" as "discovering likeness in things unlike".   This article is about finding likenesses in things unlike—hence, the title.   It’s not "witty" in the modern sense of the word.

  

Immigration and Steroids

                 Punishment and enforcement are linked by their nature to such an extent that many among us fail to distinguish between punishment and enforcement of the rules.   When a murder is committed, we punish the murderer whenever we can catch him.   If it’s 20 years later, we don’t care; 50 years later, he’s still liable to punishment.    That is enforcement; punishment is enforcement in that case. 

                When a football player jumps off-side, we punish his team with a few yards.   Punishment is used to enforce the rule.   This causes people to think that punishment and enforcement of the rules are synonymous.   In some cases they are.   In some cases a walk is the same as a hit; in some cases it is not.   In some cases punishment and enforcement are synonymous; in some cases they are not.

                In many cases punishment must be linked immediately to the offense, or it has no effect as enforcement.   If your dog makes a mess on the rug and you punish him 24 hours later, when you find the mess, this has no effect; thus it is, in fact, NOT enforcement of the rules.   If a small child does wrong and you put him in time out two hours later, this has no value as enforcement of the rules, because the child makes no connection.  

                Suppose that there was a backfield-in-motion violation that was not called at the time, and the offending team then scored a touchdown.    Suppose then, at halftime, the officials were reviewing the play, saw incontrovertible evidence of the transgression, and decided to take the touchdown off the scoreboard.   Would that work?

                It’s not like murder.   The rule can only be enforced, as a practical matter, at the time the violation occurs. 

                The Illegal Immigration problem and the Steroid/Hall of Fame Issue are alike in this way:  That both of these are cases in which people want to enforce after the fact rules which can only effectively be enforced at the time of the transgression.   In 1985, in 1988, in 1991 players were using steroids, and there was absolutely no enforcement of any rule against this (if, indeed, there was a rule against this, which we can debate another time.)   Now people want to penalize those players, take their accomplishments off the boards.   

                Illegal immigration is the same thing.   If you don’t want people coming into this country without papers, the time and place to enforce that is the border.    Trying to enforce this policy. . ..or let us call it a law.   Trying to enforce this law after the fact by punishing the people against whom no flag was thrown at the time is unraveling the thread of their lives, going backward in time.     It is more-than-just punishment because, by unraveling the thread of their lives, in exacts a life-altering penalty for an offense that does not justify such a punishment.   

 

Post-Election and Sportscasters

                In a basketball game, if one team jumps off to a 20-11 lead and holds the lead until late in the game, the broadcast color man in most cases—19 times out of 20—will spend most of the game browbeating everything that the trailing team does.    They can be trailing 83-78 with two minutes to play, and the announcer will still be dogging them:   They have no energy, their offense is out of sync, they’re not taking care of the ball, they’re not blocking out on rebounds, etc., etc.   If it’s 41-38 at halftime, the halftime analysis will score about 70-15—an endless series of criticisms of the team which has, in truth, merely missed one three-pointer or failed to defend one. 

                 What the Republicans are going through now is the same thing:  an endless loop of greatly exaggerated criticisms of everything they have done—they’ve disrespected women, they’ve forgotten the middle class, they’ve sold out to Wall Street, they’ve alienated Latinos, they have presented no vision for the future, etc., etc.   Guys, it was 64-60.   Knock it off.    

 

90 Feet and 50-50

                64 million votes to 60 million.

                People will tell you that the man who designed the baseball field had to be a genius because after 150 years, infielders are still throwing out runners by a single step.    90 feet is the perfect distance.   87 feet, all those runners would be safe; 93 feet, there would be no close plays.   90 feet is a directive from God.

                What this misses, of course, is the internal forces of the game.   Infielders are still throwing out runners by a single step not because 90 feet is a perfect distance, but because infielders position themselves in such a way that they maximize their coverage.  The place where an infielder can make the most plays is the place where the plays are closest and most difficult.    If the bases were 80 feet apart the infielders would move in a couple of steps, the outfielders would move in one step, and there would still be just as many close plays at first base.   Not EVERYTHING would be exactly the same, but the number of close plays doesn’t depend on the distance.   It depends on the fielders positioning themselves so as to maximize the number of plays that they can make.

                In modern American politics, the two parties split most elections almost 50-50—so much so that a 64-60 vote is considered a rout.    Political commentators will talk about how remarkably evenly split the American electorate is.

                This has nothing whatsoever to do with the electorate being evenly split.   It results from political parties adopting positions that maximize their coverage.   The Republicans may want to ban abortion entirely (certainly some of them do), but they also want to win elections.  The Democrats may wish to legalize infanticide (certainly some of them do), but they also want to win elections.  If either side adopts a radical position, they lose elections, lose power, and have to adapt their position.  

                The Republicans may wish to devote 70% of the federal budget to military spending; the Democrats may wish to cut it to 5%.   If either side pushes too hard, they lose elections, and have to adapt.   The positions taken by each side on every issue are constantly adjusted and adapted to form a compromise between the extreme positions and the center of the country—hence, elections in a two-party system are always pushed near to the 50-50 balance point. 

                One would think this was obvious, but believe me, I watch a LOT of political analysis, and 90% of the political analysts don’t have a clue that this is what is happening. 

 

The Airport Game

                One time in the 1980s I missed a flight because I just wasn’t paying enough attention.   I was kind of dawdling on the way to the airport, stopped to get coffee and a donut, got to the airport too late.   Flying to Europe in 2002 with my family we got to the airport on time, but it was this close.   We got to the station in the parking lot where the bus takes you to the terminal, and another family came right behind us and got in line behind us; they were supposed to be on the same flight we were.   When the bus came it was too full to take us all, so that family had to wait for the next bus—and they missed the flight.   That would have been a real nightmare, to have missed that flight.

                Every time I go to the airport, then, I play a game in my head designed to ensure that I don’t dawdle.   I figure that it is 70 miles to the airport, and I figure it will take me two minutes per mile.   Then I figure it will take me another 10 minutes to get through traffic in Lawrence, 10 minutes to get on the toll road, 10 minutes to get off, 10 minutes to switch highways in Kansas City, 10 minutes to go from Kansas into Missouri, 10 minutes to park, and 90 minutes to get to the gate after I park.   Altogether, I figure it will take me 290 minutes to get to the airport (70 times 2, plus 6 times 10, plus 90).  If I leave my house at 10 AM for a noon flight, I calculate that I am two hours and 50 minutes late.

                Except, of course, that it doesn’t actually take two minutes to drive a mile; it just takes one, actually a little less than one while you are on the highway.   It doesn’t take an additional 10 minutes to clear traffic in Lawrence; it takes about six.   It doesn’t take ten minutes to get on the turnpike or get off; it takes about 30 seconds, and it doesn’t take more than maybe one additional minute to switch highways in Kansas City.  It doesn’t take any time at all to cross the state line into Missouri.  It doesn’t take 90 minutes to get from the parking lot to the gate; it’s usually around 20, although it can go longer sometimes.    Also, it isn’t actually 70 miles to the airport; it is about 55 miles, and also, both the clock in my car and the one on my wrist are about 10 minutes fast.   

                Every time I go to the airport I recalculate constantly how far behind schedule I am. .. .now I can get there at 2:34; now I can get there at 2:17, etc.   In reality, of course, if I leave for the airport at 10 AM for a noon flight, I should be OK.  I am, in essence, trying to deceive myself into taking seriously the possibility that I may be late, by exaggerating the risks and compounding the miscalculations. 

                Modern politics is a war of Airport Games.   The Republicans and Libertarians exaggerate every small encroachment on personal liberty to make it sound as if the Thought Police were at the door.   The Military-Industrial Complex exaggerates the importance of every faraway nitwit to make it seem as though he was ten minutes away from getting a nuke.   The health professionals exaggerate the number of people who are obese and flat-out lie about the rate at which this is increasing.    Various groups exaggerate the problems with our educational system.  

                The champions of the Airport Game, though, are the environmentalists.     It doesn’t matter how much cleaner the air gets, how much cleaner the water gets, how much cleaner the beaches get, how much environmental risk we are able to eliminate; in their world view we are always 20 minutes away from environmental catastrophe—and the problem is getting dramatically worse all the time.   In the area where I live in my memory the population of deer, fox, beaver and many other types of wildlife have increased a thousand fold.   The number of hawks you see resting on telephone polls. . .up by a factor of dozens.   It means that whatever the hawks are feeding on, their population is up, too.   The only thing that has gone backward is the turtles, maybe the frogs.   Doesn’t matter; to hear the environmentalists talk, we are eradicating species and sliding backward into environmental catastrophe at a rate Jeff Gordon would envy.

                The environmentalists are neither bad people, nor wrong.   They are merely doing what I do when I go to the airport:   they are exaggerating risks in an effort to get people to take the problem seriously.     I am entirely with them, up to a point.   I am all in favor of setting aside large tracts of land for the benefit of non-human species (so long as this land is not taken by force from the people who own it.)   I am entirely in favor of doing something about wobal glarming before it is too late.   I am not in favor of ceding to the federal government powers that the government will quite certainly abuse in order to bring about such changes.   Maybe we can agree to disagree about that.   What the environmentalists don’t seem capable of processing is the damage that they have done to their own credibility and their own cause by constantly exaggerating risks.   The environmental foot-draggers are not bad people, either; they are merely reacting with great skepticism to the latest pronouncements of people who have lied to them repeatedly in the past.

               

Classical Sport

                My wife and I have season tickets to the Symphony.   I enjoy classical music, although, to be honest, this is my wife’s thing that I do because she enjoys it, as she enjoys baseball games but going to baseball games is still my thing on some level.

                Classical music has very, very serious problems as an industry.    The number of people who enjoy classical music is small compared to the market for other kinds of music (Rock, Country, Rap, Jazz), and the market is composed primarily of old people.   I’m 63; at classical concerts I am usually below the median age of the audience.   Classical music is generally very expensive to produce, compared to other forms of music.    We saw a Willie Nelson concert a few months ago; it’s Willie Nelson, one of his daughters and three or four other guys on a stage.   We saw a symphony in the same hall last week; there is an 80- or 90-piece orchestra of very highly trained musicians, backed up by a choral group of 150 singers.

                Classical music survives, or has survived so far, because it has advantages over the marketplace, rather than advantage in the marketplace.   Classical music is perceived by a very large cadre of musical professionals as the highest form of music, and these people have integrated themselves and their music into the society in ways that insulate it from extinction by economic forces.   High schools do not teach young musicians to play rock and roll, as a rule; they teach them to play "instruments", which are in truth the instruments of classical music.   College music programs are 90% devoted to classical music.   Music teachers teach small children to play simplified forms of Haydn and Chopin on the piano.   Millions of small children take violin lessons, which their parents get for them because this is how music is taught.   The perception that this form of music is "classy"—widely accepted in our culture—keeps the form alive by giving it these advantages, and many similar and related advantages.  Governments fund classical music in dozens of ways that we would never consider funding rock and roll.   Cities built concert halls designed for the symphony—and many or most cities help to fund their symphony orchestras.   Government-sponsored radio plays hours a day of classical music, which is all but extinct on commercial radio. 

                At the Willie Nelson concert I am well above the median age and, I suspect, the median income.   At the symphony I am below the median age and, I suspect, well below the median income.    Those old people who go to the symphony have more-than-proportional power because they have more-than-proportional wealth.   This is reflected in how the government spends its money. 

                There is something much more than that going on here.   It has to do with the perception of rectitude, of value and of virtue.    People who become symphony musicians are trained to do so from a very early age, are very, very highly trained, and go through layers of selection and rejection to reach that level.    Rock musicians just pick up a guitar and start bangin’.   "Trained" is the word I want to focus on.

                On the spectrum of sport, baseball is toward the classical music end—and is becoming more so all the time.    The Frisbee was invented in 1948, and became popular in the late 1950s.  (Before that, we sailed can lids.)  By the late 1960s we were playing Frisbee football.   My son plays what he calls Ultimate Frisbee, which is just Frisbee football with a few wrinkles.    His friends would never think to organize a baseball game or softball game among themselves.   When they want to go out and run around a little, they play Frisbee football.  

                If we were to "train" very young boys to play Frisbee football, would that improve the sport?   Should we make them take Frisbee football lessons, when they are seven and eight?   Should we buy them expensive equipment for Frisbee football?   Should we put them on organized Frisbee football teams, when they are very young, and demand that they produce birth certificates so that we can be sure no nine-year-olds are sneaking into the eight-year-olds league, and give them trophies, and take team pictures of them, and have the city pay someone to referee their Frisbee football games?   Should we have parents who yell at their kids when the kids don’t play Frisbee football right?   Should we begin to pretend that Frisbee football is a test of character?

                Well, if these things would not improve Frisbee football, why is it that people think that they are necessary and appropriate for baseball?  

                Music, like sport, is instinctive to us, exists in all cultures, and will never disappear.    There are primal and sophisticated forms of music and of sport, which could also be called vibrant and calcified, or youthful and moribund.      There is a spectrum in these activities that runs from vibrant, primal and youthful to sophisticated, calcified and moribund.     All sports and all forms of music move across that spectrum, crawling toward obsolescence.    Rock and roll has moved significantly to the right on that spectrum in the last 40 years; the very term "classic rock" suggests this.   Football has lurched dramatically to the right.   

                But football and rock and roll are not as far advanced on this death march as is baseball. Baseball players, like symphony musicians, are fantastically highly trained, and go through many layers of selection and rejection before they reach the highest levels.    A baseball game is extremely expensive to stage.   Even a youth baseball game now is relatively expensive to stage.    Kids no longer perceive that they can play baseball in an empty lot with rocks and pieces of junk to mark the bases.   Baseball now can only be played on manicured fields, which cities pay to maintain because youth baseball is perceived as a social good.     The baseball audience is aging.

                This is not a jeremiad.   Baseball has massive resources, and is in little danger of passing away in the next generation through calcification and decay.   But neither does this represent a simple problem, that can be addressed by advertising targeted at young people.    Both baseball and classical music, for their own good, need to think deeply about how to re-energize themselves, how to make themselves younger, more vibrant, more accessible and less expensive.    It’s called hardening of the arteries.   It kills us all sooner or later.
 

 

Map People and Directions People

                There are two kinds of people.   There are people who, when they need to go somewhere that they have not gone before, want to look at a map and carry a map with them, and want to fix the key elements of the map in their minds before they get in the car, and then there are people who want directions, want to know where and when to turn left and how far it is and what landmarks to look for along the way.

                Most people, I suspect, are "directions" people.   My father was a "directions" person.   I am very much a "map" person.    I am, in truth, such a radical "map" person that I am puzzled by why anyone would be a "directions" person, although, as I said, I believe that most people are.    I remember this would drive me batty, even when I was twelve years old.   If you asked my father where anything was, he would say, "Well, go down to the corner there where you see the gas station, turn left and go about three, three and half miles until you get past the Kerns farm, etc., etc."   I wanted to know where it was; if I knew where it was, I could figure out how to get there.  

                A couple who is close to us—let’s call them Harry and Margaret--are directions people.   They get lost constantly.   One time when my son Isaac was about ten we were all going to beach, which was three miles from where we were staying, and Harry and Margaret’s kids wanted to ride with us, so I told Isaac to ride with them.    "Noooo," he said, almost whining, although Isaac was never a whiner.  "I don’t want to go with Harry and Margaret.   They’ll get lost.  They always get lost."  

                "Isaac," I said dismissively.   "It’s a five-minute drive.  You can’t get lost between here and there."   Sure enough, they showed up 45 minutes late, with Isaac in a foul mood.    There was a roundabout between us and the beach, and they got off the roundabout going the wrong way.  

                Of course, map people get lost sometimes, too, but when we got lost, we can figure out another way to get there.   When directions people get lost, they’re up shit creek.    I remember one time I was talking to a group of old people in a small town in Kansas, like an Elks club or something.   Somehow this guy in the audience started talking about "directions" to get to Kaufman stadium, and how to avoid getting lost on the way there.    He was basically asking for the best set of directions.   I started to laugh at this idea, but then this other old fart gets up and starts offering the "right" directions to get to Kaufman Stadium without getting lost, and then this other guy joins in, and in two minutes I realize that I’m the only person in the room that doesn’t think that way.  

                Small town people who have never lived in a city or spent any time in a city tend to think of a city—even a relatively small city like Kansas City--as a vast and trackless maze through which one travels by moving from landmark to landmark like a series of bread crumbs.    People like me get lost on purpose as a way of supplementing our mental map.    "I know this way to get there," I think, "so I won’t go that way; I’ll go this other way, because I don’t know how to get there going this other way, so I need to figure that out."   For people like me (and my son Isaac) the smart phone era is the greatest thing ever, because you can carry a world map in your pocket, so you can never get truly lost; therefore your ability to go this way and the other way and try to find your way back home by instinct and gut feel is not limited by a fear of getting truly lost.   

                I was thinking about this, and. …well, first of all, sabermetrics is a "mapping" exercise; it’s not a "directions" exercise.    Sabermetrics is built out of statistics in the same sense that Maps are built out of combinations of directions.    Sabermetrics doesn’t tell you when you should bunt and when you should hit and run.    It gives you values associated with the bunt, and then it’s up to you to find your way.   Statistics are directions.   Sabermetrics is a map.  

                But thinking more broadly than that.  .  .isn’t it true in life in general that there are "directions" people, and there are "maps" people?   "Directions" people want an education that prepares them for a job.   "Maps" people just want to get an education, and then we’ll figure out how to put it to use.    "Directions" people want a religion that tells them in plain language what is right and what is wrong.   "Maps" people want a set of religious values that helps them navigate through a troubled world.   "Directions" people want to find the "right" woman to go through life with, Mr. Right or Mrs. Right.   "Map" people are just looking over the opposite sex, trying to find something they like.   We’ll find somebody we like and we’ll make it work.

                Part of our political mess is caused by the fact that the Republican Party is directions-oriented with regard to social policy, but map-oriented with regard to economic issues, whereas the Democratic Party is map-based with regard to social issues, but directions-dependent in the economic area.   This doesn’t make any sense, but it’s true.

                I suspect that it has to be true, because, as I was saying before, the nature of a two-party system is that each party picks up whatever it needs to pick up to survive.   When a political party is strong it becomes arrogant, intolerant and thus vulnerable; when it is out of power it becomes humble, open, and thus resourceful.   In this way political parties, over time, evolve into carefully-balanced but inherently irrational alliances between interest groups and political philosophies.   If either party became entirely map-oriented and the other entirely directions-oriented, one party would probably crush the other, and it is not in the nature of a two-party system that this can happen easily.  When it does happen, the defeated party will merely spring up again under a different name and with a different collection of interest groups and political slogans, and the system will begin again, over time, evolving toward a 50-50 stalemate.

 
 

COMMENTS (43 Comments, most recent shown first)

Brock Hanke
Long article, hopefully short set of comments. The history of music, as I've studied it (mostly through theater) seems to be driven by new instruments with louder volumes. A violin makes more noise than a lute. A piano, more than a harpsichord. The big break of my lifetime occurred about 1962 or so, when rock and roll, which had been dominated by saxophones, embraced the solid body guitar running through an amplifier. So it still takes 80 classical musicians to fill a concert hall, but Pete Townsend can do that with his volume knob set to "3." There is also a correlation in theater between "realism" in acting and improved quality of lighting. That's why most movies older than 1970 seem stilted now. So, I don't know if the drift away from classical music is due to anything but that - the raw power of the volume, which has been going on since the days of John Dowling.

Politically, I think there have been, in my lifetime (I'm 65) 4 Big Deals that define the modern variety and that don't involve someone getting shot:

The takedown of Joe McCarthy, which prevented the U. S. and U. S. S. R. from completely polarizing the planet.

The Civil Right Act, in which LBJ, knowingly, gave away the Solid South to the Republicans - essentially, Strom Thurman's bigots became Richard Nixon's bigots. Now, not nearly everyone in the South is a bigot. I spent three years at Vanderbilt, and I know better, just as I know that not everyone in Nashville likes country music. But there are enough leftover bigots that they can still swing those states.

The maneuvering the Democrats had to do to get back to 50/50 after the above.

Modern micropolling, where your pollster tells your candidate to deliver this speech in Cedar Rapids, and he'll lose 3000 votes but gain 5000, but use this other speech when you cross the river to Omaha, and you'll pick up another 1500. The surprise of the last election was that the Republican pollsters had it so badly wrong. I was expecting a 51%/49% split; anything 53%/47% nowadays is a landslide. I don't know if you read any science fiction, but we are heading, slowly, in the direction of Hari Seldon in Asimov's Foundation Trilogy, where the results of the election are known years in advance because the polling is so good. - Brock Hanke


3:54 AM Dec 7th
 
bobfiore
Grover Norquist is a lobbyist. He's been a lobbyist for his entire political career.
10:07 PM Nov 28th
 
bjames
That's not economic policy; that's tax policy. Totally different. And God bless Grover Norquist; he's the only guy in Washington who is standing up for YOU and against the lobbyists.
1:26 PM Nov 28th
 
taosjohn
In re Republicans wanting aq map for economic policy-- seems to me Grover Norquist is giving directions more than offering a map. Or maybe I just don't understand the analogy?
11:35 AM Nov 28th
 
WinShrs
"When a political party is strong it becomes arrogant, intolerant and thus vulnerable; when it is out of power it becomes humble, open, and thus resourceful." I could not agree more.
11:00 PM Nov 27th
 
sprox
I think the infanticide comment is right on. And I must tell you I am absolutely PRO-Choice (no problem with day-after pills and general early pregnancy terminations)

But to pretend that a 6 pound humanoid with fingernails, a thinking brain, and a beating heart is not a person is intellectually dishonest.

And, to take the point further, take the case of a new-born infant breathing on its own outside the womb, but with a major birth defect. I would bet that 60% of students attending Brown or Smith would say it should be a mother's choice (and mother's alone - not father's or doctor's) whether to let the "very-recently-fetus-but-not-yet-baby" die. And there is probably a segment that would like to exercise this choice even later - possibly beyond the terrible twos?

Also, I agree completely about the R-D 50/50 conundrum. My prediction is that for the next election Republicans will significantly soften their stance on Rape, Contraceptives, Abortion, Immigration, Student Loan repayments, Health Care, and Military Spending and will win in 2016 with the same 64-60 margin.

This will be aided by empowered democrats thinking they are the party of "right" and going overboard on entitlement spending, environmental regulations, and more taxes on an ever-growing definition of people considered "wealthy" - maybe anyone earning over 80K a year?

Thanks for the thought-provoking series of articles - I enjoyed them very much.


8:11 PM Nov 27th
 
BringBackTriandos
Is abortion like the infield fly rule? The batter is out even if the fielder does not catch the ball.

Some time ago I read a study which showed that men are more map oriented and women more landmark oriented when they give directions. Men will name streets and intersections, women will name buildings or businesses or whatever...

The Democrats do have a mandate, and it's the same as the Republicans : To govern in the best interests of the entire country. Problem is, they can't agree on how to implement that. And it appears to me that they do not do sufficient research to determine what is best.
4:54 PM Nov 27th
 
BringBackTriandos
Is abortion like the infield fly rule? The batter is out even if the fielder does not catch the ball.

Some time ago I read a study which showed that men are more map oriented and women more landmark oriented when they give directions. Men will name streets and intersections, women will name buildings or businesses or whatever...

The Democrats do have a mandate, and it's the same as the Republicans : To govern in the best interests of the entire country. Problem is, they can't agree on how to implement that. And it appears to me that they do not do sufficient research to determine what is best.
4:53 PM Nov 27th
 
wovenstrap
(I meant Brian's #3 - sorry.)
1:48 PM Nov 27th
 
wovenstrap
I wanted to say something briefly about Bill's #3, which is an excellent point. The period 1945-1994 is a very strange period, because the South was pretty solidly Democratic, due to Civil War legacies and other things, and it meant that there was some big mismatches between region and ideology. THAT in turn meant that you could do cross-coalition bargaining and get majorities in Congress on various bills. Our recent politics are now "ideologically sorted," and that has led to polarization and an inability to offer a moderate from the other party some goodie that allows him or her to break the party ranks. I should stress this isn't limited to the Republicans -- the sorting has gotten much more efficient, and has led to "two different and distinct camps" more than was the case before. All sides are responsible for that. And that's the kind of thing that might lead to the results Bill was talking about in his point 3.
1:47 PM Nov 27th
 
wovenstrap
Look, all I'm saying is that there's some reason to wonder if the Republicans are on their way to becoming a regional party *insofar as that is even possible in our system.* It was noted after the 2008 election that the South was shut out of governance for the first time since the Depression, and the 2010 House results can be taken to reflect, in part, the freakout from the South at suddenly being shut out. I hope I'm not alone in thinking that the word freakout is not unfair -- see the Tea Party, the upset over the health care bill in 2009/10, Glenn Beck. I cited the odd poll results showing massive margins by Romney in the South to demonstrate that this 64/60 thing might be an unwitting sign of ... well, regionalism.

To chill, I agree to a point, but I could also turn it on its head to say that that was the best candidate the Republicans could come up with, a Mormon plutocrat with a dancing horse. If you look at the Republican landscape, the other contenders were far more ridiculous, it was not possible for the Republicans to square that circle, of appealing to their own base and the general electorate at the same time, given the candidates and policies they had. The Democrats are a lot better at that game right now. It'll be interesting to see how Christie or someone does. The interesting thing is that right now is the time when the desperation among the Republicans should be most felt (something very similar led to the nomination of beat-the-Dems-at-all-costs centrist Bush in 1999/2000), but as far as I can tell, the Republicans aren't there yet. They're saying (I don't mean you, Bill), hey it was 64 to 60.

I see all this is not very different from patterns that Bill himself has frequently mentioned, in reference to the overreach of the liberals in the 1960s. I think the Republicans are going through something very much like that right now, and I haven't heard much different to change my mind here.
1:31 PM Nov 27th
 
wovenstrap
Brian's comments are very useful and I take almost all of them in stride. I did want to say something about the House results. The House rebuke in 2010 was a magnified version of what often happens, which is that the out party does well one election into a new party taking power in the White House. That tendency is one of the best exhibits in Bill's 50-50 brief. It's very useful for the Dems to keep that stuff in mind.

But with the House specifically, it's also a fact that the Democratic House candidates got more votes nationwide than the Republican House candidates, taken as a total. So I don't quite buy the idea that the House remaining in Republican control signals this big corrective to the idea that the Democrats are the dominant party right now.
1:13 PM Nov 27th
 
chill
I'm as liberal as they come. Kill all the babies, I say.

But I think I'm with Bill in one sense. The Republicans ran a Mormon plutocrat with a dancing horse, no charisma, and a lying problem that was conspicuous even among fellow politicians. And they only lost 64-60. The talk of demographics is relevant, but it wasn't inevitable that Obama would win this election. One can pretty easily imagine a different outcome with a different candidate.

Chris Hill
1:05 PM Nov 27th
 
Brian
1)The idea of a mandate in this election is laughable and in general the idea of mandates is questionable . Don't forget, every house seat was up for graps and the Republicans won. If you are a Rebuplican elected from your district, chances are you won't feel you were sent to Washington to become a Democrat. Look, the only reasonable interpretations of the election of Scott Brown in 2009 and the huge gains by Republicans in 2010 were a clear mandate against President Obama's healthcare plan and the policies of the first two years of his term. Yet healthcare passed , and the President did not give one inch to the Rebublicans for 2 years. (Nor did they) He even moved to the left for the general election and won. So he ignored the supposed mandate and won.

The Republicans do have to work with the president not because of any mandate, but because of the expiration of the tax cuts. George Bush strikes again...

2) It also funny when Democrats tell Republicans they have to reform or vice-versa. What could the Republicans have done differently to get your vote? The answer, of course, is nothing- you were voting for Obama no matter what. Now, clearly the Republicans have to make changes. They need to hear from Republican voters and swing-voters. They have to evaluate their nomination process, campaign machinery and especially their relationship with the media. They also should have better candidates next time around. But don't get your advice from Democrats.

3) Why is it that while the national popular vote gets closer the individual state results are for the most part less competitive than they used to be?

4) One thing that is different between sports and politics. When a team loses, anyone on that team, coach or player, who throws another member of that under the bus does serious harm to their image and possibly their career. When a campaign is unsuccessful, the professionals consider it a necessity to blame it on the candidates or someone else on the campaign team. It is professional suicide to take any of the blame yourself.

5) Another topic - I always wondered why a candidate who felt the polls were hurting him or her wouldn't just announce that anyone who is planning to vote for them, nationwide, should say the other candidate if asked by a pollster. Then no valid polls could be taken. They could just say something along the lines of wanting the election decided by people rather than numbers, thereby grabbing the high road..


12:22 PM Nov 27th
 
wovenstrap
By the way, the effect of the "ruling" Democrats over-interpreting their mandate is somewhat blunted by the fickle hand of fate. I mentioned that the Dems took the popular vote 5 out of 6 times -- but of course the Republicans were nevertheless rewarded with the White House 2 terms pretty recently, and there's a feel of the Republicans just having had an extended crack at the bat. So the Dems are in the lucky position of having a truly better electoral map but not having reaped the benefits as much, which should make them slightly more cautious, and also give big parts of the electorate (for the time being) a chance to say "Well the Republicans were just in power and look what they did" etc. It's a bit like having a high BABIP for a pitcher. Their electoral successes recently have not resulted in the power (and thus the ego) that it should have, which will keep them relatively hungry for the (by rights) hegemonic party.
12:19 PM Nov 27th
 
wovenstrap
Yes, of course. Your use of NY and California was intended to mock my Southern thing. I didn't take that seriously, and neither should that reader have. At the same time I never mentioned any concept of mandate and I fully agree with you about that. The Democrats DO NOT HAVE a mandate. That's true.

Having said that, I think you are in danger of exaggerating the 50-50 dynamic beyond its natural limits. The 50-50 dynamic is A powerful force in politics, but it's not everything. The Democrats have won the popular vote 5 times out of the last 6. I didn't make that up. That 50-50 force did result in a close election (I'm not sure about "very close"), and the Republicans have some serious demographic problems the Democrats don't have. Moving forward to the future, the Republicans absolutely WILL adjust their message to attract different demographic groups, but it may not be enough. If you took the current population and magically added an extra 5% of the young and an extra 5% of Latinos and an extra 5% of college-educated professionals, the Republicans would quickly find themselves in electoral hell, and their adjustments might ring very hollow and alienate the constituencies they have tended up to this point. And something like that is very likely about to happen.

The Republican base and the Democratic base are structured differently. The Republican base is far larger as a percentage of the party, and much harder to placate, more intransigent.

Basically all I'm saying is that the adjustment from barely-a-minority party to something more competitive will be REAL interesting to watch, because the Republicans have an unusual amount of adjusting to do, given the demographics. In our system it's extremely hard for parties to hold the White House for more than 3 terms, and the Dems just secured term #2. It's not clear who the Dem candidate will be in 2016, and there'll probably be some slippage there from Obama.



12:05 PM Nov 27th
 
bjames
As to it being a distortion to represent the election this way. ...well, OF COURSE it is a distortion. That was the whole point of it. Somebody claimed that the election wasn't REALLY close; it merely LOOKED close because of the Old South, which is absurd distortion of the vote. My point was that you can distort the vote one way or the other.
11:41 AM Nov 27th
 
bjames
Well a) I am certainly not a Republican,
b) There absolutely is no mandate.
11:30 AM Nov 27th
 
DanaKing
Close or not, to say Obama won two large states and Romney won the rest of the country is a gross distortion, even if used as hyperbole to prove a point. Obama won 26 states and the District of Columbia. It’s not like everyone in New York and California got together to deny the will of the rest of the country.

As far as a mandate goes, some Democrats are making too much of it, but Republicans miss the boat if they say there is NO mandate. Obama won every demographic except older white men. It was a broad-based victory. Democrats also picked up seats in both houses of Congress. The electoral maps show more red than blue only because Romney won large tracts of vacant prairie.

7:50 AM Nov 27th
 
bjames
What I am objecting to is one party, having won a very narrow victory, trying to claim that it has won an overwhelming victory by creatively re-interpreting the data, and thus de-legitimize the objectives of the other side. Democracy works a lot better when we don't do that.
12:16 AM Nov 27th
 
wovenstrap
Also, I'm not really sure what you're objecting to. Do you think we had a 50-50 balance in 1936, when FDR won by 25 points? Do you think we had a 50-50 balance in 1984, when the Democrats won exactly 1 state in the electoral college? I agree with your plexiglass scenario for the most part, but it's just not written in stone. A party can write itself out of relevance rather easily, and the Republicans show SOME signs of doing that. My idea of an A party and a B party makes a lot of sense.
11:26 PM Nov 26th
 
wovenstrap
Bill: I was inexact in my phrasing. You can concoct any plus-minus you want and make Obama look weaker than he is, but I was referring to some interesting findings published about a week before the election from some reputable pollsters. The idea was if you break up the country into four broad quadrants, northeast, southeast, southwest, and northwest (I think each quadrant had about the same population) -- you end up with Romney beating Obama in the Southeast by 20 points, but Obama beating Romney in the other three areas by a more regular 5-6 points -- it was something like that, anyway. If you're the Republican Party and you're trying to get across the proposition that you're a viable party across the entire nation, those numbers are very concerning. The South is the outlier here, and it may seriously be a problem for the Republicans. We'll swing to 50-50, but at the same time if you're alienating anyone who's not white, male, old, southern, and affluent, you have got a problem on your hands.
11:19 PM Nov 26th
 
hotstatrat
Sportscasters: it seems to me they try to show off how knowledgeable they are by pointing out the mistakes the losing team appears to be making. It is usually more difficult to point out what the winning team is doing right and to praise them without that insight makes them sound like no nothing boosters – just like us schmoes. Frankly, I don’t see why people watch sports with all that negativity. It would more fun to think we are watching something special performed by the best of the best, who not only make very few mistakes, but are doing something only they can do – and possibly fully understand. Perhaps, the best would be to give us the chance to discover ourselves what they are doing so right – or join in with us on that quest.

Post-election: yes, the degree of dominance of the winners in sports and politics is generally exaggerated – possibly because the reporters think it makes a more compelling story. Again, that seems misguided. Perhaps, it’s just me and a few of us, but I prefer to see things more as the really were.

90 ‘ and 50-50: another one of those things you point out, Bill, that seems so obvious now that you’ve pointed it out.

Airport Game: another one of those obvious points we overlook, although, I’m not sure about the environmentalists being the worse. Their biggest beef these days is global warming, which is very real, whereas “fiscal cliff”? I’m not so sure.

Classical Sport: yes, I have been wondering for years how baseball attendance has been so healthy when my kids and their friends (in their early to mid 20s) care so little about it. I don’t understand why so many people care about celebrities either. Sure, I get that a celebrity is someone we all know to some degree – so there is a commonality we share when we discuss them. However, I don’t understand going way out of one’s way to spot one or to bother them for their autograph. Going to Major League games for many people is a form of celebrity worshiping, isn’t it? That is a sport that still seems healthy. I suppose going to hear Beethoven or Mozart can be a form of celebrity worshiping as well. I’m sure classical music programmers intentionally put some works of the big names in a concert to attract customers, while including some of their lesser known favorites for their own enjoyment and for their audiences’ education. Movies do that, too. It has to have, at least, a few stars, or they’ll lose that celebrity loving audience.

I concur with DanaKing about classical music appreciation coming late in life. I’ve always felt baseball turned off my son and his friends because they were brought to it at too young an age. They would have been better off running up and down a soccer field than standing around waiting for a baseball to come to them or to take their turn at bat. I didn’t fully enjoy playing baseball until I was in my 20s and I’m just becoming more and more of a classical music fan now in my mid-to-late 50s.

Map/Directions People: I think people can be a mixture of the two. I would say I am. Perhaps, it is my circumstances, though. In a city like Toronto, you could get stuck in horrific traffic you don’t choose the “best” possible way to go from A to B. Toronto’s grid is badly messed up by above ground railroad lines, rivers, highways, and residential pockets that are loaded with one way streets that change direction. On top of that, we have a woefully outdated public transportation, where little ever gets fixed because it seems each new mayor throws out the plan from the previous mayor. Pardon the digression. I agree it is most fun to be an explorer with a strong concept of layout as you are going. It can also be a fun game, however, to try to figure out the best possible route. Thanks for this fun thought provoking article.

6:35 PM Nov 26th
 
bjames
SLIGHTLY more people voted for Obama than voted for Romney, which is what we are arguing about.
3:15 PM Nov 26th
 
DanaKing
"Stated another way, Obama won the popular vote in New York and California. Romney won the rest of the country."

Elections are decided by how many people vote each way, not by how much geography the votes represent. The Electoral College skews this a little, but still, more people in the country voted for Obama than voted for Romney, which is what matters.
2:54 PM Nov 26th
 
DanaKing
As a long-time seamhaed and classically trained musician, I see one thing you missed in comparing the two. The audiences are not aging solely because the fans are getting older; both are forms many people don;t appreciate as much as they might until they get older, and have a little perspective. That's not to say everyone comes to them late, but a person is more likely to "discover" classical music in mature life than they are to discover punk or rap, just as that person may be more likely to "discover" baseball in later life than he is to learn to enjoy the X-Games. They operate on different levels than some other entertainments. That doesn't make either better. They're just different.
2:50 PM Nov 26th
 
bjames
"Also the GOP racked up very big leads in the South and wasn't nearly as competitive almost everywhere else." Stated another way, Obama won the popular vote in New York and California. Romney won the rest of the country.
2:49 PM Nov 26th
 
rtallia
I'm definitely a map person, and my wife is a directions person. This worked well for her when she grew up in sprawling, flattish, not-too-dense Arlington, Texas. It doesn't work quite as well now that she's plopped herself in the middle of NYC. She has the latest-generation Droid Razr Max and she still calls me occasionally when she is "lost," even though she has a device that a) will tell her exactly where she is, within 5 seconds; and b) can tell her how to get to wherever she's going, within 10 seconds. Astounding....but perhaps the modern hand-held digital Swiss Army knives that we carry around (it's idiotic to keep referring to these insanely powerful hand-held computers as "cell phones") will be re-wiring the brains of our young 'uns to a degree that this distinction will evaporate over time.
2:01 PM Nov 26th
 
JohnPontoon
I'm a "mapman" as well. I live in Chicago, whose streets are arranged in a fairly square grid, radiating out from 0,0 coordinates at State and Madison. 1 block north of Madison is 100 North, eight blocks make a mile.
People here give their address readily enough; the goofy thing happens when you ask a "direcshizen" (needs work, I know) their street coordinate: if they live at 2408 N. Kenton Avenie, I'll ask how far east or west they are, and people invariably start by telling me that they're just north of Fullerton, which is (have you guessed?) at 2400 N.
It still astounds me every time.
12:48 PM Nov 26th
 
wovenstrap
Of course you're right about the 50-50 political thing. One way of thinking about it is that we argue about the things we disagree about, period. The political discourse consists of the things we differ about -- which leads us to a 50-50 map.

It's not quite that simple, though. FDR and the Depression shut out the Republicans for a couple of decades, there, and the Democrats had a pretty rough run in the 1970s and 1980s. There often is an A party and a B party, so to speak. The Republicans are the B party right now.

64-60, but also 332-206. Also the GOP racked up very big leads in the South and wasn't nearly as competitive almost everywhere else. It's a fact that the Democrats took the popular vote in 5 out of the last 6 elections, and most observers agree that the Republican base is shrinking. I often invoke the treadmill when I think of the GOP -- remember the 1980s Yankees, Bill? That's your metaphor. The short-term incentives and the long-term incentives are all screwed up for the Republicans right now, and they need some degree of reform. The alarming thing for the Democrats is that the election was as close as it was, just as you say. But the Dems won even with a flabby economy.
12:35 AM Nov 26th
 
bjames
The Kansas City Star on the day after the concert published a review which was the most helpful review of its kind I have ever seen--a complete set list, an explanation of who the people on the stage were, etc.

My own reactions. ..well, Willie's about 80, and his voice is pretty much gone. I'm not really a country music fan; I love Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash and a few other acts. To me, the best country music has an integrity which is related to the spectrum that I talked about above: that they have seen the temptations of sophistication, and turned them down, just singing about things that are real or sound real, in real voices not covered up by instruments. You hear the song "Me 'n Paul", and you want to figure out when it was that that concert happened in Buffalo, when he made a long flight to sing and didn't get to sing because Kitty Wells ran long or whatever it was. There is a sense that this is real.

I don't know if you know Ray Price. . ..probably do. Ray Price when he was young roomed with Hank Williams; not Hank Williams, Jr.--Hank Williams. Later in the 1950s he had a backup band that included Willie Nelson and Roger Miller (another one of my favorites.) Willie usually does one or two Ray Price songs a concert--and RAY PRICE IS STILL OUT TOURING NOW. I don't know how old he is, pushing 90 I think, and. . .he's still out there singing. What else is he going to do? This is who he is; this is what he does.

I identify with Willie in a sense, not that I am in any way putting myself on his level, but. . .you have a long career, you just keep doing what you do. Sometimes you're hot; sometimes the public drifts away from you and you have to re-invent yourself a little bit. Sometimes you might go 10, 15 years working in the wilderness, not doing too much more than staying alive, but you keep doing it because this is who you are, this is what you do. Eventually sometimes the public comes back to you.
10:50 PM Nov 25th
 
bokonin
About environmentalists, a group to which I belong:

(1) In my experience - and it's certainly possible my friends are a saner than average bunch of environmentalists - we're quite happy to take credit for the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the ban on Chlorofluorocarbons; it's me and the folks at Grist.Org, not the non-environmentalists, who go around posting pictures of Lake Erie on fire and Pittsburgh coal-black during the day. We take credit for successes, precisely to remind people that the industrialists swore we could never have a functioning economy if we fixed those problems. If we forget to also take credit for stopping Project Plowshare - where the U.S. government wanted to use nuclear bombs to re-route rivers and do deep coal mining - it's only because most of us aren't old enough to remember.

(2) But that said, Bill: You and I live in one of the richest countries in the world. Species are going extinct rapidly in South America, in Africa; the Amazon and Congo rain forests are shrinking, drying, burning, and taking species with them by the thousands. Countries there don't have a potent E.P.A., and even if they did, poor people are more afraid of running out of decent farmland than being dragged into court. Of course, ex-rain-forest farmland is good for about two years before it becomes useless, but to poor people, those two years seem pretty good.

(3) Global warming models deal with literally hundreds of imperfectly understood variables - ocean ecologies, ice structures, methane storage deposits, geological events beyond measure. They produce widely varied results. But over time, real life events keep being *worse* than virtually all of the projections, not better: ice-sheet melting, storm frequency and severity, changes to the ocean's carbon-absorption rates. The models all try to say what happens 60 or 100 years from now, and many of the models aren't terribly scary, and some (literally and based on plausible assumptions) have Toronto getting Miami's climate and Iowa getting the Sahara's.

Fact is, you don't hear about that latter kind if you don't read the research; we environmentalists *avoid* talking about them, precisely because we don't want to terrify people into utter hopelessness. And we don't tend to even publish research about what happens in 200 or 300 years, although there's every possibility that the models that look reassuring in shorter terms would look awful in longer ones.

Bill, you came of age for Erlich's "the Population Bomb", and I figure that's a large part of where your cynicism comes from: the book was, obviously, dead wrong about the imminent worsening of life, because it did nothing to account for human ingenuity. It was so wrong about so much that it's easy to ignore that it was right, entirely right, in its basic premise that a larger, higher-tech population was going to drastically increase the amount of finite resources it uses.

We figured out how to make those finite resources more plentiful, and I devoutly hope - as do the strong majority of environmentalists, though not all of us - that we keep doing that. But some resources (rain forests, species, fresh water, minerals and fuels that can be drilled without immense disruption) really have gotten scarcer. It's not exaggerating to point that out, and to take credit for our successes while staying very worried.
10:39 PM Nov 25th
 
ErnieSS
Fabulous bunch of articles. I have a request: please favor us with a review of the Willie Nelson concert. I too saw him recently at a symphony hall, and honestly, I think I enjoyed him more there than I did when he played on the back of a flatbed, in the middle of a farm, a few years ago.

Thoughts?
8:25 PM Nov 25th
 
bjames
Almost 100% with John Kzufall. I'm pro-choice, but back away from pro-choice Democrats who won't recognize any limits. And I have no problem with steroid use being punished two weeks after the fact. It's attempting to punish it 20 years later that's problematic.
7:42 PM Nov 25th
 
ssimkus22
Bill, besides having worked for Strat-O-Matic and writing baseball history for the Outsider Baseball Bulletin, I am a full-time dispatcher for a limousine company outsider of Chicago. I'm in charge of more than 100 drivers, helping them get from point A to point B. I'm a map guy (of course), in charge of 95% "directions" guys. In fact, the drivers have come to rely far too heavily on the GPS systems, which spit out series of directions, helping them reach their destination. Problem is, the "directions" are often wrong. I've had drivers lost, less than a mile from their pick up location, and it has sometimes taken them thirty minutes to find their address. Just wanted to let you know, from my experience, that you're right on the money----maps versus directions people. The mappers are in the minority, no doubt.
6:45 PM Nov 25th
 
johnkzufall
My problem with steroids in baseball is very similar to the enforcement/punishment split. If a pitcher gives up a homer to a steroid-enhanced hitter, or if a PED using pitcher strikes out 13 in a complete game shutout, and fails a test two weeks later, the losing party still is on the hook for the homer given up or the strikeouts. At least with a spitball or corked bat, you can catch the guy at the time.

And, as a democrat, I'd love it if more of my party would say a woman has the right to choose, but partial birth abortion is out of line. I don't know the number of those procedures that occur, but I hope it is zero.


6:32 PM Nov 25th
 
Trailbzr
About sportscasters and political analysts -- I remember watching a game in the early 90s when the Seattle Supersonics had Jack Sikma, who played center on defense, but was an excellent three-point shooter. In the first eight minutes of the game, Seattle suckered the opposing center into rebounding position, and kicked it out to Sikma, who make five three-pointers. Seattle took a 10 point lead, that held the rest of the game. But what are the analysts going to say? "This game ended in the first quarter, but we're stuck playing it out and broadcasting it for you."

Political journalists want to think they're writing "the first draft of history." Everything to them is part of a historical trend, not some one-time event that no one in the future will care to read what today's writers said about it at the time. Since the 22nd Amendment was ratified before the 1952 election, the parties have traded the White House every eight years, except once: 1952, 1960, 1968, 1976, 1980 instead of 1984, 1992, 2000, 2008.
5:57 PM Nov 25th
 
Trailbzr
A Fofa who plays in a symphony orchestra avers that the way classical music is presented tends to scare people away from it -- if all the musicians and much of the audience is dressed in black tie formal wear, many potential listeners will get turned off by the assumption that it's targeted at ears more sophisticated than their own. But put something like Ride of the Valkyres into Apocalypse Now, and people find that perfectly accessible. The way a Willie Nelson concert just looks and feels like someplace I belong.

Classical music venues also have practical barriers that skews their audience old. They're usually in downtown areas and lack child-care facilities, making it difficult for anyone in their "raising kids in the suburbs" years to visit there. The audience is largely empty-nesters who can afford tickets, and college-age young adults who have time to wait in line for discounted seats, or earn tickets through volunteering.
5:41 PM Nov 25th
 
bjames
SOME Democrats want to legalize infanticide--actually MANY Democrats want to legalize infanticide. The difference between partial birth abortion and infanticide is spelling.
5:34 PM Nov 25th
 
myachimantis
Democrats want to legalize infanticide? That's news to me.
4:56 PM Nov 25th
 
bjames
My comments ASSUME that the Republicans and Democrats are loose coalitions of people with divergent views--and explicitly state that this is the case. How you missed this and misread them as assuming that they monolithic is a mystery to me.
4:47 PM Nov 25th
 
karlweberliterary
Bill, I think your comments about politics are somewhat flawed in that they treat groups like Republicans and Democrats as if they are monolithic: "Republicans want to end abortions but they also want to win elections," etc. But the Republicans (and the Democrats) are actually loose coalitions of people with widely varying objectives and perceptions. Both parties contain groups that care much more about the purity of their ideologies than they do about winning elections--or else they have convinced themselves that, if they are really really pure in their positions, "the people" will eventually see they righteousness and sweep them into power. The actual degree to which a party is able to moderate its views depends, in part, on its ability to manage relations among these and other internal groups, which varies a lot from one election to the next. That's how landslides like 1964 and 1972 were possible.
4:26 PM Nov 25th
 
Steven Goldleaf
I suspect most of your readers are map people, for the reasons you cite, but I wanted to add one wrinkle: what I dislike most of all is asking for the address of their house and getting tedious, comical "directions" back. "You pass a tree that's gotten hit by lightning, that's on your right, about five minutes past the old Esso station that's now a Bed, Bath and Beyond store [for like the past two decades, that is], and you turn left just after that, when you almost reach the crest of a hill, not a sharp left, but a soft left, you go downhill for a while, until you come to a paint store that's got a big paint can for its logo," and I'm silently screaming inside my head, "What is your damned ADDRESS! Spare me the narrative!"
2:23 PM Nov 25th
 
 
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