2008 - %3, November

What Do Obama's Foreign Policy Appointments Tell Us About Future of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict?

| Sat Nov. 29, 2008 1:37 PM EST

Depends on if you're considering General James Jones, likely National Security Advisor in the upcoming Obama Administration, or Senator Hillary Clinton, likely Secretary of State. Their professional histories send conflicting messages about Obama's intentions in the region. Check out Eli Lake in TNR for more.

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Must-Reads on the End of the Bush Administration

| Sat Nov. 29, 2008 1:18 PM EST

There are two great stories out discussing what we should do with all the national security secrets that, if made public, could (1) expose the full extent of the Bush Administration's torture, detention, rendition, and wiretapping programs, (2) make Bush Administration officials vulnerable to criminal prosecution, (3) create a public circus that overshadows the Obama Administration's early actions and spoils a moment of goodwill that Obama wants to exploit, and (4) potentially make our defenses weaker in the war on terror.

Result (1) is obviously a good thing. Is (2)? Even if it comes with effects (3) and (4)? Is there a way to do this that avoids (4) entirely?

Check out the thoughts of Dahlia Lithwick in Slate and Charles Homans in the Washington Monthly. Obama seems interested in establishing a commission that ferrets out the who/what/where/when/why, but doesn't initiate criminal proceedings. That's probably the approach the majority of the country would prefer, but is bound to anger some on both the right and the left.

Quote of the Day - 11.29.08

| Sat Nov. 29, 2008 11:53 AM EST

QUOTE OF THE DAY....From Emile Earles, a Cadillac owner in West Point, Georgia, on buying American:

"You can only be patriotic until you can't afford it anymore."

And this riposte from Eddie Striblin, a salesman at the local GM dealership:

"Let me ask you a question: You ever heard of anybody braggin' on a '57 Honda?"

That's the American car industry in a nutshell, isn't it?

*Chart of the Day - 11.27.2008

| Fri Nov. 28, 2008 10:04 PM EST

CHART OF THE DAY....Via Overcoming Bias, three French researchers surveyed 1,540 people and offered them the opportunity to play a game in which a coin is tossed ten times and they'll win ten euros each time it comes up heads. "The participant is then asked for his/her own estimation, according to his/her experience and his/her luck, of the number of times heads will occur, i.e. how many times (out of ten) he/she thinks he/she is going to win (and get 10 euros)." What do you think is the most terrifying aspect of this survey?

  1. The mean answer was 3.9.

  2. About ten people thought they would win every single toss.

  3. The authors managed to produce a 21-page paper out of this.

The full survey is here. The authors also note that women are more pessimistic than men; old people are more pessimistic than young; and that nearly everyone answers "five" if monetary gain is removed from the question. In other words, people seem to know the odds, they just think the universe is stacked against them. (Or that the researchers are going to cheat. Take your pick.)

The exception, of course, is those ten respondents who think they'll win every time. Here in America, we call those people "investment bankers."

Patching Things Up

| Fri Nov. 28, 2008 5:45 PM EST

PATCHING THINGS UP....Samantha Power, last heard from calling Hillary Clinton a "monster" and then apologizing fulsomely for it, is back:

State Department officials said Friday that Samantha Power is among a group of foreign policy experts that the president-elect's office selected to help the incoming administration prepare for Clinton's anticipated nomination as secretary of state.

....Clinton's office declined to comment on Power's inclusion in the State Department transition, but an official close to the Obama transition team said Power had ''made a gesture to bury the hatchet'' with Clinton and that it had been well-received.

If we accept the conventional wisdom that Obama's choice of Clinton as Secretary of State is a generous gesture meant to help unify the party, then there would be few more forthright ways for Clinton to reciprocate than by nominating Power for some kind of meaningful position at Foggy Bottom. It would be a good sign that those hatchets have been well and truly buried.

Super Senior

| Fri Nov. 28, 2008 4:58 PM EST

SUPER SENIOR....Felix Salmon explains the synthetic CDO market:

Let's start with a simple single-credit synthetic bond....

[Explanation follows, ending with a little bit about the size of the synthetic mortgage backed security market.]

....In fact, most of the synthetic MBS issued were issued by banks which kept the underlying mortgages on their own balance sheet. Rather than put the mortgages directly into a CDO and sell that to investors, they kept the mortgages themselves and bought protection from the CDO. Why did they do that? That's the story of the super-senior tranche, and will have to wait for another day.

What!?! For pity's sake, man, don't keep us in suspense. I want to hear about the super-senior tranche. It's one of those things that I think I understand in a technical sense — sort of the way a blind man understands a sunset — but not in the real-world sense of what people were doing with them and how they got abused so badly. So let's hear it!

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Comments!

| Fri Nov. 28, 2008 1:38 PM EST

COMMENTS!....Jacob Levy talks about evolution of the blogosphere:

I'm one of the last of the oldline blogluddists who thinks that the decline of civility and decency the blogosphere can be traced to two events, one of which I won't tell you but one of which was the creation of comments sections. In particular, I remember thinking that the opening of comments at Kevin Drum's then-site, CalPundit, changed things rather a lot.

This deserves explication. Does Jacob think that opening a comment section changed my actual blogging? Or did the blogging remain the same but the mere existence of raucous commenters changed things? If the latter, why not just ignore the comments? If the former, how?

I've heard this general complaint many times, and I've never really understood it. My own view of comments is that they don't exist mainly for my benefit, or even for my readers' benefit, but for my commenters' benefit. In the same way that blogging gave me a platform to mouth off in public that I otherwise wouldn't have gotten, I figure that comment sections give an entirely different group of people the same opportunity. So I'm happy to provide it, even if it often gets out of hand. It's not like anyone's holding a gun to our heads and forcing us to read them, after all. (And anyway, the comment section here has improved considerably over the past couple of years thanks to my steely and implacable moderators. Thanks guys!)

On a more general note, Jacob's post reminds me that I've always been a little puzzled by the number of times readers have told me that I've "changed" thanks to something or other. When I opened comments. When I started accepting ads. When I moved to the Washington Monthly. When I moved to MoJo. Etc. For a variety of reasons, it's unlikely in the extreme that any of these events changed anything about my writing at all, but people sure think they do with fair regularity. I don't doubt that my writing has evolved since I started doing this six years ago, but I very much doubt that there was any particular event that's been responsible for it. More likely it was just six years of writing and learning and getting progressively more annoyed with the modern Republican Party.

But let's combine both these topics into one. Old timers: what do you say? Has my blogging changed substantially since the early days? How? Naturally, I urge you to leave your observations in comments.

UPDATE: Jacob responds.

Bagels!

| Fri Nov. 28, 2008 1:07 PM EST

BAGELS!....One of these days I guess I'm going to have to try a bagel when I'm in New York City. My crappy taste buds being what they are, I suppose my reaction is going to be the usual (i.e., "they just taste like bagels to me"), but I'm still curious. It hardly seems plausible that transplanted New Yorkers can't make good bagels elsewhere in the country, and insufficiently developed consumer taste doesn't seem like a good explanation for this lack, as it often is for ethnic food of other varieties.

(Can you order a New York City bagel over the internet? I mean, I'm sure you can, but do they survive the shipping process tasting as good as if they were bought locally? Or do I really have to get on a plane and head east to perform this experiment?)

Anyway, this spate of bagel blogging was inspired by a David Bernstein post about bagels over at the Volokh Conspiracy, and what really amused me wasn't the bagel stuff itself, but Bernstein's being annoyed that the book he was reading, The Bagel: The Surprising History of a Modest Bread, "relies on union sources, the story is completely one-sided; the reader doesn't get the perspective of any of the bagel bakery owners, just the workers." We all have our pet peeves, so I guess I shouldn't laugh, but Bernstein seems constitutionally incapable of ever letting a positive mention of unions pass unnoticed, insisting that every advance in worker rights would have happened anyway due solely to rising union standards. I say: tell it to the janitors, pal. Rising living standards don't really seem to have helped their cause a helluva lot. In fact, tell it to the median worker in general, who's made virtually no gains at all over the past three decades despite a near doubling in per capita GDP during the period.

Eh. I guess that just shows that I have some pet peeves too. I still need to try a real NYC bagel one of these days, though. If and when I do, which shop should I try, O commenters?

Wingers and the Economy

| Fri Nov. 28, 2008 12:47 PM EST

WINGERS AND THE ECONOMY....I read Charles Krauthammer's column this morning — yet more proof, if more were needed, that people with very high IQs can also be very, very stupid — and I got to wondering. A developing meme on the right suggests that our recent economic meltdown isn't really the fault of the free market having a heart attack at all, but rather the fault of the government performing triple bypass surgery in response to what was really no more than some free market heartburn. And so I wonder: Is this really going to be the National Review/WSJ editorial page/Grover Norquist line going forward? And if it is, what's the right response? Sober op-eds explaining why they're wrong? Or dismissive laughter? I'm thinking the latter.

Thanksgiving Catblogging

| Thu Nov. 27, 2008 12:49 PM EST

THANKSGIVING CATBLOGGING....The stars of this year's traditional Thanksgiving clipart extravaganza are Ditto and Tillamook, my mother's two new kittens. I was over the other day visiting, and let me tell you: these are definitely not a shy pair of kittens. Ditto practically knocks down the furniture running over to greet visitors, and starts purring like a motorboat if you so much as look at him crosseyed. Tillie was in nap mode most of the time I was there, but is also friendly and adorable, as all kittens should be.

The pod they're sleeping in was a housewarming gift from me. Ten bucks at Walgreens. Isn't it cute? When I got it home, though, it turned out that Domino and Inkblot both thought it was for them, with Domino eventually claiming it as her permanent nighttime bed. What could I do? Back to Walgreens for another one, that's what. As you can see, the dynamic duo love it too when they've decided they've had enough dynamism for the time being.

Like them, I'm dreaming of turkey right now. In fact, I can almost taste it already. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!