Saturday, April 30, 2005

On the Mechanism of the Elevator Pitch

It’s not what you say about the issues, it’s what the issues say about you,” or so claims the Decembrist.

But I think he gets it wrong. He says that the Republican strategy is to show that Bush is resolute and reliable by having consistent positions, repeating the same thing. Rather, the purpose is to assert a pseudo-principle, a sound bite as principle, to avoid analysis. Since principles are not subject to analysis, kind of like feelings, reporters can’t really attack it so much as repeat it. The elevator pitch meme is basically a fusion of three statements that act as pseudo principles:

“Smaller government, family values, and national security.”

It works like this:

Q: Mr. President, your policies in Iraq could be characterized as a total failure with the whole Middle East appearing to slide into the Iranian sphere of influence, preserving a formerly weak regime and possibly allowing it to develop nuclear capabilities, how aren’t your policies a complete waste of time, money and young American lives?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, Flounder, you don’t mind if I call ya flounder, do ya? Sure, some of my opponents may say those things, but what they don’t understand is that I care about this nation’s security and/or spreading freedom, and I will do anything to protect it. My opponents may not be so devoted to our nations security and/or the Iraqi people’s freedom. Saddam was a threat to our security and he had to be taken care of, and now the Iraqi people are free. Next question.
So every question turns into an opportunity to state the relevant point (candidate/party of national security). It then turns from an opportunity for the reporter to analyze the position, by discussing facts and, well, talking about the issue, and into the politician questioning the reporter’s persistence when the answer is so obvious (TP:I am red. Q:Red could be viewed as bad, why are you red? TP: I am red, don’t you get it?)

To better illustrate, here is a hypothetical conversation with Judy Woodruff using part of my Democrat elevator pitch in appropriate places.

WOODRUFF: Senator, now that the president has laid out his plan, or more of his plan on Social Security, isn't it incumbent on the Democrats to do more than just say no to everything?

SCHUMER: Well, so far the President seems to be endangering the retirement stability that so many American families have come to rely on. We can’t support the current policy proposals from the president because we want to preserve this important resource for families.

WOODRUFF: But isn’t that like just saying no and not coming up with an alternative?

SCHUMER: Judy, you have to understand, American families are being squeezed all the time by the Republicans, in education, in health care, and now in retirement security. We want to make sure families have the resources to confront the challenges of the future. And that is why we take this position, because we are the party of family resources.

WOODRUFF: He said I'm willing to listen to good ideas from either party. The American people look at this and they see the Democrats not even willing to come halfway. Not even willing to engage in a conversation. Why couldn't that come back to hurt the Democrats?

SCHUMER: What, defending the resources American families need to succeed? I think the American people know better then that, Judy. [Sub-text: How stupid are you Judy?]
This illustrates the use of the “elevator pitch”. I mean how stupid are you Judy? We are the party of family resources!! Never mind what that actually means, if you do not stop everything you are doing and acknowledge that not only are we the party of family resources, but that any party that is not us is devoted to completely depriving every family of every resource it has, we will continue to repeat this point until you get it (meaning you start repeating it). This is principle! It is completely impervious to your analysis, Woodruff the Dense, for it cannot be analyzed. We feel it deep in our Democrat bones “family resources”. Viewed through the eyes of the average American TV surfer, you see a common sense folksy (Jewish Senator from NYC) guy demonstrating the complete incompetence of the flashy network news anchor. “Even I am smarter then Judy Woodruff,” they think to themselves, “The Democrats are the party of family resources! Duh.”

That is how it works. It makes the viewer feel smart as the news agent tries in vain to pull apart and deconstruct this (quasi-meaningless) statement. Instead of delving into the motives of the Democrat position, it practically begs the question of the press “Why aren’t you communicating this,” reversing the roles so that the news agent is the antagonist and the Democrat is the protagonist.

To see how we fall into the role of antagonist when discussing the issues (as opposed to what the issues say about us) the actual exchange (from Friday's Inside Politics, out of Lexis):

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: Nice to talk to you, Judy.

WOODRUFF: Senator, now that the president has laid out his plan, or more of his plan on Social Security, isn't it incumbent on the Democrats to do more than just say no to everything?

SCHUMER: Well, let me say first, he hasn't laid out a concrete plan. We're awaiting in the Finance Committee a legislative proposal. They haven't even been called up to testify. We have the outlines of what president wants and they're not very good. He was in a hole when he talked about privatization and now he's digging the hole a bit deeper by talking about these dramatic cuts to even middle-class people on Social Security.

It's our view that the president was the one who called this a crisis. Social Security is going to be in good shape 'til 2042. That doesn't mean we wait till 2041, but it doesn't mean we need to do something by this summer. And if he feels that it's incumbent, that it's a crisis, send us a detailed plan on what he believes and then will react to it.

But we're not going to, on the basis of one press conference and one speech, come out with our detailed plan, particularly in light of the fact that, again, we don't believe it's a crisis. We believe Social Security needs some changes, but we want to keep it basically the way it is. We're not recommending dramatic overhaul.

WOODRUFF: Let me read to you one of your Democratic colleagues in the Senate, Ben Nelson of Nebraska said. He said, "while the president did not lay out a complete plan to address solvency," he said, "I'm pleased that he did present one idea for us to consider as part of a solvency solution." And that of course is referring to the proposal to protect benefits for low-income workers and the benefit cuts for others.


Well, couple of things here. He did talk about in general terms the plan that Mr. Posen had out together. But we don't know the details. And as you know the devil is off in the details.

Second, what he has talked about we don't find -- I think the vast majority of Democrats -- don't find to their liking. And privatization would entail such a dramatic overhaul of Social Security, fundamentally it's destruction as we know it from an insurance policy to an investment policy, that we believe he has to take that off the table before we sit down and negotiate.

WOODRUFF: Well, the president is saying also though, senator. He said I'm willing to listen to good ideas from either party. The American people look at this and they see the Democrats not even willing to come halfway. Not even willing to engage in a conversation. Why couldn't that come back to hurt the Democrats?
At this point, she has Schumer, the rest is just watching him squirm. There is pretty much nothing at this point Schumer can say that will distract attention from the seeming incongruity.

SCHUMER: Well, because I think most of the American people believe we are defending a program that they love. And the president is trying to radically overhaul a program that they recommend. And that's why he's in so much trouble. The more he speaks about it, the less happy they are with his plan.

And there is a simple solution. We brought it up a lot of times. First, the president has to take privatization off the table. We believe privatization's equal to the destruction of Social Security as we know it. Then, my view -- and this is the view of many Democrats -- he could do just what Ronald Reagan did. Put together a grouch of respected Democrats and Republicans who would make the adjustments, twist the dials if you will, and preserve Social Security for this generation and for future generations.
Ok, three lines of what he should have been repeating all along and then back into responding to the Republican talking points. Point: Woodruff. Fifteen – luv. Serve:

WOODRUFF: Let me ask you about judicial nominees…
At this point I realize that the point maybe this: fuck refuting their talking points, just make up shit.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Elevator Pitch

The Republican elevator pitch according to Matt Yglesias is "low taxes, traditional family values, and a strong military," This fits well with a point I’ve been wanting to make for a long time. There are three kinds of Republicans.

First, there are the Falwellian masses who vote on Republican because of the reasoning mocked here. They own the second verse in the triplet above, although I would hypothesize it came first in the original.

Then there are the libertarians who vote for Republicans because they have been hypnotized by Ayn Rand, Von Mises, Von Hayek, or Nozick. They like the first line.

Then there are the real Republicans, the people whose asses fill the seats of power (and most who are behind that seat), otherwise known as crony capitalists. These are the people who were the real motivating force behind the seemingly unnatural coalition of the other two groups (one chosen for its laughable gullibility, the other for its absurd coincidence of policy goals). They explain such odd events as the prescription drug benefit, the airline bail out, the farm bill, the invasion of Iraq, and the bankruptcy bill. The third line is for them.

The Democrat counter to this triplet: “low taxes, traditional family values, and a strong military,” is to turn the two support groups against each other from our perspective, and nullify the third. The appropriate counter triplet is then: “For family resources, not financial resources; For diversity of ideas, to encourage innovation; and against crony capitalism,” This, I believe, conforms to Matt’s conditions of being acceptable to the left and repulsive to the right at least as much as the original triplet.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

I am so drunk

Happy Passover!

Friday, April 22, 2005

My point exactly

Brad Delong illustrates my point in the below post in his parody of Brook's column.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Judicial Tyranny

is the genius of American “democracy”. As designed, the Constitution gives practically all power to the Judicial Branch. Since the Judiciary has the Power of Interpretation, the Constitution’s Legitimacy backs whatever they say. As I have pointed out before, if they interpret “The Judges, both of the supreme and inferior Courts, shall hold their Offices during good Behavior, and shall, at stated Times, receive for their Services a Compensation which shall not be diminished during their Continuance in Office,” to imply that they are owed sexual Favors from interns, who is to say it means otherwise?

And this is the way it should be. Good Government is a complicated affair (apparently), not easily understood by the majority of people. That or, more likely, as I have hypothesized before, people are stupid. Now, some of my readers may be thinking that I have this all backwards: the Legislature orders around the Executive, and the Judiciary exists just too make sure the Executive does what the Legislature tells it too. That is the genius of the design.

I will make and analogy, and compare the government to a television. The Legislature is like a bunch of people on the couch telling the Executive how to adjust the color Settings, Volume, and Channel Number. The Judiciary is a TV repairman/cable guy. While he is fixing the cable box, he lets the technically deficient crowd occupy themselves by arguing over what channel to watch. That way, since they feel potent by being able to change channels, so they are distracted enough that they don’t disturb the Judiciary while he installs the Fox Blocker. In this way, the Judiciary really has total control. He could, in theory, make it so the TV only plays on one channel at a certain volume, but that would defeat the primary purpose of the Elected Branches of government: providing the people a toy to distract them while the Judiciary does the real work.

Do I mean to say the best government is produced from a tyranny? Almost. The weakness of hierarchy is that it does not punish complacency, allowing corruption and inefficiency to spread (observe the problems of a standing army). A democratic means of succession prevents corruption and inefficiency from spreading (one corrupt [nepotistic] administrator appoints further corrupt administrators, etcetera) through the system.

Without democratic input to the succession process, corruption takes over the system causing stagnation. However, direct election is inferior to appointment by elected officials. Elected officials have to pick someone who will act as an advertisement for the quality of their party. If the elected officials appoint Judges who do not advertise for their party well, they could be forced out of power for half a century or longer. Since there is only a limited amount of litmus testing that can be done before an appointment, technical proficiency and integrity become more important qualifiers then raw ability to marshal power.

Even if Our Judicial despots are less then benevolent, their Power is severely limited. They are not actually in control of the apparatus of government, the Executive is. If the Judiciary does not practice care in the execution of their despotic Duties, the Legitimacy of the Constitution suffers. In a state of moderate Chaos, the Executive assumes greater Authority due to the weakening of the Legitimacy of the Law which is the result of inept Judicial Tyranny. (If the Executive then squanders its own remaining authority, the ensuing chaos would be ruled by the people themselves, who are supposedly represented in the Legislature.)

Thursday, April 07, 2005

All jews think alike

So I am watching that Simpsons episode in which they parody Disney World and make allusions to Disney’s anti-semitism when I become curious as to the evidence behind that allegation which leads me inexorably to Leiter. He also apparently shares my view that modern American cinema has degraded to the point of pornography.

In addition, he also has my same problem of having Krugman’s column up on his blog a couple of days before Krugman puts it in the NYT.

Not to suggest Krugman reads my blog or doesn’t read Leiter.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005


Allow me to explain how the collective works of Miller, Tarantino and Rodriguez represent nothing more than a collection of masturbatory adolescent fantasies.

Miller and Tarantino ape the noir films of the forties and fifties. Originally noir was an attempt to develop interesting film without having to use the flash of big budget studio productions. This was accomplished by higher emphasis on acting talent and moral complexity rather then the expensive sets and celebrity (which is based on popularity, which is averse to moral complexity) of studio features. Noir shattered the idealized image of the squeaky clean good guy, and that idea was gradually accepted by the studios. Originally Tarantino and Rodriguez were part of a movement in the early nineties to shatter another idealized construct of the studios. They reintroduced the dark side of violence by portraying its effects graphically, an aspect often ignored by the action movies of the eighties. So in the early nineties there was genuine artistic merit to what they were doing. They were pioneers. They even acquire some intellectual credibility.

But what kind of evolution do movies like Kill Bill and Sin City represent? If anything they are a reversion.

Kill Bill is not even a movie: it’s a series of (samurai, cowboy and kung fu movie) motifs. There is no complexity, only imitation. It is a movie made for an institutionalized generation who constantly look for a set of rules set up by a surrogate parent authority to follow. In this case, it is the rules for making a movie that looks cool (according to Kurosawa, Leone, or Wu Ma).

Miller is even worse, imparting a clear quasi-libertarian morality (quasi because men, at least, are expected to fulfill chauvinistically defined roles, one of which is actively defending implicitly defenseless women). He clearly demarcates between those men secure in their narrowly and chauvinistically defined manhood and those that are insecure and dishonorable. And in Sin City it appears that only men are even capable of a choice between good and evil, degrading women to the status of objects that qualify a male as either honorable or dishonorable depending on whether he abuses or rescues. All ambiguity is extracted or ignored.

A good example of this is the resurrection of the Yellow Bastard. This world can’t be all that bad if a person that has been reduced to a Schiavo-esque state can be revived through medical science. And since Western Medicine has not relied on difficult to procure spices from The Orient nor ground body parts of dead Saints since medieval times, the fact that this amazing medical technology is not widely available demands an explanation. The failure to address this only makes the fact that these movies are just masturbatory adolescent fantasies with no real insight to offer even more obvious.

Now the reason some rightfully fear for the soul of anyone genuinely impressed by this schlock is that it reveals a propensity for rigid and regimented adherence to an asserted authority, a desire for simplicity while couching it in some pseudo-intellectual pondering on the significance of the violence, violence that has been stripped of all importance or relevance, rendering it pornographic. One should fear for the soul of these people the same as if they were cheering on Nicholas Cage in National Treasure (or at least reviewing it favorably as anything beyond mindless eye candy) because both reflect a certain callow emptiness. At best, a person who enjoyed this movie is a wanker titillated by the chauvinistic adolescent fantasy that it represents, at worst they are a tool easily manipulated into construing pornographic violence as a meaningful artistic statement, who is at heart afraid of ambiguity and nuance.

Apparently Josh is one of the people I’m worried about.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Generation Y

Plumber wonders “How on earth are our kids ever going to offend us?”

Our kids can’t shock us because we are Liberals. Do you really think the flapper socialists of the twenties and thirties were all that shocked and disapproving of the beatniks and hippies? Did the punk/grungers really shock the hippies? For goodness sake man, look at the seventies!

I do not believe that generations are necessarily in opposition to previous generations either, however, they are contrasted against previous generations. Generations are usually characterized by some experience (for some reason, around age eight for the oldest members). Boomers were characterized by television mass media. Gen X was characterized by Watergate/Vietnam. As far as Gen Y goes: I believe they are characterized by the bifurcation of American culture between haves and have nots that occurred in the late eighties (observe fig. XII on pg 36). This has created a definite drive to succeed (economically and hedonistically).

Also, while most characterize this generation as over parented, hypothesizing about smaller families, I see this generation as over surrogate-parented or institutionalized. While both mommy and daddy were off trying to become masters of the Reagan universe, the kids were supervised at day care, and then after school activities (activities also had the purpose of boosting their resumes as well- gotta succeed, or else…) creating a sort of institutionalization. By institutionalization I mean a propensity to seek out a clearly delineated set of rules for behavior and then avoid drawing attention from authority figures by at least superficial adherence. As a result they lack a real sense of initiative or ability to deal with novel situations. A prime illustration of this trait is the show “Damage Control” on MTV. This is a hidden camera show that documents the reaction of a typical Gen Y’er as they are left in charge of their parent’s house and faced with, well, novel situations (not exactly a sociological study, but work with me here).

One such situation is a contractor (hired by the absent parents) coming to the home with a pair of workers dressed as prison convicts in orange jumpsuits, and then asking to be invited in (for a glass of water). Every participant has reacted in pretty much the same way: doing whatever his (and so far all I’ve seen are male subjects) duly appointed parental surrogates suggest, no matter how outrageous (such as when a real estate agent, again parentally employed, asks on behalf of a potential customer to cook in the kitchen; the customer then compiles a motley assortment of ingredients such as hot sauce, flour, mayonnaise, and pickles in a hot frying pan). If these kids had been raised with a parent, novel situations would have come up and would have been dealt with through a process of reasoning. Rather they are raised in an institution where there are rigidly defined procedures for dealing with almost every situation.

I wonder, what could happen when a whole geneation of conformists finds out that they will not be as richly rewarded for their conformity as they have been led to believe? Hmmm...

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Score one for the invisible hand

How do you say "Inflationary Pressure" in Chinese?

Becker-Posner for slavery

Do I really need to make a snarky parody of these arguments to get my point across?

Answer: No. Somebody already did it for me.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Prepare to laugh to the point of pain

You will deserve it.

Update: I should explain.

First of all, maybe you won’t deserve it. Second of all, if you are reading this and don’t know what is linked to in the link posted above, click on the link and then click on the other link (inside the first link) before continuing. I must stress how important this is.

Why is this funny:

To discuss why this is funny I must discuss the definition of humor. Humor is qualification of the sensation of learning that oneself is more able to influence the outside world (or “power” for brevity) then previously thought. Specifically it refers to the absolute measure of increase in power awareness relative to the amount of time in which that knowledge is acquired. The bigger the increase over a shorter amount of time yields more of the quality “humor”.

Most directly, a butt of the joke is demonstrated as less powerful. It is presupposed that the butt of the joke is engaged in some sort of zero sum competition with the audience, although sometimes that is not well defined, producing mixed feelings as in this case (I don’t know whether to laugh or cry). In terms of primate evolution, laughter may have been a way to signal to a group that a perceived danger is in fact not dangerous (as in the case of a disabled large predator), thus contagious laughter (laughter is also contagious because having a group in agreement with oneself also has implications for one’s ability to effect the outside world).

Also, jokes may be introspective, demonstrating power that the audience did not know was already theirs. “Why did the chicken cross the road?” “To get to the other side!” The audience knew that was the answer, they had the power to answer the question. However, an audience that has never heard the joke before will hesitate to answer because he is unsure that he knows the answer. The joker then reveals the punchline and the audience’s own power (in this case, to answer simple questions).

All humor fits into this paradigm. Absurdist humor is basically a joke on the people who don’t get it. “I don’t get.” “Hehehe! That’s the joke!”

If you have not read what is in the first link, you will be sorry if you continue. That said: This is funny because upon being confronted with the title of Ethical Werewolf’s post title, one begins to imagine all sorts of right wing nut cases diligently trying to express the ineffable, but in their eyes evident, wishes of this poor disemspirited body. When clicking on the link these imagined characters are revealed as foolish, thus completing the joke. In this case, there exists a butt of the joke, and in particular it is that group of people who would ascribe (blogable) thought to that mass of tissue. I am cracking up just thinking about it.

So the butt of the joke is not “that woman” (whose name I am avoiding to save the joke for anyone who may see it in a stray glance), it is all of these people who purport to speak for her. So the pain in your gut from laughing may not be a justly deserved punishment, but simply a reminder that the situation here is complex. To some extent we are engaged in a zero sum game with these right wingnuts in that we have diametrically opposed agendas on this issue. However, we are all trying to prevent the pain and suffering that occurred in this case, for which your strained laughing muscles serve as reminder.

Attn: Kleinman

Kleinman also asks “What would be the incentive to save from a consumption tax?”

I address that here. He also brings up an import tax on oil. I address that here.

Some brief answers

Majikthise wonders why rats can't vomit.

I would hypothesize that rats developed their divided stomach first, which led to the loss of vomit function. The divided stomach is a way to store food and smooth metabolic cycles when access to food is sporadic and metabolic processes are difficult to regulate- as is the case with a warm blooded animal that spends most of its time hiding in a hole until large predators are away or asleep. This also would explain pica: clay and dirt is readily available in a hole.

Plumer wonders "why hegemony?"

The US is currently in a position very similar to the position of France after the war of spanish succession. We are the major power that was the last to entered the previous world war (WWII and Thirty Years), therefore we were left in the best position afterwords. In addition, the coalition that supported us as a superpower to counter balance another super power (US v. USSR, Bourbons v. Hapsburgs) is slowly dissolving due to the fact we won (fall of Berlin wall/ Eastern europe, War of spanish succession).

As for why republicans like to increase the defense budget: duh.

Plumber also wonders "what happens in a population decrease?"

You get rich bitch! When there are less people, there is more stuff (land, capital) per person. While there certainly are increasing returns to scale for human activity (labor, entrepreneurship) at certain levels, I believe our society (meaning everyone including the third world) has grown past that level (indeed, possibly all societies have a propensity to grow that far).

This is an example of a sudden widespread reduction in population that resulted in a situation where people had so much stuff lying around that they could afford to send large amounts of their stuff over the horizon, possibly never to return. Others found different ways to spend the new wealth.

A gradual reduction in population would probably have the same salutary effects, but without the chaos caused by a sudden drop in population.

Shakespear's sister asks "why are you so interested in politics?"

It's genetic.