August 27, 2007

Viva Maxspeak!

By Kathy G.

Blogging here for the past week has been a blast -- I'm going to miss it. For some reason I got my dates confused and thought I would be doing this for a few more days, so I never did get around to posts I'd planned about mine safety, the economics of unions in theory and practice, and Arthur Miller and his Down syndrome son. (All I will say here as to that latter subject is that I strongly recommend you read the stunning article about it in the current issue of Vanity Fair. It will break your heart, but in a completely unexpected way it's inspiring too, because oddly enough it does have a happy ending of a sort). Oh well . . .

Thanks to all of Ezra's readers and commenters for sparking such great discussions and for keeping me on my toes, and a special heartfelt thanks to Ezra for inviting me to do this. I had no idea this blogging thing could be so much fun (or so scarily addictive)!

Finally, I didn't want to leave without saying how sad I am that Max Sawicky is ending his wonderful blog, Maxspeak. Since its inception, Maxspeak has been one of the three or four indispensable blogs for me. I was considering doing my own follow-up post to Ezra's earlier one about five blogs that make me think, and if I had, Maxspeak would have topped the list. Here's what I've loved about Maxspeak:

1. I've admired the way Max brought economic logic to bear on a host of public policy questions, yet never succumbed to the extremely conservative politics and pinched, distorted moral vision that, alas, plagues so many professional economists.

2. I appreciate Max's politics, which unlike so much of blogosphere I inhabit are not merely liberal but left. That has made for some important and salutary differences. Max has always been much more critical and distrustful of the U.S. foreign policy establishment than most liberal bloggers, and man oh man has time proven him right about that. The very interesting and potentially extremely productive conversation that's occurring in the liberal blogosphere these days about the foreign policy community owes a lot to him, I think.

It's true that Max sometimes likes to piss all over the netroots in general, and Kos in particular, but although I'm a lot more optimistic about the netroots than he is, I always welcomed his skepticism. I agree with him that there's a danger of the netroots becoming too much of a cheerleader for the Democratic Party, and that netroots-ers put too much of an emphasis on winning and tactical sophistication, and not enough on developing a coherent and compelling political vision.

3. I admire Max's prose style. The man says a whole lot using few words. I wish my own writing had that kind of pith and punch.

Max hasn't yet spelled out the details about why he's abandoning the blog, but it sounds as if he's entering a new employment situation that precludes him from blogging. I wish him all the best in his future endeavors, and I hope he'll consider a return to the blogosphere at some future date. Viva Maxspeak!

August 27, 2007 in Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (13)

August 24, 2007

Does the Internet Need Fixing? Sadly, Yes.

By Deborah Newell Tornello a.k.a. litbrit

How could I have missed this bit of lovely on Tuesday?  Oh yeah, it was the first full-day of school.  No matter--is it any less relevant today?  Sadly, No.

August 24, 2007 in Iraq, Personal, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (14)

March 18, 2007

One, Two, Three, Four, What Are We Blogging For?

by Nicholas Beaudrot of Electoral Math

I hope everyone will forgive another round of soul searching on the function of the blogosphere. When we last looked at the state of Presidential campaign blogging three weeks ago, we saw that both partisan and intra-party attacks generated significantly more coverage than any other news events. No speech or public statement by Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, or John Edwards warranted as much attention as the David Geffen-induced spat between Clinton & Obama staffers, which the candidates largely ignored (except for Obama publicly chiding his campaign) or Amanda Marcotte's firing. Nothing any candidate said about Iraq, Iran, economic inequality, or health care mattered more than whether Joe Biden used the words "clean" and "articulate" in a situation where they might be construed as racially insensitive (and very little mention of Biden's civil rights record came up in these posts). And this was during a time when Obama made his first public statement supporting universal health care as a goal for the next presidential term, and Hillary's campaign events frequently featured voters asking her to apologize for voting for the Iraq war, or to say it was a mistake.



Today, the story is much the same. Ann Coulter's CPAC outburst against Edwards, followed by Edwards being the first to decline an invitation to Fox's debate, generated far more coverage than, say, his March 15th speech in Manchester—a speech that was a great return to '07 or '03 vintage Edwards, but generate no sizeable amount of coverage (Neil's valiant efforts notwithstanding). The end of the Fox News debate included a lengthy post by Markos himself (!!) which does nothing but declare campaign winners and losers. The only hard news event to generate a sizeable amount of coverage was the Al Gonzales meltdown, which let Clinton put her name in the paper alongside calls for his resignation.

It's possible that crude metric of "number of blog posts mentioning topic X" isn't a very good barometer of what's catching the interest of the blogosphere. After all, while Markos spent a whole post declaring winners and losers on the Fox News debate, he also pointed the 'sphere to articles to Clinton's non-apology on the Iraq war vote. But I am doubtful that that's the case.

From my vantage point, the DC pundit class has two major problems. First, it doesn't accurately reflect the spectrum of political beliefs of the public or even the two major parties (borderline crazies are overrepresented; serious advocates of single-payer health care are underrepresented). Second, the cable news networks and Sunday morning talk show guests too frequently allow what can best be described as gossip (or perhaps "Dimwittery"), usually but not always originating in bits of the Republican partisan machine (e.g. Drudge, the Catholic league, etc.), to hijack the news cycle. The blogosphere has done yeoman's work correcting the first problem, but now seems content to be part of existing political machinery rather than fix the second. That's ... dissapointing, since if the trend holds, it means the blogosphere will not put any competitive pressure on TV news to change its bad habits, leaving the vast majority of Americans who don't read political blogs with mostly the same quality of infotainment as they had before.

So, is this it? Is the blogosphere destined to widen the span of political professionals and quasi-professionals to balance conservative house organs, but fail to provide a new outlet for more hard news and less campaign/partisan fluff? I'd like to think it's possible to do both at the same time; am I being naive? Discuss.

March 18, 2007 in Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (9)

February 05, 2006

Once More into the Breech

Posted by Nicholas Beaudrot of Electoral Math

Matthew Yglesias counters that the health care industry in Pittsbrugh requires lots of low-wage workers, which is true. But in addition, any hospital needs lots of nurses, who make decent middle-class to upper-middle class wages and are certainly not considered blue collar. Meanwhile, someone has to keep the buildings clean at Boeing and Microsoft, though there certainly isn't as much cleaning to do in an office park as there in a hospital. And it's not clear how we should count call center workers, internal tech support, and other tech-sector jobs that pay wages somewhere middle-class and "working class". But we can argue about it, or we can look it up. Returning to the Census employment survey, the percentage of workers describing their job as "service" in Pittsburgh is 16%, and in the Seattle is ... 14%. Perhaps lots of staff workers, billing professionals, and research assistants at Pittsburgh's medical centers count themselves as having "managerial, professional and related occupations" despite not making that much money; perhaps to the huge barista population in Seattle is raising the city's service number. The data seems inconclusive; we could use better information on the income distribution for workers in the health care sector.

The Steelers' real proletariat cred comes from the surrounding areas, which include the coal country of West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Southern Ohio, as well as various Rust Belt towns that are outside Pittsburgh's offical metro area (Erie, PA; Youngstown, OH; etc.). If we play this game, however, the Seahawks get to include the Tacoma metro area, whose education profile matches Pittsburgh's quite well.

As for football, problem here is the gratuitous overuse of the term "West Coast Offense", which carries the perception of 6-yard slant routes, quick outs, short-yardage drag routes, and dinky passes to the fullback or tailback [things that the Seahawks don't do, according to the eggheads at Football Outsiders]. This image comes from Holmgren's 1996 Green Bay Packers, who didn't run very often after an injury to Edgar Bennett, as well as other pass-wacky WCOs such as the current vintage Eagles and various recent incarnations of the Rams. And of course there's the original WCO, the 1983 49ers, who played a different brand of football than their competition; they had a noticeably higher completion rate and lower yards-per-completion than other quality teams of their era. But when Holmgren has a feature running back, such as Shaun Alexander today or Dorsey Levens in 1997, he's shown no fear of the running game. The 'Hawks do retain the other primary characteristic of the West Coast Offense, which is the release of all five receivers on passing plays; traditional offenses explicitly leave the tight end and/or running backs as extra blockers in many cases.

Either way, the Emerald City's presence of heart will be proved (or disproved) within the next few hours. Go 'Hawks.

February 5, 2006 in Sports, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

February 04, 2006

Who 'You Callin' "Frou Frou"? The Fuzzy Math of Matthew Yglesias, Part II

Posted By Nicholas Beaudrot of Electoral Math. See also Part I.

It's time for another round of our guessing game, this time with mystery football teams. Here's a table of various egghead measures of how "tough" a football team plays (setting aside questions of whether or not catching a pass in middle of the field when the Strong Safety is about to pounce requires toughness), with the team's rank within the NFL in parens:

Team ATeam B
Rushing Attempts per Game34.3 (1)32.4 (7)
Rushing Plays/All Plays57.2 (1)50.1 (6)
Passes over 20 yards44 (T-10)44 (T-10)
Passes over 40 yards14 (1)11 (T-11)
Yards per Completion12.8 (1)11.8 (11)
% Receptions Resulting in 1st   down69.6 (1)68.0 (3)
Weenie pass percentage9.6 (27)9.4 (31)

[In the "weenie pass percentage" category, a lower ranking means the team makes fewer passes of five yards or fewer. In this case, this mean team B makes fewer dink-and-dunk tosses than team A.]

Any guesses?

  Your intuition is right this time. Team A is the Pittsburgh Steelers Health Care Workers, while team B is the Seahawks. The point here wasn't to surprise anyone; it was just to show that while they're not the league leaders in running the football and passing Only When It Matters, the Seahawks are at least top third of the league.

No, the Seahawks do not run as much as the Steelers. But that's because no one runs as much as the Steelers. In the past few years, no one has  ever really come close to running as much as the Steelers. If the Steelers are ahead in the second half, Bill Cowher simply refuses to pass the ball in situations where other teams would put it in the air. If people are going to call the Seahawks a bunch of nancy boys because they run the ball 32 times per game instead of 34 times per game, that's their right, but I think their desires for a run-only offense are highly unrealistic. After all, even the Steelers in the past few years have needed a high-octane passing game in order to advance in the playoffs.

To go along with their top-tier (though not as top tier as the Steelers) defense, the 'Hawks run an extremely effective vanilla offense, with lots of 3-7 yard runs and 9-16 yard passes. This is not an offense that looks like this year's Eagles, Patriots, or thid 1996 Green Bay Packers, all of which would count as "West Coast Offenses" that run slants or quick outs instead of handing the ball to a running back. There's no shame in what Holmgren has put together this year.

Personally I think there's no shame in the 1999 or 2001 Rams offense, but my views on that subject are clearly outside the mainstream, which demands that Real Men play football by having large guys run up the middle for four or five yards as frequently as possible, and win games through Defense and Running The Football. How the pass-wacky Patriots have avoided being called "soft" is beyond me.

February 4, 2006 in Sports, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Who 'You Callin' "Frou-Frou"? The Fuzzy Math of Matthew Yglesias, Part I

Posted by Nicholas Beaudrot of Electoral Math

Matthew Yglesias has thrown down the gauntlet with a David Brooks-esque dismissal of the Seahawks, [UPDATE: Oliver Willis earns himself a reeducation followed by CBS], so I think to defend the honor of my current home city and its football team, I'm obliged to pick it up. I'd like to play a little guessing game. I'm going to describe two American cities and their suburbs, and you try and guess what they are [employment data courtesy of the BLS]:

The metro area of City A employs 10.9% of its workers in manufacturing, 8900 of them in metal production. Its largest employer is a manufacturer of durable goods. 80% of the people who live there are white. 10.3% of its workforce is employed in the "education, health, and social services" sector, 6.3% in "professional services", and 6.7% in "financial activities".

The metro area of City B employs 9.1% of its workers in manufacturing, 14,600 of them in metal production. Its largest employer is a medical center attached to a major state university. 90% of the people who live there are white. 18.3% of its work force is employed in the "education, health, and social services" sector, 5.5% in "professional services" and 6.1% in "financial activities".

They look pretty similar. If anything, City B is the more white-collar town, with a few more professional-class workers moving towards the education and health care industries instead of working in real estate agencies or insurance. But in press coverage one of these cities is constantly referred to as the lunch-bucket, working-man's (and woman's) middle America, while the other is by reputation chock full o' wine-and-cheese costal liberals. Which is which?

At this point, the ruse is probably obvious. City A is Seattle, where the largest employer is Boeing, while City B is Pittsburgh, where the largest employer is ... wait for it ... University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (second largest? The University itself. Third largest? Mellon Financial Corp]. US Steel provides a whopping 1800 jobs in the area; Carnegie Mellon University has twice as many workers on its payroll. There are roughly 5000 mining related jobs in the region compared to less than one thousand in Seattle.

That's it. Less than ten thousand jobs in metals production [the metalworking jobs in Seattle are in aluminum, if you're curious] and five thousand jobs in mining represents the difference in blue collar work between the two cities. Pittsburgh's image rests on its legacy as the center of the once-vibrant steel trade and coal mining in the region, which is, to say the least, less vibrant than it once was.

On exactly one measure does Pittsburgh out-blue-collar Seattle, though it's a big one: education. 38% of Seattle metro residents hold a bachelor's degree or higher, and only 54% have an education level of "some college, no degree" or lower. In Pittsburgh, those figures are 27% and 65%, respectively. Nonetheless, Matt's been in a self-correcting mood lately so perhaps when the weekend is over he'll use his much larger microphone to point out that yes, we're not all a bunch of Volvo-driving, latte-sipping, eyebrow-piercing, whatevers. Then maybe he can mention his experience to the San Jose Mercury News.

February 4, 2006 in Sports, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack

January 01, 2006


Posted by Nicholas Beaudrot of Electoral Math

Though I've missed out on the Meme of Seven (and the Meme of Four), I can still provide a bit of end-of-the-year frivolity. The start of the new year was as good a time as any to wipe out ratings and playcounts in iTunes. But before I eliminated them, I put together a highly embarrassing list of the 50 most played songs in the collection.

Let the mocking begin ...

January 1, 2006 in Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (13) | TrackBack

Clarity of Purpose

Posted by Nicholas Beaudrot of Electoral Math

Tale a look at what Josh Marshall has to say about the New Year.

All evidence points towards the 2006 midterms being another campaign where the gloves come off early and often. It's acceptable to tell the world why Republican budgeting and foreign policy are bad for the country. And it's time to stop bringing a knife to the gun fight.

January 1, 2006 in Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

December 17, 2005

Saturday Koufax Blogging

Posted by Nicholas Beaudrot of Electoral Math

As Ezra points out, the Koufax awards have their own built-in biases that make it a less-than-optimal way to find new blogs. They also make it hard to find great posts from early in the year, simply because those posts aren't in the forefront of readers' thoughts. That's part of the reason that I picked  "Patriotism and Nationalism" for Best Post, so that we wouldn't forget some of the wonderful insights that writers made earlier in the year.

There are, of course, plenty of other quality choices. Two pathos-laden entries with excellent writing are "Monday Afternoon in the Welfare Office" and "Life and Death". There's a trio of posts that exhibit the "oh my God real life has started to imitate The Onion just a little too much" sensation in "The Real Fake News"  "The Talent Show is Dead; Long Live The Talent Show", and "NBC, CNN Announce Merger". Digby's "Genie in a Bottle" is excellent. In the Katrina sub-category, we have "Black Bodies Remain Still", "And Then I Saw These", "Potemkin Photo Op", and "skynyrd did what they could do" . Our own Shakes has received props for "Liberals Will Save America" along with Billmon's "My Back Pages". And I love The Kung Fu Monkey's "Learn to Say Ain't"; it's both witty and insightful.

Still, I am hard pressed to change my vote from "Patriotism and Nationalism". As I've started to spend more time in the political arena, I find myself increasingly aware of how easy it is to build up false confidence in the popularity of liberal belief system. "Patriotism and Nationalism" was the best reminder that there's another world out there that has tangible reasons for disliking the Democratic brand.

December 17, 2005 in Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

November 06, 2005

Things Worth Reading

Posted by Nicholas Beaudrot of Electoral Math

Peter Levine, my Favorite Blogger that Nobody Reads but Everybody Should, has posted the text of a speech he gave called "Education for Democratic Citizenship". I'm not much of an education wonk, but it sure looks to me like we've become caught up in the rush to improve our children's reading, math, and science skills, without stopping to ask whether our school system is helping children become good people. Peter is part of a band of folks who are concerned about such things.

As they say, Read The Whole Thing.

November 6, 2005 in Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack