November 30, 2004

No bad weather, just bad gear

Minnesota running legend, Ron Daws, tells it like it is

“The truth is that winter running is so simple that there is little out of the ordinary to tell about. Training at 20 below zero is far easier than at 85-90 above. It’s relatively easy to protect oneself from the cold, but impossible to escape the heat. My endurance base is always built during the winter, when there is little else to run but high mileage.”

I never thought when I moved here that I would love the winters, and find the summers sorta miserable. But that's how it is ...

Posted by robe0419 at 5:09 PM

Put it on the visa (2)

Joseph Nye has an op-ed in the Strib pointing out the lunacy of making Chinese students wait for visas after Saudi students attacked America.

It's a small, somewhat-removed example, but back in the 1950s and 1960s during the Malayan emergency, New Zealand took in a lot of Malay students. Malayan investment in New Zealand during the 1980s and 1990s was directly attributable to the education those students had 20-30 years earlier. Not only did the program succeed in making these students non-Communist, they became quite the western-oriented capitalists and liberals.

Where better for people to learn about capitalism and democracy than in countries that practice it.

Posted by robe0419 at 11:55 AM

Officially visiting Canada

Matt Yglesias asks:

But can it really be true that this is "the first official visit to Canada by a U.S. president in nearly 10 years." Wasn't Bush in lovely Québec City just a few years ago for the FTAA summit? That sounds like official business to me.

There's visits, and then there are official visits. Official visits involve formal invitations to come and hang out together, generally in the capital of the country you're visiting. On an official visit, Bush will likely get to do such things as address Parliament, meet the Governor-General, and as is the way these days, see the native people perform a dance for the visiting chief from abroad.

I hope George remembers to send a postcard to Laura in the excitement of it all.

Posted by robe0419 at 11:39 AM

Good question

A reader asks, after seeing the long decline of domestic service:

This surprises me rather. Nannies and au pairs are clearly domestic servants, and I would have thought that this category has exploded since the 1970s. Do your figures include child-minders?

Yes. The figures include all people working as housekeepers or domestic servants of any sort in private households.

The first good enumeration of occupations in the U.S. census was in 1880, and from then until 1990 it is easy to distinguish service workers in private households from service workers outside households. In 2000 the classification scheme changed, and a consistent definition of private household workers would take a couple of hours of recoding data ...

In any case, between 1980 and 1990 when we have a consistent classification of these things, the number of child care workers goes down, though proportionately less than the decline in cleaners and servants.

It's possible that the data can be reconciled with our anecdotal impressions if private household work has become largely part-time, casual employment which would lead to under-enumeration if workers have other "primary" jobs.

In any case, what's clear is that personal service work is moving out of the household and into the daycare center, and into the more organized marketplace of firms like MaidBrigade. The days of the live-in household worker are certainly past for most households.

Private household workers, 1980-1990Number
Launderers and Ironers3,1652,490
Cooks, private household18,46914,652
Housekeepers and butlers101,28246,192
Child care workers, private household248,466234,638
Private household cleaners and servants570,400499,681

Posted by robe0419 at 10:29 AM

November 29, 2004

Why don't historians blog [much]?

News that Gary Becker and Richard Posner will start their own blog comes via Crooked Timber, via Eugene Volokh.

As a comment puts it, "Well if Becker’s doing it, [blogging] must be rational."

Well, maybe ... Becker's opportunity costs must be a little higher than mine since I'm sure he commands quite the speaking fee. On the other hand, if Becker at age 74 feels blogging will be worth the investment of his time, it must surely be rational to spend the time on it at 29, right?

But what I really want to get to is the bigger question: why don't historians blog [much]?.

Check out the blog roll at Crooked Timber, which must be a good sample of blogs by academics. And you get lots of lawyers, political scientists, philosophers, and economists ... Not many historians.

To be sure Juan Cole is pretty prominent these days, which just goes to show that you can labor away in relative obscurity on a topic for decades, and then they declare war on the country you study. As an historian of America I hope that never happens to me!

The rest of the historians blogrolled at Crooked Timber contain a strange preponderance of medievalists. This is somewhat unfortunate as I was going to argue that the reason historians don't blog [much] is that history is a discipline that venerates knowledge of specific facts, rather than reasoning from theory that allows you to comment on subjects you don't know much about.

And medievalists, studying things far removed from today's world, seem to be the par exemplar of history's concern with the particular and far-removed. In any case, this seems to be the exception proving [testing] the rule. Few of the medievalist bloggers use their training to comment on current events.

It's a pity -- we could have used some medievalist document analyst types during that whole Dan Rather/CBS/National Guard messiness.

One of the foremost bloggers out there, Josh Marshall trained as an historian, but his knowledge of 17th century Connecticut politics is not on display often. More's the pity -- thePequot war probably has valuable lessons for the crazy capers in Iraq.

Posted by robe0419 at 3:43 PM

November 28, 2004

Fruit cake at a bachelorette party?

The big fruit-cake-making extravangza is underway. 3.5kg (that's 7.7lb) of fruit is now soaking in a quart of brandy, and we'll add more brandy tomorrow.

The next challenge, and it may be larger than I thought is to find a huge (10" x 10" x 6") cake pan. When I searched Google for "big cake pan", this fine product was the first non-sponsored result.

Not quite what I was looking for, but when I need a penis shaped cake pan I will know where to look.

Posted by robe0419 at 8:58 PM

Liberals in the liberal arts and sciences

Juan Cole has a perceptive post on the <sarcasm>shocking </sarcasm> news that lots of faculty members vote Democratic.

The key paragraph to my mind is this:

The most logical explanation for any political bias in some parts of the professoriate in my view is that the sort of persons with the skills to be in a major academic liberal arts department could also be successful in business, lobbying, law, advertising and other well-paying professions. And it is the corporate world and its lobbying appendages that have the marked bias, to the Right. Someone who has academic skills but is a Republican would just have enormous opportunities and could easily become a multi-millionnaire.

That gets it about right. The people who self-select into becoming academics are people who have chosen to spend an additional 5-10 years in graduate school earning $10,000-$30,000 a year, and then enter a career with a salary progression that starts at $35,000 and goes to $100,000 for most people (sure, there are people getting $100,000 + but they are a fraction of the total post-secondary teaching corps)

Nothing random about that process. Nothing surprising about the fact that it pops up more Democratic voters here, and other labour / social democratic party voters elsewhere.

Posted by robe0419 at 7:05 PM

Minnesota's outstanding female basketball players

Who knew Minnesota's girls' basketball was this good?

This year 21 Minnesota boys and 30 Minnesota girls will play men's basketball at a low- or mid-major Division I program outside of the five-state area.(emphasis added)

From the Star Tribune.

Posted by robe0419 at 9:56 AM

November 25, 2004

Happy thanksgiving

If you're lucky enough to be just browsing blogs right now, you probably have it pretty good :) Be thankful for that.

The Arena 5km is well worth the money for a certified course, and lots of people to race against. Must be quite a money spinner too at (7000 x $17 + sponsorship) minus 7000 x $(t-shirts + post-race food).

UPDATEIt turns out they donate proceeds to Second Harvest Food Bank, so all in a good cause, actually.

Posted by robe0419 at 11:28 AM

November 24, 2004

More Commonwealth perspectives on Thanksgiving

Mince pie recipiesfrom Harry at Crooked Timber.

Pumpkin pie is good, but alcohol soaked fruit is better!

Roll on Christmas and the fruit cake season ...

Posted by robe0419 at 2:42 PM

How do you live without Thanksgiving?

That was a question I got asked quite often the first couple of years I was here. Quite easily. Actually.

They/we don't have Thanksgiving in New Zealand. Unlike the shamelessly imitative Canadians who have "Canadian Thanksgiving," when your climate is temperate and your main agricultural products were dairy (year round), meat, and wool (spring shearing) there was really no cultural equivalent of harvest.

The functional equivalent of Thanksgiving in the Antipodes (this includes Australia) is Easter (if it falls late), in the sense that it's a 4 day holiday in autumn, or ANZAC Day (the Antipodean Memorial Day). So those are our basically secular autumnal holidays that cause delays at airports.

[Easter? Basically secular!? Yes. If 2% of the population goes to church weekly, and way less than half rediscover their affiliation at Easter and Christmas, it becomes a commercial festival instead]

Even though you can live without Thanksgiving, it's still a great holiday. It's secular, and thus inclusive of the whole country. And there's no presents. It's just about eating and spending time with family and friends. Gotta love that. Whether it would be worth traveling with the masses in the air and on the roads, I'm not so sure.

Harvest itself was a local event, it's timing dictated by local weather conditions and the state of the crop. You couldn't put on the table much more than what was grown within a hundred miles of you.

Traveling coast-to-coast or out-of-state for Thanksgiving is a recent phenomena, only made possible by the jet aircraft. It's almost a perversion of the holiday, especially since the Pilgrims in the beginning had little hope of ever seeing the families they'd left behind in England.

Stay home. Eat well. Happy Thanksgiving!

Posted by robe0419 at 11:57 AM

Breaking news in the Star Tribune

A pleasing and amusing start to one's day can always be had by scanning the headline feed on the Star Tribune site for items like this...

SpongeBob SquarePants 'kidnapped' in Little Falls; ransom note demands Crabby Patties
LITTLE FALLS, Minn. -- He's big, he's yellow, and he's missing.

Police in Little Falls are searching for a blow-up figure of SpongeBob SquarePants, taken from his perch atop a Burger King restaurant.

The popular cartoon character was plugging his new movie in a joint marketing deal with Burger King.

Police found a ransom note which reads: ``We have SpongeBob. Give us ten Crabby Patties, fries and milkshakes.'' It was signed by SpongeBob's nemesis, Plankton. And the note had this postscript: ``Patrick is next,'' a reference to SpongeBob's starfish buddy.

Glad to see those AP journalists have important things to report on Thanksgiving Eve.

Posted by robe0419 at 11:38 AM

November 23, 2004

The long decline of domestic service

Red Ted muses about the decline of domestic service.

Here are the fluctuations in the number of domestic servants in the United States since 1880.

I sometimes think that domestic service might be due for a comeback, what with the inequality in incomes these days. But the small fraction of the labor force employed in domestic service likely reflects (1) changes in technology that make household tasks much quicker than they used to be (2) declines in fertility reducing the need for domestic servants as child-minders (3) compositional change in personal services occupations, with high income households employing a variety of specialized service providers rather than domestic servants expected to do multiple tasks.

NB: Because the census asks people to describe the tasks involved in their job, this decline is not just due to people relabelling themselves as holding other slightly higher status occupations.

Posted by robe0419 at 10:39 AM

Put it on the visa

Being white and from a small, friendly, country I've never had any problems getting my student visa renewed. (I mention race, not because I think that it should be a factor in how quick you get your visa, but because it almost surely does play a role ...)

But if you're from places like China or India your chances of getting a visa expeditiously are pretty low. This has to be one of the the dumbest penny wise, pound foolish actions the Bush administration has taken.

Appropriately enough given that some of the 9/11 hijackers came in on student visas, there has been increased scrutiny of student visas. But the State Department and its consular offices have to do this on existing budgets. Far be it for American tax-payers to pay for their own security!

To save less than $100 million/year, America is losing droves of talented students from countries that we surely want to develop good relations with. One of the best long-term ways to do this is international educational exchange.

Foreign students get to experience the hospitality of the American people, and American people get to meet foreign people in a mutually beneficial way. The long-term benefits of these investments is amazing in generating good will between opinion leaders, educators, and business people.

Perhaps the best and craziest indicator of how misguided the visa system is that the drop-off in applications is highest from China and India. China and India, those well known havens of terrorists ... You would think that giving young Chinese the opportunity to see what a great country America is, and strengthening ties between the United States and the world's most populous democracy would be worth a few million dollars a year. But apparently not to this administration.

Posted by robe0419 at 9:42 AM

Things to worry about ...

... include these new Christian law schools that harbor a movment that wants to make U.S. law based on explicitly Christian standards.

Yet they claim to be "conservative." Yes, that would be why they want to overturn centuries of separation of theology and law in the West ... Not conservative at all.

Posted by robe0419 at 9:17 AM

November 22, 2004

Sample size


The study compares all 67,777 (!) respondents to the 2003-04 study to all 44,877 respondents in 1999-2000.

I guess working with complete transcriptions of 8 historical censuses alters your perspective on what a large sample size is ...

Posted by robe0419 at 7:56 PM

Non-rhetorical question

Tyler Cowen evaluates New Zealand's economic reforms.

I'm not so sure that the distance and size explanations for slower-than-desired growth despite the reforms is entirely persuasive, but perhaps that's my wishful thinking.

Posted by robe0419 at 10:19 AM

Minnesota politicians on the take

Josh Marshall reminds us of the useful list of who took how much money from Tom DeLay last election.

Minnesota's <sarcasm>finest representatives</sarcasm> Mark Kennedy and John Kline figure prominently in the list. It surely couldn't affect their sense of "ethics" and "values," right?

Posted by robe0419 at 9:10 AM

Department of Black Pots

Prince Charles provides another example of why there is a quickly growing Republican Movement in Australia, New Zealand, and Canada:

"People think they can all be pop stars, High Court judges, brilliant TV personalities or infinitely more competent heads of state without ever putting in the necessary work or having natural ability ...

Hmmmm .... how did he get his job as heir apparent??

Posted by robe0419 at 8:33 AM

November 17, 2004

Inaccuracy in the NYT

The New York Times repeats a hoary old lie:

No prominent opponent of abortion has come anywhere near the podium of a Democratic convention since 1992, when abortion rights groups blocked a speech on the subject by Robert P. Casey, the governor of Pennsylvania and an observant Catholic.

Casey didn't speak at the convention because he hadn't endorsed the party's Presidential candidate. Nothing to do with abortion.

Posted by robe0419 at 9:37 AM


Excellent article (subscription only) about undecided voters in Wisconsin.

There is, it turns out, an explanation for those Bush/Feingold voters. Totally unsurprisingly, it turns out that people who voted for George Bush and Russ Feingold are not evaluating politicians in terms of their ability to deliver specific benefits or implement specific policies! Who would have thought ...

Posted by robe0419 at 9:30 AM

November 16, 2004

Farm team

All the speculation about who should be the Democratic presidential nominee in 2008 is fun, but taken too far it's positively damaging to the Democratic party.

If you're Mark Warner or Mike Easley or Wesley Clark or Ed Rendell, and want to run for President it's probably not too early to start thinking about it.

But if you're just involved in the lower-paid echelons of politics you should be thinking about 2005 or 2006, and who is going to run for dull sounding jobs like commissioner of public widgets, and whether there will be someone to run against the seeminly entrenched Republican in the state house district you live in.

The Democrats hold fewer governors offices and fewer state houses than the Republicans, and the flow-on effect for Democratic chances at the Congressional and gubernatorial level is corrosive. It leads directly to the search for "biography" candidates without political experience.

The good news is that in Minnesota the incredible people at Wellstone Action have developed an amazing program that won eight state house seats.

This is the kind of relatively cheap, high yielding program the Democrats need to have in every state, so that the next Democratic Senator from Mississippi and other apparently hopeless cause states is identified now, rather than waiting for her parents to meet and fall in love ...

Posted by robe0419 at 12:45 PM

November 15, 2004

It's the Canadians that should be insulted

Eugene Volokh and Instapundit profess to be upset by Garrison Keillor's comments:

I’m trying to organize support for a constitutional amendment to deny voting rights to born-again Christians,” Keillor smirked. “I feel if your citizenship is in Heaven—like a born again Christian’s is—you should give up your citizenship. Sorry, but this is my new cause. If born again Christians are allowed to vote in this country, then why not Canadians?

The thing is that being a born-again Christian is a choice, it's an opinion, it's perfectly legitimate to criticize it and mock it if that's what you want to do. If someone chooses to believe in a particular creed that's information on what kind of person they are.

Being Canadian on the other hand, is sometimes a choice--if you migrated there and took up citizenship--and sometimes an immutable fact of birth.

The worst you could say about Keillor's comment is that he equated a choice (religion) with an accident of birth (nationality), and implied that the fate of being born Canadian was somehow akin to the poor choice of camp religion. It's the Canadians that should be outraged, not the Christians.

Posted by robe0419 at 11:52 PM

Republican priorities while we're at war

Introducing legislation to change highway numbers that teenagers laugh at.

Your Republican Congressional Majority. "At Work." "Keeping You Safe."

Posted by robe0419 at 7:00 PM

Brand conscious

Matt Yglesias and Noam Schieber discuss how Kerry needed to clear a big hurdle to overcome voters' assumptions that Democrats were "soft" on national security.

The problem is that voters don't remember the 1930s and 1940s when it was the Republicans who were party with an image problem on national security. Thus [in part] the nomination of Eisenhower in 1952.

More to the point, it's just sad that this is how serious issues of war and peace, and killing people here and abroad get discussed, in the language of whether you're man enough and tough enough to do it. The case against Vietnam and Iraq was not, and is not, that war is always wrong, or even some general conclusion on whether America should project its power abroad.

The case against both wars is that war was an ineffective instrument for achieving the stated and desired policy aims.

Posted by robe0419 at 9:17 AM

Hunting and farming

Why is it that in rural area where killing for fun and profit (hunting and farming) is so much a part of life do you see billboards reminding you that abortion involves killing fetuses?

I suspect that the answer is: "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others."

Posted by robe0419 at 9:02 AM

November 11, 2004

Healthy living

A sensible analysis of where we're at in health care policy, and where we can go from here.

As an emeritus professor, and thus quite old, the author tactfully avoids mentioning another problem in American health care: the profligate care of the [wealthy] old, and the neglect of the young. At the margin we should let some 89 year olds die before they get to 90, so that 4 year olds will grow up to live healthy, long lives.

Posted by robe0419 at 8:28 AM

November 10, 2004

Alternative reality

Sometimes reading the papers, and subsequent political discussion in New Zealand makes your head spin.

There's a Labour [liberal/social democrat] government. It's running massive surpluses, and the ratio of government spending to GDP is falling. Unemployment is down to 3.8%. Labor force participation is up.

The dark lining on the silver cloud is that if more skilled workers don't migrate from abroad growth might slow. So, any young people out there looking for a job who speak passable English (even with a Midwestern accent), immigrate there now!!

Posted by robe0419 at 7:33 PM

split ticket lunacy

cross tabs might not help us sort out the finer details of who voted for president and why, but they do identify some borderline crazy people.

Who, for example are those people who vote for Kerry for President and the Republican Senate candidate ... in North Dakota?!

The Kerry-Thune and Kerry-Diedrich voters in South Dakota are a similar puzzle.

If you're out there, please violate the sanctity of your private vote and explain yourself.

Posted by robe0419 at 5:51 PM

cross tabulate that!

this kind of post is beginning to make me frustrated. Not for the poster's lack of effort, but from the limitations of two-way cross tabulations.

Everyone is analysing tabulations of voting intention by one other variable, leading to such apparent paradoxes as Bush picking up votes from high income people, while losing votes amongst the better educated.

someone out there must have actual data from exit polls! why aren't they telling us about what affects voting after adjusting for all these confounding variables?

Posted by robe0419 at 5:19 PM

Questions John Kerry (or Bob Shrum) should be asked

From the Washington Monthly: Why? Why didn't he make a bigger deal out of his plan to increase the size of the Army by 40,000 troops? Why didn't he make a bigger deal out of his desire to get tougher with Saudi Arabia and Pakistan? Why didn't he make a bigger deal about George Bush's unwillingness to confront the Arab world over their continued funding of radical madrassas?

That's the maddening part. Kerry had good, effective ideas about how to deal with things (subs only, sorry). Now the lunatics are in charge again!

The bottom line is this: amongst voters who might actually have changed their votes, the key issue was security from terrorism. Kerry didn't win enough of these people to (1) change the dynamic of the campaign, or (2) put pressure on Bush.

Posted by robe0419 at 1:51 PM

Fruit cake

Over at Crooked Timber they're discussing the hardships you face making a decent fruit cake in the Midwest.

Rule 1: Most problems with fruit cakes can be solved with liquor.
Rule 2: Most Americans don't like fruit cake.
Rule 3: Apply Rule 1 to solve Rule 2.

Posted by robe0419 at 11:55 AM

what do you call a returning diaspora

Irish emigrants returning home get culture shock! This kind of anxiety about the nation's place in the world is not unique to small islands in the Atlantic.

Posted by robe0419 at 9:12 AM

buy a french press

these people have clearly never heard of Bodum. Or a Vietnamese coffee drip. Less than $10. Better coffee than you can get at many cafes.

Posted by robe0419 at 8:42 AM

November 9, 2004

Don't cry for me Argentina. Or is that America

When I was in college most macroeconomics classes passed a point when discussing the consequences of government budget deficits where they said "of course, this only applies to small open economies like New Zealand, Australia, the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, Argentina, Norway, Chile ..."

These projected consequences included some painful combination of (1) a dramatic rise in real interest rates to underpin foreign exchange inflows, (2) a sharp fall in the value of the currency meaning that foreign goods and services were much more expensive, (3) painful cuts in government services to service the debt, (4) migration of skilled labor to economies where the real worth of their wages was higher etc, etc ...

America as a large closed economy whose currency now underpins world exchange was assumed to have much more room for error. Unfortunately, as Brad DeLong points out we've made the errors, and we've come to the end of the room.

American economic conversations might start sounding a lot like New Zealand eocnomic conversations circa 1991, or Australian conversations circa 1983 ... It ain't pretty folks, and it was all totally avoidable.

Posted by robe0419 at 2:11 PM

A secular republic

Gary Hart's op-ed in the NYT should be compulsory reading: "... one's religious beliefs - though they will and should affect one's outlook on public policy and life - are personal and that America is a secular, not a theocratic, republic. Because of this, it should concern us that declarations of "faith" are quickly becoming a condition for seeking public office ...."

Posted by robe0419 at 11:39 AM

You have one chance. Don't waste it

Kevin Drum notes that you have to go all the way back to the 1960s to find an example of a presidential election loser who got a second crack at the prize.

Modern politics harshness to losing leaders is not entirely unique to the U.S. Look, for example, at the revolving door that is the leadership of the British Conservative Party. Or the Australian Liberal Party in the 1980s and 1990s. Or the New Zealand Labour Party between 1989 and 1993. Or the Canadian Progressive Conservative Party since 1993. Or the New Zealand National Party since 1999.

It's like an elementary school game. If you can't knock the government off the first time you have to go to the back of the line and wait a few years until your party gets really desperate, and you might get a second chance.

This is how parliamentary systems are different -- you only have to keep nice with 50-200 of your parliamentary peers, rather than the capricious millions of a U.S. presidential primary season. But the leader is normally the first to go after a loss. Presuming they don't fall out with the people in their own district (or lose that), a losing parliamentary leader can slink off to the backbenches, and come back in a few years.

By contrast the presidential system offers many candidates no fall-back position. It's lose or go home.

Kerry's advantage over other losing candidates in recent years is that he can return to the Senate, and if he's skillful parlay his increased profile into being a de facto/rhetorical leader of the Democratic opposition.

Posted by robe0419 at 9:28 AM

November 8, 2004

How well did the DFL do?

Just how well did the DFL do last week?

On the one hand, their gains were concentrated in places where local issues appeared to predominate.

On the other, their share of the two party state legislative vote (0.522) ran slightly ahead of Kerry's two party share of the presidential vote (0.518).

Minnesota's state house seats are redistricted by a neutral body, which makes it quite unusual that in 2002 the DFL's 0.493 share of the statewide state house vote netted them just 52 seats out of 134 (39%).

This year the DFL captured 0.522 of the statewide state house vote, but fell short of a majority of seats. They imrpoved their share of the vote in 97 of 134 districts; and in 94 of the 125 seats contested by both parties in both years. (Obviously if a party doesn't contest a seat in one election year this can't help but radically change the two-party share of the vote).

As you can see from the following graph the DFL improved their vote share in most seats held by the Republicans in 2002. The real missed opportunity for the DFL lies in five districts (25B, 14A, 19B, 24B, 56A) where they needed to raise their vote by less than 2%, but went backwards.

On the other hand in their own districts (see below), the DFL managed to raise their vote share in 37 out of 52 districts, and only lost more than a couple of percentage points in 2 districts that were close.

A landslide election would have seen the DFL vote share rise in nearly every seat, and they fell somewhat short of that mark. But increasing your vote overall by nearly 3%, and increasing your share of the vote in 75% of contested districts is a solid vote of confidence.

Posted by robe0419 at 5:18 PM

Forget Canada!

"[New Zealand] Prime Minister Helen Clark has welcomed a surge of interest from Americans considering migrating to New Zealand but was careful not to link it to the result of last week's presidential election ...."

Posted by robe0419 at 4:30 PM

November 7, 2004

Iraq war reaches Olmsted County

It must be hard to be Steve Sviggum this week. After five straight elections in which your party has gained seats in the legislature suddenly and unexpectedly (do you think they poll in state house races? no.) the tide reverses itself.

In private Sviggum must surely know that when you lose seats in three places (1) Rochester, (2) the Twin Cities suburbs, (3) lakes district seats with Indian counties that "undercurrents of the war in Iraq" have nothing to do with it.

Yet that is among just one of two ridiculous reasons Sviggum adduces for the Republican losses.

The other ridiculous reason "The consequences of the politically created "do-nothing Legislature" in 2004 could only be felt by House members" is great in hindsight. But the Senate DFL took a bit of a risk -- if people really did prefer the House Republican/Governor's policies the House DFL would have been at the end of the hiding.

Sviggum seems to be one of those politicians who must be smarter than his public persona, because his colleagues would surely not keep him on if they think the Iraq war was why they lost seats.

Posted by robe0419 at 4:32 PM

November 6, 2004

Over-explaining small differences

Over at Slate they're running a series called "Why Americans Hate Democrats -- A Dialogue" pondering the future of the Democratic party and its future presidential candidates.

When you lose an election 51-48, and fail to pick up a few states by margins of less than 4%, people probably don't "hate" you. Some of them probably considered voting for you, but changed their minds. Some of them in Nevada and Colorado hated the Democratic party so strongly they voted for its Senate candidates but not its Presidential candidate. In Ohio the Democratic party was so "hated" that about one in six people who voted for the Republican Senate candidate also voted for John Kerry.

Let's remember that back in mid-September Kerry was behind in the polls by at least 6%, and maybe more. The Democratic party and its nominee were so hated that tough speeches and solid debate performances convinced about half the undecided voters to support Kerry in the end. Newsweek's extensive, inside coverage of the campaign shows that the six weeks between the Democratic convention and Kerry's 18 September speech hitting Bush hard on the Iraq war were lost weeks for the Kerry campaign. In many ways the election was lost in those weeks.

Posted by robe0419 at 12:22 PM

November 5, 2004

Guy Fawkes

Since America is apparently heading towards a more parliamentary way of organizing its political parties, it's appropriate to remind everyone that today is Guy Fawkes.

If you don't like parliament, you can always blow it up!

This rather bizarre piece of public pageantry is still celebrated in Britain. It was only stopped in Australia in 1967 when they banned fireworks. They still have it in New Zealand. The perennial campaigns to ban the sale of fireworks fizzle out, though there are now lots of restrictions on where you can let them off and what you can buy.

Posted by robe0419 at 3:47 PM

Parliamentary politics

Josh Marshall advances, and Matt Yglesias seconds, the observation that the Republicans are moving towards a form of parliamentary government, in the sense that the executive holds the whip hand over the legislative branch, and that party discipline within the legislative branch is tight.

And they're right that the Democrats really have to recognize that their role is as an opposition party. They must oppose the Bush administration, not seek to work with it, and then they must propose an alternative policy platform. As it happens they have the latter. It's the platform Kerry ran on, which was vastly more substantial as an actual program for governing than Bush's. (This gets back to what Bush's "mandate" means).

But the appearance of a parliamentary system reflects the coincidence of Republican majorities in the House and Senate at the same time they hold the Presidency. Whether this pattern would assert itself if the Republicans held just one chamber is less clear.

There's many virtues to a parliamentary system. Not the least, after this presidential election, is that you only get to be Prime Minister after proving your competence in shadow cabinet positions, and in lesser-ranked cabinet positions.

Proper parliamentary systems have mechanisms for holding the executive to account: question time. The Prime Minister and their cabinet have to front up to opposition questions twice a week. It's an unusually effective way of keeping the government accountable.

In its absence there has to be a vigorous press who ask difficult questions. Something we don't have in America.

I'm all for parliamentary government -- it's just that what we're going to get is all the flaws of a legislature that is tightly whipped and closely related to the executive without any of the accountability the system also has.

Posted by robe0419 at 12:49 PM

Are they crazy?

The talk among the Minnesota GOP seems to be that Mark Kennedy would make a great candidate to run against Mark Dayton in the 2006 Senate race.

I don't get it. Kennedy seems like he would be the kind of candidate who might do very well among members of his own party, but fail to win. Do the Republicans really want to repeat the "success" that was nominating Rod Grams to be their Senate candidate?

Kennedy represents the most conservative district in the state, letting the Presidential vote be the index of conservatism. In that district he managed to underperform Bush by 6% in the number of votes and 3% in the two party share of the vote.

Kennedy was the only one of Minnesota's Congressional delegation to do worse than his party's presidential candidate. While Patty Wetterling was a well-known person who ran a well-funded race, she also (1) was a first time Congressional candidate, and (2) held nearly identical positions as Kerry.

That she held Kennedy to well under the votes achieved by the Presidential candidate who lost, does not suggest Kennedy is well positioned to make a run for statewide office. Dayton and the DFL would have substantially more to fear from Pawlenty, Gutknecht or Ramstad. The latter two Representatives have shown an ability to win votes from people voting for Democratic candidates for other positions on the ballot.

Indeed, if you look back at Kennedy's "giant slaying" win in 2000, he managed this seemingly impressive trick in what was then the second most conservative district in the state.

This is not to say that Kennedy is some sort of hapless loser the DFL can write off and not worry about at all, but he might be their best hope since the Republicans clearly have candidates with greater appeal outside the Republican primary process.

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Posted by robe0419 at 11:13 AM

November 4, 2004

What do you mean by wartime

One of the prevalent interpretations of the election results is that "it was always going to be an uphill struggle to defeat a sitting commander in chief during wartime."

True, and history suggests that the only way to do it was to convince the electorate the war was going badly, or to reduce the significance of the war. That Kerry had to make the two wars America was fighting separate as campaign issues, and then say different things about each made the task doubly difficult.

It's true that during the most significant conflicts in American history, incumbent Presidents who run again have won. However, when you get right down to it this conclusion seems to rest on just the elections of 1864, 1944, 1964, and 1972. You could stretch and say that 1916 and 1940 support the conclusion too.

But in 1952 and 1968 when America was certainly at war, and the incumbent president stood down, the incumbent's party lost.

What this suggests [on a tiny number of observations] is that for the opposition to take the Presidency in wartime, the war has to be going badly enough to force the President to stand down.

In a way this probably vindicates Bush's decision to stare down reality and pretend Iraq is going well. It also suggests that if we reach again for a Vietnam analogy this was not 1968 when the war clearly was not being won, but 1964. Of course, we are in deeper in 2004 than we were in 1964.

Once the fascination with the "values and morals" vote is over, it will probably become a little clearer that not everyone perceives Iraq as a morass in the making. 1200 troops dead is too many, but spread that out across the country, and it's like road accident deaths. It doesn't make an impression. More to the point, the costs of having so many troops tied up in Iraq will not become apparent until they're needed at home or elsewhere.

Looking abroad, the record of incumbent governments during wartime is one of re-election. The most significant loss I can think of was the Australian election of 1940. Perhaps someone with a good knowledge of World War I European domestic politics can add another example, but there weren't a lot of elections going on outside Australasia, North America, and Britain in World War II.

In short, to defeat incumbent governments in wartime the war has to be going badly or the opposition party has to define the war as being less than all consuming in order to shift the campaign to other issues, without appearing to discount the threat entirely.

This meant the Kerry campaign had to do three things

  1. Separate the Iraq war and the war on terrorism
  2. Convince the electorate Iraq was going badly in a way directly attributable to the President's decisions.
  3. Reframe the "war on terror" as an important but not existential conflict.

And do this in the space of 9 months. That they very nearly succeeded in the electoral college is pretty impressive.

Not only do governments not get defeated in wartime, they generally don't win 51-48 either. They win big.

Posted by robe0419 at 1:53 PM

Democrats for gay marriage, update

I mentioned the other day the prominent billboards as you entered St. Peter advising you to vote Democratic for gay marriage.

Interestingly, the DFL took this seat (23A) back with a swing of about 5%.

At the very least, we can say that a few billboards don't swing a political debate. You could also conclude that revivalist religion has not made big inroads in Minnesota, and even more tentatively that the DFL ran a good campaign that overcame camp religion and billboards.

Posted by robe0419 at 12:06 PM

Reversal of fortune

Slate helpfully explains that concession speeches are not legally binding.

In the unlikely event that Kerry was to overcome a 136,000 vote deficit in Ohio he would become President.

I think it a safe prediction that if this unlikely event was to transpire George Bush would not take it well.

Now, as it happens I have seen with my own eyes a concession speech on the night followed by a surprise reversal of the results and much petulance.

Way back in 1990 when the Labour Party got swept from office (losing nearly half the seats they held) in New Zealand the incumbent member for Wellington Central was behind by about 400 votes on election night. Historically the "special votes" (absentee and provisional) have skewed to the National Party about 60% to Labour's 40%, especially in well-off districts like that one. And with only about 2000 special votes expected the chances of reversing a sizeable on-the-night-lead were slim.

Amazingly enough, when the final results came out they showed a 700 vote turn-around from the on-the-night results, giving the incumbent the seat by around 300 votes.

A display of petulance and misunderstanding about the political process I have not seen before or since ensued. For years after the challenger would claim that she was "elected on the night," and that she was the member for 10 days. It sounds plausible enough ...

Except that it's like claiming that if you lead from the top of the first to the bottom of the 8th, and then lose it in the 9th, that you won because you lead most of the game.

As the former owner of the Texas Rangers, if Bush should unexpectedly lose in the 9th inning in Ohio I expect he'll take the result gracefully ...

Posted by robe0419 at 10:07 AM

November 3, 2004

Life will go on

Life will go on. We will survive. It might get pretty ugly. The DFL can pat themselves on the back in Minnesota.

Now, some more extended thoughts.

Terry McAuliffe must go: This is the second straight election in which the Democrats have lost seats in both the House and the Senate. If you consistently lose the close ones, that's a bad sign.

McAuliffe is meant to be head of the Democratic National Committee. But Zell Miller's right in one way (damn him). The Democrats are shrinking away from being a national party. They need a message that they can be true to all around the country, and not just hope to win in the Northeast, Midwest and West Coast. (more on this below)

Maybe this was a good election to lose: If you believe Mark Schmitt, the next four years will be like Nixon II redux: ".... politically, it at least avoids a situation where Kerry would have borne the responsibility and blame for Iraq or for raising taxes." See also John Quiggin.

Exactly. Without winning either the House or Senate, a Kerry administration would have been hamstrung and ineffective.

Unfortunately, it's often hard to predict in advance which elections will be good ones to lose. Indeed, I have a non-scientific feeling that people have said "this was a good election to lose" and been proven wrong, more often than it actually being a good election to lose.

Governments that over-reach their mandates lose to competent opposition parties. In many ways, this was a solid win for Bush, 51% of the popular vote and up to 286 electoral votes (depending on Iowa and New Mexico). But this is hardly 1936 or 1964 or 1984.

If the Democrats can organize themselves before 2006, they could make gains in the midterms. The Senate seats up in 2006 are the same ones up in 2000, which was a relatively good cycle for the Democrats (a net gain of 3).

Tim Pawlenty probably has mixed feelings this morning. Look at how well Kerry ran in the suburbs, the surprisingly narrow margin for Bush in southern Minnesota, and how the DFL picked up seats in the suburbs, and ran other suburban Republicans close. That narrows Pawlenty's options for what he does as Governor, and how he would run for re-election or for Senator.

On the other hand, Pawlenty clearly has political ability, including the ability to shift with the winds, so this isn't some sort of death knell.

Politics, like cricket and baseball, is not a continuous action sport. Elections are set-piece moments that change the terrain for the next period of play. In terms of Minnesota politics, the next election will see Dayton's Senate seat up, and another gubernatorial election. Dayton's a relatively weak candidate, who would be vulnerable to a challenge by a moderate Republican. The talk seems to be that Mark Kennedy would like to make a run at Dayton. But fresh off his sleazy, slimy, narrow victory in the 6th District (underperforming Bush by 10,000 votes) Kennedy's star will probably wane a little. Will Pawlenty try for the Senate, or go for Governor again? He can't do both.

Matt Entenza was under-rated as MN House minority leader. I wish I'd written this down so I could appear prescient, but really I did think before the election that Entenza's strategy of (a) putting together a coherent state-wide message for the House DFL campaign, and (b) targeting seats that were close last time and suburban seats, was solid, sensible campaigning.

There's some lessons for the national party there. The Democrats need a national message they can tailor for individual states and Congressional seats.

I over-rated the potential Libertarian vote. There are lots of articulate libertarians who disagree with Bush from a different perspective than my own. I clearly didn't spend enough time reading about the Amway-Christianity admixture that seemed to push the Republicans ahead.

On the other hand, libertarianism is the only way for Democrats to compete in culturally conservative places. As best we can tell from the exit polls, the margin of victory for Republicans was the conservative, moral vote.

There's no way that Democrats can consistently win both San Francisco and Topeka if they are perceived as affirming gays in San Francisco, and then trying to be sympathetic to evangelical Christians in Topeka.

I think the only way that Democrats can start beating the Republicans on this issue is to say that this is a country where we have the space to live our own lives as we please so long as we are not affecting others. Your sex life and your church attendance is your business. It's not a state issue.

As an atheist, and as someone who grew up in a very secular political culture, I think, but Amy Sullivan's suggestions that the Democrats need to affirm religion are the wrong way to go.

Trying to get both the liberal, secular vote and win more votes from strong church-goers will only result in more ridiculous contortions and prevent Democrats from running as a truly national party.

A libertarian stance with respect to most cultural questions is both principled, relatively easy to drape in the flag of American history, and strategically advantageous.

Was this an election Kerry should have won, or one they were lucky to get this close on? I don't know.

On the one hand, you have this view that the administration's incompetence was so obvious, so clear, that only the lousiest of candidates could have lost it:

.... even if Kerry pulls this out tonight, this race shouldn't have been close. An iffy economy, a war in Iraq that isn't going well, a record of shilling for corporations in issue after issue (if you doubt this, see David Brooks' op-ed in the NYT): any half-decent challenger should have won with these issues.

On the other hand, there's the view (can't find a good link quickly, sorry) that Kerry did about as well as he could have given the fear that pervaded the electorate after 9/11. (UPDATE: 4 November. Marshall Wittman is one proponent of this view)

Hard to say. It's pretty clear (Bush I, for example) that Americans are prepared to throw out Presidents they deem incompetent. That suggests that absent 9/11, Bush's domestic record might not have gotten him elected.

Bush does appear to have benefitted (especially in Ohio) from the anti-gay marriage initiatives on ballots bringing out cultural conservatives. In the South, Bush ran up truly impressive majorities larger than last time. On the other hand Kerry, like Gore, won by a million votes in California and 500,000 in Illinois, and won Minnesota and Wisconsin by more than Gore.

A sweep, but not a landslideThe Republicans [nationally] swept most of the close races, but the difference between winning and losing is small.

In retrospect, Colorado and New Mexico look like the lost opportunities for Kerry's campaign (this assumes Iowa will fall into place for Kerry). In Colorado, they elected a Democratic Senator, gave the Democrats control of both houses, and still voted for Bush. This doesn't suggest a reluctance to vote Democratic.

In New Mexico where Bush has won by just 12,000 votes it seems the Kerry campaign did not campaign enough amongst Native Americans, turning a narrow victory last time into a loss.

Picking this stuff out in retrospect is easy. The real money is in picking it out in advance ...

I was not alone in my foolish prediction of 311-227. At least this stuff isn't my day job.

It's way too early to start predicting who will be the candidates in 2008. That said, I don't think it will be John Edwards. Losers in modern American politics don't get too many second chances. Edwards has also given up his Senate seat. It's a lot harder to run for President without the institutional base of existing political office.

Wait until after 2006 to see how that election shakes out. Re-elected governors and Senators will have fresh cachet to take into a presidential race. It will also depend on who the Republicans might nominate.

Voters in Kentucky elected a Republican who's losing his mind. It's going to be a long way back for the Democrats in some places.

Posted by robe0419 at 12:34 PM

November 1, 2004

Election night drinking game

In the spirit of public service to help you get through a long (or short) Tuesday night, I offer you my election night drinking game. (PDF)

Vote. Get other voters out. Then drink.

Posted by robe0419 at 7:07 PM

Watch Virginia

Having put $2 down on Kerry winning 311-227 when the polls showed Bush further ahead, I'm now more nervous about that with the race seemingly tighter.

I can't remember feeling more nervous about an election in my lifetime. All the recent New Zealand elections were clearly going one way or the other well before the day. In 2000, despite putting a bottle of wine on Gore in an early-September wager, on the day I was prepared for Bush to win. After all, the polls showed him well up.

Not today -- it's all tied up, and it's just unknown.

Polls are great, exit polls can be useful, but real voting returns are best. I think the first early indication we'll get tomorrow night will be Virginia. Virginia closes early (7pm EST/6pm CST). There's no Senate or gubernatorial race that could have coat-tails.

Bush has never really established a big lead there. Virginia has a bit of everything; liberal urban areas close to D.C., swathes of suburb a little further out, rural areas, migrants, blacks, and a substantial military population. If Kerry comes within 1 or 2%, or even wins, we're looking at a big Kerry victory. On the other hand, if Bush pulls away by upwards of 5% it could be a grim night for the Democrats.

Not sure if I've already linked to it, but a really useful guide to what to expect hour-by-hour Tuesday night is here.

Vote early. Vote once. Take a friend to the polls. Celebrate appropriately.

Posted by robe0419 at 2:22 PM

Democrats for gay marriage?

As part of the driving tour of the upper Midwest electoral map, we revisited Highway 169 and St. Peter.

As you come into St. Peter from the north, there is a very professionally done billboard of two smartly dressed young men in tuxedoes, with beaming smiles. The caption on the billboard says "For gay marriage, vote Democratic."

In a mixed rural/urban, socially conservative district the DFL lost narrowly in 2002, I'm pretty sure this is not the officially sanctioned party message.

Posted by robe0419 at 10:01 AM


As someone with a perpetually mispronounced name, I find the recent rise in popularity of normal names with odd spellings, and odd names with odd spellings interesting. Another blogging historian tells an amusing story of the unfortunate intersection of childhood obesity and traditional names.

Posted by robe0419 at 9:32 AM