Procrastination Nation

Things that Robert is thinking about that keep him from accomplishing anything.

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Wednesday, March 31, 2004
Rock-n-Roll Rebuttal
My friend Jed Sutton in Ellicott City, Md. voiced his disappointment that Van Halen and Black Sabbath have yet to receive nominations. I consulted with my personal rock-n-roll historian, Bill Renfrew of Nashville, Tenn., and here is his defense of the recent inductees:

EVERYBODY born between 1950 and 1960 has a copy of ZZ Top's Tres Hombres. Probably the baddest, meanest, roughest mother fucker of an album anyone had ever heard. "Jesus Left Chicago..." What a line. Pure evil...and deliciously so. The other stuff later on was fluff created to set up the killer guitar. Tone and balls with a lot of soul...all from 3 pieces. Pretty impressive. They earned their wings early on and then they cashed in on Sharp Dressed Man. They peaked about then, laying down the best grooves under guitar licks anyone had ever heard...and they personified the lifestyle defined in it's most primary form: Sex drugs and rock and roll, with no holds barred on any of them. Then they all got hooked on coke and kept putting out Sharp Dressed Man over and over again until eveyyone got sick of them. The album that followed SDM was 10 songs, all of which had exactly the same beat, tempo and groove (and sometimes melody) of SDM. When it becomes more about money than music, that's what happens.

Traffic? Man, if you'd been a teen in 1968 you'd have thought about it very very differently. They offered something completely new. IT was strong musically and technically, but best of all if you had a good buzz on. Winwood wrote spectacular songs (Dear Mr. Fantasy, Low Spark of Highheeled Boys) when he was only 19 I think, and that record took over like no other. The longevity of that band combined with the number of later knock offs that paid homage to them by ripping them off (Styx, Kansas, Foreigner, any of the synth pop meets metal guitar rock wanna-bes of the early 80s). Traffic would jam for an hour and it never got old. I went to hear Free play in concert (All Right Now), and the lead singer broke his ankle so we were offered 3 hours of Traffic. I didn't really appreciate it at that time and felt ripped off, but listening back, I definitely began to get it. Free wasn't really worth following in the same way...except for the best vibrato technique ever (Paul Kossoff).

Bob Seger? He won my heart with Rambin' Gamblin' Man, LONG before anyone had heard the words Silver Bullet connected with anything other than vampires. He was the real thing. The gritty voice, the simple melodies, the killer guitar riffs, the great rock and roll songs. I didn't like the stuff later on as much, particularly the stuff on the radio, but the early stuff was incredible. Plus, I've heard some album cuts off early albums which were amazing. It was good music. That was the bottom line. It was original and new and good. Everyone after him like him just copied him. But Old Time Rock 'n' Roll is so overplayed it makes me want to throw up. Nevertheless, when I got requests to do that in wedding bands, I never failed to be amazed by how great a groove that song had. Same with Achey Brakey heart.

Van Halen? They will eventually probably be nominated. Eddie transformed the guitar into a completely different instrument than it had ever been thought of before, but not sure they influenced the music per se... There are more Eddie clones out there now than the world knows what to do with, and they're all boring. If he'd sparked real musicians it would have been one thing, but it became a race to see how many notes you could cram into a bar of 4 on the floor. Eddie had his pop sensibilities with his chops...great melody...and the songs were really good. Interestingly enough though, where is he now? Jeff Beck has put out at least 3 albums since I last heard any overwrought fingertapping from E.V.H. V.H. might be thought of as having fad appeal, but probably not much more than a great pop band in terms of their 'influence', etc.

In all, your comments reflect your youth rather than a close minded ness or anything like that. When these people made their marks, they mattered tremendously. Your generation watched and saw them cash in (and in some cases crash) on fame they earned legitimately long before your mother was invited to join your father to listen to his new 8-track in the back seat of his 66 Impalla.

A fair dismantling. I don't discount my age bias, though I would say I'm more hip to pre-70s music than the typical GenX-er. My bigger beef is with how easy it is to get in. They may be better bands than I realize, but in my mind, the HoF should be reserved for the truly amazing. For comparison purposes closer to my generation, Billy Joel has amazing work, but would I put him in the HoF? I'll just say, it's not a slam dunk like the other big bands of the 70s (Zeppelin, Eagles) or 80s (U2, R.E.M.), though, admittedly, they're clearly different acts than Joel. To analogize with baseball, he's not first ballot though he'd probably get in after 3-5 tries.

The other thing I object to is the clear generation-bias in the voting process. "Hey, Steven Stills or Eric Clapton was in this band at some point for a day and a half? Well, shit, let's put them in!" I mean, will we put Jane's Addiction in the HoF when they become eligible? Sure Perry Farrell and Dave Navarro are amazing, but I don't quite see it. Do Foo Fighters get in because Dave Grohl was also in Nirvana? I could sit down and make a list of a dozen acts from the 80s that I really like who have a decent body of work (for starters, Echo & the Bunnymen and Psychedelic Furs), but I'd be hardpressed to construct a story that puts them in the HoF. Just because you have enough songs to have a greatests hits album does not mean you're HoF-worthy.

And 5-7 bands a year? That seems like a real shitload, designed more to increase sales for artists rather than truly honor great work.

Also, on VH, if we're going to hold bands accountable for the shitty bands and musicians they inspire, would we be able to induct the Stones or Zeppelin?

But, then again, maybe I'm just full of shit and don't know as much about music as I'm fronting. Which, now that I think about it, is probably the case.

Tuesday, March 30, 2004
Happy Belated Anniversary to Myself
It seems I let my Blogiversary pass without an appropriately self-indulgent posting. What have I become?

I've been occupied with a few other writing assignments that I'll fill you in on as they come to press. Here are some of the things that I've been ruminating on:
  1. Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame: Among all the major sports, baseball is probably the most protective and careful in its screening of HoF candidates (though they certainly make mistakes); football is among the least selective, yet it makes a huge amount of mistakes (no Art Monk?). However, no HoF is as ridiculous as the RnRHoF. What are the criteria? Let's look at the "Performer" category since that's what I care about:
    Artists become eligible for induction 25 years after the release of their first record. Criteria include the influence and significance of the artist?s contributions to the development and perpetuation of rock and roll.

    The Foundation?s nominating committee, composed of rock and roll historians, selects nominees each year in the Performer category. Ballots are then sent to an international voting body of about 1,000 rock experts. Those performers who receive the highest number of votes, and more than 50 percent of the vote, are inducted. The Foundation generally inducts five to seven performers each year.

    O.k. The criteria are 1. age and 2. "influence and significance." Of course, it's the nominating committee who proposes these people, then anybody getting 50%--50%!!!--of the vote gets in. For comparison, baseball requires 75%.

    Somebody explain to me Traffic's lasting significant contribution to rock-n-roll? Yes, it provided a place for Steve Winwood to work, and once Eric Clapton, but what the hell? What is ZZ Top's lasting significant contribution to rock-n-roll, except a couple of music videos and a lasting permanence in America's strip clubs? Oh yeah, and the beards and spinning guitars. They've got what, 5 songs max that get airplay. Does anybody own a ZZ Top album? Were it not for the videos, they'd be relegated to obscurity.

    Bob Seger is one of those close but no cigar people for me. Lots of really good songs and a characteristic sound--you wouldn't mistake his band for anybody else's. Still, where is the influence and significance? That he sang "Old Time Rock-n-Roll"? Does that mean Huey Lewis and the News get in for singing "The Heart of Rock-n-Roll"? His contributions to songwriting as advertising for "Like a Rock"? I don't begrudge him selling the song, but that's not a lasting influence on rock-n-roll. He's the guy who makes a lot of All-Star teams, but is clearly not a legend.

  2. Hank Kingsley Fan Club: If you're like Hank Kingsley and have a thing for the Asian ladies, give a peak at the LPGA sometime. The final group was three women of Asian descent--Grace Park, Aree Song, and Jung Yeon Lee, the first two finished first and second--and of course Hawai'ian Michelle Wie. There are at least a half dozen others sprinkled through the leaderboard.

    I'm also surprised that people are surprised how good Wie is. Don't teenage girls dominate just about every individual athletic sport? Gymnastics, tennis, diving, skating. Why should golf be different?

  3. The Canadian Influence?: Maine apparently is moving to universal healthcare. It'll be interesting to see how this plays out. Maine has been at the forefront of efforts to use market power on behalf of its citizens to control pricing of pharmaceuticals. Good for them. I can't wait to see the evaluation results.

O.k., I guess that's it for now.

Sunday, March 14, 2004
March Indifference
Is there a more significant waste of effort than predicting the brackets for the NCAA Men's basketball tournament, besides predicting the women's tournament and blogging? I can see people spending some effort to predict or argue about who should be in or out. But, predicting who will be paired against whom? Unless they're getting odds from Vegas, I fail to see the point.

Before Friday, I believe I had seen less than 20 minutes of men's college basketball cummulatively this entire season. Friday and Saturday I attempted to correct this, watching nearly triple that amount in two days. I had planned to watch more, but I just couldn't stomach it. Watching the first half of Alabama and Florida Friday was particularly horrible. The ridiculous, "Hey, we've been in the front court for three seconds, we'd better shoot," mentality was too much for me, particularly since they couldn't shoot well. At least Florida looked like it had some sense of organization about it, which led to its eventual win.

Likewise, watching Cincinnati and DePaul was gruesome. The DePaul kids looked like they had been playing soccer all their lives and finally been asked to use their hands with this orange leather object, yet Cincinnati managed to keep them in the game. I watched Vandy finally wear out in the second half against Fla. You knew they were done when one of their shooting guards launched three consecutive threes on the same posession, missing the first two very short off the iron, and the third wide right. They just had no legs left.

The only teams that looked at all decent were Illinois, Michigan St., and Wisconsin. I know the Big Ten is supposed to be down, but for a top 3, they're not as horrible as I would have imagined. I doubt I'd pick any of them for the Final Four, but I'd not want to play any of them, and would not be surprised to see at least 2 in the Final Eight.

I listened to the second half of the Maryland-N.C.State game and monitored it on the crawl during the other games. Typical Maryland. Is there a team that is more likely both to produce and yield a 20-point swing in a game? You can't blame their youth, because they used to do it with Juan Dixon and going back to Joe Smith. It's a Gary Williams thing, and it derives from their style of play. They're a dangerous to team to face, but a dangerous team to be, too.

Some other random thoughts:
  • The collective sigh of relief you heard last week came from the selection committee when St. Joe's lost big to Xavier. I don't think the committee wants to pick them as a number 1, and I think they'll do their best to make them at best a number 2. If they get a number 1 it's because Pitt screwed up their master plan.
  • The same goes for Gonzaga. They do not want to put Gonzaga as a number 2. If they do, they'll be stuck in the West...I mean, the unspecified region that will play in a western city for the regional...with Stanford. The committee wants to put them no higher than 3. I'd not be shocked to see a 4.
  • This whole aregional bracketing process is stupid. I appreciate the desire to make the travel cheaper and boost attendance, but they invariably put at least one and often two teams so close to home, it's an essentially home crowd, which defeats the purpose of playing neutral site games in the tournament. It also makes keeping track of who plays which night harder since they may have three groups in one bracket playing the same day, instead of the usual two.
  • Likewise, I despise the tv-ization of the matchups. How many times have Arizona and Kansas been stuck together in the same bracket? Or, Kentucky-Utah? Oh, isn't it cute, Mike Krzyzewski's former player coaches at Missouri? Let's have them play each other in the second round (last year). Fortunately, Missouri is out this year, and ditto for Indiana and Texas Tech, sparing us a Texas Tech-IU matchup. Who wants to bet we see North Carolina and Kansas in the same bracket for a sweet 16 (or earlier) matchup to capitalize on Roy Williams? If I cared, I could probably imagine more ridiculous pairings. Oh, how about BC-Maryland (Gary Williams)?

Last year was the first year I did not participate in a pool. This may be the first year I don't fill out a bracket at all. I started back in 1986 with a strong debut, picking KU-Duke and Louisville, with Duke-Louisville, and Louisville winning. But now, I've essentially stopped caring.

Wednesday, March 10, 2004
Bertuzzin' for a Bruisin'
I finally saw the hit Bertuzzi laid on Steve Moore. Yes, it was a sucker punch. Yes, it was stupid. Yes, he should be suspended. I'm fine with even 25 or 30 games. But, for god's sake can we cut with the histrionics about how awful this guy is and how he should be kicked out for a year or expelled from the league or put in jail or whatever cockamamie idea people are throwing out there on sports talk radio.

First, the hit is not what broke the guy's neck. The fall to the ice is. Yes, Bertuzzi was responsible for the falling, but Moore ducks his head at the last second, and it is the angle of his head and the force from the ice that is breaking the guy's neck. Moore was simply unlucky.

Second, in addition to Bertuzzi's likely suspension, I'm sure the organization will face a fine, too. But, the league needs to start looking at coaches and giving them suspensions and fines, too. Regardless of whether Marc Crawford knew about the retaliation plans or encouraged them or drafted them, the coach needs to be held responsible. When a pit bull is off its leash and mauls some damned toddler, infant, or even a grownup to death, sure the pit bull is punished (by death), but the owner faces charges too for not keeping the damned dog on a leash or otherwise restrained. These coaches have influence over what happens, and they have a role to play in enforcing good habits in their players; and, they may accept it finally if they face punishment. That way we can deal with the Pat Quinn's of the world in addition to the Tie Domis.

Third, does the fact that he was sucker-punched (and unjustly at that) really make this any worse than the ridiculous fights that the league already allows? O.k., so in those the participants are willing. Great. Is it any less barbaric? Is it any less ridiculous of a display of sportsmanship? It's a wonder nobody has died in any of these fights. I mean, if a hockey parent can kill another hockey parent, are these guys really trying? Anyway, I'm looking forward to the day somebody dies in an on-ice fight. That's probably what it will take to get fighting out of the NHL. Look what it did for putting netting around the rink.

In the meantime, widen the rink, lengthen the rink, make these guys have to skate some more, and find some refs that will call all the ridiculous stick work that goes on away from the puck; they'll be too damned tired to fight and we can finally watch some damned hockey.

And speaking of ridiculous stick work, I watched the Boston Bruins just rip out the hearts of the Nashville Predators last night. Not just with Joe Thornton's goals and the Predators' inability to match up to a physical center and knock him off the puck. No, they gouged it out with more hooking and stick-holding than I think I've ever seen in a hockey game. Just ridiculous amounts of obstruction. The refs could have called twice as many penalties against the B's as they did; and, god knows the Predators needed it because they were completely incapable of generating any even strength offense, largely because they couldn't (or wouldn't) skate the puck in, preferring instead to dump and chase, which isn't a bad strategy necessarily provided your forwards are willing to check somebody. But, few on the Predators can, and fewer still will. This run of games against East coast teams has demonstrated how un-physical the Preds truly are--and I don't necessarily mean fighting, though that seems to come with the territory--after getting bounced around by Philly, Ottawa, and now Boston.

On the bright side, if the Preds pull a huge fade, at least I won't have to pay anything for playoff tickets; I upgraded to the lower bowl and the $60 seats. It's money I'd lovingly spend, but I'm skeptical and anyway, I could probably use the money in better ways.

My Ideas Keep Getting Used
I am trying to find my blog entry where I suggested already existing public organizations (e.g., AARP, churches) offer health care benefits for their membership as an alternative to Medicare's pharmacy benefit expansion. It seems that the Methodist church is following my lead on pharmacy benefits. They're offering prescription discount cards to members, and apparently non-members if they request it, for prescription drugs. It's not exactly what I proposed, but it's a start.

Tuesday, March 09, 2004
Fighting Crime
This article on USAToday about hackers extorting on-line gaming sites is interesting. It'd be interesting to see the government hire hackers to extort them as a means to raise money for other law enforcement activities and to stop people from gambling. Not that I want to stop on-line gaming, but it would seem as legitimate as other extra-national activities in which governements participate.

Marginal Abortion
It's official, I'm putting Marginal Revolutions on the left-hand side. They had this post about the decline in teen pregnancy based on new research by Steven Levitt, who has put forward the theory on legalized abortion's contribution to the decline in crime in the '90s.

This reminds me of an argument I always wanted to put forward in the days before blogging. I always thought the most interesting solution to the abortion debate, sure to piss off people on all sides, was to make it illegal for people 18 and older, but mandatory for people under 18. The theory being that people under 18 are not adults and are treated protectively in other ways (e.g., can't vote, can't join the military, can't buy cigarettes, in some states can't be sentenced to death for crimes, can't see R-rated movies--you could drop it maybe to 16 to get driving and workplace regulations), so why should they be parenting? Oh, you're twelve years old, you can't drive or work, but, ah, what the heck, you can have a baby!

On the flip side, you put responsibility on the mother for her sexual actions (we could obviously except rape, incest, life of the mother); given that she's an adult she has free choice to use contraception or make her partners use it, so there's little excuse for an unwanted pregnancy.

Mind you, I don't necessarily belive this, but like I said, it's sure to piss people off and it makes for an interesting, volatile debate and would have interesting repercussions: imagine all the well-off families who would push to exempt their children because they could afford to care for the grandchild (or because they thought it unethical and were willing to take on the responsibility), meaning poor people would disproportionately bear the burden of my rule; imagine what this might do for Medicaid costs, considering abortion is substantially cheaper than live birth; and so on...Just something to think about.

'90s Back?
I just heard an ad on the radio for a 90's special on E! tonight, and it appears Mo Rocca will be hosting a "I Love the 90's" show on VH1. Have we already cycled back to the grunge era? I'm not sure we've fully processed the '80s yet, and we still have a current of '70s running (e.g., Starsky & Hutch).

Another sign of the '90s returning? Singles is in rotation on the Saturday and Sunday afternoon movies. I remember being slightly disappointed in this Cameron Crowe flick, but watching it again I forgave its problems for the great soundtrack filled with Paul Westerberg and Soundgarden, seeing all the Mudhoney t-shirts, and watching Pearl Jam watch nature shows in Matt Dillon's apartment. My favorite line in the whole move now is, "Remember, we're loved in Belgium and in Italy." With the emphasis on and. What a fun little role.

Also, welcome to the folks from Aaron's Baseball Blog who followed links through his column on Value Over Replacement Shows to his rant against Leno to my dissection of the Letterman v. Leno battles. As a post-script on that, it seems Dave has essentially conceded defeat lately by referencing Leno in his Top 10 lists.

Monday, March 08, 2004
Pretty Slick
Turns out coin-tosses are not random. I saw this on Marginal Revolutions, and here's the link to the NPR report. Pretty damned cool!

The gist is that whatever side is up when flipped initially tends to spend more time up during the flipping because it doesn't just flip end over end, it flips off-axis, too. The statistician who figured this out has an example in which he tapes a ribbon to the coin, and in 4 of 100 flips the ribbon does not get twisted (because the up-side never was the down-side). He also commissioned a coin-flipping machine that demonstrates you can guarantee the up-side comes up. Like I said, pretty damned cool.

And in another nod to MR, here's a link to an article about software that creates background noise on your cell phone to give the impression you are someplace you aren't. For example, if you're lying in bed but want your boss to think you're stuck in traffic, you get traffic noise.

Again, pretty cool. What I would like to see happen with cell phones (apart from their destruction) are two things: one, a hold/message for incoming calls that allows somebody in a movie theatre or meeting or whatever 30-45 seconds to get out before answering the call (I saw this idea somewhere else so I don't claim credit); the other is a way to generate an incoming call to yourself (e.g., program your phone to ring when you're on the line with somebody). The latter would be good for any phone. You could define some macro command, that hopefully operates silently, so that it is a single-button or *69 type of action.

Sunday, March 07, 2004
And the Warm Bucket of Piss Goes to...
So, who are reasonable candidates for the Vice Presidency? I'll start with the more or less national candidates, and then focus in on those from the OV-LMV region.

National Candidates
  • Hillary Clinton, Senator, New York: Since moving to D.C. and New York, she is no longer an Arkansan and can't be counted in the OV-LMV area. She will single-handedly cost the Democrats of every electoral vote in the six states we identified as being in play (i.e., Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Ohio). O.k., maybe she could get Arkansas, but it's not enough.
  • Bill Richardson, Governor, New Mexico: An interesting choice, certainly has the credentials. However, I'm trying to imagine the Republican ads addressing his time as Energey Secretary and the various nuclear secrets screw-ups at Los Alamos. He may be able to explain his involvement, but the whole thing is too complex for the American public. "Bill Richardson let nuclear secrets go to China. Do you want this guy a heartbeat away from the presidency?" Also, while he might be able to deliver New Mexico, it's already fairly Democratic and he couldn't break into the Republican stronghold of the Mountain time zone.
  • Ed Rendell, Governor, Pennsylvania: Another interesting choice. He shores up a flaky state. He's got the urban bona fides as former Philadelphia mayor, but he's managed to win statewide in mostly rural, industrial state. He might be able to tack on Ohio and West Virginia; however, I'm not sure how he would play in the OV-LMV otherwise. The other states will still think of him as someone from the Northeast (i.e., a Yankee). I'll have to look into what kind of a campaigner he might be. Probably the best of this lot though.
  • Joseph Biden, Senator, Delaware: Nice credentials, but here's another disaster. His plagiarism history makes for wonderful campaign commercials. Maybe America has become more accepting of such faults, but even if it has, he contributes zero in electoral votes.
  • Jay Rockefeller, Senator, West Virginia: Well, at least the Democrats could field a team that's as rich as the Republican ticket, though it makes any "man of the people" ads impossible. He has solid credentials, and might play well in Appalachian areas of Tennessee and Kentucky. Are there enough of these voters to help carry those states, as well as add Ohio and West Virginia? Probably not.

Southern, but not OV-LMV
  • John Edwards, Senator North Carolina: An obvious choice. The Boy Wonder did fairly well in his first presidential campaign, he's an effective speaker, and despite his career as a lawyer, he was able to connect with ordinary folks. However, could he deliver North Carolina? He's won one statewide election there, but the state is pretty consistently Republican for president and usually for Congress. Nevertheless, his strength as a campaigner and capacity to speak Southern gives him a terrific entree into the OV-LMV. He makes the short list.
  • Bob Graham, Senator, Florida: The man has won five statewide elections in Florida, which might help in a tight race. He's also Southern, and the fact that he has served as a governor gives him some executive credentials, distinguishing him from the hordes of legislators in this mix. However, he never seemed to make much headway in his presidential bid this year, which makes you wonder what he brings as a campaigner through the OV-LMV. Close but probably no cigar.

OV-LMV Candidates
As bad as the other candidates are, there's a dearth of home-grown candidates. Here are some to consider.
  • Evan Bayh, Senator, Indiana: A strong centrist history as part of the DLC, and he managed to win statewide office in very Republican Indiana. He's young and compares favorably to Dan Quayle. Could he deliver Indiana? Would he play in the rest of the OV-LMV? Maybe. Worth a look.
  • Richard Daley, Mayor, Chicago: A bit of a stretch, but intriguing. Clearly an effective campaigner, a strong centrist record (his gay marriage support notwithstanding), with a strong executive history. Would he play in the country-side though? I doubt it. And anyway, could he really go from being powerful to not powerful? Still, he'd be a fun choice.
  • Dick Gephardt, Congressman, Missouri: Clearly a ridiculous choice. He cements the union vote, but he's clearly demonstrated his ineptitude as a leader (e.g., Clinton Health Plan; the 1994 mid-term elections; his "help" through the rest of the Clinton years). And if you're a union guy, look how effective he was in stopping NAFTA. Also, his only constituency is the greater St. Louis area. Missouri's Congressional delegation is pretty well split with St. Louis and Kansas City providing the core of Democratic votes, and the rest of the state Republican. How do you think he'd play in Cape Girardeau, Rush Limbaugh's hometown, or Branson? Exactly. Kerry would be committing suicide picking him.
  • Bob Holden, Governor, Missouri: At least this guy has won statewide office in Missouri. He seems to have put together a nice record in office, but he's still in his first term. I'm not sure what kind of campaigner he his, but he doesn't look the part of Vice President (or have enough background to compensate as Cheney did). Maybe in 2008.
  • Harold Ford, Congressman, Tennessee: A surprise choice, I know. He's young, he's black, and he's moved his way up the House leadership. He probably doesn't have the background to make it onto the ticket, and it's not clear he'd add much electorally--he probably couldn't deliver Tennessee.
  • Phil Bredesen, Governor, Tennessee: Another surprise choice. He's also a first-term governor, but his experience as a corporate executive, mayor (Nashville), and governor, makes him at least a possible candidate. His capacity to win in Republican Knoxville suggests he might be an asset in similar, small, swing cities throughout the OV-LMV. He's also demonstrated an effective management style as governor after cleaning up the mess left by former Gov. Don Sundquist (who, beat Bredesen in '94 for the governorship--ah, what could have been). Still, he's probably not enough of a national player, and he's kind of an acquired taste, personality-wise. He might be a fun choice in 2008 for the top of the ticket.
  • Wes Clark, Retired General, Arkansas: Well, at least he's from Arksansas. Not a realistic candidate here. He didn't show much strength even in the south during his run this year. Despite his strong international policy background, his weakness was his campaigning, and that's where they need help. Tough luck.
  • John Breaux, Senator, Louisiana: This is probably the best of the lot. He has national prominence, he's been a key figure in the DLC and the DNC. He wins consistently in Louisana, and he's one of the few people who could match Bush-Cheney for petrochemical relationships. He's good looking, speaks Southern, and could be down-home folksy as all get-out through this region. And, he can raise money. My only concern is that he has some skeleton/naked woman in his closet a la Clinton and Hart. Also, since he's resigning from the Senate this year, he may have a preferrence for making money over being the 2nd most powerful man in the world.

Alright, so it boils down to Rendell, Edwards, and Breaux. Breaux is the clear winner as he has most of Edwards' virtues plus his kinship to the OV-LMV. If only he can be persuaded to join up.

Wednesday, March 03, 2004
Let the Fun Begin
It appears we're now down to a Kerry-Bush contest. While the Edwards campaign is bowing out, it's worth visiting their site until it goes under.

The Edwards campaign has laid out the electoral map with details about each state's voting patterns (click "View Election Trends"). For example, State X has voted Republican in every election since 1964 type info.

Of particular interest are the yellow states. Whereas much of the punditry and news analysis speaks of (a) the urban-rural divide, (b) the need for Democrats to break the South, presumably through its Vice Presidential nominee, and (c) the importance of battleground states along the Great Lakes, the map points out quite the opposite.

Specifically, if you follow the yellow states from Lousiana up the Mississippi River to where the Ohio River intersects, then follow the Ohio to its origins, you will see where the real Democratic strategy needs to focus. Here are the election trends for the Ohio Valley and Lower Mississippi Valley, the OV-LMV area:
  • Louisiana: Has voted for the winner in every election since 1968 (when it voted for Wallace)--that's 9 straight;
  • Arksanas: Has voted for the winner in every election since 1968 (when it, too, voted for Wallace);
  • Missouri: Has voted for the winner in 11 straight elections;
  • Tennessee: Has voted for the winner in 10 straight elections;
  • Kentucky: Has voted for the winner in 10 straight elections;
  • Ohio: Has voted for the winner in 10 straight elections.

(Note: "since" does not mean inclusive of that year.)

The other OV-LMV states are:
  • Mississippi: which has voted Republican in every election since 1976;
  • Illinois: which appears to have voted for the winner since at least 1980. We know it didn't vote for Mondale, and the site plays up its Democratic tendencies since voting for Bush Sr. in 1988. By my count that's at least 4 straight before Bush Jr.
  • Indiana: which is solidly Republican, having voted Republican in every election since 1964.
  • West Virginia: which voted Democrat for Dukakis and both Clinton terms, before getting on the Bush Jr. bandwagon.

If you look at the Great Lakes states, sure they seem to switch parties, but their votes have not been indicative of the winner in the same way as the OV-LMV states. They will be important, but the issues that play in the OV-LMV will also work on the Lakes.

Pursuing the South as a strategy is fairly ridiculous. Alabama, Mississippi, Viriginia, and the Carolinas are solidly Republican. Georgia and Florida are the only other places swing-ish states, but Florida has voted Republican since 1976, except for Clinton '96, and Georgia was one of three states to vote for Clinton in '92 and switch in '96, plus it voted for Reagan in '84, Bush Sr. in '88, and Bush Jr. in '00. Thus, these Southern swing states are not so swinging, and the others are pretty clearly Republican.

What is the story to tell here? First, the OV-LMV are predominantly rural states, where even the large cities are not huge. New Orleans, Cleveland, Cinci, Nashville, Memphis, Louisville, and St. Louis are about as big as it gets; these are barely top 30 markets (Cleveland 17th; St.Louis 22nd; Nashville 30th). Even Ohio is pretty rural between its larger cities.

Second, they have a fair amount of industrial and manufacturing production yet are losing such jobs, even in right-to-work states like Arksansas, Louisiana, and Tennessee. (I'll try to verify this, but the Bureau of Labor Statistics is not available--conspiracy theorists start your engines.)

[Update: Turns out I can connect to BLS now. I couldn't find unemployment data by sector, but I got monthly data for OV-LMV states for 1/01 and 12/03 (seasonally adjusted). These are the breakdowns:
  • Louisiana: 6.1 - 6.3
  • Arkansas: 4.7 - 6.3
  • Mississippi: 4.8 - 5.6
  • Tennessee: 4.0 - 6.0
  • Missouri: 4.4 - 5.4
  • Kentucky: 4.8 - 6.0
  • Illinois: 4.9 - 6.7
  • Indiana: 3.8 - 5.1
  • Ohio: 3.9 - 6.2

Data are from the BLS. Not surprisingly, every state is doing poorly. The national average for 12/03 was 5.7%. We see that, of the swing states I've identified in the OV-LMV region, all but Missouri were above the national average. IN and MS are part of the region, but not swing states.]

Third, they have large military populations (active duty, reserve, and veterans). (I'll work to verify this, too.)

Fourth, these are disproportionately white states: the national average is 75% white, but Arksansas and Tennessee are 81%, Ohio and Missouri are 86%, and Kentucky is 91%. Louisiana is the exception (68%), but this is largely driven by the fact that New Orleans and Baton Rouge are majority black cities. (Tennessee has the same clustering of blacks in Memphis and Nashville.)

The key for Kerry and the Democrats is to find a way to be more rural in its appeal to voters. That means a fair amount of god, country, and family and children issues. They'll also need some nuance to guns and sportsman issues. Look for a Kerry hunting or fishing trip soon.

Clinton was able to take these states because he could play economic issues in family terms (e.g., FMLA, Hope credit), and he could call on being from a Southern state; Bush focuses on morality/character issues and his regular guy Texas appeal. There is no single right combination that works consistently, the key is simply framing the issues where you are strong to the interests of these voters. Can Kerry make the economy matter in a way that strikes a chord with rural voters, or will Bush be able to define the agenda in terms of patriotism and the war on terror? Will each be able to score points against the other in their strengths (e.g., Kerry a tax-and-spender, Bush as a bad war president)?

I'll post some thoughts on Democratic VP candidates later, with this as the frame for discussion, as well as updates on my assertions about jobs and state demographic composition.