Sunday, July 20, 2008

plus ca change . . .

I couldn't sleep last night and came across the following map of the 1896 election results, with the Republican (McKinley) in blue and the Democrat (William Jennings Bryan) in red:

Now switch the parties and ignore the handful of territories that hadn't become states then.

For ten points, what does it remind you of?

Thursday, July 10, 2008

what will happen with iran?

Iran's missile tests provoked a bit of laughter this week when two of the smoke clouds looked a little too similar, provoking suspicions that the photo had been doctored, perhaps to cover up an errant launch. There's nothing particularly funny about Iran's blustering, though, or about the increasingly open Israeli (and American) threats to do something about it. Can a war be averted?

I'd like to think so, but I'm dubious. Israelis in particular are not given to idle threats, and the country's recent posturing--including an exercise in which planes flew roughly the same distance as Iran and made sure everyone knew it--has hardly been subtle. An American attack would theoretically require some kind of political consensus, but an Israeli rather less so, and the Iranians seem determined to provide an excuse even where none exists.

One interesting question is the thinking of the Presidential candidates on the subject. McCain is typically thought the more likely to be supportive of military action. But Obama said yesterday that the U.S. should pursue more "aggressive" diplomacy in the area. Aggressive diplomacy is an interesting concept: but what do you do if it fails?

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

mccain keeps searching

I blogged recently about the McCain campaign and its search for a coherent message.

Recent events are not especially encouraging. The turn to Steve Schmidt and other disciples of Karl Rove suggests, well, a more Rovian campaign and less of a "reform" focus of the type I and others like me would prefer to see. This is apparently one reason that Mike Murphy, the brains behind much of McCain's 2000 appeal, did not sign on as a full-time participant, although he will apparently continue to play an advisory role.

McCain looks more relaxed at recent events, and Schmidt will undoubtedly bring a higher degree of discipline to the campaign. Obama's tilt to the center also provides an opening for McCain to attack him for inconsistency, although he himself is subject to similar attacks. But the McCain campaign remains weirdly disconnected, as if shopping around for a theme rather than a way to convey it: not an especially good place for a campaign, let alone a Presidency, four months before the election.

Monday, July 07, 2008

why is tennis so boring?

Owing to a long rain delay, I saw the fifth set of the Wimbledon final between Roger Federer and Manuel Nadal, which I otherwise would likely have missed. It was a classic match, won by Nadal after six hours of struggle, and thereby ending Federer's seemingly endless streak of grass court triumphs. To those of a certain age, it called to mind John McEnroe's finally besting Bjorn Borg, at the same tournament, after years of frustration.

A great match, but it still reminded me of why I almost never watch tennis on TV. It's not easy to explain why I find tennis on TV so boring, but here are a few for starters:

1. It's largely unidimensional. Essentially the two players hit the ball until one of them hits it into the net. It's something like baseball if the only two players were the pitcher and the hitter and the only two outcomes a walk or strikeout.

2. It's almost impossible to break serve, at least in men's tennis. I didn't keep count, but there probably weren't more than 10 or 12 service breaks in a six-hour match yesterday, maybe less. To follow the baseball analogy, it's as if four out of every five batters struck out and only every fifth one or so made any contact.

3. It's too long. Nobody can watch six hours of tennis unless they have no job, no children, and probably no spouse who isn't also a tennis nut. The torture is particularly exquisite, because (unlike basketball) the match can easily turn on a point in the third set which can take place several hours before the thing finishes. This is also true of soccer, which I don't find boring at all, but the latter has 22 players and can't last more than two hours.

4. Why is it that the fans have to be quiet but the players are allowed to grunt at high volume on every point?

The flaw in all this, of course, is that it's precisely these elements--the long hours, the relentless mano a mano focus, the absolute silence of the crowds--that makes it so riveting. Indeed, the most significant innovation of the last few decades, the introduction of the tiebraker system, has likely reduced, rather than increased, the drama. Perhaps this is the nature of life, summarized in the ubiquitous T-shirt: "no pain, no gain." Perhaps Nadal will wear this at the next match.