Homo homini rodentius est

NYT to Google: “That was AMAZING, give me a cigarette!”

Was it good for you, Baby?

Something is officially fishy at The New York Times. It’s been obvious for awhile that the editorial oversight of the Technology section of the online paper was not subject to the same rigorous standards as the more traditional news sections (one need only track the baffling ascendancy of the gossipy Saul Hansell for evidence), and I’ve commented here on some of the more egregious [recent] [examples] of apparently favorable treatment that Google has received from one of the Times’ tech writers. But this weekend, something happened that was categorically different. On Friday, they published a column by Randall Stross entitled, “Why the Google-Yahoo Ad Deal Is Nothing to Fear,” that presents many of the anti-anti-trust arguments that Google has been making in favor of the pending Google-Yahoo ad merger that is now under review by both the Department of Justice and the European Commission. The article is significantly deceptive. The author regurgitates Google PR boilerplate about how the deal will not risk price-fixing by Google, though they will basically control somewhere between 70 and 90 percent of search advertising, because Google’s system is auction-based and (in theory) advertisers set the prices. Stross then compromises his own argument by acknowledging that prices may be higher than in the current environment with Yahoo acting as a competitor to Google but so what? — the quality of ad delivery from Google’s system is worth the increment. Stross works very hard to pitch the concerns about Google’s growing monopoly position as mere corporate warfare on the part of Microsoft — and quotes David Kenny, of the ad holding company Publicis, on the beneficial effects the deal could have for Yahoo and the advertising environment. What Stross neglects to mention is that Publicis is a business partner of Google and stands to benefit, through [preferential pricing], from the deal. Additionally, what the New York Times neglects to inform its readers is that Randall Stross — identified in his byline as “an author based in Silicon Valley and a professor of business at San Jose State University” is the author of a book about Google to be released this month that, according to [advance press], “[is] Based on unprecedented access he received to the highly secretive ‘Googleplex,'”. Sounds cozy, no?

Access is the key, more on that in a moment…

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Just Who Has to Change in This Election?

8 is Enough
Clever visual pun seen in Greenwich Village: Obama + “Eight is Enough” (get it?)

In my [last post] I hinted at the Factor that Dare Not Speak its Name in the Obama/McCain race — namely, race. At the time, Obama had just come out of his convention with a modest bump that McCain quickly countered following his selection of Sarah Palin. Since then, Democratic partisans have started to acknowledge the possibility of what must have seemed to them utterly impossible: Obama could lose. A [blog post] on The Huffington Post by Adam McKay entitled, “We’re Gonna Frickin’ Lose This Thing” has generated close to 3000 comments. But McKay blames the press for not holding the Republican’s feet to the fire. The same press that, just a few months ago, was criticized for being too friendly to Obama. McKay’s rant against the press is unsophisticated and knee-jerk. Their bias is a bit more self-interested: they simply want to be in front of the wave. When the Iraq war was popular, they turned a blind eye to its trumped-up rationale. They only became critical of Bush and his war after his popularity was plummeting.

When Obama (or any Democrat for that matter) looked to be a shoo-in, the coverage was clearly soft on Obama and critical of the Republicans. But, with the race tight, their blatant support has softened… allegiances are shifting. [New polls] like the one published this week in the Washington Post showing that McCain enjoys an advantage with likely voters largely on the strength of a large lead among whites is bad news for Obama in any number of ways. It suggests that he has lost the working-class white vote to McCain, as he did to Hillary. And this morning on the Sunday news talk shows, pundits were talking about the fact that 30% of “undecided” voters were saying they might not vote for Obama because they “didn’t know enough about him”. That sounds better than saying they won’t vote for him because he’s black.

The Obama campaign has to address the issue of racism directly, though I can’t imagine how they do it without further alienating the people who are already disinclined to vote for him. Perhaps a major address by Obama, akin to Kennedy’s 1960 speech about his religion, that reassures whites by acknowledging racial fears while allaying them. A challenge to Americans to change their perceptions, as well as their politics.

Politics as (un)usual

Savior, or sacrificial lamb?

How wonderful it was to see a black man nominated to run for president as the standard bearer of a major American party. The Democratic convention was a clockwork of civility and unity, as well it had to be given the daunting challenge they face going into the fall. I felt while listening to Obama’s acceptance speech that it was robbed of the moment by the prosaic requirements placed upon it. Held down to earth by pedestrian needs to “introduce” the candidate to the national audience and “show strength” by attacking McCain, what might have been (should have been) a speech for the ages was played somewhat safe. Perhaps only those with nothing to lose (like Ted Kennedy in 1980) can afford to let their rhetoric fly. And Obama, the receptacle of liberal dreams of redemption, risks losing a lot.

I’ve been struck by the parallels between the Obama candidacy and that of Jimmy Carter in 1976. Then, as now, Democrats were poised to benefit by years of Republican corruption and public anger. They selected a little-known governor of a small state who seemed to embody moral redemption. But, unlike then, Obama is not showing the same kind of strength with the general electorate that Carter showed. His 8 point “bump” coming out of a successful convention is only half of what Carter [enjoyed] at the same point in his run and less than a third of the gain that Bill Clinton experienced in the year he ran against Bush Sr. Is it really plausible that after 20 months of campaigning the American people still do not, as the pundits claim, “know” Barack Obama? Of course not. So what explains his weakness relative to McCain in a year when Democrats should be sleepwalking into the White House? Three guesses — and the first two don’t count.

Looks like Sarah has landed her biggest catch, yet.

If Obama is presenting his candidacy as “Not Your Father’s Democrat”, John McCain seems to be positioning his as “Change Your Father Can Live With.” Hence, his surprising selection of obscure Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate. The CP [Clueless Punditocracy] are, once again, flummoxed by the choice — as they were by McCain’s rebound last year, Hillary’s collapse and Obama’s ascent — missing, as apparently McCain’s pollsters have not, that this election is more about change than experience. But Republicans are guessing that Americans, basically conservative, would prefer incremental change rather than a more radical leftward shift. They are also taking a page from history, betting that a less-than-perfect VP will not diminish the ticket (think Dan Quayle). Although she may well implode over the next few weeks, Palin could well read as a breath of bracing air out of the Wild West — a latter day Andrew Jackson in high heels — riding into Washington while flying the banner of traditional values, and [early indications] say that her choice has finally given the conservative base something to cheer about.

Despite the conventional wisdom that this election is the Democrats’ to lose, I still think they will do just that. Even leaving aside the issue of entrenched racism, Americans tend to like Republican presidents and Democratic congresses and it has occurred to me watching the tightening of the race that the electorate is simultaneously looking for reasons not to vote for Obama as they hunt for reasons not to reject McCain. Watch the polls in the two weeks after the Republican convention. If Obama’s lead again falls within a few percentage points of McCain’s — or falls below — it will be a good early indication of a Republican victory. But even an Obama loss might be seen as a victory for a country that only about 40 years ago was setting dogs on black protesters. Change comes slowly, but it comes eventually.

UPDATE 9/4: I thought it might take a couple of weeks, but according to a new [CBS News Poll] Obama’s modest bump from the Democratic Convention has already evaporated.

Brideshead Regurgitated

Brideshead Revisited
Catholicism on the Cheap Charles (Matthew Goode), Sebastian (Ben Whishaw) and Julia (Hayley Atwell), surrounded by similarly gaudy decoration

We’ve been spoiled. For years, Merchant Ivory and Granada produced lush period productions of classic English novels that were feasts for the eyes and the intellect and that forever set a standard — and expectations — for the kind of historical drama that we could expect from British cinema. What an unpleasant surprise then to witness the remake of Brideshead Revisited that is currently in release. We can never again assume artfulness on the part of British filmmakers — even when it comes to handling their national treasures. The new film, cobbled together by screenwriters Jeremy Brock and Andrew Davies and directed by Julian Jarrold, turns the passionate story of Charles Ryder’s religious redemption into a period potboiler about a love triangle gone wrong.

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Presidential Body Mass Index: McCain Wins!

Presidential Body Mass Index (PBMI)
[Click to view] McCain and Obama compared to presidents by Body Mass Index

A few days ago the Wall Street Journal caused a little ripple in the Force by publishing a tongue-in-cheek (maybe) piece entitled, “Too Fit to Be President?” by somebody named Amy Chozick. The story explored the idea that, in a nation of fatties, Obama could be rejected because he’s too thin and an elephantine electorate would not be able to bear four years of being shown up every time his svelte image appeared (fully concealed) behind the presidential podium. Dutifully, the piece was picked up by FoxNews. I kinda’ liked the WSJ piece because, well, I wrote it. Back in October, when I posted a [nearly identical] piece expanding brilliantly on the dim prospects of an Al Gore run due to his uncomfortable resemblance to a small natural satellite. The WSJ even included a cute graph in their piece comparing the presidents by height and weight, but graciously avoided using a body mass index (hey, they’re not thieves, okay?) I was going to send a snarky email to the writer, but she’s already being [raked over the coals] so I guess I’ll let it go.

But getting back to the Presidential Body Mass Index (PBMI) — just what does it have to say about the prospects of the current candidates? Well, the first thing it shows us is that some of the presumptions about the candidates are dead on: John McCain really is a clone of George W. Bush (when it comes to body mass, anyway) — his BMI of 25.8 matches exactly that of the current occupant of the White House. Mere coincidence? Sorry, Bub, this is science. And, guess what? Obama really is the new John Kennedy — his BMI of 22.8 almost exactly matches that of JFK (22.6)! Camelot redux!

However, lest any Obama supporters out there start cracking open their Vitamin Water bottles in premature celebration, there are a few things to keep in mind: 1) McCain’s BMI falls exactly on the mean — he is far more representative of what the country seeks in a president and 2) John Kennedy was an anomaly — a PBMI outlier who only got to be president because his father stole the 1960 election by stuffing the pockets of Chicago ward bosses. As I argued so convincingly in the Al Gore analysis, Americans tend to like slightly portly “successful looking” men to be president. Bean poles may win their party’s nomination — but rarely take the big prize. If Obama truly wants to be the next president, he might take a page from his fellow countrymen and start sucking down the burgers and milkshakes.

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