Oct 28

Greg Mankiw: Lost in Theory, Counting Money

Nathan Robinson on Greg MankiwEconomist Gregory Mankiw is very pleased to have been gouged by a scalper, he informs us in a recent New York Times column. Mankiw recently went to see the Broadway musical Hamilton, and paid the going rate for a ticket: $2,500. Yet he was far from dismayed at having paid this extraordinary sum. In fact, he describes those who object to price-gouging as “pernicious.”

That’s because Mankiw adopts the standard economist’s view on exorbitant prices for goods: where the layman sees gouging, the economist sees the sublime operation of the law of supply and demand. As Mankiw says, “terms like ‘scalping’ and ‘price gouging’ are pejoratives used to demonize those who resell tickets at whatever high prices the market will bear.” …

He gives a parallel example. In 2009, Jay Leno decided that what unemployed auto workers needed the most was free tickets to a Jay Leno concert. So he gave them a bunch of tickets, which many of them promptly tried to sell on eBay for $800 each. Leno was horrified. But Mankiw thinks Leno should have been pleased…

The free market reveals what each individual values, and how much they value it. If I keep my Jay Leno ticket, rather than selling it, it is because I value the experience of seeing Jay Leno more than $800. If my coworker sells his ticket, it is because he prefers the money. Everyone gets what they want the most, as the market efficiently satisfies our preferences.

Yet when economists tell this fable, they neglect a single crucial fact: some people are wealthier than other people. The reason Mankiw loves price hikes is that they don’t affect him, because he has so much money that he doesn’t really care what price he pays for a Hamilton ticket. Wealth confers the ability to jump to the front of the line, bypassing those who may want to see the show far more but who have less money to spend on theater tickets…

The situation surely differed depending on the unemployed workers’ personal finances… In each instance, the outcome does not reflect how much the workers want their tickets, but how financially desperate they are. Thus what Mankiw sees as a measure of preference is in fact largely a measure of hardship. Economic outcomes aren’t a product of what people value, but how much money they have to throw around.

—Nathan Robinson
Do Economists Actually Know What Money Is?

Oct 27

Aboriginal Sex Worker Playing Cards

Aboriginal Sex Workers Playing Card: People with HIV are still our mobWhen I was in Mexico, I was forced to take a long walk in heavy humidity in order to have lunch with a group of humans I didn’t know. Not exactly my idea of a good time. On the way back, we stopped at a hotel gift shop. It was air conditioned. (Fun fact: I know only three phrases in Chinese and one of them is for “air conditioning.”) But to my delight, I found a pack of playing cards. This being Mexico, it was not a new pack of cards. And it wasn’t from Mexico. It was the Play Your Cards Right! deck created for aboriginal sex workers in Australia.

According to the package, “This project was developed by South Western Sydney, Western Sydney and Wentworth Area Health Services, Daruk Aboriginal Medical Service and Tharawal Aboriginal Corporation and funded by NSW Health Department.” The link above states that they were developed by “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youths aged 16-25 years.” The face cards feature nice images of the “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.” And most cards have helpful advice like, “Injecting methadone wrecks your veins.” Some might mock this. I think it is a wonderful tool to help improve public health.

Why Aboriginal Sex Workers?

Aboriginal Sex Workers Playing Card: People with HIV are still our mobAt first I wondered why it was focused on Aboriginal sex workers. Then it hit me: because they are poor. That’s not to say that there aren’t other reasons for it. But most people end up in the sex trade because they don’t have better options. And it makes me despair for humanity. Those peoples who were invaded centuries ago still suffer from those acts of war. Socially, we might have grown so that we see that such plundering was wrong. But we refuse to do anything that would set things right. Our focus on property and the myth of meritocracy make us think that it would somehow be wrong to make restitution for our bloody history.

But the world is the way it is. And good people do what they can. I think these playing cards are fantastic. People use playing cards. And so information can be transmitted in a very friendly, unthreatening way. It’s certainly the case that drug addicts and sex workers often depend upon folk wisdom from other drug addicts and sex workers. And often it isn’t the best information. So I think this is just great.

Playing Cards

The cards were originally released in 2005. But as recently as last year, Illawarra Interagency reported, “The popular resource Play Your Cards Right! has had another print run and HARP have plenty to give away.” So people want the cards. I haven’t found any studies or anything about how successful they have been at educating Aboriginal sex workers. But it seems like a good (And cheap!) project.

In 2003, a similar set of cards were put out that focused on drug users. You can see an image of them at My Playing Card Collection. The owner of that site, Virginia Russell, says, “They look to me as though they are an adaption of an originally African design. The face cards don’t look Aboriginal at all.” I trust her. For one thing: I looked at them. For another: she knows a lot about playing cards! It’s nice that Play Your Cards Right! was produced by the Aboriginal community itself.

Oct 27

The Yale Record Doesn’t Endorse Clinton

Yale Record Doesn't Endorse ClintonIn its 144-year history, The Yale Record has never endorsed a Democratic candidate for president. In fact, we have never endorsed any candidate for president. This is, in part, due to our strong commitment to being a tax-exempt 501(c)3 organization, which mandates that we are “absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office.”

This year’s presidential election is highly unusual, but ultimately no different: The Yale Record believes both candidates to be equally un-endorsable, due to our faithful compliance with the tax code.

In particular, we do not endorse Hillary Clinton’s exemplary leadership during her 30 years in the public eye. We do not support her impressive commitment to serving and improving this country — a commitment to which she has dedicated her entire professional career. Because of unambiguous tax law, we do not encourage you to support the most qualified presidential candidate in modern American history, nor do we encourage all citizens to shatter the glass ceiling once and for all by electing Secretary Clinton on November 8.

The Yale Record has no opinion whatsoever on Dr Jill Stein.

—The Editorial Board of The Yale Record
The Yale Record Does Not Endorse Hillary Clinton

Oct 26

Multiplying Even and Odd Numbers

Odd NumbersI hope you will forgive me for writing about math today. Last night, I was lying in bed thinking about the numbers 7 and 11. I had been listening to a podcast with Ezra Klein and Molly Ball. Ball had mentioned that the number of white Christians in the United States had gone from (I think!) 54 percent when Obama came into office and that it was 47 percent now. Klein must have misheard her, because he later referred to it being an 11 percentage point drop. But that was why I was thinking about the two numbers — 7 percentage points is the actual number.

These numbers are interesting in that they are consecutive primes. And being so, they hold a certain fascination for me. But it got me thinking about the number 9. Nine is not a prime, since it reduces to 3×3. And then something occurred to me that I’d never thought about before: two odd numbers multiplied always create an odd number.

I know this is obvious, but since when has that ever stopped me? Why is it that odd numbers multiplied are always odd?

Multiplying Even Numbers

Let’s start with an easier question: why are even numbers multiplied always even? That’s almost definitional. An even number is any whole number divisible by 2. So if you have two even numbers x and y, you know that both x/2 and y/2 must be whole numbers. Thus, for example:


Note that it doesn’t matter if y is even. Thus: an even number times any number will be even.

Multiplying Odd Numbers

Looking at two odd numbers is more interesting. Or I think it is. Let’s stick with our variables above. Now we have two odd numbers: x+1 and y+1. If we multiply them, we get the following:

(x+1)×(y+1) = x×y + x + y + 1

Given that x and y are even, we know that x×y is even. So we have: even plus even plus even plus one. The whole thing doubles back on itself: we defined our odd numbers as evens plus one. And that’s what we get here.

Using Addition

Another way to think about it is via addition. This is the way that ought to come more naturally. Multiplication is, after all, just addition. Four times three is just 3+3+3+3. Sadly, math is usually taught so badly that people don’t think in this way. So people end up thinking that addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division are four different things when they are all just one really simple thing: addition.

Thinking in this way, (x+1)×(y+1) would be the number y+1 added x+1 times. I would show you how this all works with a series, but doing so requires more typesetting ability than I have here. But think about it. If you add an odd number an even number of times, you will get an even number. So when you add that odd number one more time, it makes the even number odd.

The beautiful thing about math is that this is all intuitive. I didn’t have to work out the steps in my mind. It all looks awful on the page. In the mind, it’s comforting. Of course, I did have to get out of bed. I figured if I didn’t write down the idea, I would forget to write this article. Then wouldn’t you all be sorry…

Oct 26

Amanda Glaze on Evolution and the Nature of Science

Amanda GlazeResearch shows that people in the South are 84 percent less likely than their counterparts in other parts of the country to learn about evolution, or to learn about it in a way that is accurate. Similarly, studies such as my quant study in preservice teachers and Laura Rissler’s study of undergrads in Alabama show that religiosity is a strong negative factor that impacts acceptance of evolution.

When looking at other studies in the United States, mostly done in places in the Northeast (Indiana, New York), the levels of acceptance are quite low overall. However, the South boasts a population that is more closely aligned with the literal interpretation of Genesis (including creationism and Young Earth Creationism) that many cite as their reason for rejecting evolution. It also tends to show a higher impact of religious beliefs as a predictor of acceptance or rejection of evolution compared to other locations…

What bothers me is the lack of understanding about what science actually does.

Science doesn’t consider God as a possible answer to any question whatsoever because God is a metaphysical construct and thus not part of the physical world. And science by definition cannot consider anything metaphysical or supernatural as an explanation.

Science is not out there trying to disprove the existence of God — we can’t even consider that.

I really don’t care what people believe as long as they understand the science.

—Amanda Glaze
Teaching Evolution in the South: an Educator on the “War for Science Literacy”

Oct 25

Christopher Marlowe Co-Wrote Henry VI

Christopher MarloweElizabeth brought my attention to this article, Christopher Marlowe Officially Credited as Co-Author of Three Shakespeare Plays. The plays in question are the three parts of Henry VI. And the official source is The New Oxford Shakespeare: Modern Critical Edition. This is interesting, but hardly surprising.

One of the editors The New Oxford Shakespeare is my favorite Shakespeare scholar, Gary Taylor. And Taylor has been trying to take the air out of “the bard” for most of his careers. In his book Reinventing Shakespeare, he spends a chapter mocking the idea that Shakespeare is a singularity — “The greatest writer of all time!” And he implies that Shakespeare may not even deserve being called great. (When pressed on the issue, he generally concedes — probably just because it is a silly question to argue about.)

Artists in Perspective

But this is all welcome after a couple of centuries of bardolatry. And what we see is that even minor plays of Shakespeare get lots of performances, while major works are ignored just because they were written by people like Marlowe, Jonson, Webster, Beaumont & Fletcher, Middleton, and on and on. And what we’ve learned over the past few decades is that Elizabethan theater was very much a muddle.

A good example of both the muddle and the tendency to over-praise individual writers is Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus. There are two versions of it. There is a short version and there is a longer version that contains humorous bits, mostly involving Faustus’ servant. When the shorter version was considered the better one (broadly 19th century), it was assumed that it was the true Marlowe creation. Then, when people noticed that the comic bits added to the overall theme of the play, people decided that it was the true Marlowe creation. As much as I admire Marlowe, I’ve always felt that the short version was his. He never showed much in the way of comedic talent.

And it isn’t just in the theater. Scholars spent roughly two centuries trying to figure out just what part of Mozart’s Requiem Mass was by the master and what part had been polluted by his student Franz Xaver Süssmayr after Mozart’s death. Eventually, they decided that they couldn’t tweeze out the pure Mozart. The piece is what it is. And it is one of the great works of musical art. That’s all that really matters.

The Power of Collaboration

But we rebel against the idea of collaboration. We want to believe in the Great Artist creating Perfection Itself. But art never works like that. Even my beloved Don Quixote could definitely have been improved with a few collaborators — and an editor!

This is what we now know about Elizabethan theater: there was great collaboration. Plays weren’t owned by their writers. They were written for particular theaters that then owned them. So if a play seemed a little slow, another playwright might come in and punch it up. There were other times when plays seem to have been written in tandem: where some scenes were written by one playwright and others by another. What’s more, comedic scenes may have been improvised and later set down on paper.

Now you may be wondering how we can tell that a play was a collaboration. There are many ways this is determined. One of the oldest is to look at the spelling of words. There were no dictionaries so each writer had their own idiosyncratic spellings. The research that led up to this most recent conclusion is based upon the vocabulary used. One of the papers was co-written by a teach of mathematicians. (Hooray math!)

Did Marlowe Soil Shakespeare?!

Anyway, I’m sure there will be lots of people complaining about this. It still amazes me how much people make a fetish out of Shakespeare’s supposed unequaled greatness. I mean: have they not read Hamlet?! Or The Tempest? Really: any of Shakespeare’s plays? The best ones have much of admire. But they also have at least a fair amount to dislike, which is why the best modern productions savagely cut them.

None of this is a slight against Shakespeare. He was a top Elizabethan playwright. But none of them thought they were creating art; they all knew they were making money. And they produced good and even great work. But I don’t think we can say more than that. I don’t think anyone really needs to see Hamlet or Romeo and Juliet yet again. The more we know about the diversity of Elizabethan theater, the more likely we are to see plays that we haven’t seen before. And that’s a good thing.

Oct 25

Obama’s Grand Unified Theory of Trump

President Barack ObamaI understand Joe Heck now wishes he never said those things about Donald Trump. But they’re on tape. They’re on the record. And now that Trump’s poll numbers are cratering, suddenly he says, well, no, I’m not supporting him.

Too late. You don’t get credit for that. I’m being serious here. Hold on a second. I want to make a point here. I know a lot of Republicans. I’ve got Republican friends, I’ve got members of my family who are Republicans, and they don’t think the way Donald Trump does. I understand that. So I’m not generalizing about all Republicans. But here’s the thing: for years, Republican politicians and the far-right media outlets have pumped up all kinds of crazy stuff about me, about Hillary, about Harry. They said I wasn’t born here. They said climate change is a hoax. They said that I was going to take everybody’s guns away. They said that, when we were doing military exercises that we’ve been doing — forever — suddenly this was a plot to impose martial law. This is what they’ve been saying for years now. So people have been hearing it, and they start thinking, well, maybe this is true.

And so if the world that they’ve been seeing is that I’m powerful enough to cause hurricanes on my own, and to steal everybody’s guns in the middle of the night, and impose martial law, even though I can’t talk without a prompter — then is it any wonder that they end up nominating somebody like Donald Trump?

And the fact is, is that there are a lot of politicians who knew better. There are a lot of senators who knew better. But they went along with these stories because they figured, you know what, this will help rile up the base, it will give us an excuse to obstruct what we’re trying to do, we won’t be able to appoint judges, we’ll gum up the works, we’ll create gridlock, it will give us a political advantage.

So they just stood by and said nothing. And their base began to actually believe this crazy stuff. So Donald Trump did not start this. Donald Trump didn’t start it. He just did what he always did, which is slap his name on it, take credit for it, and promote it. That’s what he does.

—President Barack Obama
Remarks by the President at Rally for HFA and Senate Candidate Catherine Cortez Masto

H/T: Brian Beutler

Oct 24

Unfaithfully Yours Summary and Review

Unfaithfully YoursI’ve been a fan of Preston Sturges for at least a couple of decades. But that is based on his first eight films. I haven’t seen anything after Hail the Conquering Hero. At least in the old days, it was hard to find the later films because they weren’t successes. So I didn’t go out of my way to find them, even though I owned all of first eight films. But recently in a comment exchange with James, he recommended that I watch Sturges’s 1948 film Unfaithfully Yours.

Thankfully, The Criterion Collection released Unfaithfully Yours on DVD in 2005. And as usual, they did a great job. It includes an introduction with Terry Jones; a group commentary with scholars (always the best for this kind of stuff) James Harvey, Diane Jacobs, and Brian Henderson; an interview with Preston Sturges’ last (fourth) wife; and some other miscellaneous stuff. I haven’t had a chance to check it out in detail.

Plot Summary

The film stars Rex Harrison (looking rather like Preston Stuges himself) and Linda Darnell as his wife. And it is about jealousy. Really: almost nothing actually happens in the film. It is mostly just Harrison getting more and more freaked out by his imagination. He starts as a man totally in love and trusting of his wife. But a seed is accidentally planted and it works on him as well as Iago did on Othello. But things turn out better for Harrison and Darnell.

I can see why Unfaithfully Yours didn’t play at the time. It has an unusual structure. The first half hour is spent with Harrison avoiding looking at the incriminating evidence against his wife that has been created. The next 45 minutes are spent at a concert where Harrison is conducting. Over the course of three numbers, he imagines confronting his wife and her suspected lover. In the first, he murders her and frames the lover. In the second, he’s very understanding — sending her away with a large check. And in the third, he plays Russian roulette with the lover.

The rest of the film shows him trying to realize each of his fantasies. This go hilariously wrong. That’s especially true of his perfect murder plot, which is 15 minutes of slapstick zaniness. Everything works out, of course. Harrison and Darnell end the film just as in love as they started. And hopefully, Harrison is a better man for it. But you have to wonder, given that he is a Preston Sturges character.

Why Unfaithfully Yours Is Better Today

Another reason people probably didn’t like it at the time is that the tone of Unfaithfully Yours is inconsistent. It’s funny throughout. But the fantasy scenes are funny in a different, darker, way. And I suspect that this left a lot of people cold. It also didn’t set them up for the final act that is a comedic tour de force.

But it is exactly the unusual structure and tonal shifts that make the film work so well for a modern viewer — especially one who is familiar with Sturges’ other work. It’s probably good to think about modern superhero films. They are all the same and they all do well at the theaters. If someone created a superhero film that broke with convention, it probably wouldn’t do well. But it would be one of the few films anyone could stomach in 70 years.

I highly recommend the film if you are the kind of person who isn’t wedded to the new releases. Now I think I’ll go watch it again.

Oct 24

Silicon Valley Incompetence Is Easy to Find

Peter Thiel - Silicon Valley Incompetence[Peter] Thiel did touch on the private sector, touting his native Silicon Valley as an example of a properly functioning community:

“Where I work in Silicon Valley, it’s hard to see where America has gone wrong…

“We don’t accept… incompetence in Silicon Valley, and we must not accept it from our government.”

Of course, even the briefest survey of Silicon Valley reveals a culture that is rife with incompetence, where the basic rules you’d follow running a lemonade stand — taking in more than you spend, for example, or adhering to basic quality standards — are discarded in favor of explosive growth and runaway valuations…

Thiel neglected to mention that Silicon Valley is also in the midst of a serious slowdown, where the bubble inflated by venture capital firms like his own Founders Fund — not Wall Street — shows sign of popping, or at least deflating.

—Sam Biddle
Peter Thiel: I Miss the Days of Strong, Daring Federal Spending

Oct 23

We Need Gun Law Reform — But Not Just Any

Hand Gun Law ReformSharon Lafraniere and Emily Palmer at The New York Times wrote an important article last week, What 130 of the Worst Shootings Say About Guns in America. The newspaper “examined all 130 shootings last year in which four or more people were shot, at least one fatally, and investigators identified at least one attacker.” And what they found highlighted something I’ve argued for years: we need real gun law reform; the problem can’t be addressed by nibbling around the edges.

Let’s start with this finding: “In more than half the 130 cases, at least one assailant was already barred by federal law from having a weapon.” This is devastating. But it is hardly surprising. There are roughly as many guns in the United States as there are people.

Getting Guns Is Easy

There are too many guns in the United States. Handguns are the most dangerous guns. Let’s close the gun show loophole, by all means. But let’s not kid the nation (Or ourselves!) that it will have a large impact.

Guns are everywhere. I live in the suburbs, and if I really needed a gun, there are a large number of people I could get one from. And I don’t make it a point of hanging out with gun freaks. But a lot of people have been convinced that they are safer to have a gun than to not. So they are just around. I’m not saying these people would sell me a gun. But if I told them I was in danger, they’d probably loan me one. And if not that, I could just steal one.

So in order to address gun violence, you have to look at the guns that are already here. Stopping more of them from flooding into our society is important. But even if you completely banned the manufacture of guns, it would not be nearly enough to successfully address the problem.

Maybe I’m just too cynical, old, and tired, but I can’t imagine us doing anything about our huge stockpile of guns. As it is, every widely publicized mass shooting only makes gun purchases go up. And every time a Democrat is elected president, gun purchases go up. There seems to be little that doesn’t cause gun sales to go up. So the idea of reducing the number of guns we have seems out of the question.

But if we are going to seriously discuss gun law reform, we need to start talking about this.

Handguns Are the Big Problem

Then there is the issue of gun types. Today, everyone focuses on assault rifles. But when I was younger, we discussed handguns. There was a reason for that. As the article says: “Only 14 shootings involved assault rifles, illustrating their outsize role in the gun debate. Nearly every other assailant used a handgun.” That’s not to say that assault rifles and high capacity magazines aren’t a problem. But the much bigger problem is handguns.

I think the reason we’ve backed off on handguns is that they seem more respectable to the middle class. If you are going to have a gun for self-protection, it is almost certainly going to be a handgun. A shotgun is almost certainly a better choice, but people think what they think.

On the other side, assault rifles look like they were designed for war. That’s because they were! And so it is easier to convince the middle class that there is no reason to have them around.

Real Gun Law Reform

These days, it seems that what we talk about regarding gun law reform is all about what is easy (or at least possible) to do. But that’s a mistake. For one thing, it isn’t a good negotiating strategy. Liberals have proposed that we do the bare minimum on gun control and the conservatives have offered nothing. But if we had spent the last decade talking about something more meaningful than closing the gun show loophole, we might be able to have moved the playing field in our direction.

But what I fear even more is that we do get a smaller limit on magazines and we do close the gun show loophole and it doesn’t make enough of a difference to show a decrease in gun violence. Then what? We have to make the argument that we always knew that these measures would have little effect on the problem. And that more must be done.

That’s why we need to be honest today. There are too many guns in the United States. Handguns are the most dangerous guns. Let’s close the gun show loophole, by all means. But let’s not kid the nation (Or ourselves!) that it will have a large impact.

As for me, I will go on making the argument that I always do. The American fetishization of guns is indicative of how cowardly we are. We think we need massive firepower to deal with anything. But anyone can pick up a machine gun and kill anyone they feel threatened by. It takes courage and self-assurance to go out into the world and manage difficult situations with finesse and intelligence.

Oct 23

David Horowitz: Free Speech Defender — And Denier

David Horowitz Racist AdOne of Fox News Channel’s favorite recent stories involved a newspaper ad that claimed African-Americans benefited from slavery, and owed America for the favor. The ad’s author, conservative activist David Horowitz, claimed to be a victim of censorship and “political correctness” because a number of college newspapers refused to publish his ad, which argued against the idea of slavery reparations. Fox saw this as a major issue: Horowitz and his ad were mentioned at least 21 times on the network between March 6 and April 3 [in 2001].

On Fox News Sunday, the network’s Sunday-morning equivalent of Meet the Press, interviews with Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham and Senator Joseph Lieberman were incongruously followed by a segment featuring a largely unknown reparations activist and David Horowitz, in a Crossfire-style debate about Horowitz’s rejected ad.

On Special Report with Brit Hume, the Horowitz ad became the subject of at least nine “Grapevine” items in less than a month. The ad was also the subject of Hume’s lead question to conservative columnist John Leo when he appeared for a one-on-one interview…

On Hannity & Colmes, the issue was: “Has David Horowitz’s freedom of speech become a victim of political correctness?” On The O’Reilly Factor, it was Horowitz and host Bill O’Reilly interrogating a reparations activist from Mobile, Alabama. (“That’s my tax money!” O’Reilly exclaimed.) The Edge with Paula Zahn brought Horowitz on three times within a month to discuss the same subject.

But there was one twist to the Horowitz story that Fox couldn’t be bothered to report. When Horowitz’s ad was offered to The Daily Princetonian in April, the paper ran it — along with an editorial describing its ideas as racist and promising to donate the ad’s proceeds to the local chapter of the Urban League. Horowitz, the free-speech crusader, refused to pay his bill unless the paper’s editors publicly apologized for their hurtful words: “Its slanders contribute to the atmosphere of intolerance and hate towards conservatives,” a statement from his office read.

Suddenly Fox lost interest in the Horowitz case. After a month of running twice-weekly updates about college papers that were refusing the ad, Special Report with Brit Hume ignored the Princeton episode. None of the network’s major shows transcribed in the Nexis database reported Horowitz’s tiff with the paper. No editor from The Princetonian was invited on The O’Reilly Factor to debate whether or not Horowitz was being a hypocrite. When their favorite free-speech martyr suddenly looked like a censor, it was a story Fox just didn’t want to pursue.

—Seth Ackerman
The Most Biased Name in News

Oct 22

Blogging, Andrew Sullivan, and Vicissitudes of Acclaim

Andrew SullivanI haven’t done that many live blogs. And to be honest, I always feel bad doing them. They don’t strike me as very useful. I like what I do in the hours leading up to the debates. Then I have time to post related things. That is probably useful to people who are excited about the debate and who find me vaguely interesting. But once the debate is on, there is so little time. It’s hard to write more than a sentence before the topic moves on. But I felt a lot better after reading, Andrew Sullivan Liveblogs the Final Presidential Debate.

For a contrast, you can check out my own, Live Blog: Third Presidential Debate 2016. What you will see if you take the time (I don’t recommend it!) is that Andrew Sullivan wrote a good deal less than I did and didn’t make a single point that I didn’t. Don’t get me wrong: this doesn’t mean I’m a good live blogger. It means that Sullivan sucks at it. But this shouldn’t come as a surprise.

Why Does Anyone Care About Andrew Sullivan?

The truth is that I’ve never much understood why people thought Andrew Sullivan was a big deal. He’s never been very insightful. In fact, he is the very definition of what Digby calls a Villager. For those who don’t know, The Village:

It’s shorthand for the permanent DC ruling class who have managed to convince themselves that they are simple, puritanical, bourgeois burghers and farmers, even though they are actually celebrity millionaires influencing the most powerful government on earth.

And I think that explains Sullivan’s popularity. In the early days of blogs when people called them vanity websites, you found a lot of people like, well, me: idiosyncratic and ranty. But where could establishment types go when they wanted to tune into this trendy new thing called a weblog? Well, there was Andrew Sullivan: the walking, talking embodiment of Very Serious Thinking.

You know, Andrew Sullivan gets a lot of negative attention because of what he wrote shortly after 9/11:

The middle part of the country — the great red zone that voted for Bush — is clearly ready for war. The decadent left in its enclaves on the coasts is not dead — and may well mount a fifth column.

He gets the attention because of what he says about the coasts. And rightly so. But notice who easily he speaks for “the great red zone” in the middle of the country. This is a place that Sullivan knew precious little about. But that’s what makes him a Villager: he tells the power elite that what they want to hear is what the average Joe is for.

Andrew Sullivan Used to Be Good at Something

The one thing that Andrew Sullivan was ever really good at was provocation. He was the James O’Keefe of his day. And the things he’s know for — publicizing The Bell Curve and Betsy McCaughey’s attacks on Clinton healthcare reform — were mostly wrong and extremely damaging. But being right or helpful or good doesn’t matter in our economic system. He sold a lot of magazines.

So it is no surprise that he would watch the presidential debate and have less insight than I do. He never has had insight into anything.


I found it interesting that Sullivan’s live blog at New York Magazine used no live blogging software. Instead, at the top of the article it said, “Please refresh to update.” That really is pathetic.

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