Eric ChavezOk, so I’m going to say upfront that I like Nate Silver.  I read Five Thirty Eight.  I definitely would have read Burrito Bracket had I been aware of it.  He seems like a cool guy.  For those of you who were not interested in the future of the country back in October, Nate Silver is the stat-head who launched the poll aggregating website Five Thirty Eight.  Given the infantile way most website and media outlets measured polls (yes, RealClearPolitics, that means you), Five Thirty Eight was a breath of fresh air.  Silver did a solid job analyzing polls and conveying to non-math oriented people (ie just about everyone) what a poll’s data actually means.  So what’s the problem?  Everybody. Loves. Him.  They can’t stop raving about him, like he’s the ayatollah of poll aggregation.

He built an interesting website, give the man his credit.  This has gone way too far, though.  Much like Jack Donaghy, I think it’s hard to call the man a genius based on this work (Burrito Bracket, however, is another matter altogether).  But that’s exactly what’s going on.  Everybody treats his website like it’s gospel, or the latest dailysalad post, as though he can do no wrong.  Really, he’s the Bill Simmons of electoral projections.  Yeah, he’s still cool, but the hype is just too much.  And it’s just getting worse.  The other day, he projected the Minnesota recount down to the individual vote (Franken by 27).  Recently he signed a lucrative two book deal.  He was named one of the sexiest men of the year.  Just last week Rachel Maddow claimed that Silver was the best prognosticator ever, that he exactly nailed the election results, and that everyone in America should buy him a beer (all 300 million of us).  But really?  This should be a pretty easy claim to verify.

Actual Results:

2008 Election Results

Nate Silver’s Projections:

Nate Silver's Projection

So that’s pretty close, right?  I guess Ms. Maddow and I have a different definition of what “exact” means, though.  While I would wholeheartedly endorse ignoring Indiana and Omaha out of general principle (let’s face it, the world would be much better off), the fact is that Silver did not get those electoral votes right.

So what is The Terrible Secret of Nate SilverRead the rest of this entry »

A fair tax?

January 11, 2008

Politics and economics are not my usual purview,  I generally leave them to experts such as our own political commentator, L.P. Mandrake.  However, since logic and the preservation of the liberal society generally fall under my blogging aegis, I had to comment on the recent brouhaha over Mike Huckabee’s “fair-tax” plan, which has been agitating the economics-blogging community.  While there had been piecemeal criticism and praise of this sales-tax plan thus far, when noted econo-contrarian Steven Landsburg wrote a fawning piece about it for Slate yesterday, things began to get a bit ugly. Without giving a full catalog of the back and forth blogging over the article, I refer you to this excellent summary of arguments against the Huckabee plan by Jonathan Chait.

You might ask why I bring this up in the first place. If you bother to read Yesterday’s Salad, you’re probably no stranger to blogging, and since L.P. Mandrake has been on hiatus, you’re even less likely to turn to us for analysis of emergent political issues.  However, there seems to be a logical issue with the plan that no one has mentioned yet, so here’s my brief attempt to suss it out (in non-syllogism form):

In brief, the Huckabee plan replaces the income tax with a nation-wide sales tax. To please the supply-siders, this encourages savings and particularly investment, because by not *spending* your money, it isn’t taxed (equivalent to an unlimited IRA).  To please the personal-responsibility proselytizers out there (that is to say, the folks who believe that economic misfortune comes only at the hands of irresponsibility and consuming beyond one’s means), the system actually penalizes consumption with taxes.  The TNR article linked above does a great job of dismantling the plan, giving solid reasons for why it is likely to cause more economic inequality, rather than less. However, from the two aforementioned perspectives (and countless others in the Conservative ideological rainbow) an increase in economic inequality isn’t the sort of thing that keeps you up at night, so the arguments will remain unconvincing, no matter how sound they may be.

So, here’s an argument that should appeal both to those seeking both a stronger economy and a more equal one: If we dramatically increase the sales tax, we would essentially be siphoning funds out of the economy.  One of the few upsides to the suffering dollar is that Europeans are visiting the U.S. in record numbers, and they are buying tremendous amounts of consumer goods. Apart from dramatically increasing the amount of German heard on Michigan Avenue, this provides a boost to our economy, essentially increasing the pie (or pot, depending on your preferred metaphor) from which we draw our unequal shares.  If their purchases were slapped with a dramatic sales tax (and to replace the income tax, it would have to be downright epic), visiting America and buying American would lose its appeal, even if the dollar remained weak.

Furthermore, a significant sales tax would also encourage wealthier Americans to spend outside of the country.  Save for some sort of extremely invasive customs process, this would both hurt our overall economy (by removing money from the system) and increase the amount of inequality in it (as traveling would allow the rich to sidestep the tax altogether).

2008 Watch: The Return?

October 28, 2007

Mr. TWhere have I been? Astute readers will note I was last seen here challenging the internuts to duels. It’s not everyday that I get the chance to brandish my cherished flintlocks, so naturally I entered into honorable combat with a certain gusto. What I had not counted on was that the LAPD would choose to uphold the law–also with a certain gusto (and with significantly more modern weaponry). I was detained by the authorities, but I promptly escaped from a maximum security stockade to the Los Angeles underground. Today, still wanted by the government, I survive as a blogger of fortune. If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find me… no wait, that doesn’t sound right.

Regardless, I was on the run from the law and had to maintain radio silence at all times. My benefactor and semi-professional linguist Dash Hammarskjold recently managed to track me down. In exchange for my eternal servitude, he agreed to smuggle me out of California and into a third world country with poor extradition laws. That’s right: Dash (or Herr Hammarskjold as he insists on being called) sent me to Iowa to resume my duties as lead political correspondent for YSMedia and our sister blogs worldwide.

The fact is that whoever wins Iowa will probably be the next president. All of the campaigns have invested so many resources here that to lose will be a huge sign of weakness. Needless to say, there is a lot riding on these January caucuses, especially if you are under the (mistaken) impression that the president actually runs our government. So, here now, is what’s really going on in Iowa which the news media may is ignoring. To be honest, I have no idea what they’re reporting. Per company edict, Dash had forbidden the viewing of any TV network not owned by GlobalSlaladTech Inc. As you may have noticed, however, our TV division pretty much sucks. There, I said it. Actual content after the break.

Read the rest of this entry »

Pro Mandrakine

October 18, 2007

In the Ciceronian tradition, of Speaking of things, which are not in fact patently true and are not of the sort that the speaker’s audience would indeed find enjoyable , nor in fact relevant, I will begin. Having grown up in the lesser schools of mind and the rhetoric, I dare not make any sort of introduction for myself, lest I bring discredit to myself and to this publication, by mentioning such sordid names, however, I must begin with a salutation to the celebrated L. P. Mandrake, to whom I find that I admire as much as Cato the Elder admired Cato the Younger. In the company of such eloquence, what can one do? Prose fails, poetry is found wanting, the panegyric withers, the epillion is as dust, even the structured epistle is of no use. I am indeed indebted to such a Nameless personality, who even went so far as to express private reflections here upon this medium, in the form of a letter, meshing the boundaries of the private and the personal in a very classical mode, yet in so much as he did so, I can detect the slightest hint of an artless editor, a veritable stam who has rearranged the epistle of a master to fit his own dire and surely not quite nefarious purposes. Perhaps he passes this off with claims to be merely writing an introduction or indeed some sort of commentary. Is this blog home of such dim witted readers, of the sort who have some need for introduction to the works of Mr. Mandrake? Has it indeed come to this point, that so great a man as he does not deserve a post all too himself? In the great antiquity of YS, such was not the case. We are less hardy, less virile readers, the sort who need to be spoonfed some etymology, so that we may read Mr. Mandrake. Truly it is a shameful day and the bloody sky looks down on a twisted, turpiditudinous race. I ask, Would one deface Homer in such a manner? Hemingway? The Jersualem Talmud? Truly what is lacking here is justice, justice for which brave men die and not cowardly men fight. Indeed, in my first frail steps into those arts which I here but poorly sputter out, I know that perhaps, with my noble mind, exercised in virtue and adjudicated manner of decision, with which I grew to manhood, escaping the vices so common to youth, and which now are demanding that I speak here in respect to one true and noble Affair, namely that if Daily Salad had published a post with which he took liberties, it would be to his advantage now to republish it in a more complimentary manner. For the state cannot sustain such injustices, I fear what is worst and ever more darkly will the fates spin their webs, if such iniquity is not righted.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following text was sent to me by L.P. Mandrake. Although I will say a few words of my own, I have decided to give him credit for the entire post as he is a) one of the finest humourists of our time and I hope to carpetbag on his success; b) trapped in a pre-modern economy and well in need of the bushel of wheat that all YS contributers receive for their efforts; and c) I hope the outpouring of support this column no doubt engenders will convince Mr. Mandrake to return to the fold sooner (re:now) rather than later (upon the ascension of George P. Bush to the presidency).

With the first of these letters, Mandrake has shown himself to be a first class epistolarian (A letter-writer; although it is unclear whether or not the adjectival meaning “Addicted to or occupied in letter-writing” applies), or epistoler, or epsitler, or epistolist (rare); all are recognized forms. Actually, “epistle” is probably one of the more productive roots in the English language (surely a gross exaggeration), as almost everything has been added to it. One can epistolize, although one would hope that the subject of the letter would be epistolizable. But sadly, one can no longer “epistle-v” which, as expected, meanst “To write (something) in a letter.” It’s earliest meaning, however is “To write as a preface or introduction,” now obsolete. This is derived from the also obsolete noun sense of “A preface or letter of dedication addressed to a patron, or to the reader, at the beginning of a literary work.” So even though I have epistled, it is sadly no longer correct in saying so (though it surely sounds uncouth).


The Iowa sunrise spreads itself across the land; cornfields as far as the eye can see. I am driving along a vacant country highway when what should come on my stereo, but Reagan’s new patriotism anthem: Born in the USA. As the song hits its stride, I see across the road a pathetic figure. A man, his jeans and sweatshirt sun-bleached to the same color, sticks his thumb out. Is this man a veteran? Is he the out of place soldier that Springsteen sings of? I pass him by, as so many have before, but mostly because he was heading the opposite direction of me. A large truck zooms past, blocking the man from sight with it’s piles of corn husks, no doubt on their way to be processed into that colorless gold: ethanol. I turn my gaze back onto the open road and I notice a gigantic American flag proudly rippling in the middle of an empty cornfield. At the base of the pole is a crudely painted handmade sign. This one–shockingly–had everything spelled correctly, but still exuded the rage of the common man nonetheless. The words slathered on that sign? “There’s a special place in hell for DEADBEAT MOMS.”

And that’s when I know that I am in America after all.

As a bonus:

superman1.jpgIn our allegedly regular series, the Saladeers will espouse the virtues of a chosen individual and make the case for why they should be writing a Superman comic. The rules are simple: pick any person–even if they are not currently an author–that would potentially do an exemplary job writing a non-continuity Superman story of indeterminate length. While it is likely that DC Comics would lose money on many of our picks, in the greater interests of forwarding civilization, we feel they should make these happen.

Today’s writer comes to us from the world of television: David Simon, creator and co-writer of HBO’s The Wire. (He’s also a demigod, if we’re to believe wikipedia, which I’m inclined to do)

I generally believe that Superman is at his finest when the story revels in silver age zaniness. Traveling to the 31st century? Awesome. Fighting the Dino-Czar? Sign me up. That being said, I think there is a take on Superman that has really been underutilized. Compared to other successful comics, Superman books have often featured far fewer characters in recent years. Batman has his whole surrogate bat-family, plus all the other supporting characters and extensive rogue’s gallery. Superman, by contrast, has been focused too exclusively on Kal-El, Lois, Lex Luthor, and whatever forgetable (and eminently beatable) villain du jour comes along. When you’re the one of the most powerful men in the universe, it’s understandable the story is going to completely revolve around you.

What Simon could bring to the series is to make it more of an ensemble piece. As he did with Baltimore, he could could really bring Metropolis to life. He should not, by any means, attempt to make Superman as dark as The Wire or turn Clark Kent into Jimmy McNulty, but complexity could be added without making it extremely grim. Simon has a talent for weaving complex epics featuring a wide range of characters and it would be interesting to see Metropolis get that sort of treatment.

Simon could also address one of the glaring weaknesses of the Superman mythology. If Superman is so powerful, why doesn’t he fix all the world’s problems? There is so much suffering in the world, surely he could do more to end world hunger, disease, etc? As seen on The Wire, Simon has a keen grasp on complex social issues and could present the immensity of Metropolis’s everyday problems. Sure, Superman can fight off of a giant interstellar starfish with relative ease, but how fight the problems at the root of modern urban life? In the end, he can make a difference, but some problems are too big, too insidious, and too pervasive for even Superman to cure.

On art? Ryan Sook. Alex Maleev would be good too, but he would really have to brighten his style up from his work on Daredevil.

Want more hypothetical Superman goodness? Check out the previous entries of Who Should Write Superman?.