Bryan Joiner

Why then I

Tag: nate silver

Nate Silver was wrong about one thing: The ocean

I’ve known Nate Silver for a long time, and spend 10 minutes in my presence and I’ll be sure to remind you of that. I finished his book last night, and it’s amazing. I wasn’t surprised at the depth of his knowledge, because no one with an Internet connection would be, but the breadth of it knocked me off my feet. We often talk about baseball and poker and politics, but he doesn’t go quoting Julius Caesar here and there. The book is a masterpiece, and like all great masterpieces, it has a flaw. I wasn’t looking for it: most of the time, I was shocked that I’ve spent time with this human, whose brain could be running America (and as of last month, is qualified to do so!). But Nate grew up in the spartan hills of central Michigan, and I grew up on an island, and got to spend my early life near the ocean at all times. That’s the other thing I’ll tell you in the first 10 minutes you’ll spend around me, without fail. Martha’s Vineyard. Nantucket sucks.

In his conclusion, Nate writes:

Staring at the ocean and waiting for a flash of insight is how ideas are generated in the movies. In the real world, they rarely come to you when you are standing in place. Nor do the “big” ideas necessarily start out that way. It’s more often with small, incremental, and sometimes even accidental steps that we make progress.

I agree that small, incremental steps are how we form ideas, but they will hit you on the beach. What Nate doesn’t account for is that they have to hit you sometime, and his conclusion implies that these times are random, but the “getting inspired by staring at the ocean” isn’t contrived: It’s a real thing that happens.

Look at it this way: If you are building toward an idea, a “Eureka!” moment will come, at some point. For the same reason cloistered thinkers are encourage to take a walk in order to give their brains a chance to start putting together some puzzle pieces behind-the-scenes, looking at the ocean is one of the best ways to help you come to your magic moments. The staring-at-the-ocean “meme,” may I call it that, came from a place where staring out at the biggest feature on our planet affords us insight by bringing our own ideas down to size. And here’s the thing, the one thing I can speak for from experience: It never gets old. I can’t remember a time, growing up, when taking time at the ocean didn’t help me reorganize my thoughts in a constructive way. It may have happened, but if it did, it was rare. That was part of the magic of growing up on an island, a magic I still think and write about to an outsized degree, more than a decade later. It’s less “Lost” magic than  pure practicality: When faced with the infinite on all sides, it’s hard not to be awed by life, however contained. It’s no accident Hollywood is mere miles from the ocean. As Nate might say, it’s the single greatest tool we have to separate the signal from the noise.


Conan on TBS

In retrospect, this makes sense. Everyone assumed the FOX thing was alive because it seemed like it should be, but mainly based on some very early, pre-financial assessment anonymous quotes. The other ideas, like a show for the web or bumping the Comedy Central dudes (which was never real talk) were never really substantive, and where does that leave us? Here. TBS has been trying to push itself as funny for a long time, and now they’ve put money behind it.

I think the real reason people are surprised or upset is that this seems to be a letdown for the Conan-as-martyr crowd, who wanted him to raise keep raising hell on the back of the NBC fiasco. But at some point you need to turn the page, and he’s done that today. In fact, I would say it’s smart not to let this play out longer than necessary, before the focus gets put on why Conan was forced out in the first place, and that becomes the narrative. With the tour starting today, everything is in place for him to succeed on some level from here on out. He was never going to beat Letterman or Leno in the ratings, so it seems foolish to sit back and wait for an opportunity for that to happen.

Plus, anything that pushes George Lopez later is fine with me.

Also: We’re number four! Take that, Nate.

“Pass the f*cking thing”

I don’t have a lot of time today, but I’m with Nate as cited above and Matt Yglesias indicates that it’s one step closer to happening. Of course if Evan Bayh digs his heels in and tries to convince enough centrist Senators to oppose reconciliation that would scuttle the plan, and it wouldn’t even be the first time than Indiana zapped dark-blue America this week.

The Spending Freeze: Overdramatized? The Hoover Comparison: Invalid? (AQUA TEEN UPDATE)

In July, Harper’s Magazine published an article called “Barack Hoover Obama: The best and the brightest blow it again” that’s probably wise to revisit in light of the recently-announced spending freeze. Kevin Baker wrote:

Hoover’s every decision in fighting the Great Depression mirrored the sentiments of 1920s “business progressivism,” even if he understood intellectually that something more was required. Farsighted as he was compared with almost everyone else in public life, believing as much as he did in activist government, he still could not convince himself to take the next step and accept that the basic economic tenets he had believed in all his life were discredited; that something new was required.[…]

FDR was by no means the rigorous thinker that Hoover was, and many observers then and since have accused him of having no fixed principles whatsoever. And yet it was Roosevelt, the Great Improviser, who was able to patch and borrow and fudge his way to solutions not only to the Depression but also to sustained prosperity and democracy. […]

Much like Herbert Hoover, Barack Obama is a man attempting to realize a stirring new vision of his society without cutting himself free from the dogmas of the past — without accepting the inevitable conflict. Like Hoover, he is bound to fail.

I thought that comparison was unfair then, a mere six months into the Presidency, and I think it’s unfair now, even as more people start to adopt it. For their similarities, let’s not forget that Obama came one absurd special election away from passing the most comprehensive Health Care Reform bill in… what, ever? All in the same time he was negotating the bank and auto bailouts, and two inherited wars, etc. Yes, every President has battles to fight and yes, Obama’s intellectual bent with fairly traditional solutions looks like Hooverism, even from up close. But let’s be fair. There are a lot of balls in the air right now, and this is actually not that big of a practical measure. The Wall Street Journal’s coverage begins by pointing out how small it actually is compared with the waves it’s making politically, calling it “a move meant to quell rising concern over the deficit but whose practical impact will be muted.”

Even among the more thoughtful elements of the left, anger and confusion reign. Rachel Maddow laughed one of Joe Biden’s economic advisors off her show, and Nate Silver called this The White House’s Brain Freeze… while admitting that practically, it wasn’t that big of a deal.



This sh!t has got to stop. If you don’t think this is a good decision, it doesn’t mean it’s the worst decision Barack Obama has ever made. It’s certainly going to give him some cache with independents who remember it come 2012, and to Nate’s suggestion that this gives ammo to Republicans to attack him should he renege on any part of it—do you really think the truth matters to them come election time? The assault is going to be giant, unmistakable, and disingenuous. If Obama can keep this promise, I think that the pundiocracy has lost sight of what it might mean to an average voter than the President is *not* a Democratic stereotype.

But even if you disagree, this is really not all that big of a deal. To suggest otherwise is ignorance, at best. This is the matter of governing when you miss out on Health Care by one vote in a completely absurd situation. Governing isn’t easy, but you can’t always let the perfect be the enemy of the good. This has actual benefits for Obama if he can stick to it. The only thing that bothers me is that he clearly lied to Diane Sawyer when he said that he’d rather be a good one-term President than a mediocre two-termer. This is a long-haul decision with low downside and low upside, but the upside is there. Even if it does affect the economy (with many on the left suggesting deficit spending as the key to end the recession), there’s no way Republicans are going to win independent votes by bragging that Obama lost the economy by following their platform. If anything, this move shows how irresponsible the GOP’s economic plan is, not Obama’s. We call this governing.

There’s ample room to disagree here, but I would like people to keep a level head about this.

UPDATE: Ben has a theory, and it sounds plausible.