August 10th, 2011

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It takes a village to have a bar mitzvah

It would not be possible to do this bar mitzvah without the help of so many friends. Most spectacularly, I want to praise museinred to the skies for spending about 9 hours here yesterday to help get my house in shape for visiting family. For the first time since I can remember, I am actually not ashamed of the public areas of my house! I have a huge pile of trash that should get hauled away this afternoon, and Aaron's room now has suitable bookshelves and storage for him to keep his room neat.

Lots of other folks to thank, both for helping and for offering. But am so excited about the house I couldn't wait until the big thank you at the end.
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A Brief Reflection on Wisconsin

In more usual times, politicians view recalls as extraordinary. There is also a general sense of an electorate that moves from partisan one way to generally centrist independent to partisan the other way, although things may vary for specific issues. (Doc Smith has a description of this that stands the test of time in First Lensman, and Heinlien's description in Double Star is likewise still a good description of what had been the general case.)

We do not live in typical times.

What usually happens in situations like Wisconsin, where angry folks trigger a recall and win two of six seats, is that the party that retains control takes it as a warning shot. Yes, they won. But there is recognition that getting this many people this pissed is not a good strategy for reelection because, if you continue pissing off the center, you eventually lose. So the standard reaction is to take credit for maintaining the trust and mandate of The People while also making more conciliatory, centrist noises to reassure the non-partisan folks who stuck by you that they did not make a mistake.

Part of the rational is that losing ground is bad, even if it doesn't result in a total loss of control. It is tied into the idea that the American political system (and democracy generally) works best if it is not played as a winner take all game in which the party out of power (and its supporters) are effectively excluded from all aspects of government. By contrast, the "winner take all" approach ends up completely excluding the independent block, which is forced to pick sides to make itself heard. It also has nasty long term effects on legitimacy and social coherence, as I've written numerous times over the last several years. But we'll set that aside for now.

These days, we seem split between Republicans, who view total rejection by the electorate as a mere temporary set back (which they attribute to being too willing to compromise on principle) and Democrats, who will never feel sufficiently validated by any majority. As that plays out in WI, we can expect the WI R party to view yesterday's results as a total vindication rather than as a warning shot to alter behavior. After all, in winner take all politics, the only thing that matters is being the winner at the end of the day. The failure of the other side to win, no matter how close the decision, indicates a complete rejection of the other side and a complete embrace all your policies. (Although the reverse is never true, since such reversals are the result of stolen elections or because the party strayed from its true principles).

Wisconsin progressives seem to be regarding this as a positive showing in a longer fight (at least until 2012). Nate Silver, whom I generally trust, thinks that WI progressives should continue to plan on a recall of Walker in 2012, based on the D performance in this recall and current trends. I expect the national Democratic Party to take the WI results as further proof that they should reject the progressives because, after all, the progressives didn't totally win (and even if they had won, it would not have proven the validity of the progressives' approach).

Meanwhile, the majority of voters appear to grow increasingly frustrated. Not sure what that means for 2012. Frustrated people do unpredictable things. Sadly, Democrats need a Huey Long, to challenge Obama and drive him leftward. But the conventional wisdom is to avoid primary fights. I'm not convinced that this is true. I do not believe that Kennedy weakened Carter, for example. Carter had his own set of problems, and I think the theory that Reagan's "Are you better off now than you were 4 years ago" advertising campaign was much more damaging to Carter than Kennedy's primary challenge.

But we'll see. I am not calling anything in 2012 yet, despite the fact that calling 2012 has become the national obsession.
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Briefly on Cable Cord Cutting

Cable operators (and Dish) have generally seen the number of basic subscribers drop. While some of these have migrated to telcos (and DirecTV), others haven't. While the numbers have remained modest for the pay TV market over all, it has launched much talk of "Cord Cutting" and whether subscribers are abandoning their cable subscriptions for online video or whether this reflects people no longer able to afford cable subscriptions. You can see some of the arguments here and a cute anecdote here.

My feeling is: why not both?

Cable ops care a great deal about the answer because the problems have different solutions. If the problem is cost, then you either don't care (because you are keeping the more profitable, high-end customers) or you need to develop low cost alternatives. If you think the problem is cord cutting, then you need to do more to prevent programming from reaching Internet so that folks don't have a choice. This is why cable ops and large content providers have accelerated their online authentication projects and are pushing to crowd out Netflix in a variety of ways.

But why isn't the answer both? Cord cutting can be coming from two directions. One is changing viewing habits, the other is economic necessity. In either case, it is unclear that enclosure/capture is a successful strategy for the long run. Viewer habits morph and change. Will a sufficient number of viewers continue to feel that they need to have access to the video available on cable/pay tv? Or will viewers gradually shift to being satisfied with whatever is available through whatever means they watch it? Will the strategy pursued by content holders to make it difficult to stream direct to the TV succeed? Or will it simply train people over time to saty on their computer or become more technically adept at DIY connections to the TV?

There are so many interlinked variables in this that attempting to predict the future in this area strikes me as perilous. I know what policies or business models I would like to see to throw things open, but I cannot tell what happens without them.