Dan vs. the Pajama People

A mostly political Weblog.
Sept. 11 2004 6:39 PM

Dan vs. the Pajama People

It's not nice to mock the blogosphere ...

(Continued from Page 10)

6:42 P.M.

Rancor Away! Monday Morning Kerrybacking: Alert reader J.D. (not his real name) emails with what seems to me a useful point about the impact of the Swifty fuss on Kerry's potential, implicit,  "return to normalcy" message:

Whether people believe the Swift Boat stuff or not, the anger that veterans have toward Kerry, the muddled history of his combat experience, and the bitterness of the arguments are giving people an impression that four years of Kerry would be four years of rancor and never-ending debates about his wartime (and post-wartime) activities. That ain't normalcy, and people are starting to shy away from that prospect. [Emph. added]

If there's truth to this, then Kerry's optimum strategy was not to fight back at the Swifties (i.e., calling them liars and trying to suppress their ads) but to somehow, yes, calm the waters--defusing the story by saying something like: "Those were turbulent times and they are entitled to express their opinions. We all did things we're proud of and things we may regret. I don't want to reopen those wounds." ... P.S.: In general, a combative, "bring it on" Kerry tone--toward the Swiftys or anyone else, including Bush--may undermine the best thing Kerry's got going for him, which is the national desire for a respite from tumult and rancor, including a) US vs. Muslim rancor; b) partisan post-Florida rancor; and c) trans-partisan post-Vietnam rancor. ... Why not float above it? Be the change! ... The Feiler Faster Thesis says it's not too late! ...P.P.S.: In other words, what Robin Toner's stale Week piece calls

The rough lessons of 1988 took hold: Respond, hit back, leave no charge unanswered

might be completely wrong for 2004. ... P.P.P.S.: Toner writes as if the combative Kerry response has been effective! ...6:01 P.M.

Friday, August 27, 2004

Corrections and Camrys: Malcolm Gladwell e-mails:

Apparently you think that in my SUV article in the New Yorker I ignored the issue of how "the sociological difference between the drivers of different types and makes of vehicles" affects auto safety. Really? I thought that was one of the main points of the article. The really critical question of whether one car is safer than another, I wrote, "depends on who's behind the wheel." I talked about how a Porsche Boxster is a very safe car with my mother driving, and a very unsafe car with me driving. I talked about how drunks and teenagers represent a hugely disproportionate share of traffic fatalities, not because of the cars they drive but because they are drunks and teenagers. Kausfiles writes, in a rebuke to my "over-rated" article, that minivans aren't safe because they are vans, but because they are "mainly driven by cautious, milquetoasty moms." Here is an actual quote from my article: "Drivers of minivans, Wenzel and Ross's statistics tell us, die at a fraction of the rate of drivers of pickup trucks. That's clearly because minivans are family cars, and parents with children in the back seat are less likely to get into accidents." Is it asking too much to ask you to actually read an article before criticizing it?

I shouldn't have said Gladwell ignored the sociological issue. He didn't, and I apologize for the mistake. But he mentions it only after he's elaborately deployed a chart that shows varying death rates for different brands of cars and SUVs--a chart that plays a crucial role in persuading readers of his thesis that consumers are not making a "rational calculation" when they conclude SUVs are safer:

In a head-on crash, an Explorer or a Suburban would crush a Jetta or a Camry. But, clearly, the drivers of Camrys and Jettas are finding a way to avoid head-on crashes with Explorers and Suburbans. The benefits of being nimble--of being in an automobile that's capable of staying out of trouble--are in many cases greater than the benefits of being big. [Emphasis added.]

The problem is that the sociological differences Gladwell later notes--e.g., drivers of minivans are more cautious than drivers of SUVs, so minivans do better in the statistics for reasons having nothing to do with their design--completely undermines the power of his big chart and the conclusion about nimble Camrys. Maybe the SUVs have high death rates because more reckless people tend to drive SUVs, and if the same reckless people drove passenger cars those cars would have even higher death rates than the SUVs do. We don't know. Maybe the variations between brands are not variations in vehicle design but variations in the type of driver they attract. Camrys could have low death rates not because they are so nimble but because they are the most boring cars on the planet and are bought by boring, safe people! If the statistics in the big chart took into account such driver characteristics, it could well turn out that SUVs really are safer after all, because the benefits of passive safety (all that metal) outweigh the nimbleness benefits touted by Gladwell.

Not only does Gladwell fail to follow up on the implications of his minivan point for his own chart, he draws an opposite, bizarre conclusion.

"Is the Boxster safer than the TrailBlazer? It depends on who's behind the wheel. In the hands of, say, my very respectable and prudent middle-aged mother, the Boxster is by far the safer car."

Really? If the Boxster is safer when driven by Gladwell's mom than when driven by Gladwell, it doesn't follow that a TrailBlazer wouldn't be safer still. The evidence Gladwell offers that it isn't is his chart--which, again, isn't much evidence at all precisely because doesn't take into account which cars cautious people like his mom tend to drive.

That's what I should have said.

[What about rollovers?-ed. Rollovers account for only a fifth of auto deaths. How a car protects you in a collision seems more important.] 3:27 A.M.

kf Bias Exposed: I didn't believe the thesis that base-voter turnout is more important than swing-voter seduction when Nagourney pushed it almost a year ago. But now that Brownstein's pushing it, I do! ... 1:09 A.M.

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Links

Drudge Report--80 % true. Close enough! Instapundit--All-powerful hit king. Joshua Marshall--He reports! And decides!  Wonkette--Makes Jack Shafer feel guilty.  Salon--Survives! kf gloating on hold. Andrew Sullivan--He asks, he tells. He sells! David Corn--Trustworthy reporting from the left.  Washington Monthly--Includes Charlie Peters' proto-blog. Lucianne.com--Stirs the drink. Virginia Postrel--Friend of the future! Peggy Noonan--Gold in every column. Matt Miller--Savvy rad-centrism. WaPo--Waking from post-Bradlee snooze. Calmer Times--Registration required.  NY Observer--Read it before the good writers are all hired away. New Republic--Left on welfare, right on warfare!  Jim Pinkerton--Quality ideas come from quantity ideas. Tom Tomorrow--Everyone's favorite leftish cartoonists' blog.  Ann "Too Far" Coulter--Sometimes it's just far enough. Bull Moose--National Greatness Central. John Ellis--Forget that Florida business! The cuz knows politics, and he has, ah, sources. "The Note"--How the pros start their day. Romenesko--O.K. they actually start it here. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities--Money Liberal Central.. Steve Chapman--Ornery-but-lovable libertarian. Rich Galen--Sophisticated GOP insider. Man Without Qualities--Seems to know a lot about white collar crime. Hmmm. Overlawyered.com--Daily horror stories. Eugene Volokh--Smart, packin' prof, and not Instapundit! Eve Tushnet--Queer, Catholic, conservative and not Andrew Sullivan! WSJ's Best of the Web--James Taranto's excellent obsessions. Walter Shapiro--Politics and (don't laugh) neoliberal humor! Eric Alterman--Born to blog. Joe Conason--Bush-bashing, free most days. Lloyd Grove--Don't let him write about you. Arianna--A hybrid vehicle. TomPaine.com--Web-lib populists. Take on the News--TomPaine's blog.  B-Log--Blog of spirituality!  Hit & Run--Reason gone wild! Daniel Weintraub--Beeblogger and Davis Recall Central. Eduwonk--You'll never have to read another mind-numbing education story again. Nonzero--Bob Wright explains it all. [More tk

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