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March 15th, 2004:

XM radio

Came across this article on XM Radio in a magazine at the gym, and it’s pretty interesting. The XM folks went through quite a bit to get where they are. A couple of points of interest, starting with this bit of unfortunate timing:

At last XM was ready to go live. The plan was to premiere in two top-20 markets—Dallas and San Diego—that would be easier to operate in than, say, New York or L.A. XM would then roll out nationwide in a matter of weeks. But the day the service was to launch—Sept. 12, 2001—fell in the aftermath of a shocking event. From XM’s broadcast center, employees could see smoke rising from the Pentagon. XM canceled its launch party, which was to include performances by Peter Frampton and Ziggy Marley. The company also immediately pulled its inaugural TV ad, based on the theme “falling stars.” The ad featured rapper Snoop Dogg plummeting down from outer space and past an array of skyscrapers—an image eerily similar to what much of the world had just witnessed on the news.

I don’t think I need to add anything to that. On a different note, about the future of XM and its sole competitor in satellite radio, Sirius:

However the content wars evolve, XM also faces competition from conventional AM/FM stations. While satellite radio can reach a national audience, analog will always have the advantage of being able to offer local news and local personalities. AM/FM will start to further cut into satellite’s advantage as more analog stations begin offering crisp digital signals. The switchover is being driven by iBiquity Digital, a hardware maker based in Columbia, Md., that expects to have converted 600 of the nation’s 13,645 stations by the end of 2004.

If we’ve learned anything from the Clear Channel takeover of the airwaves, it’s that local content and personalities mean very little in much of the country, since for much of the country, it’s all some dude in a central studio interweaving snippets of local color to make you think you’re hearing a DJ in town. There’s hardly any local music programming to speak of out there, too, so I don’t see the big deal. Actually, given that XM is planning local news/weather/traffic stations for some markets, it’s not hard to imagine them creating regional (if not truly local) music channels. Surely there’d be an audience for them.

I’m still not ready to plunk down the money for this service, since I wouldn’t get enough out of it right now, but I’ll tell you what – my next car will have it.

In Jeopardy!

Note to self: Next time you’re at the gym and “Jeopardy!” is on the TV, ask someone to change the channel to something less mentally engaging, like Fox News. It’s very embarrassing to realize that everyone is looking at you because you’ve just shouted “Agamemnon, you idiot! Clytemnestra killed Agamemnon!” at the set.

Support for Iraq invasion dropping in Texas

The latest poll of Texans shows declining support for the invasion of Iraq and not a small amount of cognitive dissonance.

In what analysts called the most striking finding, 58 percent disapproved of the way the war is going for the United States, reflecting apparent concern over continued attacks on U.S. troops and almost daily bombings aimed at derailing attempts to stabilize the country. Thirty-eight percent approved.

While 59 percent of those surveyed believe that Bush was justified in launching the war on March 20, the finding reflects a 13 percent drop over the past nine months. Other survey categories also suggest that support is waning for the president’s Iraq policy since the last poll in June.

“What we saw in the poll is declining support for the war in Iraq,” said Ty Meighan, director of the Texas Poll. “It’s still a high number, but you can see that there is less support for the war. It’s very clear that Texans are more concerned about our role in Iraq.”

The survey showed growing skepticism over Bush’s central justification for launching the war — ridding Iraq of weapons of mass destruction. In the June survey, 56 percent predicted that the weapons would eventually be found, but only 34 percent made that prediction in the latest poll.

[…]

But, at the same time, 60 percent disagreed that Bush deliberately misled the country. Moreover, an identical percentage believe the war was justified even if weapons of mass destruction are never found, and 66 percent said that Iraq, under Saddam Hussein’s regime, posed a threat to the United States.

“I would love for them to find the weapons — so President Bush could thumb his nose at them [Democratic critics],” said Paula Pruitt, a 51-year-old grandmother in Mansfield, who was among the 1,000 Texans polled in the survey, which was conducted Feb. 12-March 3. “But whether they find them or not,” she added, the invasion was necessary to “keep a person like Saddam Hussein from killing and torturing people.”

Anyone want to bet this woman watches a lot of Fox News? Just out of curiosity, would you expect the President to say “neener neener” or “nyah nyah nyah” while thumbing his nose at Democrats? Leave your vote in the comments.

Here’s a handy chart of the poll results, sent to me by JD from NationalJournal.com:


The Scripps Howard Texas Poll; conducted 2/12-3/3; surveyed 1,000
adults; margin of error +/- 3%.

How Would You Rate The Way Things Are Going For The U.S. In Iraq?
Excellent/good                                                  38%
Fair/poor                                                       58

Yes No
Was The Situation In Iraq Was Worth Going To War?           59% 35%
Think Inspectors Will Find WMDs In Iraq?                    34  55
Is The Iraq War Justified Even If WMDs Are Never Found?     60  35
Think Bush And His Admin Deliberately Mislead The Public
About Whether Iraq Had WMDs?                               33  60
Did Iraq Pose A Threat To The U.S.?                         66  30
Believe The Capture Of Hussein Has Made The U.S. Safer
From Terrorism?                                            50  46

The (much shorter) Chron version of this story gives the expected explanation for the numbers:

That assessment [of how things are going in Iraq] was largely split along political party lines. Sixty-two percent of the respondents who identified themselves as Republicans rated the progress “excellent” or “good,” while 82 percent of those who identified themselves as Democrats described it as “fair” or “poor.” The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

[…]

The much-anticipated capture of Saddam in December led Bush to proclaim that the United States is now safer from terrorism, an assertion with which only half of Texans agree, the poll found.

That belief is also sharply split along political party lines, Meighan said.

Seventy-five percent of respondents identifying themselves as Republicans agreed with the president, while 66 percent of the Democrat respondents disagreed.

So how will this affect the elections here in November? Here’s an expert’s opinion, from the Star-Telegram article:

National surveys suggest that wavering public support for the war could become a major vulnerability for Bush as he charges into his re-election campaign against Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, the presumptive Democratic nominee. Disenchantment over the war was cited as the biggest source of voter anger at Bush in a recent Gallup survey.

Although the former Texas governor is considered unbeatable in his home state, analysts say a noticeable decline in support for the war could prompt Kerry to campaign more aggressively in Texas. Bruce Buchanan, a presidential scholar at the University of Texas, said the Texas Poll’s finding that only 38 percent of Texans approve of the way the war is going constitutes a particularly troubling statistic from the Bush perspective.

“The South, including Texas, is sympathetic to the president’s role as commander in chief, and that’s what makes this number so surprising,” Buchanan said.

And here’s my non-expert’s opinion: It won’t mean diddly. Maybe Bush carries Texas by a less overwhelming margin than the 59-38 tally he rang up in 2000, but I doubt it gets any closer than 56-42, and that’s only if Democrats turn out in droves while Republicans take a breather. That kind of turnout would help down-ballot Democrats, but otherwise this issue is a zero for them, since they need to convince Republicans to cross the aisle for them. The one place where the Iraq issue, and some campaigning from Kerry, might make a real difference is in the CD 32 race between Frost and Sessions, as it’s the only one among the endangered-incumbent races that will be fought on mostly non-rural turf and is thus the most likely place for Kerry to get a decent reception. Beyond that, it’s just fodder for us navel-gazers.

The Complete Peanuts

As you may know, Fantagraphics is releasing the first entry in The Complete Peanuts, a 12.5-year, 25-volume oddyssey that will cover the entire body of Charles Schultz’ work in the dailies. Mark Evanier has been all over this from the beginning (just click on his Search link and enter “Peanuts” to see his posts on the subject), and I think I need to get in on this. I used to have some Peanuts collections which for the most part haven’t survived to this day, but there’s a lot of stuff in these books that’s not been seen since their original publication:

Scores of Peanuts compilations have been previously issued in 25 languages, but Schulz’s earliest strips have never been reproduced in book form. Fantagraphics began discussing the compilation with Schulz in 1997.

“Schulz’s initial reaction was: ‘Who wants to read that crap?’ ” [Fantagraphics editor Eric] Reynolds says. “He was an incredibly modest guy who kept the early strips out of collections because they didn’t conform with the strip after it hit its stride.”

Amazing, huh? You’d think after the megamillions he made, he’d know that people would want just about anything from him that they hadn’t seen before.

Even die-hard Peanuts fans may be surprised by the first book. Shermy, who eventually faded into obscurity, is the prime character. Charlie Brown appears in early strips. But like most of the beloved characters, he possesses little of his later existential angst. Chief antagonist Lucy is a toddler, not the mean-spirited, football-grabbing nemesis she evolved into. And Snoopy is just a small, affectionate puppy without his later fantasy life.

Pop quiz: What position did Shermy play on Charlie Brown’s baseball team? Answer beneath the More link.

(more…)

It’s a bad time to be a political consultant

Boy, how things can change from a year ago when everyone was living high off the hog during that long, expensive mayoral race but now there are hardly any opportunities for a political consultant to make a few bucks.

“There just aren’t as many contested races on the horizon for the next two years,” said [George] Strong.

“There still will be work, and we have other ways to make money,” he said. “There just isn’t enough from political races.”

[…]

The major culprit? Redistricting and fine-tuned computers that can virtually guarantee which party will win an election, and often can protect a specific incumbent.

As a result, almost all Houston-area races likely to be seriously competitive were fought out in last week’s primaries, or will be settled in primary runoffs April 13.

In many cases, one party’s nominee will be strongly favored in the fall — if the candidate faces opposition at all — because that party dominates the district.

And there were just a handful of competitive primaries. In those, debate on issues took a back seat to discussion about party loyalty or personal backgrounds.

I don’t foresee this as being a long-term problem, even if next year’s municipal races are likely to be snoozers, with no real challenger to Mayor White and only a handful of open Council seats. There are several scenarios that could play out to make things lively again, even as soon as 2006:

– The US Supreme Court has still yet to rule on the Texas redistricting, as well as the Vieth v. Jubelirir case from Pennsylvania, in which extreme partisanship in map-drawing was challenged. Either one of those cases could cause the new boundaries to be thrown out. The result would be chaos, which is always a boon for consultants.

– However bleak things are for Democrats now in Harris County, demographic changes continue to favor them. Assuming the local party structure gets its act together (sadly, a nontrivial thing), countywide races ought to be more competitive in 2006 and beyond.

– There will always be political ambition. If there are no offices to be taken away from the other team, then people will turn their sights on what else is available. A seat may be safe for a particular party, but that doesn’t mean it’ll always be safe for the incumbent. Not everyone is going to wait for officeholders to step down (or step in doodoo) for their shot at glory. If neither of the first two options comes true by 2006, look for more contested primaries. No one’s getting any younger, and the longer you wait, the greater the chance someone else will sneak in ahead of you.

– Longer term, there’s still the chance that State Sen. Jeff Wentworth’s bill for a nonpartisan redistricting committee will get passed. That won’t affect anyone until 2012 if it does happen, but better late than never. Keep clipping those coupons in the meantime, fellas.

Tourney time

Well, even though the teams I really care about are in the NIT, I’m looking forward as always to the NCAA basketball tournaments. Mostly because just about everyone who has any kind of case to make gets a shot at the championship, I haven’t become disgusted with college hoops the way I have with football and its corrupt and greedy BCS system. In a way, I actually think the field is tilting a bit towards the smaller, nontraditional schools. Billy Packer and Dick Enberg sort of get at the reason for this.

As he prepares for his 30th year broadcasting the NCAA Tournament’s Final Four, CBS Sports analyst Billy Packer continues his remarkable attitude adjustment. Rather than grousing about the impact the NBA has had on college hoops, he revels in the game’s unpredictability.

“There are as many as 25 teams that legitimately could earn their way to the Final Four,” Packer said. “Where was Syracuse (the 2003 champion) a year ago? That is where this sport is, and that is why it’s so healthy right now. There are so many arenas across this country where people this year could believe that if certain things fell in place, their team could make a run.”

Packer has so embraced the new order that Dick Enberg, of all people, is now the most outspoken CBS voice regarding players who leave early for the NBA.

“I say to hell with them,” Enberg said. “If they want to play on the pro level, that’s terrific. I say let them go do it. … I think it’s just as exciting that, at the end of a championship game, we may have a chemistry major on the floor trying to protect the lead rather than some super one-time All-America who’s about to jump as a sophomore to the NBA.”

Enberg didn’t quite take the next step, which is that being the kind of school that recruits four-year players is a competitive advantage for the Gonzagas of the world. I don’t think more than a handful of programs will fall into that bucket, but those that do will put themselves in a very good position.

Today we also learn that the championship game of a couple of conference tournaments occur so late that the seeding committees ignore them. I just love it when these guys trip over their own avarice. Too bad that one of the participants in those games wasn’t a school that wouldn’t have made the NCAAs without winning their conference tourney. That really would have thrown a spanner into the works – they might have to come up with two brackets, one with and one without the shouldn’t-be-there team.

Interesting suggestion from King Kaufman:

The Tournament actually starts Tuesday with the play-in game in Dayton between Florida A&M and Lehigh. The NCAA has to figure out a way to make this play-in deal more interesting and exciting. Maybe there should be a play-in for all four 16 seeds, with all four games happening in one day at one site. It might become kind of a thing, a big day for whacked-out hoops junkies. It could be one last chance for bubble teams that got left out, like Utah State and Notre Dame this year, though they’d have to start the Tournament by playing a No. 1. Not that I care about bubble teams. Got a better idea? Or are you looking forward to that big night in Dayton?

If the NCAAs expanded the play-in game to include the “first eight out” or whatever, it would certainly be interesting, but it would also have a huge impact on the NITs. Would you rather see your team in the play-in game for the right to (most likely) get shelled by a top seed, or would you rather take a shot at the NITs, where you could maybe go the distance? Would the NITs let the losers of these games join in their tournament after the drop out of the Big Dance?

If all of this is making you cover your ears and wish it would go away, the Couch Slouch feels your pain.

Finally, in local news, the University of Houston is reportedly giving former Longhorns coach Tom Penders a long look for their vacancy. I have to say, I don’t know why you’d want to hire a guy who left his last two jobs under such a cloud of controversy, but stranger things have happened. Kevin? Greg? Alex? What do you guys think?