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06/28/2003 Entry: "Economist round up, June 28, 2003"

"To understand why this is happening you need to understand the state of mind of hard-core Democrats. To put it simply: they're pig-wrestling mad. They're mad about the 'stolen' election, mad about tax cuts, mad about John Ashcroft and mad, above all, about the Iraq war. No sooner had Mr Dean sounded his trumpet against that conflict than he had an army at his back."
Lexington on Howard Dean

Well, yes, as a matter of fact, I am pig-wrestling mad. Lexington also makes some of the arguments that annoying woman was making in MaxSpeaks "Kase for Kucinich" comments. Hm.

Sex and suicide and Hooters Air are in no way related except for being interesting (to me).


On the tiger and mad as hell

Jun 26th 2003
From The Economist print edition

Meet Howard Dean-one part McCain, two parts McGovern, and the last thing the Democrats need

HOWARD DEAN admits that when he decided to run for president even his mother said it was preposterous. He meant nothing to anybody except his fellow Vermonters and a handful of health-care bores. Now, he is the Democrat to watch. The former governor of Vermont (population 610,000) is doing more to shape the Democratic primary than either John Kerry, a senator from Massachusetts (population 6.4m), or Joe Lieberman, who as Al Gore's running mate picked up 51m votes in 2000.

To understand why this is happening you need to understand the state of mind of hard-core Democrats. To put it simply: they're pig-wrestling mad. They're mad about the "stolen" election, mad about tax cuts, mad about John Ashcroft and mad, above all, about the Iraq war. No sooner had Mr Dean sounded his trumpet against that conflict than he had an army at his back.

Mad-as-hell activists love Mr Dean's penchant for attacking the Democratic establishment as being too addicted to Beltway manoeuvring to stand up to the president. He repeatedly condemns his fellow Democrats for peddling Bush Lite on both tax cuts and Iraq. He points out that Bush Lite has produced not centrist triumph but the electoral debacle of 2002. All he needs to do is say, "I'm Howard Dean and I represent the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party," and the cheers begin.

If this signature line is stolen from the late Paul Wellstone, Mr Dean's persona is purloined from John McCain, that straight-talking Republican. He is selling himself as the embodiment of authenticity: an anti-politician who is not afraid to express outrage. Like Mr McCain, he is making up for his lack of establishment support by tapping the grass-roots. And he is turning his sharp-edged personality into an asset, proof that he is not just another blow-dried mediocrity from the Beltway.

The result is huge enthusiasm. "Howard Dean" bumper stickers are replacing "Peace Now" stickers on the nation's Volvos. An internet site called Meetup.com is generating more interest in Mr Dean than in any other candidate. In the first quarter of this year he raised more money in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Beverly Hills than Mr Kerry or Mr Lieberman.

Mr Dean is actually rather an odd champion for the party's Democratic wing. As governor of Vermont for 11 years the doctor-turned-politician was a pragmatic New Democrat in the Clinton mould. He resisted irresponsible spending increases, fought with the state's Progressive Party and vigorously upheld the right of Vermonters to carry concealed guns. He even defied a national trend by changing his mind in favour of the death penalty.

He continues to sell himself as a "deficit hawk" and "balanced budget fiend" (the Bush fiscal policy, he says, is modelled on Argentina's). His health-care plan is much more market-driven than the Clinton administration's plan, and much cheaper than Dick Gephardt's ($88 billion compared with $214 billion). His views on the Middle East are pretty close to the Israeli lobby's. He is against medical marijuana laws and the anti-global-warming Kyoto protocol.

So would Mr Dean be able to repackage himself as a centrist if he won the nomination? Hardly. His views on guns count for little compared with his strident opposition to war in Iraq and his determination to repeal "every dime" of Mr Bush's tax cuts. For good or ill, Mr Dean has decided to climb on the back of the leftist tiger. He cannot climb off without being eaten alive.

The sight of Mr Dean on the tiger's back is striking terror into the party establishment. On Capitol Hill Democrats worry that a Dean candidacy will not only allow Mr Bush to sweep the electoral college but also to cull vulnerable Democrats in the conservative south and the middle-American heartland. What chance has a liberal north-easterner backed by money from Beverly Hills and Harvard Yard of helping the Democrats in vulnerable Senate seats in Arkansas, South Carolina and the two Dakotas?

The Dean campaign is indignant about such arguments. Didn't me-tooism produce the debacle of 2002, they ask? Well, yes. But the only thing more dangerous for the Democrats than Bush Lite is McGovern Extra Strength.

Tyger tyger, burning the right

Liberal populism has invariably proved to be a disaster for the Democrats. Remember Karl Rove's habit during the 2000 election of comparing George Bush with William McKinley? The reason why McKinley was able to usher in 30 years of Republican hegemony was that he was confronted by William Jennings Bryan and his agrarian populism. George McGovern and Walter Mondale led their liberal armies to two of the worst defeats in American history. It is hardly likely that the old-time religion will go down better in the age of global terrorism.

Terry McAuliffe, the Democrats' chairman, deliberately compressed the primary season to scotch insurgencies like this one. Yet Mr Dean easily won the (unofficial) Wisconsin straw poll. He has started advertising on television in Iowa seven months before the caucus. And as the only serious candidate without a full-time job, he has a chance to cultivate the grass-roots. If he comes first or second in Iowa and then defeats Mr Kerry in New Hampshire, he may succeed where Mr McCain failed.

Besides, Mr Dean does not have to win for his party to lose. His insurgency is already tugging other candidates to the left. Hardly a day goes past without the other front-runners producing some new piece of populist rhetoric. This week Mr Gephardt promised that as president he would use executive orders to countermand "any wrong thing that the Supreme Court does". The problem for the Democrats is not just the man from Vermont but the rank-and-file rage that he embodies. Far too many Democrats are just too angry to think straight at the moment. And far too many would rather go down to glorious defeat than make the irritating compromises necessary for power.


Spider mating

Sex and suicide

Jun 26th 2003
From The Economist print edition

Why self-sacrifice makes perfect sense for spiders

AS GENERATIONS of biology students have discovered to their morbid delight, the mating behaviour of creepy-crawlies can be bizarre. The classic example is lovemaking among praying mantises, where the female has sex with her partner, then eats him for dessert.

But the mantis has nothing on its distant cousin, the orb-weaving spider. These spiders, too, have turned copulation into a girl-eats-boy story. In this case, though, the male seems to offer himself as a sacrifice, to the point of actually killing himself before the female has a chance to.

When desire eventually gets the better of a male spider, he performs a series of complicated acrobatics, inserting a sperm-carrying organ known as a pedipalp into his mate and then returning after that bout of copulation to insert his other pedipalp into her. After this, most male spiders try to make a speedy getaway. In the case of the orb-weaver, however, the male actively terminates himself within minutes of inserting his second palp. His heartbeat ceases and he curls up and dies-even before the female can begin attacking him.

On the face of it, this seems insane. Since most orb-weaving spiders do it, however, there has to be an explanation. Somehow, the male's odd behaviour must offer an evolutionary advantage.

Theories abound that male self-sacrifice may be a logical extension of the practice employed by many animals, including insects and spiders, of the male bringing a gift of food to encourage the female to mate. Such food, whether it be a neatly wrapped fly, or the body of the dead male, provides nutrients for the female, allowing her to produce bigger or more numerous offspring, to the ultimate benefit of the father's genes. This, however, is unlikely to account for the death of male orb-weaving spiders. They are much smaller than their mates, and thus of rather limited nutritional value.

Matthias Foellmer of Concordia University in Montreal and Daphne Fairbairn of the University of California, Riverside, believe they have found at least part of the answer. As they explain in a paper in the Proceedings of the Royal Society, other males may fight over access to the female and try to dislodge any male that has an inserted palp. However, the palps of dead males are fixed in an inflated state, making them hard to remove. As a result, dead males may act as plugs to prevent other males from copulating, ensuring that the suicidal male, not a rival, fathers the offspring. In short, who dares win will die-but his genes are more likely to live on in the next generation.

Dr Foellmer and Dr Fairbairn cite a peculiar instance of a male spider that died after mistakenly inserting his second pedipalp into the carcass of a mealworm. This suggests that insertion of the second palp was enough to trigger death, even in the absence of a genuine female orb-weaver. So one shot, it appears, is all that a male orb-weaving spider gets. But by sacrificing himself to ward off other amorous males (even when his mate is nothing but a dead mealworm), he certainly makes sure that it is his best shot.


Hooters Air

Hostess with the mostest

Jun 26th 2003
From The Economist print edition

A hawker of breasts and wings enlarges its brand

Another iced water, sir?

HOOTERS restaurants have become something of an American icon. The 20-year-old chain, which prides itself on burgers, beer, and spicy chicken bits served by busty lasses in form-fitting tops and short shorts, is now offering its unique style of service in the sky. Hooters Air started flying in March between Atlanta and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, a middle-class resort featuring sun, surf, and several of the chain's outlets. It has since added routes to Washington, DC, and New York.

Recent pain in the airline industry has helped the fledgling carrier to take off. When Vanguard, a small American airline, went bust last year, it left Myrtle Beach, home to Hooters' founder, with one fewer airline. Although a bid for Vanguard failed, he picked up a charter airline, Pace, on the cheap, fitting out two Boeing 737s with extra leg room and Hooters' distinctive bulging-eyed owl logo slapped on its tail.

Each Hooters flight is staffed by "Hooters Girls", whose attire could be considered risqué only in the most isolated parts of America. Even so, using female "sex appeal", for which the firm makes no apology, is something abandoned by other airlines since the 1970s.

Back then, with fares regulated, airlines competed on everything from steaks cooked-to-order to stewardesses' hemlines. Southwest Airlines, now America's leading discount carrier, got its start with ads that pushed its flight attendants' micro mini-skirts. Those days are long gone: after losing a lawsuit two decades ago over its "hot pants" uniform, Southwest's attendants tend now towards neatly pressed unisex khakis.

Indeed, Hooters has been attacked by regulators and private lawyers for its restaurant hiring practices (namely, its refusal in the face of all common sense to let men, undoubtedly eager for the job, become Hooters Girls). So far it has prevailed, but its experience has chastened its approach in the air: Hooters makes clear that cabin service is run by professional flight attendants, with the Hooters Girls as an additional perk.

More seductive than using sex to sell seats is the airline's economics. Hooters' niche is not an obvious threat to America's big airlines or their discount rivals. But its business model might be. Michael O'Leary of Ryanair, Europe's fastest growing discount airline, has predicted that airlines will be paid by cities and businesses to fly passengers free. That future may already be here. Rather than a profit centre in its own right, Hooters Air is more akin to a marketing expense, building the Hooters brand. If airline seats increasingly become promotional giveaways, big airlines may have a lot more to fear than a little silicone.





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