Friday, January 30, 2004


Today I'll describe another manga that I haven't read: Chikuro Youchien: Zenbu (Chikuro Kindergarten: Complete) by Saibara Rieko. Is this the Japanese Nancy? It's a four-panel gag strip starring a young girl known as Rie-chan who looks somewhat like Nancy: in fact, a drawing on p. 396 of Rie-chan drawn Bushmiller-style makes it clear that Saibara has seen Nancy. Saibara's art, like Bushmiller's, is simple, though Saibara's art is better. And the humor in Chikoru Kindergarten, like that in Nancy, has an elemental quality to it. But Nancy never drew on a fence with a turd partially extruded from her butt, as does Rie-chan; nor did she ever flush her friend's baby brother down the toilet, or try to cook him alive. (Not that these kinds of strip are in the majority, though they're not rare either.) More fundamentally, unlike Nancy, Rie-chan appears to be a realistically portrayed girl rather than just a vehicle for gags: some of the strips don't even seem to have "gags." Since her full given name, Rieko, is the same as the artists', the strip may be partly autobiographical. At any rate, Chikuro Kindergarten definitely calls for investigation: after I've read it I'll report on my findings. (It may be a while, though.)

Facts: it's 474 pages long, priced at 933 yen, published by Shogakukan, and the ISBN is 4-09-152851. There's a list of manga by Saibara, and a brief description of one of them, here.

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I've changed my blog's description, adding music and dropping politics and philosophy. I dropped politics, not because I've lost interest in it, but because I realized that the blogs in my sidebar, and the blogs they link to, do a much better job of tracking and commenting on it than I could. (Be sure to check out Brad DeLong's Semi-Daily Journal, which I just added: an excellent source for both politics and economics.) I still hope to occasionally post political commentary, but right now it would be deceptive to have that word in my description.

The same is true of philosophy. When I started the blog, I'd intended to write on philosophy occasionally. I still want to, but so far I just haven't found the time.

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Thursday, January 29, 2004


Last night I pulled the Television bootleg Last Live in Portland Oregon 1978 out of my CD collection, and last night and this morning listened to it. Most of it wasn't particularly inspiring, but there was an amazing 12-minute "Little Johnny Jewel" and a great "Friction." Forced Exposure magazine, iirc, touted the 17-minute "Marquee Moon" on this disk, but I wasn't too impressed by it, at least this time around: too much like noodling.

I don't know on what date this was recorded, but the track listing (in case someone has released it under another title) is:

1. The Dream's Dream
2. Elevation
3. Glory
4. Foxhole
5. Little Johnny Jewel
6. Friction
7. Marquee Moon
8. Lori (Poor Circulation)
9. Satisfaction
10. Fire Engine
11. A Mi A Mo Re
12. Adventure

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Wednesday, January 28, 2004


About a week ago I went up to Chicago. There are a couple of stores that sell Japanese-language manga, one new and one used, and I bought a bunch of manga, though not as much as I have on past trips. I thought I'd describe them for anyone who might be interested, even though I haven't read them yet (with one exception).

My big find was the remaining volumes of the Japanese-language Fruits Basket that I didn't yet own. I've already said something about the anime, which follows the manga very closely, and you'll be able to see the manga in translation soon, so I won't say any more about these. Otherwise, the only manga I bought new were two items on sale. One was Survival in the Office vol. 2 by Risu Akizuki, one of the series of bilingual manga published by Kodansha, which I got for half price (six bucks). This is a series of four-panel strips (a popular form in Japan, as here, though Azumanga Daioh is the only example that's been published here, as far as I know) dealing with the problems of "OLs": that is, "office ladies," or female office workers. It was written in Japanese, but in this bilingual edition, the strips are translated into English with the original Japanese text in the margins. A number of other manga have been published in similar bilingual editions, including Card Captor Sakura. While they're intended for Japanese speakers learning English, they can be helpful to English speakers learning Japanese, in that they provide examples of real Japanese (not the simplified sentences in Japanese textbooks) with translations. And the strips here are actually pretty funny. But it's probably not worth paying the full price of twelve dollars, since there are only 128 strips.

The other item I got on sale was an issue of an anthology magazine called You. (Again, that's the title, in English and romaji.) This is a biweekly, and contains 380 pages for 340 yen. Judging by its contents and the ads, it seems to be a magazine for josei, or young woman. Going by the art alone, most of the series in it seem pretty routine, with two exceptions. The first series, "KANNAsa-n" (using their romanization) by Fukaya Kaoru, unusually for manga, has a fat heroine, though aside from that the art seems routine. Later there's a series called "Kodomo nanka daikirai!" (For some reason I hate the child) by Inoue Kimidori. This is a comedy series with un-"manga"-like art about a mother (apparently the artist herself) and her child; this installment seems to be about toilet training. The series seems to be fairly popular: it's been collected into fourteen volumes so far, though I don't recall ever seeing any of them.

At the used bookstore I bought five items. Four were vols. 1-4 of a series called "Monokage ni ashibyoushi," by Uchida Shungiku. (It looks like the series continues past the fourth volume, but without reading it I'm not sure.) The translation given on the covers in "Stepping in My Shelter"; a more literal though less euphonious translation would be "beating time with my foot from in hiding." Uchida is a woman, and this may be one of the Japanese "ladies' sex comics" you read about: the heroine has a fair amount of sex with different partners (not at the same time), and this sex is shown explicitly (though no genitals are shown, even masked). Uchida's line is very loose and flexible. I already owned two manga by Uchida. One, entitled Fandamentaru (Fundamental), is a collection of short stories, mostly erotic. The other, Minami kun no koibito (Minami's girlfriend), is about a guy whose girlfriend is six inches tall. Really.

[Update: I've reviewed Minami kun no koibito here (scroll down to Mar. 23), and Monokage ni ashibyoushi (which is far from being a sex comic) here (scroll down to Mar. 24).]

In fact, what first caught my eye about these books was not the author, whose name I didn't recognize, but the fact that each of them has on the front cover a sort of prose poem in grammatical though not always idiomatic English, even though there's no English text in the book itself. For vol. 4, it reads:

"Let my hands sneek [sic] behind the words. My fingers will surely touch the lump with veins all through it. That's all I want, but you never let me touch it, why?


"The 'I', who can say so but cannot carry it out, and another 'I', who could never say so, but can do that. Both are me, and neither is me. So, be patient a little while until I can say good-bye, and keep giving me a blood transfusion. It may be a little painful, but it'll never take long. I'm sure, real sure it'll be as short as if I were to cry."

I'm actually not sure how to write the title of the final manga I bought. The first two kanji (characters) can be read in several different ways, and I can't tell from the context which is correct. I'll go with the first reading in my kanji dictionary, and write it as Kobitotachi ga sawagu no de, which would mean "Because the dwarfs make a fuss." In any case it's by Izumi Kawahara. The main character appears to be a manga artist, and the book consists of one-to-four page gag strips alternating with a longer story in which the main character and her friend seem to enter a video game. Apart from this, I have no idea what's going on. The main character is again un-"manga"-like in appearance, and looks a little bit like the Rugrats characters.

Update: James Moar sent me an email pointing out that other Japanese four-panel strips have been published in the U.S.: Heartbroken Angels, The Adventures of the Mini-Goddesses, and "Palepoli" in Secret Comics Japan. (I actually knew about Heartbroken Angels and "Palepoli," but they had slipped my mind.)


To those who arrived her by following the link from iJournalista!, howdy. (My first link, afaik--and from Dirk Deppey, no less! I feel like a real blogger now.) If you're interested in more reviews of Japanese-language manga, there are two in the archives: scroll down to Dec. 16 for the first, and Dec. 15 for the second. Read the first, on Shiriagari Kotobuki, especially: these are the best manga I've read, in Japanese or English. (Please note that the boycott mentioned in the post above is no longer on: a contract has been signed.) I'm also working on, not reviews, but brief descriptions of the Japanese-language manga I bought most recently; these should be up later today.

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Tuesday, January 27, 2004


I just finished reading the Japanese-language manga I'm home, in two volumes, by Ishizaka Kei. (The title is in English, and written in our alphabet, or romaji; oddly enough, though most of the chapters begin with the protagonist saying "tadaima," which is the Japanese equivalent of "I'm home," the English phrase itself never occurs.) This manga is something that's been very rare among the manga that have been translated: a serious work of fiction with no genre elements. This is also fairly rare in manga in general, as far as I can gather; and, of course, in American comics as well.

The protagonist, Ieji Hisa, is a corporate junior executive who suffered carbon monoxide poisoning a few months ago. As a result, he has difficulty forming new memories, leading to embarrassing situations when he walks into houses where he no longer lives. He also has lost all memory of the preceding five years, during which he had left his wife and child and remarried. In the first volume he encounters a string of figures from his past, either accidentally or intentionally, and learns that during those five years he had become a real creep. In the second volume, his dilemma comes into focus: he still (or again) loves the wife and daughter he had walked out on, and still thinks of them as his family. Conversely, he is unable to love his new wife and young son, or think of them as family; in fact, he is unable to even recognize their faces, owing to his brain damage.

I don't want to oversell this. It's not a great work of art, and considered purely as literature, it's rather slight, though affecting. The characterizations are thin. And, as each new encounter yielded further evidence of the old Ieji's rottenness, I became increasingly skeptical that one person could be so consistently bad, or that a person as bad as that could be transformed into a nice guy by a brain injury.

As comics, though, it's very effective. Ishizaka's style is simple, eschewing most of the panoply of effects wielded by shoujo artists (even though Ishizaka is a woman). But her facial expressions are very expressive, and her storytelling is fluid. One aspect of the storytelling in particular uses the form of comics to great effect. As mentioned above, Ieji is completely unable to remember or recognize the faces of his new wife and young son. Ishizaka indicates this by always depicting their faces as simplified masks fixed in an unchanging, unnatural grin. The effect this produces on the reader is creepy, and does a good job of communicating how Ieji must feel. Subtler, but equally effective, is the way that as we see more of the wife and son, we gradually stop seeing their masks as repellent, just as we gradually stop seeing them as simply obstructions for Ieji and begin to see them as people in their own right.

I didn't buy this off the shelves in a bookstore; I special ordered it from Asahiya Bookstore in Arlington Heights. I did so because it had won a prize of some sort, and because I owned some other works by the author (which I'll describe some other time). A few facts and figures: the ISBNs are 4-09-185761-2 and 4-09-185762-0. Collectively, the two volumes contain 432 pages of comics, and each volume costs 1,050 yen. While this may seem expensive compared to other manga (though not to American GNs), the pages are larger than the average manga paperback, being about the size of the American edition of Azumanga Daioh. The paper is nicer, too.

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Monday, January 26, 2004


I've been listening a lot to Miles Davis's Complete Bitches Brew Sessions recently, courtesy of my local public library. While I'm a big fan of the later electric Miles, I was never that fond of Bitches Brew. For some reason, listening to the music in this form I'm getting into it a lot more. (Actually, the title of the set is a bit of a misnomer: more than half the music on these four CDs comes from sessions which took place after all the music that would become Bitches Brew was recorded.)

It's occurred to me before, when listening to electric Miles, that there's a structural similarity between some of his performances and the Velvet Underground's more experimental stuff: both "Sister Ray" (both studio and live versions) and the various other long, largely instrumental "songs" they did (which, except for a couple of severely truncated versions, are only available on bootlegs). But "The Little Blue Frog," on disc three of this set, really sounds like the Velvets at times. The alternate take in particular has some real "Velvets moments," particularly Larry Young"s organ, and the parts where Hancock is banging atonal chords on the piano (beginning about 8:15 into the track), and where the band fades back, leaving the bass in front (beginning about 9:56). But the master take also sounds like the Velvets after the bass clarinet solo ends, when the group quiets down (beginning about 4:00).

I'm not claiming that there was any influence, direct or indirect, of the Velvets on Davis. The Velvets were themselves influenced by jazz, particularly Coltrane's Ascension iirc. And I suspect they were also influenced by Indian music, which was of course an influence on Miles as well. I'm basically suggesting a case of "convergent evolution." But if you like the Velvets' experimental side, you should definitely check out electric Miles. And if you like electric Miles, you might try listening to "Sister Ray" (on White Light/White Heat), though I make this suggestion with more trepidation, as the Velvets definitely did not have the chops that Davis and his musicians did.

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Wednesday, January 21, 2004


There's already a link to this on the sideboard, but if you aren't checking it out already, its coverage of the Iowa caucases is, unsurprisingly, excellent. (Some of the best stuff has already been bumped to the second page.) There's also a very good post by Meteor Blades pointing out that while Qadafi may have abandoned his WMD program, his human rights record is still atrocious, and the rapprochement between him and the Bush administration is just another indication that in reality the Bushies care not a jot about human rights, despite making it (them?) the ex post facto justification for having invaded Iraq.

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Monday, January 19, 2004


A few days ago I watched The Station Agent, the well-reviewed "art" film that came out last year. I've also, over the past week, been re-watching Fruits Basket, a Japanese animated ("anime") TV series which has been released in the U.S. on DVD. Both mix comedy with drama, and even cover some of the same thematic ground, containing characters who are loners at the start, but have come to value friendship by the end. But here's the thing: even though Fruits Basket is aimed at adolescents, and is about a family whose members turn into animals when hugged by members of the opposite sex, I think Fruits Basket is better than The Station Agent. It's funnier, but it also has more depth.

The Station Agent is one of those films for which the word "quirky" could have been invented, but there's not much "there" there. Of the three main characters, Joe is purely comic relief, and Olivia's motivations remain opaque throughout. Even the characterization of Finn, the protagonist, is superficial. The only real reason to watch the film is Peter Dinklage's performance as Finn, and while it's a good performance, it's not enough.

Fruits Basket isn't perfect. Being for adolescents, it has a tendency to spell out its lessons; it's sentimental at times; and the main character is so self-effacing you find yourself rooting for her to grow a backbone. Also, the animation itself, while serving the story adequately, is nothing special. But if it's sometimes sentimental, it's often moving, and the advice it gives is good, and sometimes wise. And it manages to be optimistic without minimizing or trivializing the realities of suffering, something I've found to be rare, in or out of anime.

(Those who have only seen the first few episodes of Fruits Basket may be puzzled by my reference to "the realities of suffering." Anime series frequently start out light-heartedly and grow darker as they proceed, and this is true of Fruits Basket: although the overall tone is light, by the end of the series the viewer has witnessed an enormous amount of psychic pain.)

One problem with the series is that it faithfully adapts a Japanese comic-book (manga) series which had not finished by the time the anime was finished (in fact, as far as I know it's still going on). While the anime ending does a good job of provide a satisfying conclusion, it's still only telling a portion of these characters' stories. Fortunately Tokyopop has licensed the manga in the U.S., and I believe they will begin publishing it next month. (The production quality of Tokyopop's manga is inconsistent; hopefully they will do a good job with this one, or at least not botch it like they have with Kare Kano.)

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There's an interesting comments thread going on at Crooked Timber, discussing whether state-run primaries violate political parties' freedom of association, and contrasting American with British practices of picking candidates.

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Saturday, January 17, 2004


One of the things I was doing this past week instead of blogging was watching (on DVD) the film Distance, directed by Kore-eda Hirokazu (who also directed After Life). It's a contemplative film with little action. Three years before the film starts, members of an Aum Shinrikyo-like cult perpetrated an act of mass murder. A group of relatives of the perpetrators, who are all dead (if it was explained how they died I missed it, but my impression was that it was suicide) gather every year on the anniversary as a memorial. This year, they encounter a former cult member by chance. The film, which consists largely of flashbacks, basically deals with the relatives' efforts to understand what caused their relatives to do what they did, and to come to terms with their grief.

It's a worthy effort, which portrays the cult members in a fairly sympathetic light, while not at all excusing or condoning their actions. But though I watched it until the end, I did so mainly out of a sense of duty. I actually found it pretty dull: there was little to distinguish most of the main characters from each other, and I didn't come away with any better understanding of either cultism or grief. Cinematically, it wasn't very interesting either.

Saturday, January 10, 2004


The strike at Borders store #1 in Ann Arbor is over, and the workers there have ratified a contract. See here for details.

I assume this means that the boycott of Borders, Waldenbooks, and Amazon.com is over as well.


I mentioned in an earlier entry that I'm a sucker for commentary tracks. I recently borrowed the special edition DVD of Casablanca from the library to check out Rudy Behlmer's commentary track, and decided to check out Roger Ebert's commentary track too, even though I didn't like his commentary tracks for Citizen Kane and Dark City. To my surprise, I enjoyed Ebert's track. Maybe that's because Ebert's commentary tracks focus on the surface aspects of movies, and Casablanca works almost entirely on the surface. (The same is true for Dark City, but I didn't much like Dark City).

Incidentally, Ebert mentions some of the improbabilities in the movie's plot, such as the notorious "letters of transit," and the absurdity of a notorious leader of the resistance openly walking around, under his own name, in Vichy-controlled Casablanca. But he missed one (which had never occurred to me until this viewing). Laszlo says that he needs to go to America to continue his work in the resistance. What resistance work would he do in America? Europe was where the action was.

Tuesday, January 06, 2004


I borrowed the above book, a "guide" to fictional diseases with entries by various sf, fantasy and experimental writers, from the library the other day, and have been dipping into it. The book's concept is promising in theory, and so is the idea of blurring the lines between sf and experimental fiction (an idea realized better in the anthology Leviathan 3, with which it shares a number of contributors). In practice, though, the entries show a lack of inspiration: the best of them is "Diseasemaker's Croup" by Neil Gaiman, which is, surprisingly, the only one to actually be written in an experimental style. The guidebook format may have inhibited the authors' creativity, as the best writing is found in the back of the book, after the entries per se: the "reminiscences" by Michael Cisco and Eric Schaller, "The Putti" by Shelley Jackson, and especially "The Malady of Ghostly Cities" by Nathan Ballingrud, the stand-out contribution to the book.

Monday, January 05, 2004


In a fairly recent post, Tim Broderick complains that people who boost manga tend to only talk about the manga they love, and points out that someone's liking something isn't very meaningful if that person seems to never dislike anything. Fair enough. For some reason, it seems to be easier for me to tell by browsing whether I'll like a manga or not than it is with American comics, so I don't own a lot of manga that I don't like. But here are a couple of translated manga which have met with wide acclaim, but which I wasn't that impressed by.

Planetes vol. 1 by Makoto Yukimura. This has a lot going for it. It's genuine hard sf which only uses technologies that are likely to be developed in the near future--no giant robots or gateways to other dimensions--and depicts them realistically, something rare in the manga or anime I've seen. And it's intelligent and well-written. But I doubt that I'll be picking up future volumes. Why? Part of it is that I'm just not a big fan of hard sf. But also the characterizations are thin, the message of "follow your dream" is simplistic in a would-be adult series, and the idea that society seventy years from now will be just like today except with fancier machines is something that the best print sf has moved away from. The art didn't particularly appeal to me, either.

Iron Wok Jan by Shinji Saijyo. The art is good in a cartoony way, and Saijyo is very skillful at drawing cooking scenes as if they were action scenes, and making them look exciting. And all the stuff about Chinese cuisine is interesting, though I have no idea whether it's authentic or not. But neither the characters nor the story are particularly original. I'm not sorry that I bought vols. 1 and 2, but I don't plan to buy any more.

Friday, January 02, 2004


I'd seen Todd Haynes's Far from Heaven in the theater and hadn't been too impressed by it. But the other day I saw a copy of the DVD in the library with a commentary track by Haynes. Now I'm a sucker for commentary tracks, though I often end up being disappointed by them, and his commentary for Poison was interesting, so I checked the DVD out. After watching the movie (with commentary) for fifteen minutes, I realized that I disliked it. Yes, it was an uncanny imitation of the look and feel of 1950s movies, but it was lifeless, like a wax statue. And the substance of the movie was nothing more than the tired old stereotype of the 1950s as conformist and repressed. Now, my history dissertation was on the 1950s, and I've done some more research on them since then. And there is some truth in this view of the 1950s, as there often is in stereotypes. But to present the 1950s as nothing more than this is a gross distortion. Even more, it's lazy. Ultimately, it's all about displaying the 1950s as a dark age so we can be complacent about our own "enlightenment."

I then rented the American Film Theater's adaptation of Eugene Ionesco's Rhinoceros, directed by Tom O'Horgan and starring Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder. After about fifteen minutes of Mostel's nonstop, elephantine, unfunny clowning and O'Horgan's leaden direction, I'd had all I could take.

Thursday, January 01, 2004


In a post on Alas, a blog about a week and a half ago, ampersand wonders whether he did the right thing voting for Nader in 2000. I find much of ampersand's writing insightful, but this post struck me as myopic, focusing on a few areas where one could argue that Gore and Bush are "about the same," and ignoring the many areas where Bush is much worse.

But here I want to focus, not on the short-term effects of Nader's run, but on the strategic goals of some Greens, including ampersand. One of the reasons ampersand gives for having voted for Nader is to stop the Democratic Party from taking progressives' votes for granted, and thereby, hopefully, force it to the left. The trouble with this is that, given the current state of public opinion, a Democratic Party that was substantially to the left of where it is now would almost certainly lose (unless Bush's policies lead to an obvious disaster--i.e. one that even the media can't ignore--by Election Day 2004). "But this," you will cry, "sounds like the DLC!" If so, then so be it. I don't like the DLC's positions, and I was disgusted by their "pre-emptive strike" at Dean earlier this year, but we won't get anywhere sticking our heads in the sand, and it's a fact that the only two Democrats elected to the Presidency in the last thirty-five years were both DLC-type Democrats. (It's rather discouraging to think that there are plenty of people who have never seen a liberal in the White House in their lifetimes, who have children old enough to vote.)

To be sure, it's an article of faith among progressives, whether they're Greenies or not, that Gore "lost" in 2000 (that is, didn't win by a large enough margin to place his victory beyond dispute) because he wasn't liberal enough. I'd like this to be true, but unfortunately, the evidence doesn't bear it out. If anything, he was too liberal. According to exit polls, Gore preserved Clinton's 1996 lead (that is, the margin by which Gore's support exceeded Bush's in 2000 was equal to or greater than the margin by which Clinton's support exceeded Dole's in 1996) among liberals and among Democrats. On the other hand, Gore lost ground among Republicans (Bush's lead over Gore among this group was 83%, while Dole's lead over Clinton had been 67%, a loss of 16 points for Gore), Independents (-2 (i.e. Bush led Gore by 2) vs. 8, a loss of 10 points), moderates (8 vs. 24, a loss of 16 points), and conservatives (-64 vs. -51, a loss of 13 points). Looking more closely at the Independent category, we see that among liberal Independents, Gore's margin was actually greater than Clinton's (51 vs. 43 points), even though this subgroup was the most likely, by far, to vote for Nader. But Gore lost ground among moderate Independents (3 vs. 20 points) and conservative Independents (-62 vs. -41 points). Gore's main problem was not that he alienated the left; it was that he lost some of Clinton's support among moderates, conservatives, Independents, and Republicans, while failing to attract voters from these groups who had voted for Perot in 1996.*

Looking at the Electoral College results confirms this picture. Setting Florida aside, the states carried by Clinton but not by Gore were Arizona, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio, Tennessee and West Virginia. All but two of these are in the South or West; it's highly unlikely that he would have won any of these by being more liberal.

Our problem, as progressives, isn't the two-party system, the DLC, or the Democratic "bosses." It's that we can't convince a majority to vote for candidates who support our positions. I don't know the solution to this. But the Green Party is at best a distraction from finding one. At worst, it makes the problem worse, by encouraging the tendency of progressives to talk only to each other.

Addendum: Some Greens, reading this, may demand to know how I can say that Gore would not have won if he were more liberal, while also saying that he would have won had Nader not run. The answer is simple. Had Gore moved to the left, he would have picked up some of Nader's voters, but lost votes to Bush among Independents, Republicans, moderates and conservatives. Not only are there more of the latter than of the former, but since each voter who switches from Gore to Bush adds two to Bush's margin, Gore would have had to pick up two votes from Nader supporters for each Gore voter who switched to Bush just to stay even. Moreover, most of the voters Gore would have gained from Nader would have been in safe states, whereas the voters lost to Bush could well have tipped further states into Bush's column. If Nader had not run, on the other hand, Gore would have picked up more voters than Bush among Nader's voters, while not losing any votes among other groups.

*Poll data taken from the New York Times, Nov. 12, 2000, sec. 4, p. 4. The poll was conducted by Voter News Service, and had 13279 respondents. Gore also retained Clinton's lead in all three subgroups of Democrats, and lost ground among all three subgroups of Republicans.

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