Sunday, January 31, 2016

Iowa Dreams

Tomorrow (February 1st) is the first time that voters will actually start making meaningful decisions as to who will be the nominee for President.

Obviously, this isn't new, but it has extra significance in my eyes for one reason, and that reason is Donald Trump.

For months, I've maintained that Trump has huge support in the polls because there is no consequence to supporting him. People might not like Trump as a candidate, but they like some of his positions (namely immigration) and they like that he says what he wants. They can handwave away all of the massive negative stuff about him because it doesn't matter--claiming to support Trump is an easy way to 'send a message' and then, when it comes times to actually vote, pick a different, more appropriate candidate.

As I said, I've been maintaining this opinion for months, and, sadly, I'm not sure if it still holds.

I still think there is an element to it. Iowa and New Hampshire are big, flashy spectacles--the sort of thing that Trump revels in. Once it starts grinding down into the rapid pace of weekly primary contests and Trump can no longer employ massive, long-term media coverage and has to rely on his bare-bones organizational skills, he will start to falter. (Trump has very little staff and an alarmingly undeveloped ground game.) I don't think he will weather Super Tuesday well at all, because his campaign staff is largely nonexistent, and that's not the sort of thing you can throw money at and whip together quickly.

The problem, though, is that aside from Ted Cruz, Trump is double digits above everyone else. Even if 5-8% of Trump's support drops off due to the above factors, he's still in first or maybe second place.

Anyway, tomorrow will tell a lot, but I don't think it will tell the whole story. Even if Trump wins both Iowa and New Hampshire, I don't think he'll last through the rest of the primaries. More worryingly for the Republicans, though, is that if not Trump, who? There are still too many candidates, and the anti-Trump (and even anti-Trump/Cruz) forces are split up amongst six or seven candidates. Even if Trump falters, if the other candidates each take turns winning primaries and no clear winner is found (a fear that happened for about a month in 2012) it may lead to issues. While, as a wayward political scientist, the chance that we may have a brokered convention would be fundamentally AWESOME, it might not bode well for the party overall.

In the end, many people (myself included) think that Trump will implode, and his commanding lead vs the sheer number of other candidates mean no one has any idea where those Trump voters are going to go, so even a candidate who is polling single digits today might still be a front runner. Most of the establishment candidates (namely, Bush, Christie, and Kasich) are biding their time; their low poll numbers won't matter when people abandon Trump and look for a more seasoned politician. 

As for the Democrats, it's not quite as exciting, with only three candidates (and only two realistic ones). The Democrats caucus differently, in that non-viable candidate votes get reassigned (unlike the GOP, where people vote and then can leave). In practice, this means that Martin O'Malley voters might split in a few different ways (most polls show an even split, but you never know).

Still, the Democrat side could tell a lot: Iowa is one of Bernie Sanders' most promising states, so a loss here would make it problematic (although not difficult) to continue (his win in New Hampshire later in the month, neighboring his home in Vermont, is a shoe-in so doesn't mean much.) But even if it's a close call and Hillary Clinton still wins, he can probably spin that into a moral victory of some sort. So Iowa probably won't change much unless Sanders is completely blown out.

For both parties, the next voting is not for another two weeks, so whoever ends up winning (or has an unexpectedly strong showing) will dominate the media for those two weeks. However, it's always important to remember that winning Iowa doesn't always mean much: the winner of the last two GOP contests, Huckabee and Santorum, ended up going more or less nowhere (although Iowa gave Santorum a bit of a boost he probably wouldn't have otherwise had).

Predictions: 

For the GOP: Trump has about a 6% lead as of this writing, and I suspect that will evaporate pretty quickly. I would put a Trump vs Cruz victory at about 50/50 for each. However, I'm more interested in the other candidates: I think Rand Paul has a chance to show off his organizational, youth-centered prowess and has a strong showing relative to his polling numbers; John Kasich will use his viability in New Hamsphire (where he's currently polling a surprising second) to gain some traction; and one of the other low-level candidates will have a surprising showing, possibly Christie. I think Carson, Bush, and Fiorina have bad nights, Huckabee and Santorum cancel each other out (and also have bad nights), and Rubio comes in either third or fourth.

For the Democrats: Hillary wins, but only by a small margin, so Sanders can claim strength as a victory. O'Malley won't be viable (you have to get at least 15%) but I think it's possible he punches above his weight and snags higher than what he is polling, adding a bit of strength to his strategy of being a decent alternative option.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Ten Things To Remember About The 2016 Election


1. That amazing thing you think is the thing that has happened for the first time ever in the history of America? It's happened before.

2. That article from an ideological-based web site you shared on Facebook is wrong and/or grossly misleading. Even those that used to be legitimate sources have fallen into the sensationalist clickbait rabbit hole. Stop sharing them.

3. If an article uses the phrase “this article completely destroys [insert candidate name]!” or “what [candidate] said is pants-soilingly terrifying to the other campaigns!” or any other combination of italics, exclamation points, and hyperbolic words, that article should not only not be shared but erased completely from the internet forever and the writers never allowed to write anything ever again.

4. Polls are good guides but don’t tell the whole story. Also, national polls don’t mean much during the primaries. If your guy didn’t win, it’s not because the pollsters cheated or the primaries were rife with fraud. It’s because polls measure certain things, and you’re probably using that information for other things.

5. If your candidate doesn’t win (I’m not naming names, but Bernie Sanders) it’s not because the system is rigged or the two-party system is garbage or that the other party bribed the local vote inspector or that Big Media was hard selling the other candidates or whatever, it’s because said candidate’s positions are well outside the mainstream of the voting populous as a whole. No other reason. And that’s OK, because that is how democracy works.

6. Just because you are passionate about politics doesn't mean everyone has to be. Honestly, about 95% of everything up until election day is going to be irrelevant nonsense that will have no bearing on how a candidate will perform as President, and most of that will be filtered through people's irrationally hyperpolitical lenses.

7. Be very wary of bias confirmation. People tend to talk/organize/interact with people who are roughly of the same socioeconomic and cultural situation, and will tend to have the same opinions regarding politics. Just because everyone you know is passionate about issue X doesn’t mean that everyone in the nation is passionate about issue X; just your non-random self-selected group of people.

8. As of right now, the rules are pretty much set for how the election is going to be run. You may disagree with the electoral college, or with how the primaries are run, or how superdelegates work, or how voting works at your local polling place, but that's how the election is going to be, full stop. All of the politicians running at all levels now know, or should know, all of the rules, and we can’t change the rules after the fact. None of these rules are surprises to anyone.

9. If you are the sort of person who completely rejects a candidate due to one mildly awkward word, phrase, or incident (see: Dean, Howard; Muskie, Ed), you are part of the reason that politics can get so awful. This isn't an apologia for candidates to get away with saying stupid things, but just keep some perspective. Even politicians are human and can slip up once in a while and still make a good president.

10. There is a pretty good chance that you read all of these items, and you thought to yourself, “Ha! Well, the other side does these things but thank goodness my side never does!” You are very, very wrong and you should feel bad about your lack of self-awareness.

Have a good year! It is going to last forever.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

2016 Starter Pack



It’s that time again, where no matter how you feel about it or whether you care or not, we’re going to be talking about the Presidential election for the next 2,000 years.

As longtime readers know, I love politics, but I tend not to blog too much about it anymore. Social media is a horrible way to discuss politics, since everything tends to get reduced down to 140 characters or an awkwardly misused meme. Blogging is a little better, but to be honest not by much. 

Still, writing about politics is easy to me, and since the production on this blog has slowed lately (2014 and 2015 were challenging years, at times, for various reasons) we’ll see if this improves anything. (Considering that my best posts tend to be about weird-ass candy and board games and my lowest-viewed posts are about politics, we’re probably shooting for quantity over quality here.)

All that is to say—I tend to keep my political posts generic and largely without bias. Quite frankly, I’m not keen on any of the candidates of any party—even my beloved big-L Libertarians—so I sort of have a detached, academic view of it at this point. I’m hoping—and I suspect—this will be advantageous to all. In reality, I'll probably very quickly offend someone.

Monday, January 25, 2016

The Bloodhound Gang

I love everything about this story.

A dog--a bloodhound, no less--goes out for a tinkle and accidentally runs a half-marathon. Coming in 7th!

Read the story, since it's cute (and has cute pictures of the bloodhound in question) but I'd like to point out some highlights:

1. The dog's name is Ludivine. That's an awesome doggie name. I looked it up and it was apparently a character in the series Les Gens de Mogador. I looked that up and it seems like a French miniseries fro the 1970s of which I can find no English-language websites. I am mildly surprised that someone from Elkmont, Alabama named their dog after a French TV show that is so obscure not even the Internet has it.

2. The bloodhound not only ran the race but also explored a little, including a dead rabbit. Bloodhounds gonna bloodhound.

3. The nut is this quote from the owner: "I can’t believe she ran the whole half marathon because she’s actually really lazy." That is everything you need to know about how hound dogs work. Lazy right up until they aren't.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Force Is Strong

[Warning: This post talks about Star Wars: The Force Awakens. While I haven't posted any spoilers, it does have some spoiler-ish moments, so proceed at your own risk.]

A few weeks ago I finally got around to watching the new Star Wars movie. I am a mediocre-to-big fan of Star Wars; I enjoy the movies and the mythos, but I'm not a major fan. (For example, I have not seen the prequels yet. Someday I will, but just haven't yet.)

Short review: if you like Star Wars or even just sci-fi, you'll like it. If you're not, it's still pretty fun.

It's not a perfect movie, but it's certainly a very good one--to the point where I was genuinely shocked it didn't get a Best Picture nomination. (Don't forget that the original did in 1977.) It's a continuation of how things were left off in Return of the Jedi, albeit a few decades later.

I won't go through the whole plot, but I'll point out some of the things I liked (and the few I didn't):

  • The movie does a good job of making me care about the new characters. There's basically three new people--Rey, Finn, and Poe, each with an interesting backstory that is efficiently told, and each with motivations that makes sense. 
  • These characters aren't simply new people to fill the slots of Han Solo, Princes Leia, and Luke Skywalker; no one is simply a replacement of the other. They all fill the roles in different ways. 
  • The new big bad--Kylo Ren--is interesting. He's not simply Darth Vader II, although he's clearly of the same vein. His character isn't fleshed out in great detail, but they clearly set him up to do so in the future.
  • The two biggest items of suspense of the original trilogy (Darth Vader being Luke's father and Darth Vader taking his mask off) have parallels that are quickly dispensed with, very deliberately. It's pretty obvious very soon who is Kylo Ren's relations, and they don't insult us by stringing us along; about a third of the way through the movie it's told to us, as if it's not exactly a secret. Also, they quite pointedly tell Kylo Ren his mask is useless and to take it off--and he does.
There's a few things, though, that I didn't care for:
  • The plot is almost an exact duplicate of the original movie. I know they wanted to play it safe after the disaster of the prequels, but after 30+ years you'd think they could have cobbled something different and interesting. Granted, the plot of the original was good, so this isn't a horrible thing, but there's a pretty strong sense of deja vu.
  • Also like the original, there are a ton of plot holes. However, I'm more than willing to give them a pass on this, since I strongly suspect that some of these will be fleshed out in future movies--some are almost telegraphing a flashback.
  • The whole "planet destroying gun that sucks in the sun" thing? That's kinda dumb. Just build a new death star, eh?
At the end of the day, the movie accomplishes exactly what it set out to do: it eases viewers in to the "new" generation of characters by utilizing the old ones effectively, it presents new challenges for the rebels, and it doesn't rely on fan wank and extensive knowledge to enjoy it.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Progfather


With the passive of David Bowie, my friend Louie more or less summed up how I felt:
Bowie's death for me feels a lot like Michael Jackson's death felt. His music wasn't My Thing, and I've never owned any of his music, but somehow I feel a little loss anyhow.
I'll be honest: I've never been a fan of progressive rock. (Strictly speaking, Bowie wasn't prog rock, but close enough for anyone who isn't a 40 year old still working as a clerk at FYE or an editor of Spin magazine. If you feel more comfortable, pretty much everything I say can also be applied to art rock and glam rock, of which Bowie definitely applies. The mere existence of Ziggy Stardust should plant him firmly in the prog camp.) Oh, sure, I kind of enjoyed a lot of the bands that are classified as such, but not the actual prog rock itself.

I don't quite rightly know why, either. Prog rock, with its experimental overtones, its subversion of the sorts of things in art I usually hate, and long, thoughtful lyrics. But most prog rock bands took that creativity and turned it into the exact sort of pretentious, self-important unfortunateness that I tend to loathe. 40-minute long rock operas that end up being about nothing except as an enhancement for those on acid is culturally weak. It's similar to the crude analogies one mentions about urinals: after a certain point, you're just playing with yourself.

Of course, this is music, and to each their own; I certainly don't begrudge people who enjoy that sort of music, but it's certainly not for me. I shamelessly enjoy the radio-friendly snippets of what allowed most of these prog rock bands keep the lights on, the exact sort of sell-out that true artists, no doubt, shake their fists at. But I'll listen to Wish You Were Here over Tommy any day. I got shit to do.

It seems that many artists felt the same way: the experimental album, once the mainstay of prog rock bands, largely fell by the wayside, with artists falling back on more traditional music output and cashing in their name in the process. Maybe it was the large amount of work involved, maybe it was a reduced reliance on psychedelics, or maybe it was simply bowing to the demands of the marketplace, but that era was over by the mid-80s. (The rise of punk definitely helped pound the nails in the coffin.) Which is a bit strange--in today's world, where data is free and easily attainable, long form prog rock hasn't made much of a resurgence. In a way, it seems a missed opportunity, at leas for those who enjoy that sort of thing.

Anyway, Partly because of this, I was never into David Bowie much; the few singles that got airplay (Major Tom, of course) were pretty good, and for a while I was crazy about Queen Bitch from the Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou soundtrack. It's clear, though, his impact transcended the genre he was in, and that's one of the beacons of cultural talent.