Saturday, July 04, 2020

Pure (Prairie) Politics League--Short-Term Considerations

(In honor of the new PPP, the Paycheck Protection Program, a good bit of improvisation.)

I was an ActBlue junkie
I love ActBlue, and there is much to say in favor of it:   it is one of the Democratic party's most effective weapons, greatly facilitating impulse contributions from its sympathizers.  Contributors feel, correctly, that someone is listening.   Analysis of which responses elicit the donate reflex is sophisticated, subtle, multi-dimensional. If one believes that electoral competition is a dynamic synthesis of ideas, then the algorithms used will help make it so, in the interest of maximizing power (money).

My intention in 2019 was to encourage good arguments, causes I support, and electoral  participation.  My usual answer to an appeal I like was to give them the very small number they initially ask for, like to a mendicant ($3 is that most frequent ask amount), but if not, I give $20.20,  Then I like to see whether they have record of the previous amount(s) the next time(s).  Sometimes they do, sometimes they don't.  Sanders' database managers are one of the best, from this angle.

The bad news is the lack of strategic consideration in this impulse buying.  My objective in 2020 giving must be to assist specific electoral outcomes.  My budget for direct contributions is $1000--I have to stick to it, for hygienic reasons.  10 months to November, $100 each month, ideally two donation recipients, $50 each.  Sorry, that's it, though "in kind" contributions are certainly being considered. Progress report below.

The vice I have traded this one (reading 20-200 emails a day asking for money, and spending money on the ones I like) for is active monitoring of my hobby account.  It's cheap entertainment:  I have put in a total of $200 over five years, and I make lots of small bets, small comments on the site, and adjust constantly.  I will refer to it some below.

Four More Months
Four months ago, Joe Biden had just turned it around in South Carolina and was preparing to wipe out the competition on Super Tuesday, the endorsements suddenly flooding in.  The economy had not yet collapsed due to virus spread.  President Trump's favorability was nearing a record high after surviving the impeachment trial; polls showed a small Biden lead but the incumbent was generally favored.

That's how quickly things have changed, so they could change again.

It is possible to construct an electoral scenario in which Trump keeps self-destructing all the way through the election.  The popular vote margin, now polling at 10 points, could keep expanding, to 15-20 points.  The Electoral College vote for Biden could break 400 votes, a margin of over 250; Texas would be the tipping point for a real blowout, even bigger than Obama's win over McCain. It has happened before, though not yet in this century.

It's a hopeful thought, though it can only happen if this series of unfortunate events deepens.  It could happen; there are a variety of unpleasant October surprises no doubt lurking due to past Trump offenses, like the one that happened in late-June instead this week (with the revelation of bounty payments offered by the Russian GRU to Afghanis to kill our soldiers), with Trump once again looking to be the Mad King no one dares to cross.

I think it much more likely that the race will tighten.  Just as Democrats who didn't care for Biden have had to come to terms and back the guy chosen as champion for their side, many Republicans or Republican-leaning independents would love to come back to Trump if he earns back the confidence he has shaken in these months.  The economy will certainly show some improvement from its trough in the second quarter.  We should expect Trump's approval number to rise from the high-30's to the usual 42-43%.

The other change I expect is the effect due to the changes between registered voters and actual voters.  I don't see an enthusiasm gap at all, but I see a lot of potential obstacles, in many states, which will have disproportionate effects.  Voter suppression efforts, combined with disruptive coronavirus effects, could erode the Democrats' turnout more than their opponents'.

Here's a map of where sentiment lies now, backed by Predictit bettors' money, on the individual state markets (and Congressional district ones, where applicable), for the 2020 Presidential election:

Click the map to create your own at
Key:  Tossup--margin between Republican vs. Democrat in the market is 15% or less, either way; Lean - margin is 16-45%; Like is 46-75%; Safe is 76%or more. 

The Senate Map
(Same approach.  Keep this one in mind, too--it's just as important as how big Biden's win must be.)

Click the map to create your own at

If I (Joe Biden Campaign/DNC) had $200 million to invest right now (and they do), I (they) would see that the challenge is that the US is such a "target-rich environment" (as Donald Rumsfeld might say). This is how I'd spend it, by state: 

A. Primary Targets

Pennsylvania/Michigan--$25 million each.  Joe Biden must win these to justify his nomination, which basically rests on the assertion that his candidacy has the best chance to win back these two states, and their 36 Electoral College votes, that went narrowly to Trump and were critical to his victory.  If one looks at the map above, with MI (just moved to "Likely" over "Lean" in Predictit) and adding PA to the Solid and Likely sum, Biden gets to 268 electoral votes.  If he secures these, he needs only two more, from somewhere.

Florida - $40 million.   The state has surely frustrated in the past, but Democrats can win it--Obama did it twice. Trump, with the assistance of acolyte Governor Rick De Santis, has given Biden a golden opportunity, and some additional seniors have been persuadable about Trump's incontestable incompetence.  If Biden wins FL, it's pretty much OVER--it could even make up for inexplicably losing MI or PA (but not both).  Florida's population resembles the US' as a whole in many ways (though a few points more Republican), so the popular vote shift in Biden's favor (vs. HRC's in '16) should translate well in FL.

Arizona/Wisconsin - $15 million each.  These are the best opportunities for additional electoral votes, after PI, MI, and FL.  Biden needs only one of the two, and Arizona (like FL, a Covid-19 disaster area with a GOP Governor mishandling the pandemic) is very promising from all indications, also a huge Senate seat prospect.  WI will be a war, but it must be engaged, again.

B. Secondary Prospects
Georgia, North Carolina, Iowa, Texas - $7 million each.   These are the opportunities to make Biden's win truly historic.  They rise to the top of the many possibly blue-ing states because of the chances to win a Senate seat downballot.  GA has two seats that can be won, a rare opportunity that could be squandered without full support, while Iowa (the worst Biden state in the primaries) is now looking possible for both Biden and Senate candidate Theresa Greenfield to win.  North Carolina has 15 winnable EV and a winnable Senate seat, too, with a fair election.  (GA and NC money should go in large part for pollwatchers and lawyers).  Texas has the same opportunities--less likely, but even more transcendent in their potential historical impact.

C. The Rest 43 other states/entities - $1 million each.  This includes DC and Puerto Rico (in support of Carmen Yulin's run for governor there).  Bonus $1 million grants:  MT, ME, SC, AL, for their important Senate races;  MN, NH to defend competitive '16 Clinton states;  OH, just because; and Nebraska and Maine (again), $1 million extra for special effort in each of the two states' 2nd Congressional district.  In the bad-case scenario of 268 Democratic Electoral Votes described above, the door out of that room is winning those two marginal districts in states which have their electoral votes divided up by district.

"Slow Down on Testing"
No, he doesn't "kid"--though he's still one emotionally. He lies. With measurable and predictable frequency.

Rather, he makes stuff up--it just comes to him, usually from the Ego, but sometimes from the Id.  He doesn't filter it, not often, but just "says what he thinks".  The key for him is what he sees as the result of his trial effort.  If it seems to work for him (by his standards), it becomes part of his repertoire.  If the reaction doesn't please him, it's discarded.

This process is something that Donald Trump is incapable of understanding, lest it change "the way he thinks", which is the one thing that is all-important to him.  He could never be capable of explaining it coherently (or even 'covfefely'). So, when he got challenged on it, he came back with the "strong" response, which his conscious mind might have realized was the wrong answer, an idiotic one.

The latest indignity is the news that the E.U. is banning Americans, along with some other countries that are experiencing higher coronavirus infection rates than any of the European ones these days. This is to be a temporary measure, but I find it rather astounding nevertheless.  It is an administrative nightmare, to which penning Americans with the relatively-smaller number of other foreign travelers (not from East Asia) simply adds.   It would be a wonderful gift to the U.K., which is busy failing with Brexit and needs a boost badly (try London City Airport to avoid Heathrow), but the U.K. is theoretically still in the E.U. for this purpose--it will be interesting to see if the Brits follow F. Mac's advice and "go their own way" on this one. It would, of course, devastate many potential travelers' plans and give another mortal blow to airlines.

Europe, in theory, is justified in protecting itself, apart from any political consideration.  The US has reopened before it had the initial outbreak under control.  That is a fact. The answer is a testing regime for travelers, including post-arrival quarantine of 7 days, and evidence of a return ticket paid for.  For Trump, though, this is an embarrassment he richly deserved, and it may explain why he might plead for less tests, in his ignorant view.  The fact is that the E.U.'s evaluation required nations to show positive results, in terms of tests taken and low infection rates more proven.

Rolling Some Numbers
We have now blown out the projection I made of 80,000 Cv deaths in the US in the initial wave.  The way I was looking at it then, it should've trended, about July 1, toward zero, as many European countries have now done--something like the 110,000 number it busted through recently.  But now, it is accelerating once again and is projected, in Dr. Murray's new-and-improved forecasts, to reach some 190,000 by October.

It is arguable that what we are experiencing is the rolling continuation of the first wave as it hit more-densely populated areas less intimately connected to the initial sites of domestic infection, and less protected from rapid spread.  Because one thing we have learned of this virus is its great ability to spread, its R-nought.  It was initially estimated between 2 and 3 and projected based on that, but now I am hearing numbers over 5 among unprotected populations.  At that level, it's gonna spread, and eventually will overcome all but the strictest limits.  But these more remote areas now having the highest infection rates might have been protected if we had a plan to do so.

Happy birthday, Concept of the United States of America!

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

5X5: #5- The New Life

This is the fifth and final of the series of thoughts from the coronavirus quarantine, looking within, outward, and ahead.  Instead of five in five days, or even five weeks, we've had plenty of time to make the fisstu' and let it simmer. 

We've been fortunate with regard to access to quality local options to get food, and no excessive restrictions.  I want to give my greatest praise for the modern supermarket, especially the ultramodern one, which was ready for the logistical challenge. There were those who went crazy with the overstocking of certain items, but that was corrected before long.  The idea that toilet paper would be something to hoard--even with the supply chain inertia around the industrial/commercial rolls--is an example of a kind of craziness that has been the exception rather than the rule.  

I consider the past few years to have been the Golden Age of Global Food.  The downside is its cost; not all could access it.  One reads of the feasts of the kings of the Middle Ages, or in classic Roman times; this kind of plentiful variety is accessible to a much broader population today, but will it continue?  I have my doubts.  Though we can still insist on quality--or not, as many will opt--the quantity and variety of food ingredients and products may decrease. Instead, I expect less fresh produce brought in by airplane from exotic climes, and less fresh meat from distant factory farms.  

Meanwhile, I've been putting in a lot more time developing my cooking skills.  We now have the time, the material, and the information needed to try new dishes, though most of my designs for them start with the basic ingredients of olive oil, onion, and garlic, and going from there.  I have drifted a little into Thai, Korean, and Chinese methods, but I have to restrain myself with regard to the chiles and such. 

I have also started a diet for the self-quarantine period.   My 'Covid-19 Diet' has the objective of losing 19 pounds; I'm a little more than halfway there.  The concept is the mini-fast; by eating nothing for more than half the day (at least 12 hours, preferably 14-16), the body burns off pounds gradually.  I do it roughly the opposite of the Muslim Ramadan approach:  my last food should be around sunset, then I have nothing (except water, and coffee--black, no sugar--in the morning) until around 10-11 a.m.  I then eat freely during the remaining daylight hours.  I've always been a brunch fan--now I can have a brunch-like meal seven days a week, the daily schedule allows it (no alcohol, though). 

Shelter--the right kind, in the right place--has never been more important in modern life.  Thus, those who do not have "all the comforts" are especially at a disadvantage for their mental well-being, though we see very little of that in the televised reporting from these elite individuals' personal home offices.  Peloton has never seemed more appealing, though they seem to have pulled back on their ads--cash flow crisis?--in favor of ubiquitous adds for insurance of all kinds and pharmaceuticals. 

Still, I feel quite certain that humanity will have little trouble adapting to Coronavirus Rules, even if they are with us for decades. I am reminded of a science fiction story I read once but can't place:  was it Asimov, or Arthur C. Clarke, maybe?  It posits a distant future where people rarely, if ever, meet up in person.  Instead, their holograms meet up in a safe place.  The quality of that very possible future lifestyle will depend on a lot more development of what we refer to today as virtual reality.  VR is more of a gimmick than something with convincing verisimilitude and the full range of sensory input today, but give it time:  Artificial intelligence used to be a sore disappointment, almost an oxymoron, but no one is laughing at the idea of AI today. 

The problem with people's lives being limited to being physically at home all the time is what is sometimes referred to as "nature deprivation".  Even during this crisis, it has been critically important, for mental and physical health, to get out and get some sunlight and some exercise in a natural setting.  In that regard, I am very sympathetic to those in the big cities with the stay-at-home orders and feel that the trade-off required has been (net) harmful to many, while being relatively safe here+, and still able to go out--working in the yard, taking hikes or bike rides--has been a comfort. 

The Eponymous Novel (Orhan Pamuk, 1997)
I'd had this paperback in the house for some years, didn't know where it came from, but when I ran across it in my little bookcase for potential reads or partially-read ones, I figured this is the time.  Orhan Pamuk is the Turkish novelist awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2007; this novel was first published in 1994, one of his earlier efforts, and translated into English in 1997.

The opening grabbed me.  Its first sentence:  "I read a book one day and my whole life was changed."  Yes, I could identify. A young male student sees a book carried by a beautiful woman colleague, tracks it down, and reads it obsessively, day and night, and can think of nothing else. The book offers the promise of a new life, and in that life everything that was before, though it remains still, is somehow different when framed by this. 

We come to realize that the ideas of the book will be shown only through the course of our young man's impetuous adventures.  In 1990's Turkey, this takes the form of going, on buses operated by a variety of private bus lines, to the most obscure areas in the country's vast interior.  Searching for that woman, with or without that equally mysterious man seen with her, who may well be other atoms, following the same kind of random movement patterns.  We're not sure, though, as our guy saw her companion, Mehmet, shot and then disappear from sight. This wandering goes on, with great Pamukian embellishment, for fifty pages or so. 

Then Boom!  The inevitable head-on crash of buses,* and somehow our protagonist and the object of affection are literally thrown near to each other.  Operating Platonically (i.e., no sex, despite himself), they begin working together to try to decode and translate into practical action the precepts of the book, which leads them to a conspiracy-theorist, known as "Dr. Fine".   They infiltrate his family presenting themselves as a promising young couple ready to be mentored.   They eventually take off, separately, pursuing their destinies.  

It's a somewhat trying book to digest, because it teases much more than it delivers.  About halfway through, I resorted to reading some reviews to see what I was missing.  The answer was: not too much, at that point.  I learned that the name of this book he read and obsessed about will not be disclosed, nor much of its contents.  Some reviewers were respectful (no less than D.M. Thomas wrote the review for the New York Times), some reduced it to a shaggy-dog story.  To that, though, I would disagree; there is definitely a resolution, and a lot more opportunity to fill in the dots than that would suggest.    

(the following bit has spoilers)

 The key to the plot comes early, from the mysterious initial companion of our heroine, Mehmet (not his real name), when he says, "The way of the book leads only to death".   The conflicts in the course of the novel involve the fundamental Turkish challenge,  melding all of Western European/American civilization with the ancient traditions of Western Asia.   In the resolution of its mysteries, the course of the novel narrows its range from a yearning that is universal, for greatness and the sublime, to desires that are intensely personal and surprisingly mundane, even antisocial.   In this regard, the novel brings to mind the work of Umberto Eco, or very differently, Albert Camus.  Characters in the story make their choices, often inexplicably, unfeelingly, or on false impressions, but randomness rules.

It may be needless to say, but The New Life  hasn't changed my life much yet.  The novel was very popular in Turkey, with a lot of speculation about its hidden meanings:  Was it about the Koran, or some other religious text, or about the Gulenist cult (which was allied with Erdogan back then, seeking a modern religious revival in the country, and in conflict with the repressions of the secular authority)?  Well, not exactly--that unnamed book's proposed lifestyle was something more like the old American TV series "Then Came Bronson", if you remember it:  a drifter, his identity and purpose shown through heroic acts as he travels from town to town.  One amateur reviewer of Pamuk's novel titled his effort as "Blood on the Tracks", referring of course to the Dylan album, the tracks being here the dangerous byways of Turkey.  A very good summary phrase to which we Westerners can relate.

*One aspect mentioned several times was that it seemed to our main character that the mysterious book had been written as though it were specifically for him.  For me, that resonated with the bus-crash motif.  We had taken a long drive through the Turkish countryside in our honeymoon trip in 1993, and there were several near-miss head-ons or ravine plunges, due to narrow roads, blind curves, no shoulder on the roads, and trucks and buses driving pell-mell.  So, I could identify with that, too.

+23 cases so far in Taos County; no deaths. 

Monday, May 04, 2020

5X5: #4--Entertainment! for a Time of Sickness

The added free time can present some annoyance, if not properly filled.  There have been any number of posts and articles with ranked lists, offbeat suggestions, rumors of new (usually filmed at home) shows and performances.   I've been scanning through them and have a few of my own, mostly through experience of the otherwise dreck and re-runs .

'Contagion' (2011) as Intro Course for Dealing with The Real Thing
If you have not seen this Steven Soderbergh movie this year, you could've had a crash course in this year's pandemic in two hours.   (OK, one hour 46 minutes, according to imdb)  Early on in my confinement, I managed to find it for another viewing.

It's painful, but also a story of survival at the level of the human experience through the whole course of an emerging pandemic, with a superb cast and script.  Much will seem familiar, because it's what we're going through. It's a different virus, with a different trajectory, but so much of it could have prepared our society for it, if we'd watched it and taken it more to heart.

The basic parameters are an outbreak of a "chimeric" virus (bat/pig) spreading easily by respiratory means from an initial set of infections in China and carried on by international air travelers.The US breakout  (Minneapolis) is shown through the tribulations of the husband (Matt Damon) of Patient Zero (Gwyneth Paltrow), and his daugher (their young son succumbs early).   Then, she has a sudden, fatal seizure, and it goes from there. The infection begins to spread through casual contacts she made en route back home from her business trip to China.

(Some of the next bit may be spoilers...)

 Among aspects that the careful attention to science+ captured for the film is the rapid deciphering of the DNA of the virus, but the difficulty in developing a vaccine for a novel virus.  The CDC official on the scene of the breakout (tragically awesome Kate Winslet) opens a hospital triage location in the largest stadium in the city.  Her boss (Laurence Fishburne) is shattered and cuts some corners, but he ends up being heroic. There is a blogger (Jude Law) who peddles a false remedy, and various story permutations follow for him.  The film explains the "R-nought" concept, the number indicating the propensity of a disease to spread--it's actually just the average number of new cases per existing one.++

The movie posits panicked runs on supplies (in the film, on pharmacies), with those leading to some looting (including guns) and rioting. There are even armed security screens at state boundaries mobbed with cars.  So far, to Americans' credit, the social response in our reality has been more restrained, the recent Astroturfed protests in a few states notwithstanding, at least partially because the mortality rate of the virus in the film is several times higher than our (much-disputed) own.  Rather than anarchy, in the real world the poor seek healthcare.

The film also has an international element, addressing the problem of the worldwide distribution of the eventual game-changer, the vaccine.  A WHO official (Marion Cotillard) is kidnapped by provincial Chinese seeking to jump the queue.  One of my few criticisms of the film's resolution is that the global challenge is presented early in the cycle but not closed.  The lottery-type distribution of vaccine issuance by birthdate that the US decides upon (the hand of partisan politics is barely felt in Contagion) brings domestic peace, but what about....(insert names of many failed nations)?

Somewhat on this topic, I have found reference to a sci-fi novel about a breakout pandemic and authoritarian measures taken to contain it, written in 1997 with the prescient title 2020 (by Hamutal Shabtai).  From the interview with the author, who is somewhat apologetic about the length of the book (I haven't tackled trying to find it yet),  the story includes the aspect of China trying to suppress word of the burgeoning threat, the challenges of systematic testing and how it erodes free society, and then the potential brutality of policies separating those detected as infected from the vulnerable.

+Ref. podcast interview with the film's writers for Vanity Fair,  a pro screenwriter with a top epidemiologist.  Quality, Soderbergh style.  The podcast may have a paywall. 
++Here is a set of estimates of the "R-sub T", the infectiousness of Covid-19 over time by state, made a couple of weeks ago.

Saved by Infection?
Back on the topic of movies and invasive species, the other must-see for this period of time, if you have not seen it, is the film that may signal the eventual redemption of the Oscars, which seemed lately to have fallen into a permanent trap around Hollywood's immobile conventions and their lack of diverse creators, roles, and economic opportunity.  I was so appalled by the nominations this year I hadn't even written my usual Oscar preview here, and I watched most of the show with a resigned lack of enthusiasm.

That changed for me when they announced the winner of the Best Director award, and I gave a shout of joy when Parasite won Best Picture.  It showed me that the Academy's voting electorate, within the straitjacket of the nominations, had brought the right attitude.  One way to make Oscars more interesting is to feature more prominently the excellent films produced around the world, with the aim of making the show truly a world championship (since a competition, it seems, it must be) and not a high-priced back-pat.

I am totally committed to the experience of cinema, like theater both public and private, of the darkened room and the big screen, but Parasite, though plenty visual, will stream very well, or indeed work with any format.  What makes it special is its manic creative energy, astonishing characters, and intricately-woven plot.  The one downside for me (slight spoiler) is the Tarantinesque "cathartic" bloodbath near the end, but it is redeemed with a Hitchcockian post-climax twist.

TV Overview:  Delving into the Escapist Void
Enough education, though.  Let's talk about entertainment which takes us away from virus-related concerns.

My tv-watching habits (mostly sports, news, science/nature shows, talking-head public affairs) have taken a serious and sudden change.  No more live sports, and the news is always pretty much the same.  The talkshows haven't taken much of a hit, and nature photography is better than ever before.  (I particularly liked the PBS' Nature show for Easter, "Remarkable Rabbits".)   Under the circumstances, though, I've had to dig deeper.

In this depressing Drumpfist era,  I had already found it easier to glom onto iconic popular culture events that have no basis in reality.  I accept that it's a miserable excuse, and that effective activism would be a far more potent and honorable response, but these have been miserable times, and, while activism was certainly possible, its effectiveness has been blunted.

(This was due to the fog created by Chief Twit Dimwit's lies and provocations, McTurtle's slow walk to 2020, and endless blather from those seeking some kind of lawful justice that Robert Mueller and his report,  House committee subpoenas, and Senatorial Profiles in Cowardice can never provide.  Seeking satisfaction was self-delusion, a sort of escapism. *)

And so I chose to attend the two singular popular culture events of 2019:  The Avengers: Endgame and the final season of Game of Thrones.   The first got much greater praise than it deserves, while the second has been criticized more than it deserved.

Serial moviewatching is a venerable tradition, and comic-book hero movies are similarly well-established. I have not gone so far as to immerse myself in their multiverse, though.   I read comic books sometimes way back when, but I didn't really care if they were DC or Marvel, even then.  Save for a few SH movies I've seen over the years--I was somewhat impressed when the Christopher Reeve Superman series combined the commercial potential of the '60's Batman series with somewhat less cheese, and I enjoyed Robert Downey Jr.'s rehab work as IronMan, and Alfred Molina any old time (Doc Ock!)--little stands out  (OK, I'll admit that Guardians of the Galaxy was funny.)

Because of this limited emotional commitment, my appreciation of the biggest movie box office film of all time was stunted, particularly so as I have never seen Part I of the Avengers megahit two-parter.  It made for a fairly objective viewing of what I came to see as a standard-issue time-travel script.  Star Trek did it at least as well, from the point of creative storytelling. Doctor Who does it with more humor and better aliens.  Obviously, the production values of the Marvel series are world-class, but that is just table stakes for action megahits:  we want more!**

As for GoT, one has to credit the patience and depth with which this fictional world was developed.  I will admit it was a lot more data than I was willing to take on.  I had seen an episode or two, casually, over the first years of its run, so I knew the stars of the story and some of the place names and story themes.  I watched all of the penultimate season, binge-watched seasons 1 and 2 in the marathons prior to the release of the final season (but then stopped due to some travel), and then the ultimate one.  So, I saw the half I wanted, retained some significant holes in my understanding of past events, but had no problem following the fast-moving final season.

I was not one of those sorely disappointed by the outcome.  The key aspects of the two-part wrap (the war with the Walkers, and the siege of Kings Landing) did no more than bring things to ends prefigured (as possible outcomes) earlier, through the track of the main characters' destinies. The political denouement of the new king, etc. was anticlimactic, which is the norm for the end of great TV series.

Two things, related, that I really loved about it:  1)  the importance of that limitation of time and linear space which constrained everything in a pre-vehicular era, and then how dragons were the equivalent of nukes that dissolved those limits; and 2) the opening credits!  The effortlessly shifting camera angles and focus on the regional map (see below:  the big picture looks suspiciously like Greece, the Aegean,, and Asia Minor) served effectively to transport us into the fictional world.  I already see evidence that the excellent notion of that sequence has been picked up by other series.

*I barely escaped from that depression, only to fall into the crater of our disappointing Presidential primary and its excruciating, ugly process. Waste can be defined as the Cost of Bad Quality.  As the subject here is another, and we have somewhat crawled out of our crater, I will say no more.
**By "we", I mean "I".  Seems like the rest of the world had little problem with it. 

It's a Reality Show World
"This ain't really life, ain't really life, ain't nothing but a movie."--Gil-Scott Heron,  B-Movie
This was in 1981, just after we were all shocked as the reality sunk in that Americans had elected an actor, Ronald Reagan, to be their President.  You could extrapolate to the present, and then it would not be so surprising to consider our reality becoming virtual, a video game of some sort.  But, no--much more disappointing. 
"The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" - Gil-Scott Heron, again.  
Ten years ago, that quote was not viewed as being proved false--social media was enabling movement faster than the cameras could arrive.  Now, we know:  television (video) is too much a player to be revolutionary, and is an important tool in the hands of Reaction's surveillance. 

I won't say I never watch so-called Reality Shows:  As a family, we enjoyed The Amazing Race (travel being a big thing for us), and some Fear Factor (spectacularly gross, but limited variety).  I have tried to avoid any others.   Though imitation of reality is at the core of storytelling, and even documentaries generally are edited, these shows that purport to be real but are artificially created offend my sensibilities.  Amazing Race was a good example. It never broke the fourth wall, but in every one of those taxi cabs or jitneys, or airplane cabins or customs lines there was, somehow, a camera capturing all their squabbling and confusion. Come on. 

So, I have to admit that I have watched a lot of The Voice, and not just this year, because it's one of my wife's favorites.  I am continuously impressed by the quality of the performing contestants they bring to the show, and the sophisticated arrangements and staging are impressive.  I hate the show's formats for the (exaggeratedly slow) series of cuts to the contestant pool, though, and the amount of fluff that is padding the (excellent) performances is excessive.  

While there is too much emphasis on the coaches' phony "win" percentages, I also tend to feel that the real performers are somewhat exploited--though I admit, willingly so.  They are not amateurs, but semi-pros; most have honed their performing craft in a variety of live settings, but they need that big break (which I am far from convinced comes through the route of these shows--current Voice coach Kelly Clarkson is the only true star who has emerged this way, to my knowledge).   The winner should be guaranteed ample cash money plus a recording contract, and all the finale performers paid generously.  Are they?  Generally these shows would say so if it were the case.  Instead, the coaches get the big payouts, making this the Nike of game shows.  In normal times, I'd say it's good for local employment (in LA). 

With the dearth of live entertainment for The Voice to continue the final rounds of the current season, our TV has picked up a show, Songland, which followed it on the same channel in recent weeks. I have seen a couple episodes, but no more.  It is sort of the obverse of The Voice. The idea is that semi-pro songwriters come in with a potential pop song which they pitch--through performing it--to a team of songwriting coaches and a performing artist who has promised to record it (and give royalties for it to the episode's winning songwriter, and presumably, their coach).  The three finalists (out of four) for the episode then re-work the song with the coach's assistance, to fit the performers' preferences, and the performing artist chooses the winner at the end.   I believe it's the show's second season. 

As a format, it's good: much better than The Voice's one, concise, straightforward, and honest. Though the royalties for the song will likely be rather trivial in the end, there's a chance for a big payout, and at least it will give some honest credits for the resume.  The songs themselves are not really my problem, as they are all designed to provide an immediate hook, and a catchy hummable chorus.  The better ones have clever wordplay in their required rhymes.  So, we all know what is what, about this kind of song, but the making of the sausage itself is what disgusts me, even if this is like the real-life pop music "sessions"  For me, the show is simply too damn formulaic--the romance is nowhere evident. 

A couple more Small-Screen World comments for this special time of unquestioned TV cultural dominance:  This situation reminds me of the time in the early '80's when music videos suddenly became a very big deal (they already existed in limited number and quality prior to that).  The choices you as video producer had were somewhat few:  you could show the band performing the song, or pretending to perform it while doing something, or show the story the song was trying to evoke, or something completely unrelated (which was rarely greenlighted for production).  The chops for performing in a studio environment, which musical performers have have developed and perfected over the years, serve them especially well in this environment, whether they play to the camera or ignore it.   

Still, whatever your content, you can either present yourself in your office--there may at least be the shelves of books you may have read behind your shoulder for the viewers to enjoy--or in your garden or backyard, or present a series of other people doing the same.  I guess a couple have tried for a more intimate setting, though I have seen only one on a roof, and none in a basement.  But that's limiting, for sure.  Here are a couple ideas if this continues to drag out: 

A quick-hit musical variety show with topical content, like Laugh-In; 
A holographic (instead of Zoom) meeting of a small group of participants; 
Performances in concert halls with minimal attendees (5% capacity?), full special effects, and added sound-absorption. 

The Quality of Merch is in Its Strains
Top five of the current season--I will attest to having consumed each in the jurisdiction in which it is produced, as prescribed by law:
Blue Dream (H-NM) - 18.0%
Armagnac (S-CO) - 19.6%
Blueberry Headband (I-NM) - 20.6%, (I-CO)- Unk.
Pineapple Trainwreck (H-CO) - 24.6%; Train Wreck (H-NM) - 19.5%/
Blue Dream (H-CO) 23.6%/Blue Maui (H-NV)-Unk.
Contrary to what this might indicate, though, I'd prefer sativa if more were available commercially.  I agree with Bill Maher that they should cut down on packaging, or at least reycle their cylinders and tubes.  And, as may seem obvious, my favorite color is blue.

The Best Thing I've Seen on Facebook lately (I have no idea of the credits):  Our Current Location within a Dystopia-based Venn Diagram

From reddit/MapPorn:

Post image

Sunday, April 19, 2020

5X5: #3--The Antithesis

Virus-related Dialectics
Trump is doing no more than fulfilling the necessity of his historical role in the global event.  It was down to him to be the leading voice* of those resisting the prescriptions of the scientific community to dampen the severity of the virus outbreak.  The "Yes, but..." of those for whom unpleasant truth is unacceptable.   He staked out his stance of reluctant cooperation with the experts' pleas for physical distance, but his posture was leaning forward and outward, against all logic, at all times.

Trump is not just playing devil's advocate, which would be appropriate, particularly if no one around him is doing it. Neither is he just trying out new lines--I think he's now into his facile blame  GHINA/WHO/'BAMA one, where I think it will stay.

Instead, he is gambling once again:  first, he gambled this viral outbreak, like previous ones, could be contained within Asia and a spot or two here or there.  He lost that one--the New York Metro area is a bit more than a spot, and there are plenty of others--but that has not stopped him from gambling again.

The arguments to do more than just remain inert, a policy currently allowing economic activity around the world to continue to sink, they speak to all of us and demand consideration.  The smart play would be to help provide the specifics--logistics, counsel, analysis, and above all, money and political cover--to allow the governors to roll out operations for the full variety of business and service activity, within that framework that Drs. Birx and Fauci outlined the other day.   Instead, he promises having stadiums full of a hundred thousand fans, "and very soon!", and imagines all will be well if he doesn't bother to have any of that preparation done.

Now, I do believe that day with large-scale crowds is going to happen someday soon, and I hope to be around to see it and more, to survive the consequences of that, but Trump is not going to be President when that happens.  So I pray.

In the meantime, he has identified his role as pushing forward for targets that are inconsistent with his team's recommendations, disregarding the risk of proceeding to open in areas that have neither proven to have survived an outbreak nor tested their populations for infection or antibodies.  He is surprisingly comfortable with his role as th`e antithesis to the Enlightenment's thesis that truth is empowering and the scientific method can discover truth. 


That stance differs from how Trump's governance has been antithetical to Obama's.  Whatever Obama was doing, Trump has done the opposite--it was a very easy rule to follow.  The path Trump is trying to follow with the coronavirus is more complex, as some of the time he must restrain himself, even show some nodding agreement, and some of the time jump in (such as when questions irritate him), but it all lines up with his role of the great Doubter.  Politically, the synthesis somehow resolving the contrast between Obama's "Hope and Change" (moderately progressive, globalist) thesis and Trump's reactionary "Make America Great Again" antithesis is nowhere in sight.  Biden as national candidate does no more than re-state the Obama thesis.

With Covid-19, we are searching for the synthesis, the rules of the road ahead. Unlike our political stalemate, there will be a resolution of some form, forced by us.  Our shared, pent-up desire to get out will make us do things that the public health community's shared thesis argues against.  We will be opening up, in some states and communities, without the systematic, comprehensive testing capability that they urge.


A few comments/predictions about how that movement will play out:

Separation of those infected from those free of coronavirus can not be sustainably maintained.  Neither group can be identified reliably enough, and that may be true even when we do have enough testing data.  Evidence is emerging that the number of people exposed is several times greater than we know, and that those people may be contagious while asymptomatic, and that they may or may not have immunity from re-infection.

Vaccination may end the prolonged crisis, once it is sufficiently rolled out (and we should not expect that will happen very quickly, once it is available), but the best hope for something like "the new lifestyle" emerging sooner than that will come when we have treatments that are proven to save lives of those seriously afflicted.   There, I see some hope:  more with antivirals than with Trump's favored malaria treatment (which is somewhat brutal on the system for anyone taking it).  If it is true that we can keep those with serious infections from worsening irrecoverably, and that most people's exposure does not result in severe illness and respiratory failure, then the risk of being with others will drop enough for activity to commence.


Some final observations:

I am guessing Steve 'Race' Bannon himself came up with those "Liberate __(fill in name of Dem.-governed state)"  incitement-to-riot tweets in MI, VA, and MN.   Real cold-blooded, subversive provocation with clear political intent (to challenge polling deficits in states the Republicans would like to open up for competition this fall).

I find the current, revised curves produced by IMHE and used by the government to forecast to be too optimistic, particularly with regard to forecasted trends on Covid deaths.  The projections are nice negative exponential curves, but they are too contemporaneous with the hospital usage curves (deaths will lag for weeks), and they decline too sharply for those states at, near, or beyond their peak.  Just look at the actual curves for New York, or for the hardest-hit European nations.  There is not any sharp decline, but instead a plateau lower than the peak period.   As for those states not yet peaking, the curves are very optimistic (and will have to be changed once stay-at-home orders are relaxed).

Who is 'Race' Bannon?

*Bolsonaro is another.  Boris "TheSpider" Johnson played with the notion, before failing spectacularly.  Sweden provides a different example, an alternative approach (not requiring social distancing in normal interactions) that may end up being much like the US' variety of outcomes, once we relax strict guidelines.

Re-edited 4/21.  

Sunday, April 12, 2020

5X5: #2 - Retirement vs. Physical Distancing

Over the past months some have asked me about how I find retirement. Those of us who are in the new employment category called "Stay at Home" (different from "Working from Home") are experiencing some changes in their lives--some of those are like my frequent retirement-based life, but some are radically different.

What's more-or-less the same: 
You wake up, realize you have minimal obligations, smile and roll over in bed.
Good morning, good morning!

Nobody bugs you, except on your landline if you bother to answer.  There's no business worth using the cellphone.

Still don't really need Linkedin.

Nobody writes to you in the mail, except a few who still have some lingering hope of getting money out of you. That number is steadily decreasing--is the Post office leaving junk mail to "season"?  I guess that's OK, but like many things now, not sustainable.

You have texts, email maybe (depending on the recipient), other forms of communication through compromised internet channels.

What's very different: 

Live TV:
We have gone...From National Pastime

To National Facepalm

I actually just watched the 1996 National Spelling Bee finals on ESPN, and was grateful for the chance to do so.  That's how bad it is for sports.

No money coming in to us ordinary folks--(everyone is hoarding cash, and all that Federal stuff is going to someone else ).  For example, I am owed a decent tax refund from Illinois from 2018, and I'm quite certain no one will look at my amended return anytime soon.

Every bill you pay seems like a major concession now.  Cash is king doesn't even begin to cover it adequately.

The famous "Taos hug" we all know and love has been extirpated.  Will it re-emerge in The New Life, once this change process has run its course?

Wednesday, April 01, 2020

5X5: #1--Since We Been Gone

Thinking about The New Life

A comment line I had today with another at the site of Political Wire, an ongoing, lively discussion of the latest political news.
(mi5scents)Likely changes from this--1. a greater re-evaluation of having so much manufacturing in China--including medical items and pharmaceuticals, 2. a greater willingness to accept tighter border controls and 3. a greater appreciate among many of the importance of a strong public health system and those who work in it. In Europe, Italians are likely to long remember the EU's response to their request for help, and not in a good way. Bottom line--it isn't likely to advance globalism.
  • Avatar

     Upvote for your thought piece, and I agree with 1. and 3. As for 2., though, border controls don't mean shite to a virus. I'm serious.
    Here's my shot: Big changes to airlines, which will have to change their Coach seating patterns (thankfully so, though it will cost us more), and to food production/consumption, which will become more local. Cruise lines will downsize their ships or disappear, with those monstrous boats re-purposed for something. Many people will fear to join in large gatherings for a long time, which will have some subtle effects (another blow to the rock music industry--rent those boats for "cruises to nowhere"?).

    What I'm praying for is that global capitalism will be replaced by global community as civilization's guiding force.
As a retired statistician, there's a lot I could bore you with regarding my study of the curves, but I will summarize and say that the second derivative of the number of new cases is a good leading indicator for the key statistic, which is the change over time (first derivative) of the net number of cases (active minus cured). 

The number of deaths follows from that, subject to adjustment for the quality of life-saving healthcare and the comprehensiveness of testing.  Based on that, and my assessment of the quality of the US' response to date, I estimated a few days ago that the number of deaths due to the coronavirus in the US for 2020 will be 80,000.  I'd call that a "good job" for Trump--a 3 on a scale of 5.   Or on a scale of 20,000 to 5 million.  So, yeah, a lot at stake.

One piece of good news (for me):  New Mexico seems to lead the nation in tests per capita to date, and our Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham is suddenly emerging as a potential VP nominee for Joe Biden.  I endorse the idea wholeheartedly; in fact she is my first choice, given that Pete Buttigieg seems to be out of the running.  She has stayed well ahead of the curve in terms of her communication and the clarity of her executive orders.

Trump's administration defines the curve, for better or worse. Mitch's point that it (Trump/Mitch/Congress/whatever) got distracted by the meteoric news cycle of the impeachment and critical Democratic primaries has some merit*.  That is no kind of excuse, though, not for an individual, and certainly not for a Federal government.  That is kind of the problem, though--the effort has been 'federated" way too much.  Granted, I wouldn't want Trump making life-and-death decisions for others, given his ethics, but this is a real good example of how bad states' rights thinking is in critical, national policy-making.

That is no criticism of the governors themselves.  As I have already suggested, there have been true standouts.  If this pandemic had just hit the US so hard a month sooner, we'd probably be seeing Draft Andrew Cuomo sweeping Super Tuesday (in the guise of "Undecided")--once again, for better or worse.  If we were a tree, we'd be looking pretty thin at the top, though our trunk be solid.

I aim to follow up with four more posts this week on possible divertissements, notwithstanding.

*I have elaborated somewhat to improve his argument, which failed miserably.  Hope remains alive to eliminate directly all possibility of Mitch pulling off a Netanyahu.

Tuesday, March 03, 2020

Super Tuesday Special Edition

So much has changed so quickly that I have to make a few comments prior to the election returns this evening (and beyond).

There is an unusually high degree of uncertainty, due to the mix of three new elements:

  • The arrival (finally!) of Mike Bloomberg on voters' ballots--the great, pure test of the effect of saturation TV advertising;  
  • The effect of another real-world 21st-century experiment: using multiple endorsements and perceived momentum in achieving real electoral results without traditional grassroots organization (the Biden campaign); 
  • The changing fluid dynamics from the rapid, simultaneous withdrawal of significant candidates in a race that remains multi-lateral.  
Apart from having real significance for the outcome of this momentous general election coming this November, today's results will provide fabulous grist for political scientists.   There is little experience on true multi-sided contests.  Much as the big picture, along with the tendency of US first-past-the-post election systems, would suggest we should expect convergence to a two-person showdown, right now there are still four contenders who can draw significant numbers of delegates today, and the variations of support evidenced for each lead to some very interesting contests to watch tonight. 

A Note on Methods
Somewhat amazingly, two polling outfits have been able to file results in each of the 14 Super Tuesday states, conducted entirely after Saturday's surprisingly-strong Biden victory there. So these reflect his sudden resurgence.  Even more impressively, in one of the two (Data for Progress), many of the states' polling seems to have been done on Monday, with some knowledge that Buttigieg and Klobuchar were dropping out. 

So, for my own analysis, I have allocated the percentages shown for Buttigieg and Klobuchar (and Steyer, when applicable) as:  40% to Biden, 20% to Sanders, 20% to Bloomberg, and 20% to Warren.  There are reasonable arguments as to how much of their previous supporters would move in the direction of their endorsement and how much to their previous second- or third-choice, if they were not Biden; this is supposed to be a simple compromise approach to estimate that unknown.  

The other adjustment is the "gross-up" to 100% (actually 98 or 99%, to give Tulsi her due) of these results.  The polls vary in the extent to which the sum of all the candidates' shares are less than 100%--the ones with 95-98% accounted for clearly used more pressing methods to get respondents to choose than the ones with 85-90% allocated.  I personally prefer the latter, as many of those "borderline don't know" people don't actually vote. 

Five Major Outcomes to Watch For Tonight
0. Delegates Won 
This is the most important one, but I expect the results will not be clear enough to report with confidence tonight, despite what will be very earnest efforts by the news networks.  The main reason will be the uncertainty about which candidates will achieve the binary 0/1 outcomes on the 15% vote threshold, for the statewide and congressional-district level delegates, and the leverage those will have on the calculations.  We can see (from prior coverage efforts) that the networks will try to use partial returns toward the objective of being able to call (to something like 95% likelihood) at least some of those outcomes, but there will be many, many delegate decisions remaining outstanding by breakfast tomorrow. 

1. How Strong the Biden Surge?  
 This primary campaign has had a "Flavor of the Month" characteristic for a long time.  Remember the surges for Kamala, Beto, Julian, Pete, Amy, Warren (last fall), Gabbard, Booker?  (OK, I guess not Booker)  Generally they have resulted from spotlighted media exposure driven by news stories or attacks they made.  Most of them didn't last, and the attackers usually suffered in the end.   Is Biden the flavor of this month, or will his momentum fade, due to our fickleness or some unusually huge gaffe (there will still be many small ones, I can guarantee). 
There are two aspects to the force of the surge we will be able to measure:  1) the rate of increase for Biden in states where he was not even viable prior to SC (Ex. CA, MN, CO); 2) The degree to which his support consolidates to produce big wins in states where he was already strong (NC, OK, AL, VA)--will these match up to the degree of his wipeout win in SC? 
Key test:  1)  Does Biden's % in CA exceed 25%; 2) Does his % in NC exceed 40%?
As for whether the Biden Surge is merely this month's flavor (great as this month/week was to have as his), or something that will either endure or grow stronger, that will have to wait. 

2. Who Wins More States, Biden or Bernie? 
In terms of clear indications from the current polls, eight states have clear indicated "winners"--plurality of the popular vote.  I'd say they range from 80% probability to 95%, so probably one of these will be wrong.  
For Biden:  NC, VA, OK, AR, AL;   For Bernie:  VT, CO, CA. 
The six others present a variety of close races, which will draw a whole lot of the attention.  They don't matter much for the delegate numbers, because of proportionality, but still: 
Bernie/Biden showdowns: TN (Biden favored--turnout may be adversely affected by tornadoes overnight in Nashville, yet another uncertainty), MN (Bernie favored--see #3 below), and, most significantly, TX.  
Three-way races:  UT (Bloomberg and Biden narrowly ahead of Bernie); ME (probably Bloomberg's best chance for a state today; he's slightly leading Bernie and Biden); MA (Bernie/Biden/Warren).  MA could be a close four-way race, as the poll from the other outfit (Swayable, which conducted their polls Sunday and Monday) actually had Bloomberg ahead of Warren.  A fourth-place finish in her home state might actually convince her to withdraw, which would create another ripple in the force fields later this week.   
My only prediction:  Biden 7 states, Bernie 6, Bloomberg 1. 

3. How transferable is endorsement support? 
Buttigieg's endorsement may be more meaningful to Biden in the long run than Klobuchar's, but the value of Amy's endorsement will have a very clear measure in MN.  Before last weekend, Klobuchar and Bernie were in a close race, with support around 30%, with Biden in the also-rans, well below the 15% threshold.   Though Bernie should be expected to finish first, how close Biden gets to him will make a meaningful difference in delegates.  It might also give an indication if, down the road sometime, Warren bows out and either endorses Sanders directly or implicitly. 
Key test:  Does Biden's number reach 30%?   

4. Is Bloomberg a real threat to Biden's dominance among moderates? 
Put another way, what is Bloomberg's ceiling, when he dominates voter contact through his ads?  It's more complicated than just a Biden/Bloomberg showdown anywhere, as Sanders and Warren also competed in all the states Bloomberg has saturated.  He was planting the seed, which might have flowered if Biden had not rallied, but Joe's still there.  The best ways to measure the relative strength of Biden and Bloomberg will be in states where they have both polled relatively well--AR,  UT, and ME--and those where Biden was weak, but coming on strong--CO, CA. 
Personally, I expect the strength of Biden's surge may falter in weeks to come.  Bloomberg may feel the same way, but if he does not do well enough today, he may feel the urge to fall in behind Joe.  It may also take a week or two to re-calculate his ROI for his first half-billion of expenditure.  
Key test:  In how many of those five states--AR, UT, ME, CO, CA--does Bloomberg edge Biden?  

5. Can Warren survive?   Is she still "viable"? 
Trends are clearly not in her favor, as conventional wisdom settles on the inevitability of a 'B-geezer' battle (Bernie/Biden, or if not that,  Bernie/Bloomberg); she gets no attention and not much respect for her First Four finishes in the First Four--none of which were better than third (IA; one was fifth).  Her long-run strategy of building organizations in many states ran afoul of the whiplash of the early primary/caucus results and associated news stories, with the result that her ceiling for results in Super Tuesday states are uniformly on the low side.   The only positive is that the withdrawal of Buttigieg, Klobuchar, and Steyer will give her a few extra percent, which may make the difference as to whether she reaches 15% or not in a number of states.   This result is important also for the other candidates' ultimate delegate results:  how many ways will the pies be divided? 
Key test:  In how many states will Warren reach 15% statewide?  
Should be safely above:  VT, MA, CO.  Likely below:  AL, NC.  Can't tell--projects right around 15%: VA, UT, TN, OK, MN, ME, AR, and most importantly, TX and CA. 
Her plan is to continue on, regardless, but embarrassment in MA or in her birth state of OK might change her mind.   I would say that if she reaches 15% in seven of these, and including both TX and CA, she should stay in, though I don't know if she will see it that way.  The true shape of the delegate race is not likely to be clear for a couple of weeks yet, and her share of delegates (probably will end up being 5-10% of the total) may be important, or meaningless, in the big picture. 

Watching the results from Texas and Massachusetts will answer many of these questions.  I would also cite--apart from the obviously important, but slow-moving CA results--the extent of Biden's win in NC.  If it is comparable to the one he had in the other Carolina, it suggests a strong argument for his eventual nomination:  if Biden can bring in NC for Democrats, it would be very good news for the Electoral College race. 

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Advice for Mrs. Warren

Following on my recent endorsement, i'm just trying to help my candidate by offering these suggestions.

 ( If you're pressed for time and want to skip ahead to the advice itself, it's in Bold, large type, at the bottom.)

The upcoming debate Tuesday is Sen. Warren's last, best chance to give herself a decent outcome on Super Tuesday.  She has suffered through a long period when she was either scorned or ignored; she was a good trendy pick for imminent demise for quite a while.

That turned around at the last debate, in Las Vegas last Wednesday.  The occasion was the entry onto the debate stage (far right, from the view of the stage) of Mike Bloomberg.  Warren shed her appeal for unity, just for the night, and attacked him viciously, and successfully, on a variety of topics.  She was even ready with attacks for the lesser healthcare plans put forward by Buttigieg and Klobuchar, revenge for the attacks she suffered, back when hers was tied too close to Bernie's Medicare for All.

As has been the case throughout this ridiculously long pre-campaign, the attacker derives an immediate benefit; I would say that has been true even when the actual attacks were not thrust as effectively as Warren's were.  It's a one-time lift, and it mostly has led toward mutual destruction in the long term.   There was no mistaking the intention; she wanted to take Bloomberg out of the consideration set for as many as possible.  Finally, a share of popular support she could win back!

She finally got some consideration in the post-debate discussion of winners and losers, and it was mostly positive.  (A notable exception was the Queen of Snark herself, Maureen Dowd; as a connoisseuse of the genre, she was Not Impressed)  The evidence of a lift, though, has been hard to detect.  The timing of the last debate in the run-up to the Nevada caucuses was such that the majority of votes there had been cast early, and she had been polling poorly there previously.  Worse for her developing some momentum in the days before the Mar. 3 vote bomb will be the South Carolina primary results this Saturday.

Here, though, is a glimmer of real hope that has gone unnoticed.  The poll is by CBS News/YouGov, and it has an unusually large national sample:  6,495 likely Democratic primary voters.  It was conducted Feb. 20-22, i.e. after the last debate.  It is the only national poll on the RCP chart conducted after the debate. *
Long story short, Elizabeth Warren is in second place, narrowly ahead of Joe Biden (19% to 17%), with Bernie in first place at 28%.   Bloomberg is at 13%, a bit of a dip for him.

I recommend reading the full report, which is well and clearly written.  It doesn't have all the crosstabs of the Quinnipiac reports, but it reproduces the survey itself.  The (online) sample may be a bit biased despite their weighting efforts, so massage the numbers a little if you must.  The bottom line:  Progressive Takeover is underway, due to the failure of the moderate wing to generate a single viable alternative, and there is complete alignment between her supporters and Bernie's.

Those who said Warren's problem was that she peaked too soon may have been way wrong:  if she makes a successful move upward on Super Tuesday, there is still very much of a path all the way.

Strategy of the Debate Itself 

Do not take the bait of the commentators, who are looking for you to bare claws against Bernie.  Continue what you are doing:  pounding Bloomberg silly.  (Get some new material, though:  everyone saw the lines you had last time.) 

When the inevitable Stop Bernie?  question comes, this should be your response: 
"Stop Bernie--No!   Bernie is my friend, I love his passion.  I want him to join with us--then we will truly be unstoppable." 

Just stick with that.  Let Mayor Pete go after Bernie, for now.  Your point of view is that you should be the one to lead the way forward, this time, and his digital machinery should be joined with yours.  The more subtle point is that Bernie, alone, cannot win--which, whether or not it is true, is a concern many people share.

Additional Strategic Points

Build more endorsements from the other candidates:  Steyer, Klobuchar (after Super Tuesday, or before, if she prefers), Booker.  Accept the reality that supportive PAC's will do what they do. (such as Steyer's)
Kamala should be Kourted. 

Warren already has Jay Inslee's, and Julian Castro's.  She gets enough endorsements, she can return to the unity candidate line, which should work (for someone) as the field shrinks.  She doesn't need to play the gender card anymore; now she's got her "meme", and the identification will stick.   But it could earn her endorsements, and generating enthusiasm from women voters will be far more important in the general election than the few white men that might be pried loose by someone like Sanders.

Money Stuff
Looking at it "from a CFO perspective", Warren has to gamble on something resembling an inside straight:  focusing media efforts and also paying bills, but not paying them for too much longer.  She has to count on others' opposition to Bernie keeping him from a clear majority, but none of them emerging well beyond her support level. What happens after that will then all depend on how the next three weeks go.  If they go well, money will be much less of a problem, as the field will surely be less crowded.

Spend the money in five states, but one must be California.

California is super-Tuesday-critical:  I saw a poll last week which had no one, at all, over 15% besides Bernie.  He could win a margin of +300 delegates just in one state, if he is not effectively challenged.  After a result like that, nothing else will matter.   Sanders' team is doing expert analysis at the Congressional district level; nothing less will be acceptable from yours.  Spend money to target media well in the biggest of all states.

Picking the other four states--targets to win one or more, in Super Tuesday and in the week following--now that's real strategy.  Warren has the advantage of choosing her terrain, and now she has some money, too. In terms of choices--She telegraphed that Washington (state) is one by going there straight from Nevada, which totally makes sense to me.  I'd recommend Colorado (ST state), Massachusetts (go big--no choice), and Michigan (Mar. 10) as good choices.  If she can show a good result in Michigan, that augurs well for her being The One who can Hold The Wall.+
The timing for the release of her (awesome!) Cannabis Legalization Plan fits well with these choices, too.

Her objective must be is to maintain a position, one not at the bottom, at each of the winnowing processes that will occur:  from 6 to 5 to 4, from 4 to 3, and then, crucially, from 3 to 2.  If she makes it to the final two, she will win.

Mrs. Warren as a Candidate
I have been crying out in the past weeks, as I really didn't understand why she was going down in the polls and in people's estimation of her chances.   She is clearly the candidate who has done her homework the best, who has the best content in her policies (and the most), and who is articulate and sharp as a debater, who reaches out to others and who listens (a rare skill among politicians).  Many have acknowledged she could be the best President of the lot, while still dismissing her chances.

My conclusion is that the perception of her "electability" suffered, because some don't feel she is "likable".  There's a whole ugly history about this kind of stuff, and I have explained that I believe that I, at least, don't know what electability may be, and I doubt others' expertise as well.  One thing that I do know is real is that some have a visceral, inexplicable (I know, because I've asked) distaste for her.

Here's my theory on this:  she "comes across" (the very subjective, yet perceptive, way that people assess others at an intuitive level) as a schoolteacher.  Which she was, before she was a professor. Not just any schoolteacher, though:  she's that really good teacher, the one who can motivate you to do better than you thought possible.    My theory is that the people who hate her instinctively did not like any of their teachers in school; she reminds them of those hated teachers, in the school they did not like attending.   Let me know whether your interaction with others confirms this theory, or not.  I know that support for her tends to correlate with education level.

My advice, based on this:
Don't try to educate; be sure to relate.  You can do it. 

* Disclosure:  I am on the YouGov panel and did the survey.
+ A bit too Game of Thrones, maybe.

Monday, February 03, 2020

Decision Time

Vote to Convict, Then Move to Censure
I didn't watch much of the so-called trial, but that was too much. 

There was a huge amount of discourse, from the counsel of the defendant in particular, about whether the two articles approved in the House were "impeachable" offenses.  Logically, that was completely erroneous:  the House approved the articles, and the Representatives, not the Senators, decide what is impeachable and what is not.  By definition, the House determined that "abuse of power" and "obstruction of Congress" are impeachable offenses.

I would argue that the Trump Impeachment* neither raised, nor lowered, the bar of what is impeachable; however, I would have preferred they include Bribery--specifically named in the constitution as grounds for impeachment, and very arguably an offense committed by Trump. That would've changed the more asinine of the Defense arguments to specifics of "the bribery statute in the US Code" instead.  That would've more successfully focused the debate, such as it was, on the venality of Trump's behavior.  This Year's Model was consistent with precedent and has specific similarity to the cases posed during the administrations of Nixon and Andrew Johnson.

The Senate trial should have been about a different question:  What is the bar for removal from office of a President?  For conviction? For this question, there really is no precedent in the affirmative, though Johnson's case, Bill Clinton's, and now this one will show historical precedents in the negative.  Nixon's arguably presents an example of what would have resulted in conviction (or in an obligatory resignation, as Nixon's was, which functionally works out the same), but that doesn't help too much because of the huge difference in evidence which ultimately was available to Nixon's prosecution after nearly two years of investigations.

The proper way to view this question is one of risk management:  How much risk do we face by allowing this impeached individual to remain in office?  And how severe is the damage, if things go wrong?

The calculation is one which combines time remaining in the term (so should be most strict, in the differing case of  lifetime appointments) along with assessment of the degree of damage, conditioned by the facts revealed in the case.  In that regard, those Republicans who reverted to the argument against removal in an election year, one which appeared stupid on its face, had the germ of a correct idea.  To give an extreme example, the last month of a lame duck Presidency would be a waste of effort for an impeachment-driven trial.  That argument in this case might have had value if it were not for the direct threat Trump's admitted interference posed to the looming election; in this regard we have to credit Pelosi's judgment.

What's the risk that Trump is going to do something unthinkable and damaging to the Constitution of our democratic republic? (alternately, to our society/our humanity/our planet)  It's quite high, as the recent fiasco-doppio of his rash decisions in the Middle East** prove.  Not to mention appeasement of That Country Invading Ukraine. We have a new Trump Unilateral Israel Peace Plan much more likely to spur a violent result than to bring any more peace.  I could go on--the risk is high, and compounded the longer we face it.

So, yeah, there are only arguments for removal, though the risk for acquittal at this moment is much less than it would be, say, in March, 2021+ .  That one about "63 million votes" I find especially shaky. 

Anyway, immediately after the vote to acquit Wednesday***, some intrepid Democratic Senator--Schumer would be the normal one, though I'd prefer someone like our Senator Tom Udall do it--should introduce a motion to censure the President.  The denunciation should be a simple statement that enlisting a foreign government to attack our election in any way is not permissible behavior for a President, nor anyone with an official capacity in the US government.  (Rudy Giuliani's crimes should already be covered elsewhere.)  It should be wordsmithed to maximize the number of Republican Senators who could support it. 

The second censure motion should address the recurrent problem of the disregard the Executive branch has proven to have of the Legislative one, particularly as regards the exclusive prerogative of Congress to control expenditures.  The third should address Attorney General Barr's intentional efforts to mislead the public and Congress on the meaning of the Mueller Report before it was released.

That's enough--for now.  Of course Trump will veto or ignore any censure motions, but they will be on the record, will provide guidance to those who come later, if not to the Dickhead, and should be approved without delay.  At least the first one.

Endorsement for President (20/20 Preface)
I begin by saying, first, this is not a prediction but an expression of my own personal preference.  Second, I have an impressively bad record of picking the person who is ultimately elected President.  I would describe it as disastrous.  Some examples:
  • Hillary, 2016 -- OK, I'm in a lot of company, both good and bad;
  • Gore, 2000 and 1988 -- In '88, Koch's endorsement killed him (and my hopes to repeal the Reagan Revolution);
  • John Glenn, 1984;
  • Wesley Clark, 2004. 
  • Tom Harkin, 1992 (?)
The one exception has been Barack Obama. So, I write this in spite of my fear that my endorsement  may be like Ed Koch's proverbial kiss of death.  I hope not.

One thing you may accurately conclude is that "electability" was often a factor in my past considerations given where I lie on the political spectrum.   (Another is that I have been really inept at identifying electable candidates.) "Strongly liberal", as they often suggest as the leftmost option in online polls, is not so accurate; I would describe myself as closer to the feared and nowadays unused term "radical", in the sense of seeking fundamental changes. So, my choice each cycle tries to balance the political climate and my sense of possibilities.  (Clark in 2004 was a particular example--I thought he was the perfect guy to deal with Bush's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and his positions were not at all obnoxious.  He just wasn't right for the times, politically, in the party--like Glenn was not just the Cat to catch the Rat Reagan, my theory in early '84.)

The Much Ballyhooed Endorsement 
My preference for Elizabeth Warren relies on the belief that she is the best candidate to unify the Democratic party and maximize turnout of its supporters in the general election vs. Donald Trump. Among other characteristics, she is a person who is inclusive in her approach, a person who is open to ideas, and one with strong convictions and obvious passion and energy.  In terms of her approach to policy, she goes to the root issues--corruption, inequality, injustice--and develops both the right maximal objectives and the short-term strategies to move toward them. 

I have had a firm intention to avoid criticism of the other Democratic candidates here, as I may be passionately supporting them as the nominee later.   I will go so far as to say that my personal preference is that our "viable" choices not be limited to what I would call the "old B-boys"  (Biden, Bernie, and, yes, Bloomberg). The media seems to me to be prematurely fixated on the story that it is down to Biden vs. Bernie (unless Bloomberg can buy it).

In that regard, I agree with the choice of the New York Times to endorse Warren and Amy Klobuchar.  Warren is the "not B-boy" progressive (leaving aside Tom Steyer), and Klobuchar is the "not B-boy" moderate (leaving aside Pete Buttigieg).  If you believe that women can be a choice that is just as good, if not better, to oppose the Dickhead, then these are sound choices, depending on your degree of "aggression" (as Charles Barkley said the other night, reaching unsuccessfully for the word "progression").   For me, that's Warren, but, as you may see by the above, my second, third, and fourth choices are Klobuchar, Buttigieg (whom I suggest as the VP nominee, for almost any nominee), and Steyer (who I now recognize has added value to the campaign, apart from the mega-dollars he has spent in our general cause, as per Bloomberg).

New Mexico's primary is not until June 6;  95% of delegate numbers will have been determined by then.  So, my vote is about 95% likely to be meaningless, in that someone will have won the nomination by then.  That 5% that remains, though, could be significant in the big picture if no one has established a majority of delegates won.

*Trump I Impeachment, I mean.  Hard to tell how Trump II Impeachment will go at this point.
+Don't even!
**To be clear, to evacuate our troops from NE Syria and to assassinate Qassem Soleimani.  Somewhat fortunately, neither of the two has produced massive warfare and humanitarian catastrophe yet. Nor Trump's walking the talk of 'just walk away' in Idlib.  I repeat, yet.  (added 3/3/20) 
***If you check back, the vote will be just a few days sooner than I thought; it will probably not be as good as the 47-53 I predicted, and the focus, instead of on whether there were 50 votes to convict, ended up being whether there would be witnesses allowed (and whether Mitt Romney would volunteer for a starring role in a chapter in the next volume of Profiles in Courage).  So, while it basically went as I expected, there were surprises.