Tuesday, August 28, 2012

As Life Goes on, Heedless...

...of the nonsense at the Republi-Con in Tampa, let's pretend in this post that it isn't even happening.  Not too hard, for me anyway.

2012 Election Update
We'll try to keep this relatively short, as only certain, identifiable things have changed since my last political posting, in the wake of Paul Ryan's selection as VP candidate.   I will ignore any possibility of a convention-based bounce; there may be a small one for the Republicans, but there may also be a small one for Democrats which may cancel it. 

Apart from that, the big hope for Romney is some kind of performance in the debates (along with Ryan's) that will convince swing voters to trust these guys; so far their campaign, including the post-Ryan selection weeks, has not done it.  Recent polling is showing some of the swing states to be closer than before; in my opinion, this is not the movement of swing voters but improvement in the commitment level of Republican-leaning voters in those states.  My main evidence is that the national polling gap in favor of Obama has held, but the Republicans are doing better in the polling organizations' assessment of "likely voters".  The challenge for the Democrats in the general election campaign is to make the eventual voter results resemble more the registered voter polls.  (I saw a reference to a poll result that Obama has a large lead among non-voters; interesting, but useless, information!)

The map has not changed, though:  Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Minnesota remain out of reach for the Republicans; Florida is the Republicans' necessary but not sufficient toss-up state; Romney has a small lead in NC, but Obama continues to hold narrow leads in all the other closely-contested ones (IA, NH, CO, NV, OH, VA, and WI) .  Romney winning just FL and NC among these states would give Obama a fairly comfortable 303-235 Electoral vote margin.

Republicans' Senate:  Akin to Lose It

Todd Akin's benighted comments about rape have provoked a whole new round of news reporting showing the extreme positions the Republicans have had, and continue to have, with regard to abortion.  This distraction has hurt Romney, and may give the Democrats new hope in the battle for control of the House of Representatives.  It certainly has given them new hope toward retaining control of the Senate; Akin, who won a close three-way Missouri Republican Senate primary against two more moderate candidates, has basically put himself on the long-odds side of a race, against incumbent Sen. Claire McCaskill, that he otherwise would have been favorred to win. (I gave money to McCaskill for the first time the day after the primary, because that gave me hope she could win--now I'm feeling vindicated in that judgment, though of course my contributions are a pittance in the scale of the big-money TV wars going on.)

A probable shift of one seat changes the calculus substantially:   By my calculations, assuming the huge money sloshing for Republican candidates in Florida, Connecticut and Ohio can't move those races against favored incumbents, and giving the Republicans credit for likely (but not certain) pickups in Nebraska and North Dakota, the Republicans would need to win five of these seven political contests: 
  1.   Montana--Jon Tester fighting an uphill battle to retain his Democratic seat;
  2.   Indiana-- Dick Lugar's Republican seat is a possible flip to Democrats, who nominated a moderate (Joe Donnelly) to run against a Tea Party extremist (Richard Mourdock);
  3.  Massachusetts--I would now rate Scott Brown a slight favorite to retain his Republican seat over Elizabeth Warren;
  4.  Nevada--Republican appointee Heller is now a slight favorite to hold the seat against Shelley Berkley;
  5.  Virginia--The closest race of all, the Democrats trying to defend Jim Webb's seat--it's impossible to pick a winner between Republican George ("Macaca") Allen and Tim Kaine;
  6. Missouri--The aforementioned Akin taking the seat of Sen. McCaskill (it could still happen, even with the general and total repudiation of Akin by his national party);
  7.  and, either the Republicans win the Vice Presidency of the US (to break a Senate tie), or the battle to win the soul, and, more importantly, the vote on leadership control, of the probable Maine winner, independent Angus King (taking Republican Olympia Snowe's seat), or win the Maine seat outright.
My odds:  60-40 Republicans on 1, 3, 4; 50-50 on 2, 5; 30-70 against them on 6, 7; with the odds for an upset in FL, CT, OH, NE, and ND cancelling out.  I felt compelled to do the math and calculate the odds on that result (Republicans winning five or more of the above contests):  Assuming my odds, and that the events' results are independent of one another (a strong assumption), the chances of the Republicans' winning control of the Senate are (only) 19.5%. Akin's gaffe moved the chances downward by 25-30%, and that's without considering its impact on races other than Missouri's.

Armstrong Obit

Enough of that stuff.  I commemorate the life and heroism of Neil Armstrong, first man to walk on the moon (that we know of, anyway).  The moon landings were a prodigious accomplishment, unthinkable today given the quality of computers back then:  two parts engineering, one part pure guts.

Of course we know today that there was little to be gained there except the honor, the prestige, and the competitive drive to get there before the Soviets (I guess they weren't really very close, or maybe they just gave up after they lost the race).   Perhaps that was obvious then, too, but Armstrong and his gang never questioned any of their objectives. 

Armstrong loathed the fame and basically hid out for the rest of his life.  In that sense, I think one could say that he won his battle with celebrity.

I was at Capulin National Monument (northeastern New Mexico) on July 20, 1969, camping with my family.  We managed to find a workable black-and-white TV arrangement for the moonwalk (I don't think color would've added much, beyond the stars and stripes).  I remember my father talking about the radio show he listened to as a child, with the tag line, "Jack Armstrong--the All-American Boy!"

Speaking of dead, and Armstrong, how about Lance Armstrong?  I will give him this--they never proved a thing against him.  Faced with a lengthening list of those willing to bear witness against him, though (and, if I'm not mistaken, dealing with his partner Sheryl Crow's illness), he did a public version of nolo contendere, giving in to the perception of guilt.  As far as I'm concerned, even if he did cheat, he earned all those millions--he worked his ball off.  (Sorry!)


All football seems to be starting at about the same time:  the NFL and college this coming weekend, the European soccer leagues the weekend before last (just the US pro soccer league is out of synch, but I find their decision not to play with just shorts in the wintertime to have more merit than the Europeans' plan).  Really briefly:

College: USC has rebuilt its college program after being hit hard for violations after the departure of Coach Carroll to the NFL.  A team other than the SEC being favored is a novelty, but I'm skeptical--Alabama and LSU should be about as good as they have been every other recent season.  I promise to write absolutely nothing about the postseason of college football this year--a total print boycott.

NFL:  Eli Manning shut everybody up, but good (including me!), by leading the Giants to another Super Bowl victory over the Patriots.   There is no way I am going to predict anything this year, but I admit to being curious how my new local team will do, especially against their archrival the Green Bay Packers, against whom I've had a thing for close to 50 years.  Go Bears.

English Premier League: The prevailing assumption is that it will be a battle between the team that dramatically won in the last minutes of the final game last year, Manchester City, and its crosstown rival, Manchester United.  United filled a big gap by buying Arsenal's best player, Robin van Persie--probably a guy who belongs there--but is off to a fairly slow start. 

Instead, my team Chelsea, who finished fifth last year, has the early lead.  Having finally won its European Championship (I don't think there will be another one anytime soon), Chelsea should focus firmly on the League, because I think they could do it.  Chelsea will need to play it smart, as many of their key players are getting old--like John Terry, Michael Essien, Frank Lampard--so they will need to somehow conserve them for important league games, while doing justice to their Champions League title in those games.  I say it would be smart to bow out relatively early, like in the round of 16, and to go with heavy doses of reserves/second-teamers (they have a lot of them) in games for the FA Cup and League Cup. That's what (MU coach) Alex Ferguson does, and though I despise him with a passion, he's right to do it:  with the schedule the top teams have, you have to prioritize or you lose out on everything. Chelsea used up a decade's worth of European good luck (offsetting a decade of bad luck) last year; they should focus on grinding out another Premier League title this year.

It's time to go negative again vs. the Lakers, with one caveat:  I want to get a basketball jersey with "15" and "World Peace" on it, even if the LAL get the proceeds.  This deal--in which they got Dwight Howard and didn't even have to give up Pau Gasol--reminds me of the shenanigans which led to Magic Johnson being drafted onto their team in the '80's.   This decade, it will probably have to be Lakers vs. Heat (instead of vs. Celtics), once again forcing me to choose between unacceptable alternatives.  I will be rooting for Anyone But Miami in the East and Anyone But Lakers in the West, then for Miami if it comes down to those two.  I expect Andrew Bynum to disappoint tremendously in Philly, but I like the Nuggets' pickup of Iguodala.  The Orlando Magic?  For to laugh--see ya; buh-bye.  They totally blew the Howard negotiations, from start to finish; they can blame it on Howard, or on Superman or Batman, for all I care.

I don't want to get too cocky, but there's a decent chance I will end up with eight of the ten playoff teams correct, and an outside shot (depending on the Angels making a late surge) at nine.  The only one I definitely got wrong was having the Phillies instead of Washington.  There is still substantial doubt about several of the others; in particular, the Tigers have continued to disappoint while the White Sox have continued to disappoint my expectation that they would disappoint.

One area of interest in the postseason coming up quickly will be the performance of the four wild cards.  Reacting to the success in recent years of wild cards, both an attractive broadening of the pennant races, and an issue due to the relative underperformance of division winners, MLB's owners and commissioner decided to add an extra wild card in each league, but to handicap both wild cards with an unfavorable schedule.  They rushed the change in, a one-game play-in game, followed immediately by a series with a home-field disadvantage. I won't predict anything until I know the matchups, and even then, I won't feel confident.  Of course, I will be forced to pick the Reds (even if I don't believe it) if they do indeed win their division.

This year's U.S. Open looks to be very interesting.  Roger Federer comes in very strongly, looking to avenge his tough loss in the semifinals last year; Rafael Nadal is sitting it out, and Novak Djokovic has not been playing his best. So, my picks would be 1) Federer; and 2) Andy Murray, who just broke through with a big win in the Olympics singles competition.

As for the women, Serena Williams is a big favorite to make the final through a relatively weak half of the draw.  The sentimental pick to face her would be Kim Clijsters, who has announced this would be her last tournament before retiring.  Clijsters has a tough half of the draw to get through, but she has a long winning streak in this tournament.  Serena lost a controversial final to Clijsters a couple of years ago, so she's looking for revenge, too.  The way she's playing, I can't see anyone--Kvitova or Azarenka are other likely finals' opponents--beating her, but there could be an injury or some sort of emotional blow-up.

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