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Lapith [userpic]

A new road to victory

March 8th, 2008 (11:53 am)

The first national electoral college polls are out from SurveyUSA, showing Obama v McCain and Clinton v McCain (via Slog). They show both Clinton and Obama beating McCain, though in different ways and by slightly different margins. Let's set all complaints about the fallibility of polls aside. Certainly several of these states are well within the margin of error. Nonetheless a poll like this represents a somewhat probable outcome, which is why people bother to do polls despite their drawbacks.

Here's the big story: Despite winning the "important" "battleground" states of Florida and Ohio, Clinton comes away with fewer Electoral College votes than Obama, quite contrary to what the battleground math (done for instance by The Stranger's Josh Feit) would have suggested (FL + OH > MN + WI + VA) and even though Obama also loses Pennsylvania.

How? Because Hillary manages to lose such states as WA, OR, NV and NH. States with idealistic Democrats in the cities and a whole lot of Republicans and shoot-from-the-hip Independents in the hinterlands. Not to mention Michigan and Iowa. States that don't immediately come to mind as battlegrounds because maybe in the past they haven't really been battlegrounds, but when a Republican with a maverick reputation is on the ticket the past no longer is an adequate guide to the future. Just because Florida was the deciding factor for the last couple of elections doesn't mean that it always will be; presidential elections come along far too seldom for us to know where the battles will be. Though in fact the Clinton campaign would have to rely on taking Florida and Ohio and Pennsylvania, thus ensuring that the old battlegrounds remain.

But the Obama map shows that there is a road to Democratic victory that doesn't require winning the rust-belt interests of Ohioans; the coal interests in Pennsylvania; or the Cuban and New York expat votes in Florida. These states have received disproportionate national attention to their local interests that are dysfunctional for the country as a whole. (The overemphasis on placating Floridians in particular has led to some of the stupidest politics in this country--including our inability to move forward with a new policy toward Cuba, and the Schiavo mess which was basically a local story played on the national stage due to the perception that Florida is a must-win state.)

The Clinton-McCain map also suggests a possible road to victory for McCain, especially if Clinton takes the nomination in a manner that alienates would-be Democratic voters. If McCain wins the Northwest and the other states suggested by this poll, he only needs another 8 votes to flip it for the win. (Considering how close New Mexico and Pennsylvania are, and considering that FL and Ohio aren't sure things, this is possible if not entirely likely.) That isn't to say that Obama would be a sure thing (look to the margins in North Dakota, VA, and NH). But it does look like McCain makes Clinton fight to keep some traditionally Democratic states, whereas Obama makes McCain fight to keep some states that Republicans have long taken for granted.

(Including, by the way, Texas--which the poll shows McCain winning by a single percentage point against Obama, versus 7 points against Clinton. And I gotta say, as a symbolic victory would there be any more potent condemnation of Bush than for the Dems to come to power riding on a victory in the former president's home state? Oh how I want it.

Um, also, re: Texas... isn't Hillary supposed to deliver the Hispanic voters to the Dems? Because if so why the heck is it Obama who puts Texas into play for us?)

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Hell, if the Democratic primary gets messy enough, I may well vote for McCain over Clinton. I liked him fine as my senator while I was in AZ, and frankly while I don't like everything he says he plans to do I at least trust him that it's what he's really planning. The more I see of Hillary Clinton the less I like her and the less I trust her to do anything aside from that which accrues power to herself. And haven't we had enough presidents like that already? Some people may disbelieve that the Northwest could go red, but I don't doubt it for a moment.

Lapith [userpic]

Race and Gender in America

January 14th, 2008 (09:59 am)

I've made many strident arguments against Hillary Clinton's candidacy for president to many people--not because I disagree with her on the issues, because I don't, but because I think she would be a divisive leader in a time when I believe my country needs reconciliation with itself. The Clintons, like the Bushes, are too tied up in the angry history of the past 3 decades to transcend those arguments. Even so, I've been shocked to see the direction Sen. Clinton is taking with her presidential campaign: heavy-hitting negativity, a focus on tearing other Democratic candidates down, and using the most divisive topics to do so.

The New York Times reports today on the ways that "race and to a lesser extent gender have burst into the forefront of the Democratic presidential contest[.]" Obama blames Clinton, Clinton is blaming Obama, and the news media are reporting the disagreement without any real attempt to show which side is right. I think that both issues are present to the degree that Clinton thinks is good for her campaign, and that she, not Obama, is the one raising them. In an attempt to show that, let me build a counter-factual history in which the facts are reversed--where instead of Hillary alluding to race and trumpeting her gender, Obama alludes to gender and trumpets his race. To repeat lest I accidentally start more unstoppable rumors about this great American, the following discussions are the opposite of what has actually happened. You tell me whether in that circumstance it would be fair for Obama to blame Clinton for raising these divisive issues:

Click for the counterfactual worldCollapse )
I look at all this and I think, damn, Obama is playing some dirty politics. I think if this were actually the case, if Obama were making explicit appeals to race while attacking his opponent as a dreamer, a fairy tale, then we'd be right to condemn him.

The facts being actually the exact opposite, I think we are right to criticize Clinton for playing a dirty game.

Lapith [userpic]

Bob Herbert gets it right for once

January 5th, 2008 (01:33 pm)

Before the TimesSelect boondoggle took all of the Op-Ed columns behind the pay screen for a few years, I read the New York Times columnists religiously each day. The columnist who I felt brought me important commentary least often was Bob Herbert. So even when TimesSelect crumbled last year, I never really bothered to read Herbert's stuff. Today, though, his column "The Obama Phenomenon" has risen to the top-emailed list over at the Times, so I clicked on it. This time he nails it:

Mr. Obama has shown, in one appearance after another, a capacity to make people feel good about their country again. His supporters want desperately to turn the page on the bitter politics and serial disasters of the past 20 years. That they have gravitated to a black candidate to carry out this task is — to use a term I heard for the first time this week — monumentous.

The Clintons, especially, have seemed baffled by the winds of change. They mounted a peculiar argument against Senator Obama, acknowledging that voters wanted change but insisting that you can’t achieve change by doing things differently. Senator Hillary Clinton has had a devil of a time trying to cope with the demand for change while shouldering the legacy of an administration that defined the 1990s.

Barack Obama has none of that baggage.

But for all the talk of change, it’s just one of the factors driving the Obama phenomenon. The simple truth is that hardly anyone — in politics, in the news media or anywhere else — realized what an extraordinary candidate Senator Obama would turn out to be.

He’s smart, hard-working, charismatic, good-looking and a whiz at fund-raising.

He has an incandescent smile, but it’s not frozen in place. He seems authentic. When he laughs, you have the feeling it’s because something is funny.

People are lining up to believe in him. He has the easy demeanor (in a long, lanky frame) of someone who’s comfortable with himself. Even when he fires up a crowd, he doesn’t get too hot. He has the cadences that remind you of King but the cool that reminds you of Kennedy — John, not Robert.

Lapith [userpic]

Why we need President Obama

January 5th, 2008 (10:40 am)
thoughtful

current location: Home
current mood: political
current song: PJ Harvey

I have been a Barack Obama fan since his electrifying speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. I feel about him the way I think people must have felt about John F Kennedy. So it was with great pleasure that I watched him win big in the Iowa caucuses (38%, to Clinton II's 29% and Edwards's 30%). While the news analysis is turning to the potential stumbling blocks that remain, I think this proves that white rural Americans are at least willing to vote for a black president, and it gives him huge momentum for the rest of the primaries coming up over the next 6 weeks. Given how he polls against any of the Republican candidates, there is a very good chance that in one year we will have an improbably-named President Barack Obama. A few days ago I feared that this was wishful thinking on my part, but now I'm pretty sure that it can happen.

Of course, not everyone is happy about this turn of events. Over at Slog (the blog for Seattle alt-weekly newspaper The Stranger) a defense of Obama elicited some heated discussion, including the following comment (which I have trimmed down to its most intelligent portion):

Not one Democrat that ran for office in the last go around lost because AMERICA WANTS THE FUCKING WAR TO END!!!!! The republicans are on the brink of complete electoral defeat in the next election, and Oboma [sic] is already making concessions with them. Why is that? To any rational educated person who loves peace and wants our fucking planet to live, the last eight years of Republican rule has been a knife in our backs. We do not need tepid, half assed polices watered down by Republican input, we need smart rapid change that is actually going to make a difference [my emphasis].

It's amazing how quickly people forget the lessons of history. Yes, the Democrats will almost certainly win the presidency in 2008. They will probably have a strong majority in both houses of Congress. And the knee-jerk reaction of many liberals is, NOW's OUR CHANCE! As soon as this election is over we can fix the world for good! We can push through energy reform, health care reform, marriage reform, end the war and solve global warming! Screw the Republicans, they won't have enough votes in Congress to stop us!

The problem is this: smart, rapid change makes no difference at all on our most terrifying problems. Smart, rapid change on energy dependence and global warming would involve alienating so many interest groups and voters (oil companies, manufacturers, corn farmers, people whose energy prices would go up at least in the short term) that Democrats would lose control of one or both houses of Congress in 2010 and then hand the White House to Guiliani or Romney or Jeb Bush in 2012 or 2016 at the latest. The reforms would simply be undone within a few years. Energy and global warming require decades-long solutions (cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050 as all 3 major Democratic candidates are calling for), so rapid action, however smart, will ultimately fail to make a difference if it does not build a permanent majority of Americans who believe in it. Any politics that uses the current voter discontent merely to pass legislation for a few years with the attitude that those who are out of power can go screw themselves, will ultimately spend all of that political capital and hand control back to the other side, in a see-sawing motion that moves us up and down but never forward.

Click to read the meat of my argumentCollapse )

Goddamn, believe me I'm angry at how much Bush and his idiots have fucked up our nation and our world. But here's the thing: the first most important thing is that we fix what they've fucked; the second most important thing is that we prevent them from re-fucking it; and all the beautiful improvements we'd like to see in the world comes in behind those two priorities. If Democrats overplay their hand, ramming through progressive legislation that is the right policy but that a large percentage of centrist/independent voters aren't ready for, we ultimately screw ourselves. Obama is plotting a careful course that relies on convincing people of the right policy (either with rational argument or with his awesome charisma) rather than pushing them kicking and screaming. His is the smart politics, and ultimately he's moving as rapidly towards a permanent solution as the political reality will allow.

Lapith [userpic]

The Strategy of Marriage Equality

November 14th, 2007 (03:56 pm)

Upon the occasion of my younger brother's wedding, some thoughts about the fight for marriage equality:

As seen in the latest kerfuffle at Balkinization, there is a deep divide in the gay community and in the marriage equality movement between incrementalists and those who hope for a sudden, stunning victory resulting in full marriage equality. The strategy of the stunning-victorialists relies upon litigation in the courts--showing that the state constitution requires gay marriages and straight marriages to be treated equally by the state, and thus that laws banning same-sex marriage are unconstitutional. This is the strategy that worked in Massachusetts, which remains the only American state that performs gay marriages (though Iowa is pending, and Rhode Island and New Mexico residents who married in Massachusetts can have their unions recognized). It apparently is also the strategy in California, as the discussion above shows. The difference is that California already has the best domestic partnership laws of any state, so the double-or-nothing strategy they are taking comes at some substantial risk. A stunning win for same-sex marriage can easily turn into a Pyhrric victory if an anti-gay majority becomes so upset that they pass a law or constitutional amendment overturning the court decision. This nearly happened in Massachusetts. And as dozens of constitutional amendments and initiatives across the country in reaction to the Massachusetts victory have shown, the backlash can extend well beyond the state where equality is won.

Here in Washington State the strategy has been one of incrementalism. As one blogger described it, the marriage proponents in the legislature (including Jamie Pedersen, for whom I have campaigned) are

"simultaneously forcing marriage equality opponents to discuss, openly and one by one, the rights and responsibilities they would like to keep from same sex couples while simultaneously holding up [a full marriage-equality bill] as the solution to the conversation: Just pass this, and you don't have to go through the embarrassment of defending these one by one for the next decade. (During which time, cohabiting seniors and same-sex couples will see their rights gradually expanded, rather than the reverse)"
This strategy is probably the only winning one in Washington, which has a quick and dirty initiative process that can destroy legislative gains overnight. Even had the state Supreme Court held that the state constitution requires marriage equality in last year's ruling, the quick amendment process would probably have locked in the anti-gay sentiments of the moment for many years to come, and may have also barred the domestic partnerships that we're now getting.

In Massachusetts, where a constitutional amendment requires 2 consecutive years of legislative votes followed by a public vote, the lag time was long enough that the sudden win in the courts did not become a Pyrrhic victory. Marriages took place, the sky did not fall, the consciences of legislators were appealed to, and the victory was cemented.

Now I'm not familiar enough with California law or politics to judge which strategy is more likely to win full equality sooner. But given that California, unlike Massachusetts, has the initiative process available to marriage opponents, it seems that the risk of backlash may be greater in CA than in MA. Marriage supporters need to pick their battles, hold on to gains, and prevent the prejudices of an older generation from being made binding on a younger, increasingly pro-equality populace.

Lapith [userpic]

Don't buy microwave popcorn!

May 7th, 2007 (04:44 pm)

The health effects of ingesting the artificial butter flavoring, diacetyl, are not yet known. The chemical is unregulated. What is known is that workers in popcorn factories are suffering from a rare lung disease in which lung function is lost, eventually leading to death. A lung transplant is the only cure. Investigators suspect that the artificial butter is to blame.

Flavoring Suspected in Illness

It seems likely to me that the chemical can't be good for you to breathe when you open a bag of popcorn, and probably does various other damage to your innards when you eat it. Even if you aren't worried about your own health, you should consider voting with your wallet and yanking financial support from an industry that costs its workers their lungs.

(And seriously--all this for a not-quite-delightful snack that can be easily made on a stovetop in 5 minutes? The coal industry also costs lungs, but at least that is for a product that is far more of a necessity. It is insane for us as a culture and as an economy to sacrifice the well-being of our fellow citizens over such trivial conveniences.)

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Not sure how else to get your popcorn fix? Stovetop popcorn is incredibly easy to make, though it is more art than science; perfecting it may take years.

E-How has a simple How To Pop Popcorn entry.
For a more involved lesson, including recommended tools of the trade, my method is similar to Scott's Perfect Popcorn.

Both of these recipes call for butter on top; in my opinion, the oil in which the popcorn is cooked adds plenty of rich flavor without any butter at all. Just salt and go! (Not to complicate things further, but there's salt and then there's salt; while the chemical content is all the same, the shape of the salt crystals can hugely affect the flavor. I use a sea salt grinder from Trader Joe's for more flavorful popcorn; according to this taste test Morton Coarse Kosher Salt is also a great option and at a bargain price.)

Scott points out that one should not use canola oil rather than vegetable oil. Vegetable oil (when you check the ingredients on any vegetable oil container, it turns out that the "vegetable" is our trusty friend the soybean) has a flash point of (that is, combusts at) 450 degrees; canola oil has a flash point of 400 degrees. If you have some reason to steer clear of soybean oil, consider other 450-flash-point oils in this table.

Lapith [userpic]

The coming movie season

May 2nd, 2007 (11:06 am)

I haven't seen a wide-release movie in the theater since "Children of Men" (which was, admittedly, fantastic enough to tide me over for quite a while). So I got pretty excited to see Kim Masters's post over at Hollywoodland, asking which of this summers many blockbusters is going to go bust. Spider-Man! Shrek! Pirates! Transformers! Harry Potter! Ocean's Thirteen! The Simpsons Movie! With so much competition, someone is going to fall short of expectations. I doubt I'll see all of these movies, but I can't possibly choose any of them to forgo... Definitely I have to see Transformers, Pirates, and HP; but the others are all quite tempting as well.

So in the run-up to the summer movie season, perhaps it's no surprise that some of the studios would start to, um, inflate expectations. But you know, Everything's Bigger in IMAX.

Lapith [userpic]

Stultocracy

April 7th, 2007 (08:49 pm)

[T]he world's greatest nation flails under the rule of buffoons and madmen, bogged down in two optional wars we're actually losing. The world's richest economy is shedding jobs, running up debts and building nothing for the future. Voters, offered an election year alternative to the subliterate idiot who single-handedly created this mess, spurn him for a leader even dumber than they are. America has become a stultocracy: government by morons, for morons....

[V]oting should be a privilege earned by an intellectually engaged citizen, not a right given to any adult with a pulse.

- Ted Rall, "Triumph of the Stultocracy", September 23, 2004

First, a disclaimer: Mr. Rall is probably one of the most inflammatory figures in the American Left; he has a tendency towards theater and overstatement that ignores the million shades of gray of the real world. Still, I often find that his cartoons and op-eds speak to some angry part of myself that feels deeply aggrieved by injustice and stupidity. In this article (written in late 2004, just before the election), he derides America's "universal" vote without regard to the alternative power structures (dictatorship; white landholding slaveowning men; unelected bureaucratic "experts" draped in the language of "scientific objectivity"; Heinlein-style citizenship of those who serve in the volunteer military, like in Space Crickets n' Tits Starship Troopers).

Rall also overlooks the uncomfortable fact that our "universal" vote is, in fact, not exercised by the vast majority of certain classes of citizens. Compared with citizens of democracies worldwide, we are woefully negligent of our civic duty. I for one am a huge fan of making Election Day a national holiday and making voting compulsory--a system used in 33 other democratic nations.

That said: I will henceforth be adopting the word "stultocracy" to describe the miserable mess that our once-great nation is in. As someone said recently (I couldn't track down this down), Republicans have now refuted the theory that it doesn't matter who we place in the Oval Office. It turns out that the head of something as mind-bogglingly huge, complex, and powerful as the United States actually needs some brains to avoid fucking up the ENTIRE WORLD. And we as a nation of many, many non-voters failed in our civic duty to our country, and our moral duty to every human on Earth.

To avoid being too akin to Ted Rall and favoring rhetoric over accuracy and complexity, there are some real problems with my simple solution of mandatory voting. It turns out that voting intelligently takes information, and spreading information costs money. It also turns out that the human mind, while intelligent, cannot honestly be described as rational; we are amazingly manipulable creatures, and entire sectors of the economy are based on leveraging our manipulability on behalf of moneyed interests. Those with boatloads of cash will thus continue to speak with a louder voice than the rest of us--advancing the fiscal interests of industry over those of labor, and advancing the ideological interests of the moneyed classes over those of the majority.

Still, I am optimistic that America need not remain a stultocracy.

Lapith [userpic]

I have some good news and some bad news...

April 1st, 2007 (12:56 pm)

First this:
Americans more likely to vote for a homosexual presidential candidate than for an atheist

And now this:
Californians would rather legalize gay marriage than legalize ferrets

On the bright side, it's good to see homophobia waning across the country. The gay rights movement has done more in the last 10 years than I ever dared to dream when I first came out.

Sadly, as ferret-loving gaytheists, this probably means that Matthew and I are the least electable couple in America.

Lapith [userpic]

(no subject)

February 19th, 2007 (12:05 pm)

Best homoerotic pulp novel title suggested by my class readings this week:

Duncan Kennedy and the Attempt to Plumb the Normative Behind

See Duncan Kennedy, A Semiotics of Legal Argument, 42 Syracuse L. Rev. 75 (1991).

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