Monthly Archives: January 2012

When Romney wins Florida it’s…over? Beginning? In the middle?

First things first, Romney, as you’ll see below, seems to be well-headed to victory in Florida on Tuesday:

As of Friday, his surge and Gingrich’s drop were plateauing, but at levels that leave Romney 8+ percent ahead. With about 9% undecided, almost all of them would have to break for Gingrich for him to regain the lead, and given his uneven performance in Friday’s debate, that doesn’t seem likely. The latest models at fivethirtyeight.com are also forecasting a Romney victory of 8.5%.

So what will this probable victory mean? Just 11 days ago, when I was expecting Florida to mark four Romney victories out of four, I thought it would mean the end of the race. Then Gingrich surged, Perry dropped out and Santorum retroactively became the victor in Iowa, causing me to recant just before South Carolina. Romney has rallied in Florida, getting muscular with attacks, clearing up his hedging on financial disclosure, and drawing in the establishment, who were suddenly panicked by Gingrich’s resurgence. Will a Romney Florida win knock Gingrich out and once again point us toward a quick sew up?

I think there are some reasons to be skeptical. For one thing, Santorum is just about out of money, and it’s not clear how a Florida third place that barely clears 10% would help him. Which leaves us with some interesting math:

If you look at the votes so far for the seven Republican candidates that started out in Iowa, a few things stand out:
1. Elimination has been fairly rational, in the sense that everyone who only garnered single didgits is now gone.
2. If you are Gingrich, you’re so close to Romney overall so far that only an ultra-shellacking in Florida would convince you that you have no chance long term.
3. Assuming that all Huntsman votes would have gone to Romney if Huntsman hadn’t been in the race, and assuming that some, but not all of the conservative votes (I’ve taken 75% of totals for Bachmann, Gingrich, Perry and Santorum) would have gone to a single Conservative candidate if there was only one in the race, the hypothetical Conservative would lead Romney so far. If you assume even more Conservative overlap, and/or less than 100% Huntsman conversion to Romney, the Conservative would lead by even more.
4. Bachmann and Perry are gone, and Santorum is running out of money. Gingrich is, effectively, the only remaining figure Conservatives dissatisfied with Romney will have to flock to after Florida.
The schedule between Florida and Super Tuesday on March 6th gives Gingrich several chances to steal a surprise victory or two and rally those still looking for an alternative to Romney, keeping things interesting until Super Tuesday on March 6th.
Sat., February 4, 2012 Nevada
February 4–11, 2012 Maine
Tue., February 7, 2012 Colorado
Minnesota
Missouri
Tue., February 28, 2012 Arizona
Michigan
Sat., March 3, 2012 Washington
On the skeptical toward my skepticism side of the coin, it’s a heck of a lot of time, and a heck of a lot of geography to cover, for a candidate as underfunded and understaffed as Gingrich. It’s also worth noting that Gingrich’s best chance is probably in the arch-Conservative Arizona, but they don’t vote for four weeks after Florida. And the lightning rod issue there is immigration, just about the only issue in existence on which he is actually to the left of Romney. 
It will be interesting to see it all play out… 
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Book Review: The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym

The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket (Edgar Allen Poe, 1838, 146 pp.)


When I got the Nook for Christmas and set about using my Barnes & Noble gift cards to download things to it, one of the first things I discovered was the joy of works that are beyond copyright protection. 99 cents can get you a lot, and if (as I would recommend) you spring for the extra few dollars to get to the $2.99-$4.99 category to get collections that have proper indexing for E-readers, you can find yourself with the entire works of William Shakespeare, Dostoyevsky or H.P. Lovecraft for under five dollars each. And, in this case, Edgar Allen Poe as well.

When I downloaded a collection of his stories, I discovered that it also included The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, the only novel he ever wrote. Having just finished it, I can testify that it is a gem, albeit a somewhat baffling one. What starts off as an adventure at sea story, and then takes a decidedly Poeian turn to cannibalism, becomes a fantasy of Antarctic exploration that then ends without an ending. Poe didn’t die in the middle. Publishers didn’t pressure him to finish it. He quite deliberately ends with a mysterious final scene, and then writes an afterword explaining how the last few chapters (since it’s written as a memoir that has been “discovered” by Poe) have been lost.

While this is consternating, it does produce a curious effect of mystery and wonder that I, and apparently many other readers, ended up appreciating. The language is a delight, as is the always self-obsessed narration of the main character as he stumbles through fantastical scenes of stowing away, mutiny, shipwreck, starvation and sailing ever southward through increasingly strange realms.

One of the things that I found most interesting in reading about it after reading it, is the profound effect this strange little unfinished book has had on other writers. I’d known that H.P. Lovecraft was influenced by it and makes repeated references to it in his Antarctic novel At The Mountains of Madness. In addition to that, though, it appears to have been a major, uncredited, influence on Herman Melville in writing Moby Dick, was admired and translated by Baudelaire, and also inspired loosely-related sequels by Jules Verne and another 19th century writer, Charles Romyn Dake. More recently the book inspired critiques of its racial depictions by Toni Morrison, which themselves became the jumping-off point of Mat Johnson’s satirical 2011 novel Pym, in which an African-American literature professor becomes obsessed with finding the inhabitants of the islands described toward the end of Poe’s novel.

I myself found the depictions of the “savages” in the book to be troubling in their early-19th century way. Perhaps it’s my own post-modernity talking, but I wondered along the way if Poe wasn’t slightly tongue in cheek about it. The narrator believes they’re guilty of a brutal massacre, but there are subtle indications throughout the work that the narrator himself is somewhat incompetent and not entirely reliable in his recollections. Are the signs that he sees of what he believes is a deliberately set-up ambush actually totally misinterpreted? One of several interesting questions to consider while reading…       




South Carolina: This changes…Something!

Not in the long run, but still something.

Last week, I was thoroughly convinced that today’s primary in South Carolina would produce a clear victory for Romney, setting him up for a win in Florida and de facto ending the Republican nomination contest by the end of the month. Well, I’m a big enough Blogger to admit when I’m (partially) wrong. To wit, view the latest polling average from Real Clear Politics over the last three days:

As you can see, going in to the home stretch, Gingrich is in the lead, has upward momentum, and Romney, which is even worse for his chances today, has downward momentum. The model at the eminently respectable FiveThirtyEight.com is forecasting a Gingrich victory of around 38-30.

What happened? Gingrich has had some clear pluses this week: momentum from a strong debate performance Monday, Perry dropping out and endorsing him (which I did not foresee), and another strong showing on Friday night. He also had some pretty clear minuses in the last few days: Santorum’s endorsement by the Evangelical establishment, Santorum’s belated recognition as the victor in Iowa, and a decidedly unflattering interview with his ex-wife on national television Thursday night.

The pluses seem to be outweighing the minuses. Goes to show you what I know! I also realize that I made a fundamental error in my mathematical noodlings from last week in only considering reallocation of votes among candidates and not the additional factor that there were about 10% undecided who might break Gingrich’s way as well. Even so, I wouldn’t have called it, since I thought Perry would hang in there, and in addition to the votes from Perry, Santorum and undecideds going to Gingrich, Romney has been dropping the last few days.

Color me contrite! And, to clarify my above statement that I was partially wrong, I am probably, in fact, going to be completely wrong in my short term predictions from last week. If Gingrich wins today and Santorum is fourth, Florida becomes a real contest. And if Santorum is fourth there as well, Gingrich has an excellent chance of being the last Conservative standing and pulling in enough resources from that status to hang in there for many primaries and caucuses to come. As most everyone notes, Romney retains every advantage over the medium/long term. In that sense the “inevitable Romney” theory is probably still correct. But this could at least keep it interesting through Super Tuesday!

And it also has some bearing on Romney’s ultimate prospects, as the longer the competitive race, the more focus on him seems to be eroding his favorability rating. Everyone pulls together for their nominee eventually, of course, but enthusiasm matters, as does the opposition seeing what avenues of attack are likely to be most fruitful. Those of us who still believe in civility should put up the blast shields, because this fall could get nasty on both sides…            

South Carolina update: This Changes…Nothing

Mind you, there are a few things afoot that could affect this Saturday’s primary in South Carolina. Such as the fact that everybody else in the field finally realized Romney is about to walk away with it, and targeted him relentlessly in last night’s debate. Not to mention which, they are spending heavily in the state with advertising that focuses on him, rather than each other. Santorum certainly got a boost when the evangelical conference this past weekend decided he was their last best hope for a conservative alternative to Romney, and backed him with surprising unanimity. Meanwhile, in the pro-Romeny camp, Hunstman has decided to drop out and back Romney.

The net effect of all of this? Just about nothing. To see why, you have to look no further than the latest Real Clear Politics averages for South Carolina:

Gingrich is not getting any upward trajectory for all his spending, but neither is he dropping. Santorum has similarly plateaued after a weak New Hampshire showing. The state is friendly to them, but they both have limitations in field strength, and are competing with each other for the same votes. Perry is meanwhile making his last stand, but clearly not getting any traction out of it, and any hope he held onto that evangelicals would rally around him is clearly dashed after this weekend. Santorum could get some boost from the evangelical backing, but no recent poll has him closer than 15 points behind Romney, and that’s way too much to make up in 5 days, especially with Gingrich and Perry continuing to unroll their remaining advertising riches. And the considerable anti-Romeny advertising money that has been floating around is meanwhile largely focused on attacks on his business record that have actually caused conservatives to come to his defense, rather than on the social issues where he is much more vulnerable.

All of this combines to pretty much hold in place the following math, which you can see above:

Romney+Huntsman=37.3%
Gingrich=22%
Santorum & Paul=14.3% each
Perry=5.5%

Hypothetical united Conservative would win, narrowly, about 41%-37%, but neither Gingrich or Santorum will get that high unless almost all of the other’s votes plus Perry’s flow to them in the next five days. Which, absent a candidacy-ending scandal, isn’t going to happen. Meanwhile, Perry has insisted he’ll stay in through Florida, and Santorum and Gingrich have already spent so much money ahead in the state that they’ll be heavily tempted to as well no matter how South Carolina turns out. Which makes it very likely that another split field will hand Romney four in a row.

Book reviews: Glasshouse, The Writers Journey

Glasshouse (Charles Stross, Ace, 2006, 352 pp.) 
Yes, that’s right, you’re getting two reviews for the price of one today. Having finished both books in the past week, I thought it would be nice to combine and expedite. Glasshouse was actually the final book of my Sci-Fi book club in San Francisco before I moved eastward. I don’t think they ever formally met to review it, but heck, I’ll give my review now:

Great! Disquieting in a good way. A little rushed at the end.

Without sacrificing my strong anti-spoiler stand, I can tell you that most of the book involves a character from a post-human future participating in a re-created simulation of late 20th/early 21st century life. This results in multiple opportunities to see our society from the outside, and appreciate how strange and even absurd some everyday things that we take for granted are. I think this is one of the highest functions sci-fi can serve. An additional layer of disquiet is provided by the fact that our narrator is someone who has undergone extensive self-induced memory restructuring (a kind of brain engineering not uncommon in this future). The result is that throughout, they can’t be quite sure who they were before the experiment, just what they’re doing there, and even which of their memories are real versus manufactured. This creates a feeling of being trapped inside a feeling of being trapped that is used to good dramatic purpose throughout.

About my only criticism is that the denouement feels very rushed. Things happen in 10 pages that easily could (and should) have been developed over 30-50 pages. I can’t hold a grudge though. As a writer, I can testify that endings are hard, and this book remains well worth the time of anyone who enjoys contemplating just what “self” is and how we use memory to construct it.          

The Writers Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers (Christopher Vogler, Michael Wiese Productions, 3rd. Edition, 2007, 407 pp.)

Speaking of being a writer, this is a GREAT book on writing and story structure. It’s written specifically with reference to film, Vogler being a professional story consultant for the movie industry, but the principles that he covers are applicable to stories of all kinds. Inherently so, since what he’s done is drawn upon the stages of the Hero’s Journey as originally written about by student of Carl Jung and mythologist extraordinaire Joseph Campbell.

Vogler uses the character archetypes and structures of myth repeatedly found worldwide, and shows how they’re employed in film as a way of teaching what makes a story work. Hence the use of a monster in the photo above to highlight the mythic aspects of the book.  

The Writers Journey was recommended to me by my friend Robert Evans of my former San Francisco writing group. Just as he promised, it proved very helpful with the screenplay that I’m currently working on. Besides which, it was delightful fun seeing examples of how universals of story structure and character development can be found in films ranging from The Wizard of Oz and The Lion King through Ordinary People and Pulp Fiction. Along the way, I gained a grudging admiration for Titanic, a strong desire to see more John Wayne movies, and even an interest in re-watching Beverly Hills Cop. Giving birth to that last wish is surely a feat that only a great writer could have accomplished!       

New Hampshire wrap-up: It’s over.

I’m going to answer my own question from yesterday, based on last night’s results. The Republican nomination contest is essentially decided.

Bold words after just two states? Consider the results of the candidates placement from last night:

Romney– Got more votes than he did in 2008, got a higher percentage than McCain won by in that same year, and was not far away from 20% ahead of the next comer. If anybody got positive momentum for South Carolina last night, it was him. Yes, SC is not a good state for him, and Perry and Gingrich are both sitting on millions in advertising they can unleash against him over the next ten days. But you’ll see below why I think it won’t matter.

Paul– Strong second last night, following up on a strong third in Iowa. South Carolina will be a little harder for him, but he’s probably in a position to keep getting double digit seconds and thirds in many states to come, if he chooses to stay in. But is unlikely to ever do better than that.

Huntsman– I actually like him a lot, but then as a Progressive I would, for the same reasons in reverse that Joe Lieberman used to be the Conservative’s favorite Democrat. It doesn’t matter, because New Hampshire is probably the only state until maybe Utah that he can score double-digits in, and it’s only a matter of time until money and/or a sense of futility forces him out.

Gingrich– Squeaking ahead of Santroum isn’t a bad result for him, but being fourth isn’t a good one either. What this not-bad-enough-to-knock-either-one-out result really means is that they’ll both be in through South Carolina, along with Perry. Which means that Romeny, who would probably lose the state by 10-15% against a united Conservative candidate, will win it.

Santorum– Fifth ain’t great, and his Iowa momentum is now officially tapped out. Nearly tied with Gingrich, though, means he’ll be alive and kicking in South Carolina. It’s possible one of them will decisively pull ahead of the other there, leading one to drop out. More likely, they split the conservative vote pretty evenly, and are both encouraged enough to stay in through Florida at the end of the month, dividing the vote there and delivering that state to Romney as well.

Perry– Skipped New Hampshire to make his last stand in South Carolina. The problem with doing that, of course, is that people write you off after two single-digit performances in a row. Presumably he’ll give up the ghost after three in a row.

The upshot of all of the above? By the end of this month, Romney will have won the first four contests. The field will effectively be winnowed down to him, Paul and whoever the last Conservative standing is. Yes, technically it will take him a while to officially pile up the delegates needed. And some opponent will probably score a surprise victory or scarily-close second here and there. But the early division of the field will have gotten him enough ahead that nobody will be in a position to catch him. Finis.

New Hampshire: This is the end! Or not.

In a few hours now, we’ll be seeing the results roll in from the New Hampshire primary. In my case, I’ll probably be on a news website by 8 PM refreshing live results every 15 minutes. Because that’s just the way I am… For the record, here’s what the latest polling is showing:

The statistical model over at fivethirtyeight.com is pretty much in line with this too. Astute cases are being made, like this one from Politico.com, that tonight’s result will essentially mean that the nominating contest is over for the Republicans, since a strong win in NH will position Romney for a sweep of South Carolina and Florida too. Of course, you can find a contrarian view at the very same news site, which just goes to show that hope for an interesting primary season springs eternal.

My take? I have to side with the sweep theory. Even in the debates this weekend, most of the candidates still focused on bashing each other in pursuit of second (and third) place rather than targeting Romney in pursuit of first. Perry’s decision to stay in through South Carolina and the fact that however they finish tonight, Santorum and Gingrich will be around for that contest too practically guarantees that Romney wins South Carolina, however underwhelmingly. And the fact is, you can’t second or third place your way to winning the nomination, but you absolutely can get there through a string of underwhelming first place finishes.

I can still make a case for some interest tonight though. Romney is so thoroughly expected to win, and win big, that he has the most to lose. Finishing 20% ahead of the next comer could just get him an “as expected”, but having someone get closer than that and/or finishing first, but with the same 31% share he had in 2008, will probably be counted against him. And that would make South Carolina tougher, to be sure.

The thing is, nobody else is likely to walk out of tonight with good enough news. If Gingrich can get ahead of Santorum into fourth place he does himself some favors, but fourth is still pretty far back. If Santorum can get into the top three, that would be something, but third is still third. Ron Paul is expected to get second, so anything else would be bad for him, but he’s the kind of candidate who can keep going regardless. And no matter how they place, they’ll all be in South Carolina for the next 10 days, carving up the vote there so thoroughly that Romney can comfortably win even with only 25-30%.

Huntsman is the only candidate having last-minute momentum, and it isn’t impossible that he could pull off a surprise second. But even so, he has nowhere to go after New Hampshire. The party at large is clearly not looking for someone more centrist than Romney, and no amount of bounce will make Huntsman of interest in famously conservative South Carolina.

One piece of good news in the New Hampshire windup? If you read my earlier blog on “the gaffe” you know that I abhor how feeding frenzies around stray comments obscure actual substance. To their credit, Gingrich and Santorum took the high road and avoided pouncing on Romney’s “I like to be able to fire people” miss-comment, recognizing the substance of what he was saying about flexible health care being better for companies. Glimmers of adulthood are always welcome in a presidential race.