Monthly Archives: March 2016

What I’m Reading: March 2016


lucy reading peanuts

Now that the Presidential Campaign is on a brief but merciful lull, I can get back to my more usual blog fare: reading, writing, and writing about writing and reading. At any given time, I have several different volumes of several kinds going. Here’s what I’m currently up to:

stnSignal to Noise (Silvia Moreno-Garcia) Book clubs are good. Geeks are good. Speculative Fiction is good.  For all these reasons, and including the lovely people involved, the Geek Mountain State Book Club is one of my ongoing delights. If you know Geek books, you know that some of them can get quite lengthy, so I try and read ahead. So I’ve just started this, which we have up for discussion in May. It’s actually not a long book, but I try and front-load! Too new to say much about it yet, but it involves mix tapes and urban fantasy, set in  Mexico City in the 80s. On subject matter alone, there is approximately a 0% chance that I won’t love it. Speaking of zeroes…


NZNonzero (Robert Wright) At any given time, I try to rotate between something from fiction, nonfiction and spiritual (that tricky category that straddles both realms). I’m currently at the non-fiction stage in the rotation, and so am reading this, Robert Wright’s exploration of the “meta-story” of social evolution. It’s been on my list for a long time, ever since I saw it on a list of books former President Clinton was reading some time in the early 2000s. After I finished weeping thinking of “reading” in connection with the then-current occupant of the White House, I made a note to check it out. It’s been well worth it. So far, I’m in the section that reviews the “arrow” of social/technological/economic development running through history. The very hopeful thesis is that, despite the vagaries of history and temporary ups and downs, there’s an underlying trend toward larger scale, increasingly complex societies based on the “nonzero” game of cooperation. I’m really interested in getting to the part where Wright speculates about, based on where we’ve been, where we’re going next.


luckyLucky Fish (Aimee Nezhukumatathil) I also have some poetry in the hopper at any given time. On the “new school” side, I’m currently reading the latest volume by one of my favorite contemporary poets, Aimee Nezhukumatathil. Her work is a wonderment of connections between personal and global history, the natural world, the interior world, and popular culture. Illuminated throughout by wit and compassion. And she is, incidentally, the featured poet in the forthcoming annual print edition of Mud Season Review, a literary journal where I’m the co-editor of Poetry.  We’re thrilled to have her!


Robert BurnsPoems and Songs (Robert Burns) And kicking it “old school” on the poetry side, I have this collection by Robert Burns going. If 18th hunner years romantic bards writing in scots sassenach wi’ wit ‘n’ verve ur yer thing, ye micht wantae check this oot. Quite seriously, besides the delight of looking up new words in the glossary in back, the lyrical nature of his verse is second to none. And you don’t just have to take my word for it- Steinbeck, J.D. Salinger and Bob Dylan are all pretty fond of him as well.


enigmaThe UFO Enigma (Peter Sturrock) Ever since I was a wee lad, I’ve liked my unexplained phenomenon, and none more so than UFOs. It’s a subject that’s been so thoroughly ridiculed at this point that it’s difficult to discuss seriously. Speaking of signal-to-noise, around 95% of UFO reports are clearly noise- low-quality reports, misidentifications, hoaxes, etc. But there remains a residue of around 5% “signal” that is genuinely baffling and highly unknown to contemporary science. This book is a presentation of the proceedings of a scientific panel brought together by Laurance Rockefeller in 1997 to examine some of the “best evidence” that investigators had to present. I’m looking forward to reading their conclusions, because the truth is still out there…


KoranHoly Qur’an  Were we just talking about truth? About 1.6 billion people world-wide consider this to be the most perfect version of a religion that has been continually revealed to humankind throughout history, starting with the Jews, and then the Christians, and culminating here. As a syncretic panentheist I don’t really do exclusive claims to truth. But I do respect spiritual traditions from around the world and throughout history, so I’m almost always reading somebody’s scripture.


Buddha If You meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him! (Sheldon Kopp)  Take that, scriptures! Sheldon Kopp uses the language of psychotherapy, mythology and numerous religious traditions to highlight what he sees as a universal human journey from looking for the answer from someone else to realizing that it is only found within. This is my “car book”, I read a page or two to provide myself with a moment of zen before heading in to the office.



JLA_Vol_6_TPBJLA Vol. 6 (Joe Kelly, Doug Mahnke, Tom Nguyen, David Baron) On the topic of religion and myths, comics writer Grant Morrison thinks superheroes are our contemporary legends. I usually have a comics collection on my Nook for night-time reading before bed, and I couldn’t be happier than with this one. Though I’ll always be a Marvel boy at heart, things don’t get any bigger or more legendary than the heaviest hitters from DC Comics, the Justice League.


So that’s what I’m currently reading! How about you?

State of the Campaign: Spring Break


Well, we’ve had the first four contests in February. We’ve had three Super Tuesdays! We’ve also had a smattering of other days and un-super Tuesdays, like this week’s confabs in Arizona, Idaho and Utah. Along the way, we’ve whittled things down from 22 candidates to five. From here, things take a little break. The Republicans don’t have another outing for 13 days, and after three contests this Saturday the Democrats are out too until everybody gets back together for Wisconsin on April 5th. So how are things looking on the eve of the campaign’s Spring Break?


If you look on a county-by-county basis, there’s almost a Mason-Dixon line going on the Democratic side:


Tuesday’s results reinforced that, with Hillary doing well in Arizona (probably inadvertently helped along by state Republican officials voter suppression strategies), and Bernie doing very well in Utah and Idaho. In fact, Sanders got such lop-sided margins in those two states that he actually slightly reduced his delegate gap versus Clinton, something that he stands to do again this weekend with Alaska, Hawaii and Washington. This follows up on his win by a 2/3 margin of the Democrats Abroad primary announced this Monday. Statistical analysis of where he’s done well so far would also indicate he stands a good shot in the next two states once we resume again in April, Wisconsin & Wyoming.

Does all of this improve the outlook on his possibly winning the nomination? In a word: Probably not. Okay, it was two words, you got me. My fellow Berners pretty much aren’t speaking to me at this point because of my stubborn insistence upon the existence of math. She is indeed a harsh mistress, but a fairly clear one. Based purely on pledged delegates (not those wily Superdelegates) this is where the math currently stands:


The good news for Sanders? There are no more Southern States, and while Clinton has trounced him in the South, he’s actually narrowly beaten her in total votes for all contests outside that region:


There’s also some interesting analysis out there indicating that Clinton, where she is winning, is doing so largely based on early voting that happened weeks or months ago, and Sanders is beating her on election day voting. Even given all that, though, the numbers still don’t add up. So far, he’s gotten a little over 50% of the vote in all non-Southern states. He’d need to get 69% of all remaining delegates in order to win. One can imagine circumstances where this could happen, a la major Clinton scandal. But in any vaguely status quo scenario, you would be very surprised to see his average in the remaining 25 contests jump to 69% compared to 50% for the 18 non-Southern contests that have happened so far.


The outlook here is much cloudier. Trump won resoundingly in Arizona, but Cruz meanwhile did very well in Utah.


The catch is that, unlike Democratic primaries and caucuses, which are almost all proportional to vote, Republican contests often feature some kind of rule- winner-take-all, delegate allocation based on who gets the majority in each congressional district, minimum percentage cut-offs to qualify for any delegates- that tends to magnify the lead of a front-runner. Even if you are a front-runner by virtue of only getting 30-something percent of the vote, you’ll get a much higher percentage than that of the delegates. So that works to Trump’s favor, but the field was fractured enough for long enough that it is very borderline whether he can get to the total before the convention.

If it’s hard to see how he can pull off the total in time, it’s pretty near impossible to see how Cruz or Kasich could do it. The numbers currently stand as follows:


Even if Rubio were to endorse Cruz and pledge his delegates to him (as there are some rumblings may happen), and even given that the party establishment is working its way toward supporting Cruz, despite the fact that they don’t like him much, there isn’t an easy to see scenario where he gets the percentage of delegates he’d need in order to catch Trump before the convention. Meanwhile, Kasich would actually need to win 116% of the remaining delegates, i.e. he has no path forward that doesn’t involve a time machine.

Prominent Republicans continue to say that whoever arrives at the convention with the clear preponderance of delegates should be the nominee. So, Trump. A number of them also continue to say that they’re deeply troubled by Trump’s behavior, and a surprising number hedge on whether they would support him if he is the nominee. So, maybe not Trump. If nothing else, this should be fascinating to watch!


Super Tuesday 3!


This election is kind of silly with Super Tuesdays, but in this case, it’s not overkill. We have the above assortment of 5 fine upstanding states, four of which happen to be among the most populous states in the union. So what happens here could indeed be pretty consequential for the race.  Here’s what we have at stake on each side.


You may recall that I made the case last week that Sanders is, mathematically speaking, a dead man walking. This was before his surprise win in Michigan, which I was certainly gratified by. So am I changing my tune? Well, I’m modifying the key slightly, but not really.

The thing about last week is that Sanders won a narrow victory in Michigan. A historically unprecedented, great news for his campaign victory, but still narrow. Clinton meanwhile won a lopsided victory in Mississippi, as she has throughout the South. It was so lopsided that, even though Mississippi is a significantly smaller state than Michigan, she ended up with more total votes and more delegates on Tuesday than Sanders, thus increasing the gap between them. Bluntly put, you can generate the best headlines ever, but if your opponent keeps scoring on you like this, you’re not going to win.

So wither my humming in a different key? This recent HuffPo piece makes a good case that Michigan presages that the next phase of the campaign is going to be tougher for Clinton and better for Sanders. We’ve all been noticing all along how lopsided her Southern victories have been. This got me mathematically curious, So I re-ran my totals from last week, honing in on the difference between Southern results and everywhere else. Overall, Clinton/Sanders are at 60/40 for vote totals so far, but if you break it down from there, it looks a bit different:


The significant thing about this is, Clinton is almost out of Southern states. North Carolina and Florida are the only ones left. so one could make a not ridiculous argument that Sanders might win a majority of votes and delegates for the remainder of this race after Super Tuesday 3. Ultimately, though, that doesn’t change the math. Right now, excluding Superdelegates, we’re at:


If Sanders performs at the average of his non-Southern state totals for the remaining contests, he would still be under pace for the total of remaining delegates that he needs to win. Clinton would too, but not by as much, and the big wins she’s likely to get in Florida and North Carolina tomorrow will Probably bring it in range- she’ll need mid to high 40s percentage of remaining delegates, and she can be expected to average mid to high 40s percentage of remaining votes.

Sanders, meanwhile, based on where he’s done well so far, will probably win Missouri, and be quite competitive in Ohio and Illinois, maybe even score a narrow victory in one of them. I don’t think this changes the ultimate trajectory, but he now has every chance of remaining in the race, and strongly so, for the duration.


The big story here is the winner-take-all contests in Florida and Ohio. Unlike the Democrats, who generally reward delegates proportional to vote most everywhere, the Republicans have many states where the highest placing candidate gets all the delegates. In this case, interestingly, it intersects with the home states of two of the remaining candidates, Marco Rubio and John Kasich.  Unfortunately for Rubio, all signs are that this won’t work out for him:


Kasich, meanwhile, seems to have a pretty decent shot of taking his home state, and all of its delegates:


All of this is quite volatile. You can make a good case that, notwithstanding what happens in Florida and Ohio, Trump could do well enough in the other states to effectively put the whole thing away. On the other hand, you could also make the case that Cruz is close enough that, if Super Tuesday 3 ends up knocking out both Kasich and Rubio, he could still win a one-on-one with Trump. We could also have a case where, by virtue of winning Ohio while Rubio loses Florida and places badly elsewhere, Kasich becomes the surviving establishment candidate, holding down a roughly equal percentage of votes to Cruz going forward, and keeping all three of them below the threshold before the convention.

This is where the numbers stand at the moment:


Where they are at this point next week will be fascinating to see!


State of the Race: Post Super Tuesday And Swell Saturday




In last week’s column, I posited that it was super-possible that both nominations would effectively be decided on Super Tuesday. Now that the Tuesday in question has come and gone and we’ve also had a pretty swell Saturday’s (and pinch of Sunday) worth of contests, how am I doing? In all honesty, I’d have to give myself a 42.5%. As follows…


I think it’s important to fully out myself before I say what I’m about to say. No surprise to anybody who knows me, I lean toward the Progressive side of the fence. I would vastly prefer to see Sanders be the nominee instead of Clinton, and I think he’s the only major candidate in the race who is even close to talking about the magnitude of changes we’ll need to make to avoid disaster at home and as a global species in the coming decades. I voted for him in our primary in Vermont, contribute to his campaign every pay day, and will continue to do so as long as he’s in the race. Despite all this, I am, reluctantly, 85% confident that the Democratic Race has in fact been decided for Clinton, though it will take the numbers a while to catch up.

It comes down to some simple facts of math. Counting just the pledged delegates because, as many people have pointed out, Superdelegates can (and do) change their votes as the race shifts, we currently have:


Given what each candidate has, how many delegates are remaining, and how many are needed for the nomination, this is the percentage of remaining delegates each would have to win to get the nomination:


The issue with pledged delegates on the Democratic side is that they are more or less proportional- if you win, say 60% of the votes, you would expect to also win roughly 60% of the delegates. Some of the caucus states don’t report their numbers in a way that votes can be tabulated, but of the seventeen states and territories that have voted so far that we can add up votes for, this is the percentage breakdown:


Refer back to the delegate target numbers above. Clinton has won 61% of the vote so far, and she would need roughly 54.5% of the remaining delegates. She could actually do about 10% worse than she’s done so far in all the remaining contests and still do it. Sanders has won 39% of the vote so far, but he’d need to win 60% of the remaining delegates. He would have to do about 50% better than he’s done so far in all the remaining contests to take it.

Is this categorically impossible? No. Bernie clearly has the financial and enthusiastic supporter resources to stay competitive, and is still less well known than Clinton, so he has room to grow. And Clinton has often proven to be a less appealing campaigner when she’s ahead than when she’s behind, and also has investigations brewing which (based on bullshit or not) could blow up at any time. Barring something truly disruptive, though, you would be surprised to see Clinton do markedly worse in the 2/3 remaining than the 1/3 behind. And you’d be really surprised to see Sanders do 50% better.


As for my prediction about Trump before Super Tuesday, I would have to mark myself as totally wrong! It looked quite possible, going in, that Cruz wouldn’t win anything except his home state of Texas, and Rubio wouldn’t win anything. But, while Trump did quite well, Rubio won Minnesota and hung in there in other races (albeit much less well than he would have if Kasich weren’t still hanging around). Cruz, meanwhile, won several states, and racked up some more this weekend.

You can’t as readily do the kind of delegate vs. votes analysis I did above for the Democrats with the Republicans, as they have several large winner-take all states, and also have many states where there’s a threshold of 20% to get any delegates at all. However, their delegate math at the moment is:


And their vote totals have been:


In other words, even allowing for the distorting effects of Republican delegate allocation rules, nobody so far has had nearly a total vote percentage even roughly comparable to the delegate percentage total they’d need. This outlook could change if it got down to a two-person race. However, that’s not remotely likely to happen until after March 15th, since Rubio and Kasich both aim to win their respective winner-take-all home states that day (Florida and Ohio).

Another 12 states and territories will have had contests by then, including five of the ten most populous states in the country (Florida, Illinois, Michigan, North Carolina & Ohio). So, come 3/16, more than half of all delegates will have been handed out, and odds are three candidates will have major blocks, all of them needing much more to go to get to the total. If anything, at this point, I might start to put my money on a brokered convention.