Monthly Archives: April 2016

Once more unto the Super-Tuesday breach…

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Well, last Tuesday we had New York with 291 delegates on the Democratic side, and today five Northeastern states are up at once with a combined 462 more. This looks like one of those rare times that the preferences of the East Coast will have a major effect on choices the nation makes-28% of all the delegates left in the rest of the race will be chosen by this time tomorrow. Here’s where things stand:

Democrats

First off, hoo-boy was I wrong! I said last week that I thought there were signs that Bernie Sanders was going to do better in New York than the polling seemed to indicate. In fact, he got shellacked in New York 58%-42%, a proportion pretty much matching what the polling averages were indicating.

Looking back, I would say that, whatever traces I thought I was sniffing, I should have been a good data-head and really crunched the numbers, because I was badly under-estimating the effect of New York being a closed primary. It’s been observed that Sanders has drawn a lot of his support from voters who register Independent, who can participate in states that have open primaries, but can’t in states with closed primaries. Indeed, if you crunch the numbers on averages of non-Southern open primaries vs. closed primaries, you find the following:

OVC

Sanders wins a narrow majority of total votes in open primaries, but has lost the closed primaries 47-53. All five of today’s states have closed or semi-closed primaries, which means Sanders will not be picking up cross-over voters. Thus, you can probably take the polls that show him facing double-digit losses in Maryland & Pennsylvania at face value. His best bets for the night look like Connecticut and Rhode Island, where he’s narrowly behind:

Conn

RI

If he ends up 0-5 on a night when 28% of the remaining delegates are up, that’s not going to silence the voices calling for him to admit the game is up. Narrowly winning 2 of the smaller states, both from his native New England, won’t either. He’ll certainly have the money and the enthusiastic base of supporters to stay in until the end. There’s even an open primary coming up next week, Indiana, and he remains within striking distance in polling of the largest state of all, California. And a decent argument can be made that he should stay in for the good of his movement, and democracy in general. But in terms of realistic chances, the New York blowout made his already up-hill shot even steeper, and tonight is liable to make it steeper still.

Republicans

In a certain sense, the Republican side is much clearer, and in a certain sense, it’s murky as %$#@. After a very strong New York last week, Trump is showing solid leads in all five states tonight, and the Republican delegate rules are liable to expand his haul even further.

But behind the scenes, Cruz continues to have a much better ground game for the nuts and bolts of picking up delegates that are still being chosen in state conventions even after the voting has ended. In the current Republican game of delegate-by-delegate attrition, in which a Trump who hasn’t reached the required 1,237 delegates by the convention could have serious problems thereafter, every bit counts.

And then there’s the alliance! Cruz and Kasich are strategically agreeing to stay out of each other’s way in several of the remaining contests. This may indeed be too little, too late, but it does stand a decent shot of handing Cruz Indiana next week, and getting Kasich several Western States. If it does work, Cruz getting all 57 of the winner-take-all delegates next week could seriously complicate Trump’s remaining math. If it doesn’t, that 57 plus his haul from tonight will probably put Trump on track to get close enough to the 1,237 that the game is, effectively, over.

Stay tuned!

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Election 2016: The Empire State is About to Strike…

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After a blessed break from writing about this blasted campaign for a few weeks, we are now entering what could be a vital stage of the primaries. New York votes tomorrow, with a significant portion of the remaining delegates at stake for both parties. This is followed next week by a truly super Tuesday in which Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island all vote on the same day. The (North)East Coast is about to have its say! How are things looking on the eve of all of this?

Democrats

Bernie Sanders is coming off of a very strong month. Counting the finalization of the Democrats Abroad Primary results on March 21st, and the primaries and caucuses held between March 22nd and April 9th he’s won 8 out of 9. Am I really going to continue my Sanderskepticism in the face of this winning streak?

Well, I will merely observe the following. Here is where the delegate-count currently stands in terms of pledged delegates:

count

And here’s where the cumulative vote total stands:

cummulative

One could point out that this includes the earlier Southern States where Clinton prevailed by a total margin of 67%-33%, and that Sanders has actually won a (albeit slim) majority of the vote in all other states. One could alternately point out that this included many caucuses, where the enthusiasm of Sanders supporters may have given them outsized influence, and there is only one caucus left in the schedule from now through June. Taking the average of the 11 non-Southern primaries, thus theoretically eliminating the pro-Clinton and pro-Sanders distortions, it’s nearly 50-50:

5050.PNG

One could counter that Sanders doesn’t need to get enough delegates to clinch the nomination. He could arrive at the convention with more than Clinton, and make a reasonable appeal to the Superdelegates that they should support him instead. Okay. Here are the delegates left, and the minimum percentage Sanders would have to win in order to arrive at the convention with more delegates than Clinton:

remaining.PNG

This would get him there with 2,182 to her 2,168. Anything less than winning 56% of all remaining delegates, she arrives at the convention with more delegates, and the lead in the popular vote. If he does something like what he’s done so far (splitting it 51/49) in the remaining primaries, they’ll get there with Clinton 2,265 and Sanders 2,085. She would need Superdelegates to win on the first ballot, but less than a quarter of them. Whatever the valid Fall strategy argument may or may not be, no self-respecting Sanders supporter, myself included, would argue in a reverse case (Sanders ahead in votes and delegates) that it would be okay if the Superdelegates nominated Clinton instead. Barring a startling departure in the remaining primaries, the Democratic primary voters have decided.

All this being said, I do think Sanders is going to do much better in New York than expected. Current polling averages have it here:

NY

Meanwhile, however, national polling shows Sanders has pulled nearly even with Clinton:

national

New York is a very large, very diverse state, and one would be surprised to find that it’s Democratic electorate was markedly different from the National Democratic electorate as a whole. Given this kind of disparity between state and national polling, in the absence of something more precise, we might split the difference, and expect it to be something more like Clinton winning by 7%.

Consider also 538.com’s analysis from a few months back of how you would expect Sanders to do, based on demographics, if he and Clinton were tied nationally. More often than not, this has correctly called the direction of contests so far, and here’s what it shows for New York:

New York

Back that off a little from a national tie to Clinton ahead by 1.2% nationally, it suggests a New York that’s a photo-finish. Add to this the size of Sanders’ rallies in the state and his recent union endorsements… I don’t expect he’ll win New York, but I do expect it will be a scarier victory for Clinton than she’s currently expecting. Which keeps us going until the next Super Tuesday…

Republicans

I had so many weeks worth of math pent up on the Democratic side that I’m out of time! I will observe that Trump is in no appearance of any danger at all:

trumpyork

What this means in terms of delegates is a bit more murky. Unlike the proportional allocation on the Democratic side, the Republican primary rules in New York are, “New York allots 14 at-large delegates proportionally based on the statewide results of the primary; 81 delegates — three for each congressional district — are awarded according to the results of the district, and then “split 2-1 between top two finishers, with 50 percent winner-take-all trigger,””. Huh?

In short, Cruz and Kasich have an opportunity to peel off delegates from Trump even given a massive victory on his part. This is significant because the numbers are currently steep for Trump to get enough delegates for a first ballot win at the convention:

trumpelagtes

And there’s a persuasive argument to be made that, if he doesn’t take it on a first ballot, he’ll actually do worse than that on following ballots. His delegates are pledged to vote for him on the first ballot, but the Trump campaign so thoroughly eschewed traditional state-by-state organization that they didn’t make sure there were slates of delegates that actually liked Trump. Cruz has done a far better job of this groundwork, and as soon as they can, many of the delegates in the hall will switch votes from Trump to him.

Cleveland is looking like it could be a wild ride…

 

 

Monotheism: An Alternative Bibliography

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I’ve always been a bit betwixt, spiritually. If you read part 1 and part 2 of the 10-book bibliography of my spiritual evolution, you know a bit about this. On the one hand, I’ve long been interested in various/alternative spirituality and comparative religion. On the other, I’ve also been strongly drawn to the western monotheistic tradition, and had connections with it throughout my life. These days, I don’t sweat the contradiction between these two pulls much, but it took a lot of spiritual searching to get there. And of course, being a bookish type, a big part of that searching involved reading.

In our current cultural milieu, the two loudest voices on this subject are the “New Atheists”, who reject every religious belief that has ever existed as dangerous superstition that destroys everything, and the Christian Fundamentalists, who insist there is only one spiritual truth, and only one exactly literal permissible interpretation of it. If, like me, you aren’t quite ready to jettison the Western religious tradition entirely, but you also can’t subscribe to a traditional interpretation of it, I would recommend the following 10-book reading list as a starting point for exploring a third way of appreciating Monotheism.

 

historyA History of God (Karen Armstrong)– Because Christian Fundamentalism is such a strong voice in our current culture wars (as well as the boogeyman of Islamic Fundamentalism), it can be easy to equate Fundamentalism with religious belief itself, and to think that it has always been so. One of the very useful things I got from Karen Armstrong’s survey of 4,000 years of Jewish, Christian & Muslim thought about God is just how rich a variety of viewpoints there have been in all three religions, and what an outlier 20th/21st century Fundamentalism is. Traditional religion turns out to have never been all one thing, and God is an idea that continues to evolve as all three faiths grapple with it.

 

job Answer to Job (Carl Jung)– Jung starts by looking at the Book of Job, and the thundering non-answer God gives Job when questioned about suffering. He then presents the Gospels as God “reconsidering” his answer, with an outpouring of love and self-sacrifice to relive our suffering. However, this is too abrupt a shift from the sometimes judgmental God of the Old Testament, leaving an unintegrated remainder of the capacity for wrath. And thus we get the Book of Revelation… This fascinating examination of the Bible in the context of psychology and mythology opens up whole new ways to understand scripture.

 

G-CGod : A Biography, Christ: A Crisis in the Life of God (Jack Miles)– In many ways, Miles two books follow up on this approach. But Miles instead approaches scripture from the vantage point of literary criticism, examining what kind of character God, as presented in the Bible, is. The first volume covers the troubled evolution of God’s character in the Old Testament, and the second presents the New Testament as a response to the crisis that God’s character comes to,  which is radically resolved through incarnation and sacrifice. Again, coming at things from a fresh direction can break open how the story can reach us today, and what it can mean.

 

rescuingRescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism: A Bishop Rethinks the Meaning of Scripture (John Shelby Spong)– A (now retired) Episcopalian Bishop, Spong made it his life’s work to consider what scripture can mean in the age of science. He points out that a literal understanding as modern Fundamentalism thinks of it is actually a very modern phenomenon, and would have made no sense, for example, to medieval Jewish Rabbis, or classic theologians like St. Augustine. The Bible, he contends, can and should be understood in its original cultural and historical setting, and considered in light of what its essential meaning is in our current setting.

 

 

stalkingStalking Elijah (Rodger Kamenetz)– In his earlier book, The Jew in the Lotus, Kamenetz described the journey from his Jewish upbringing to Buddhism. After it came out, the Dalai Lama challenged his to search for practices of mindfullness in his own spiritual tradition. His resulting talks with several contemporary Jewish mystics uncovers a lively and longstanding tradition of mystical contemplation in Judaism. It turns out that being a Jew and a Buddhist aren’t necessarily as different as one might think…

 

 

 

cosmicThe Coming of the Cosmic Christ (Matthew Fox)– Fox, like Spong, sought to bring new understanding to the church from within, but met with a little more resistance, ultimately resulting in him being expelled as a priest from the Dominican Order of the Catholic Church. One of the key points of the schism was his rejection of the idea of “original sin”, instead focusing on the original blessing of creation, and how a church focused on this can atone for its own sins against women, the unempowered, other faiths, etc. and develop an ecologically-centric, globally-minded and gender-balanced idea of what Christ represents. As Fox says, “The power of native religions to regenerate Christianity and to reconnect the old religion with the prophetic Good News of the Gospels has yet to be tapped.”

 

gospelThe Gospel According to Jesus (Stephen Mitchell)– Starting in the 19th Century and accelerating into the 20th, there has been a lot of scholarship based on archaeology, literary study and the latest discoveries of ancient texts on who the historical Jesus was, and what his original teachings may have been vs. what is later accretion by the Church as it grew. Mitchell wrote this book in an attempt to make that scholarship more available to a lay-audience. He also puts Jesus’ teachings in the context of spiritual traditions from around the world. This book had a profound impact on me when I first read it, unlocking a vitality and compassion in the Gospel message that is all too easily obscured by dogma and history at this point.

 

jesusThe Jesus I Never Knew (Philip Yancey)– Yancey’s book actually does something very similar, but from a diametrically opposite direction. Yancey is a mainstream Evangelical author, but he takes the gospel message down to its fundamentals, and lets every challenging thing that Jesus asked of his followers stand in sharp relief. Again, as with Mitchell, this has a way of cutting through history and dogma, and re-revealing how radical the message of Jesus really was, and remains today.

 

 

 

leftThe Left Hand of God: a Biography of the Holy Spirit (Adolf Holl)– In the fine tradition of Fox, Holl is a Catholic writer and theologian who served as a priest and professor of Theology for almost 20 years until he was dismissed due to conflicts with church authorities. They may dismiss him, but I found his biography of the Holy Spirit to be very arresting. He looks at the third “person” of the traditional Christian Trinity through its affect on a variety of inspired figures throughout history, including Catholic saints, founders of alternate religions, U.S. Pentecostals and Malcom X. This approach leaves the Spirit as it should be, very much alive and active in the world.

 

Those are some of the best books on fresh approaches to western Monotheism that I’ve read. If you have any you’d like to recommend, let me know!