Thursday, February 28, 2008

Incarceration Nation

This depressing milestone on the NYT website as of this afternoon: More than 1% of American adults are now in jail.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The perfect segue...

There have been some complaints recently from Pickle readers that The Pickle has no sports. I'm working on it. Perhaps this sport-politics collision will help get me moving. From the Boston Globe sports page:
The Red Sox met with President George W. Bush at the White House today. Notably missing from the proceedings was Manny Ramirez, whose absence was noted by Bush. "Manny Ramirez isn't here, I guess his grandmother died again," Bush joked.
Really, George? That seems appropriate to you, huh?

The case for nihlism

A very intelligent and interesting professor of mine made a point in class yesterday that I wanted to share with Pickle Nation. The Gini Coefficient is a popular measure of wealth inequality in a country. A low Gini means that wealth is spread relatively evenly - think Scandanavia, which is in the .20's. A high Gini means it is spread unevenly - think Colombia, which is in the .60's.

Here's the rub - China (the world's largest communist country) and the US (the world's leading capitalist country) both have Gini's in the mid .40's. Is it all really about nothing?

More on Kenya

The situation in Kenya does not seem to be improving, and signs suggest that this may be more of a pandora's box than was originally appreciated. Kenya carries that unmistakeble stamp of colonialism; it is a conglomeration of ethnic groups that were thrust together because of 19th and 20th century geo-political forces played out in tribal homelands. Until December of last year, Kenyans had been a stable and relatively successful melting pot - enough so that there was significant mixing of tribes within the country, so that everyone lives everywhere, more or less.

Mwai Kabaki - the incumbent - and Raila Odinga - the challenger - are Kikuyu and Luo, respectively. Right after the election, violence was mostly between those two tribes. Now there is much much more violence, and it seems to involve everyone. The Guardian notes that the Army has not played a major role in muting ethnic violence, and suggests that is because the Army itself has tribal tension - the majority of the leadership is Kikuyu, with a more diverse rank-and-file who may lean more towards Odinga. The Times, in its second straight article about how Kofi Annan is frustrated with the Kabaki and Odinga camps, reports on violence between the Kalenjin and Masai tribes.

This is going from bad to worse. Annan needs help - the world needs to show Kenya a united front, and demand that Kabaki and Odinga put Kenyans first and work to restore Kenya to the position of African respect and leadership that it had earned.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

More on McCain

The Times' Public Editor weighs in, somewhat more critical of the paper's decision to run the story, here. This is really a fascinating study in modern presidential politics and journalism. Nuance is lost in the crush of the 24-hour news cycle and the cable news/entertainment mash-up. Where does that leave nuanced reporting?

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Is It News?

Let’s be clear about what the New York Times reported on Thursday about John McCain.

The Times DID report that two members of McCain’s inner circle were concerned enough about the closeness of his relationship with lobbyist Vicki Iseman, and specifically the possibility that the relationship had become “romantic” in nature, that they confronted the Senator about it. The Times DID say that both sources told substantially the same story, independently, and that they said McCain agreed that it would be best if he distanced himself from Iseman. The Times also DID report that McCain had done the kind of favors for Iseman and her clients that Senators often do for lobbyists with whom they have close working relationships – favors that are definitely not illegal, probably not unethical, and sometimes not very democratic. The Times also DID note that Senator McCain has made his career on honest, ethical behavior in public service. Finally, the Times DID contextualize the report in a story about McCain’s self-confidence about his own ethical purity desensitizing him to situations when he may not be acting in a purely ethical manner.

The Times DID NOT report that McCain has ever been in a romantic relationship with Iseman, or that he has done anything improper or unethical for her or any of her clients.

Was it responsible for the Times to report the story? What is the paper’s responsibility to prevent the some-would-say inevitable impression that McCain had done something inappropriate?

I think it’s news. John McCain has staked his claim to the presidency on a reputation for scrupulous honesty – on his uncorruptability, in a semi-corrupt city, under the corrupting wave of special interest money that floods our politics. If two of his staffers independently say that they were concerned that McCain had an improper relationship with a lobbyist, and if he did even garden-variety favors for that same lobbyist, that’s news. If readers infer that he had an extra-marital romantic relationship with that same lobbyist, then that is simply what facts suggest to some may be the case, and it’s not what the Times is responsible for. It is not what the Times reported. It is news, not because it’s news that politicians have sex with more than one person (that’s news, but it shouldn’t be), but because doing political favors for a lobbyist who also happens to be a woman with whom you are in a romantic relationship is a thing that the people who you are asking to vote for you for President may want to use to make their decision, especially when it goes to the heart of what you say is your biggest qualification for the job. Again, the Times DID NOT report that, but if the facts – facts that McCain himself disputes but two independent credible sources verify – suggest it as a possibility, so be it. It’s responsible journalism from the Times.

What’s really interesting, though, is that McCain gave the story legs. He didn’t have to fire back, but he did, saying that the Times was “lying.” Why didn’t he just soft-peddle, perhaps saying “yeah, I’m friends with this woman who also happens to be a lobbyist, and I didn’t do anything improper at any time, and I don’t really think it’s news?” Perhaps because the GOP is like one big hunting party, and the Times is like a dove that everyone on the Right can shoot at together, and then, hand in hand, they can walk over to the dead dove and pull an olive branch from its mouth and begin to rally around John McCain for President.

Thursday, February 21, 2008


This is a matter on which I imagine Pickle readers may disagree, but the first question in tonight's debate - "Would you meet with the new Cuban administration?" - and Senators Clinton and Obama's responses reminded me of the moment I made up my mind that I would support Barack. It was when he said he would be open to meeting with Ahmadinejad, she hit him for it, and he stuck to his guns. I got an email from a friend the other day complaining that Obama said he would listen to arab leaders about Israel. There's too much bloodshed in the world right now for our President to indulge in the luxury of not talking, not listening. Care must be taken, and I'd like to hear responses, but I think I believe that categorically.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

A Post From the Future

Greetings from India, a cool 10.5 hours ahead of east coasters and god knows how many more ahead of west coasters.
Non-essential elecricity blacks out in a short amount of time, so I'll just leave you with a brief sign-of-the-times post:
The first billboard you see when you debark your plane in Mumbai is for condominium complex in Dubai - buy now and they'll throw in a Bentley or BMW. You take the Bentley, right?
The Pickle in Hindi is अचार.
Gratuitous, I know, but I wanted to see what Blogger's Hindi function looked like.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Bad for both...

This plagiarism issue exposes the worst in both campaigns. A presidential campaign speech is not a work of scholarship, and that she would say that it is, even though she knows better, is base. Hopefully no one is buying what the Clinton campaign is selling - or, more hopefully, buying it as a sign of desperation. Here's what probably happened:

Barack: She's killing me with this "it takes more than just a good speech" angle.

Deval: Say the stuff I said!

Barack: Yeah, you handled that just right. Should I say I got it from you?

Deval: Are you kidding?

The Obama campaign, though, bears some responsibility for keeping this story afloat for two days, so far. Obama is saying that he should have given Deval credit, but it's no big deal. The second part is better than the first part.

They say an attack unanswered is an attack believed, but before it can be believed, it has to be reported. Dismiss it first, and something spurious like this will go away. She is going to attack him now that she is behind. If he agrees with the premises of her attacks, he's leaving the door open. I don't like it, but this may be a test.

WGA Post From Dan - psyche! From Luvh!

This is an article I wrote about the outcome of the strike for a website that I think is called voicesfor2morrow. It could also have been for voices4tomorrow. Or a Pickle-esque voices-42mor.row. You see, I didn't submit it directly; I gave it to a friend, who needed something written by a twentysomething to accompany a video she made about the strike in order to have it included on the site. Which is a little silly. So please excuse some of the cheesiness, but I had to make it... youthful.

They wanted it to be on the subject of idealism with regard to the writers' strike:

This is what victory looks like

The Writers Guild went out on strike on November 5, but even shortly beforehand, there was a tremendous amount of doubt – among everyone involved, even us – as to whether we’d actually go out. It was only when the corporations responded to our reasonable demands with an offer actually worse than the status quo that we realized what we were up against. We realized we would have to strike.

The decision was undertaken with great sense of purpose. We knew that the economic destruction of a strike would affect not just corporations and writers but the entertainment community (and for that matter, the local economy) as well. But the things we wanted were worth fighting for, and we had a responsibility to each other, to our sister unions in Hollywood, and most importantly to the next generation of writers to not only wage a strike but win it.

What followed was truly inspiring. The air became thick with impassioned speeches and eloquent emails – as befits a writers’ strike. And though it may have occasionally strayed into overdramatic territory, at the end of the day, we sustained a campaign of social protest for a hundred days. It was hard, because it’s hard to form and then keep the belief that individuals can resist a powerful, entrenched, nondemocratic institution like a corporation. But we bore in mind the reasonableness of our demands, the rightness of our cause, and the necessity of the fight, and I believe that idealism carried us through till the end.

So this was my frame of mind when I first saw the proposed deal a week ago. And when I saw it, my heart sank. The negotiated terms seemed only a shadow of our demands, those things we thought were worth fighting for. And to make things worse, the deal was essentially done. The membership would weigh in, but it was already a fait accompli. There would be no more fight and there would be no more changes to the deal. How could I accept that? Hadn’t I dedicated a huge amount of effort to the idea that our demands were perfectly fair, that anything less would be wrong?

And yet, I did accept the deal. Was that settling? No, I would say it was learning. I’ve come to understand idealism as a motivating force, as the fuel of the movement. But eventually, if that movement is tied to a process, you need a little, uh, dealism. At the final meeting, a WGA leader reminded us of a Voltaire quote – that we mustn’t let “the perfect be the enemy of the good.”

I should add, though - this isn’t a “loss of innocence” story. My idealism is intact and has never been stronger. Making a deal doesn’t eviscerate idealism; in fact it employs and requires it. In turn, the deal enables our guild and our idealism to survive. We will need that fuel to negotiate the next deal, when this deal is up in three years. And in fact, this is the design of the deal – it carves out pathways for us to better achieve some of those fightworthy demands, but the onus is on us to take those paths. That will require an approach that starts with idealism and only arrives, briefly and ultimately, at dealism. And I trust that this is the approach we’ll take. Skipping to the end isn’t something writers like to do anyway.

PS, Pickle Reader - If you don't think I freaked myself out with how H-Rod the second to last paragraph was and immediately tacked on the last one... well, you are not taking into consideration many feelings I've made clear.

Monday, February 18, 2008


Good friend and crusader for justice Anna Galland stopped in on me this weekend. (This will be a good test of whether Anna’s contrition about not reading The Pickle was genuine or not.) Anna works for MoveOn. I met her when we both worked on the 21st Century Democrats’ Young Voter Project in 2004. She worked for the American Friends Service Committee before that, and she’s on their board now. She’s a really good person.

I was probing about MoveOn, and at one point I asked where they were headquartered. “Oh, nowhere,” she said, with a knowing smile.

Now, say what you will about MoveOn. (In particular, say what you will about the “General Betrayus” episode, but certainly don’t say it was a shrewd political move that makes it more likely that the 3 million some-odd members of MoveOn will get more things they want.) But when Anna told me that they don’t have a central HQ, and then when she answered all my subsequent wide-eyed, rapid-fire questions, I got the idea that MoveOn might be realizing the implications of the internet for democracy in a more advanced way than other organizations. The (small) core staff uses sophisticated research and marketing techniques to understand who MoveOn’s membership is – who MoveOn is, really – and, yes, sometimes to get them to do things, but almost always to get them to do things that will help them get the things they say they want. That’s as good a definition of grassroots organizing as I can think of.

I asked Anna how they define a “member.” It’s someone who signs up to get the emails. I’m a MoveOn member now. They sometimes drive me crazy, never more than when I’ve been working on a campaign and trying to coordinate with them, but purely based on the organizational philosophy that I didn’t really understand until Anna described it to me, this is an organization of which I feel I should be a part.

(PS: This is a dated citation, but here is Chris Hayes' really insightful take on the dust-up over Patraeus.)

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Wisconsin is the new Alamo

My good friend Luke Hayes, who was in Nevada for Obama starting in the summer, was shipped to South Carolina right after caucus day, then up to Bridgeport, Connecticut. Luke spent two months in Austin with me on the Mayor’s campaign in 2006, so when I asked him, after Super Tuesday, if he was on his way down to Texas, I was shocked (and admittedly a little dismayed) when he told me they were sending him to Waukesha, Wisconsin. Didn’t they realize how important Texas was going to be, and didn’t they want to take advantage of Luke’s experience and network in Austin? “Well,” reasoned Luke, “they seem to think Wisconsin is critical.”

Now, ten days later, it looks like they may have been right. Hillary’s people seem to have initially shared my position, but a few days ago they started competing more fiercely for the cheese-heads, realizing they couldn’t just punt and hope to make a stand in Texas and Ohio. Fourteen days after Wisconsin might be too little too late. Let’s take a look at why:

The states that have voted so far contribute 2171 of the 3249 pledged delegates to be awarded, or 66.8%. That’s a lot – more than 2/3, already weighed in. Estimates continue to vary (though less and less so), and some news outlets prefer to wait to award the caucus delegates, but I think we are pretty close if we say that Obama has 1134, Clinton has 995, 26 went to Edwards, and 16 of those 2171 are yet to be awarded. What sequence of events could lead to Hillary having more pledged delegates than Barack when the polls close in Puerto Rico on June 7th?

(For the purposes of this post, we’re going to assume two things. First, those Michigan and Florida delegates may get a seat at the convention, but only if there’s a clear nominee. To count them for Hillary would probably be illegal. Second – and this is much more open to debate – it is looking less and less likely that the loser of the pledged delegate race will be able to convince enough superdelegates that the founding fathers, the gods of democracy, and their constituents would be cool with them swinging the election his or her way. This is a development of my post on this subject last week – “Delegate Math.” From the start, this question has been framed in the news as “will the party elite reverse the will of the people.” I just don’t think so right now, but again, that could change. So for the purposes of this post, the important question is who will get the most pledged delegates.)

Let’s say that Barack wins Wisconsin 52-48 and cleans up in his native state of Hawaii, and then rides this uninterrupted wave of momentum to lose by only 5 or 6 points in both Texas and Ohio. Let’s also say that he loses Rhode Island 45-55 and wins Vermont by the same margin. Under that scenario, his lead would be cut to about 120-125 from its current 139, with Wyoming and Mississippi set to vote on March 8th and 10th, and then nothing until PA on April 22nd. (I’m also giving him Democrats Abroad, who have voted but not yet returned results.) Assuming he continues to be strong in the interior mountain west and southern states with large black populations, and thus wins MS and WY by significant margins, she would have to beat him by 20 points in all the remaining states except for SD and MT, where she could draw him, and Puerto Rico, which she would have to win by 30. Keep in mind, her largest margin of victory in any state other than the one she represents in the Senate (17 points), the one of which she was First Lady (43 points), or Oklahoma (24 points – I have no idea), has been 15 points. So it would be some kind of trick for her to wipe him out that badly – ie, to hold him under 40% - in PA, NC, IN, WV, OR, and KY, all while being outspent. Impossible, basically, without something game-changing happening.

If she can win WI, on the other hand, and turn the tide in her favor, and then beat him up a lot on March 4th, she might be able to capture enough momentum to power through to big wins in April and May. It would still take big wins, though; 15 to 18 point wins, consistently, and there is a long time between March 10th and April 22nd. In that scenario, her hope might still only be that the superdelegates might be able to go against the pledged delegate count if it’s close and if the momentum is clearly with her. In other words, the numbers say that she really can’t win the pledged delegate count without a very strong showing on March 4th, and it sure seems like she can’t have big wins – really big wins – in TX and OH without something that breaks his momentum before then. That has to be Wisconsin.

My last post about predictions and how foolish they are notwithstanding, if she doesn’t outright win WI and then rough him up on March 4th, there are going to start to be a lot of Democratic Party insiders – ie, superdelegates – telling her that her arithmetic window has closed, that their support is firmly with Obama, and that no one wants to wait until April 22nd to have a nominee, let alone August 25th.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Labor War and Labor Peace, Chapter 2

So. The strike is officially over, and I am back to unwilling unemployment as the show I was writing for was cancelled while I was out on the picket line. I have a brand new excuse not to post, though: I’m moving. And I’m going to India next week. So.

Picking up where I left off – jurisdiction. Mindful of our reality and animation troubles, the WGA knew that negotiating jurisdiction in “New Media” was a must. Initially, this is not something that the corporations wanted to give us. Even granting – hypothetically –their theory that reality and animation are in some way ancillary to scripted television and movies, writing for new media clearly wouldn’t fall in that category. In the end, we did get pretty decent jurisdiction.

Of course there are caveats. In order to fall under WGA jurisdiction, a new media project must satisfy a few conditions, and it is these conditions that may be of interest to Pickle readers, not from a legal perspective but rather a “where is TV headed?” perspective. A made for new media project (i.e., we’re not talking about re-showing/streaming an episode of “House” on, but rather a brand new program) falls under WGA jurisdiction if it meets any of the following criteria:

1) It’s written by a “professional” writer – defined as someone with any kind of writing credit, for any size screen or even the page, whatever that is
2) It’s a derivative of a property already under WGA jurisdiction (i.e. an online-only spinoff of Heroes, or Air Bud)
3) It meets a budget threshold of either $15k/minute, $300k/episode, or $500k/series order

Not too bad. At least we know that WGA members, all “professionals,” get covered. But what these conditions point to is where the corporations think much of their new media is going to come from: cheap, original content made by first timers. The traditional development process (pitch to script to pilot to series) is speculative and full of expensive WGA minimum payments. “Developing” a hit YouTube video into a TV show bypasses both those problems. Does this mean that these companies’ programming will become a wild west of user generated content? Probably not – for one, media companies are premised on the idea that they know how to program, that they have an expertise (Obviously, I have doubts on the existence of this expertise – for anyone, not just easy-to-pick-on TV execs). For two, they probably don’t want to directly compete with the YouTubes of the world. Media corporations’ models are based on reproducibility whereas YouTube is more about venue than content.

This new method of generating ideas for content may crowd out more traditional pilots (although there will always be $12 million pilots like Lost, spectacles that can’t be made cheaply and by first timers), and it would seem that there is a lot of water coming through this hole. The WGA has tried to mitigate that in a couple ways. First, there’s a “guild shop” provision in the deal. This means once you write your first new media project for a media corporation, you then join the Guild. Second, there is a provision for “separated rights” which spells out the control a writer would have over a new media project that then becomes a TV show or feature film.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

CNN Perspective

"The Superdelegates are NOT going to reverse the decision of the pledged delegates." Bill Schneider, moments ago.

That's the way this picture is emerging.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Must Win?

Though I've worked in campaign politics for 7 years and followed them for at least a bit longer, I still get surprised at how quickly things change, and how fast that which appears inevitible becomes unlikely. I felt pretty good by the end of the night on February 5th, but the news was that it was a better night for her. If she was the frontrunner going into Super Duper Tuesday, and she had a better night than he did, how did we get to where we are tonight? It's only exactly one week later. Three days ago, I advised you to focus on whether or not Barack would edge out Hillary in the pledged delegate count, and if so by how much, and would it be enough to overcome her lead among pledged delegates. Three days ago!

Well, three days later he is over 100 pledged delegates ahead of her, and the superdelegates are starting to move. The question before was will the people make their voices heard loud enough to force the superdelegates to follow them. Now the question is will the superdelegates take the first opportunity to let the regular delegates take them off the hook. Hillary is counting on Texas and Ohio to arrest her fall on March 4th, but will she even make it that far (ie, is this the Rudy Strategy?).

First New Hampshire, now the week after Super Tuesday - make predictions at your peril. It's a good night - a good week - for Barack, but the only prediction I'm willing to make right now is that more things are going to happen before we're done.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Labor War and Labor Peace, Chapter 1

The WGA strike appears to be headed for a close, and it takes with it my number one excuse for not writing very much, here on The Pickle or elsewhere.

Over the next few days, I’ll try to outline the main disputes as well as how they’re addressed in the deal memo. Rather than going into hard numbers, though, which are uninteresting to you and unknown to me, my intention is to reflect back upon the strike in general ways that may be of interest to lefties and/or Screen Actors Guild organizers. If you are a writer, you may find it basic, and if you are a giant diversified vertically integrated multinational corporation that gets a small part of its revenue from scripted entertainment, you may find it biased.

Most everyone knows that the primary area of contention was “the internet,” but this perhaps bears a little explaining. While our demands are technically about getting paid for internet reuse of our material in the short term, what everyone really has their eyes on is the eventuality of TV becoming indistinguishable from the internet. Eventually, we will just have various sized screens and interfaces in our houses, and there’ll be one big fat cable that provides you with all your 1’s and 0’s needs, be they video, telephony or laundry detergent for your digital clothing. Those screens will have scripted entertainment programming. There may be no channels, or no schedule, but writers will still be writing things.

Of course, this is a ways off, and in the mean time, there aren’t very many people streaming TV shows. But once a rate is negotiated for the first time, it becomes an immovable object, especially if it’s costly to writers. The VHS rate negotiated in the 1980’s represented an 80% cut in the normal residual rate (because magnetic tape and plastic wheels are expensive). It has remained unchanged since then. It’s the rate we’re currently paid on DVDs. And – it’s still in the contract that I plan to vote “yes” on. Based on that experience, we knew we had to have a good foundation for an internet deal. (Incidentally, the home video rate cut has cost writers something in the neighborhood of $1.5 billion. Anger over this is probably the main factor that the leadership could call a strike. This didn’t stop the corporations from telling us we should “embrace the home video rate with open arms,” even if, to paraphrase Guild President Patric Verrone, embracing and open arms are mutually exclusive.)

There are two areas of concern here for the Writers Guild – payment, which you may have heard about, and jurisdiction, which you probably didn’t.

When the WGA has jurisdiction over a certain area, it means that when signatory companies make deals within that area, those deals must conform to standards pre-negotiated with the WGA. Sitcoms and live action movies, jurisdiction. Reality television (which is written, often meticulously) and animation, no jurisdiction. WGA jurisdiction provides a number of things. At the most basic level, it requires fair labor practices. Reality shows routinely violate these, arousing the concern of the state of California. Jurisdiction also means equitable compensation, or at least something that resembles it. To date, The Lion King – just the movie, no toys – has made $783 million worldwide. Its writers probably made about $100k. (I’m working on getting an accurate number from the Guild). And finally, jurisdiction means added leverage for the Guild. If we covered reality, then it wouldn't be cheap replacement programming during a strike, and in fact they wouldn't be able to put shows like Clash of the Choirs on at all.

This post has gotten way too long; I’ll pick up how the tentative deal addresses jurisdiction in the next one. Also, please let me know if you have questions about this or any other aspect of the strike.

Back to Politics...

I also want to point out the narratives that are starting to come out from the campaigns about the role of the superdelegates. These quotes have appeared in a couple of places:

Obama: "My strong belief is that if we end up with the most states and the most pledged delegates from the most voters in the country, that it would be problematic for the political insiders to overturn the judgment of the voters. I think it is also important for superdelegates to think about who will be in the strongest position to defeat John McCain in November and who will be in the strongest position to ensure that we are broadening the base, bringing people who historically have not gotten involved in politics into the fold."

Clinton: "Superdelegates are, by design, supposed to exercise independent judgment. But, of course, if Senator Obama and his campaign continue to push this position, which is really contrary to what the definition of a superdelegate has historically been, I will look forward to receiving the support of Senator Kennedy and Senator Kerry."

Hilariously, each of them is making two arguments that, in both cases, have incompatible premises, but we're just dipping a pinky toe into this swamp for now. I'm sure they'll each develop a strong, consistent message that emphasizes the first point each makes before they wade in much above the knees. Which really shouldn't be too much longer, since Hillary might be able to pick up Wisconsin and nothing else before Texas and Ohio, and it is starting to feel like she's going to have a tough time ending up with more pledged delegates than him.

For those who haven't seen it before, check out the Iowa Electronic Market. These are real securities that trade on, among other things, the nominations. See the Dems here. Studies show that these kinds of things reflect actual probablities at a given time, so that's pretty interesting...

See, you try to do something nice for people...

So there I was, at the Institute for Contemporary Art in Boston, positively laughing my ass off, when it dawned on me - this is going to be on YouTube! I will share this with Pickle Nation. We can share something other than Barack Obama.

But it's not. I won't. No we can't.

But I'm still going to tell you what was so damn funny, and maybe you can find it yourselves online (in which case I hope you will have the decency to post a comment), or, for those of you in the Boston area, you can make your way to the end of the earth yourself and check it out.

1) Cezary Bodzianowski. Dude has a rollerblade on one hand and another one on one foot, and he's inside a slowly rotating concrete cylinder. It's funny, then you're over it, then it's funnier than it was before. And so on and so forth.

2) Christian Jankowski. "The Hunt." Man vows only to eat what he can hunt with a bow and arrow, then goes to the supermarket and hilarity ensues.

3) Rachel Perry Welty. Karaoke Wrong Number. It's Karaoke, but with wrong numbers.

4) Andrea Fraser. Frank and his Little Carp. Um, it's porn. Frank is Frank Gehry. His little carp is the Guggenheim Bilbao or his little carp, depending who you ask.

Honestly, I'm sorry I can't link to them - Internet Seriously Letting Me Down Alert. I mean, not one of them! As far as I can tell, Andrea Fraser's art is all about knocking pretensiousness. Hey Andrea, YouTube is exposing you! You're like John McCain (sorry) - it's so much worse because you promised us you were different. But anyway, they are all brilliant, and if you can check out the ICA, you will be rewarded.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Delegate Math

This post is a little wonky, but stick with it. I’ve done a few back of the large envelope calculations. Here they are:

Right now – and the estimates vary, so it’s hard to get a lock on these numbers, which is really unnerving in and of itself – Obama seems to have something close to 878 pledged delegates, and Clinton has 865. She appears to be leading in most delegate counts because about 300 out of the 800 superdelegates have declared their intentions, and she’s got 2/3 of them.

I took a look at those numbers state-by-state to try to get a sense of where the pledged delegate count might be headed in the second half of the voting. Bottom line: Unless one of them does something to destabilize this race and seriously tip the scales one way or the other, the proportional system for allocating delegates is going to make it very, very hard for a winner to emerge without input from the superdelegates.

Looking at the results in terms of pledged delegates won, Hillary has been winning big states by small margins, and Barack has been winning small states by big margins. If we take each of their top 6 margins of victory, throw out the very highest one, and average the other five, we get a number for Hillary of 59.3%, and 69.1% for Barack. In other words, in states that Clinton wins decisively, she seems to get about 59% of the pledged delegates, and in states that Obama wins decisively, he seems to get about 69% of the same.

So let’s take a look at the remaining states. If we categorize each state as either Clinton, Obama, or Split, based on the demographic trends so far, and then give each of the candidates 50% of the pledged delegates in Split states, and their average margin of victory for clear wins as calculated above in states that we can reasonably expect each of them to win, we see more of the same – things come out very close, with a slight edge for Barack.

What does this mean? Well, it’s a very crude calculation, but it means that, again, barring a destabilization of the balance of power in the race, the margin for one candidate of the other among pledged delegates is going to be very close. Even if we assume that one of the two candidates wins all the remaining states by something a little smaller than their average clear win margin so far – say 55% for Clinton and 60% for Obama – the difference between the two candidates on pledged delegates alone does not end up being even half of the 800 superdelegates.

If Clinton wins the most pledged delegates, the outcome seems clear. She is likely to have the most superdelegates, and if both those things are true, she has more delegates than he does, the party elite are in concert with the rank and file, and everyone goes home if not happy, at least feeling like they were treated fairly. If, however, Obama has something like 50 to 100 pledged delegates more than she does – a scenario that I would argue at this point seems like the most likely one – but she continues to get more of the party establishment, what then? Are the superdelegates going to deny the people their nominee? At some threshold level of Obama victory, I argue that they are not.

I am making the case, then, that this nominating constest is now a race to 50% plus about 20-50 pledged delegates for Obama. If he can clear that hurdle, the superdelegates will have to fall into line. If wins by a really tiny margin, the Clinton superdelegates can declare it a tie and break it in her favor. Unless Obama can turn the superdelegate tide in his favor (unlikely), his nomination depends on getting half plus a chunk of the pledged delegates. That is the race now. That is the number to watch.

Friday, February 8, 2008


I have more thoughts on the delegate math that I am winding up to share tonight or tomorrow, so check back for that, but in the meantime, I want to call your attention to Kenya.

I taught math for a semester in a rural school in Kenya after graduating from high school. I lived with a family in Western Province, not far from the Ugandan border, a few hours and 50 or so miles from Kisumu, which is the third largest city in Kenya, and the population center of the Luo tribe. My village was Luhya. I think of my friends and students every time I read about the recent violence that is mostly between members of the Luo and Kikuyu tribes, and I hope that the much smaller and more northerly Luhyas are staying out of it.

The Kikuyus have dominated Kenyan national politics since independence – Mwai Kibaki, the incumbent Kenyan President, is a Kikuyu. Raila Odinga, the challenger, is Luo. Kenya has been spared – has spared itself – much of the ethnic conflict that has burdened many countries in sub-Saharan Africa, which is part of why it has been relatively stable and economically successful, by the neighborhood’s standards. But a hotly contested and legally questionable election in December has brought undercurrents of tribal tension to the surface, and the violence is real, ethnic, as brutal as it can be, and, despite a lull after the first surge in January, persistant.

In our society it’s easy to forget that mobility has not been the norm for most people throughout most of human history. When I took my family to lunch in the central city of Western Province, Kakamega, near the end of my time there – 25 miles and an hour or so from our village – it was the first time that my Kenyan grandmother had been there in 40 years! When I left my adoptive family at the end of the three months I spent there, they admonished me to come back, saying “we will always be here.” They meant it. As my brother David explained, there is a strong cultural bond between a family and the land on which they have long lived. That bond is not often broken.

Today’s NYT shows a picture of Luos in the back of a truck in Nakuru, about to be shipped off to their “ancestral homeland.” Nakuru is about 100 miles east of Kisumu. There is a really beautiful lake there. In the past, it was Kikuyu land. But those Luos live there now. Refugees have the worst public health in the world. This afternoon there is news of progress in talks between Kibaki and Odinga. Let’s hope so.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Mission Creep

This isn't quite slang, but it's still coinage.
While on strike (maybe not for long? more on this soon), I've gotten a day job tutoring high school kids, and today my chemistry student came up with what might be the best name ever for a white rapper:

Recommended DJ pairing: Cut Chemist, no duh!

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Explaining the Superdelegates

Please note, both Sarah and Eleanor have asked for a clarification of the role of the Superdelegates in the nominating context, and I have responded with an explanation in the comments of the last post. If it's still unclear, let me know and I can try some more...

I should add to what I wrote there with just a slightly higher level view, for those who need it:

There are about 4050 delegates to the national convention. Most are selected through the primaries and caucuses - that's the process we're going through now. But roughly 800 of them are not. These are the Superdelegates - Party Leaders and Elected Officials, or PLEOs. They are your congresspeople, your senators, your governors, your big city mayors, your former ones of all of those, and your state party officials. They decide all on their own about for whom to vote at the convention. Every delegate at the convention - Pledged and Super - has one vote of equal weight.

By the way, I'm not sure at what point the pledged delegates become unpledged. In other words, we know that if no candidate gets a majority on the first ballot, there is a second ballot. And so forth. Perhaps it is after the first ballot...

See, this is what happens when people don't get statistics...

Diehard Pickle reader Sarah asks why Super Duper Tuesday is for the most part being reported as a marginal victory for Clinton, as opposed to the story that Obama may in fact have edged Clinton in the delegate count for the day.

I think this has a lot to do with the way the evening unfolded. I was watching from 8:15 pm to 12:45 am EST, with one or two bathroom breaks, and my exprience of the evening was that Hillary asserted herself early with wins in TN and NY to overcome his IL and GA victories, and she had big early leads in NJ, MA, and MO. It felt like hse was crushing him in a few places. Then, Obama picked up a handful of wins in states like CT and MN and began to close the gap in NJ, MO, and even NY, and the interior west and southewest was a draw (CO and AZ), and things seemed more even. So when people went to bed and papers went to press with CA looking unexpectedly lopsided, the story gave the edge to Clinton.

But the fact that the actual delegate count hasn't scrubbed that story line completely is a testiment to how muddled this process is likely to remain, and, in fact, how undemocratic it may turn out to be. The big take-away from the night for me, really, was how the state-by-state popular vote is such a beauty contest. I mean, I really understand statistics quite well compared to the average person, and I was really gripped by the drama of who would win MO; but in fact, who ultimately would come out on top was not really important. But nevertheless, winners and losers are easy to understand, and hence the bias in the coverage.

I want to refer Pickle readers to me post from last week in which I urged people to begin to think about writing to their super-delegates. This is looking more and more important, and I expect to write more about it...

We have a situation here...

TPM closed the night last night with the observation that it's difficult to imagine now how this does not go all the way to the convention. If that's an overstatement, it's a small one - it is certainly easy to see how this could be decided at the convention, with over half the states done and Obama and Clinton all but tied, and with the same preportional allocation system that helped us get here awarding delegates in the remaining contests.

In almost all ways, this is great. I think our party is getting stronger as we watch these two excellent candidates continue to make their cases. (BTW, doesn't it feel like the longer this goes on, the more we're going to end up demanding both of them on the ticket?) But a concern has to be that, if we wait until August to pick a nominee, John McCain gets to campaign all by his lonesome for all that time.

Here again, though, this could work to our advantage. Perhaps divisions within the GOP will soften him up before we even turn our full attention in that direction. And if the primary concern is making sure we win in November - which, for many people who become familiar with Obama and Clinton and decide that they both would make excellent Presidents, it is - then maybe we'll have a better view of November from August than we do from February.

At least McCain's totally robotic speech last night, along with his unnerving discomfort with hugging his wife on national TV, and the Obama campaign's deft state-managing of the juxtaposition of the two of them, went a long way towards easing my McCainophobia.


CNN just called California for Clinton. And though she's now collected all the big states and can start building houses and hotels on them*, CNN's Jamal Simmons makes a great point: these states will certainly be going Democratic in the fall, and the states which Obama has won are the states in which the Democratic candidate needs to be competitive.
I hope we will start to hear electability arguments from the Obama campaign. Even if you think a Democrat victory is a fait accompli (you obviously don't care about jinxing), shouldn't we be going for the biggest margin possible?

* - Illinois is pretty big, but I really wanted to make the Monopoly joke.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Yes We Can

As the first of the Super Tuesday polls close, I want to share my thoughts about the Obama campaign’s unofficial slogan – Yes We Can. (I think we all like that better than the official slogan – Change We Can Believe In – which is at worst sort of confusing and at best not grammatical.)

We’ve got issues – huge whoppers. We’re stuck in a war we never should have chosen, our economy is burdened by terrible economic habits and fundamentals, we suffer from the terrible injustice of the best health care we know how to provide not being available to most, our nation of immigrants hates its permanent underclass of immigrants, opportunity is yet constrained by race and class, and even the planet’s future is grim and uncertain. We ride into battle against these challenges – challenges of a scope and scale that they definitively can not be solved without the federal government – led by a President no one likes, a congress even fewer people like, and a supreme court that thinks separate but equal is constitutional (and sometimes, like in the case of equal pay, separate but unequal is OK too.) It is possible – understandable, really – that an American citizen could look at this situation and say “No, we can’t fix this.”

But yes, we can. All we need to do it try, and we can fix this. The only thing that stops us from solving these problems – literally the only thing – is the health and vigor of our democracy. The only thing we have to fear is fear itself. Because when we say “No, we can’t fix this,” or when our political leaders (one of whom in particular, the subject of this criticism, I admire and respect a tremendous amount, more than when this campaign began) tell us that what we don’t need is false hope, people leave the process, and all who are left are those who stand to make money from perverting it. The only thing in history that has ever reliably defended the public interest is political participation, motivated by the belief in an ever more perfect union.

Yes We Can. I love to think of it as a slogan about Barack Obama becoming President, and I hope it is. But more than that, it is a progressive strategy for fixing our problems, about community. Whatever happens tonight, and whoever gets the nomination and ultimately wins the Presidency, this is the song that, when it is in enough of our hearts, will put us back on track.

Monday, February 4, 2008

The Pickle Has Arrived!!

The Pickle's first link, from none other than The Nation Washington Editor and progressive standard-bearer of our generation Christopher Hayes.


Chris Hayes:

Reihan Salam et al:

Staci Mellman:

NASA image of the week:



Rex Parker does the NYT Crossword:


Sunday, February 3, 2008

My day on the doors

I spent a few hours canvassing today in Bridgeport, CT for Barack. For Pickle readers who don’t know, my first job after college was as a door-to-door canvasser for Mark Warner in VA. Canvassing was always my favorite job on campaigns, and I bet I’ve knocked on about 12,000 doors in the last 6 or 7 years.

I like being outside. Walking from house to house can be very meditative. And I just like talking with people. It’s counterintuitive, but there’s no other job on a campaign – other than candidate – where you get to talk to voters all the time. Also, in a society as segregated and private as ours, it’s always eye-opening to spend some time in a community where I wouldn’t usually go. Today, for example, I canvassed in a poor, minority neighborhood.

There’s always a lot to say after a day of canvassing, but today I have two things worth passing along in particular:

First, the bad news. The systematic inequality in health status everywhere I have canvassed in this country is striking. Today, just as on other days when I’ve canvassed in a black neighborhood, a really high percentage of people who come to the door are in poor health. It’s very noticeable. Talk about two Americas. This is a great example of why canvassing is a worthwhile activity. It would make anyone stop and think - you can defend wealth inequality, but you can’t defend health inequality.

Second, the good news. At the second-to-last house I canvassed I talked to a 72 year old guy who didn’t want to tell me who he was voting for, but who said he was happy to see young people getting involved. I told him that Barack motivates and inspires me and many others.

He said “I’m proud of you.” No shit, he really said that. Complete stranger told me he’s proud of me. It’s stuff like that that makes me love canvassing.

New Slang

While it’s something I have legitimate interest in, the above promise of “attempted slang coinage” admittedly has an element of tongue in cheek to it. Setting out to create slang, with a public intention of trying to get people to adopt it, seems to be a tall order (in the same way that it’s difficult to intentionally make a viral YouTube video).

However, seeing as how readers of The Pickle are drowning in wit and influence, let’s take a crack at it.

Lately, I’ve been abbreviating Dunkin’ Donuts as “Dundo’s.” “Can we stop at Dundo’s?” “Oof, I could use some Dundo’s.” “Well hurry up. Yes, I’m waiting. Outside the Dundo’s on 3rd.”

“Dundo’s” captures the whimsy of "Dunkin’ Donuts" but saves you two syllables. A few nears and dears have taken it up, but of course, success is met only when I (or you) hear it from a perfect stranger.


Dan: dberwick[at]

Luvh: luvh.rakhe[at]

Peter: prichard23[at]

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Land of Opportunity

I just came from the MIT European Career Fair. I thought I'd check it out on my way out of town to New Haven (to hit the doors for Obama and then watch the Super Bowl with my bro.)

Quite a scene. Incidentally, no one wanted to hire me, just to get that out of the way. Everyone was looking for engineers. There were like 150 to 200 companies, universities, and governments (yes, governments) recruiting the best engineers that America has to offer. Every company had a big poster that said something like "Changing the world one incredibly complex and revolutionary molecule at a time." The EU and Germany had a particularly noticable presence - state funded science and technology looking for super-nerds.

Now, I've never been to the Wittenburg American Career Fair - I actually don't think I've been to the MIT American Career Fair - but I wonder if it was always like that. I wonder if the US DOE spends as much as its counterpart German ministry to get the best people into public R&D.

Also, since we're talking about engineering and MIT, I just finished a book that has some fantastic insight into what it's like to be an engineer, studying at MIT. The Idea Factory. Check it out. Especially if you are at MIT right now. Like me.

Friday, February 1, 2008


I also wanted to register a thought about the debate, and actually, it is not about the candidates.

When I learned the venue would be the Kodak Theater, I was dismayed, because I thought it would open the door for the debate to be characterized by certain people as an exercise in foppish Hollyweird liberalism. The building is, after all, a temple to glitz, as it was constructed expressly as a home for the Oscars.

But as CNN’s cameras kept finding a celebrity to cut away to, my silent dismay gave way to more extreme reactions – an eye-roll (Jason Alexander), a contemptuous snort (Pierce Brosnan), and finally, the moral outrage normally associated with witnessing violent crime (Topher Grace). I became very ashamed of L.A. Why did we always have to make everything so goddamned silly?

Then I calmed down. I realized every debate audience thus far has probably been liberally sprinkled with the town’s elites, and that actors and their cohorts are the elites of Los Angeles (for better or worse, mostly worse), and the only reason they were noticeable is that they’re, well, noticeable. And who am I to question Topher’s motives?

But did CNN have to cut away to them so much? There’s a time and a place, CNN. Why do you always have to make everything so goddamned silly?