Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Delegate Math, infinity

Estimates of the current delegate count vary, but less so now that we’re nearing the end. By my count, Obama has 1485 pledged delegates, and Clinton has 1334. That’s pretty precise. The superdelegate count is a bit squishier, but the AP count of 261 for Clinton and 240 for Barack looks about right. So if you add those together, you get 1725 for Barack, and 1595 for Clinton.

Now let’s see what happens if we award the remaining pledged delegates in some sort of reasonable fashion. Let’s guess that the voting in remaining states will go as follows, with Barack’s # first:

NC – 54-46
IN – 46-54
WV – 44-56
OR – 54-46
KY – 44-56
MT – 55-45
SD – 55-45
Puerto Rico – 40-60

If it goes like that, I calculate that she’ll get 208 more pledged delegates, and he’ll get 196. She might do better than that, and he might do worse, but at this point it really just doesn’t matter very much, from a pledged delegate math perspective, because of our system for apportionment and the fact that, frankly, there aren’t that many delegates left to award.

So if she gets 208 and he gets 196, then the total, counting all the pledged delegates and the superdelegates who have announced their intentions so far, is 1921 to 1803. There are 294 superdelegates who still haven’t said what they plan to do. If those above numbers are correct, then Obama needs 100 of the remaining 300. That’s the figure to be focused on right now.

There are a few caveats: I’m missing 4 delegates somewhere (those numbers add up to 4044, not 4048), I don’t know what we’re supposed to do with John Edwards’ 26 pledged delegates, and Michigan and Florida still loom in the shadows. If you take out those 30 (4+26), the magic number becomes 2010, and he needs 89.

Now, would it surprise anyone if Barack announced 2025 on May 20th or June 8th, and then Hillary said “Nope, those superdelegates won’t cast their votes until August, so I have until then to persuade them?” Maybe someone. Note that Gallup has Hillary up nationally today for the first time in a while. I’m far, far more anxious than I was a few days ago. But what the numbers say now is that if he can find just a little wind in his sails again at some point in the next few weeks, he should be able to get to that magic number as soon as the voting winds down. He does need to turn things around after a few bad days, but 89 out of 294 still isn’t that heavy a lift.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Presenting a New Section

We've tired of the Genre Crossing Metaphor Section.

It has been replaced by the younger, more nubile, floridly tattooed Possible Band Names Section. Interactivity, as always, is welcome.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Burning Biofuel

Yesterday, the governor of my ex-state of Texas put in a request to the EPA to relax federal regulations requiring the use of ethanol, claiming that these regulations were behind the well-documented worldwide increase in the cost of food. Makes sense - an artificial market for ethanol may be re-routing corn from feeding people to feeding cars, right?
But it's not true. According to this study, food prices in Texas aren't really impacted by the higher corn prices that result from mandated ethanol production. In fact, the most significant cause to the increase is... energy costs, which to my knowledge are suppressed, however slightly, by ethanol production. Dammit. Now, the federal mandates do cause an increase in the price of livestock feed, but the structure of the livestock industry is such that it is "unable to pass costs on, either up or down the supply chain," according to the study. Of course, since it would go straight into their pockets, this industry is pretty psyched about the governor's request.
Corn does make it into our food supply another major way - via high fructose corn syrup. Of course, the food that has this wonderful stuff in it isn't really a worry of anyone who is genuinely worried about increasing food prices. But, I would guess Coca Cola and Frito Lay are psyched about Gov. Perry as well.
Of course, Gov. Perry may be excused for not knowing about this report, because it comes from the far-flung land of... Texas. Texas A&M. Where he went to school. Dammit again.
Well, it's just a request to the EPA. Ultimately, the decision will be made based on science and good stewardship of the environment. Oh yeah - in a poll published Thursday by the Union of Concerned Scientists, more than half the EPA scientist respondents said they experienced "incidents of political interference" in their jobs. Dammit dammit dammit.
What really muddies the water here is that corn ethanol is by all accounts a pretty awful fuel. Cellulosic is much better. Of course, who will tell the corn lobby that their nutritionally worthless crop isn't too great for its latest purpose either.
Ultimately, though it's not as efficient as other ethanols, I think we should focus on two things. First, it's not much less efficient than gasoline. Second, and more importantly, the cultural awareness and potential habit changes brought about by corn ethanol production are worth it.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008


I'm sure there are many things that, with 5% of the world's population, the US has 25% of, but since it is never far from the front of my mind that greenhouse gas emissions is one of them, I was struck when I read this morning that prison inmates is another. At least there's some relationship between greenhouse gasses and electricity use, and then electricity use and per capita GDP. No such beneficial connection with incarceration...

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

How did this get so un-fun so fast?

Somewhere between 8 and 11 points, Hillary Clinton will finally get her victory tonight. Big enough to make the superdelegates look at each other and pause and say “well, uh, I mean, we can’t send her packing on that,” but not big enough to be bigger than expected, or to give her anything like the kind of momentum she needs to have right now. If you don’t know how to interpret tonight, I suspect it’s because after seven weeks of waiting for an outcome, you really haven’t been given one.

It’s brutalizing to watch the best political team on television – which is like 50 people now – stumble around in search of a retrofitting of a narrative to tonight’s result. And make no mistake, that’s exactly what they’re doing. Perhaps, if it were a handful of actual journalists, there might be some honest presenting of the facts and insightful analysis of them. But CNN has allowed its coverage to devolve into a menagerie of surrogates that they try to keep in partisan balance. I’d switch if I though anyone else a) had better coverage, or b) had better graphics.

Reality check: is there anything that could happen, short of some sort of Spitzer/Mosley/chief-of-police-of-Tehran stunt, that would make Obama exit the race before the convention in August? Post a comment if you think the answer is yes, ‘cause the answer is no. Now put on your superdelegate hat and ask yourself, with the way this race has gone in the last few weeks, are you going to let that happen?

I maintain that the superdelegate dam is ready to break, for that reason if no other. What they are waiting for is a win – if he gives them a win in two weeks, I think they’ll end it. An endorsement by Gore or Edwards, or both, some time in the next two weeks, might lead that charge.

Watching Hillary’s victory speech moment ago, her supporters kept breaking out into a chant that was evidently supposed to be “Yes She Can!” but that ended up as a mumbled blend of “She” and “We,” an iteration of the phrase with which her supporters are no doubt more familiar. Then she tried to close her speech with an emphatic “Yes…We…Will!” but half the crowd shouted “Can!” at the end. That’s gotta be annoying for her. She’s still here, but it’s his campaign.

12:20 AM update: It's interesting that the punditry pegged "double digits" as the over/under for tonight, for a couple of reasons. One, the margin was looking like slightly under 10 points, so 10 looked like a good stretch goal for the candidate who had to meet a stretch goal to show progress. Two, it's very tempting to think that, if we had a base-8 or base-12 numeral system, this small piece of picking who will be our next president would have a different interpretive benchmark. Third, with 98% reporting, CNN reports 55% to 45%, but it looks like they're rounding - NYT has it 54.9% to 45.1%. The haughty laughter welling up inside me can barely be contained.

All three of these observations point to one thing clearly: I am surrounded by idiots. On the other hand, maybe perception is reality more than I'm giving it credit for here.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Back to Work

With 3 days to go until the resumption of festivities, I though now might be a good time to foolishly put a stake in the ground about what is going to happen over the next few weeks of the Democratic nominating contest, so I can continue to undermine your confidence in my predictive abilities or the notion that six years of political work has taught me anything about who wins elections and how they win them.

I suggest that it is very likely that this campaign has entered its final three weeks. Up until now, a decisive minority of superdelegates has been content to postpone a public declaration of intent until everyone has had a chance to vote – until the end of the first week of June. In what was undoubtedly the finest moment of his tenure as DNC Chair, Dr. Dean proposed the end of voting as a deadline for superdelegates to make their choices known. That made sense until Wednesday night’s debate, when we learned that this process has irrevocably passed the point of usefulness. There is finally literally nothing to talk about, leaving only campaign gossip, and an antsy stable of superdelegates that is just waiting to stampede. An Obama win in PA would certainly set one off. Maybe an Obama almost-win would.

But after May 6th, I really do think the pressure to concede will finally force her out. She really has no way to win the pledged delegate count at this point, but just for the sake of argument, let’s have a look. As always, counts vary, but by my estimation, he is up 1410 to 1251 right now. If she wins PA by 10, he wins NC by 10, and she wins Indiana by 4, he would be up roughly 1578 to 1428. That’s a 150-delegate lead, with only 217 left to be awarded. If we had a winner-take-all system of delegate apportionment, it would be mathematically possible for her to overtake him. But then, if we had a winner-take-all system of delegate apportionment, we, like the Republicans, would have a nominee by now.

So he has the pledged count, and he has the state count; he has won more pledged delegate than her in 31 of 44 contests – an emphatic margin. That being the situation, her only viable strategy since the week of Texas and Ohio has been to create enough momentum for herself and doubt about Barack to give the superdelegates cover to swing it to her, on the premise that she is more elect-able.

Without that momentum, there is no cover. Without a big win in IN and at least a surging draw in NC, there is no momentum. Without a crushing blow in PA, there is no surge in NC. And SurveyUSA had a poll out Friday showing Obama up 5 in Indiana. Let the stampede begin.

PS: Pickle Nation (including Pickle Nation co-prez Luvh) was not in love with my blithe assertion in a recent post that "Liberals are Elitists." Fair. For a sample of complaints and my response, check out the comments on that post, "Enough Outta You."

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

On Prostitution

Apparently the Tehran Chief of Police was arrested in an underground brothel with six prostitutes. This, of course, is the same Tehran Chief of Police who has been leading a crackdown on "immodestly dressed women."

The fact is, six prostitutes is really too many. This on the heels of Max Mosley, head of Formula One, being busted with five prostitutes, doing some sort of WWII era German re-enactment. Whatever. The point is, most of us would consider boyhood fantasties realized with just two prostitutes. The rich get richer, I guess.

Which brings me to the Pickle Nation participation part of the post. Friend of the Pickle Emma Thomas has recently been trying to invent a drink called the "Elliott Spritzer." Bronze medal for responding with your idea for a recipe for an Elliott Spritzer. Silver medal for going to a bar and asking the bartender and anyone else around for their ideas, then ordering one, then reporting on it here. Gold medal - Dan, Megan (right accross the street from work), Chris, Kareem, Nate, Rebecca, or anyone else who lives in DC, I'm looking at you - goes to the enterprising Pickler who goes to the bar at the Mayflower and asks the bartender there for his or her recipe. Oh please, someone earn a gold medal...

Monday, April 14, 2008

Billy K

I wonder how smart conservatives feel about Bill Kristol's NYT columns. I imagine them to read him with the same cringing embarrassment I felt when I saw the second video (refuse to link). His columns have been Limbaugh boilerplate from the get-go, and you know he's smarter than that, so why does he do it? (Perhaps it's all too human. We are accustomed, after all, to asking whither Spitzer, and whither one time M.I.T. chemical engineering PhD candidate Dolph Lundgren.)

All this is to say Kristol, at least in the Times, has become a bit of a paper tiger, better for marginalization than response. Cue response! Today's column is notable in its badness. It's about "bitter," and I'm responding to it only because it's an attempt to reforge an unholy alliance that I thought/hoped laid in shambles - that between social conservatives and military or corporate ones. You know, the one where, in exchange for gay baiting and talk of prayer in school, poor rural whites agree to be against the "death tax." Surely one of the great political accomplishments of our time, but also one that started to unravel as McCain, Romney, and Huckabee all tugged on it in different directions.

As a rich, genteel neo-con, Kristol takes what can only be vicarious umbrage to "bitter," and the column is bad because it's so nakedly and hamhandedly manipulative. He characterizes Obama's comments, which I suspect were aiming to attack the political exploitation of guns and religion - and totally, totally didn't get there - as attacks on guns and religion themselves (which I certainly didn't think they were, although I'm hopelessly biased). The point is, it's greatly in Kristol's interest to construe the comments as attacks on guns and religion, i.e. to politically exploit guns and religion, because otherwise it's super hard to get support for fundamentally unpopular policies, like invading more countries. So that's what he does. And just to make absolutely sure we don't take the column seriously, the first third of it - a third! - is good ol' fashioned red-baiting, and it closes with an insanely irrelevant theory that if Obama were a war hero, it would in some way excuse or mitigate Kristol's version of the comments.

I kind of agree with Dan that liberals are elitists. But by Dan's definition (if you say "if you'd just listen for once"... you might be an elitist!), almost all advocacy is elitist. Elitism seems to have more to do with the twin senses of superiority and contempt. But again - advocacy and rhetoric on both sides seem to do this. The contempt certainly goes both ways, and in fact, you get in a lot of trouble if you say people "cling to religion," whereas you can say horrible things about San Francisco with impunity. Ultimately, the only elites who get their way are economic elites, because they're quiet about themselves and loud about guns and religion.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Enough outta you!

OK, I’m pretty sure this latest kafuffle over Barack’s un-cautious comments in San Francisco is the moment I’ve been waiting for. Since Barack took control of the nominating context in January, my position has been that, as much as I want it wrapped up, there’s really no reason for Hillary to get out quickly. It’s a race for President of the United States – as long as you can see a path to winning, you should stick with it. Having two great, qualified candidates has strengthened the party and made me proud, and I have been too busy being grateful for that to feel like I know when enough is enough. But I’ve qualified that view with “as long as they can keep it clean.”

The Jeremiah Wright business didn’t trigger the “as long as they can keep it clean” provision, maybe just because it ultimately was a fastball right in Barack’s wheelhouse, and it let to the biggest grand-slam homerun of the campaign season so far, and renewed my commitment to his candidacy. But this one is different. We’ve always known that “out of touch liberal elitist” is what McCain et al were going to throw at him. They sure don’t need Hillary’s help. Over this, for the first time, I really do think we need a united front, not two against one.

“Wait a minute,” says the hypothetical Hillary-supporting Pickle reader (and thank you, Hillary-supporting Pickle reader, for sticking with us), “you’re saying that the one time she makes a criticism of him that hits home, it’s time to get out of the race? Isn’t that the point of the nominating contest? To test the candidates’ vulnerabilities? If he can’t hack it, wouldn’t we rather know that now?”

I have two responses. First, and most importantly, I have a news flash: Liberals are Elitists. “Government would work just fine if you’d just listen for once!” Sound familiar? Like most good Democratic candidates, this is Barack’s vulnerability to a Republican challenger. Hillary knows that – that’s why she knows she has an effective attack. But it’s not a worthy attack. If she can win it by convincing us that she has better ideas, or is more able to execute them, or is otherwise more qualified, though admittedly the window is closing, then fine. But to go to GOP talking points so directly is a bad idea, and the superdelegates should punish her for it. Not to be a Liberal Elitist about it, but he wouldn’t do this.

Maybe, if it was still November, we should be vetting his liberal elitism. But now it just hurts the party. Which leads me to my second point. It’s not November. Shorter leash. As my friend Emma said last night, “The fact is, he’s going to be the nominee.” I’m not sure I’d go quite that far quite yet, but she ain’t gonna have more pledged delegates, more votes, or more states than him, so he’s not your average frontrunner. He almost has the party’s nomination for the Presidency. If she can’t play the game with that in mind, we need to politely ask her to leave the field.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Space Invader

The winning design for the new Guggenheim in Vilnius, Lithuania is way cool.

There are more images here.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

An Olympics for these times

As the Times artfully phrased it today, since it was awarded the 2008 Olympics, Beijing has always viewed this as China’s “coming out party.” It is.

The IOC awarded the games to Beijing on July 14th, 2001. I’m trying to think of some things that have happened in the world since then, and I have to admit, a few things do come to mind: September 11th; the arrival of truly global competition for natural resources, driven by economic growth in China, India, and elsewhere, that has driven commodity prices way up; for-all-practical-purposes-universal agreement on the cause of, if not the solution to, climate change; George Bush; and the war. In Beijing: the government recently banned half of all drivers from driving for a week, to see if that could make the sky visible; a growing middle class is eating meat in the air conditioned comfort of their homes that they drive from and to; the country’s furious growth demands economic and diplomatic relations with the world’s real bad guys; and exhaustion of water resources has caused desertification such that, on some days, dust from the Gobi desert now blows into the city.

Add in a dash of international spotlight on recent political unrest in Tibet (bravo, Tibet PR), and you get a totally protest-plagued torch relay, despite the fact that the event is such a micro-managed, tightly-scripted piece of propaganda (propaganda for what?) that sanctions are threatened against French athletes who wore patches that said “for a better world.” Presumably in French. It’s hard to imagine that the IOC isn’t wishing for a mulligan right now.

The Olympic games are meant to be a celebration of our species; a time when we marvel at the simultaneous expression of our one-ness and our many-ness, through sport and culture. This is not a time for easy celebration, though, and so in that sense, it seems fitting that we are coming together in this particular place at this particular moment. In the past – in Munich and Mexico City, for example – the games have been at the vanguard of global politics, a moment when the world reflected on a problem with an unusually global perspective. The torch relay so far indicates a coming clash this summer between those who seek an opportunity to call desperately needed attention to global challenges and the forces of power and the status quo, who we usually find wherever we find the first guys. Maybe the rabble-rousers will rouse the rabble, or maybe the Chinese government et al will prevent it. Either way, it looks like this summer in Beijing will capture the mood of the moment.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Super-Saharan Africa

I'm not sure it's slang, but I'm enjoying it...

Friday, April 4, 2008

Final KSA Thought

My trip to Saudi Arabia is over, and has been for a couple of days, but I wanted to share one last experience: our visit to Dar al-Hekma College in Jeddah, which was undoubtedly my favorite visit of the trip.

Dar al-Hekma is a women’s college. It was founded in 1999, and its graduates are as competitive as any that the Kingdom produces. When we arrived, we sat in on part of a lecture on frameworks for environmental regulation. The women were engaged, asked great questions, and, most importantly and perhaps surprisingly (reminder: this is Saudi Arabia), confident. We then took a tour of the building, and it was striking how much the school emphasized art, and how creative and expressive a lot of it was. There was a birth control poster on the wall.

When we stopped in the library, someone asked what was the most checked-out book. Dr. Salah Abdeah (sp?), the school’s vice dean of institutional advancement, our tour guide, and a woman whose subversive pride and dedication to the school and its students was heart-lifting, laughed and said “I don’t know – it would be the most controversial one.”

Dar al-Hekma was a breath of fresh air in a country that, as I’ve said, I found beautiful, welcoming, and disturbing all at the same time. That Dar al-Hekma and its women could shine brightly in a place so literally dark for so many of its burka-clad citizens was a deeply moving thing to see. I was and am in awe of them, and wanted to make sure to relay that to Pickle Nation before closing the pickle-book on KSA.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Prank Dialectic

Perhaps you are aware of the current freeze craze, perhaps not. It's a victimless prank in which the participants enter a public space and then, spontaneously and in synch, freeze on cue. It started in New York (see the video here), and has spread all over the world. Just yesterday there were freezes in Brussels and Beijing.

There was a freeze planned in San Francisco at the end of last month, and the twist here is that there was a planned counter-prank (I was tipped off to this by my cousin). The saboteurs were going to infiltrate the freeze site with concealed feathers, and when the freeze began, would tickle the freezers until they broke. They'd then recruit the freezers to become ticklers; it was a very detailed plan. In the end, both prank and counterprank were metapranked by Mother Nature; they were rained out.

Of course cultural exchange is the oldest game in town, but specifically, the straight-up, direct response aesthetic has taken hold in a big way. And though this may have its roots in the salon tradition, its current resurgence should doubtless be credited to YouTube and its video response, uh, thingy. It is an exciting time when a crazy piece of video (from last year, I know, very old) is instantly put through the spoof gauntlet, sometimes poorly and sometimes not poorly. (There are about a hundred results when you search for "cadbury gorilla" on YouTube.)

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Cesar Chavez Day

Thanks to a timely admonishment from reader Petit Cornichon, I'm getting this Cesar Chavez Day post in *just* under the wire as it's 11:52 here in California. And since this is the time zone in which Chavez did most of his work, it's the correct standard.

I'm a romantic, so courage is one of my favorite character traits. And it will surprise exactly none of you that I think labor leaders, particularly organizers, have to have it in buckets. Nowadays, though, talk of courage is a little passe. So in the parlance of our times, I say: Nice balls, Mr. Chavez, and thank you.

[NOTE: I swear on my life that this was ready to post at 11:52 last night, but the wifi purloined from my neighbors would not cooperate. NOTE SOME MORE: It's not really purloined, okay? They let me have the password while I get set up in my new place, and it's just taking me a while.]