The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

How stupid is Iowa?

No more or less than any other state. But that doesn't mean Iowans have any ability to pick winning candidates for president:

The problem is not that the people of Iowa are stupid. They are not, by most measurements. It’s that Iowa looks nothing like the rest of America. As a result, the winners, more often than not, are nationally unelectable extremists. Who can remember President Rick Santorum or President Mike Huckabee, both previous winners? Or President Uncommitted, who beat Jimmy Carter in 1976? And what to make of the finding that 43 percent of likely Democratic caucusgoers this year are self-described socialists, prepared to select a dyspeptic and unelectable senator as their candidate?

As a bellwether, the Iowa caucuses are no more predictive than a gasbag on an ethanol high swaying from a bridge in Madison County. As a representative exercise relevant to the concerns of a nation of 322 million people, the caucuses are laughable.

Consider that half of all the babies born last year in the United States were nonwhite. Not in Iowa, of course, one of the whitest states in the nation. On Monday, if the Republican caucus is anything like the 2012 turnout, 99 percent of the attendants will be white. That’s not even the United States of 1816, let alone this year.

Meanwhile, the Republican party held a debate last night that their front-runner skipped, which apparently shows how big his testicles are.

News tuff to read

I may or may not have a letterspacing error in the headline...

Short list today, so I may do it after work before rehearsal:

Not to mention, I still haven't finished the Economist's special Christmas issue. Maybe I need a long flight or two?

It's Friday, I think

This means I have some time to digest this over the weekend:

I might have a chance to read this weekend. Perhaps.

More links

Too many interesting things to read today. I've got some time between work and Bel Canto to get through them:

I have not read Bel Canto, though I understand it's loosely based on an actual historical event. I also haven't ever heard anything from composer Jimmy López before, since it only permiered last month. Friends who work for the Lyric tell me it's pretty good. I'll find out in a few hours.

The State of the Union is...

...a report from the Executive to the Legislature required by Article II, section 3. Everyone is following along, yes?

9:11pm: First applause line: "I'm going to try to make it a little shorter."

9:15pm: My companion: "Fear!" Me: "No, that's Feinstein."

9:18pm: Oh, dear. Third "fear" of the speech. Might not make it...

9:21pm: "Anyone who says America's economy is in decline is peddling fiction."

9:29pm: "There is red tape that can be cut." Bi-partisan applause, for different reasons.

9:32pm: "When the Russians beat us into space, we didn't argue whether Sputnik was up there. ... Twelve years later, we were on the moon."

9:41pm: "People of the world do not look to Moscow or Beijing to lead. They call us."

9:46pm: "If you doubt the resolve of the American people, or mine, just ask Osama bin Laden."

9:54pm: On the Guantanamo line, PBS showed Kelly Ayotte, and her lonely tear. She knows he's right. She knows her party's gone barmy. She knows she's out soon. But she's a decent senator.

9:58pm: "It doesn't work if we believe the people who oppose us are motivated by malice."

10:06pm: Overwhelming urge to watch The American President right now.

10:09pm: "The state of our union is strong. God bless America." Mic drop.

How Trump is leading, and how he will fail

Dan McLaughlin, writing for the conservative Federalist, examines the 2016 Republican primary race in terms of military strategist John Boyd's philosophies:

Boyd’s core insight was about the interactive and disruptive nature of speed on human decision-making: success in conflict can be rapid and dramatic if one can “operate inside the OODA Loop” of the opponent. Operating inside the opponent’s OODA Loop means presenting him with a constantly shifting battlefield that keeps him off-balance and disoriented so he is unable to process information and make and implement sound decisions before the situation changes again.

So, what does this all have to do with Donald Trump? Quite a lot. Few candidates in recent political memory have been so effective at altering the reality around them in a way that crashes their opponents’ OODA Loops.

As a major-party nominee, moreover, Trump would lack the ambiguity he has deployed against Republicans, and in a two- or even three-candidate race, he could not exploit the collective action problems and Hobbesian scramble for free media that have enabled his rise. Indeed, few of the factors that have allowed Trump to trigger fear in his Republican opponents would even apply in a general election, and Clinton’s team would have plenty of time to prepare a counter to the things he has been doing so far.

That’s not to say that Trump’s celebrity and attention-grabbing power would present no opportunity to win (he would only be the nominee if he’d already figured out how to solve the low-turnout proclivities of his natural base), but ultimately, he could not deploy the same approach without major adaptations. Trump would have to prove himself flexible and open-minded enough to the dynamic general election system to attract the necessary 70 million voters. His ability to do so remains very much unproven.

I don't always read the Federalist, but this analysis made a lot of sense to me. It's a long read—and worth it.

Wired is unhappy with the GOP

Last night, the GOP candidates for president debated technology a little, and they just had no idea what they were talking about—or they dissembled. Take your pick:

It’s not exactly clear what Trump means by “closing areas where we are at war with somebody,” and we’re not exactly sure Trump knows what he means, either. Our best guess is that he’s saying it’s possible for the US to shut down Internet access in countries like Syria. That’s problematic, not only because it would shut off millions of innocent people from the Internet, but also because the US simply doesn’t control the Internet in countries like Syria, and neither do US companies.

There were other missteps throughout the night, like Governor John Kasich’s claim that the San Bernardino shooters’ communications couldn’t be monitored “because their phone was encrypted.” He’s right that their phones contained encryption, but so does mine, and yours, and, in all likelihood, so does Kasich’s, because most smartphones today are encrypted.

And don't even get me started on that clown Fiorina...

Categorically unqualified but still the master persuader

Scott Adams and James Fallows have some overlapping thoughts on Donald Trump after the GOP debate last night.

First Adams, who has a pretty good outline of how to detect a lack of thinking about the election:

1. If you are comparing Plan A to Plan B, you might be doing a good job of thinking. But if you are comparing Plan A to an imaginary situation in which there are no tradeoffs in life, you are not thinking.

2. If you see quotes taken out of context, and you form an opinion anyway, that’s probably not thinking. If you believe you need no further context because there is only one imaginable explanation for the meaning of the quotes, you might have a poor imagination. Sometimes a poor imagination feels a lot like knowledge, but it’s closer to the opposite.

He posits another six tests before summarizing his hypothesis about why Trump is doing so well.

Fallows believes Trump "fundamentally disqualif[ied]" to be president, of course, but he was more concerned that CNN deliberately fed into the fears the GOP are trying to whip up:

[T]he GOP’s overall goal was to replicate the tone on Fox News, and vice versa, which in both cases is essentially: risk, risk, risk; fear, fear, fear; ISIS, ISIS, ISIS; alien, alien, alien. All of this is toward the end of demonstrating Obama’s weakness and failure. Unfortunately, it is also at direct odds with U.S. strategic interests. A resilient nation seeks to minimize the effects of such terrorist attacks that, in a society that retains any liberties, still lamentably occur. A nation that wants to magnify the effects of terrorism yells “The attackers are everywhere!” “We’re all going to die!!!” Because they consider it useful against the “feckless” Obama, the latter has been the 2016 GOP approach (as Jeet Heer wrote on Tuesday night). It could box them into strategically foolish policies if they took office.

Ramp-up-the-fear was also the result of CNN’s approach tonight. Much more than half of the show was about ISIS / ISIL, Syria, and refugees. Here’s a promise: whoever becomes the next president will and should spend much less than half of his or her time on ISIS and Syria. The presidential topics that are not directly about ISIS—China, Russia, Mexico, the economic and political tensions in Europe, the entirety of Latin America and Africa, Iran, India, Pakistan, Japan, the South China Sea—any one of these, on its own, has a chance to occupy more of the next president’s time and attention than ISIS. Together they very certainly will. Not to mention: trade deals, the economy, job creation, budgets and deficits, medical care, and a thousand other issues.

But ISIS-centrism, which at the moment is shorthand for fear, is the way Wolf Blitzer set up the meat of the debate.

CNN ceased being relevant years ago, which is sad, because for a decade or longer they were the most relevant network.

We're not well-served by most of the big networks anymore. (NPR is a notable exception, but they have perhaps two million listeners out of 70 million eligible voters.) On the one hand, saying people disagree with you because they have lousy data is an adolescent mindset most of the time; but on the other hand, in some cases, like those whose only information about the Republican party came from CNN last night, it may be true.

I'm not looking forward to the 2016 election.

Yes, it could be Trump

Both Krugman and Marshall came to the same conclusion today, and I, to quote Tom Lehrer, begin to feel like a Christian Scientist with appendicitis:

Without Jeb, Marco Rubio is the guy Republicans really need to nominate. But he just hasn't shown the sort of strength or political acumen that's required for the task. In a way that doesn't surprise me. I've always found the guy unimpressive and green. But the GOP is in a position where if "Marco Rubio" didn't exist they'd have to invent him.

That is one of the many things that makes the current Trump-Cruz phony war so compelling. Trump is baiting Cruz into the same smackdown he's used to eat up Bush, Walker, Fiorina and others. But Cruz won't take the bait. Like two zen masters facing off in a martial arts classic or perhaps two wizards do battle in The Lord of the Rings, we have an epic confrontation between two master who have trained for decades in the arts of assholery and bullying. But their powers equally matched, it is a stand off.

I just have to hope that Trump's overall polling numbers (he's the choice of 41% of Republicans, which translates to less than 20% of the total electorate) stay steady. We've all seen what happens when right-wing demagogues get into power.

Killing Trump's candidacy

Waiting for the cable guy and for a couple of conference calls to start gives me a moment to consider some troubling things about the modern U.S.

The more I watch Donald Trump's effects on people, the more credence I'm giving cartoonist Scott Adams' Master Wizard hypothesis, and thinking about how to give Trump a few "linguistic kill shots" of our own.

I'm not endorsing Adams' views on anything, except that the way he frames his blog entries, he tends to make predictions that hold up, within a certain range of bullshit. He claims not to support Trump so much as be impressed with Trump's ability to cause the emotional reactions in others he (Trump) wants. In other words, Adams sees Trump as a master demagogue, and explains how and why.

I think there might be something to Adams' analysis. We need to stop treating Trump like a politician—because he's not. He's a dangerous person, impervious to (and dismissive of) reasoned debate. And we, the sane, who know what happens when demagogues achieve power, need to stop him.

So I'm working on some ways of reframing the Trump candidacy that might work. Stay tuned.