Tuesday, February 26, 2008

"Unaffiliated" on the rise among American religions

You really need to dig through the copious reportage on the massive study on American religion recently released by the Pew Trust on Religion and Public Life. This typical article from the Brisbane Times emphasizes how quickly Americans are changing their religion with this graf:

The report, published on Monday, found a constantly shifting landscape of religious loyalties, with the Roman Catholic Church losing more adherents than any other single US religious group.

Not too dissimilar is the closer-to-home Globe coverage, focused thusly:

The study, which is the most comprehensive such examination of the country in at least a half century, finds that the United States is in the midst of a period of unprecedented religious fluidity, in which 44 percent of American adults have left the denomination of their childhood for another denomination, another faith, or no faith at all.

Let's look at this so-called fluidity. Below is a handy chart of the major traditions in America looking at movements into and out the traditions:

Religious affiliation% Americans who've joined% who've leftnet change
All Protestant8.4-2.6
Roman Catholic2.6-7.5

Even more remarkable is a comparison of these net changes as a function of adults' movements from one tradition to the other:


Religious affiliation% change within community due to movement in or out of the tradition
All Protestant-4.8
Roman Catholic-23.8

This is not a story about "changing religion" or fluidity. This survey says two things:

  • Americans are fleeing the Catholic Church in stunning numbers, and are leaving the Jewish tradition is surprising amounts as well.
  • More significantly, Americans from all religious traditions are losing interest in religious affiliation...in enormous numbers.

Now, while non-affiliation doesn't necessarily mean atheism or even agnosticism, Americans are abandoning their religious orders in droves, and many of them are seeking solace in relating to each other, rather than a distant and uninterested God.

Not that the media would ever admit that.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Weekend What-if: The Aztecs beat the Spanish

And to think I was going to do one of these every weekend! This will be an occasional series (see previous editions here and here exploring counterfactuals or "what-ifs" -- imagining the rollout of history had a key event gone in another direction. Today's, possibly this month's what-if concerns the near-miss which allowed Spain an easy conquest of what could have been their most formidable foreign threat: the Aztec Empire.

Along most conventional measures, the Aztecs were the best prepared civilization to resist the European encroachment. They had a somewhat mature polity, a series of city-states united around a center in loose empires similar to the Greek Delian and Peloponnesian Leagues. However, in the Aztec case, these groups were united rather than opposed in the so-called "Triple Alliance".

Aztec culture centered on the great city of Tenochtitlan, a metropolis centered on an island amidst an artificial lake (the legend of its founding is enshrined in the Mexican flag today). The picture at right from the University of Wisconsin shows a spacious, designed urban center. This thriving community had between 200,000 and 400,000 people today -- larger than the conurbations of Anchorage, Alaska or Utica, New York. They had systems of mathematics and writing. Aztec warriors were fearsome fighters who earlier had served as mercenaries. Their atl-atl spear thrower was quicker to "reload" than primitive Spanish muskets while just as deadly. Atl-atl javelins could pierce metal armor.

If you're not familiar with the story, Aztec religion told that in the past their chief god Quetzalcoatl had been incarnated and walked among them. Someday, that incarnation who went by the name Topiltzin would return to lead them again. This may sound familiar. Topiltzin would be recognizable through his odd appearance: a beard, blue eyes, and pasty skin. To an Aztec who'd only met Caribbean and Mesoamerican peoples, this was a bizarre description, equivalent to modern people awaiting a savior with antenna, chitlin armor, and the ability to emit sparks.

So, what did the Spanish leader and butcher Hernan Cortez look like when he stumbled into the region with his men? That's right: pale skin, beard, blue eyes. It went downhill from there. The amoral Spaniard exploited the Aztecs' mystifying worshipfulness of their lightly armed force to kidnap and eventually kill the Aztec emperor Montezuma. A nighttime raid on the leaderless and rudderless Aztec capital resulted in a hard-fought Spanish victory.

Don't get me wrong...there were other reasons for Cortez's victory. Their introduction of smallpox killed over three million people, a toll raised by deaths from measles and other diseases. The alliance between Spain and the Aztecs' enemies such as the Totonac also closed the tactical edge, as did Spanish armor and cannon. Nor we can we discount their horses, which would have represented the first encounter Aztecs had with beasts of burden, whose knowledge of large animals had heretofore topped out at jaguars. However, it's the decapitation of Aztec leadership and subsequent unsurety of the population that sealed the deal.

So what if Cortez had manifestly not been an Aztec god? What if he had darker skin and eyes? How would his force of some couple thousand men have made out?

To their advantage, their edges in weaponry, allies, and disease would remain the same had Cortez not received immediate adulation. Nor is it unthinkable that he'd have gained access to the Aztec leader anyway, going off the example of his partner in genocide Francisco Pizarro, who managed to kill off the Incan leader further southward. But saying that the Spanish don't have an "easy in" to Aztec civilization, what then?

Well, a straight Spanish v Aztec battle would have been resolved in the Aztecs' favor. The Aztecs had a 300 to 1 advantage, and the gap in weapons technology wasn't nearly large enough to compensate for that. Even with their allies, the Spanish could expect to be outnumbered a good 10 to 1 by the most vicious fighters in the Americas at the time. We know, among other things, that the Aztec fighters had little trouble routing the Spanish bridgehead in Veracruz.

Say the Spanish are killed. Wiped out by the Aztecs. Now the Aztecs know about the Spanish, but the Spanish remain ignorant of the Aztecs' existence and their horde of gold. While those diseases are still working on the Aztecs, there will now be a greater measure of preparation when the Spanish return.

For the Spanish would return. The tide of European exploration and conquest broke across American shores from Tierra del Fuego to Newfoundland. The true question is this: would an Aztec civilization forewarned of Spain's arrival yet weakened by Spanish diseases, have put up enough of a fight?

The Aztecs would have been hampered by the religious lens through which they viewed the world, and one can imagine an accelerated series of sacrifice and ritual in reaction to the Spanish' arrival, rather than further fortification and training. There is little reason that the Aztecs would figure out that they were opposing a determined enemy who sought assimilation, if not extermination.

However, given the difficult terrain of Mesoamerica and the Spanish's general ignorance of indigenous culture and politics (something at which the French and British proved skilled), conquest of the region could have come at a high price. Given that Spain's window of conquest closed before European technological advantages produced rifles and the like, the Aztecs could conceivably have fought a war of attrition whose costs were beyond Spain's liking. Their style was more suited to guerrilla campaigns, and the Spanish long had greater interests in resource extraction in this locale than in colonization.

With a mature polity managing the war against Spain, the Aztecs could just maybe have waited until Spanish collapse at home. Assuredly, Spain would dominate the northern portion of modern-day Mexico, and likely a good part of Central America. A smaller rump state of Aztlàn (land of the Aztec) sandwiched between a larger English Belize and Spanish Mexico would have a shot after the wars of liberation.

Aztec animist beliefs would have poor chance of surviving the immersion in Catholicism, though the merger of state and church would not have been guaranteed in such a diverse society. For much of time, Aztlàn would retain an air of mystery and intrigue, the hemisphere's own Papua New Guinea. That uniqueness would make for an anthropologically and culturally fascinating contrast.

The subtraction of Aztlàn changes the divisions of the Spanish Empire, and thus the borders of their successor independent states (a map below is a theoretical approach to the area in modern times). A smaller and presumably weaker Mexico, deprived of Mexico City is even more subject to American whims. Texas's war of independence is yet more one-sided, and American domination of the Southwest is even more extensive. Pancho Villa is an unknown, and American troops enter World War One even less prepared, without the field experience gained from their pursuit of him.

The addition of an empowered indigenous ethnicity would severely alter the course of Central American history, though the process of economic and technological catch-up would leave it vulnerable to the same foreign meddling that the entire region experienced in the 20th century. A further divided Central America makes the Cold War "influence game" even worse on that region, and Aztlàn would likely alternate between vicious American-sponsored thugs and vicious Soviet-sponsored thugs.

The modern viewpoint of this part of the world is "Mexico and Central America", given their religious, linguistic, and historical common ties. Mexico of course has the largest economy and population, and thus the largest voice in the region. Without the large Mexico, Central America becomes less differentiated, and less an interest for American policy. Central America would be prone to enter South American orbit more, and the American focus would remain more strongly in the other hemisphere.

The Aztecs probably represented the best shot at aboriginal contest of European expansion. Given local antagonisms, it is doubtful that the Aztecs would lead a regional resistance to the Spanish incursion, but their strength in a fair fight would likely leave them outside the sphere of direct Spanish rule. A polity of the modern era rooted almost entirely in indigenous culture would not accrue most moral authority (one doesn't see such in Ethiopia or Thailand, also rare resistors to colonization), but would add variety to modern-day Latin America, and contribute to a de facto isolation of Mexico in its development from the Catholic Hispanic culture of Latin America.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Bloggus Interruptus...

I have a what-if, interesting person, and conclusion of my brokered convention series ready to go. Soon.

But for now, I blame these people, who bloody well know that creating a game where one can design spaceships, arm them, and have them careening about the galaxy and fighting is pure exploitation of a geek like me.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Delegate math updated

I continue with my obsession as the numbers of pledged delegates outstanding diminishes. Despite the media hype, the window for Obama to clinch the nomination without superdelegate backing is getting narrower.

Using the CNN numbers and barring significant change in superdelegate alignment, we have:

Total delegates: 4,049
Total pledged delegates: 3,253
Pledged delegates not yet contested: 1,147 (35.2%)
Delegates required to win: 2,025

Obama delegates (incl. pledged supers): 1262, 763 req'd.
Clinton delegates (incl. pledged supers): 1213, 812 req'd.

To win on just current superdelegates and remaining pledged delegates, Obama would need 66.5% of the remaining pledged delegates, and Clinton 70.1%

Whether it comes down to their abstention, bullying, or independent choice, the superdelegates are going to have a major role in this process.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Obama and Co., those pundits are fickle...

Since it's Valentine's Day, I'll write about a love affair. I'd start from this awesome post that looks at the media obsession with tearing down Hillary Clinton on superficial qualities, from her laugh to her hair.

In case anyone is willfully clueless, let me spell it out.

  • Since 1991, the national media and punditry has yearned to attend the political funeral of a Clinton.
  • From the shutdown to the impeachment to health care, the Clintons have arisen to live again. The mouthpiece of impotent pundits, David Broder, famously declared about Bill that "he came in here and he trashed the place, and it's not his place." Obviously, it's the media's place.
  • The media is faint with excitement at the prospect of the political funeral of Hillary Clinton.
  • Barack Obama is the means to that end. Thus, the idea of an Obama win is very important to the pundits.

This is the part that many folks just refuse to understand. Even the hopiest of hopeful hopes only gets you so far, but a media who began writing Hillary's obituary due to her loss of the Washington and Maine caucuses will seize any switch with which to beat the Clintons. The media doesn't love Obama...they just hate Hillary. Sorry but true.

Which brings us to the last point...

Once Obama has won, the crush is over. He has served his purpose. Punditry, Inc. may like Obama and certainly find him useful, but they love themselves some McCain. And anyone who things that the media love affair with Obama will trump their lifelong infatuation with Maverick McCain is in for a severe disappointment.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Blogging Project Runway #11: Art Inspiration

Well, the penultimate elimination. (I will always be indebted to my awesome AP English teacher for many, many things. Among them is teaching us the words penultimate and antepenultimate.)

Hopefully, this challenge will make sense, and it won't be another novelty thing. This is an elimination challenge of importance, and I don't want to see a bizarre challenge that isn't fair to the designers.

Well, here we go...and we start with loyalty from Chris to his model! Good karma for him.

Whew...axing 2 of the 5 this episode. Heavy.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art. What a dramatic, beautiful setting. Nice change from pro wrestling, though how much did it cost to shut the place down for filming...probably at 5am?

Will Chris choose an Andy Warhol? Oh...can't. Leave it to Christian to be "inspired" by a work of art whose name he can't bother to learn.

The Temple of Dendur at the Met is an awe-inspiring edifice...I'd love to have that room to myself for 15 minutes.

I like Rami. As a person, and a designer.

My idea for a challenge: the "regular guy" challenge. Take five guys out of a bar to serve as judges. The winner is the designer who makes his model "look hot". They have to use a minimal amount of fabric.

After a few hours of work, on the second-to-last challenge, Chris declares the outfit completed. So he's next found snoring on the couch. I like Rami, but I love Chris.

Jillian doesn't want to go back to "working in a cubicle"...how does an assistant in a fashion line do their work in a cubicle?

That Italian designer is a really nice guy...he loves everything and everyone. Well, except for Rami.

What a surprising, and fair ending. It'll be interesting to see what Rami and Chris can do outside their safe zone. A very even-handed decision. Good episode.

Predicted finish:
1. Jillian
2. Christian
3. Chris

Not-so-usual suspects

Back in the day, all us political junkies were crying foul about the compressed schedule: "Iowa, New Hampshire, and maybe Nevada will decide the nomination!" we said, "by the time those small states are done, we'll have a clear frontrunner! With about 1% of the population having voted, the choice would effectively be made by our ADHD media." Heh...good times, good times.

Fast forward a bit. Remember how this sucker was tied after Super Tuesday? The day when, as somebody put it "an irresistible force will meet an unmovable object". So the only normal thing in such circumstances came about: almost a dead-even split. Wow! Two great candidates in almost a perfect tie!

Sooooo....after surprising wins in Washington, Maine, and Virginia, what do we hear?* That Obama is the frontrunner, almost guaranteed to win this thing. There are already people whining that Hillary should get out of the race...because she's trailing by a whopping 50.3%-48.6% of delegates committed with over a third of them still to be decided.

I figured a few contests in small states would give the media their frontrunner, even though such nomenclature would short-circuit the democratic process. I didn't think those states would turn out to be Maine, Washington, and Virginia.

*No, Obamaites, Maryland and Louisiana weren't surprising wins.

Obama: Anything happening 1993-2001 is Hillary's fault

From today's New York Times, it looks like Obama got his hands on an old copy of Free Republic:

Keep in mind, we had Bill Clinton as president when, in ’94, we lost the House, we lost the Senate, we lost governorships, we lost state houses. And so, regardless of what policies they wanted to promote, they didn’t have a working majority to bring change about.

Questions that come to mind upon reading this:
  • If Hillary gets blame for what happened during her husband's tenure, does she get equal credit for the peace and prosperity under him?
  • Does Obama get blamed for all of Michelle's mistakes?
  • Would Obama have forestalled 1994 better? How?
  • What were you doing about it at the time as a lawyer and university lecturer?

Saturday, February 9, 2008

What would a brokered convention look like? Part III

This is the part III of a four-part series on what a brokered convention would look like. (Part I, an introduction to the concept, is here, and Part II, a case study of the 2006 Liberal Party convention of Canada, is here). This part explores the likelihood of a brokered convention this year. The final part (posted next weekend) will explore how it could unfold.

At this point, we can lop off some hypotheticals that were in play when this series started:

  • The Republicans will not have a brokered convention, unless John McCain dies in the next six months. I can't imagine that Mike Huckabee will dominate all the contests until the end of the season, then team up with Mitt Romney and Ron Paul to torpedo McCain at the convention. I'd love it, but don't think it will happen.
  • The Democrats will have a nominee with a majority of pledged delegates.

At the outset, I thought a brokered convention could most likely happen because three strong candidates would last deep into the season. As we know, however, John Edwards and Mitt Romney didn't catch fire. Edwards supposedly will go into Denver controlling 26 of the 4049 delegates. However, that is an estimate. The January event in Iowa merely elected delegates from the precinct level to upcoming county, then state conventions. With Edwards out of the race, those early-stage delegates could end up deciding to throw in with a remaining candidate. In other words, Edwards may go into Denver with even less than the .64% of the delegates that he already has.

The greatest likelihood for a brokered convention is thus the following scenario:
  • Neither candidate has enough pledged delegates to win nomination without relying on ex-officio "superdelegates";
  • There is enough tension or vagueness about the superdelegates' role that no one candidate has an overwhelming number of them;
  • No deal has been struck.

To examine each precondition in turn:

Neither candidate has enough pledged delegates to win nomination without relying on ex-officio "superdelegates";

I have argued that neither Clinton nor Obama will enter into the convention with an absolute majority of delegates.

Given that most delegates from here on in (in Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Texas) will be awarded in equitable primaries rather than loathsome caucuses, it is difficult to imagine Clinton or Obama harvesting over 62% of the remaining delegates who are tied to primary or caucus results. These pledged delegates make up only 80% of the votes at the Democratic Convention in Denver. The other 20% are functionaries and elected officials who are so-called "super-delegates".

I am presuming in this analysis that any attempt to seat the (overwhelmingly pro-Hillary) delegates from Michigan and Florida would fail. Obama's delegates would vote against, and would reach a majority with the help of party functionaries looking to enforce the rules that those states flouted.

Unless either of them wins over 62% of the remaining delegates, they will enter short of the necessary number. Given the closeness of primaries thus far, and the startling demographic polarization of the process this year by race, gender, income, and age, I rate this precondition likely.

There is enough tension or vagueness about the superdelegates' role that no one candidate has an overwhelming number of them.

While some superdelegates have voluntarily tied their vote to that of their state or district (CA Senator Barbara Boxer is one), most others such as Senators Kerry and Kennedy have not. There are 796 of these superdelegates, and 354 have publicly committed. About 60% of those (234) have committed to Hillary.

While superdelegates can change their mind at will, they need a good reason to do so. The idea of changing one's commitments makes one untrustworthy in the eyes of all...if you're going to just blow with the wind, how much is your support really worth? Keeping in mind that most of these people are either chairs or vice-chairs of state parties or elected officials, that is not a decision to be taken lightly at all. (Genghis Khan once killed an enemy soldier for failing to show proper loyalty when he offered to betray his commander. The same principle would apply here, and the punishment is political death).

Though Obama's recent promotion to frontrunner may garner him more superdelegates, we can expect that those people will be roughly evenly split. Even if Obama continues to score well, though, remember that many of these functionaries came into power under Bill Clinton and also value partisan loyalty. For that reason, Hillary will likely be overrrepresented among them.

Furthermore, the fact that these superdelegates corrode the democratic sheen of the nominee selection process is clearly discomforting to many of them. Donna Brazile, a voluble CNN talking head, has commented on this. Indeed, superdelegates explicitly tying ones vote to popular will indicates this feeling is widespread ( MN Rep. Tim Walz is another example).

For a brokered convention to happen at all, there must be a "third option" that takes enough of a bite that an evenly split remainder can't reach 50%. Given Edwards has 26 delegates, the most likely addition to that would be votes from superdelegates not ready to put Obama or Hillary over the top for these reasons. A dozen votes of "uncommitted" or a symbolic choice such as Al Gore or John Edwards would do the job. Then the chaos sets in. It is conceivable that a dozen or so superdelegates not wanting to be the ones who short-circuit the democracy of the process would choose this option.

This discomfort and division may well leave superdelegates' status and role up in the air as we come to convention. I rate the chance of this precondition existing as somewhat likely.

The final essential provision for a Democratic brokered convention is this: No deal has been struck

The final event on the nomination calendar is the Puerto Rico caucus on June 8th. The final major event is the May 20th Oregon primary. The Democratic National Convention opens on August 25th. That gives us 78 days before the convention starts during which we'll have nearly precise delegate counts.

Conventional (ha!) wisdom says that a brokered convention would be exciting, and bad for the party. As DNC chair and godlike human Howard Dean said,:

The idea that we can afford to have a big fight at the convention and then win the race in the next eight weeks, I think, is not a good scenario.

I think we will have a nominee sometime in the middle of March or April. But if we don't, then we're going to have to get the candidates together and make some kind of an arrangement, because I don't think we can afford to have a brokered convention -- that would not be good news for either party

Obama and Clinton have strengths in different states, and on different issues. They have different surrogates. A presidential campaign is a massive and expensive undertaking, and requires time to get going. If we don't have a nominee until late August, it will be too late. Furthermore, winning at a brokered convention will mean that somebody got the nomination through working the process. There will be many hard feelings to heal, and some of them won't heal.

The Democratic Party knows that. The eminences grises of the party -- Howard Dean, Al Gore, George Mitchell, Dick Gephardt, Jimmy Carter -- know that. The overwhelming interest of the party and its members is to make a deal. To use a phrase we'll be hearing more and more, to "lock Hillary and Obama in a room, and leave them there until a deal is done." While passionate supporters would be let down, such a deal would make reconciliation easier.

While I don't know what such a deal would look like (but interesting speculation can be found here). At the end of the day, though, these two are professionals. Obama is still young, and Hillary Clinton isn't past her due date either. Bullishly continuing would make many enemies in Congress and in the party, all for a severely reduced chance at winning in November. I think at some point they make the deal. So, to review:

For a brokered Democratic convention, we need:
-Neither candidate with enough pledged delegates to reach the 2,025 mark - LIKELY;
-Sufficient tension or vagueness about the superdelegates' role so their disposition is unsure - SOMEWHAT LIKELY
-No deal has been struck - UNLIKELY

All told, I would set the odds of a brokered convention at 1 out of 3 because I would expect a compromise to be found in June or July. However, I could well be wrong. Next week, I game out the scenario for such a brokered convention in Denver Debacle: Democrats Divided.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Blogging Project Runway #10: Wrestling Costumes

Don't worry...there's no better relief from delegate math than watching designer magic, and major drama.

I think it's cruel to leave the losing outfit of a designer on their mannequin as a testament after they're kicked off. "Hey, here's the piece of crap that so-and-so turned in that got them thrown out." It's loser row.

All right Ricky...finally some loyalty to one's model! (Although Jaclyn was prettier.)

I love how Heidi always asks "Are you ready for the next challenge" at each episode's open, as if they have a choice. I'm sure they've edited out at least one contestant saying a variant of "Hell, no! I'm sick of this 'create an expandable, reversible kimono out of shopping bags in 24 hours' crap! I can't feel my fingers! Give us a day off already!"

Somebody needs to educate Christian on what the word "fierce" means, because I don't think he understands it.

Even the gay guys get hotted up watching lithe women fight and moan.

Pro wrestling costumes! Wow, hilarious...and I mean frakkin' hilarious!! And they're buying fabric at "Spandex House"!! Not necessarily relevant or fair, but hilarious. I think the designers should tussle for immunity in a steel cage match.

I can't believe the size of Spandex House. It must be in the Village.

Tim Gunn is the key to this show. He should anchor the evening news.

The idea of Heidi Klum wrestling a WWE diva wearing black leather and lace in the ring? Ooohhhh....my heart.

Sorry to see Ricky go, but I can't argue with it. A good guy.

We don't get to see the outfit at work in the ring? That's disappointment.

It's all about superdelegates

The capsule summary is this: the winner of the Democratic National Convention will have to win by capturing a notable segment of elected Democratic officials and party functionaries. These ex-officio or "Superdelegates" make up 20% of the votes at the convention.

Don't believe me? Well, including projected totals in California and New Mexico (which are still coming in) and including the 1/3 of the superdelegates who've aligned themselves with a candidate...

Obama would need over 67% of pledged delegates to win the nomination without gaining additional superdelegates. Due to her lead in superdelegates, Hillary would need to score a mere 62%. In other words, not gonna happen...

After the craziness of Super Tuesday, here's what we know (or think we know):

  • According to the CNN pledged delegate tracker on MyDD, Obama has 635 pledged delegates to Clinton's 630.
  • This does not include NM and CA, who are still counting theirs. It is reasonable to assume once those two states are apportioned, Hillary will and Obama will each have about 790 pledged delegates. If anything, Hillary's narrow win in California may make the numbers 800-780.
  • It takes 2,025 votes to win the Democratic nomination.
  • Of the 4,049 delegates at the convention, 3,253 will be pledged.

  • We also know that:
  • On Super Tuesday, the candidates essentially split the vote on Super Tuesday.
  • While Obama is out-raising Hillary, she isn't as poorly off as some Obamamites want to think..
  • Despite the expectations game, neither Hillary or Obama are likely to dip below 40% in the near future.
  • Gallup's tracking poll is showing that Obama's momentum has stalled.

Here's where the numbers come from:
ScenarioClinton dgs.Obama dgs.Remaining dgs

So Hillary needs 1,039 delegates to secure the nomination. Obama need 1,126. There are 1,673 remaining pledged delegates gained through primaries and caucuses.

Even with 60% of the vote, Hillary Clinton cannot win the nomination without capturing at least 49 more "superdelegates".

It is ridiculous to think after this campaign that Hillary or Obama are going to capture 60% of the remaining vote. But we are in a zone right now where it all comes down to superdelegates. It does not come down to the remaining voters, but to who captures these elected officials or party functionaries.

I'm not saying that I like it, but I am saying that's what it is.

PS: My "what would a brokered convention look like" series will resume on Sunday.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Wow, do caucuses suck

In every incarnation, caucuses as an idea suck, and suck hard. There is the general odiousness of the system. Then there is what we've seen in 2008:

1. Iowa: This "first-in-the-nation" try that supposedly allows smaller candidates a chance to break through the hype and spin. So it uses a system that invalidates a hefty number of votes. In 2008, almost all support for Biden, Dodd, Kucinich, Gravel, and Richardson in Iowa were thrown out.

In the entrance polls, those five combined for just about 15% of the support that night. Due to the arcane system, they received 3% of the delegates. This system cut support for non-glamour candidates by 80%. Not to mention the spectacle of entitled farmers feeling they should meet all candidates for president before voting.

2. Nevada: Having shorn the race of candidates that couldn't hold the media's interest, we arrive in Nevada. Nevada, home of the hideous at-large caucuses designed to favor voters in certain fields.

Okay, those two are no way to pick a president. Pretty hideous. But at least they mimicked a real political contest, unlike the third caucuses to be held this season, the Republican contest in...

3. Maine: In addition to all the other problems inherent in demanding that people show up at a certain time and place to publicly declare support, there isn't even a consistent time. Here is the (abridged) schedule for the Republican caucus in the Bangor area, according to the Bangor News:

Penobscot County cities and towns will gather at Peabody Hall at Husson College at 1 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 2...Knox County towns will gather at the Samoset Resort in Rockport at 3:30 p.m. Feb. 2...Hancock County towns will gather at Ellsworth City Hall and Blue Hill Town Office at 10 a.m., at the Bucksport Town Office at 1 p.m. and the Orland Town Hall at 2 p.m., all on Feb. 2...central Aroostook towns will gather at the Campus Center of the University of Maine at Presque Isle at 4 p.m. Feb 2...northern Aroostook towns will gather at Fox Auditorium at the University of Maine at Fort Kent at 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 1...Waldo County towns will gather at Troy Howard Middle School in Belfast at 9 a.m. Feb. 2...

In the region of one city, for an event that will lock you out if you arrive late, the Maine caucus has seven different starting times. Seven! And who knows what counts as a "central Aroostook town" versus a northern one? Which Hancock County towns meet when?

Best of all, these start times are spread over two different days! What the hell is this, Freedonia?

Latest in the "favorite line" series

Congresswoman Maxine Waters (aka Hillary's secret weapon in California) after the Thursday debate:

People in my district have a lot of hope. They go to bed hungry, they have trouble heating their homes but they have a lot of hope that things will get better. They don't need more hope, they need help.