Monday, February 23, 2015

This Blog Endorses....Anyone But Rahm (But preferably Chuy Garcia)

Spoiler Warning: 90 minutes of your life you can not get back.

Chicago goes to the polls tomorrow for a mayoral election.  This is a non-partisan primary with five candidates.  There are only two possible results.  Either the incumbent Rahm Emanuel will gain 50.01% and be re-elected or he will be below that threshold and be forced into a run-off in April.

Rahm Emanuel is a competent administrator. He's also a completely conventional politician who is primarily motivated by making Chicago a place for wealthy people to "invest" in and for middle-class folks to visit, either as day trippers from the suburbs or as tourists from around the country.  This election has been the rare time that he has to at least pretend to care about the people who actually live here because we actually control whether he keeps his job or not.

So the important thing tomorrow is to keep that window open.  Six more weeks of a mayor pretending to care about all of his residents is about the best we can hope for.  So this blog humbly endorses Anyone But Rahm.

Two Ways to Choose your Anyone But Rahm Candidate.

The latest poll shows Rahm winning 48% of the vote. His closest competitor, Chuy Garcia is at 26%. The third place candidate is back at 15%.  So if there is a run-off, we know who it will between Rahm and Garcia.  There are two strategic goals to pursue here, leave Rahm looking weak or give Rahm an incentive to run to the left.  But the field does not have a clear-cut Lefty.  It's basically 5 centrists of varying credibility and experience.

 I really wish there was an actual reformer in the field, but there is not.  I've done some research on all of the candidates and none of them particularly inspire me.  But he is the only candidate with a chance of surviving to the run-off.  It's better for him to be strong.  If nothing else, that will give us six more weeks of  Mayor who has to pretend to care about the people who live here.  So in lack of a better alternative, this blog endorses Chuy Garcia as the marginally best candidate of four alternatives to a lousy but not terrible incumbent. I somehow doubt he will use that quote in any of his ads, but it has the advantage of being true.   So please, Vote Garcia.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Scattered Thoughts on a Jumbled Narrative: Walking Dead Season 5 Midseason Finale Predictions

The Comic-Con Pre-season Trailer, discussed throughout this blog in Italics.

Last week's episode was pretty pedestrian.  The previous three episodes focused on just one subgroup of the Survivor's-Beth in the hospital, Glenn and Maggie with Abraham's trio, and then Darryl and Carol's big adventure in Atlanta.  Last week they gave significant screen time to those three sub-groups as well as a 4th story involving Father Gabriel at the church.  The result was a narrative felt that felt rushed and only one truly suspenseful sequence.

More problematic than the distribution of screen time was the rather large story plot that involved Sasha getting duped into doing something incredibly stupid.  I just didn't buy that she would be that gullible.  But this was the device they chose to set up some suspense for tonight's midseason finale. I have also re-watched the pre-season coming attractions for clips that we haven't seen yet.  Discussion of such clips are in italics below, with the time stamp of where the scene can be found.

It's hard to intelligently predict what will happen tonight because the episode ended in a bit of a jumbled mess.  The clips on are also unhelpful for making predictions about the whole story because the lengthy clip focuses on Father Gabriel. The description that AMC posted for the episode is "Rules and Morals have been tossed aside by new enemies. Rick will try to find a  peaceful agreement, but they might prefer violence." That's about as opaque as you would expect but there's at least one hint in there that's worth speculating about.  (See Below.)

1.  Father Gabriel, man about town.

Last week we watched Father Gabriel leave the church without a weapon. He duly ran afoul of a walker, who he was able to neutralize without having to kill.  The preview shows him making his way back to the school where the Termites were camped out when they took Bob captive.  He discovers Bob's charred leg on their abandoned grill.  I would be very surprised if he died tonight, becau he's played by a fairly famous actor, by TWD standards, and the audience has no emotional investment in him yet.  That means they spent money to get him and they're not going to waste him after a handful of scenes.  So he'll probably make his way back to the church and slip back through the crawl space.  Most likely he'll have to kill a walker while he's out there though. That will be his big emotional moment.  And that's just not very interesting so I hope they don't waste a lot of time on that.

2. Abraham and Company, Where to?

The worst story line last week was the one focusing on Abraham's group.  The obvious thing for them to do would have been to head back to the church.  The bit about waiting for Eugene to wake up before moving seemed forced, especially in light of the fact that they were within nose range of a colossal Walker herd.  And the only thing we learned about this group is that Tara is still capable of  joy because she found a yo-yo.  That's a small point but given that I often wish they would let the survivors have a little more fun, I was happy to see it made.  I think Gleen, Tara and Rosita might just be the three mentally healthiest characters left so it was good to see them off on a harmless jaunt to the creek.

What happens next?  The logical thing would be for them to get back on the road and head back towards the church. But I don't think that's going to happen. The only clip in the coming attractions of this group shows Maggie and Glenn in the back seat of what appears to be the Fire Truck.  Glenn has his gun drawn and Maggie looks scared. That doesn't tell us much other than the group runs into some kind of trouble.  One online theory is that Eugene actually died last week and turned to a Walker. I don't buy it, although I do think the show runners left that possibility open on purpose when they had Eugene moan in that awkward way as he regained consciousness.

My hunch is that this group will not meet back up with the church folks or the team in Atlanta.  I think the separation will continue into the 2nd half of the next season, perhaps with Team Glenn heading north for some convoluted reason. Maybe they get caught and/or distracted by a new group of survivors.

A very brief shot at 1:14 of the previews appears to show Glenn and some other characters approaching the giant herd of walkers that their fire truck is now close to.  It's hard to say for sure but I think the figures in the back ground include Glenn, Tara, Eugene, Maggie and Rosita. Two figures are impossible to identify but they could be Abraham and Rosita. They are walking on foot and the fire truck can not be seen. The herd seems to be behind some kind of fence so this might not be the herd that they smelled two weeks ago.

3. Michonne, Carl and Judith: On the sidelines.
One of the strangest points about the story unfolding thithats way is that it will apparently leave Michonne far from the action in a cliff-hanger episode. Maybe she discovers that Gabriel left the church and goes out to find him.  One hellacious possibility is that Rick and Judith will then be caught unawares by walker and Judith will end up dead.  I really hope they don't go for that because I think Judith is the heaviest emotional card that the show has left to play.  It would be a wasted to do it this soon and way too depressing.

At 1:15 of the coming attractions, Michonne is stomping on a walker.  I don't think we have seen this yet and it looks like it might happen near the church, perhaps after she sets out to find Father Gabriel.

4. Team Rick: heading for a fight.
I just watched the previews scenes slowly and learned a few things.  When Rick is shown introducing himself to (presumably) Dawn, Darryl is shown up on the roof of a nearby parking garage. I thought last week that he was with Noah but the pause button makes clear (about 28 seconds in) that it is Sasha.  Another clip appears to show Rick asking Sgt. Bob "Do you want to live." It looks like this scene takes place in the same building where Sasha was left guarding the three police officers.

This would imply that Rick heads back to that building.  Maybe they heard the tumult of Sasha being knocked out. Or maybe the cops get out of that place and confront Rick before he makes it to the hospital and a fight ensues.  I'm starting to think that the "main" story line tonight might be even more convuluted than last week.  Some of the rumors I've read online imply that tonight ends with a cliff hanger, just like last season did.  We might get another spectacular start to a half-season in February. (AMC has probably figured out that big starts lead to big ratings for several weeks after.)
So I think tonight's episode will end with Rick and Dawn in a standoff.  The biggest question is, who might die in the interim.

5. Carol and Beth: Darryl's Not-girlfriends.
Probably the biggest source of speculation on tonight's episode has been Norman Reedus' declaration that he cried for a half hour before filming tonight's episode.  The simplest reading of that is that Norman knows one of Darryl's good friends will die tonight.  Of course Norman could have been crying because of the loss of an actor that he admires.  And he could be exaggerating and he could be trying to drum up interest in the episode.  But precedent suggests that someone important has to die tonight, and Beth and Carol both seem like prime contenders.

I don't think Beth will die.  Two entire episodes have been dedicated to her story and I think she's supposed to be reunited with Maggie at some point.  They also have potential for a nice story line of her and Noah becoming a couple.  There is one clip (2:46) of her looking down an hospital elevator shaft. Another flash in last week's sneak preview showed her in a similar position. I think she lives tonight and I still am going with my theory that Dawn is somehow redeemed.

Carol is a closer call.  The driving tension of tonight's episode is that Rick will negotiate for the safe return of Carol and Beth.  When last we saw Carol she was still unconscious and being kept alive by an IV drip administered by Beth.  Dawn could use this as an excuse to not turn Carol over. "Why should we give you her if only we can take care o her?"  One popular theory is that Beth will die doing something heroic to save Carol.  I think it's more likely Carol will have a miraculous recovery, only to die in a horribly Walking Dead fashion.  Thinks about the guilt consequence for Rick, Beth and Darryl.  That could really drive some emotional baggage for a season and a half to come.

6. Death Predictions.
There is no single logical candidate for death tonight. But I think the most likely sympathetic character death is Carol.  Beth and/or Noah seem like possible deaths also.  Tyrese would be a logical candidate but I don't think they have hinted at that enough. The bald asshole from last week are most likely to die. I think either Dawn or Sgt. Bob will die tonight, and my hunch is Sgt. Bob.

7. Wild Card: Is Sasha Pregnant?
Sonequa Martin was a guest on The Talking Dead last week and revealed that she was eight months pregnant.  I'm not exactly sure of the shooting schedule but it would seem likely that this will become visible by the end of the season.  A convenient way to avoid that is to kill Sasha off. But there are dangers there for at TV show.  Huntery Tylo successfully sued the producers of Merose Place for $5 million dollars when they made a similar decision.

Now I have no reason to think that Sasha was going to be killed, but it would be reasonable for TWD to want to incorporate her pregnancy into the storyline.  Consider that Bob tried to kiss Sasha towards the end of Season Three and was rebuffed.  On that night episode of the Talking Dead, Ms. Green explained that Sasha appreciated the kiss as a gesture but made clear that she had no romantic interest in Bob.

Well something changed her mind.  Maybe the writers decided that it would be better to incorporate the pregnancy into the story line than to try to hide it for a half-season.  Babies certainly create tension and hope.  Tyrese's roll as Judith's primary caretaker takes on new significance if he's about to become an uncle to a child with a dead father.

Sasha being pregnant also repeats the story line of Lori Grimes getting pregnant in Season 2.  (Or One, if in fact Shane is Judith's real father.)  That story line put added incentive on finding a safe, stable place to live, the prison.  It is anticipated that the next major location for the show will be the Alexandria Safe Zone, a spot that has been one of the main locations of the comic book story line for the last several years.

So we may not learn this tonight, but my biggest prediction is that Sasha is pregnant, Bob is the father, and the two major groups will eventually meet up in Alexandria.  Rick and company after all have no idea that Eugene was full of shit. (They would probably pass the overturned church bus on their way north, but I think the producers are more than willing to overlook a detail like that.)

I will miss the show for the winter break.  It's a frustrating show but I've never enjoyed speculating about the plot of any show as much as I do this one.

8. Bonus Prediction: No Morgan Tonight.

Okay, the episode is about to start but I wanted to add a prediction that we will NOT see Morgan tonight but that he will be a major part of the second half of the season.  I'm still intrigued by the clip we saw of him after the credits of the season premiere.  He is in the area near Terminus and he notices an intricate carving in one of the trees.  I think that's a flash forward and we'll know before we see that scene pickup what the significance of the carving is.  The Hunters made a crude mark while tracking Rick's group but this is something much more involved. I suspect it's the sign of a group like Nagin's or some other new bunch of survivors. Okay. It's showtime!


Monday, November 24, 2014

Ferguson Expectations

Someone will agree with Grandpa Simpson.

Earlier today it was announced that the Gran Jury has reached a decision on whether or not to indict Police Officer Darren Wilson for the fatal shooting of Michael Brown. I am writing this about 3 and a half hours before the decision will be made public.

I don't have a strong opinion on what their decision should be, because I haven't paid as close attention to the evidence as the grand jurors (presumably) have.  Whether or not a crime was committed comes down to whether the cop's judgment was merely poor with disastrous consequences or either reckless or negligent to a really high degree.

Because of this ambiguity, I will not have an emotional reaction to the decision itself.  I might develop one on further reflection and consideration of the evidence, but as of today, I don't have an opinion and I don't think there are many people outside of Ferguson, Missouri who have sufficient knowledge to support either opinion definitively.

The reason I'm writing this is because I get the feeling from my social media feeds that there is no shortage of opinions or certainty on this complex subject.  And I don't think most of them are based on the evidence.  This case has become a culture war and people are lining up with their team rather than relying on the evidence.

A Conflict of Interests

The worst aspect of this rush to judgment is what I suspect is going on at the board rooms of major media outlets right now.  Those rooms are (rightly) preparing for either outcome.  But the really cynical part of me thinks that on some level, they are rooting for an outcome. And that outcome does not necessarily align with what their viewers are rooting for.  I expect that the interests of the cable networks and their viewers are somewhat misaligned.

No matter what the grand jury decides, the focus of our media will immediately shift to covering the reaction to that decision.  The best result for a cable news network is a result that will please their viewers, immediately followed by some degree of chaos. MSNBC's dream night would be to have  wants an indictment, followed by rednecks saying it's the end of the country as we know it.  An impromptu Klan march or cross burning would be really great for them.  Fox News wants Officer Wilson to not be indicted but not so much because they care about the facts of that case or are worried about the truth of the matter. They want no indictment to come down because they think it will lead to civil unrest that will scare (and enthrall) their viewers.

One thing we won't get is a rational discussion of the evidence and what it means for the use of force by police in similar situations.  It will be sideshow, and the only thing we don't know for sure is which carnies will draw the bigger crowds.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Walking Dead: 2 Episodes to Go

Season 5 of the Walking Dead has inverted the arc of all its previous seasons.  It started with a large scale battle which spilled over into the next two seasons.  And then the story meandered through three consecutive episodes that did not feature Rick Grimes at all. First we found out that Beth has been kept in a hospital since she was separated from Darryl. Then we followed Glenn and Maggie tagging along with Eugene's group on an aborted trip towards DC.  Last week found Darryl and Carol attempting to spring Beth from the hospital.  Now with two episodes left, it appears ready to revert to form with a two-part siege of the hospital.  But I think the show might surprise again by doing something slightly different.

We know from the preview clips that we will see all three group's for at least some time tonight.  One clip shows Rick plotting some kind of attack on the hospital with Darryl and a few others.  Another clip shows Michonne, Carl, Father Gabriel (and presumably Judith) sitting around the church. That would be a logical group for Rick to leave behind at the church.  He wouldn't want his kids to come and he doesn't yet trust Gabriel enough to leave him in charge of the kids.  Another clip shows Glenn looking out on the horizon as if trying to decide where to go.

What We Can Glean From All the Hints?

1. Tonight's episode is called "Crossed".  That could be a reference to the crosses on the cars used by the police who run the hospital or to the Church itself but it probably also stands for a story point involving two groups crossing one another.  Maybe Glenn's team makes their way back to the church and meet up with  A more intriguing possibility is Morgan crossing paths with Rick (and perhaps others) for the first time this season.  I do expect to see Morgan either tonight or next week but there's nothing firm to go on there.

2. Michonne is left behind at the church.  The most logical candidate to stay behind and keep an eye on the children would be Tyrese. He's a lousy shot and has a deep bond with Judith.  Rick also can trust him implicitly given how much he sacrificed to keep Judith alive. But Tyrese is probably worried about Sasha who is still grieving the loss of Bob.  I think we might see Tyrese insisting to go along on the raid.  Michonne then becomes the logical choice. She's responsible and tough and has bonded a lot with Rick.  I think another dynamic may be developing here.  I think that Rick and Michonne will eventually become a couple. I think it will be a great story line and it was set up in one beautifully flirtatious line from way back in the scene from the season three finale which is shown at the top of this page.

3. I Think Dawn Will Survive the Conflict.  It would have been pretty easy to make Dawn a purely evil character but the writers made an effort to show that her situation is a little more complicated. Noah specifically speaks up with  her (to a point) when speaking to Beth. One common online theory is that Rick and Dawn knew each other form law enforcement circles before the apocalypse. That strikes me as a little too much of a coincidence but I think that Rick may end up making peace with her.

4.  Next Week's Episode is Called "Coda". If you're about my age or older, you probably associate that word with Led Zeppelin's last album, which was released after John Bonham's death and included mostly out takes and garbabe. tells us that a coda is a "more or less independent passages, at the end of a composition, introduced to bring it to a satisfactory close." (Think: Shave and a Haircut, Two Bits!)

If the mid-season finale is truly a coda that would mean that most of the action is wrapped up tonight.  But the description for that episode is New enemies disregard rules and morals. "Although Rick wants to find a peaceful agreement, the enemy seems to prefer a more violent solution." That seems to describe a stand off where Rick is trying to negotiate for the release of Beth and Carol but the cops insist on a conflagration.

So here's my official prediction/hunch for the next 2 episodes.  Rick and company head to Atlanta tonight.  Tonight's episode ends with a cliff hanger. Then next week we have a confrontation between the groups in Atlanta.  Meanwhile Glenn/Abraham go back to the church and are told about what's going on.  But I think Episode 8 will not end with a huge fight.  I think it will end with a cliffhanger and/or an unexpected character death.  This is keeping with the reverse structure of this season, and would allow the 2nd half to kick off with a big bang.

But for once I don't feel like the show is leading to a blindingly obvious course.  And that's a really good sign for the show's future.

One Last Point on Chronology.

The time lines of the three groups seem to be synching up.  This is my best estimation of how time has passed the last few weeks. If my timeline is correct, this whole half of a season covers about a week of time.

Day one: Darryl and Carol take off after the car; Bob is taken prisoner.
Day two: The Hunters try to take the church, Rick et al kill them; Darryl and Carol run afoul of Noah in Atlanta.
Day three: Abraham leads Team B north to DC; Darryl returns to the church with Noah.
Day four: Abraham finds out that Eugene is lying; Rick, Darryl, Noah, Sasha and Tyrese leave for Atlanta.
Day five: Maggie/Glenn/Abraham, etc. return to the church, then head to Atlanta.
Day six: confrontation at the hospital.

Monday, November 3, 2014

The 2014 Midterms: Endorsements and Predictions

I haven't really written anything on this blog about any midterm elections.  They haven't proven very exciting, which means it will be a low turnout election, which always favors the Republicans. People with something to lose are more likely to vote in off-years, and Republicans skew towards the demographics that have something to lose, if say congress raised the income taxes on the top brackets.


But here are a handful of the races that I feel most strongly about.

1. Paul Davis for Governor of Kansas. "What's the Matter With Kansas" has been a recurring question in American politics ever since Thomas Frank wrote a book with that title to make the point that lots of people vote Republican even when it is against their own self-interest.  The current governor of Kansas, Sam Brownback epitomizes this dynamic.  He is a zealot for Catholicism and supply-side economics.  The first is largely his business but the latter has resulted in policies so Fubar that hundreds of Republican office holders have endorsed his democratic rival.

Tomorrow night is likely to be a good night for the GOP but a win here will at least expose the great Republican lie that cutting taxes is always popular and always successful. That's why I list this race first. Nate Silver gives Davis an 82% chance of winning.

2. Pat Quinn for Governor of Illinois.  All politics is local and so this race means a lot to me. Bruce Rauner has a reasonable chance (34% per Nate Silver) of winning this race. I'm putting his opponent Bruce Rauner has a reasonable chance (34% per Nate Silver) of winning this race. Pat Quinn this high on my list for two reasons-he's a good man, and I know that a win by his opponent will lead to huge tax cuts that are not matched by comparable spending cuts.  Quinn passed substantial tax hikes and spending cuts a few years ago and he will likely leave them in place.  Rauner's campaign is predicated on repealing that increase and cutting spending.  But here's the catch: there's no way he could get the votes for the spending cuts from a legislature that will still have large democratic majority.  But he will find enough Democrats who will go along with the tax cuts, because they will think its smart politics. The result will be a fiscal avalanche of debt.  We can't afford that, so I'm going to vote for Quinn.

3.  No to Mandatory GMO Labels in Oregon and Colorado.  This may seem like a niche issue but it's not.  Vermont recently became the first state to require food companies to label foods that contain ingredients that have been genetically engineered. in a laboratory rather than through selective breeding. There is simply no scientific evidence that these foods are any more dangerous than "conventional" foods.  Requiring labels will create a false impression that there is something dangerous about those products. It will also increase the cost of food by making food manufacturers segregated their source ingredients for reasons that have nothing to do with food safety.

But the reason I put this food so high on the list is that it has an enormous impact on world health. Genetic modification of food sources holds great promise for feeding the world even as climate change wreaks its havoc on the world in the coming decades.  Research into creating "Golden Rice", the name used to describe rice enhanced with Vitamin A could improve the health of the hundreds of millions of children in Asia whose diets are dominated by rice.  Making the products more expensive (and therefore less profitable) will lead to fewer dollars being spent on the research that could lead to these advancements.

4.  Bruce Braley for United States Senator in Iowa.  I highlight this race because it will be very difficult for the Democrats to retain the Senate if they don't win this race.  Until this morning I haven't paid a lot of attention to this election and just assumed that the Republican nominee, Joni Ernst, was just a run of the mill hack.  But this morning I began my day by reading this interaction between her and a reporter:

ERNST: [Obama] is just standing back and letting things happen, he is reactive rather than proactive. With Ebola, he's been very hands off."

REPORTER:  What should he have done about Ebola? One person in America has Ebola."

ERNST: OK, you're the press, you're giving me your opinion.

REPORTER: It's not an opinion. Only one person in America has it."

Oi vey.

5.  Yes to Minimum Wage Increases in Alaska, Nebraska, South Dakota and Arkansas:  All will pass.  I just hope the margins are huge so that Democrats will learn the obvious lesson: liberal economic policies are popular even in deep red states.


If you've ever had the misfortune of being stuck in a political conversation with me you know that one of my biggest pet peeves is that there are virtually no consequences for political pundits that make terrible predictions.  A personal favorite of this phenomenon is that in December 2006 William Kristol predicted, "Barack Obama is not going to beat Hillary Clinton in a single Democratic primary. I'll predict that right now." He still appears regularly on Fox News and the Sunday morning network shows.  And people take him seriously, no matter how often he is wrong.

But you can't through mud at the Dick Morris Class if you don't make some predictions of your own.  So here goes mine:

A.  The House of Representatives.
Did you know that there are 435 House Seats up for election tomorrow?  The most depressing fact in politics is that none of these 435 races have received more than a whisper of national media attention.In 2012 the Democrats "won" the national pop vote by a little over one point, but only won 201 races, while Republicans won 234.  This is the shameful result of the gerrymandering done by Republicans after they got to redraw the state maps because they won the last midterm election in a wave.  The polling average this time has the Republicans up by 2.2%.  I think that will be enough for the GOP to net 10 seats, more than wiping out the 8 that they lost during the 2012 election.

B.  The Senate.
The Democrats start the night with 55 seats, when you include the two independents who caucus with them.  But the Democrats are defending 21 seats and the Republicans are only defending 15. Moreover twelve of those Republican seats, but just nine of the Democratic seats are completely safe for the incumbent party.  That leaves the Democrats protecting 12 seats and the Republicans only have to worry about three.

Vulnerable Republican Seats (All three of them):
i. The Republican will in Kentucky, big.  
ii. The Independent will win in Kansas by 3 points.  
iii. Georgia will go to a run-off, with the Republican getting 48%, the Democrat getting 45% and the Libertarian will get 7%.    

Vulnerable Democratic Seats:
The Republicans can bank on winning in Montana, Vest Virginia and South Dakota, very red states where Democratic incumbents are not running for re-election.  Only Minnesota looks safe for the incumbent, Al Franken.  I also believe the Republicans will win in Arkansas and Colorado. That means they have to win just one of the six truly close Democratic seats to win a majority.  Here are my predictions on those:

i. Louisiana will go to a run off.
ii. The Democrat will win in NH, NC and Alaska.
iii. The Republican will win in Iowa and Colorado.

That leaves the Republicans with 52 seats and good prospects in 2 more Southern Red States. But the night is not without hope for the Democrats.  Which leads me to....

C. Governors.
I think the Democrats have fielded a strong slate here and they will net three governor's mansions tomorrow.  Here are my predictions for the close races with party switches in bold.
i. The Democrats win in: 
Connecticut:by 1.
Maine by 2.
Colorado by 1
Florida by 3.
Illinois by 4
Rhode Island by 5
Kansas by 3
Pennsylvania by 12

ii. The Republican will win in:
Michigan by 1
Wisconsin by 2
Massachussetts by 3
Georgia by 4.
Arizona by 6

And in the closest race of the night, Alaska will elect independent Bill Walker by 2.029 votes.  (The less I know about a race, the more specific I like to be in my predictions.)

Saturday, November 1, 2014

The Donkeys Have an Elephant in the Room and the Elephants Have a Bunch of Jackasses Out in the Barn.

                                  Even Gene Shalit might not recognize our next president yet.

2016 is a long way away, but speculating is a lot of fun.  I chose the above clip to give you some idea of how far we are from the 2016 presidential election. It's not quite from the same point in the election cycle, but it is revealing.  In December of 1973, Jimmy Carter was able to appear on a national game show without being recognized by anyone on the panel. At the end of the video they make reference to his role in preparing the Democratic party for the 1974 midterm elections.  Less than 3 years later, he was elected 39th President of the United States.

A. The Donkeys have an Elephant, and the Elephants have a Bunch of Asses.

When David Duchovny left The X-Files, the writers were faced with a big story dilemma. The show was driven by the conflict between a skeptic and a believer in all sorts of nut ball ideas.  To write Duchovny's character, Fox Mulder out of the show, but leave a possibility of returning, should the actor come to his senses, they needed his disappearance to be cooky and unexplained.  This forced his partner, Scully, to disavow her skepticism and become a believer.  After the first episode a review summed up the dynamic between the new leads.  "Scully is now Mulder."

Well the race for the 2016 nominations are also a case of role reversal. Every Republican nomination since Watergate has been a case of orderly succession. The only exception was in the year 2000. The 1996 runner-up had been Steve Forbes.  Forbes did not run in 2000. That nomination went to the son of a recent nominee, George W. Bush. It is because of this history that I give Rick Santorum more of a chance than most observers do. But he can not be called the clear favorite by any stretch of the imagination. He might not even belong on the top tier of candidates.

Will Rogers famously quipped, "I don't belong to any organized political party; I'm a Democrat." And most years the Democratic primaries live up to that aphorism.  The typical Democratic primary process begins with a half-dozen of likely candidates battling for specific racial and economic demographics, with some regional factions complicating things. In 1976, 1984, 1988, 1992 and 2004, a nominee emerged from a field of around five serious contenders. Only twice since then the Democrats began with a heavy betting favorite.  In 2000 Al Gore was the virtual certain nominee from the beginning and he only attracted one competitor, former Senator Bill Bradley.  Bradley put up a decent fight but Gore won comfortably in Iowa and by four points in New Hampshire.  The race was all but over and Bradley never won a single primary. In 2008 Hillary Clinton was also the presumptive nominee by most accounts.  She faced a half-dozen challengers but non were taken too seriously. But unbeknownst to the chatter class of D.C., Barack Obama was building a brilliant strategy: win in Iowa, survive Super Tuesday. and squeeze as many delegates as possible out of the states where he couldn't win.  By the summer, Barack Obama was the nominee.

The 2016 nomination race will probably end up looking like a combination of 2000 and 2008.  The favorite is the same as in 2008, but the result is more likely to be like 2000.  She will face credible challengers, and one or more of them will make Iowa and/or New Hampshire competitive.  If any of them win one of those states, then we will have a race on our hands.  If Hillary wins both, she will probably cruise to the nomination, and might just run the table the way Al Gore did.

My thesis at this point is that Democrats will nominate their previous runner-up and that the Republicans will have a battle among five to seven people with credible resumes and varying regional appeals.  I think that Jeb Bush is their strongest general election candidate. His appeal is broad within the Republican factions but also very thin.  Chris Christie, Rand Paul and Ted Cruz will probably elicit more passionate support but might have problems finding support outside their regional bases.  Huckabee and Santorum probably need to win Iowa to survive.  Luckily for them, the each have accomplished that very thing in the recent past, Huckabee in 2008 and Sanorum in 2012.

B: Another Peak at the Fields.
Some months ago I wrote posts on the likely contenders for each party's nomination.  My intention was to go on the record with my first impressions of the candidates.  The campaign will begin, for real, in the next month or two, and I'm sure I will update these lists more often next year.  But I wanted to do one update before we know the results of the midterms, because next week's elections will probably shape the narrative of the election as it gets underway.

I. The Democrats: One Favorite, 2 Alternatives and a Sitting Vice-President.

Hillary Clinton is the heavy betting favorite to be the Democratic nominee.  So far she has avoided any screw ups and there are some indications that she will learn from her 2008 mistakes and hire the very people who beat her the first time she was the heavy betting favorite for the nomination.  I have not changed either of her numbers: she's almost certain to run, and has about a 70% chance of being the nominee. But one thing has changed in the last few months.  I can now identify 2 plausible, serious alternatives.  And then there's the vice-president.

I still do not think that Elizabeth Warren will run, but she is the clear alternative and the base loves her.  I'm sure she has had many very serious (read: rich) people whispering in her ear that if she runs, they will open their checkbooks for her.  Recently, for the very first time she indicated some hint of wanting to run.  I think she might view a run as a way to put her ideas forward. She definitely thinks that the threat of her candidacy can nudge the party in the right (read: left) direction.

The biggest mover since my last posting is the emergence of Jim Webb as a possible candidate.  I really hope that he runs because I think he would expand the intellectual breadth of the field by talking about issues that are not talked about enough, like prison reform.  He's also the perfect candidate for pointing out that Hillary's foreign policy views are very far to the right of the Democratic party's base.  It's a long trip from being Ronald Reagan's secretary of the Navy to being the darling of the Democratic base, but this Marine just might be the guy to do it.

And dear old Joe Biden is extremely likely to run. And you can never count out the sitting Vice-President if for no reason other than the uncomfortable fact that he is one heart beat away from running as an incumbent.

Soon after the midterms we'll probably hear more from the less likely candidates.  So far no one has stood out as especially credible or promising.  The two New Yorkers that I listed last time both took steps backward.  Senator Gillibrand was listed mostly because she's an obvious alternative to Hillary Clinton if she didn't run.  But as ever, there seems to be no let up in the Clinton machine. So Hillary will run and that will probably preclude a Gillibrand candidacy.  Governor Andrew Cuomo meanwhile has proven to be a borderline boob who was lucky to be renominated for Governor.  He can not win the nomination.

II. The Republicans: Lots of Options, None of them Particularly Good.

The Republican field, lacking a heavy favorite, is much harder to predict at this point.  The biggest wild card as of now is Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin.   I leave him as a pretender for now because he might lose his re-election bid on Tuesday. Nate Silver says he has a 76% chance of being re-elected on Tuesday.  If he is re-elected, even by a very narrow margin, he immediately becomes a serious contender for the nomination. He has been a semi-hero of the base for a few years and his proximity to Iowa could be a big asset But if he loses, he is toast.

The rest of the field has been very static.  Jeb Bush does seem more and more likely to run, and I think he would be the party's strongest nominee.  It's at least possible that the GOP will be so thirsty for a win by next year that they will overlook his heresies on education and immigration but the pitch forks will come out for him on a lot of fronts.

I've also added Mike Huckabee to the list of possible candidates because I think he has under appreciated appeal. He ran a solid third place in 2008 (second if you go by delegates pledged, rather than votes received)  and probably could have been the nominee in 2012 if he wasn't busy paying of his mortgage by hosting a show on Fox News.  When I see him lately he strikes me as a lot cockier than he was when he first became a national political figure.  The confidence might push him towards running but it also might work against him with voters once he is actually running for the Presidency rather than just leading jeers against the current president.

Rand Paul, Chris Christie, and Ted Cruz are all going to run.  And they will all have sizable support in different corners throughout 2015.  Any of them could be the nominee but any of them could also go up in flames early. Paul will have his father's donor base behind him, and that makes him a threat to gobble up delegates all along the way.  If the field stays splintered, he could sneak in.  But he's going to get a lot of heat about some of his less than orthodox views on war and crime.  He'll also say lots of stupid things along the way.

But he's not really any worse of a candidate than the others.  I do think he would be the worst president we have ever had, but that's not a disqualifier in this race. The nominee of this party is likely to be the person who can most convince the GOP primary voters that they hate Obama as much as they do.  But then they will have to run in the general election with some kind of health care plan that doesn't take away the benefits from the millions of Americans that received coverage under Obamacare.  I don't think any of these candidates can thread that needle.  But most of them are going to try and it will be nearly as amusing as watching a monkey try to fuck a football.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Walking Dead: Choosing up Sides, Again.

 (Spoilers abound, if you have not seen Season 5, Episode 3: Four Walls and a Roof.)

Here's a first for this blog: a bible passage!  As Gareth and the termites were looking for the survivors in the church, the readings for the next week were plainly visible.  One of them was Luke 24:5.  The text of that passage is: "And as they were afraid, and bowed down their faces to the earth, they said unto them, Why seek ye the living among the dead?". 

So that was no accident.  And it's a sign that the writers are paying attention to the details of story telling rather than just relying on the zombie action to move the narrative forward.

Tonight's episode of the Walking Dead was especially strong. For once, they let our people be genuinely smart and they paid off on Rick's "promise" to Gareth from the season premiere.  It also ended on an appropriate mysterious note.  I also officially admire the show runners for making the season 5 premiere so deceptive. (Watch the above video from about :48 to 1:04 to see what I mean.) This gambit created genuine suspense in tonight's episode.  Well done.

The writers did cheat once in this episode.  I'm not sure it was really realistic for Abraham to split from Rick's group as quickly as they did, but splitting the group in two does make it easier to write complex and overlapping episodes going forward.  It's safe to say that the groups will meet up again, but it's almost certain that we'll lose at least one character from each side before that happens.

Here are the two rosters. The numbers match their ranking in my previous post, which was based on how much I would miss these characters if they died.

A-Team: The Ricktatorship                         B-Team:  The Small Bus to D.C.
1. Rick                                                            6.  Maggie
2. Darryl                                                         7.  Glenn
3. Judith                                                        11. Rosita
4. Carl                                                           17. Abraham
5. Michonne                                                  18. Tara
8. Tyrese (40%).                                           19. Eugene
13. Sasha
15. Father Gabriel

Well, the A Team is the A Team for a reason. They have the best leadership.  I would want Darryl, Rick and Michonne on my team before anyone from B-Team and Tyres and Sasha are also great survivors.  Even Carl is pretty useful, and getting smarter all the time.  Father Gabriel and Judith don't bring much to the fight, but neither does Eugene.

I assume that Abraham will act like the B-Team captain.  But we all know Maggie and Glenn are infinitely smarter than him and every bit as brave.  Abraham is a great NCO, but I suspect he's not cut out for major command. If this was my unit, I would hang Captain's bars on Maggie and let the rest of the team do their part to not screw things up.

There are some pieces missing from this chess board. Four, by my count:

C Team: The Wild Cards.
10. Morgan
14. Beth
16. Carol
20. Morales

Tonight's curtain line was Darryl saying "Come on out" to someone that we could not see.  Forty eight hours have passed since he and Carol got in that car to chase after the car that Darryl recognized as the one driven by Beth's abductors.  We know from the coming previews that next week's episode will show us that Beth is in some kind of hospital in downtown Atlanta.  I suspect that a lot of the clips we see will be from the weeks or months between Beth's kidnapping and the events at the church.  But I don't think the entire episode will be in that hospital. (Maybe I'm giving the writers too much credit here, but I hope they learned from the fan response to last year's Governor only episodes and the episode about how Darryl doesn't kiss Beth.)

I don't think Darryl is with Carol because his voice is very curt towards whoever it is that's behind him in the woods.  I don't think we will see Morgan just yet, as we know he comes to the vicinity of Terminus by himself.  So Darryl is probably with someone new.  There have been rumors that Morales might return to the show this year.  The actor who plays Morales stoked these rumors by posting some photos on social media that seemed to imply he was back on set.  Maybe he headed towards Atlanta after things went bad for him in Birmingham.  Darryl would have remembered him, so maybe that will be him stepping out to join.

Which still Begs the question: what happened to Carol. Obviously that story closely relates to Beth's whereabouts since she was last seen pursing her kidnappers. Darryl's company, whether it's Morales or someone else will probably know where Beth is. Those stories could connect in a big way and we probably will have  a feel for what the rest of this half of the season will be like after next week.  But here's my stab at what Primary and Secondary stories of the next 5 episodes will be.

The Coming Episodes, Predictions.

Episode 4 ("Slabtown") :   I want this episode to be equal parts Beth in the hospital and What Happened to Carol and Darryl.  But the title seems to refer to the hospital where Beth has been taken. My hunch is that 90% of the episode will be about Beth but I hope we at least get a few minutes at the end to show us who is with Darryl.  Maybe just a quick scene to establish that they have to go to Atlanta to find her.

Episode 5 ("The Choice"):   Rick and the A-Team set out to find and/or free Beth.  Maggie and the B-Team meander Northward, get hit by walkers and someone dies. I suspect "the choice" refers to either the A-team deciding whether to go after Beth or Team B having to choose whether to press on to DC or accept some sort of diversion, like helping a newly discovered group of suvivors.

Episode 6 ("Heart Drift"):   Resolution, one way or the other, of Beth's story and more complications for Team B on the Road to DC.  Whose heart could be drifting?  I really hope this isn't about Darryl being torn between Beth and Carol but no other options come to mind.

Episode 7 ("Crossed")  Well the title opens a few possibilities.  The Cross could refer to the cross on the back of the car that Darry and Carol chased after, but I think it more likely refers to the A and B teams crossing paths. (A phrase that was used by Gareth tonight.)  So I assume the teams will meet up, mourn their respective losses and then head north.

Episode 8: As Yet Untitled:  Arrival at the Alexandria Free Zone.  The Alexandria Free Zone is a major part of the story in the comics.  It is essentially several blocks of Alexandria, Virginia that have been made safe by a group of about 30 survivors.  That sounds pretty similar to Woodbury in the comic book, so they might want to mix things up somehow.  (In the comics Woodbury was never idyllic and the Governor was known to be a bad guy from the beginning.)

I suspect this half-season might just end on a relatively peaceful note.  It could end up looking like a mirror image of the first half of season 4, beginning with action and ending with Rick's people in a seemingly stable environment.  Of course, I think they will at least hint at the next big villain or challenge.  My other hunch is that this will be the episode where we learn that Eugene and his "cure" are a crock.

Uber-nerd alert: An almost frame-by-frame look back at the season 5 preview.
I just re-watched the Season 5 Preview, with frequent use of the pause button.  The only things that we haven't seen yet, with time mark are:

a. Carol and Darryl standing in the woods, weapons at the ready. (2:04)  Probably from the episode where we learn what happened to them after they took off in that car.
b. Rick, Michonne, and Sasha enter some kind of store or wardrobe room. (2:20)

a. Glenn kills a walker by the side of the road (1:49)
b. Abraham decapitates a walker with a baseball bat in front of a fire house (1:55);
c. Abraham crying in anguish at a roadside (2:03).  So someone from B-team catches one.
d. Abraham, Rosita and Glenn stand by the cab of a truck as the walkers exit that fire house (2:10)
e.  5. The church bus goes airborne over what appears to be a parked car.  (2:14).  This one has the look of Eugene screwed up again.

The last 30 seconds show Beth in the hospital, some of which we saw in the previews of next week's episode.   At 2:45 we see her apparently looking for an escape route. We then see either a walker or a female inmate/patient biting a guard.  Then we see Beth shoot a walker in the face with a hand gun.  At 2:50 she is shown running away from the building in her hosptial gown.  A male inmate/patient is standing behind her but doesn't look to be running.

i. Carl and Roista pointing guns at someone in an office.  (2:14)  This could be an outtake from tonight's episode.  The office looks similar to Gabriel's.  Or maybe they wind up in another office after the teams cross paths again.
ii.  A bus (but I don't think it's the church short bus) goes off of a bridge in downtown Atlanta. (2:23) This is probably from when they spring Beth out of the hospital.