Momentum, schmoementum

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Nate Silver reminds us that we should ignore vague discussions of the ‘momentum’ behind Bernie Sanders’ campaign and focus on the numbers:

So Sanders is doomed? If he doesn’t beat these polls, then probably yes — Sanders is not going to win the Democratic nomination if he’s losing Ohio by 13 percentage points. And if Clinton has a really good night on Super Tuesday — by winning Massachusetts, for instance — that would take almost all the suspense out of the race….

 

His polling in the Super Tuesday states looks pretty bad, even after allowing for the fact that they aren’t a great set of states for him. Still, follow the numbers in these states and not the talk about who has “momentum.”

I’m trying hard to avoid my #election2016 posts sounding like a paean to fivethirtyeight.com but these guys really do know what they’re talking about.

Rolling Stone’s Political Reporting: Thompson to Taibbi

Hunter S. Thompson is my favourite political writer, and one of my favourite writers of all time. Although he is now best known for the drug-fuelled benders that inspired some of his work – as memorialised in the movie Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, itself based on his book of the same title – he has written more truth about American politics than anyone else I’ve read.

Hunter cut his teeth as a political correspondent at Rolling Stone magazine in the early 1970s, reaching his peak when he worked as an embedded reporter with George McGovern’s unlikelyrs622-rs progressive tilt for the Democratic nomination and the Presidency (McGovern ultimately got the nomination, but lost all but one state in the general against Nixon. I’ve got another post saved up for a comparison between McGovern and Sanders). Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72 is Hunter’s book-length account of that campaign – and it’s spectacular.

Matt Taibbi is Rolling Stone’s new rising star, and it’s pretty clear he is going for Hunter’s mantle, if not explicitly, then at least through some strong allusions to his style. His piece on his time with the Republican primary roadshow in New Hampshire is worth reading in full. My favourite part:

Concord, New Hampshire, the Secretary of State’s office, morning of November 6th. I’m waiting to see Ohio Gov. John Kasich officially register as a candidate for the New Hampshire primary.

In another election, Kasich might be a serious contender, being as he is from Ohio, a former Lehman Brothers stooge and a haranguing bore with the face of a dogcatcher. He exactly fits the profile of what party insiders used to call an “exciting” candidate.

At the moment, though, he’s a grumpy sideshow to Trump and Carson whose main accomplishment is that he hogged the most time in the fourth debate (and also became the first non-Trump candidate to be booed). Kasich in person seems like a man ready to physically implode from bitterness at the thought that his carefully laid scheme for power might be undone by a flatulent novelty act like Trump.

Compare that to this, by Thompson himself:

Richard Nixon has never been one of my favourite people, anyway. For years I’ve regarded his very existence as a monument to all the rancid genes and broken chromosomes that corrupt the possibilities of the American Dream; he was a foul caricature of himself, a man with no soul, no inner convictions, with the integrity of a hyena and the style of a poison toad. The Nixon I remembered was absolutely humourless; I couldn’t imagine him laughing at anything except maybe a paraplegic who wanted to vote Democratic but couldn’t quite reach the lever on the voting machine.

Hunter wins it easily, but then again I doubt even Rolling Stone could publish something like this today and not get sued. Hell, they’d probably chicken out before even trying it on.

Still, it’s good to see them covering the race properly. I’m looking forward to what Taibbi can come up with as it gets more serious and more insane. Maybe he just needs to hit the narcotics a bit more to catch up with his predecessor and go from great to eye-peelingly fantastic.

Click Bait Media: Australians Who Read our Work are Dumb

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Generalisations about whole nations are meaningless. People, let alone masses of population millions strong, are far more complicated than to be able to be summarised by a handful of perceived common attributes. Yet the genre of national character sketch persists and, in Australia, tends to be particularly cherished by progressive writers using it to argue that their compatriots are stupid, ill-informed racists, more interested in reality TV than politics.

This piece, by comedian and writer Corinne Grant, has been doing the rounds recently, cited approvingly as an accurate snapshot of Australia and Australians. In brief, Grant argues that we are more interested in celebrity gossip than serious politics. The repeated violation of Indonesian territorial waters by the Australian Navy in its attempts to turn back refugee boats is said to get less interest than Cameron Diaz’s views on Brazilian waxing. The conclusion:

The Murdoch media and politicians have told us ‘boat people’ are stealing from us and we’re stupid enough to fall for it. We genuinely believe that a few thousand people are responsible for traffic congestion and hospital queues instead of years and years of government inaction on public transport, roads and health. We accept that we’re ‘at war’ with asylum seekers without questioning the ludicrousness of the statement or the secrecy and abuse it’s used to justify. We hate to think but we love to hate.

Leaving aside the fact that Grant’s piece was published by a commentary website whose lead story today was titled ‘Oh, High Heels, Must We Break Up?’ (pic above), it seems perverse to diagnose the problem as low quality media and then conclude that its sufferers must themselves be stupid.

The uncomfortable reality for media commentators is that most people simply do not have the time to spend informing themselves from several media sources about contemporary politics. Getting up, taking your kids to school, working until 5 or 6 (often later), commuting home, sorting out dinner, and taking a few minutes to relax before heading to bed leaves very little time for the kind of balanced analysis Grant seems to assume is a prerequisite for not deserving to be the target of her opprobrium.

Australia has some of the least diverse media ownership in the world. Two newspaper owners (Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp; Fairfax) were responsible for 86% of newspaper circulation in the country in 2011. Online news and commentary have changed this picture somewhat, but it is still the case that legacy media determines the daily political narrative.

More media diversity is part of the solution, and it is great to see, most recently, the emergence of a new quality weekend broadsheet. But progressive thinkers have to try harder to communicate in ways that are not dripping with contempt for those whose opinions they hope to change, and not simply vacate the field, as Labor did, for example, on refugees in the wake of the 2001 Tampa affair, when it all gets too difficult.

Not giving in to the easy pleasure of proclaiming that everybody who disagrees with you ‘loves stayin’ dumb’ is a good place to start.

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