Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Have You Tried Turning Your Party Off and then On Again?

Short post with free advice for Reince Priebus: Abort the mission. Just give up on 2016. It's best for everyone: your party, your adversaries, and most American voters.

Shorten the convention to one day, and let Trump get the nomination, assuming he's won it outright. Don't wince when he nominates some dumbass as his VP. Don't fund ANYTHING to do with his campaign, and be clear to your rank-and-file operatives that his tenure is the remainder of the 2016 Election season and no further. No one who sucks up to him will be accepted by the party upon his general election loss. You'll be subjecting Chris Christie to a bitter primary, for example.

Go back to drawing board: get together the smartest (read: not TV personalities) people in the party and figure out what platform planks have to stay and which have to go in order to preserve an electorate. It may be that gun control obstructionism and climate change denial are not actually that important. Find out what makes likely Republican voters excited to go to their polling places, and make that happen. Cut the rest. Literally, recommend that candidates not talk about issues that are not part of the platform, if they can avoid it.

Appoint Merrick Garland now. You're not getting a better offer.

People are saying that Obama-blocking, as the party's primary strategy, created the Trumpocalypse. Perhaps this is so, perhaps this is not. Either way, it's now your mess. It would be wise to clean it up, to ensure there's something left of the party in the future.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Bad Solidarity

There are an increasingly limited number of scenarios in which the Republican Party does not fundamentally change after 2016. Donald Trump would have to make massive errors (and quite frankly, I’m not sure if his base registers the idea that Trump is capable of erring) or the party would have to find a way to cheat him out of a nomination in order to avoid him headlining the ticket. It’s possible but unlikely that this results in the party reshaping itself in his image, especially since he is very likely to lose the general election.

What’s more reasonable is that the GOP will undergo some introspection in 2017, with lengthy, media-free “lessons learned” meetings. The Realignment will not be televised. What we should all hope they eventually learn is this: Not all Solidarity is worth seeking.

In 2008, the party was beaten and broken. George W. Bush and his two wars were wildly unpopular by now, and the Democrats had taken control of both chambers in 2006. The Republicans lost big in 2008, and regrouped by forming a coalition to block Obama’s policy goals at every turn. There was no ideology here, and barely a strategy, just tactics. And slowly, slowly, the necessary ideology came, built up by operatives and bought wholesale by right-wing voters: the ideology was that government was too large. The gaping ideological void in the “block Obama” strategy was too large, though, for “small government” to patch it up. And the Tea Party rank-and-file had other ideas. So, immigration. So, birtherism. So, anti-gay movements and the accompanying cry of “religious liberty”. Eventually, this “coalition of the unwilling” seemed to be rolling back much of the image of tolerance the GOP was building up over the Bush years.

Primarily, this has been a problem of Solidarity. Definitions of solidarity are tenuous and inconsistent, but let’s agree for the sake of this discussion, that it is the social cohesion of a group of people with a common, (1) organic identity. That identity must be (2) open, and members of a group showing solidarity must feel that they (3) include people that are not being served by the ruling body.

The problem with Tea Party “solidarity” and the post-Tea GOP is that its voters violate item (2): on the whole, the modern right has closed ranks to eliminate people who would have identified with them (moderate conservatives) but failed to pass the ideological gatekeepers, as well as others who might be served by conservative policies but are culturally different from the standard (cf. the party’s dismal performance with Latinos, who are generally traditional and religious).

Take this diagram as illustrative of the current problem:

It is my argument that only parties with solidarity (big tent + real community) can survive on the long term. The current GOP cannot provide the tent.

In a few more cycles, the Democrats are likely to have a similar problem, as evidenced by Berniemania. The Bernie followers have scared and annoyed quite a few people, even those who support Sanders for President. This is possibly because they feel the beginnings of a sense of solidarity, but many are too immature to express that in a constructive way. Community and communal feelings seem very unnatural in 21st Century America.  The DNC in general is very open and hasn’t yet chased out the Blue Dogs and the DINOs, but the result has been confusion as to loyalties. They call right-wing politicians out for their loyalties to special interests, then take money from and enact policy favorable to many of the same interests, especially the financial sector. The #UniteBlue movement is pale and weak, and the drive to support your local democrat is largely powered by a fear of the greater of two evils. The DNC has produced Corporatism in the place of Solidarity.

One good test of whether an esprit-de-corps is solidarity or not is this: do you feel a kinship with a group that is underserved by society? You may not actually be a member of a particular group or class, but you feel solidarity with them if you support a better life for them. Democrats have had, in the last few cycles, solidarity with the LGBTQ community. It is time for them to have solidarity with the poor as well.

The other litmus test for solidarity is this: do you feel comfortable standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the people whose lives you are working to improve? A paternalistic pity is not solidarity, though it is a hallmark of the American Left in the new century. Another 2x2:

And again, here’s where the Democrats tend to fail. Rich democrats inevitably make their programs sound like pitches to start charities in the third world, rather than standing with the people they are trying to help. Plenty of American “leftists” get going when the going gets tough enough that they would have to part with goods through increased tax on their own bracket in order to pay for this assistance. Many seem to hope that giving to NGO charities will be enough to solve problems endemic to and inherent in capitalism and its consumption. It’s the Captain Planet problem all over again. It’s hard to make real change, so let’s pretend this can be solved on the demand-side.

Monday, March 7, 2016

What Will Follow the Seventh Party Realignment?

Short answer: no one can know, and that's kind of unsettling.
Long answer: It will take a while for realignment to happen, especially because of the current status of the two parties. The last three major party systems have been two-party systems. It is the natural convergence point of a pure first-past-the-post system, and it tends to the coalition of disparate aims into single parties. Unfortunately, now we have three problems:

Problem 1: Establishment Republicans are not well liked by the wing (which is now the base). Bringing the wing into the base has been a disaster, and when your party can't get along, one faction or the other has to bring order, or you have to split. Look for the Establishment side to try to rewrite party bylaws, possibly to enable superdelegates in the Democrat style. Establishment-lite personalities like Paul Ryan and Marco Rubio tend to do well in Congress, but as of 2016 are failing to capture the hearts of party members. If the Establishment types in power can manage to consolidate it, they will finally unite the party, at the cost of some voters. It seems unlikely that the Republicans will hold both chambers and the White House at any given time in the next two cycles.

Problem 2: What of the Radical Republicans? They have set the agenda for almost eight years, and if the party makes a lurch to the left, it is POSSIBLE there could be a schism in the GOP, resulting in a new party (the Tea Party?) which will flank the GOP as they move to the center on immigration and perhaps gay marriage and maybe maybe gun control.

Problem 3: What of the Bernie Bloc? The Democratic Party will almost certainly #UniteBlue in 2016 behind Hillary Clinton, but the left wing has been ignored for the last 16 years of Democratic administration. After Occupy, and in a less-than-emboldening economy, the social democracy / Basic Income / Socialist / Communist voting group appears to be swelling. The Democratic Party leadership has not yet shown itself to be fully committed to shutting the wing down (perhaps out of fear of a Trump Planet, perhaps because this group is newer than the Tea Party). If the Democrats can move to the left without losing enough campaign funding / moderate voters, they may be able to make nice for another couple of cycles. It remains to be seen as to whether they will.

In short: Expect a break in the GOP, either officially (new party) or with much greater GOP primary competition between "moderates" / Establishment candidates and "patriot" / Tea Party candidates. On the Democrat side, expect a leftward drift or the beginning of a similar schism.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

The Seventh Party System And Bad Solidarity

The theory is that American political parties have realigned five or six times in our country's history, with the fifth realignment coming after the political fallout of the New Deal, which handed the White House to the same president in four separate elections, and re-elected his VP when he died in office (side note: if you do a Washington, DC tour soon, do not miss the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial). Arguments continue as to whether a sixth realignment occurred in the 60s or during the Reagan Administration, though personally I believe that sixth realignment occurred due to the effects of the Southern Strategy of Nixon's and Goldwater's presidential campaigns. (And should you choose to believe the "Suburban Strategy" variant of this historical narrative, it doesn't matter: it has the same result.) We are now clearly witnessing the beginning of another party realignment, which should be called the Seventh Party System when it's complete, in fairness to the debate as to the existence of the Sixth.

This realignment is coming to both parties, but unequally. The Republicans have it in the most serious way, with two outsiders (Trump and Cruz) dominating the 2016 landscape after the base rejected the establishment candidates, possibly as a reaction to Mitt Romney's failure in 2012. If the Sixth Party Realignment was a change in party values with regard to civil rights (the Democrats finished their long arc from their anti-abolition stance in the Third Party System to supporting the Civil Rights Movement, while the GOP picked up a large bloc of voters who were opposed to it), the Seventh Party System will be a result of the cognitive dissonance distilling upon the cloud grain of misplaced solidarity.

The anti-Obama strategy of the GOP from 2008 to present, and the grassroots efforts that accompanied it, in the form of the Tea Party Movement aligned the establishment with a mobile, reactionary base. The wing was now folded in. The values and tactics of what was once the fringe were now the domain of the base. Mobilizing the base meant moving to the right, not the center. Solidarity was intra-party, rather than among members of similar views, and moderate Republicans tended to leave the scene after ideological purity requirements became obvious to all involved.

On the other side of the fence, Democrats tended to open the tent doors wide after the Great Shellacking of 2010, and, unable to move the needle on anything significant after Obamacare, #UniteBlue became the watchword, weak as it was. The great grassroots movements of the left during this realignment phase have been Occupy Wall Street and the populist leftist rumblings of people like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. These movements have tended to divide, rather than solidify the Democratic Party, and indeed we see a relatively bitter (for Dems that is) primary race between the establishment and the somewhat disenfranchised left wing because of it.

Both, if you think about it, have been cases of solidarity gone awry, and both cases have shown that party solidarity in the US is a drug with a serious risk of overdose.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Captain Planet Redux, With Bernie Sanders

If you believe that

  1. People power is going to be necessary to stop the worst effects of climate change.
  2. People with low incomes make up a plurality of citizens in the world.
  3. People with low incomes are (and should be!) primarily focused on providing themselves and their families with food and shelter.
Congratulations! You believe that eliminating poverty is a necessary precondition for fighting climate change!

Captain Planet feels the bern.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Making a Digital Nylon Loom with p5.js and JavaScript

So, I picked up a bit of Processing recently, which has been fun, and I've made a bunch of weird junk with it. My classic approach with learning new technologies has been largely as follows:

1. Look at it.
2. Look at it sideways.
3. Get frustrated.
4. Obtain a small amount of proficiency.
5. Get a crapload of breadth, and no depth ever.
6. Use it when the situation calls for it.
7. Forget you ever did it until the situation arises again.
8. Which reminds me I have a Twitter corpus-building script I should probably remove from my crontab now. I think it's been running since December.

So, as part of my "moar bredth plz" approach, I learned p5.js, which in turn required me to learn JavaScript, which in turn required me to sacrifice a chicken in the full moon to the Mozilla Development Network, which condescended upon me and taught me the true meaning of Christmas and/or prototype models.

Here's one of the finished products, a digital art that looks like those looms you used to make crappy potholders out of cut-up socks on as a kid. Here's some of the stuff I learned (code here):
  • You know how some languages have "everything's a X"? Everything's an object, everything's a stream, everything's a string (necessary Tcl side-eye)? Well, everything's a function in JavaScript. So make your objects functions and no, you can't put the functions inside the object function or the universe collapses, so you have to modify the protoype model afterwards and it's weird. Get Atom or something like it because otherwise you're going to type the word "prototype" so often you'll forget what it means.
  • Processing has PShapes which make making weird shapes easier. They also make making normal shapes in abstract, then drawing a whole bunch of them at once easier too. p5.js doesn't implement PShapes, so I made a fake PShape in p5.js or rather in my script. All that Rectangle stuff is me making a rectangular PShape analog object. Function. Whatever.
  • Making a weave is easy, but as with anything graphical, you're going to have to do trial and error to get it perfect.
  • I started with a limited palette (note that you have to declare global variables first, then assign values in the setup() function), and then I said "Screw it, taste the rainbow", and randomly generated the colors. It was more fun.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Sympathy For the Captain

You’ve probably heard the story of the girl and the starfish, but here it goes anyway. There’s a girl throwing beached starfish back into the ocean. An adult tells her that there’s no way that she can get all of these starfish back into the water. She keeps throwing. Adult tells her that what she’s doing doesn’t matter. Girl says, “It mattered to this one.”

And this is a great story and a cute story. It exemplifies “Think Globally, Act Locally”. It fits in with narratives of personal recycling, waste reduction, individual activism, and giving to charity. There’s only one problem: it’s an unnecessary and useless guilt trip.

As far as I know, Captain Planet was an idea spawned by activists and pitched to Ted Turner, then head of TBS. The idea was simple, and effective: teach kids to take care of the environment by having a green (or blue?) superhero defeat polluting villains. The symbolism was clear-cut: five kids, representing people all over the world, had to join together and use their powers to call on Captain Planet, defender of the Earth Spirit, literally (Gaia was actually a thing). Cap smashed the bad guys, and they ran with their tail between their legs while their apparatus of destruction was dismantled. Then there was a small end-cap piece about reusing milk jugs or some shit.

Here’s the thing: Captain Planet got the message across. Saving the world is important! And it inadvertently sent the exact right message, even if that wasn’t really the intent. That message is that pollution is largely the result of selfish decisions made by unchecked industrialists looking to make a quick buck. The amount of time the cartoon spent on punching bad people in the face vs. teaching kids to put their aluminum cans in the right bin was about perfect, but unfortunately, we continue to spread the toxic meme that it’s the fault of the average consumer that the world is going to pot, and that if we all just got our act together, it could be rescued. This is not the case.

Notice that there were kids from around the world fighting the forces of pollution, including a kid from Africa and a kid from South America, places that are far from making a dent on the global climate. We all have to pitch in, right?

This meme of personal responsibility is an easy gift we give to people who destroy in the name of personal gain. We blame homeowners for the housing crunch, we blame the homeless for being homeless (never mind that many cities are finding homelessness a relatively easy problem to solve from the top down). When we move on from victim-blaming, we tend to adopt self-blaming as a next step. This is the famed “liberal guilt” and it is insidious. Climate change is our fault, economic failures are our fault. Homelessness is our fault. Institutional racism is our fault. No. Stop. There are clearly groups responsible for all of these things, and in fact there’s quite a bit of overlap in the culprits. They are not shadowy, conspiratorial forces, but corporations you interact with on a regular basis, and politicians that represent you in the government. The only guilt we have is not having torn these institutions down yet.

And while we must laud the girls on beaches around the world, throwing starfish in against the powerlessness of the receding tide, we must also refuse to get sucked into believing that this “pitching in” is the best use of our efforts, or that thinking globally excuses a lack of scope for our actions. Do, please, give to worthy charity, and THEN vote for candidates who will promise to end corruption and greed, even if they’re not in the “Big Two” parties, or your local equivalent. Sign petitions. Start petitions. Participate in boycotts. Start boycotts! Say these things to people you care about, especially if they differ from you in opinion on these matters. Perhaps consider running for office yourself. Act locally, yes, but also act globally.