Culture, Uncategorized

The First Black President

Here’s a real “check your privilege” moment. Did you know that, in 1971, Bill White became the first black play-by-play announcer in sports when he took to the mic for the New York Yankees? It took until 1971 for that to happen.

It makes sense when you think about it: Teams tend to hire former athletes as their sportscasters, and until 1947 there weren’t any black baseball players. So seeing a black sportscaster 24 years later seems right – except, of course, that neither of those lines should never have existed in the first place.

Still, I had no idea that White was so significant until I read this post on The Undefeated. (I just knew him as Phil Rizzuto’s former broadcast partner.) The piece uses White’s legacy to point out how the Barack Obama Presidency has changed the perception about further color barriers: Obama has made those barriers temporary. If a black person can be President, we assume will will be the “first black [INSERT ANYTHING HERE]” at some point. Time, more than prejudice, is the enemy now.

For whatever you think about now-ex-President Barack Obama (I have some opinions), that legacy alone means something. As a white guy, I can’t even fully appreciate it myself; just as I took for granted growing up hearing Joe Morgan and Ken Singleton call baseball games. When I was young, my parents told me that if I tried hard enough, I could do or be whatever I wanted. It’s hard to imagine a parent having to tell their child the opposite – that no matter how good you are, some doors will be closed. Whether it was always true or not, that was a legitimate feeling in communities of color.

Among the debates surrounding the legacy of our 44th President, this accomplishment is worth celebrating. It’s sad that there was once a color barrier on the baseball field, or in the broadcast booth, or any number of other places. Now, hopefully, we can know there will never be a time like that again.

 

Politics and Grassroots, Uncategorized

Clinton lost the Obama coalition (and they should have seen it coming)

FiveThirtyEight’s analysis of the 2016 electorate shows that Hillary Clinton’s loss was indeed due to low voter turnout. Apparently, high numbers of Democrats and Independents (and even a good number of Republicans) didn’t feel it necessary to go out and make a choice between two horrible candidates.

Who could have predicted such a thing? Turns out, it was easy to spot as far back as June 2015. As (obviously) any dolt could see, Clinton’s strong numbers against a fractured Republican field belied real issues among key demographics. And the issue wouldn’t be losing votes to the eventual Republican nominee, but in losing raw voters period. Polling can offer people a chance to see preferences, but judging intensity of preference requires a deeper reading of the numbers.

Clinton’s people should have seen this. (If they did, they figured to correct it by scaring the bejesus out of people by telling them how bad Trump was. That strategy typically invites failure.)

On its face, FiveThirtyEight’s analysis gives Clinton supporters some cover: They can claim that if the turnout had only been higher, their team would have won. (If only it hadn’t been for James Comey/the Russians/fake news/okay maybe Comey again?) But such face-saving leaves unanswered questions about why turnout was so low. Refusing to vote is a vote, as well. People think of political campaigns as an effort to get a voter to choose candidate A over candidate B, but in reality the first challenge is getting voters to make the choice at all.

Politics and Grassroots, Tech, Uncategorized

Trump’s answer on data is actually the right answer

Donald Trump says his Presidential campaign will be about personality, not data:

In his AP interview, Trump discounted the value of data: The “candidate is by far the most important thing,” he said. He said he plans a “limited” use of data in his general election campaign and suggested Obama’s victories — universally viewed by political professionals as groundbreaking in the way data steered the campaign to voters — are misunderstood.

“Obama got the votes much more so than his data processing machine, and I think the same is true with me,” Trump said, explaining that he will continue to focus on his signature rallies, free television exposure and his personal social media accounts to win voters over.

That’s exactly the wrong answer on an 8:00 a.m. conference call, but it’s exactly the right answer for an interview – which is something many political professionals miss. In the quest to sound smart to industry press, operatives can fall into the trap of talking too much about process. But voters don’t care.

Yes, the data-driven campaigns President Barack Obama ran in 2008 and 2012 were groundbreaking. But people voted for Obama’s message. The data elements helped them vote, but they made the choice, ultimately, based on the message.

In this cycle, polarizing figures with limited crossover appeal lead both major parties. Both presumptive nominees face divisions within their parties. Voter turnout could suffer, which could make the ground game vital. If the race is close, it will likely be the campaign with the better turnout operation that comes out ahead.

But a candidate has three jobs: 1) Ask for votes; 2) Ask for money; 3) Don’t mess up. Chatting about campaign tactics is not on the list.

Maybe Trump has a basement full of nerds chained to computers analyzing data sets to develop the winning turnout plan. Even if he does, it wouldn’t help him to brag about it. Even if the Trump campaign proved to be the most sophisticated data operation in the history of ones and zeros, it would only serve to amplify his message.

Campaign tactics may drive votes, but personality wins voters.

Culture, Uncategorized

That mad world of blood, death, and fire

Each March, someone on Facebook posts a video of Liam Clancy singing “And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda” for St. Patrick’s Day. The song’s protagonist is an Australian World War I soldier and its writer is Scottish-born, but Irish singers seem to do it the most justice. Written in 1971, you’d be excused for categorizing it with the anti-war songs of its era. But give it a listen after you’ve spent about 24 total hours listening to Dan Carlin talk about World War I, or read any of the grisly accounts from the era, and the song takes on a much different tone.

World War I was called “The War to End All Wars” because of the near-universal realization that modern warfare sucks. As the song alludes, killing technology has been getting much more efficient in the past century and a half, and WWI was the first chance to observe that trend.

Since World War I, most long-term conflicts have had some sort of moral reasoning. World War II fought Adolph Hitler’s plan for world domination; the Cold War fought the Soviet plan for World world domination; the War on Terror fights jihadis who use radicalized Islam to justify their plan for world domination, and so forth. World War I was, in many ways, a local territorial war that expanded because of alliances and agreements among great powers. For example, if France and Russia didn’t have an “I Got Your Back If You Got Mine” treaty, Germany might not have invaded France – heck, maybe Great Britain wouldn’t have been in the war at all.

When you think about how much of that war was triggered by paper and handshakes, and then read or listen to how ill-prepared the military leaders and troops were for the shift from horses and swords to tanks and machine guns, “And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda” becomes that much more more sad.

Politics and Grassroots, Uncategorized

Running independent? Better start now.

Donald Trump heads into March like a lion, leading polls and looking to emerge with a delegate count that may put the Republican nomination away. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz are taking their whacks at him more aggressively than before – and even if they can’t nudge Trump out of the race, they can extend the nominating contest until it falls under the arcane rules of the party convention.

All these turning gears have the more speculative wondering about whether a serious third option could appear on the November ballot for the first time in 20 years. Trump supporters want their guy to have a spot if they feel the GOP finds some kind of black magic to nominate someone else; Republicans fear the Trumpocalypse and don’t want to have to write in Mickey Mouse against Hillary Clinton. These are both significant audiences, so an independent candidate seems like it could make some waves. Michael Bloomberg has been the biggest name to consider an independent run so far.

So could it happen?

The major problem is logistics, as Ballotpedia’s page on Presidential ballot access makes clear. While the major political parties pretty much have a free spot on each state ballot, running an independent bid means petitioning 50 separate state election authorities. Signature requirements range from 1,000 in Idaho to nearly 180,000 in California. (Thresholds for getting on primary ballots tend to be easier, and petition signatures can be supplanted by filing fees.)

Getting on all 50 ballots means collecting over 900,000 signatures. But wait, there’s more: As anyone who has handled ballot access can attest, fake and invalid signatures are a major problem. People who sign petitions may not be registered to vote, or they may use a fake name, or they may violate some other arcane rule (such as Nebraska, where a signatory must not have voted in either party’s primary). Campaigns generally try to capture at least twice as many signatures as needed for just this reason, so the real magic number is about 1.8 million signatures.

The first deadline for access is in Texas, where a candidate needs about 80,000 signatures by May 9. That’s significant, because an independent offshoot of the Republican primary would surely look to Texas as an opportunity to pull support. And though a smart operation might cherry pick friendly states to focus efforts there, such a plan requires much advance data work. Either way you slice it, a third party effort has to start almost immediately.

The candidate would almost have to be a self funder, or have access to a very generous fundraising network; they would also have to have a good amount of political savvy to build the organization necessary for the task. Most of the current candidates couldn’t pull off the optics of positioning for a third party run while also running for the nomination, but Trump could probably get away with it. If Trump is the nominee, Mitt Romney, Carly Fiorina, and Jeb Bush are in the sweet spot of the money/strategy Venn diagram, though it’s tough to imagine they would do more than split votes and toss some close states to Clinton (or Sanders).

Rick Perry has floated the idea that he’s open to a second crack at the nomination at a contested Republican convention, but he offers a compelling case as an independent candidate as well. Winning Texas and maybe a handful of southern, western, and midwestern states could disrupt Electoral College totals enough to push the race to the House of Representatives. Another, center-left independent (like Bloomberg or Jim Webb) would make that outcome even more likely.

It makes sense why the prospect of a candidate beyond the two major parties holds considerable sway this cycle. Yet, the election laws in place greatly discourage it. Beyond smaller third parties and failing an indictment, Americans are likely stuck choosing between the two candidates who emerge from the party conventions this summer.

Culture, media, Uncategorized

Disney princess study shows people have too much time on their hands

Linguistic researchers have logged hours upon hours of dialogue from Disney movies, and found that in the most recent ones, male characters speak three times as often than female characters:

And yet, in one respect, “The Little Mermaid” represented a backward step in the princess genre… The plot of “The Little Mermaid,” of course, involves Ariel literally losing her voice — but in the five Disney princess movies that followed, the women speak even less. On average in those films, men have three times as many lines as women.

The data come from linguists Carmen Fought and Karen Eisenhauer, who have been working on a project to analyze all the dialogue from the Disney princess franchise. Because so many young girls watch these movies — often on constant repeat — it’s worth examining what the films are teaching about gender roles.

Dangerous right? Let your dughters watch Disney movies at their peril. The researchers divide the Disney princesses into two “eras”; Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty are classics, and the modern era is from The Little Mermaid on. In the classic era, female characters speak as much or more than males; outside of Tangled and Brave, no Disney princess movie from the past half-century has more than about 40% of its dialogue spoken by women.

At Acculturated, Carrie Lukas notes that many of the loquacious gents in these movies are side characters (“the modern-day Jiminy Crickets such as Sebastian inThe Little Mermaid or Olaf in Frozen”) who aren’t even human, and whose gender may not be super clear in the traditional sense.

But there’s something else afoot. Ask yourself, Who are the bad guys in these movies?

Snow White had her Evil Queen. Cinderella had her wicked stepmother and two moronic stepsisters. Aurora, which is apparently Sleeping Beauty’s given name, had Maleficent. Sure, Ariel had Ursula, but Ariel also didn’t have a voice for much of the movie. Since then, most of Disney’s big bads have been boys. After Ursula, the next major bad gal was Rapunzel’s stepmother in Tangled. And surprise: That would be the next movie where female dialogue eclipsed males. (The “bad guy” in Brave was a bear, I think, so it’s a different case.)

(Sidebar: though Jafar serves to underscore this theory, I’m throwing Aladdin out as a “princess movie.” Though Jasmine is marketed heavily as part of the pantheon of “Disney Princesses,” Aladdin is not a princess movie. You can tell because it is named after the male protagonist. This is a hint. You might as well kvetch about Nala not getting enough lines as the “princess” in The Lion King. Also, how much of the 90% of the male dialogue in Aladdin came from Robin Williams?)

Many of the non-protagonist male characters that hog the script serve as either the evil-doers or as buffoonish comic relief. Neither is a particularly favorable image. Would Frozen have been a better movie for women if the slow-witted Snowman had been voiced by Melissa McCarthy? (By the way that could have been hilarious.) That is the answer to the “problems” these researchers have found, and it isn’t clear that it improves the messages these movies send to young girls.

What is clear is that someone got paid to watch an awful lot of Disney movies.

Uncategorized

September 12

It has been 14 years since the September 11 terrorist attacks. It’s the day each year when Americans share the answer to a very simple, basic question: “Where were you?” The question begs no further clarification needed, at least not today. Those who were alive and cognizant at the time remember just where they were.

For all the sadness, heartbreak, ugliness, and terror of September 11, something amazing happened on September 12. It’s a bit tough to talk about because of the gravity and the horror of the attacks themselves. It manifested itself in different ways, not all of them good. There was patriotism, and love of country. There was a resolve to fight the forces behind the attacks.

But in the days after September 11, we had more than blind patriotism. We had community. We had each other.

It’s easy now to write that off as a fad of the time, to point to the catchy post-9/11 country ballads, the now-onerous airport security, and most of all the unpopular wars that sprang from the attacks. Listening to today’s political rhetoric makes it easy to forget the unity America felt.

You can see the continuation of that each year on Facebook, when people share tributes to their lost friends and loved ones or simply relive the emotions and experiences of the day.

But as we remember the grief each year, so too should we remember that feeling of togetherness that outweighed our disagreements back then – because there’s nothing more singularly American, nor more human, than getting up after falling down.

We should remember that when we hear Lee Greenwood sing “God Bless the U.S.A.,” the very first thing he sings about – the very first thing! – is getting knocked down and getting back up.

We should remember that our national anthem isn’t a song about purple mountains and fruited plains. No, our national anthem is adapted from a poem about taking a bombardment from the dominant military power in the world at the time – and standing strong. (And we used one of their old drinking songs for the tune. Cheers, mates.)

And you know what happens when you sing the national anthem publicly, and get nervous, and mess it up? This:

We should remember that no matter how loosely stitched our seems appear, the thread that holds us together is strong. That no matter how horrible and scary a day September 11, on September 12 we were family.

We should remember all that – and never forget.