A sudden thaw

Also: DEMS IN DISARRAY!!! & same ol' Browns

The night is darkening round me,
The wild winds coldly blow;
But a tyrant spell has bound me
And I cannot, cannot go.
The giant trees are bending
Their bare boughs weighed with snow.
And the storm is fast descending,
And yet I cannot go.
Clouds beyond clouds above me,
Wastes beyond wastes below;
But nothing dear can move me;
I will not, cannot go.

- Emily Bronte, Spellbound

It was 69ºF in New York City on Saturday, January 11. Which meant people doing lots of this:

Still: I can’t describe how disturbing it is to see this. This is not what January in New York City should look like. We all know, deep within ourselves, what it should look like:

Image result for new york city weather"

I can’t get used to this. I refuse to get used to this.

It bothers me so viscerally that my brain stumbles around, drunkenly dazed confused that the weather makes no fucking sense anymore. I have a new housemate (sharing a house being the only way most of us can afford to live reasonably in New York, but that’s for another time); a lovely Australian woman named Hannah — we commiserated over the climate apocalypse ravaging her land, and she casually mentioned that over half a billion animals have perished in the massive brushfires scorching the ground.

And there’s still two or three months left of burning to go. This is horrific.

And yet: I could not help but enjoy the mildness of the day.

I treasure my weekends. For the last three years, I’ve imposed a strict barrier between my work life and my personal life. Part of it is professional - my employers don’t need to know what I do in my personal life, especially since politics is such a large part of it. A much larger part is my natural tendency towards discretion. I’ve always treasured this phrase:

“The better part of valor is discretion; in the which better part, I have saved my life”.*

simply because it is true, at least in the history of my life. I’ve not always behaved in such a fashion, especially when younger; I do so now. Even more so, I treasure the chance to own my time, to do as I please, go where I will, with no greater guide than my own recreation.

Anyway: I walked around the Lower East Side; I’d intended to catch an open mike at one of my favorite clubs, Caveat, but when I arrived at half past noon, the door was locked. I waited a few moments, then left.

From there, I visited two bookstores, books being my enduring vice, if they can be called so. I hunger for knowledge, thirst for knowledge, and it is through books that I’ve learned the greatest part of the little that I know. In this, I was introduced by my grandmother Delia: a woman whose formal schooling ended in the third grade, but who until the very last year of her life, could not bear to put down a book. She read voraciously, indiscriminately, and at length. Delia careened from Leo Tolstoy to Danielle Steel with a sidetrack into Cosmopolitan or Vogue, and then back again, and not ever lose the thread.

She instilled the same habits in me.

I returned to my house with yet another couple of books, which are now Tribble-like in their multiplicity in my house. I did finish my first book of the year, though: Sir Phillip Pullman’s La Belle Sauvage, the first volume of his “Book of Dust” trilogy, which expands the world he crafted in his magisterial “Dark Materials” trilogy.

It is excellent. Tightly-written; deftly paced; the characters leap off the page, and into your mind, painting vivid passages as they go. The best books, the best stories allow you to be transported into the worlds they create. They let you see things, feel things, even be them, if you will. Such it was with “His Dark Materials”; it is so with this book.

I’m now plowing through Jonathan Fenby’s France: A Modern History from the Revolution to the War with Terror.

It’s…solid. I’m about a good third of the way through it; Fenby does a creditable job of compressing a lot of history into a fairly manageable tome. I have a deep, abiding love of all things French, which I got from my mother, whose first husband was a Frenchman whom she met as an 18-year-old university student. I was very broadly acquainted with French history, but feeling ignorant, I decided to pick this up to remediate that lack of knowledge. It’s working.


The Bernie-Warren Iowa foofaraw, explained

Sunday was equally glorious, if a bit more breezy. I spent the majority of it with friends, on another walkabout, this time around Washington Square.

It was less so online, mostly because POLITICO’s Alex Thompson and Holly Otterbein broke news of an incredibly vicious — if you will, savage — negative campaign being waged by Bernie Sanders’ volunteers against his Democratic Presidential opponents, notably Elizabeth Warren.

Truly disturbing stuff; I can’t believe that *checks earpiece*…wait, where’s the negative stuff? I was told this was evidence of that. This is…incredibly mild? No, seriously: this script is feathery-soft in how it takes on a candidate’s opponents in trying to sway voters away from where they’re leaning.

It’s also not particularly well-crafted, which tells me a few things, but I’ll get to that in a bit. I’ll preface what I’m going to say by telling you that I got started as a field organizer (i.e., voter outreach), and I’ve got a bunch of experience doing it across four decades, which means I’ve seen some shit. And also, we need some context.

First, every campaign does this, especially at this point of the campaign. Yes, we all want to bring new voters into the campaign, and that’s important, but convincing voters who are leaning towards your opponent to either lean towards you or support you outright is doubly valuable. Just do the math: taking a voter from your opponent’s tally and adding them to yours means they’ve got to find not one, but two voters to offset that loss.

That’s exacerbated by the weirdness of the Iowa caucuses, especially on the Democratic side. This is from four years ago, but the Guardian’s Ben Jacobs does a decent job of explaining:

Democratic caucuses are quite undemocratic. Each precinct is apportioned a number of delegates based on Democratic turnout in the past two elections. It’s like an electoral college at a micro level. 

This means turnout doesn’t matter. If a precinct is supposed to have five delegates to the county convention, it doesn’t matter if eight people show up to the Democratic caucus or 800. The precinct is still only getting five delegates. (Precincts elect people to the county convention, which elects people to the district convention, which elects people to the state convention.)

After attendees show up to a Democratic caucus, they are divided into preference groups based on candidates whom they support. Bernie Sanders supporters will stand in one area, Hillary Clinton supporters in another. Once everyone is separated, there is a first count of how many supporters each candidate has.

To be viable in each precinct, a candidate usually needs to receive the support of 15% of those who attend, although in some small rural precincts, the threshold is higher. 

If a candidate’s support is under that threshold, his or her supporters need to induce others to join their group in order to reach 15%. If they are unsuccessful in doing so, their candidate is not considered viable and they can either go home or support a candidate who is viable instead. There is then a second count of supporters for each candidate and, from those totals, delegates are assigned.

This means that if Democratic candidates are polling under 15% statewide on caucus night, they could significantly underperform compared to their polling. (emphasis added).

Now, that was with a two-person race. Things become infinitely more complex when you have four people who could legitimately win the caucuses (Sanders, Warren, Biden, or Buttigieg), and another three folks (Amy Klobuchar, Andrew Yang, and Cory Booker) who may or may not crack that 15% mark, but could make things interesting in that second count, depending on what the campaigns instruct their supporters to do.

Oh, yes, that is a thing.

In 2008, there was essentially a non-aggression pact between Barack Obama’s campaign and Dennis Kucinich’s folks. This amounted to Kucinich folks agreeing to support Obama in the second round of caucus voting if Kucinich didn’t meet the 15% mark. This mattered, because it meant Obama won a clear victory, instead of the result being portrayed as a close muddle..

Add to that the fact that both Sanders and Warren are heavily focusing their efforts on field organizing, plus the reality that we’ve been at this for a fucking year, already, and everyone either working on a campaign or covering one is exhausted, already, plus the funhouse kaleidoscope that social media seduces people into looking through, and you’ve got a perfect stew of people being Extremely in their Feelings™ Online™, on both sides.

So, this script? First of all, it’s almost certainly for talking with folks on the phone; it’s too long for in-person conversations when it’s like 5ºF outside. Also, it’s the kind of thing that’s written by either an exhausted field organizer, or what’s much more likely, an enthusiastic super-volunteer. The giveaway is the “arguments”: they’re all silly, pundit-inflected statements that only sound persuasive to people who are already persuaded.

One of the joys (I suppose?) of dealing with field volunteers is coming across stuff like this, and then gently talking with the person who wrote this and explaining that, while you appreciate their effort and enthusiasm, you’ve been talking with voters for a minute now, and you’ve learned which things actually work to persuade folks to vote for our candidate, and we should really, really stick to saying those things.


Look, if you’re offended by this, I’m not telling you not to be. Feel whatever you want to feel; that’s fine. I do think that, with about three weeks to go, you can choose to fight on social media, or you can talk with voters and convince them that your candidate - whomever that is - is whom they should spend a few hours on that Monday night when the caucuses happen.

I know which one I’m doing. It was spring in January this weekend, when bare boughs should be weighed with snow; brushfires bigger than Belgium are scorching Australia; children are freezing in American concentration camps; and we have a rapist in the White House.

I don’t have time — we don’t have time — to waste on silly shit like this. There are two excellent candidates running for President, either of whom will deliver radical, needed change we haven’t seen in 80 years, and either of whom will confront the myriad malefactors that have broken America so utterly that friends of mine ration medication just so they can live week to week, never mind month to month.

Honestly? This story makes me feel like I’m Allen Iverson talking about practice. There’s some real shit happening — we nearly bumbled into a war with Iran, and we’re not out of the woods yet, either — and instead, we’re talking about a volunteer script?


Browns hire the next coach they’ll fire

I’m sorry: I just can’t get excited over Cleveland hiring yet another young coach with limited experience. Nothing against Kevin Stefanski, but you could essentially swap his name out with any number of coaches the Browns have hired the last 20 years.

I grew up a Cleveland fan. My first football loves were the heart-breaking Browns of the mid-’80s; the teams that gave us The Drive and The Fumble. But the last two decades are just a factory of sadness.

Anyway: this email is already long enough, and even though I’m loath to close, I will.

I love all of you; you’re all amazing people, doing amazing things. It might feel like the world is crashing down, but we’ve got each other, and we will carry each other. If you need anything, just reply to this email — I’m here for you. If you think someone will enjoy this email, feel free to share it!

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