Friday, December 15, 2017

Obscure Music Friday: Syd Barrett


Who was Syd Barrett? One of the original psychedelic geniuses...and casualties. Sadly, few now know that he was the original creative force behind the far, far more famous Pink Floyd. Richie Unterberger explains:
Like a supernova, Roger "Syd" Barrett burned briefly and brightly, leaving an indelible mark upon psychedelic and progressive rock as the founder and original singer, songwriter, and lead guitarist of Pink FloydBarrett was responsible for most of their brilliant first album, 1967's The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, but left and/or was fired from the band in early 1968 after his erratic behavior had made him too difficult to deal with (he appears on a couple tracks on their second album, A Saucerful of Secrets). Such was his stature within the original lineup that few observers thought the band could survive his departure; in fact, the original group's management decided to keep Syd on and leave the rest of the band to their own devices. Pink Floyd never recaptured the playful humor and mad energy of their work with Barrett.
I remember vividly that when I scored a copy of The Piper at the Gates of Dawn and played it, it pretty much blew my mind. From the first cut, the haunting "See Emily Play" (the video linked to here), the whole album was, for want of a better word "trippy" and hinted at a strange, enticing world beyond my limited Silver Spring, MD horizons.  

Unlike Barrett, I  made it back from that strange world. But I still love the album and, as Unterberger puts it, the "mad energy" behind it.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Sure the Democrats Are Riding a Wave, But Won't Gerrymandering Prevent Them from Taking Back the House?


In a word, no. That is to say, if there is a decent sized wave the Democrats have an excellent chance of taking back the House, despite the fact they are disadvantaged by gerrymandering. And by a decent-sized wave, I don't mean the Democrats carrying the House popular vote by a gaudy margin of 8-10 points or more. They can probably do it with considerably less.

Alan Abramowitz shows this in an elegant little analysis just published on Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball. Abramowitz controls for the effect of post-2010 gerrymandering--which he does find is significant and large--and still finds that the Democrats could get a House majority with around 52 percent of the two party House vote (prior to 2010, the model indicates that slightly less than a majority of the popular vote--49 percent--would have sufficed).

And 52 percent looks like a pretty easy target to hit, based on results we have been seeing in the generic Congressional ballot polling. Abramowitz notes:
In recent weeks, Democrats have been averaging a lead of between eight and 10 points according to RealClearPolitics....that large a lead on the generic ballot would predict a popular vote margin of around five points and a gain of between 30 and 33 seats in the House — enough to give Democrats a modest but clear majority.
There you have it. Gerrymandering is bad....but it is far from an insuperable obstacle. 

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Democratic Wave Watch: Post-Alabama Edition


The data just keep accumulating. The Democratic wave that seemed like a desperate hope in the aftermath of the 2016 election gathers at the horizon and becomes ever clearer. Here are some thoughts from various astute political observers:

1. Ron Brownstein, The Atlantic:
Jones beat Moore with a strong turnout and a crushing lead among African Americans, a decisive advantage among younger voters, and major gains among college-educated and suburban whites, especially women. That allowed Jones to overcome big margins for Moore among the key elements of Trump’s coalition: older, blue-collar, evangelical, and nonurban white voters.
This was the same equation that powered the Democratic victories in the Virginia and New Jersey governors’ races. The consistency of these results suggests that Democrats are coalescing a powerful coalition of the very voters that polls have shown are the most disenchanted, even disgusted, by Trump’s performance and behavior as president….
“Anti-Trump fever is now so strong among Democrats, young voters, and independents that the GOP is likely to face a surge in turnout on the Democratic side that will make the 2018 midterms lurch toward the demographics of a presidential year,” says longtime GOP strategist Mike Murphy, who advised Attorney General Jeff Sessions when he first won his Alabama Senate seat, in 1996. “That is a looming disaster that could well cost the GOP control of the House. We are in a Trump-driven worst-case situation now.”
2. Harry Enten, 538
The cycle that looks most like this one is 2006, when Democrats gained 30 seats and control of the House from the Republicans3 thanks to a hefty win in the popular vote across all House races. In 2018, they need 24 seats to win back control of the lower chamber. The difference between the average swing in special federal elections and the margin of the national vote for the House has averaged just 3 percentage points since 1994. It has never differed by more than 7 points. So even if Democrats do 7 points worse in the national House vote than the average swing so far suggests, they’d still win the national House vote by 9 points, which would likely mean that theyreclaim a House majority next year.

Indeed, the special election results so far this year are merely another indication of the GOP’s precarious position. President Trump’s approval rating is below 40 percent and Democrats hold an 11-percentage-point lead on the generic congressional ballot.

We’re still nearly a year from the 2018 midterms. That’s enough time for things to shift. Maybe Trump will grow more popular, for example. But historically, the environment doesn’t change much between this point in an election cycle and the midterms. So if you’re a Democrat, Tuesday’s Alabama result is just the latest special election sign that things are looking up heading into 2018.
3. Nate Cohn, New York Times:  
Over the last eight years, political analysts had come to think that Democrats were at a distinct disadvantage in midterm elections, since their younger and nonwhite coalition was less likely to turn out than older and white voters.
It is time to retire that notion. Tuesday in Alabama, Democrats benefited from strong turnout that plainly exceeded midterm levels, while white working-class Republicans voted in weaker numbers. It was enough to send Doug Jones to the Senate instead of Roy Moore, in one of the reddest states in the country.
This has been a pattern in all of this year’s major special elections, as well as in the Virginia general election. It is consistent with a long-term trend toward stronger turnout by the party out of power in off-year elections. It also suggests that President Trump’s less educated and affluent version of the Republican coalition has eroded the party’s traditional turnout advantage.
It's increasingly looking like the real question is not whether there will be a Democratic wave, but how big that Democratic wave will be. That's a happy thought, perhaps enough to put a spring in your step in what has been a dark time.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

What the Exit Polls Tell Us about How Doug Jones Won


Well, quite a night. How'd it happen--what got Doug Jones over the finish line ahead? The exit polls, interestingly, tell a story that was prefigured by an earlier poll that I posted about back on December 3:
The Washington Post/Schar School poll, a poll that gives Jones a 3 point lead among likely voters, shows how [a Jones victory] will happen, if it does happen. First, overwhelming support from blacks, combined with solid turnout (this poll has blacks at about a quarter of likely voters, which is good but not unreasonably high). Then mega-swings in the white vote relative to 2016. Trump carried the white vote by 70 points in Alabama in 2016. In this poll, Moore carries the white vote by a mere 30 points (63-33). 
This scenario more or less came to pass, according to the exit polls. Black voters made up 28 percent of the electorate--beating their share in the Post poll-- and supported Jones by 96-4. And Jones lost white voters by 36 points (31-67), pretty close to the deficit in the Post poll (especially when one keeps in mind that exit polls have a chronic tendency to overestimate Democratic deficits among whites). This 36 point deficit is about half the 70 point deficit Clinton ran up among white voters in the state in 2016.

Breaking down white voters between college and noncollege, noncollege whites supported Moore by 54 points--strong, but not as strong as the 77 point margin they gave Trump in 2016. White college graduates supported Moore by a mere 16 points (57-41), a mega-swing away from the GOP compared to the 55 point margin these voters gave Trump in 2016. 

While I don't have information on the gender breakdown of these voters in 2016, it's worth noting that Jones had a mere 5 point deficit among white college women, according to this year's exit poll. This suggests an unusually large swing by these voters toward Jones. A harbinger of what we'll see in 2018?

Monday, December 11, 2017

Whoa! Jones Up by 10 Over Moore in New Fox News Poll


Does this mean Jones is probably going to win? Nah. The RCP polling average still has Moore up by 2.5 points, so I guess I'd still make him the favorite. But you've gotta classify this latest poll--and the Fox News poll is typically a high-quality poll and therefore better than the a lot of the lower shelf pollsters who've worked this race--as good news. It ain't over 'til it's over.

The internals of the Fox poll look very good for Jones, hitting support benchmarks that should produce a victory for Jones if they happen in the real world: a 20 point deficit among whites, a near tie among white college graduates and a mere 33 point deficit among white noncollege voters (trust me, that's good). But which voters will really show up?: not just the relative numbers of white and black voters but which type of voters within a given demographic; perhaps the likely white voters in the Fox News poll aren't actually a good representation of the white voters who who will show up on Tuesday. Just how much things can move around depending on how you capture and weight that likely voter sample is shown very clearly here by SurveyMonkey's Mark Blumenthal.

So hold on to your popcorn! It could be a wild ride.


Saturday, December 9, 2017

Can We Please Stop Saying Trump's Base Is Immovable?


I must say I'm getting a bit annoyed with the repeated claim that Trump's base of support is absolutely solid--can't be moved. This contention gets people depressed, but it shouldn't for the simple reason it's not true. Sure, Trump's approval rating is still pretty high among Republicans and people who voted for him in 2016, but for chrissake what do people expect? This is a  polarized country; he's not going to suddenly have a 30 percent approval rating among partisans of his own party.

But he is losing ground. He is losing support among the very kind of voters you would describe as his base and that's very important. He (and the GOP) need every vote they can get and when solid supporters start drifting off that's very bad for them.

Data from a recent Pew release show this drift very clearly. Since February, he's lost 8 points in approval among Republican identifiers/leaners (from 84 to 76 percent), 17 points among white evangelical Protestants (from 78 to 61 percent) and 10 points among white noncollege voters (from 56 to 46 percent).

So can people please stop spreading this myth of Trump's invulnerability? He's a weak president and getting weaker, including among his own supporters.

Science Fiction Saturday: A. E. van Vogt

Image result for a e van vogt

Super-science! Telepaths! Galactic empires! Time travel! Monsters and supermen! A. E. van Vogt was a leading light of the so-called Golden Age of Science Fiction (late '30's to early '50's) when American science fiction was starting to escape from its pulp magazine origins (but not completely!). Van Vogt's hallucinatory, mind-boggling stories, including Slan, The Weapon Makers of Isher, The Voyage of the Space Beagle, The World of Null-A and many, many others, set a standard for bold imagination and complex plotting. The nature of van Vogt's brilliance is well-captured by science fiction critic John Clute:
Although van Vogt catered for the pulps, he intensified the emotional impact and complexity of the stories they would bear: his nearly invincible alien Monsters, the long timespans of his tales, the Time Paradoxes that fill them, the quasi-messianic Supermen who come into their own as the stories progress, the Galactic Empires they tend to rule and the states of lonely transcendental omnipotence they tend to achieve – all are presented in a prose that uses crude, dark colours but whose striking Sense of Wonder is conveyed with a dreamlike conviction. The abrupt complications of plot for which he became so well known, and which have been so scathingly mocked for their illogic and preposterousness – within narratives that claimed to be presenting higher forms of logic to the reader – are best analysed, and their effects best understood, when their sudden shifts of perspective and rationale and scale are seen as analogous to the movements of a dream.
It is these "Hard-SF dreams", so grippingly void of constraints or the usual surrealistic appurtenances of dream literature, that have so haunted generations of children and adolescents...
Yup, his stuff was pretty awesome. Maybe particularly if you were 13 or so, but still.....