math without mercy

First things first. Let’s just admit that Bernie Sanders got thumped last Tuesday. Well and truly thumped. So yesterday morning I contributed another US$20 to his campaign.

Why? Because I support most of his positions. Because he represents the direction I’d like to see this nation take in the future. Because it’s important to continue to support Bernie’s campaign all the way to the convention. Because that’s how we impress on the Democratic National Committee the simple fact that eventually Democratic voters won’t be satisfied with incremental changes to a system that’s largely broken.

But I’m not donating money in the belief that Bernie can still win the nomination. It’s still mathematically possible for him to win, but it’s highly improbable. I don’t say that because I’ve lost faith in Bernie; I say it because math is an unflinching, heartless, unforgiving bastard. And I’m saying it because I’m seeing a lot of this:

bernie chart

This chart and the one below are accurate for the dates given. But they’re also misleading. Here’s why: they suggest that because Bernie is only a few hundred delegates shy of Hillary, and because there are still a couple thousand delegates left, that all Bernie needs to do to catch her is win a few large states. But that’s just not true.

The Democratic primaries operate on proportional delegate allocation rules. That means the candidates win delegates in proportion to their vote share in a given state’s primary or caucus. So it’s not just a matter of winning a primary; it’s the size of the win that matters. If a candidate wins by a large margin, the winner gets proportionately more delegates than the loser. If a candidate wins a primary in a close race, the winner may only get one or two more delegates than the loser.

bernie pie chart

Take Bernie’s big win in Michigan — and make no mistake, it was a big win for Bernie. But more in terms of emotion and enthusiasm than in terms of delegates. Because it was a fairly narrow win, Bernie only earned seven more delegates than Hillary.

Another example: next Tuesday is the Arizona primary. Arizona will allocate 85 delegates. Let’s say Bernie wins the primary with 60% of the vote. That means he’ll gain 60% of the 85 delegates. That’s 51 delegates. But Hillary will win 34. That’s only a difference of 17 delegates. Using the chart above, Bernie would then have 869 delegates; Hillary would have 1166. That’s still a sizable lead.

What this means in practice is this: in order for Bernie to catch or surpass Hillary in the delegate count, he not only has to win primaries, but he has to win them in a big way. He has to win by a large enough margin to gain significantly more delegates than she gets. In order to gain the nomination, Bernie will have to win almost every single remaining primary by nearly a 60-40 margin. Those are landslide margins.

Is that possible? Yes, it is. Is it very likely? Sadly, no.

When the news media refers to Hillary as the presumptive nominee, they’re not lying; they’re just looking at the math. And math has no mercy.

That said, I’m still supporting Bernie. I’m still giving him money. I’m still telling people to vote for him and caucus for him. Because the effort itself has value. Because even if Bernie doesn’t win the nomination I want him to show up with a large number of delegates, because he can help shape the party platform. I’m still supporting Bernie because this nation needs his movement and the passion he’s inspired. We need it to shape the 2018 Congressional elections.

bernie not me us

There is — or should be — more to this movement than Bernie Sanders. If we seriously want the profound systemic change he offers, then we can’t stop working until that change takes place. We can’t quit. Even if the math is against us.



specifics aside

So I’m eating lunch, right? Well, breakfast — I mean, it’s my first meal of the day so I guess it’s officially breakfast even though it’s almost noon. Whatever you call it, I’m eating and reading the news and opinion pieces — and there’s a piece by Mark Halperin on last night’s Republican debate.

I should point out that Mark Halperin isn’t a total fucking idiot — but he comes close enough so often that the difference between him and a total fucking idiot can be measured in angstroms. He was assigning letter grades to the…an angstrom? Sure, an angstrom is a unit of length that’s equal to 10−10 meters. That’s one ten-billionth of a meter. We’re talking tiny. Even tinier than that. A hydrogen atom is about half an angstrom.

Mark Halperin, not a total fucking idiot.

Mark Halperin, not a total fucking idiot.

So Mark Halperin is assigning letter grades to the Republican candidates for the quality of their debates last night, and he gives Trump an A. Seriously, he gave Trump an A. And he says this:

“Critics will howl, but, specifics aside, he sounded sufficiently reasonable and generally informed to win the nomination.”

See? Not a total fucking idiot. A total fucking idiot wouldn’t know that critics would howl. Everything else in that sense is pure distilled total fucking idiocy. Specifics aside, Halperin says. Specifics aside, Trump sounded reasonable and informed. .

Specifics aside, a mouse and an elephant are both mammals. Specifics aside, roadkill and quiche are edible. Specifics aside, turning water into wine is a good idea. Specifics aside, the only difference between the rats that brought the Black Death to Europe and lab rats is the quality of their fleas. Specifics aside, mass transit submarines would be a cool way to commute between Baltimore and Malaga, Spain.

What the actual fuck, Mark Halperin? Specifics aside, my ass. The fact that Trump was able to keep from yowling like a goddamn monkey — that he was able to refrain from talking about his dick and insulting the other people on the stage — that does NOT make him sound reasonable and informed. It just means he was unreasonable and ill-informed in a more muted voice. And for that, he gets an A.

A tuna noodle casserole.

A tuna noodle casserole.

Jeebus Airbus, these fucking people, I declare.. Specifics aside, the difference between Mark Halperin and a tuna noodle casserole is that I respect a tuna noodle casserole.

accidents, man, they happen

By now, almost everybody has heard about Jamie Gilt, the Second Amendment mom from Florida (of course) who was shot in the back by her four-year old son while driving her pickup truck. Wait, was that confusing? I didn’t mean her four-year old son shot her while HE was driving her pickup. Kid’s only four; he can’t be expected to multi-task like that. You can’t expect a kid to be able to drive and shoot with any accuracy until he’s reached puberty. She was driving the pickup. The four-year old kid was loitering in the back seat, playing with her .45-caliber handgun — which was apparently unsecured, with the safety off, and loaded with a round in the chamber.

Second Amendment Mom Jamie Gilt

Second Amendment Mom Jamie Gilt

I think we can all agree that a .45 caliber pistol is a lot of gun for a four-year old. According to every news report I’ve seen:

The boy was unharmed.

Yeah, right. Kid could have shot himself, but didn’t. Of course, he’s probably going to need years of therapy since he shot his own momma in the back. But hey, he managed not to shoot himself, so there’s that.

It’s great advertising for .45-caliber handguns, though. The round went clear through the truck’s back seat, into the woman’s back, and exited out her stomach. That’s serious penetration, right there. The woman’s lucky she hadn’t loaded the weapon with hollow points, which are perfectly legal in Florida.

But hey, Jamie Gilt wasn’t the only responsible gun owner to have a Second Amendment ‘accident’ recently. She’s simply the most attractive and her shooting was the most ironic, since she’d just posted a pro-gun comment on her Facebook page the day before her son popped her in the back. There were other ‘accidents’ with less attractive victims and less ironic circumstances.

A three-year-old boy shot his momma in Kentwood, Michigan. She was cleaning the family SUV when the boy found his daddy’s 9mm handgun in the vehicle. He “fired one shot before the weapon jammed,” hitting his poor momma in the head. According the report, the momma “wasn’t seriously hurt,” which reveals the weakness of the 9mm when compared to Jamie Gilt’s .45-caliber. The boy’s daddy said he “typically secures the weapon” but on that day “he was in a hurry to visit neighbors” so apparently left the loaded weapon lying about with the safety off and a round in the chamber. Ooop. No charges have been filed.

And there was 23-year-old Jacob Brumbaugh of Knoxville, Tennesee, who shot himself in the leg with his Glock outside a Cheesecake Factory. No charges were filed. And Kentuckian Ward Correll, who accidentally shot himself in the gut (the comments to the article remind us that “we have a awesome Lord” who’ll help Ward through this time of crisis — but who apparently was too busy to prevent Ward from shooting his damned self). No charges were filed. And the two-ear-old Sacramento girl who accidentally shot herself in the head. Well, the child’s mother says the girl shot herself in the head, but the police aren’t entirely convinced since the firearm involved somehow ‘disappeared.’ Is it possible that somebody, during the fuss that naturally follows when a two-year-old is shot in the head, said to themselves “Oh lawdy, that poor child’s gone and shot herself in the head…I’d better hide the gun.” Yes, this is America — it’s very possible. Charges may be filed.

Then there’s Lana Meisner, the wife of a former NFL player, who died after the rifle she was moving accidentally discharged. Apparently a pair of spurs (I’m NOT making this up) shifted in the rifle case and struck the trigger. Which is a lesson all gun owners should take to heart. DO NOT put your spurs in your rifle case along with a loaded rifle. No charges were filed. And Genie Wamsley of Greensburg, Indiana, who was shot in the hip by her neighbor, who was in the adjacent apartment innocently cleaning his loaded 9mm handgun. The round went through the apartment wall and stuck Ms. Wamsley while she was sitting on the sofa watching television. No charges have been filed yet, but authorities stated:

Gun safety classes are available locally…. Classes can help gun owners familiarize themselves with their firearms, which is a vital component of responsible gun ownership.

Hey, tyrant — show me where it says you have to be familiar with your firearm in the Second Amendment.

Gun safety classes are available locally.

Gun safety classes are available locally. (Image by Samantha Ann Peartree, age 5)

Oh yeah, and by the way, there’s Christopher Smith of Morgantown, W.V. Seems he was “recklessly manipulating a loaded handgun” and accidentally shot a child in the head. No word on the age of the child or his condition, but hey, at least Smith was arrested and charged with a crime. Of course, Smith is black. Might as well arrest him. He’d probably get arrested for something else anyway. This just saves time.

This isn’t even a comprehensive list of the accidental shootings in the last week or so. It’s just the ones that caught my eye. There’s not enough space here for the recent intentional shootings — the road rage shootings, the domestic violence shootings, the suicides, the murder-suicides, the mass shootings, the drunken arguments that would have resulted in fistfights if there wasn’t a gun handy.

Legislators, of course, say they won’t interfere with a constitutionally protected right. Besides, this last week they’ve been too busy in Indiana and South Carolina and Utah and Florida and West Virginia and Kentucky finding new ways to restrict the constitutionally protected right of women to have a legal medical procedure to terminate a pregnancy.

Priorities, people, priorities.

applause for the chain reaction

I watched the early part of last night’s debate between the Republican candidates vying for the presidential nomination. I watched and applauded.

Why did I applaud? I’ll tell you.

In 1913 a German chemist named Max Bodenstein had an epiphany. He was doing some research on the mechanisms of the chemical reaction between hydrogen and chlorine, and he…okay, wait.

You probably read the mechanisms of the chemical reaction between hydrogen and chlorine and immediately began thinking “Dude, I thought this was about the debate; maybe I should see if there are any new videos of koala bears playing bocce ball on Buzzfeed.” A little patience, please. There’s an actual point to this. I’m not just tossing German chemists around willy nilly. Honest.

Max Bodenstein

Max Bodenstein

Right, so Max Bodenstein was noodling around with some hydrogen and chlorine molecules and he noticed something interesting. That shit exploded. Now, you don’t have to be a German chemist to know that explosions are cool, but Max wanted to understand why that shit exploded. What he discovered was that — and okay, this is going to get a wee bit sciencey here — the reaction of the parent hydrogen and chlorine molecules created some new unstable molecules. Those unstable molecules interacted with the parent molecules in ways that were a LOT more energetic than the original reaction — and that created MORE unstable molecules, which reacted again with the parent molecules and dot dot dot hey, bingo, that shit explodes.

Max Bodenstein was the first guy to describe a chain reaction. Any time you hear the phrase chain reaction, you have Max to thank for it.

Why am I talking about obscure German chemists? Because what we’re seeing in the current campaign for the Republican party’s presidential nomination is the explosion that comes at the end of a slow series of chain reactions that began in the 1980s. And that chain reaction began in 1978 when an obscure Georgia politician named Newt Gingrich read James Clavell’s potboiler Shōgun.


Okay, now you’re saying to yourself “Dude…the fuck? First German chemists and now this? What?” I know this sounds like I’m going off on another tangent. Again, patience.

The novel is grounded in the rise to power of a crafty, patient, manipulative leader of a Japanese samurai faction. Newt Gingrich modeled himself after the character, and it changed his approach to politics. To that point, modern US politics was primarily about policy differences. Gingrich made the usual claims that his opponent’s policies were ineffective and possibly harmful, but he also began to accuse his opponents of actively and intentionally trying to destroy everything that is and was good about the nation. His opponents weren’t merely wrong in their policy positions, they were traitorous. He began to depict Democrats as an actual threat that needed to be stopped in order to save the nation. There was no more ‘loyal opposition.’ There were only enemies to be defeated.

And hey, it worked. Republicans began to get elected in greater numbers. It’s worked for about 35 years now. They stopped proposing serious policies and relied on talking points and accusations. They stopped practicing governance, and focused instead on expanding and maintaining their power. They turned Republican politics into mummery.



The problem, though, was that the Republicans were confident they could control the toxic chain reaction of their politics. And at first, it seemed like they could But each successive election created more unstable molecules, which interacted with the existing unstable molecules, creating still more unstable molecules and dot dot dot hey, bingo, that shit explodes.

We’re talking about a sudden, violent increase in pressure generating large amounts of heat and destructive shock waves that travel outward from the point of explosion and produce a loud bang. Like this:

A chemical explosion -- thanks, Max Bodenstein.


The Republican party is exploding in fairly slow motion right in front of us. It’s kind of sad, really. Inevitable and necessary, but still sad because they mixed the hydrogen and chlorine together without any thought that it would explode in their faces.

Sad, but also sort of funny and completely appropriate. Why? Because etymology! The term explode comes from the Latin explodere — the prefix ex– meaning ‘out’ and plaudere meaning ‘to clap one’s hands’ (the same Latin root gives us the term applaud). That’s right, folks — originally explode meant to make a loud noise to drive demons away or actors off the stage.

This is why I applauded last night’s Republican debate. The sooner these fuckwits get off the stage, the better.

a principled stand for bernie

I’m a Bernie supporter. Have been for a while. I’ve always thought Bernie was a long shot at winning the Democratic nomination, but I’m okay with that. I like long shots. I stood up for Bernie at the Iowa caucus, even though I figured he’d lose. I stood up for him as a matter of principle. I admit, I was surprised when he won.

Bernie took a powerful thumping in South Carolina recently. He’s probably going to take another thumping tonight. But I’m not giving up. If he can win two or three states tonight and do well on March 15th, then I still think there’s a fairly good chance Bernie can take the nomination.

I’m a Bernie supporter, but I have to confess that I’m starting to be sort of embarrassed by it. Not because of anything Bernie has done. I’m embarrassed by some of the other Bernie supporters — the ones who’ve gone from giddy enthusiasm over his early success to anxiety that he might not succeed in his campaign, and then continued down the road to conspiracy theories. I’m embarrassed by the ones who’ve effectively given up on Bernie and are trying to find ‘the real reasons’ for what they assume will be his defeat. The ones who’ve become bitter and hateful. The ones who claim there is no real difference between Hillary Clinton and Trump/Cruz/Rubio. The ones who’ve decided they won’t vote if Bernie isn’t the nominee — or will write in Bernie’s name.

bernie again

Here’s a true thing: if you refuse to cast a ballot in the general election this November, you’ve still effectively voted. If you write in a name other than the nominee as a protest, you’ve effectively voted for the candidate of the other party. Here’s another true thing: if you don’t vote, you suck.

You can say your decision NOT to vote — or to write in Bernie’s name — is a matter of principle, and I’ll totally understand that. I’m completely in favor of standing up for your principles — when the only person to suffer for your principles is you. I’m less sanguine when other people have to suffer. I have refused to accept paying gigs when I felt it would require me to violate my principles — even when it meant literally living on rice and beans for a period of time. The only person that hurt was me. But I’m not sure I’d have done that if I’d had a family to support. Nobody else should have to suffer for my principles.

I supported Bernie in Iowa based on my principles and what I believe are Bernie’s principles. If he doesn’t win the nomination (and I’m not even close to accepting that), then I’ll do what I expect Bernie will want me to do — I’ll work hard to defeat the Republican candidate. If Hillary Clinton is the nominee, then I’ll work for her. Any supporter of Bernie Sanders who’d refuse to do that — well, I’d wonder about their principles.