Saturday, July 30, 2016

A Pragmatic Case for a Jill Stein Protest Vote

Assuming he finds the time, Curmie is going to write a series of three pieces about Hillary Clinton’s bid for the Presidency of the United States. Today is the easy one, to ease Curmie back into writing: why voting third-party is absolutely legitimate (for some of us). The other two aren’t harder, but they’ll take a longer and more sophisticated argument: why Clinton’s very real ethical failings make her unsupportable (except to stop a narcissistic imbecile like Donald Trump); and why the previous election results we ought to be afraid of aren’t from 2000, but from 1968. But… on to the business at hand.

Jill Stein of the Green Party
Curmie just read another article, this one by a smug little fart named Sean Colarossi, proclaiming that a vote for Jill Stein is a vote for Donald Trump. Curmie is only going to say this once, so pay attention: HORSESHIT.

First off, in pure mathematical terms, the argument just doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. A vote for Donald Trump is a vote for Donald Trump. A vote for Jill Stein is not. If Curmie votes for Trump (come have him committed if he ever suggests that as a reasonable course of action), then Trump gets one more vote than Clinton. If Curmie votes for Stein, then Trump and Clinton remain tied. If you want to say it’s “half a vote for Trump,” go for it. It isn’t as catchy, but at least it’s honest. Then again, honesty has never been a strong suit for anyone or anything associated with the Clintons.

Secondly, it is wildly presumptive (another specialty of the Clintons) to suggest that the default position of any voter, including a registered Democrat, should be blind support of any Democratic nominee. Curmie was registered as an independent for over thirty years, and still thinks of himself in those terms; although he hasn’t voted for a Republican he didn’t know personally in over a decade, that’s because the Republican candidates have been so uniformly awful, not out of any abiding love for the Democrats. Has Hillary Clinton done anything to earn my vote? Well, I agree with her most of the time—or, at least I think I do: she’s changed positions on so many issues so often (the TPP, the minimum wage, gay marriage… need I go on?) that were I of a cynical disposition (perish the thought!) I might suggest that Candidate Obama was pretty accurate in declaring in 2008 that she’ll say anything to get elected. But really the principal reason that Curmie became a Democrat (other than the obvious fact that the Texas GOP is the strongest argument imaginable for joining an opposition party) was to vote for Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton in the ’08 primary and caucus.

Certainly HRC herself has made no attempt to sway Bernie Sanders supporters such as myself to her side. Indeed, quite the contrary. Naming the despicable Debbie Wasserman Schultz as honorary campaign manager after leaked e-mails prove that Schultz had violated all ethical standards to attempt to subvert the Sanders campaign translates as follows to the Sanders faithful: “Yes. My minion, while pretending to be an honest broker, was in fact actively conspiring against your candidate. She had to resign her position with the DNC once what everyone who was paying attention already knew to be true was confirmed by hard evidence. So I hired her into a top position in my campaign. Fuck you. And vote for me.” You know what? No.

But the real reason a vote for Jill Stein is absolutely legitimate for me to do is that I live in Texas. The Clintonphiliac scolds apparently don’t realize that not only do we not live in a de facto democracy, we don’t even live in one on paper. Popular vote doesn’t elect the POTUS—ask President Gore. So my vote for someone other than a major party candidate means literally nothing in terms of electing or not electing Tribblehead. Literally. Nothing.

Mitt Romney, who was a terrible candidate, won Texas in 2012 by close to 16 points, or over one and a quarter million votes. Local Dems got excited recently that Clinton trailed in one poll last month by only 8 points. That’s still pretty much a blowout, and Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight site currently has Trump leading Texas by 11, with a 93% chance of winning the state. (Interestingly, right now—4:00 pm CDT on July 30—Silver’s “Polls only” projection suggests that Clinton will win the popular vote but that Trump has a 50.1% chance of winning the election; his other two projections—“Polls Plus” and “NowCast,” both predict a Clinton victory, the latter by a very narrow margin.)

More to the point, states tend to trend at the same time, responding to the latest news. In other words, if Texas Republicans start abandoning the nominee, or if Texas independents flock to Clinton, so will those in Iowa, Florida, Virginia, and other places where there’s actually a contest. If Texas is even close—let’s say within 3 points—then lots of other states will have already fallen in line behind Clinton. That is, for Texas to be close, it would have to move 8 points in Clinton’s direction. If we move all other states even half that far in Clinton’s direction, then in the NowCast projection she she’d win all the states she currently leads in (CA, CO, CT, DC, DE, HA, IL, MA, MD, ME (3 of 4 EVs), MI, MN, NJ, NM, NY, OR, PA, RI, VA, VT, WA, WI—a total 268 of the 270 she’d need to win), plus all these others in which she trails by 4 points or less: FL, GA, IA, NC, NV, OH (another 90 electoral votes). And that’s just if the rest of the country moves only half as far toward Clinton as Texas would have to do just to be competitive. Throw in AZ, MO, NH, SC, and the one remaining ME district if you want to count places that are closer to a Clinton victory than TX is to Clinton competitiveness. So, if the entire country shifted in Clinton’s direction enough to make Texas even close, she’d already have close to 400 electoral votes without Texas.

The bottom line: if Clinton wins Texas, she won’t need it; if she needs Texas, she won’t win it. So any vote for anyone other than Trump will have the same effect to keeping him out of the Oval Office: zero.

Don’t get me wrong. If I still lived in New Hampshire or Iowa, I’d be all about preventing the Bellowing Yam from even sniffing the Presidency. Even if I still lived in New York, which Clinton ought to win by double digits pretty easily, I’d vote for her just in case the campaign got a little too complacent. But because of the idiotic, archaic, vestigial, Electoral College system, my Presidential vote makes no difference whatsoever. That leaves me free to express a little… yes, protest. I will vote, but not for the embodiment of political cronyism, privilege, and corruption that is Hillary Clinton. It is a small protest, to be sure, but as I am neither wealthy not well-connected, it’s all I have.

Is Jill Stein an ideal candidate? No. There are plenty of issues on which I disagree with her. But she’s smart, she’s a grown-up, and she appears to be fundamentally honest. She won’t win (duh!), but there’s at least an outside chance that she could attract enough votes to have the 2020 Green candidate get federal funds and a spot on the debate stage. This, too, is a long shot, but it’s still far more likely that Hillary Clinton needing Texas and getting it.

And don’t you dare blame Curmie and those like him if Clinton’s candidacy implodes. My choice is not ill-informed or irresponsible, nor is it founded on “self-righteousness.”  If we end up with the Xenophobic Twatwaffle as POTUS, we can place the blame squarely on the shoulders of, in increasing order of culpability: the media, Democratic voters who nominated a candidate with a double-digit net unfavorable rating, the corrupt and incompetent DNC, and… wait for it… Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Gentle Reader, if you live in a swing state, I implore you to vote for Hillary Clinton to save us from the scariest major party candidate ever. If you live in a red state, I’d urge you to consider not taking anything for granted. But if, like Curmie, you live in a state that Clinton has no chance of taking if the election is close, then you be you. Vote for Clinton, vote for Stein, write in Sanders, whatever you choose. Just don’t stay home (down-ballot candidates need your support), and please don’t vote for the Screaming Combover.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

A Defense of Melania Trump. Sort of.

It has been far too long since Curmie set fingers to keyboard, and there have been plenty of things to write about. Yes, I’ve been busy, but I really need to get back to writing. So here we go, with my first essay in months: a defense (of sorts) of Melania Trump.

Yes, you read that correctly. It is true that Curmie has a (hopefully) well-earned reputation as a scourge of plagiarists: one of my former students even posted a Facebook status that it was clear Melania had never taken one of my courses; that post now has dozens of “likes” from other alumni and a handful of colleagues. We’ll just avoid discussing the Rick-roll altogether, shall we? And it is true that I despise everything about the Bloviating Tribblehead, including his idiot trophy wife. But Melania has become the butt of countless jokes, memes, and other forms of public humiliation (a couple of which I have graciously attached here) for plagiarizing a paragraph or so from, of all people, Michelle Obama, when she spoke about her husband at the Democratic National Convention eight years ago. And no rational person thinks Melania herself is actually guilty.

Yes, she spoke those words. And yes, they were first spoken by someone else. And no, they were not in any way attributed in the speech to anyone else. But, seriously, does anyone really think that Melania, a poorly educated, dim-witted woman speaking in what is at best her second language, actually wrote the speech? There is a distant possibility that Michelle Obama wrote hers, but Melania? Not a chance. And what’s telling is that everybody with an IQ above room temperature knows that. Melania Trump is a puppet, spouting a speech-writer’s words without any real pretense that the ideas expressed, let alone the expression itself, are original with her.

The section in question is pretty much boilerplate (after all, if you’re going to plagiarize, make sure you steal the part about values and morals):
From a young age my parents impressed on me the values that you work hard for what you want in life; that your word is your bond and you do what you say and keep your promise; that you treat people with respect. They taught and showed me values and morals in their daily life.

That is a lesson that I continue to pass along to our son, and we need to pass those lessons on to the many generations to follow. Because we want our children in this nation to know that the only limit to your achievements is the strength of your dreams and your willingness to work for them.
Even a savvier woman than Melania Trump—and there are millions upon millions of them in this country alone—could be forgiven for not recognizing that this particular version of pabulum is just a little too familiar-sounding.

But it’s not the lazy and dishonest speechwriter who’s going to catch flak for this colossal gaffe: it’s the person who uttered those portentous words in public. What’s telling about this situation isn’t that Melania Trump “plagiarized” in front of tens of millions of television viewers. It’s the response of the Trump campaign, which revealed itself once again as disingenuous, arrogant, and inept. Indeed, the prospect of a Donald Trump presidency is about the only thing that could ever convince Curmie to vote for Hillary Clinton. The two presumptive nominees are equally narcissistic, equally corrupt, equally hubristic. But at least Hillary has some relevant experience, is less overtly racist, and is… what’s that word, again? Oh, yeah: sane.

Truly, the excuses gushing out of the Trump camp are a sight to behold. There’s a good summary at Vox. Let’s see: there’s campaign manager Paul Manafort’s attempt to shift the blame from the culprit to the Hillary Clinton campaign, who, in Manafort’s paranoid delusion, somehow invented the obvious and unmistakable evidence that the speech wasn’t original.

There’s Chris Christie, who lost whatever shreds of dignity he may once have clung to by suggesting that because “93%” of the speech was original, there wasn’t plagiarism. I’ve never agreed with Christie politically, and I strongly suspect he’s more than a little dishonest, but this level of utter stupidity is simply mind-boggling. If a student, even a fall-term freshman, hands me a paper that is 7% plagiarized, that’s an F not merely for the paper, but for the course. (N.B., I’m talking here about the intentional appropriation of someone else’s words with an attempt to deceive, not about what I call “technical plagiarism,” which is a product of ignorance, inept high school teachers, and the quantification fetish that infests American secondary—and post-secondary—education, distracting teachers and students alike from things like proper writing in order to pay obeisance to the Great God Accountability… but that’s a rant for another day.)

There’s the defense by the insufferable Katrina Pierson that the ideas are conventional. Of course they are! But the phrasing is not. A significant chunk of the speech was plagiarized. Full stop. And no intentional obfuscation is going to change that. (Well, it might in the mind of a gung-ho Trump supporter, who is, after all, a moron by definition.)

Pierson also put forward the obviously true and equally obviously irrelevant assertion that English isn’t Melania’s first language… apparently that’s an excuse, somehow. Saying the wrong word in off-the-cuff remarks: that’s a situation in which a speaker might legitimately claim to have made an honest mistake. Full-blown plagiarism in scripted remarks? Nope.

And finally, there’s what Vox writer Sarah Kliff calls the “My Little Pony” defense: a variation on Pierson’s conventionality argument. Lots of people talk about work, you see. This one is advanced by GOP strategist Sean Spicer, who may indeed be too stupid to understand that specific phrasing matters. Lots of people contemplate suicide, too, but if you say “to be, or not to be,” you’d better not be claiming the words are original. Side note: Curmie wrote the previous sentence, then happened across a Verge piece by Adi Robertson, who not only adds a couple more excuses and excuse-makers to the list (more on them in as second), but also, in response to Manafort’s claim that “What she did was use words that are common words,” writes: “You know what else are common words? ‘To,’ ‘be,’ ‘or,’ ‘not,’ ‘to,’ and ‘be.’” So people can come up with the same idea independently. But notice that even though Robertson and Curmie referenced the same line from Hamlet, we did so precisely because that line is so recognizable, and we did so differently. (It might also be worth noting that Kliff’s article was posted literally 8 minutes before Robertson’s and uses most of the same examples, but—once again—differently.)

So… Robertson adds Jason Miller’s claim that “Melania’s team of writers took notes on her life’s inspirations, and in some instances included fragments that reflected her own thinking.” Seriously, Melania, with friends like these… In some instances she was saying what she really thinks? This is a defense?

So where does that leave us? Was there plagiarism here? Absolutely, and of the worst kind: not quite word for word. In other words, the perpetrator knew he or she was breaking the rules, and (one presumes) made a feeble attempt to avoid detection. Curmie had a student a few years ago who copied a large chunk of his paper from one of “those” websites, then changed every fourth word or so in order to go undetected. It might have fooled whatever website or app assured him he was going to get away with it; it didn’t fool Curmie: there were just too many strange locutions… took me about 45 seconds to find the website in question.

The correct response is simple: “Everyone knows that most speeches at a convention like this are crafted by speechwriters from the thoughts of the speaker. This is standard practice, and this case is also extraordinary because Mrs. Trump is not a native English-speaker. We therefore relied on a staffer to write her speech. We understand that parts of the speech appear to have been lifted from a speech by Michelle Obama in 2008. The staffer has been fired, and we apologize to Mrs. Obama and to the American people.”

Or, as former Mitt Romney campaign manager Stuart Stevens put it, “In the process of helping Mrs. Trump, writers mistakenly included unoriginal material. We apologize & it won’t happen again.”

But that would be admitting a mistake, and that’s not been allowed in American politics since the Carter administration. The fact is that Melania Trump is just a dupe, betrayed by someone on hubby’s staff. But, as Stevens also tweeted, “The problem with Mrs. Trump's speech is less that it happened & more campaign trying to deny it did. One is a mistake; other character flaw.” It was said of Watergate that the uproar was more about the cover-up than the crime. So there’s another indictment of the Trump campaign: they don’t learn from history.