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Friday, May 22, 2015

Ready Or Not, Here She Comes . . .

You Can Get The Car Magnet Here

An article in the Washington Examiner today asks a startling question: Are Republicans Ready For Hillary?
OKLAHOMA CITY—Are the Republican presidential candidates ready for Hillary? All three who addressed the Southern Republican Leadership Conference Thursday gave sharp speeches that were well received by the audience and seemed to be spoiling for a fight. It's nevertheless possible that the answer is no.
. . .

Yet it was striking that all three of them were at least as focused on Barack Obama as Hillary Clinton. Even many of their attacks on Clinton came by way of her service as secretary of state under Obama, an extension of their critique of the incumbent president.
The article suggests that what the current game-plan is for Republican hopefuls is running against Obama--who, of course, isn't running (that is, until Jade Helm 15 kicks in). In one sense this is an obvious strategy: however much the base dislikes Hillary, they (presently) dislike Obama more--and for the three guys in the article it's pretty clear that attacks on Obama are a way to get a positive reaction while attacks on Hillary might draw a more luke-warm response.

Still, the question is an important one--because by the end of 2016, when the election happens, Obama (a) will still be president and (b) there will likely be 'after-shocks' of Obama that carry over well into 2017 and beyond. What after-shocks are these? Well, just to pick two:

Depending on how events play out over the next eighteen months, the election could find itself grounded in--if not floundering in--domestic and international events that Obama is heavily attached to. Both of these have problematic overtones for Republicans--but might also provide some windows of opportunity. Let's look.

Obama vs. ISIS

Taxpayers are paying about 8.6 million dollars per day degrading ISIS and they just took over two cities in Iraq. Is this a total failure of Obama's strategy? While the answer to that is "no"--the nuance around it (that the locals having to do their part is a key element of the strategy, even if they fail to--that's still part of the plan) will not reach most voters. 

Attacking Obama: Since Obama is the commander in chief and has given some hopeful assessments (remember the Democratic outcry over 'Mission Accomplished'?) of the ISIS situation so he also owns visible setbacks. In short, this criticism is fine (and legitimate so long as it keeps to fact-based assessments of the situation--berating the president over optimistic-sounding announcements is just partisanship).

Attacking Hillary: It's harder to attack Hillary on ISIS. For one thing, she voted with Bush for the war on Iraq and is hawkish in general. It is possible that a Hillary regime might step up attacks like a neo-con group would. If they can get her to commit to that, fine: her base will hate it--but The Omnivore thinks that Hillary's brand isn't that of a push-over. She hasn't groveled for her Iraq vote and doesn't seem inclined to. Bill Clinton was reasonably willing to attack people. If they try to paint Hillary as Carter, it may backfire.

The Danger: The danger, of course, is that in order to "declare war on ISIS" a Republican candidate must either commit to boots-on-the-ground or else tie himself into a pretzel ("We're gonna BOMB 'EM into the 7th Century!" . . . ."Aren't we already bombing them?"  . . . "I'll bomb-em MOAR!" . . . "Can we just win this with air-power? Really? The generals don't seem to think so." . . . "Next question!").

It's harder to be more-hawk than a hawk when you can't discuss nuanced strategies.

The Ruins of ObamaCare

This June we may see the court gut ObamaCare's subsidies. This will create all kinds of chaos and, if it happens, The Omnivore's silver-lining will be a belly full of popcorn as the legislative fireworks go off. The Omnivore has already written about this--but the smart money is that if the court rules against the ACA the GOP will have to play their position flawlessly to come out ahead. Thus far they have not been able to play anything flawlessly.

Attacking Obama: In the Court-Rules-Against-The-ACA scenario, we can postulate a 2016 election that sees legislative deadlock between Obama refusing anything but a fix to the bill and Republicans clamoring for repeal and, maybe, replacement. In this scenario, going after Obama is the only possible strategy: Hillary could be presented as pro-ACA--but the only way to win this war is to convince the public that Obama--whose name the ACA bears in public parlance--bears the responsibility for the broken language and that Republicans would be negligent to even entertain fixing it.

As some 7 to 13 million people lose their insurance (since without subsidies it's unaffordable) the pressure to do something will build quickly. If this isn't resolved there could be some real crisis-football going on during the heat of the general.

Attacking Hillary: In the event of a healthcare meltdown, Hillary will be tough to attack save by association. Firstly, she is free to suggest any number of fixes she would bring to the table and if they are potentially quickly done, the attack will boomerang back on the GOP as to "why don't you do it RIGHT NOW--you're all mostly still in office." This will be true for a 1-line fix that reinstates the subsidies or a more complicated plan (which the GOP will likely not agree on).

The Danger: The problem with the ACA is that if the president doesn't wind up owning it--and despite what the linked article says above, it seems unlikely that he will--it becomes a very, very hot potato in the Republican's lap. Making this a cornerstone of their strategy going into 2016 is hugely perilous. Yes: it's fine to be against the ACA and to repeal/replace it--starting in 2017. It is NOT however good to be against healthcare in general during the general if (a) your team cannot agree on what is to be done and (b) there is a simple steady-as-she-goes solution out there for the taking.

Given that the presidential hopefuls in the GOP are competing against each other--both in the primary (who can be MOST anti-ACA?) and in the general (who can propose a popular health-care law?) the drivers for agreement within the party simply will not exist.

A huge contested primary is the worst time for the GOP to have a major policy battle.

Conclusions

The 2016 cycle is going to be fascinating because the terrain is still set up to favor a GOP v. Obama showdown which, The Omnivore assesses, is what the GOP base wants emotionally-speaking--but the actual election is GOP vs. Hillary. The focus on Obama, if not shifted, will provide Hillary an opportunity to flank the GOP by offering proposals that take the wind out of their position (more hawkish than Obama on ISIS--but still not boots-on-the-ground--same as every GOP potential will be trying to sell).

The signature Obama issues also expose the GOP's internal divisions and points of weakness (what is the GOP's position on foreign policy these days? Okay, other than "Get a time machine and go back BEFORE Obama . . ." Right: Nothing.). It will be an interesting needle to watch them thread and it will be fascinating to see if Team Hillary is able to capitalize on her not-Obama-ness or not.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

When Will People Have Had Enough of Hillary Clinton?

From The Wire in 2013: It'd Be Bigger Now
The aura of scandal seems to swirl around everything the name Clinton touches, doesn't it? Today it's:

Exasperated Republicans want to know: How long can Democrats take this before they ditch this loser? Because, uh, you know . . . if they don't . . . Hillary is winning in the polls right now . . . somehow. So they'd better get rid of her for someone who isn't polling ahead of Jeb, Walker, Rubio, and Cruz--like, oh, how about that Elizabeth Warren? Huh? She's nice and lefty--don't you like her?

Uh . . . yeah.

The Omnivore is going to tell you guys what it would take--since no one else seems to be able to.

What It Would Take For The Democrats To Abandon Clinton

Here is the straight-talk you've been asking for, even if it isn't coming from RINO John McCain.

1. Handcuffs

If Hillary is breakin' the law left, right, and middle then the scandal that'll get her will involve handcuffs. Otherwise people who look through a mess of he-said, he-said, he-said again and again, and she-said see a lot of, well, yappin'. Very little actual arresting. 

This leads people to conclude that, hey, charges must be in the works, right? That Congress is lookin' into it--and they'll find that smoking gun--and she'll go to jail. At that point, she's probably out of the running. Probably. So all you GOP guys who are holding your breath for Hillary to get gone? Just hold a smidgen longer--just a few seconds: because the charges are coming any minute now. The Benghazi Commission promises


2. A Dead Boy or a Live Girl

The conventional wisdom says a presidential candidate caught with a dead girl or a live boy in his room would be the end of him. Hillary just gender-flips that formula. This is a high bar to clear--but the good news is: it already happened. Just to Bill.
He's going away any second and pedophilia is so toxic it'll take down Hillary as well. The Clinton's can't avoid a good sex scandal and Bill is, erm, dripping with them. So check the box on this one, guys: It's OVER. OVAH.

Of course the evil powers of progressiveness have made Teh Gay O-Kazay--so maybe the live girl wouldn't do it . . . but The Omnivore assures you that the under-age scandal will end Hillary whichever candidate it happens to. 

3. A Viable Democratic Alternative

A primary is a capitalist free-market of ideas and if there were any other ideas out there--or any other viable candidate to carry them, we'd see Hillary jettisoned in a nano-second. Of course what we've got right now is O'Malley (the Democratic architect of the Baltimore Riots), Bernie Sanders (a literal Vermont socialist), and Elizabeth "No, I'm Not Running" Warren. With nothing left at the bottom of the barrel, it has to be Hillary.

Don't believe the polls that show that about 60% of Democrats actually prefer Hillary--they might be stupid but they're not literally blind: They're just lying to pollsters the same way Republicans do--out of fear of the thought police. Hillary isn't actually popular--she's in bed with the banks--she hasn't groveled for her Iraq war vote (hell, even Jeb did for his, sorta-2nd Iraq War 'vote'). Trust The Omnivore: the illusion that Hillary is actually the choice of the party--like, because she's viewed as a competent progressive who will have a historic 1st Woman candidacy--is just a mirage.

Democrats secretly hate her just like everyone else. The same way movement conservatives hated Mitt Romney until he was nominated and then all came out to vote for him: the brainwashing is sneaky that way.

4. A Viable Republican Candidate

This one is pretty unfair--given that (a) the campaign hasn't even started (like, seriously--Jindal has all the time in the world to get in, right? And the RNC isn't doing some shut-out business like setting a cap on 12 candidates for the debates, right? Like, nothing has happened yet, has it?) and (b) With like a zillion candidates there must be someone Democrats could like, yeah? The Republican scatter-gun effect must cover the whole rainbow of political choices from severe conservative to ultra-conservative, yeah? 

Somewhere between those two polls there's got to be cross-over appeal.

The answer is Jeb: Maybe, Rubio: Possibly, Walker: Probably not, Cruz: No. It only goes downhill from there. What about Rand Paul? No: Crazy. Sorry.

Now, to be sure, some of this is just perception and Jeb does still show some pack-leadership potential, right? Never mind that real conservatives can't stand him--he might appeal to Democrats with his Common Core Love and his Amnesty platform. Right?

We'd hope so. We also better hope he doesn't make it past Florida because if he wins the nomination as the 3rd RINO in a row, the GOP is totally finished. Don't trust The Omnivore, read the comments on any conservative blog!

The Real Answer

The real answer to the question is this: it'll take a scandal that (a) has real proof--actual smoking guns that (b) people can understand and relate to which (c) is bad enough to either get her arrested or speak to an unforgivable vice--not 'lack of transparency' and not 'being enriched by her position of power' in some vague sense. It would also be nice if a 'near miss' in the above terms happens closer to the election when more normal people are paying attention.

The problem for the GOP is that they've cried "Wolf" a lot. Now, you may protest that the scandals are all real scandals--with adequate proof--and they should paint enough of a picture that people will bail on Hillary if they care about backing a legitimately moral candidate--and that might be true--but it's really hard to sort out right now because there is also a string of conspiracy theory coming out of the Right that often hits the same notes in a far less believable fashion.

Forget about Jade Helm 15--what about the assertion that Hillary was involved in running arms to Al Qaeda in Syria out of the Annex? There's not one shred of proof for that--but it's mixed carefully into the water of the discussion. What about the charge that Hillary ordered a military stand-down when our forces were under fire and calling for help? Is that true--or conspiracy theory? We know the answer because we're paying close attention--but for everyone else? It's "Wolf!!"

The second problem is that the image of Hillary as a, well, semi-sleazy political bad-ass may work for her. The Omnivore understands that in Italy it is 'acceptable' for leaders (or, at least, was) to have affairs: that's seen as personal business/everyone-does-it/perk-of-power. In America it may be that people are okay with both hero cops and a president in their court not-playing-by-the-rules.

That's part of the American character, even--so long as their heart is in the right place. You, conservative reader, know Hillary's heart isn't in the right place--but do Democrats know that? Giving the Russians control of the world uranium supply isn't in the right place but, uh, remember that crying-wolf-business? The charges haven't been proven.

Part of what all this alleged-but-not-proven stuff does is make the GOP look like, well, punks. Getting punked by Hillary isn't the brand you want front and center. It's also worth noting that Team Hillary's response to the Clinton Cash book was controlled, measured, and well executed. She didn't panic and she didn't fall apart.

Today, while derided by the GOP and the press, her don't-talk-to-reporters and keep-it-small roll-out plan is very canny: she's using her loooooong runway to full advantage. She doesn't have to talk to the press. She doesn't have to make big splashes. As a result her unforced-error rate is way down from where it could be. Part of the bad-press she's getting is because she's frustratingly refusing to make mistakes.

Hillary vs. Chris Christie

For what it's worth there does seem to be evidence that Bridgegate did seriously damage Christie--perhaps enough to cost him the election--but let's not forget that Christie was persona-non-electa for his kissy-face with Obama right before the Romney-loses election. It also played into his negative-brand as a bully. Clinton's negative brand is that she's a political sleaze, yeah--but it may be that everyone who is going to hate her . . . already hates her. 

That wasn't the case with Christie.

Conclusions

The attack plan on Hillary looks at first glance like it's a flurry of unanswered punches--she keeps getting hit and doesn't take to the lectern to defend herself to the press! In reality? It's Rope-A-Dope and every headline that the average voter can't figure out which doesn't end in handcuffs is a swing-and-a-miss: the dopes doubling down.

This is unfortunate because history may show us that a Hillary victory was very clear about what her White House would be like--but it's up to the GOP to actually make that case in a way that doesn't rely on the appearance of impropriety and the preponderance of the headlines. The currency in the marketplace of ideas is messaging and a broken messaging machine means coming to the table half-cocked.

If Team Hillary doesn't score some own-goals of their own, as the summer drags on, Republicans are just going to get more and more convinced of what they were already convinced of and people barely tuned in will see what looks like, well, another rugby crush of Republicans against what appears to be a Democratic incumbent.

You want inevitable? Keep playing it that way. 

Monday, May 18, 2015

The Politics of: Age of Ultron


The Omnivore had a rare chance to catch a hit movie while it's still in the theaters. The first part reviews Marvel's Age of Ultron--the second looks at the politics of it and contains spoilers.

Age of Ultron
Marvel is suffering from Pixar's affliction pre-Cars 2: today, when they make a difficult, innovative, hit movie, people are like "Yawn . . . another Marvel blockbuster." Playing almost exclusively in a genre that really wants to keep topping itself, that's actually kind a problem. They are also expanding at such a rate with their shared universe and number-of-characters that they more or less can't keep up. Fans want a lot of characters (where's the movie with a female lead? A black lead? etc.) and while the characters exist, getting them to the screen is proving difficult--and that's if you assume the best of intentions. A lot of fans aren't (more on this below).

Age of Ultron itself is a slick piece of work--if over-stuffed with characters and plot-lines. Introducing four completely new super-characters, keeping track of the core team, and tertiary characters (Jackson's Nick Fury, for example), while trying to give Hawkeye and The Black Widow more spot-light is a chainsaw juggling act that even maestro Joss Whedon isn't always up to.

Age of Ultron is pretty much crammed with one big F/X piece after another--many of these seem to be almost entirely CGI (scenes with dozens of robot antagonists can't very well be anything else--were human actors doing stunts in those battle scenes? The Omnivore can't tell). When the movie does catch its breath, the plot is fairly straight-forward but not exactly simple.

Ultron, the titular character, is a world-ending Artificial Intelligence, the kind Bill Gates and Elon Musk are starting to warn us about. It isn't specifically his intellect that makes him dangerous though, it's his powerfully advanced robot-body combined with a zillion robot-clones, and a few added super-villains which help him towards being a world-ending threat.

Perhaps Ultron's greatest asset, though, is his voice. Voiced by James Spader, hot off his success as the world's ultimate Machiavellian criminal on The Blacklist, Spader's Ultron is more or less the same guy in a metal body as the world's ultimate Machiavellian super-villain. Spader doesn't sound especially robotic but he hits the right notes of intelligence, competence, and disdain for his enemies.  Considering that he has to match Downey's arrogance as Tony Stark, that's no mean feat.

Taken as a whole, Age of Ultron proves that Marvel can not only nail the small stuff (Agent Carter, Daredevil) but can consistently 'stick the dismount' for the huge pieces. Yes, it might be overly kinetic, overstuffed with characters, and perhaps a bit overly reliant on CGI--but unlike Ultron it has a heart buried under all that technology, it radiates star power, and it's entertaining. Unlike the coming Batman vs. Superman movie which, from the trailer, looks like it might collapse under its own weight of seriousness, Age of Ultron manages to be apocalyptic and funny. It has a zillion moving parts--but we can still connect with Thor for that moment when the Asguardian god is just a little afraid that Captain America will show him up by being able to lift his hammer (it barely moves). We can even feel for a completely CGI Hulk.

Marvel's magic isn't just skin deep and it isn't just luck. Age of Ultron's various excesses just go to prove that even more strongly.

Let's do the politics.

The Politics of: Age of Ultron
The politics of Age of Ultron are the politics of the (online) Social Justice rule of speaking out on the Internet: Always Attack Your Allies. Huh? Let's break it down to start:

Social Justice Ally: A person, generally with more privilege than whatever group is involved, who (usually self-declared) aligns themselves with the cause and 'does what they can to help out.'

Examples could be white people marching with black people during the Civil Rights era. In the case of Age of Ultron it's super-rich white cis* dude, Joss Whedon, who (a) has at times proclaimed himself a feminist, (b) is noted for writing strong female characters (we'll start with Buffy The Vampire Slayer's titular protagonist), and (c) has then gone on to commit several crimes against the cause (Age of Ultron list extracted):
  • Claim that because a female character was unable to have children, that she was considered a monster (Natasha Romanoff, Avengers: Age of Ultron)
  • Taking one of the strongest female superheroes in the MCU and turning her into an outlet for her male love interest to pour his man angst all over and then completely dump her in the end without any expression of gratitude for all she did for him (Natasha Romanoff, Avengers: Age of Ultron)
  • Have one of the most popular superheroes in the MCU joke about raping women (Tony Stark, Avengers: Age of Ultron)
  • Feature two characters who were originally of Jewish-Romani descent and then have them whitewashed by hiring white actors to play them (Wanda Maximoff and Pietro Maximoff, Avengers: Age of Ultron)
  • Having two Jewish-Romani characters volunteer for a Nazi organization, despite the fact that Jewish and Romani people were victims of the Holocaust (Wanda Maximoff and Pietro Maximoff, Avengers: Age of Ultron)
As the highly critical Tweets begin to roll in (including some tweets about 'hegemonic masculinity' from Jonathan McIntosh of Feminist Frequency) Whedon announced he was quitting Twitter, causing many to speculate he had been run off the social network. He told Buzzfeed that was 'horseshit' and that he had always intended to take a break from the frenetic pace of Twitter after Ultron. He also said that being attacked by people on Twitter was nothing new (and that women, like Feminist Frequency's Anita Sarkeesian had it a lot worse).

In any event, he has not apologized and Internet feminists (for lack of a better term--and that isn't a good one) have not forgiven him. Indeed, this has been happening for a long time: complaints about Whedon's work have gone back to almost the beginning.

The Reasonable Take On This
Before any Whedon-fans (fan-boys?) get too upset, let's keep a few things straight:
  1. Whedon IS a self-declared feminist. He thinks he allies with the cause and he's at least theoretically mindful of various tenants of social justice and progressive thoughts.
  2. Whedon, like everyone else, periodically "missteps"--that is, makes a comment or includes something in his work that is anti-feminist, anti-trans, etc.--but, notably, he doesn't apologize. Like, ever. Sometimes he even brags (or jokes?) about it (Cntrl-F: 'quim'). He's willing to take the accolades--but not the criticism (even as he's willing to call out other directors on feminist errors!).
  3. Whedon isn't just any rich cis white-guy: he's a rich, cis white-guy who the media goes to for opinions on feminism. His opinion, it seems, matters. A lot.
Whedon has communicated, again and again, that he is someone of whom I can and should expect more. If he identifies as a feminist ally, then I expect him to be receptive to feminist critique; otherwise, that identity is nothing more than a petition for cookies, with no accountability to the community with whom he identifies. 
. . .

Well, someone who tells me he's a feminist, someone whose friends assure me that he's "a deeply committed feminist," should care what I think. And he should understand that criticism from members of a marginalized community with whom you're allied is not an "attack," but a gift.
 
Expecting more is a brash act of courage, and it is also an extraordinary act of generosity. I am a better person than I once was because people gave me the gift of expecting more of me, of setting a higher standard and encouraging me to reach for it, of challenging me not to settle into the well-tread grooves of my socialization, of admonishing me to reject the vast and varied prejudices and myths with which I'd been indoctrinated, of urging me expect more of myself and persuading me to believe I could be the change I want to see. 
Being "a deeply committed feminist" is not supposed to be a suit of deflective armor against criticism from people who take that declaration in good faith. It is supposed to be an invitation to dialogue.
And, before we close, let's also keep in mind that the vehicle here--Marvel's magnificent superhero properties--has been extremely remiss in marketing to girls in any way or bringing out female characters other than as background or bit players (and the one who they have focused on, The Black Widow, has been (a) handled very unevenly in four different movies, (b) doesn't have an action figure, and (c) got called a slut by the Thor and Captain America actors on talk-TV).

On The Other Hand (The Less Charitable Take) . . . 
On the other hand, from the archive of Twitter-Hate:

In case that tweet image isn't clear: it's a threat--the tweeter wants Joss to turn on his phone's Twitter location so they can find him and beat him. Now, this is one threatening asshole out of a whole bunch of people who are mostly just calling Whedon a racist, misogynist, asshole--so this guy(?) doesn't represent the whole movement there--right?

Wait, wasn't that what we didn't say about #GamerGate? And, while we're here, there is a waterfall of hate in that link that isn't exactly 'criticism'--much less feminist criticism--and certainly not constructive criticism. If we're going to ask Whedon to apologize for various missteps, does that mean that Sarkeesian is also supposed to do some public self-criticism for getting anything wrong in her video-game series? In an environment of throbbing anonymous hate and threats? Really?

No, The Omnivore didn't think so either.

The fact of the matter is that the best Social Justice fire is friendly fire--this is because the structure of Social Justice--at least on the Internet--is such that the only really vulnerable targets are allies. Oh, sure, a few things--such as blatant racism--are so toxic that there is real-world economic backlash for committing them (this is one reason in social justice circles that racism is aggressively defined in its sociology '-ism' context--where its weaponized nature cannot be turned back on minorities).

For the most part, though, and people steeped in the principles of 'privilege' understand this: the nature of society allows those with more privilege--that's allies--the luxury of ignoring voices of less privilege (that's 'the people they are ostensibly allied with'). The only person who'll listen to a Social Justice advocate (or, 'Warrior'--the converse of 'Dudebro') is an ally. So that's who you vituperate most viciously!

When you combine that dynamic with with the two other rules of Social Justice criticism you get a particularity toxic mix. Those rules are:

  1. The person leveling the criticism, being of an oppressed class (in theory, at least: on Twitter, who can tell?) us under zero obligation to be polite about it. After all, they've been oppressed--personally and structurally--for their whole life and now you, ally, are going to get to hear about it.
  2. The recipient of the criticism doesn't get to fight back, justify, or even explain themselves--they are supposed to listen, apologize, shut up, and do self-study. If they don't like getting aggressively and rudely/insultingly called out on it? Too bad. According to some advocates, you should even manage to thank your critic.
In this environment it's difficult to figure out why anyone would sign up for The Treatment--and harder still to figure out how someone who is a public figure would even try to engage with a multitude of Social Justice critics. Would they pick a few to address apologies to? Issue a blanket statement once and hold the line there? Grovel repeatedly until the fire dies down? There's no game-plan for this.

Worse, The Omnivore thinks that the shape of the world that Social Justice has created is inexorably linked to the worst of our natures. Some of the people criticizing Age of Ultron and Whedon are measured, intelligent, and accurate in their criticism. These people are likely coming from a place of legitimately wanting to engage in global improvement. Whedon isn't some nobody and his flippant comments happen to matter--he needs to be as hyper-aware of that as a politician is--it would benefit his self-identified goals as well as the community's.

On the other hand, the atmosphere and environment enables the dog-pile and doesn't restrain the physical threats. This will attract people who are interested in venting / abusing someone and the thrill of self-righteousness is a powerful drug. It also creates a sort of reverse-privilege gradient where for the 'first time' people who have been voiceless get a voice and encourages them to use it as unpleasantly as possible.  While Whedon is likely not especially intimidated in a literal sense, this vein of toxicity poisons the movement (note: the 'movement' here is the feminist/GLBT critique of Joss Whedon--not all feminism or all progressives everywhere). Whedon can't do what he is 'supposed' to do in the face of the hate-storm and people writing "We get to expect better" pieces have to either be unapologetic for the excesses or ignore them altogether.

While the core of criticism against Whedon's work is legitimate feminist analysis which he, as a self-declared feminist has actively invited, the gestalt of it is a toxic mess that the Social Justice environment no only encourages--but also doesn't really allow the more measured critics to fully extricate themselves from. 

    Conclusions
    In case it isn't clear, The Omnivore thinks that there are very differing bits of legitimacy to different facets of this whole discussion. Before Whedon was God-King of the Uber-nerds, he was just an uber-nerd. Some of what he is doing--the medieval sexist comments he's writing into his work, for example--are possibly coming from internal states that he could bear to look at some more. Certainly, Marvel's handling of non-white/male superheroes could be vastly improved (they've gone from ignoring that to denying it to working on it). And, finally, as noted above, Whedon, as a voice, has the capacity to do real and tangible good.

    Like it or not, he is a leader and a role-model. If he speaks out against #GamerGate it'll move the dial--at least a little. If he permeates his work with a kind of subliminal or linguistic sexism, that might have some negative impact as well. So in that sense, him getting feedback is probably a good thing from even a moderate social justice perspective.

    The converse, though, is that the politics of 'attacking allies' is ugly--when amplified by the Twitter-Hate dogpile, it's #GamerGate ugly. If you didn't like #GamerGate, you shouldn't like #WhedonHate. The emotional drivers are largely the same.

    Note 1: Not All Criticism Is Equal
    The Omnivore did look closely into the various 'charges' and was ambivalent around many of them. The Black Widow did get captured--but like everyone else who has captured her in her movie career, that turned out to be a really bad idea. The claim she was a "monster" for being sterilized also didn't seem to hold up--in her scene with Banner, she says she is a monster for what she did--not what was done to her. Her sterilization seems to be a way for her to connect with Banner rather than self-hate.

    Similarly, Stark's rape-joke may well be driven by Whedon showing off his medieval lore (this is the guy who made Much Ado About Nothing--a title that is a gendered joke--in modern parlance it's "A lot of stuff about a vagina")--but it isn't really about making Stark look good. It's doubling down on the idea that he's not qualified to wield the hammer: When he says that you know it isn't going to move. As an aside, too, Stark thinks if he can lift the hammer he's going to become the 'King' of Asguard, not earth, any woman of which would, in actuality, break him.

    Note 2: The 'Tone' Argument. One of the recurrent patterns in online Social Justice conversations is referred to as the 'Tone Argument.' In this, an onlooker (in theory, an ally) tells the minority speaker that hir 'tone' is going to turn people off and be detrimental to 'the movement.' The rejoinder is often that either (a) it takes in-your-face statements to get any kind of Social Justice movement and/or (b) someone concerned with social justice (the ally) should be sitting down and shutting up regardless of their 'concerns.'

    The Omnivore thinks that more importantly (c): The Tone and The Tone Argument are not just parallel to the movement but are really expressions of the emotional drivers that underlie it in the first place. The combination of (self?)righteousness and anger that motivates people to do anything social-justicy will innately imbue anything done with 'The Tone' and the reflection of the loss-of-privilege inherent to the message experienced by more privileged ally-observers will create the 'sense of insult' that will lead to a re-assertion of privilege/self-importance that expresses itself as "concern" for the speaker's stated goals.

    The fact of the matter is that while brand-damage is a real thing, feminism has already been brand-damaged into Congressional levels and there will be no rebuilding from the direction of Internet activism no matter what is done. In other words: The Tone and The Tone argument are all working as designed. Go nuts.

    * 'cis' means a person whose identified gender matches their assigned-gender at birth.

    Tuesday, May 12, 2015

    Pam "Draw Mohammad" Geller: Hero or A-Hole?


    She Might Break The Guardians of the Galaxy Rule . . .
    Rhomann Dey: He said that he may be an... "a-hole". But he's not, and I quote, "100% a dick".
    Nova Prime Rael: Do you believe him?
    Rhomann Dey: Well, I don't know if I believe anyone is 100% a dick...
    Nova Prime Rael: Do you believe he's here to help?
    Rhomann Dey: ...Yeah, I do.
    -- Guardians of the Galaxy 
    In case you somehow missed it, Pam Geller, anti-Islam (and, to be completely fair, not anti-Islamist--but just broadly anti-Islam) activist held a Draw Mohammad Contest (The American Freedom Defense Initiative) event in Texas in order to 'stand up' for freedom of speech. The idea was to give a $10,000 USD award to some lucky artist who would win the contest while surrounded by "massive security."

    It turns out: it was warranted. Two men using jihadi rhetoric attacked the exhibition and wounded a police officer. Both were killed.

    Today's question is: Was Geller a heroic defender of free speech to hold the contest? An insufferable 'a-hole' for inciting violence and insulting Muslims? Could she be both? How do we tell?

    Pam Geller
    Let's take a quick look at the person behind the contest Pamela Geller. She is a committed anti-Islam activist who believes America is falling under Sharia law with the help of president Obama who she has called a jihadist in the White House. She has:
    • Led the charge against the 'Ground Zero Mosque' (a term she coined)
    • Paid for mass-transit ads that opponents said implied Muslims are savages (including ones that suggested if you leave Islam, you would be hunted and killed--which is the legal penalty for apostasy in some Islamic countries)
    • Was an inspiration to Norway shooter Anders Breivik
    While she says she opposes "political Islam" as opposed to "Islam," The Omnivore feels pretty safe in saying that (a) Islam has an implicit political component which, for example, Christianity doesn't (in the same way) and (b) Geller's views are in no way nuanced. She's anti-Islam and isn't remotely shy about it.

    She's definitely an a-hole--but is she 100% a dick? That's a harder question.

    The Draw Mohammad Day Shooting
    You probably saw the news about the recent shooting and its aftermath. The gunmen had posted their religious-based intent. One of them had been questioned by the FBI for jihadist leanings already. There isn't really any question about why they did it or what they were on about. We might well question whether or not they represent some fundamentally relevant form or strain of Islam, sure--but their motivation is crystal clear.

    Here's a fact you probably did not know: The artist responsible for Draw Mohammad Day is still in hiding having left behind her friends, family, and career.

    In fact, she's been in hiding for five years.

    Oh, and there actually wasn't a Draw Mohammad Day shooting--because the event that just happened wasn't 'Draw Mohammad Day.' Draw Mohammad Day was on May 10th, 2010. The artist in question is US cartoonist Molly Norris--and she was horrified by Danish cartoonist riots and threats and the South Park back-lash, came up with the idea that if EVERYONE drew Mohammad, the terrorists couldn't possibly kill them all, had her idea (and, erm, drawing) go viral--and, well, you can guess.

    She also desperately tried to retract her drawing and distance herself from the growing spectacle--but no matter: she met with the FBI and is now on the run, underground--and probably with good reason.

    Pam Geller may be selling books based on her activism. Molly Norris' life was just ruined by her brush with it.

    Here Is A Brilliant SNL Skit On Drawing Mohammad
    Here's what happens on a Pictionary-Style Game Show where the secret word is "The Prophet Mohammad."

    Back To The Asshole Question
    Prior to the Texas shooting, The Omnivore mostly ignored Pamela Geller--she was (and is, rhetoric-wise) an over-the-top: a caricature of anti-Islam sentiment who believes that virtually every single Muslim and every Muslim community is pushing towards a future where we are ruled under Islamic law. This, logically speaking, is on a line with Rand Paul's scenario where US Drones launch Hellfire missiles at innocent couples seated at cafes: It's science fiction.

    HOWEVER . . . if two wrongs don't make a right, it turns out that even if you are a caricature of anti-Muslim sentiment, when your provocation brings out religiously motivated murderers, your enemies can be cast as caricatures as well.

    When everyone is a caricature . . . no one is.

    What Geller did, a-hole or not--100% a dick or not--was prove that even with all the lights on, all the security in the world, and for nothing more than pen-and-paper, you can get killed for drawing Mohammad. If you don't approve of insulting the Prophet because it victimizes Muslims (who are a minority in the west and, often, in economic senses and social senses oppressed)--if you believe that what Geller was doing was needlessly provocative--if your response to the first sentence in this paragraph was "Come on, Omnivore, that's not news," then The Omnivore has some news for you: You're part of the problem.

    See, The Omnivore doesn't have much love or sympathy for the hate-edged existence of Pam Geller--she exposes her motivations through her branding well enough.

    But The Omnivore has tons of sympathy for Molly Norris and it turns out--it turned out, anyway--that the only person who was willing to do what needed to be done on that front was Pam Geller. What needed to be done? Draw Mohammad--draw The Prophet in an insulting manner--a provocative manner--because what needed to happen was that we needed to see--and to keep seeing--that drawing Mohammad brings out murderers.

    Why Do We Need To See That?
    The reason we need to see that is because unless we are seeing it--unless we are exposed to it constantly--it is easy not to think about it. There is no reason to draw Mohammad. There are plenty of good reasons not to: Insulting friendly Muslims isn't a game or a sport. It's rude--it may even be oppressive. It's a horrible act--and when taken up with the glee that Geller does, it's the hallmark of a horrible person.

    However when taken up by someone who isn't drinking the haterade, it really is an act of free speech and The Omnivore thinks that Muslims, when exposed to what appears to be a predictable flow of events have a clear choice to make: Indignation over Insult or Sympathy for Molly Norris (and the people murdered at Charlie Hebdo, and on and on).

    Until this choice is made by "mainstream Islam" the choice defaults to the guys with the guns.

    The Omnivore wants to make this clear: there were plenty of Muslim organizations who supported the drawing of Mohammad (in at least some sense) and CAIR noted that the actual response to Draw Mohammad Day should be compassion (as Mohammad showed people who insulted him).

    This isn't a "where is the outrage" question that speaks to ignorance of what actual Muslim groups are saying.

    No, the point here is that when moderate Muslims are insulted by someone drawing the Prophet--and when Americans on the left maintain that such drawing should be avoided because it gives offense--then the problem is not yet solved. Any Muslim who considers themselves a moderate--or an American--will have to reconcile insult vs. murder--and to be insulted in the full light of that comparison is a choice.

    That choice--to hold that insulting the Prophet is a personal affront when the people doing so are reliably targeted for death in the name of Islam--is indefensible. Pam Geller proved Molly Norris was right: Everyone should be drawing Mohammad.

    Sunday, May 10, 2015

    The Real Problem With Jade Helm 15: Game Theory


    In case you missed it, Jade Helm 15 is a military training exercise that is going to involve special forces troops (and others) conducting training operations on American soil--specifically in American towns (many in Texas) where one of their goals is to do things without attracting attention . . . like ninjas.

    Additionally, in case you somehow missed it, everyone from real-life Texas Governor Greg Abott to pretend Texas Ranger Chuck Norris has raised 'concerns' that maybe (just maybe) the "training exercise" is an excuse to mobilize troops in order to seize Texas--to take it over (never mind that, as John Stewart pointed out, the Federal Government already controls Texas--we took it over in like 1840!). Just in case the Federal Government is gettin' too frisky, though, Texas has mobilized its National Guard to keep an eye on those Spec-Forces scalawags. Just in case.

    Presidential candidates Ted Cruz and Rand Paul have given at least some oxygen to the fire. Cruz said the Federal government has proven itself untrustworthy and Paul vowed to "look into it" (Cruz, in fact, has already done that--he's asked The Pentagon for answers on JH15!). It's a pretty high-reaching conspiracy theory--but the rhetoric of Cruz and Paul were downright rational compared to Glenn Beck.

    Glenn Beck has told his audience of 10 million listeners that the country is "Being set up"--that what is going on in Baltimore and Ferguson isn't 'real'--and that it's a prelude to a nation-wide institution of martial law that will happen when the civilian police forces are overwhelmed and they turn to the Department of Justice for help. At that point there will be a 'night of the long knives' wherein patriots like Beck are murdered in the night:
    "This is the biggest show ever," he warned. "That’s all that’s happening right now. This is a show. We’re watching a script and a play play out in front of us. None of this stuff is real. Those riots in Baltimore. That wasn’t real ... At some point, there will be a straw that breaks the camel’s back, and it will set the whole country on fire. And what happens? We will cry out for police help. The police will be overwhelmed. The DOJ will say, 'We’re going to take over policing, we’ll coordinate it from here.' And you’re done. It’s lights out, republic." 
    The problem with Jade Helm 15 conspiracy theories or the Glenn Beck scenario (which isn't identical--but let's face it, it's basically the same concept) isn't the extremely crazy nature of them and it isn't the actual cost to, say, mobilize the national guard (although that's, yeah, kind a problem if you're inclined to look at it that way)--no, the problem is that Game Theory is pushing the level of paranoia required to win in right-wing politics way to the, erm, right (assuming low-to-high goes left to right!).

    What does that mean?

    Signaling Theory
    The concept behind Signaling Theory (which is derived from Game Theory, a branch of mathematics that predicts the best strategy an entity can take based on the set-up of a situation) is this: In communication between people or animals a big question is one of honesty--how can an animal know, for example, that another animal is a good choice of mate?

    Or how can a human know that a person they are dealing with is 'suitable' (say, as a presidential candidate)?

    Signaling Theory poses that in order to make one's worthiness clearly evident, one can take an "expensive position." The idea is to do something that is difficult, dangerous, or costly so that "faking it" isn't possible or worth it for a pretender. An example of this is dangerous big-game hunting for a human male to prove he is a good provider, capable, manly, and so on. Another example is expensive cars, clothes, and jewelry: if you dress like a million bucks people assume you're worth a million bucks--and you're suddenly a lot more attractive.

    Signaling Theory is generally structured around finding a mate by means of making yourself look awesome--but it plays out socially too. In this case, when presented with a bizarre conspiracy theory, Candidates of The Base have little choice but to play along--or even double down.

    In this case the "cost" that Cruz invokes is that he says something that makes him look insane. While you can argue that Cruz's statement had some moderate nuance (after all, who totally trusts "The Federal Government"?) when talking about that during a conversation on the Federal Government instituting some kind of Texas-Police-State you are not just making a vague point about how The Feds are a big darn machine that sometimes gets it wrong and often screws it up.

    No, Cruz is effectively saying "Yeah, Texas-Take-Over? That's the kinda thing Obama has led us to expect from this administration. Not sayin' it's happening right now, mind you--have to check that out--but oh yeah: it's the kinda thing he'd totally do."

    This, in the general election, will be played in full context and make him look like he buys into Nazi-Moonbase theories.

    The point is that if Cruz wants to be the choice of The Base he has to signal that he's one of them--that he's suitable--and that means he can't shut down the absurd idea that the Pentagon is going to perform a coup in the Lone Start state. He can't be a voice of reason. Rand, a little further from The Base (although, yes, a conspiracy theorist in his own right) can afford to be a little more distant and diplomatic.

    Contrast to Democrat Terry McAuliffie, Governor of Virginia's, response:
    “We’re too busy for that foolishness,” McAuliffe added. 
    Virginia loves the military, the governor said. 
    “So if Texas companies are watching this and say, ‘What a waste of time and resources with our guard,’ come to Virginia,” McAuliffe said.
    If you grew up in the 80's, consider how odd it is to hear a Democrat signing patriotic hymns to the military while a Texas Governor has to defend his state from 'em. That's signaling.

    Moving Conspiracy Theory to Mainstream Politics
    Here's part of the platform from The Green Party:
    PoliciesFA720 The Green Party supports a moratorium on the use of GMOs in all agricultural systems including production of human food and animal feed and on importation of GM food or feed. (See AR413CC254EU489 and ST364
    Despite the fact that studies of GMO food have found no danger, Genetically Modified Organisms (agricultural products) are largely distrusted by a lot of people--especially toward the further left of the political spectrum. Strangely, though, the Democratic party doesn't have anything about GMO foods in its policy line-up. Why not? Why does the Green Party have this in their platform while the Democrats don't have anything--and this is acknowledging that GMO food issues appear on the left and right in significant numbers?

    Because The Green Party is a party catering to a fringe political group--a group that has already given up on winning a national general election and, instead, is playing a different game than normal national politics does. The Democrats, however, are capable of winning national elections and cannot afford to get bogged down in GMO-style issues.

    The Republicans, historically at least, haven't been consumed with fringe-theories either (the teaching of evolution being something of an exception). As such, it generally requires 3rd parties to cater to the conspiracy mindset--even for something as relatively mainstream as GMO foods (Chipolte has moved away from GMO foods, for example, proving there is a valid economic driver behind GMO-food doubt for certain markets).

    What Jade Helm has done is, again, amplify a trend that was actually somewhat novel in 2012 and seems to be increasing: conspiracy theory moving not just into mainstream conversations but actual top-line candidate politics. The GOP may not have a GMO plank in their platform but they have certainly developed a more and more literal Tyrant-Obama Caucus.

    The Omnivore doesn't want to be ignorant of history here--JFK theories are as mainstream as mainstream gets (although not as politically pointed)--and the death of Vince Foster had three official investigations, after all--but let's be real. The Vince Foster thing was more analogous to Benghazi where there were hopes that either actual malfeasance or just the appearance of it could be a political weapon.

    A dramatic change in this dynamic was Donald Trump's temporary rise to the head of the 2012 GOP election-pack on the basis of questioning Obama's country of birth. The Obama-Birth-Certificate theory originated among hard-core Hillary supporters during the 2008 primary. There were rumors Hillary's challenger would be found out (either before the convention--so "Yay!"--or during the general election so we'd best not nominate him). While these, of course, never panned out hurt feelings ran high in the Hillary camp and a lot of the most hard core of the Hillary supporters migrated towards McCain and thus the theory spread.

    By 2012 you had to believe that either the whole world was incompetent or else there was nothing there on the Birth Certificate front (would not McCain have checked into it? He did have millions of dollars . . . ). The theory, however, had an appeal for dark emotional reasons and Trump gave it light and oxygen with which to grow. The Republican base loved it and rewarded Trump with a leadership position.

    The power of signaling was made clear--but it also showed that that sort of of high-grade signaling really did have a high cost: while candidates were cagey about the Birth Certificate, from then on, no one else made it a part of their campaign platform.

    It's worth a digression here to note that Romney-conspiracies (that he paid "no taxes") or that his retirement account grew a monstrous and illegal amount--were simply not in the category of "Obama was born in Kenya, raised by the power-elite super-lefists to become a leader--and then injected into American politics with an entirely fabricated life's story (no one can ever recall seeing him at Harvard!)." Absurd allegations have always been a part of bare-knuckle politics but catering to conspiracy theorists is a different animal altogether.

    Signaling + Economic Motive = Acceleration
    Signaling in contemporary politics is providing an incentive for 2nd-tier candidates to embrace--or at least Christian-Side-Hug--conspiracy theories that otherwise would have been left to the Internet and talk-radio diatribes. The current status of the base--inflamed by conspiracy theory because it drives profits for conservative media stars like Glenn Beck--provides a mechanism to trade sanity for rating points or approval.

    This is a short-term strategy: if Cruz ever has to get pinned down on Jade Helm, he'll have to ditch the theory if he wants to win a general election--but when people like presidential candidates and governors of Texas embrace these theories at all it moves the Overton Window--the range of ideas society will accept--in the direction of Crazy Town. This, in kind, forces guys like Beck to become even more extreme: It's a positive feedback loop and, as its driving bad behavior, there's nothing positive about it.

    Jade Helm is the 'fin' of this phenomena cresting the water.  Here are some other pieces of the emergent phenomena: David Weigel writes Woah, If True--a series for Bloomberg about conspiracy theories "escaped into the wild" (meaning they actually come up in real-life grown-up conversation and the real news). One example is Santorum caught off guard about a theory that Obama tried to nuke South Carolina. Santorum did not know the theory, was flummoxed, and did his best to signal by talking about Obama as a 'tyrant' with regards to immigration--but what if he had known the depth of bullshit there? Would he have said something to set the record straight for the terrified citizen who literally thought that Obama was replacing generals who refused to "fire on Americans?"

    No. He wouldn't have--because he wants to win (conversely, read Weigel's piece on Jeb's response to a Bilderberg question! Jeb is not 'signaling' to the base at all--that's the big part of his brand--and they hate him for it).

    The messaging the base is getting (the apocalyptic high-cost-per-impression pop-up ads on conservative websites, for example) is part of a dynamic that is riling up the base in order to milk them for money. Major political figures giving crazy theories like Jade Helm 15* a nod is a new thing and with Beck and people like him escalating their rhetoric we're going to see more of it.

    Edited to add: GOP Republican Louie Gohmert is all in with the signaling.

    What If: Jade Helm 15 is A Response to Russia Arming Mexico??

    * It is worth nothing that there were some actual elected officials on the 9/11 Truther side too--but, again, sitting big-state governors and high-grade presidential candidates are still pretty new. It's also worth noting that while very distasteful and pretty crazy, the 9/11 Truther position is objectively less crazy than the Jade Helm 15 Texas-Take-Over theory.

    Thursday, May 7, 2015

    Autonomous (The Self-Driving Future)

    What you see above is the Freightliner Inspiration: the world's first road-worthy self-driving truck. It was issued a driver's license today in the state of Nevada. It will--assuming the story (MSNBC*)  is accurate--have a human driver "in case of an emergency" but it is the technology of the future brought forward today. The future--which The Omnivore had placed at 5 years off--is here. In terms of 'disruption' this is a hammer-blow to the American economy, way of life, and perhaps even our spirit itself.

    The Shape Of Things To Come
    The Omnivore has been tracking the sign-posts for this future for a while. Here are some points on a line.

    The Facts
    Here are some things you should know about cars:
    FatalitiesA total of 32,719 people died in motor vehicle crashes in 2013. These deaths occurred in 30,057 crashes involving 44,868 motor vehicles. This was a decrease in deaths, fatal crashes and motor vehicles involved in fatal crashes compared with 2012. It was the second-lowest number of fatal crashes and crash deaths since 1975.
    Unintentional Injury is the #4 leading cause of death in the US, #1 for age-brackets 1 to 34 years. Car accidents are about half of that, coming in at around 33k deaths per year in the US.
    Insurance: The average cost of car insurance in the US was $907.38 in 2014 (although for a 19 year old male, the cost is over 2100.00). Compare to home insurance: $978 per year. Automotive insurance is a 220bn dollar industry employing around 277,000 people.
    Cost: The average family spends around 9k a year on "transportation" (owning 1.9 vehicles). Compare this to 17k on housing (the highest) and 6k on food (the next highest). The average price of a new car is 31k and the 'average price' is climbing. A break-down (har-har) of the cost is around $408.00 per vehicle on repairs per car and 1007.00 on gas and oil. Here is a visualization of car/truck types and how they are selling.
    The Status-Quo Future: According to a study released by the Department of Transportation shows us a future that is horrifying. Crumbling traffic-based infrastructure (it gets a D+), a boom in older drivers, and a massive increase in road-based freight gives us a future where mega-traffic jams and absurd commutes are a way of life.

    Uber / Lyft And The Rise Of Distributed Taxis
    Uber and Lyft are two of the big-name competitors in the distributed "taxi" space wherein 'employees' sign up (go through a vetting process) and then use their own private vehicles to ferry passengers around at much lower rates than traditional taxis. Enabled by smart-phone technology, these companies have huge growth potential although the profits the drivers see are often not as good as what's advertised.

    Still, what Uber and Lyft do is provide an convenient, cost-effective alternative to owning your own vehicle. They are reliable, easy to use, and the transaction is designed for maximal ease (payment and receipts are all handled electronically, etc.).

    Uber and Lyft can service residential neighborhoods where calling for a taxi would be tremendously expensive (since a traditional taxi only has a few specific points it can pick someone up if it is not operating in an urban area).

    The Future: Driver-less Taxis
    Uber/Lyft are the emerging tip-of-the-iceberg: they are the human-enabled version of what technologists are driving towards: fleets of unmanned vehicles that use an Uber-like interface to provide vehicles in close-to-real-time for people who need them at a fraction of the cost of owning one. This future projects massive efficiencies cost-saving, car-utilization, and, if the technology works, safety.

    A study that proposes replacing New York's 13,000 yellow cabs with 9,000 self-driving cars shows the price going from $4.00 per mile to less than .50 cents. This would, of course, impact some 50k people's jobs--and Taxi Driver is not a horrible job--but the pay-off would likely be one the city itself would want to make even so.

    Enter The 'Goober' Scenario
    Google sat on the board of directors--and invested heavily in Uber. That was all well-and-good until it looked like their self-driving car project is designed to deliver the Taxi-Swarm which would, well, replace Uber. While time-tables, capabilities, and how-well-it-would-really-work questions have yet to be proposed, let alone answered, it appears that the information Google has gleaned from Uber is probably sufficient to give them a clear-eyed view of what such a venture would look like.

    Google does not have a great track-record with product launches and hardware in general--but they their coffers are deep and they certainly know how to navigate things like regulatory waters and the creation of efficiency-driving algorithms which would be central to the Goober-Swarm's ability to deliver.

    Also: There's an 'Ap' For That
    In this case, 'Ap' stands for Apple. Apple has a secret project code-named 'Titan' which has been harvesting talent from automotive companies, Tesla, and electric battery makers. It is happening at a secret location near Apple HQ and the word is that they're creating an "Apple Car." While the specifics are unclear, the rumors are:
    • Mini-van like appearance
    • Electric Powered
    • May be self-driving
    Whatever Titan is really about, Apple's entry into the automotive space under the helm of Apple design Jedi Jony Ive (who is both obsessed with cars and brought us the signature Apple Products) seems likely to be impactful. If they don't deliver a Taxi-Swarm, they may very well deliver high-but-not-too-high end self-driving family vehicles that would boast a for-real 21st century user-experience. Maybe it'll have one button: 'Go' that takes you where you most need to be?

    Apple is not known for failed product launches and if Titan is as big as it sounds, there will be perhaps the richest company in the world's money behind it.

    What Happens Next?
    While the time-lines here are very foggy (we see self-driving cars appearing today in prototype from companies like Lexus and Apple's car is rumored to launch in 2020) one thing is clear: this--or something like this--is happening. Regulatory issues are being ironed out. Technology is being, erm, road-tested. Certainly the big auto-makers have to be looking into the future and planning their responses. One thing is certain: whatever the car of 2030 looks like, it'll exist in an entirely different environment than today. How come?

    The first reason is societal: the current trends in driving imply that America is losing its car culture anyway. Millennials don't drive like their parents did and their parents (the Baby Boomers) are getting older and therefore driving less. Combine this with lack of car ownership by many in-debt, under-employed young people, more traffic on less well up-kept highways, and patters of employment that work against commutes and you get less need to drive. The massive rise of telecommuting is also making car ownership less imperative than it used to be.

    The rite of passage of learning to drive may be replaced with staring at your phone as a Johnny-Cab whisks you around town. That sounds like something young people would prefer anyway. The Johnny-Cab will come with its own high-speed hot-spot just in case.

    The second reason is that the economic infrastructure around cars is going to be changed significantly by any portion of this technology. The anti-crash stuff will alter auto-insurance hugely. Electric cars will change the gasoline economy and supply chain. New players like Apple, Google, and Tesla will compete dramatically with the traditional auto-industry. All of this is disruptive. Some of it hugely so.

    The advent of a self-driving truck, essentially five years early, is a sea-change in the American way of life. Now, maybe the tech-test here is an aberration--maybe it won't work so well or the conditions of Nebraska (a low-traffic state) will not be replicable elsewhere--but this is, as far as The Omnivore is concerned, like a working iPhone showing up in the late 1990's.

    In the near future, everything from JiffyLubes, to tire stores, to gas stations may be diminished and geared towards a few die-hard drivers rather than the masses (whose self-driving Ubers are serviced at "The Hub" instead of private businesses). NASCAR may become more antiquated--like horse racing: a betting spectacle perhaps rather than a "sport." 

    Conclusions
    Today, for the first time, The Omnivore used Uber. It was fast, cheap, and friendly. The two Uber drivers were slightly chatty (and both pretty new)--but the service was efficient, clean, and trouble-free (even when The Omnivore had to change his destination as the car pulled up).  The total cost was around 15.00 for driving a moderate distance in two legs--a cab would have easily topped three times that and been much slower to arrive.

    Uber is really on to a model that delivers value. Self-driving Ubers might, actually, compete with car ownership. If The Omnivore could reliably have a ride waiting every morning, on time, to take him to and from the gym--or to go to the grocery store in an 8 minute call-to-arrive time (which is what Uber took)--if the cost was 1/10th what he paid today (or there was a Netflix like service that would ferry The Omnivore around town wherever he needed to go for, say, 10.00 per month?)--that would compete with ownership. It would compete with varying gas prices, periodic repairs, and the hassle of buying a new car (The Omnivore made the terrible mistake of putting his personal information into TrueCar and Edmonds.com to see what a car he was interested in would 'really' cost and was deluged with telephone calls and emails during the day--during working hours--by people who really, really wanted a sale).

    The self-driving future will miss some things: cruising, the first-car junker, maybe learning some change-a-tire repair skills? It'll lack muscle cars and The Omnivore supposes this means Drive Ins and Roller-skate car-side service restaurants aren't coming back either . . .  but not having to worry about your children driving drunk after a party or being hit with an 800.00 bill for "all four tires" at an inopportune moment would be nice. Telling the auto insurance companies to go stick it wouldn't suck either.

    The future that's coming towards us is a mixed bag--but on the whole, probably cheaper and safer if a little less cool.


    * A parody news source combining real and fake news

    Tuesday, May 5, 2015

    Huckabee is In: IS HE SERIOUS??


    Mike Huckabee announces his candidacy today in a blaze of God, Guns, Grits, and Gravy. This is the guy who won Iowa in 2008--but didn't get far past that. He's a guy with for-real charisma who hails from Hope AK where another guy whose name you might know (Bill Clinton) comes from. With Chris Christie looking like a non-starter, Mike Huckabee is the heavyweight in the ring. Literally: he might weigh more than any other candidate and maybe out weighs Carly Fiorina and Marco Rubio combined . . .

    But He CANNOT Win
    Huckabee is a 2008 candidate up against a 2016 crowd that plays his own tunes better than he does. Yeah, he's an actual theologian--but Cruz has the same appeal and current service, Carson has the same appeal and a new-car smell. Even Walker can bring the generally religious out if he isn't primarily a social conservative.

    Huckabee pulls single-digits in the polls and while while he has room to grow, his name recognition isn't rock-bottom either. He has ditched some of his sunny demeanor during his time with Fox and regained some of the weight he lost (and wrote a book about). He's not an awful candidate--but in a line-up that promises a lot of people who think they make a good 'second choice' isn't Huckabee vying for "third choice?"

    His biggest problem, says FiveThirtyEight, is that while he had real appeal to the SoCons he never found a way to broaden that base and that dynamic will continue to haunt him in 2016 unless something changes.

    On The Other Hand
    On the other hand, on some polls Huckabee leads the likability contest by a massive margin:
    He IS 'Likable Enough'!!
    In a realm where top-guns like Cruz and Walker's big problems are their likability maybe he's got the cure for the 'fevah'? He's also pretty moderate policy-wise compared to some of these people and, well, he's a governor who has run for president before: that pairs him against . . .  Rick Perry.

    On the SoCon front his biggest competitor isn't really Ted Cruz--it's Rick Santorum--who probably won't even really run and his single digit polling is right about where Cruz is too--that's not that bad.

    Also, consider this: we're going to have a gay-marriage decision by the Supreme Court in the summer right about where the debates start. Going into next year we'll see the social wars heat up with women's issues (abortion, birth control, and other tertiary issues like trans-gender and gay rights stuff). Maybe being a hard-core social warrior is what 2016 will really be about?

    Owning that battle-space might be a sweet-spot.

    The Net-Net on Huckabee
    The question for Huckabee is going to be his aggression factor: while he's not in Trump-Territory in terms of being a joke, he doesn't have the unpredictability of Ben Carson either: if he's going to get to the top he either has to claw his way there or hope for several flame-outs before he has an aperture of hope. This means he's going to have to take someone out. Sure, he'll play nice (like everyone else) in the beginning--targeting Hillary, talking up his game, and having a parade of religious conservatives talk about how important 2016 is to the spiritual health of the nation and the world.

    But at some point he's going to have to make his move and the question will be against who--and how hard? Huckabee's strategy takes place in, literally, the "SEC States"--a collection of 11 southern, conservative states where he thinks he's most likely to pick up momentum and move towards victory:
    The Omnivore guesses that candidates who seem to be doing well there are going to earn his fire. This does seem like the Cruz / Carson coalition--although Florida and Texas are both big states that tend to go to big money candidates (Jeb / Walker).

    This strategy is actually a canny one: Huckabee can ignore New Hampshire (where he is under 4%) and if he does well in Iowa it's a "nice-to-have" instead of a must-have. This gives him breathing room. The downside is that Florida is a super-expensive media-market and is going to be the 'bone' that Jeb and Rubio are fighting over: Huckabee will need every bit of his God, Grits, and Gravy to dive into that mess.

    The Omnivore suspects that Huckabee's 2016 run manages to dilute Carson or Cruz's evangelical support costing one of them a needed few points before Jeb and Walker start to pull away.

    Okay, But What's He THINKING?
    Huckabee wasn't interested in 2012--he was building (re-building) his brand, had a first-time-ever really lucrative show with Fox, and heck, that election was shaping up to be a mess anyway. This time, though, he's had a cabal of Christian ministers whispering in his ear and begging him to run. Huckabee is a true believer and while he probably doesn't believe God is calling him to run, he likely does believe that America needs a conservative Christian candidate and he's the best positioned there.

    He may believe that things are gonna slide--slide in all directions--and before there's nothing you can measure any more, someone of the faith better get in there and try to set things right. In other words, he believes he really is the best man for the job.

    But what's going on in his brain? Let's do the Omnivorous Mind-Meld and find out:

    THOSE PANCAKES ARE DELICIOUS!! Oh yeah--where was I--oh, right. Launch--gotta launch. Did we get all the domain names? Make sure we get someone on that--can't have some thug putting up Huckabee porno. That'd look awful. Now, let's see--ooh--Jam! Tasty.

    Cruz--he'll be easy: Roman Catholic, fake Canadian--I can no-sell him in my sleep. Carson's tougher--he's trying that sunny thing too--but the man doesn't know how to talk. My time with Fox will be enough of an edge there. Rubio? Ha. Reformed Mormon. I won't even have to lift a finger--but that bagel--I'll lift that. Then there's Jeb--eh. The only fire he'll catch are his britches burning when he tries to woo Georgia. 

    Just have to hope Walker flames out. Now . . . let's see . . . Imprecatory Prayers . . . Where did I put that old prayer book . . .