Yes, I know, this has been done before, most notably by John Scalzi. But I think that he muddied the issue slightly by referring to Straight White Male as “The Lowest Difficulty Setting”, because a) there really aren’t any difficulty settings in MMO games, and yes there are people pedantic enough to care about that, but b) it’s not about how hard things are for you when you have privilege. It’s about the way people react to you. So let’s talk again about white male privilege through the lens of ‘World of Warcraft’.
So let’s imagine that ‘World of Warcraft’ had been released exactly as it is now, but with a key difference–you don’t get to select your character’s race. It is determined for you, and you don’t get to reroll. Now, the game designers are going to be concerned with balance the same way they are in the actual game (probably much, much moreso for purposes of this conversation) so they make sure that all of the races have abilities of equal utility and no race is more powerful than the others. They are all equivalent, if not actually equal. They want a diverse game where being of a different race doesn’t make you want to stop playing.
But, and here’s where we’re walking away from Mr. Scalzi’s analogy a bit, they also want to accurately depict a world at war. The Horde/Alliance conflict is a big part of the mythology of the franchise, and (as with a lot of the fantasy universes out there) particular races are associated with particular franchises. They want this near-mirror version of WoW to reflect that. So NPCs react differently to different races. Many shopkeepers, for example, give better prices to dwarves than to tauren for the same goods because they’re sympathetic to the Alliance. Some mobs are set to be aggressive towards high elves on their own but not when blood elves are around because they consider this to be Horde territory, and they’re willing to attack anyone they think is pro-Alliance. Some gear is only available to certain races, because the NPC who gives that quest won’t give it to “filthy goblins”. All in the name of verisimilitude, basically.
And this is where they make their big mistake, as developers. They don’t balance that. They balance the races, they balance the classes, they balance playability…but they don’t balance the computer-controlled characters and their reactions to the players. So if you rolled an Orc, you find that shopkeepers charge exorbitant amounts for even the weakest items, and they pay out a pittance for the stuff you sell back. Going through certain commonly-traveled areas is extremely dangerous because the mobs that ignore high elves have a one-in-four chance of brutally murdering you if nobody’s around to . Many quests aren’t offered to your species. Can you still level up? Yes, but it’s a hell of a slog.
And so you complain to someone who rolled an elf that they have it easy. That they have a privilege you don’t, and that it makes the game unfair. The elf replies that it’s simply not true–they had to fight for every coin and experience point they earned, that they paid for their gear fair and square just like you paid for yours. They might not even realize that they get a better deal at the shops until you show them a screenshot; even then, they’ll probably say that the idiosyncracies of the game designers aren’t their fault. They may even doubt your claims that the mobs in a particular region are aggro–they’ve never been attacked, after all. They’ve never even seen anyone attacked. If you’re having a hard time, they say, maybe you should learn to play better.
And that’s privilege. It’s not a single big thing–it’s a number of tiny cumulative things. The big disparity in wealth and power came about one gold piece, one quest, one mob at a time. But it’s not a difference in effort, either; one person is being rewarded slightly more for the same amount of work. This isn’t to say that any one person is to blame for their privilege, though. They didn’t code the shopkeeper, they didn’t code the mobs, they may not even have been aware of the fact that the game played differently for them than it did for other people until they were confronted with evidence. But the key thing about having privilege is that you need to acknowledge it. Because otherwise, you’re going to walk around convinced you’re better at the game than everyone else because you’re working on the fundamentally false assumption that it’s fair.
There’s been a lot of handwringing in the Canadian press over the last forty-eight hours after the photo of Aylan Kurdi dead on the beach went viral. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about and don’t want to see a picture of a dead toddler but also want to know what happened, click here.) A lot of “what can we do” stories. All of the major political party leaders currently engaged in our federal election discussed the issue; Justin Trudeau of the Liberals was clearly and honestly upset, Thomas Mulcair of the NDP was almost crying. John Tory announced that he will personally sponsor a Syrian family for refugee status. There is a sense that Something Will Be Done about this.
SPOILER ALERT: nothing will be done about this. Nothing substantive, anyway.
Mulcair was promising if the NDP win the election they’ll immediately allow an additional 10,000 Syrian refugees into Canada. Trudeau upped it to 25,000. Those numbers would represent a vast improvement over Canada’s current and nearly non-existent contribution (2,300 as of last week). Those numbers also represent a pathetic, nearly non-existent response to the Syrian refugee crisis. They can be both at the same time.
Stephen Harper also spoke yesterday on the Syrian refugee crisis and, because he is Canada’s answer to Richard Nixon, lied through his teeth in order to provide a sense of righteousness to Canadian voters. Using misleading metrics he pretended that Canada takes in a disproportionately high number of refugees, which it does not – and then, of course, he explained that the crisis just demonstrates how necessary Canada’s participation in the military action against ISIS is, because so far as Harper is concerned everything demonstrates how Canada’s participation in the military action is terribly important, down to and including his breakfast grapefruit.
All of those responses – Mulcair and Trudeau’s well-intentioned but wholly inadequate promises, Harper’s misdirection to re-emphasize that the real problem is the one he wants to deal with – are a result of one simple fact: this country does not care about poor Syrian refugees, and the entire political class knows it.
Canada accepts far fewer asylum seekers per capita than most first-world countries. As an counter-example, Germany plans to accept over eight hundred thousand refugees this year. Granted, Germany’s population is two and a half times that of Canada’s – but proportionally speaking, Canada could accept 200,000 refugees and still not be accepting as many per capita as Germany is. We take in a paltry amount of refugees, which is all the more embarrassing because Canada used to be at the forefront of refugee homing; in 1986 we became the first country to ever be awarded the UNHCR’s Nansen Refugee Award, typically given to individuals – we’re still the only country that has ever received it – because we housed so many refugees (including over 110,000 Vietnamese boat people).
And the reason we don’t any more is that at some point, Canada The Good fundamentally stopped caring about other people.
Yes, everybody is horrified by the picture of Aylan Kurdi and the idea of drowning children, but the Syrian refugee crisis has been international news for months now and a large part of that story has been the fact that thousands of refugees were drowning while trying to travel by sea to potential safety. Aylan Kurdi is not the first drowned Syrian child refugee; he will not be the last drowned Syrian child refugee. He’s not even the first drowned Syrian child to be photographed; here, for example, you can click on a story from almost two years ago and see a drowned Syrian child refugee. And in time, Canadians will manage to forget about that photo of Aylan Kurdi.
Trudeau and Mulcair know full well that 10,000 and 25,000 are amazingly inadequate numbers for dealing with this crisis. They’re not stupid. Stephen Harper knows it too, and as much as I dislike Stephen Harper I do in fact believe that he feels awful about this. But they all also know that if they proposed a truly proportional response to the Syrian refugee crisis – or the Rohingya refugee crisis, or the Nigerian refugee crisis, or the Congolese refugee crisis, or the Malinese refugee crisis, or even the hey-they’re-white Ukrainian refugee crisis – and said “Canada can reasonably afford to settle several hundred thousand refugees here,” they would be political toast. A large and politically active number of Canadians have become able to care about other people only to the point where the costs of caring about them do not significantly impact them: whether that impact comes in the form of slightly higher taxes or depressed home values because all these Syrians moved in across the street doesn’t really matter. Hell, I’m doing it right now because I was refusing to post a link to the picture of the dead kid, so you know what, here you go. Click on it and look at it, because morally speaking, you probably deserve to look at it.
I don’t know what the answer is; I’m not even going to pretend to guess. But Canada has become a grasping, selfish country. Some might say it’s the result of decades of conservatism or neoliberalism or whatever; I think that gives those philosophies too much credit. I think it’s simple: if you give people an excuse to be selfish, then as a general rule they will be. We’re pack animals, maybe, but pack animals don’t think in terms of the species, only the immediate pack. And we have trouble even managing the latter.
As with 2012, I’m going to go ahead and break down the Lovecraftian horror-show that is the 2016 Republican primaries. I’m getting it out of the way now instead of waiting until my normal Friday post because there’s a good chance that a half-dozen or so candidates will drop out by Friday; the first debate is coming up, and Fox News has excluded a number of candidates on the possibly-unfair-but-not-entirely-unreasonable grounds that many of them have support that is entirely within the margin of polling error. This means, for those of you who skipped statistics classes, that the existence of Carly Fiorina supporters cannot be proved by science.
The main thing to notice, before we go top to bottom of the barrel, is that this is both a very good year and a very terrible year for Republicans. It’s good, in the sense that Barack Obama is constitutionally disallowed from running again, and he was always a ruthless and savvy campaigner who skillfully illuminated his opponents’ weaknesses. These candidates won’t have to run against that. Instead, they’ll get either Bernie Sanders, who is an awesome common-sense politician with a history of supporting populist causes and who will therefore be painted by everyone as a left-wing loon, or Joe Biden, who is a gaffe machine, or Hillary Clinton, who is counting on being such an obvious choice that nobody will dare point out any of her flas.
It’s bad, though, in the sense that politics is a game of the moment and most of these guys have been waiting so long to run against someone who isn’t Barack Obama that they are officially less relevant to the modern voter than Pat Paulsen. (And yes, I’m aware that Pat Paulsen has been dead for eighteen years.) Most of the candidates the Republicans are putting forward are a group of has-beens and never-weres who are either running for the chance to stand on a national soapbox (and collect names of donors for their super-PAC) or whose bad decision-making abilities extend to their ability to determine whether the American people still cares about them. And on that note, let’s look at their chances to win the nomination!
Claim to Fame: Is related to the well-known Bush political dynasty
Strengths: Is related to the well-known Bush political dynasty
Weaknesses: Is related to the well-known Bush political dynasty
Chances: Quite good. He’s extraordinarily well-connected to virtually every single wealthy/powerful Republican and conservative in America, he has the ability to present as a moderate despite decades of enacting extreme right-wing policies, and he’s been out of office long enough for everyone to forget how terrible he was at the actual business of governance. His only problem is that he’s very obviously the frontrunner, which will encourage everyone else to chuck bombs at him right up to the convention, and he occasionally has a habit of not vocally pandering to the craziest elements of his party, which means that the Tea Party Republicans will be trying to find an alternative on the grounds that they’ve spent the last two elections trying to find someone moderate and they wound up losing both times.
Claim to Fame: He’s an African-American who actually sympathizes with the Republican Party
Strengths: Gives Republicans the appearance of not being racist because hey, they found at least one black guy who agrees with them, so what do you think about that, SJW? #notyourshield
Weaknesses: Professional neurosurgeons who disbelieve a fundamental tenet of their field of study tend to have other intellectual blindspots; Republican respect for black people who agree with their position doesn’t actually extend to, y’know, voting for them
Chances: Zero. The Republicans like to have people like Ben Carson around to show that they’re not just a bunch of middle-aged white dudes, and they’d probably even be happy to have him as a Congressman in order to make the group photos look more diverse, but there are too many racists in the Republican Party for an African-American to have a chance at being their candidate.
Claim to Fame: He’s that asshole from New Jersey. No, that other asshole. No, not that one either–you know what? He’s the governor, okay?
Strengths: Stands a good chance of being able to shout without pausing for breath until Americans give up and vote for him just to get him to shut up
Weaknesses: He’s basically Nixon without the philanthropic spirit
Chances: Very low. Four years ago, when he hadn’t yet alienated a lot of the people he needs to win and when he still could make a pretense that he was a moderate…and most importantly, when he wasn’t under the shadow of a looming political scandal, he might have had a chance. But he missed the window, and he’s never going to be as big a deal as he was in 2012.
Claim to Fame: Shut down the federal government in order to extract concessions that he never got, then declared victory despite having achieved nothing. Basically, he’s Vox Day if Vox Day had run for Senate
Strengths: Never gives up on anything ever, which presumably includes Presidential bids; is very popular among a segment of the conservative populace that deeply loves Lost Causes, hint hint; can cook bacon with a semi-automatic rifle, which is a crucial Presidential skill
Weaknesses: Has the most punchable face of all seventeen candidates, and if you have a more punchable face than Donald Trump then you are working at it; would rather lose on any given issue than achieve anything less than a total victory, which may be a problem if you give him the keys to a nuclear arsenal; constantly looks like he’s just planning to foreclose on the Goonies’ house before heading over to an alumni meeting at Omega House and see if he can’t help get those slovenly Deltas kicked off campus; calls a semi-automatic rifle a “machine gun”, which is a hanging offense in his home state
Chances: Low, but not impossible. He’s not well-liked by his own party, which is much more of a drawback than you might imagine, but he makes up for it by having a strong following among the extremists. Given that the Republican Party has done a good job of purging its moderates since 2008, this means he may have more clout than anyone else realizes. On the other hand, he really is quite extraordinarily unlikeable, so he’s going to have to struggle to get votes.
Claim to Fame: Physically exists and occupies space, may be composed of matter of some sort
Strengths: Could commit murder in the sure and certain belief that nobody would remember what he looked like afterwards
Weaknesses: The Doctor implanted a hidden message in the footage of the moon landing with the phrase, “You should kill us all on sight”, so he gets pursued by angry mobs whenever he does campaign appearances
Chances: Zero. This is the classic example of a vanity campaign–his friends and family are all no doubt telling him that he’d make a great President, and he has just enough of a background in politics that he’s able to convince himself that if more people heard of him, they’d like him. But being a former governor of Virginia who hasn’t seen public office since 2002 doesn’t even get you a sniff at the Presidency.
Claim to Fame: CEO of Hewlett-Packard hanging out with a party that gets visible erections around rich businesspeople
Strengths: She’s Donald Trump without the stupid!
Weaknesses: She’s Donald Trump without the interesting!
Chances: Zero. Like Ben Carson, the Republican Party is happy to pretend that she’s an important and respected figure because it deflects criticism of their treatment of women and minorities, but that respect only extends to her insofar as they’re happy to listen to her saying the things they want to hear when they feel like hearing them. Putting her in a position where she’d actually get to make meaningful decisions isn’t really the Republican way.
Claim to Fame: Republican politician from South Carolina since the Clinton era, possessor of portrait that ages while he remains perpetually young
Strengths: Actually vaguely kind of moderate for a Republican, which is even more impressive given that he’s a politician from South Carolina; has been around long enough that people more or less recognize him as “that guy who’s always on ‘Meet the Press'”; able to not take it personally when people are jerks to him, which is an underrated skill in his line of work
Weaknesses: Too moderate for the crazies and too crazy for the moderates; the subject of persistent rumors about his sexuality, which wouldn’t hurt him anywhere but in the Republican Party; if he ever sees his portrait, he will instantly age and die in horrific fashion
Chances: Very low. This is the kind of run that any late-career Senator does, a sort of “no harm no foul” low-key Presidential bid that costs them nothing because they can always go back to their safe Senate seat for four more years before having to stand for another election. It’s usually conducted with all the energy of someone playing slots with the five dollars of free quarters handed out by the casino, and usually ends about the same way.
Claim to Fame: Jon Stewart’s crazy racist grandpa
Strengths: I said it in 2012, I’ll say it again: “Deputy Dawg-esque appearance and folksy, homespun demeanor lulls people into not noticing what an asshole he is”
Weaknesses: Is losing the ability to pull that trick off after ranting about Beyonce, publicly defending a pedophile, and comparing Obama to Hitler
Chances: Almost none. Four years of hanging out on Fox News has dulled his ability to articulate intensely right-wing positions without sounding strident, and he’s also one of the few people on this list who was on the 2012 list. People tend not to back proven losers–2012 was probably his high-water mark.
Claim to Fame: Governor of Louisiana, one of the few people who looked at the 2008 drubbing the Republican Party took and said, “Hey, maybe the problem is that we’re all idiots!” (He has since walked this back.)
Strengths: Actual sitting governor, which is practically like being a rockstar in this crowd; is also a member of the #notyourshield gang, which means he is deeply beloved among Republicans so long as he understands he’s not allowed to disagree with them; can drink prodigious amounts of water
Weaknesses: Prone to dangerous bouts of extreme thirst in critical situations, which could be disastrous if it happens during a national crisis; treats his home state more as a sort of useful campaign prop than something to actually govern, which bodes ill for the United States if “President of Earth” ever becomes a thing; looks just enough like Jimmy Carter to trigger PTSD flashbacks among elderly Republicans
Chances: Very low. Jindal has a bad habit of pandering to the lowest common denominator in his own party in ways that are crushingly obvious to moderates, and he’s done and said a lot of things in furtherance of this aim that are very hard to walk back. Add this to the previously-described tendency of Republicans to support minority candidates with words and not deeds, and you probably won’t see him stick around long.
Claim to Fame: Governor of Ohio, white man in a party where that’s so very distinctive
Strengths: Could easily masquerade as three or four other candidates in order to pick up their votes
Weaknesses: None of the three or four other candidates he’s impersonating have any support either.
Chances: Almost none. His candidacy was a late-stage decision in an already-crowded field, there’s nothing in particular to distinguish him from any number of other candidates on this list, and about the best thing you can say about him is that he could conceivably appeal to moderates, except that’s not a positive trait in the Republican primaries and there are still about three other people on this list that do it better.
Claim to Fame: Running gag on the Letterman show
Strengths: He’s a Republican who can get elected in New York, albeit not recently
Weaknesses: He’s a Republican from New York, which makes him a traitor in the eyes of at least a third of his own party right from the get-go
Chances: Almost none. As with Gilmore, this is pretty much a vanity run from someone whose political star has almost entirely faded; it’s more or less a retirement party that he’s convincing some well-heeled conservatives to fund. Expect him to drop out before the first primary.
Claim to Fame: Ron Paul’s slightly-more-hinged son
Strengths: Younger than Ron Paul, but still appealing to the same people who masturbate to passages from ‘Atlas Shrugged’; cannot be out-right-winged, even by Ted Cruz; has the kind of love-hate relationship with Rachel Maddow that will someday make a really hilarious biopic
Weaknesses: 52-year-old man who still has temper tantrums when reporters are anything less than utterly deferential to him; may or may not have mastered the skill of properly attributing things he didn’t say to the people who said it; is only considered reasonable when compared to his own immediate family
Chances: Very low. Rand is another Senator playing with house money (as opposed to House money)–he just got elected in 2014, meaning that he can piss away the better part of a year being stupid in public and failing to get the Republican nomination and still have four years for people to forget everything he said and did. It’s a decision that was arrived at by strategic weighing of the risks, not by a realistic assessment of his chances, and he doesn’t really care whether he wins or loses.
Claim to Fame: Former governor of Texas, former Presidential candidate, and the third claim…I forget the third claim. Oops.
Strengths: Amazing hair; glasses make him look all smart and stuff; and the third strength…I forget the third strength. Oops.
Weaknesses: Has been out of politics for too long to be seen as relevant; joins Huckabee in the “previous loser” club; and the third weakness…I forget the third weakness. Oops.
Chances: Zero. This is the perfect storm of vanity runs–take every single reason mentioned elsewhere in this list, they all apply to Perry. He’s out of office and no longer relevant in politics, he’s already run one campaign and lost, and he flared out by making a public idiot of himself in one of the most memorable fashions conceivable. His only real reason to run seems to be to rehabilitate his reputation, and that’s not going to happen because they won’t even let him sit at the adults’ table this time out. He may be gone by the time I finish typing this sentence.
Claim to Fame: Republican Senator from Florida
Strengths: Hits the sweet spot for Republicans of having an ethnically and culturally diverse background while looking like a preppy white dude; parents were Cuban immigrants, which earns him credit among the people who still have deep-rooted hatred for an 88-year-old man with no political power in his home country; is just bland enough that people not paying attention assume he must be moderate because he hasn’t said anything interesting enough to be called a gaffe
Weaknesses: Turns out that his parents were the boring kind of Cuban immigrants, not the politically valuable kind; primarily known for representing a state that is going to be underwater by 2025 and insisting that climate change isn’t a problem
Chances: Almost none. This is one of the few cases of someone running too early, rather than too late; Rubio just doesn’t have enough national exposure to get anyone interested in him, and he doesn’t have the kind of personal charisma and campaigning savvy that Obama had to overcome that problem. Again, he’s running mainly because it’s something he can do with no cost to himself personally or politically, not because he thinks he can win, and because it gets his name out there for 2020.
Claim to Fame: Google it
Strengths: Gives the “crazy religious” wing of the Republicans someone to cheer for; has sweater vests
Weaknesses: No longer relevant in contemporary politics; has no support beyond the “crazy religious” wing of the Republicans; keeps catching himself halfway through blurting out racial slurs on camera; name is literally synonymous with “oily sack of shit” and that’s not an unhappy coincidence
Chances: Zero. He knows it too, which is why he’s currently blasting Fox News for the failures of his candidacy. He’s got the same problem Huckabee had, only he was worse at hiding his mean-spirited stridency to begin with–he’s got no chance, and this is probably his last stab at political relevance. Look for him to become a regular on either Fox News, the 700 Club, or both.
Claim to Fame: Unceasing attempts to force himself onto the American public stretching back for over three decades
Strengths: For what it’s worth, he’s the only Republican candidate willing to give his open, honest opinion to people
Weaknesses: His open, honest opinions are all garbage and he’s a terrible, racist shitbag whose sole achievement in life is turning the pile of money he inherited into a slightly smaller pile of money while lying through his teeth about it
Chances: Zero. Yes, zero. For all that he is polling high at the moment, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that this will translate into absolutely no success in Iowa or New Hampshire, and once he loses two primaries, either he will quit in a huff or else the media will latch onto the winner of those primaries and suck all the air out of his candidacy with a new narrative about “Trump in freefall after shattering losses”. I cannot imagine he will survive to the convention. Even the fringiest of the fringe Republican voters are going to, in the end, put their weight behind a proven extremist like Cruz or Paul, and everyone else hates his guts.
Claim to Fame: Turned Wisconsin into West Mordor
Strengths: Has absolutely no shame; willing to do whatever his donors want in order to stay in their good graces and keep the money train coming; is utterly ruthless about crushing his opposition, no matter who they are or how inexpressibly cruel it is to go after them
Weaknesses: Has managed to, in just five short years, shed thousands of jobs and crater the Wisconsin state budget without producing any kind of measurable success that he can present to the American public by any metric you care to name; pretty much looks like a weasel wearing a cheap suit; is probably going to be in jail by 2016, which will make campaigning difficult and governing the country even harder
Chances: Actually pretty good, depressingly enough. All of his failures as a governor have been ideological successes–he’s fucked up Wisconsin catastrophically, but he’s done it by following every tenet of the Republican philosophy, so he can coast during the primaries in the sure and certain knowledge that anyone who calls him on it will be hurt more for violating ideological purity tests than he will for being utterly incompetent at his job. Short of an indictment coming down during the campaign, which is actually kind of possible, he’ll be in it for the long haul.
So there you have it–Bush 3.0 or Walker as last man standing, with Cruz or Paul as the acceptable protest candidates. Kind of makes the next twelve months sound a little dull, doesn’t it?
(This post contains discussion of the Duggar family. For those of you for whom this is triggering, or who just don’t want to hear any more about it, please do not click on the “more” tag.)
continue reading "Exeunt Huckabee"
Senator Ted Cruz announced over the weekend that he would run for President, and the liberal internet has by and large taken the opportunity to laugh at Cruz, because Ted Cruz’s positions are utterly crazy and should (in theory) make winning a presidential election extremely difficult. But I have a problem with this, and the problem is simple: I think it is in fact more than possible for Cruz to win the Republican primary, and possibly even the general election. Allow me to explain:
The path to victory for Cruz in the GOP primaries was blazed by Rick Santorum in 2012. In that election, Santorum came much closer to winning the GOP primary than he had any right to do; in retrospect everybody likes to pretend that Mitt Romney was an inevitability based on money, but in February of the 2012 campaign Santorum had reasonable momentum and even through March still had a decent shot at stealing the nomination from Romney. Romney eventually sealed it up in April, but Santorum had a real shot, and had a real shot because the base didn’t like Mitt Romney. The wackaloon psychotic base of the GOP is still the one tried and tested route to potentially stealing the nomination from the money men.
Now consider: Santorum was and is crazier than Cruz by a longshot, as well as being a less gifted public speaker and, to be frank, much stupider than Cruz. (Cruz is not stupid. He’s a highly intelligent ideological extremist. There is a difference between that and, say, Newt Gingrich, who attempts to be an intellectual and fails miserably.) Santorum had next to no campaign funding; Cruz will better him. Cruz also has the benefit of being Latino, which will insulate him from a lot of the entirely valid criticism of stock GOP racism that other lily-white candidates always have trouble with. Cruz won’t have to deal with Santorum’s issue of inconvenient Senate votes that made him look maybe-sorta-moderate (something Romney hammered Santorum on in the debates and which was reasonably effective) because Cruz has voted ideologically for pretty much the entirety of his Senate career. Cruz doesn’t have any really big scandals attached to him that can derail his campaign; there are no Bain Capitals waiting to take him down, and likely no aggrieved sexually harassed ex-staffers either.1 With Cruz, the crazy you see is the crazy you get.
And Santorum was essentially the base’s last-ditch choice as the anti-Mitt, following the electoral collapses of Herman Cain, Michelle Bachmann and Newt Gingrich, largely because of all the reasons I just mentioned, along with the flop-sweat loser-stink Santorum wore like perfume – whereas Ted Cruz is at this point arguably the base’s poster boy. The GOP base loves Ted Cruz. He’s their first choice and it isn’t even close. And that matters.
Look at the electoral battleground that’s coming and pay attention to the candidates who are already faltering: all those governors and potential moderate candidates are collapsing already. (Chris Christie will never even sniff the nomination, let alone the Presidency.) They’re doing this because getting the backing of the GOP money men is widely (and not unfairly) considered to be the real battle in Republican electoral politics.2 Most of that money is probably going to go to Jeb Bush or Scott Walker (with Rick Perry and Rand Paul fighting over the remainder).
Ted Cruz isn’t stupid: he knows he can’t out-fundraise Bush or Walker. But Bush and Walker will each likely view one another as the biggest threat to the other’s campaign. This happens in every hotly contested political primary: the two richest candidates attack each other and everybody else scrambles for attention. Ted Cruz has likely decided that his best chance to ever be President is to snake up the middle – to try and use his megapopularity with the GOP base to snag a few early primary victories while Bush and Walker are trying to buy them. Once Cruz has a few won states under his belt, the money will inevitably start drifting his way – not in a rush, but he’ll have enough to stay afloat. (Remember, Rick Santorum competed against Romney using about 1/5th the money.)
Now, granted, Bush or Walker – probably only one of them becomes the GOP money wing’s candidate, and I would bet on Bush because Walker’s money and popularity is in much more direct competition with Cruz – will try to outspend Cruz and win the primaries that way, and of course it might well work.
But we aren’t talking certainties here either way. Ted Cruz has a real shot at winning the GOP nomination, and he announced his campaign this early precisely because now he can set up advance offices in all the early primary states – he has announced before Bush or Walker or any of them because he’s going to run a grassroots campaign to try and win those early states, and if you’re running a grassroots campaign you need to start the work as early as possible and not mess around with exploratory committees.3 So far he’s doing exactly what he should be doing.
The general election
Okay, so let’s pre-suppose that Cruz wins the GOP primary. At this point the prevailing theory is that he can’t beat Hillary Clinton – or whoever the Democrats put forward, but let’s be honest, barring an unlikely asteroid strike it’s going to be Hillary Clinton. The craziness that makes him stand a real chance of winning the GOP nomination is exactly what keeps him from winning the general.
The problem with this theory is that Presidential elections in the United States are a binary affair (your Vermin Supremes aside). If Ted Cruz is the only realistic alternative to Hillary Clinton that voters have… well, he’s the only realistic alternative that voters have. We talk a lot about how Obama’s victories in 2008 and 2012 over John McCain and Mitt Romney were mudhole-stompings and about the new Democratic coalition and demographic truths and what have you, but the truth is Obama only won each of those elections by a few percentage points.
Now: Hillary’s perceived electoral strength relies largely on the Democratic coalition all being happy to vote for her, or at least willing, and there are plenty of Dem voters who might grudgingly check their ballots for her but aren’t wildly thrilled to vote for her. Lots of voters who want the first woman President would prefer Elizabeth Warren. Lots of liberals think Clinton is a centrist who won’t make things better. Lots of Democratic men are probably being, well, men.
All it takes is one big mistake and Hillary goes from being the presumptive President to being in a dogfight. And here are two truths about Hillary Clinton: first, she’s a serviceable campaigner at best who tends to trust the wrong people when it comes to campaign management, which is why Barack Obama is President right now. And second, the media by and large haaaaaates her, always has, and they’ll be looking for opportunities to take her down, both out of dislike and because any successful Clinton trip to the Presidency will be a boring story and they hate that even worse. Clinton’s campaign will not be a boring one, because the press will not let it be a boring one.
And Cruz probably has one final benefit to running in 2016, which is that the GOP money men kept a lot of their powder dry in 2012 precisely because they suspected Obama wouldn’t lose as an incumbent President – and in 2012 the Dems outspent the GOP, but only to the tune of ten percent more money. In 2016? Who knows how much the GOP elites will spend to get back in the White House and nominate a few conservative Supreme Court judges to safely replace Scalia (79) and Kennedy (78) – or worse, Breyer (74) or Ginsburg (82)? I would bet on it being a lot – and the Presidential election can be swung by money, because it almost always is.
To be sure: Ted Cruz’ chances of winning the Presidency should he win the election are low. But they are not negligible and his personally crazy positions will not, by and large, interfere with his opportunity to win the Presidency. He’s only a joke once his campaign ends in ignominy. Before then, he’s a threat – and should be considered a serious one.
A few people over the past few weeks have asked me what I think about the Scottish independence vote and honestly, I think it’s a little facile for me to even have an opinion. I mean: I’m not Scottish. I’m not even Scottish by descent. I have basically no stake in this whatsoever, and it seems a little ridiculous for me to issue a proclamation one way or the other.
That having been said, although I don’t have an opinion one way or the other as to how Scots should vote, the pros and cons are fairly straightforward (or in some cases not):
Snark aside: I have no idea. The currency issue is a really huge one and it’s the element most ignored by the media (predictably enough), but it isn’t necessarily insurmountable (announce the “Scottish pound,” tie it to the British pound for a few years, then sever ties?). The oil issue is problematic, but then again most of the world has the oil issue to deal with and it’s not going to go away whether Scotland is independent or not; the question is really whether you think Scotland or the UK can better deal with Scottish transition to a post-oil economy. And I’m not gonna predict that one way or another – except to say that David Cameron and the Tories will botch it, but “the UK” does not necessarily mean David Cameron and the Tories.
In any event, Scottish participation in the election seems to be at fever pitch levels, and an involved electorate is good, so whatever the outcome, it’ll actually reflect the will of the people, and how is that not encouraging? So go vote, Scotland.
So recently there has been a kerfuffle of sorts, because WWE announced they were bringing the WWE Network to Canada. Now, this should have been a slam dunk, no-miss proposition. Canada has always been a hotbed of wrestling fandom: obvious easy market, obvious profit. Right?
Except that the WWE Network has partnered with Rogers Canada, one of the biggest cable providers in the country, and literally removed every single thing that was good about the Network from the Canadian version. To wit:
|ASPECT||ORIGINAL AMERICAN VERSION||INFERIOR CANADIAN VERSION|
|Cost||$9.99 per month||$11.99 per month|
|Method of delivery||Over-the-top via internet to computers/XBoxen/Rokus/etc.||Premium on-demand cable channel|
|Availability||Anybody who can pay for it||Rogers subscribers only (which means MORE THAN HALF THE COUNTRY can't get it and those who can have to sign up with a specific cable company to do so)|
|How one can watch||Computer/TV/Tablet/phone||TV only|
|Back catalog||Every pay-per-view ever and thousands of hours of TV footage||Literally only eight pay-per-views at launch|
I’m not kidding about the lack of back content either. Take a look at this:
Here is how the archive is labelled – looks like a total rush job, I expected stripped down version but this is low pic.twitter.com/REXz71VO4P
— Live Audio Wrestling (@LAWradio) August 12, 2014
(The full list of launch content, incidentally: SummerSlam 1992, 1998, 2000, 2002 and 2005, Great American Bash 1989, Bash at the Beach 1994, 1996 and 1998, ECW Heatwave 1998 and 1999, and ECW One Night Stand 2005.)
So it’s a horrible botch job and Canadians who want the proper WWE Network will just have to not use the American service via a VPN because that would be wrong, but really, we can’t reasonably blame WWE for this, because Rogers owns the TV rights to WWE in Canada and because of that you had to know that, from the get-go, they would come in and ruin the Network for Canadians because it’s Rogers.
See, thanks to the way the Canadian telecommunications industry is regulated and operated, Rogers literally does not have to give a damn. Rogers is one of three companies – the others being Bell and Shaw – that dominates 90% of internet provision in Canada. It is also one of three companies (the others being Bell and Shaw) that dominates television in Canada. Out of the 60 or so channels that make up most “basic premium cable” packages in Canada, the Big Three own thirty-two of them. (Another twelve are American-owned, eight are owned by a corporation called Corus Entertainment, and eight others are either publicly operated or independently owned.) While we’re at it, Bell and Rogers control about 65% of the mobile phone market in Canada (a third company, Telus, controls about another 25%).
These companies don’t have to worry about somebody out-competing them because they have completely regulatory-captured the CRTC (Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission). If you want a mobile phone? There’s no such thing as Bell, Rogers or Telus offering a better rate than the other; down the line, their rates and services are virtually identical. They all have budget carrier brands as well: those match up just the same too. TV services? Barely any measurable difference between the 2-3 options you have anywhere in Canada (usually one of Rogers and Shaw, plus Bell). Internet? Same shit, different day. Most of the “independent” ISPs in Canada are actually re-sellers who buy bandwidth from Bell or Rogers at cost (the big guys are legally forced to offer pipe at cost for resale otherwise they wouldn’t do it) so even if you have an indie ISP like Teksavvy, Bell and Rogers are still getting your money.
The net result of all of this is that internet/TV/wireless in Canada is a bad joke, has been for basically ever, and barring a major sea change in regulatory attitudes it’s never going to change – heck, right now Bell and Rogers are running ads on their own TV and radio stations under the guise of a “consumer advocacy group” that additional competition in their marketplace would “kill Canadian jobs” so they’re loading the deck as we speak. It’s ridiculous and awful and everybody knows it’s ridiculous and awful, but no politician is ever going to campaign on it because did I mention that Bell and Rogers own all those TV channels? Including multiple news channels? Amazing how that works.
So the WWE Network in Canada was always going to suck. Because we can’t have nice things here, not in the telecom sense.
So LeBron James is opting out of his contract with the Miami Heat, and of course on Twitter the result was the regularly-expected storm of condemnation. Partially this is leftover blowback from “The Decision,” which everybody hated because LeBron arrogantly decided to reveal an enormous piece of sporting news on national television (and in the process forced ESPN to donate millions to charity, something most people forget). But partially it’s the result of two mindsets towards professional athletes, neither of which is terribly healthy.
The first mindset is distinctly authoritarian in tone, which is to say: “LeBron owes the fans.” The question of how much LeBron or any player owes their fans is, of course, never quantified, because the operating principle behind this mindset is that LeBron or any other professional athlete should just be goddamned grateful that they get to play a game and be paid money to do so. The second mindset is dismissive (and far more prevalent on the left side of the political spectrum, where jokes about “sportsball” are annoyingly common from people who should frankly have more common sense than to disparage something many people enjoy simply because it’s not their thing) and stems from the idea that professional athletes don’t deserve the money they earn because professional sports themselves are bad.
What is common to both mindsets is that athletes are, in some way, different from other workers. In fairness, this is true in some ways: in North America most athletes are still unionized, which makes them relative outliers on the labour spectrum, and have levels of job protection that most people cannot get any more. But that doesn’t change the nature of the fact that professional athletes are still labourers, and in many ways more purely exemplify the value of labour in the labour-capital relationship more than any other business you can conceive. After all, if you don’t have players, then you don’t have a sport. And yet, in professional sports, most leagues only have half of the revenue at most going to the players without whom there would be no league (and it is often less).
Which is why LeBron choosing to opt out of his contract early to become a free agent is important. He put that clause in his contract – as did Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh – because they all agreed that they wanted to try and win as many championships as possible, to create a team for the ages, and if it didn’t work out then they could go their separate ways or try to retool as necessary after a few years. And the results have been reasonably good: four straight NBA Finals appearances, two championships. That is pretty impressive. But, following the 2014 NBA Finals – where the Heat were whipped like a mule by the San Antonio Spurs, who were fundamentally a better and smarter team and where the Heat’s previous reliance on athletic, smart attack failed them when LeBron turned out to be the only star athlete left on the Heat – it’s clear that the Heat no longer have what it takes to win championships reliably.
(An aside: this is typically the point where some fans will complain about the obvious collusion on the part of LeBron, Bosh and Wade to play together, which doesn’t make any sense when you think about it: why should we condemn players for deciding to create a superteam when, if it was achieved through trades/free agency by a team, we would be celebrating smart management? This all goes back to that authoritarian mindset.)
This is exactly the scenario that LeBron, Wade and Bosh envisioned when they all signed with the Heat for a bit less than they otherwise could have commanded in free agency: the model does not work now. Time to find a new one – whether that means each of them going their own separate ways, or each of them terminating their contracts and re-signing with the Heat for less money so the Heat can afford to sign additional quality players.
It may not work; LeBron has opted out, presumably to force the Heat’s hand, but the biggest reason he’s opting out is because Wade might decide he wants to keep his $20 million per year, because nobody in their right mind signs Dwyane Wade to a deal for anything more than half that at this point, and even $10 million a year might be comparatively generous for a player who cannot under any realistic circumstances play starter minutes as a star player any longer. But that, too, goes back to what’s fair for workers: nobody forced the Miami Heat to sign Dwyane Wade to a $20 million contract. Why should Wade give up $42 million over the next two years to make other people happy? That’s a lot of money. Wade can do what he thinks is best for him and LeBron can do what he thinks is best for him (and for LeBron, that’s winning titles).
Of course, none of this really matters, because at the end of the day this is purely about envy. The people complaining about LeBron opting out are, at root, complaining that he makes a very large amount of money (regardless of the fact that he is legitimately the best in the world at what he does and that there is an insane market demand for what he does, a demand that is so great that frankly the NBA salary rules are restricting LeBron from earning what he could conceivably get from teams did those rules not exist), and generally also complaining that they do not. That’s all it is. That’s all it really ever was. And it’s a bit of a problem, because when people are opposed to workers engaging with their own basic labour rights – with workers using the terms of the contracts they negotiated to their own advantage – it’s the beginning of a slippery slope.
Over at Torontoist, we’re doing a series of fact-checks of mayoral candidates’ policy speeches. We just recently did Olivia Chow, who was unsurprisingly pretty accurate. (My idea to enliven the post with a series of GIFs of adorable dogs was shot down.)
My weekly TV column is up at Torontoist.
I also wrote a look forward for Ontario’s political parties over the next four to five years. And now, all I have to worry about is the municipal election! And a potential federal election next year probably!
As part of Torontoist’s Crack (Adjective, Not Like, The Drug – Yes We Get That It’s A Reference) Political Team, we covered the provincial leaders’ debate. It was actively painful.
You can go over to Torontoist and read my three nominees for Heroes and Villains 2013: Tatiana Maslany, the Toronto Zoo’s elephant move, and The Raptor. (The Raptor piece was written before the Toronto Raptors went on a serious tear and actually look like a for-real basketball team for the first time in a loooooong time.)
None of them won Superhero of the Year or even came close in the voting, but unsurprisingly, Rob Ford took Supervillain in a walk.