Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Did Bush really win?

Did Kerry actually win the election? It sounds absurd, but check out the topics buzzed about in the blogosphere.

I. Massive Election Fraud?

The tin foil hat brigade is out in full force, pointing to dodgy vote irregularities as signs of possible election fraud. After the raging, year-long conspiracy theories regarding Diebold voting machines, new conspiracy theories are no surprise. But it's also true there's some sketchy stuff out there. First, there's the unexplained disparity between exit polls and vote totals (apparently the exit polls were much more accurate in states that had punch card ballots than touch screen systems). Then there are precincts where Bush won thousands of more votes than there are registered voters. Then there's the systematic elimination of "spoiled ballots" largely in minority-heavy precincts. And now, the blogosphere has dug up the bizarre duplicative vote differences in tallies of different wards in Ohio. Very suspicious, indeed.

I typically dismiss conspiracy theorists, but these guys do mount something of a case. The definitive case is offered by British journalist Greg Palast. Picking up the story, Keith Olbermann became the first mainstream journalist yesterday to come out with a report, which is a helpful summary of the goings-on. A last lengthy summary can be found here. For the obsessives, a very helpful clearinghouse of links to articles addressing alleged voting fraud is here.

II. Exit Poll Meltdown, or...

Even if you don't buy the conspiracy theories -- and I don't, at least not yet -- one must explain the widespread failure of the exit polls this year. Generally, with such gargatuan sample sizes, exit polls just aren't wrong outside the margin of error. The exit polls had it Kerry-51 Bush-48, with Kerry sweeping the battleground states. So what on earth happened? A Princeton professor has a blog devoted to the exit poll/vote total disparity, and it's got some interesting info. Another good discussion can be found on MysteryPollster, but even then, without the actual exit poll data in his hands, MysteryPollster can only speculate. Internet guru Lawrence Lessig has now called for the 2004 exit poll data to be released publicly. That's a start. Getting to the bottom of this isn't just to help Kerry, who has probably a 1 million to 1 shot of overturning the putative election results. It's so shit like the Tuesday afternoon debacle doesn't happen again.

Those fucking exit polls, after all, made all the Dems giddy for 5 hours, when everyone thought Kerry won. Bush's Vegas odds were tanking; Karen Hughes was consoling Dubya; Kerry was set to work on his victory speech. We were so happy! What the fuck happened?

III. Voter Intimidation and Minority Suppression

From the ground in Ohio, it really looked like Kerry was gonna win. Canvassing in Marion, OH, a mid-sized, 50/50 city on October 30, we bumped into ACT people, KE'04 people, even Fingerhut folks working the GOTV. Kerry/Edwards lawnsigns, while outnumbered by BC '04 signs, abound in small towns and rural areas, indicating genuine enthusiasm in Red areas. The Columbus Dispatch poll final poll of 2000+ Ohians showed an eight (8!) vote difference separating the two candidates. GOTV will take it for Kerry, we thought.

Then reality intruded, along with a well directed Rethug suppression operation. But more mundane obstacles also contributed to the loss. Tuesday brought a steady, unforgiving downpour, which likely cost Kerry a good chunk of votes. Long lines in urban (read: Democratic areas) due to poor equipment and understaffing led to potential Kerry voters ditching the polls. I suspect these banal factors caused Kerry to lose at least 25,000 to 50,000 votes over Bush.

But some blame must be placed on under-the-radar suppression efforts. Reports include robo-calls featuring a purported Kerry/Edwards message saying a vote for Kerry is a vote for gay marriage, so support gay marriage by supporting Kerry!, flyers in minority districts saying that the election is on Nov. 3, and especially, bum rushing the polling places with, intimidating darkly-attired "challengers" intimidating minority voters. All of this undoubtedly contributed to a lower vote total for Kerry. Just how much, it's hard to say.

And therein lies Kerry's problem. His most compelling case involves disenfranchised voters, those prevented from voting. It's impossible to determine how many votes should've counted. And in this case, the party can only blame itself. The Dems, as usual, didn't play as hard as the Rethugs, losing ground even with all that money, energy and volunteers in the state. Is it an outrage that Rethugs are always out to suppress voting? Sure. But that's how the game's played, and everyone knows it. If I were running the operation, I'd roll out robocalls to Christian fundamentalists telling them about Bush's eve-of-election support for gay civil unions. Yeah, that's nasty, but you can't fight with boxing gloves if the other guy's trying to bash you with a folding chair.

The biggest mistake Kerry and his allies made in this vein is that, not only did they not play as dirty, they wouldn't call out GOP dirty tricks, which would at least set the groundwork for a public relations campaign to discredit this laughable "mandate" business.

IV. A Recount in Ohio?

The only realistic option is a recount in Ohio. Kerry needs to get the margin down to about 19,000 votes for Ohio's automatic recount provision to set in. The current numbers, taken from the Ohio Democratic Party:
Bush-Kerry margin: 136,483
Estimated number of provisional ballots yet to be counted (likely with heavy Kerry margins): 155,000
Overseas absentee ballots: number of ballots unknown, none yet counted.
Overvotes/Undervotes: ~93,000 ballots for President not counted by machines due to overvotes, undervotes, or no votes.

Given these numbers, Kerry obviously needs a shocking tabulation error discovery to save him. The provisionals and the absentees will not get him to the 19,000 where a recount might reverse things. That's why Kerry conceded so early.

So there's next to no chance for a Kerry presidency in 2004, but it's good to know that some are still keeping hope alive.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Random bits of business, done sideways

I don't have much to say about Sideways (B+/B). Alexander Payne, a native Cornhusker, clearly understands his Blue Staters here much better than the Red Staters in About Schmidt, and the result is a funnier and more heartfelt study of a guy who bears the weight of realizing he's accomplished nothing he wanted in life, and without the kind of condescension that marred Schmidt. It's the difference between a movie about Reds for Blue consumption and a movie about Blues for Blues. One entails a certain Animal Planet approach; the other works on pangs of recognition, which is necessarily more subtle.

As in Schmidt, the production design is especially sharp, full of little details (such as the little blue ceramic mug that Madsen drinks out of) that feel exactly right on. But I found the buddy dynamic and the themes awfully familiar, and Payne's not very good at the old Lubitsch trick of having the audience stay ahead of the characters. The reaction shots (eye-rolling, nudging) are too obviously cued to the audience, whom Payne labors to have clued in to the joke/deception/whathaveyou, rather than the characters observing the reaction. As terrific as Giamatti is (and he's mostly brilliant), he's often too aware of the camera, obviously showing his character's disgust for the audience. The movie's key image is a profile of Giamatti's Miles snarling, with his eyes peering at a spot just off the lens, playing to the viewer. Thomas Haden Church, who plays the frat-boy lummox, is pitch perfect ("ha ha, here I am!", he'll announce with that cackling self-confidence of a man totally unencumbered by self-awareness.) as Miles' foil. Ultimately, it's a fine, beautifully-observed character study of two familiar types, but nothing over which to jump up and cheer. Payne's unable to locate the revelatory in the ordinary, the way Richard Ford did in Independence Day, his excellent road novel of a middle-aged writer treading water. It's the margin between good and great. Perhaps the Rule of the Bandaged Nose comes into play. (The rule is that any movie where a character walks around with his nose bandaged is automatically accorded masterpiece status.)

Back to politics. A week after the election, the future of the Democratic Party isn't nearly as urgent a priority for me. Hence, I'm starting to rethink my plans for a multi-part tract. Okay, I lie. Electoral triumph remains my overriding obsession, even while we wage the ever-so-predictable post-election assault on Fallujah (a necessary move long overdue, but I fear the carnage) and one of the major historical figures of the last fifty years lie dying. So that will still be forthcoming, along with a lengthy review of I ♥ Huckabees, and possibly even some super tardy thing on Eternal Sunshine and Before Sunset. (Announcing potential posts publicly is really for my benefit -- it provides some incentive to get shit done.)

For those of you dizzy from the fast-changing conventional wisdom regarding why the Democrats couldn't beat a failed president (it's values no it's Kerry no it's lack of a party message no it's mass ignorance), you're already aware of Slate's circular firing squad. (Best pieces by Robert Reich and Robert Wright. Most honest assessment courtesy of Jane Smiley. So it's shrill; fuck you, too.) Flying somewhat under the radar, New Donkey provides a nice summary of CW with links, and some good discussion can be found on the, yes, increasingly shrill MyDD. Also, here's a nice summary from Kevin Drum, who's just a bit shrill.

On the nominally non-political end of the blogosphere, Mike D'Angelo finally caved in and started a blog that will focus exclusively on the virtues of magical handwear. Most of you reading this are already aware of the blog, no doubt, but those who aren't are advised to check it out. On the flip side, Mike's Doc Ock, aka Himey, has also turned bloggy. It's worth a look, especially the early, funnier stuff.


Undoubtedly from the same fevered minds who brought you the calculatedly pervy Indiecrap Ripe comes Easy, a tale of a promiscuous woman who evidently learns in the course of the movie that the way to the heart isn't through the loins. Or at least not on the first date. Did our star neglect her Cosmo subscription growing up? What cave did she inhabit in her youth as to cause her to fully miss Rule #1? But maybe there's a less obvious point that the movie is making, one that can't be gathered from the trailer. (Doubtful, but possible.) The selling point, though, isn't the journey, but the image. Just as the salacious Ripe poster made the film an irresistible proposition, so too is this lurid visual pitch hard to turn down:

(Couldn't find the poster on the Web, but it's basically this image with the title "Easy" sitting brazenly in the center.)

Nearly lured by these evil Indiewood marketing geniuses and their provocative one-sheets, the trailer was my salvation, a dreadful sub-If Lucy Fell melange of Sundance cliches. This movie is unbelievably asinine. In fact, I'd urge all aspiring filmmakers should do some detective work and dig up this movie's financiers, so you, too, can con these jackasses into financing your junk. Speaking of junk, the legendary auteur Eric Schaeffer has a new movie out, ingeniously titled Mind the Gap. Mr. Schaeffer, methinks, has a bright future in the gimmick t-shirt business if this movie thing doesn't pan out for him.

Lastly, this is absolutely tragic. Who is this Mike Nichols guy to get in the way of verismilitude, of art, anyway? Fuck him. This is art we're talking about.