Tuesday, September 27, 2016


Quick response to the 1st of 3 Presidential debates for 2016. 

September 26, 2016 is now a red letter date for U.S. Presidential politics. That is a fact. The first female major party nominee took the stage in a one-on-one debate with the other major party nominee. Put aside the issue of whether or not the two other candidates from the Libertarian and Green party should have been up there, put aside how you think Lester Holt did as the moderator or who won. Start by realizing that single point. Women have had the vote for a shorter time than we have had cars. This is an important day.

Historical context aside, someone won and someone lost that debate. That is the nature of a two person debate. Rarely can we call a debate a tie, and it would take some serious mental gymnastics to call the first 2016 Presidential debate a tie.

I Do Declare.

Hillary Clinton was an objective winner in the first debate. She was Presidential, quick hitting, and did exactly what JEB! couldn't do by not allowing Trump to play his bully game. Trump, by contrast, was impatient, easily upset, and had stretches of time in which his answers either didn't' make cogent logical sense or were actually damaging to himself more than to his opponent. It's never a good look when your twitter feed is being edited while you're at the debate because you just contradicted yourself. (Literally.)

Even though this was a Clinton victory it was by no means a knockout. Trump did what he needed to do, which was stand on the debate stage and at least appear competent for a period of time. The first 15-20 minutes was enough for Trump to have done that, even if the last 30 minutes was an absolute unraveling for him, which it was.

If you like Trump you are probably pretty happy with the first debate, he was very... Trumpian. If you like Clinton you are either still curled up in a ball from looking at too many polls showing a tie or Trump leading (That's enough Nate Silver, really.), or you're very happy with the first debate. The base of both parties (roughly 80% of the entire vote) likely was not swayed in any way last night. For those people at the bases the first debate was an affirmation of their decision and chance to yell at the television and call the other candidate a lying liar. For the other 20%, it's a bit different.

The Swingers.

It's that 20% in the middle that matters so much and that same 20% is often the group that is doing their best to put aside the subjective feelings for one party or the other and trying to pick the best qualified candidate. Those voters really care about the way the candidates behaved last night and the substance of what was said.

Trump's constant interrupting was fine on the 10 person GOP debate stage when he wasn't on camera 100% of the time. It was a negative last night. Trump's look of annoyance was part of his charm when he was playing to the anti-establishment primary crowd. It was a negative last night. Trump's skin deep policy analysis was acceptable when he only needed to fill about 10-15 minutes of air time in the primary debates. Last night required 35-50 minutes from each, more than double his primary performances and then some. That was a negative for him. Trump is all “What” and no “Why” in his answers and policies. His stances are bold, sure, but his plans are...well we can talk about those when we actually see them.

On the other side, Clinton allowed herself to be baited a couple of times, early on, which was negative for her. She also seemed overly petty going after the fact-checking lines (the internet was going to do that anyway) and that was a negative for her. She was at her best when she ignored Trump and just kept talking, which historically is the best way to strip a bully of their power. Clinton's natural existence is a bit stilted, but that also allows her to remain serious. Clinton's one of the single most awkward candidates I've ever witnessed make a snarky attack, the rehearsal tone is always obvious. She often sounds like a high school play actor, delivering a line. Clinton is not the first politician with this problem, Romney, Kerry, Gore, and even at times Obama suffered from the same malady of the mouth.

Separating the Cream.

The real difference came on the birther, tax, and temperament issue. Trump has practiced lines about the birther issue that do well with a certain segment of the population but those lines fall flat with the middle 20% he needs to win.

On temperament there is not a single poll to support Trump's claim that he has the better temperament, and in fact all the data in that area suggests the exact opposite. For a guy that loves polling so much perhaps he should take a look at all of them instead of the internet polls on Drudge.

On taxes, the “emails for taxes” trade has grown stale. It's not an equal issue any way. Clinton's taxes are out, Trump's are not. Period. The little we know? Trump doesn't pay taxes which he calls being smart. Don't get me wrong, I don't WANT to pay taxes, but I do want to have our military and infrastructure in tact. So, I pay them.

The Score.

If I was scoring this debate for each candidate on a 1-10 scale (10 being high 1 being low) I would give Trump a 5 and Clinton a 7.5. A clear win for Clinton, but by no means a knockout blow. Trump got 3 points for showing up, 1 point for breathing (heavily) and staying alive, and 1 point for not saying anything blatantly racist.

The question now is if Clinton can keep up her preparation for the second debate. A win in debates one and two could be enough to put Trump on such a defensive stance that the third debate becomes his undoing. Otherwise we will continue to see polling with Trump having a shot to win.

Assuming Trump shows up to another debate. Though I'm not sure he can stand to lose to a girl, again.

-A. Sommer

Friday, September 23, 2016

The Dancing Bear

The following is an original short story.

The crowd waits with anticipation, murmuring to one another and sharing their expectations of the show to come. Everyone has gathered to witness the spectacle, as advertised. Out front the sign reads “Come One Come All! Witness the Dancing Bear!” In just minutes the show will begin but eager onlookers are still filing in searching for a seat, or at least a place to stand and witness such a rare event. The circus tent, erected yesterday to house the show, is bursting at the seams.

In the corner is a boy who appears to be around ten. He's wearing a wrinkled polo shirt and has chocolate on his face from the ice cream he devoured while waiting for the show. He stands with his arms crossed, waiting impatiently to see this bear dance. He's never seen a bear up close, let alone a dancing bear. No one in the tent has seen a dancing bear either.

The lights flash, once, twice, three times and then a voice comes over the speakers asking the crowd to “Please find your seats, the show will begin in moments” which only sparks the crowd's energy. The buzz in the tent grows as the lights dim, fading from bright all the way to pitch black. The buzz is replaced by the tension of silent anticipation, the sound of baited breath.

A spotlight clicks on, and a sea of eyes follow the beam to the far side of the arena. A man walks into the light wearing a red jacket and black top hat. The jacket is too small, the hat oddly large. Even so, the man strides into the ring with the confidence of a conquering ruler. He is the ringmaster, here to guide the crowd through the evenings events.

The mic crackles as the ringmaster begins his grand introduction. “Ladies and gentlemen, children of all ages, welcome to the single greatest spectacle in the land! Tonight, prepare to be amazed! You are about to witness something so rare, so magical, that you will surly be telling the tale to all you encounter.” The ring master lowers his tone, using the quiet to draw the crowd to him as he continues “Folks, I will warn you that we are dealing with a wild animal. He has been tamed by his handlers, but there is no telling when he will snap back to being a ferocious bear... I say that not to frighten, but only to show you the level of achievement in what this creature has been taught to do.” The crowd leans in, a collective appreciation for what the ringmaster has explained starting a light rumble of comments.

The boy with the chocolate on his face wonders to himself “Why is he saying all of this?” while the ringmaster continues to explain the wonder of a dancing bear to the eager audience. “Just bring out the bear and let me see him dance!” shouted the boy. No one notices.

Finally, after several minutes of introduction, the ring master raises his right hand as if to signal someone and, leaning back, he yells into the microphone “LET'S BRING OUT THE BEAR!”

The crowd increases to a dull roar as people speculate the coming wonder.

The spotlight shifts back to the same place from which the ringmaster emerged as slowly the brown head, hulking shoulders and body, and finally the pink tutu emerge from the entrance. The bear is walking on all fours. The boy is not impressed.

The bear's handler is wearing all black and standing just outside of the spotlight, creating the illusion the bear is operating on its own. The boy notices.

The handler and bear come to the left side of the ring, and the bear gets up onto a box, then stands on two legs and claps its meaty paws. The crowd applauds. The boy does not. The bear climbs down and lumbers around the ring toward the opposite side, gets up on yet another box, and this time waves at the crowd. Again, the crowd applauds, this time with a smattering of “oooo” and “ahhh” but still the boy is silent, unmoved.

The bear continues performing tricks, catching a ball, pushing a cart, giving the ring master a hug to show just how tame it really is. The crowd's applause increases each time but the boy remains unmoved. The boy with the chocolate on his face came to see the bear dance.

Finally, the bear and handler walk to the center of the ring. The crowd quiets, though it cannot go silent as the onlookers continue to comment to each other just how impressed they are with how tame this bear appears. Then the ringmaster comes back into view in his own spotlight. There is one spotlight on the bear and one on the ring master. As the speakers crack again the ringmaster booms “Now the moment you've all been waiting for! MUSIC!” The music clicks on. The bear doesn't move. Finally the boy sees the handler's arms behind the bear moving and the bear begins to move as well. It raises its paws over its head, gets up on its hind legs and shuffles to the left. The crowd applauds. The bear shuffles back to the right. The crowd applauds. The bear spins a circle, slowly, and even manages to put one paw over its head and the other one across its body. In the tutu it gives the appearance of a bear ballerina.

The crowd erupts.

The boy nods his head. He leaves, satisfied to have seen the bear dance.

The next day at school the boy tells his friends all he saw, and the aw of the dancing bear. One of his friends asks “Could the bear really dance all on its own?” The boy smiles. Without a moment's hesitation he says to his friends “Of course. A one of a kind dancing bear. What did you expect? ”

- A. Sommer