NPF: A MATTER OF INCHES

Last weekend, following Question Cathy's lead, I reached the "signed up for a free trial of Ancestry.com" level of cabin fever. Don't worry, I canceled in time.

It wasn't that I found the process uninteresting. There simply wasn't that much to learn. I confirmed what I already knew: everyone in my lines of ancestry is from Poland. And I mean everyone. There's none of this "Well I'm 1/16 Irish" stuff. It's all Poland.

Additionally, there is nothing to be found much earlier than 1900. The paper trail starts when they arrived in the U.S. as immigrants. The documents (Army draft cards, immigration records, passports, naturalization paperwork, etc.) reflect the root of the problem – each person has a different birth date on almost every document. These were illiterate or barely literate people. They didn't even know with certainty their own birth dates, which was not uncommon in that era. And they inhabited a part of the world where written records that survived are not exactly ample. Some European countries like the U.K. seem to have a long and well-preserved tradition of records. Poland, which was overrun and traded among rival European powers for centuries, does not.

The other unsurprising find is that I descend from lines of entirely unremarkable people for the most part. I suppose everyone does genealogy hoping and expecting to find interesting stories or rich and famous long-lost relatives. I didn't harbor any illusions, but it's incredible the extent to which everyone prior to my dad (who was born in the U.S. and went to college) we were all…peasants, I guess. Because that's what the overwhelming majority of human history has been – anonymous people living anonymous lives trying to fend off death long enough to reproduce. My ancestors did what almost everyone's ancestors did for generations. They worked with their hands and their lower backs and aside from children they left essentially nothing to indicate that they ever lived.

But here's the interesting part.

Many key people from my father's lineage hail from a place I'd never heard of called Bolestraszyce in southeastern Poland. I looked it up on a map.

Ethnicity and nationality are funny things. For all the family members who lived long enough for me to meet them, our ethnic identity as Poles has been extremely important to them. Polacks tend not to broadcast it in the same way that, say, Irish or Italian Americans do (like on t-shirts, for example) but like anyone else they seem to consider it a core part of their identity. And looking at that map, I can't help but laugh a little at how silly it is. Had they been born a few miles to the east, everything they ever felt about being Polish would have been Ukrainian. A little farther south and it would have been generations of Slovak pride.

Now, I know the borders in that area of the world have shifted around a lot, and there is more to the concept of an ethnic identity than to a national one. Plenty of people are living in X despite being Ethnic Y's. I just think about all the minor changes that could have taken what I believe is a long line of people in that area a few miles one way or the other. Would I feel any differently about myself if I were the exact same person, but "Ukrainian"?

Probably? I don't know. My guess is that whatever need ethnic identity fulfills for us psychologically can work regardless of which identity is involved. The cultural cues are different (Ukrainian churches are…something else) but fundamentally all of these people would have been the same. Jog the border a little bit one way or the other on a piece of land in modern Poland that has been Germany, Russia, Austria-Hungary, and a half dozen other nation-states that no longer exist and I can't imagine that the long-term outcomes across generations would matter much.

Perhaps the biggest difference would have been in immigration patterns. European immigrants famously had preferences for going where their ethnic predecessors went. Chicago was heavy on Poles and Slavic people in general. Ukrainians appear to have preferred staying on the East Coast, in the New York to Philadelphia belt. So maybe they wouldn't have gone to Chicago, and thereby everything would be different for me. Maybe I wouldn't even be here. But holding all else constant (I know, I know, it's a hypothetical) I can't imagine feeling fundamentally different about myself if I found out I was descended from people born on the opposite side of the metaphorical street.

THE LIMITS OF LYING

It's well and good to point out that these "Re-Open" protests are astroturfed nonsense, fifty dipshits who would show up to protest literally anything if Fox News encouraged them to. The only reason these events receive media coverage is because the journalists (who outnumber the attendees in some cases) can't say no to a good circus. Other than that, what is the news value? I've seen bigger crowds at a Scrabble tournament.

These people are being used (quite willingly, it must be said from the looks of it) to push the narrative that The People demand a Great Reopening, a resumption of all levels of activity that were normal three months ago as a matter of Freedom or The Economy or Coronavirus is Fake or whatever. Bret Stephens wrote his predictable NYT column about how "people" are eager, so eager, to get things going again. There is zero evidence of this in any data, of course. Poll numbers differ depending on the source and sample, but stay-home orders are not unpopular. Far from it. They are supported by solid to overwhelming majorities, as high as 85% in some surveys. The only people eager to "get back to work" are small business owners who, screwed by the Republicans and their President out of meaningful economic assistance, want the power to force their employees to return to work. That's all this is – they want other people, the people who work for them or provide them with services, to get back to work. It's a temper tantrum from people who are being inconvenienced or are losing money.

I sympathize with people who are losing business. The government should be providing them with assistance. It chose not to. They need to take that up with the people in power, not with their minimum wage workforce.

The lie that people are desperate to get back to work, to shopping, etc. is only useful when the bluff cannot be called; that is, in states where business shutdowns and shelter-in-place are still in effect. But all it takes to destroy the illusion is to give these people what they want. Georgia's "re-opening" was a gigantic wet fart for businesses. The owner of one hip Atlanta bar was told to expect business at 10% of normal levels for the first weekend; instead he got two customers. Two. For the entire weekend. It would have been better financially for him to remain closed. Two customers didn't pay for having the lights on. Unless you sincerely believe that there was a bar around the corner that was mobbed with customers, his example may not be universal but is probably not too far from the norm.

The truth is that people are afraid, and with good cause. They are afraid of unnecessary risk. They're willing to go to the grocery store because, well, food is a necessity. But they're very far from being willing to roll the dice on going to the ballgame or the bar or the bowling alley or the diner. Nobody, perhaps not even most Trumpers, believe the Trump party line about how things are under control and this is no big deal. Yeah there are dead-enders who absolutely believe the virus is fake or whatever, but…at least in Georgia, the data suggest that they didn't go charging out their front door to have a shopping spree as soon as the Governor gave the word.

The other reality that is becoming all too clear is that the "slow drain" theory of capitalism and consumer spending is delusional. That is, demand and consumption haven't been pent up for 8 weeks and once the clog is cleared, it will come bursting forth in torrents. That's not what is happening. The lack of spending isn't a function of the stay-home orders. People are still free to shop online, to order takeout food, and so on. The lack of spending is from tens of millions of people losing their jobs, having their hours reduced, or being in fear of losing their jobs in the near future. It's from the blinking red signs indicating that we are entering an economic downturn that will rival the Great Depression before this is over. Nobody is going to run out and buy a new car when the bottom is about to drop out of the economy, whether the Governor tells them they can or can't.

In short, some of our elites managed to convince themselves that 1) people are barely able to contain their enthusiasm to "get back to work" and 2) once restrictions are lifted, everything will immediately return to normal. Both are complete delusions. The vast majority of people don't want to go anywhere. They don't feel like risking their lives or anyone else's to go to Cracker Barrel.

This isn't complicated. People don't have money. People are trying to save what money they have to cover bare necessities. People can see that a long, hard recession is coming. And most of all, people don't believe a word of what they're hearing from their titular leaders. Some of them may say they believe it, but that lie doesn't travel well. When the restrictions are lifted, their behavior tells you what they actually believe.

PATTERNS

Many years ago when I made the transition from adolescent / young adult male metabolism (the golden "No matter how much and how badly I eat, I never seem to gain weight!" years) to adult metabolism ("I gain weight when I look at food now") I found myself trying, for the first time in my life, to change my diet in a systematic way. And I had a realization that stuck with me: changing your habits isn't hard. Keeping them changed is.

People who struggle to quit smoking say this all the time. I can quit anytime I want! Check back in 2-3 days to see if I'm still "quit." Because that's the real challenge, to stay committed to a change in habits once they start to nag at you.

When Question Cathy and I bought and moved into our new home last Fall, one of the biggest changes for both of us was how little we interacted with our neighbors. In my previous case, I lived in a Chicago six-flat where every time one of my neighbors coughed or turned on the TV we all heard it. We saw each other every time we stepped outside. In QC's case, she lived in a Texas neighborhood of small houses where neighbors occasionally, I am not even kidding, yelled to each other through mutually open windows. They got each other's mail. They had keys to each other's houses. That kind of thing.

In our new place it was…well, if one thing about moving here disappointed us it's the feeling of distance and disinterest in the immediate neighborhood. No one said hi. No one was receptive to us reaching out, even on Facebook / Nextdoor etc. Six months in, I don't know any of their names. Several of them I have not even seen. It turns out it's an area populated mostly by older people who are beyond the point of caring about meeting new neighbors.

I still try to ride my bike every day, and Cathy tries to walk 3 miles every day. We're outside a lot. And for months after moving here we kept talking about how rarely we saw anyone else. Maybe one or two people walking the dog here or there. Maybe one guy passing the house on a bike every couple of days. It wasn't a big deal, but it was definitely weird. The whole area isn't like that, but our immediate surroundings definitely had that "Where is everybody?" feeling.

Then along came the 'Rona. This state was one of the first to mandate shelter-in-place. I believe that was about 7 weeks ago at this point; I can't be certain, as time no longer has any meaning.

Like so many people, we are fighting the feeling of being cooped up by going for long walks every day. And here's the thing: suddenly there are people everywhere. In late afternoon every day it's like everyone is propelled out their front door. Some of these people have even acknowledged our presence. A few of them even said hi. Some of us are achieving mutual recognition ("Hey it's Runs in Vests Guy! Look here comes Baby and Golden Retriever Couple!"). Everybody forces their kids to play outside every day. One day we found a street that was, I shit you not, covered over at least 1/4 mile with chalk decorations and games. One household writes new riddles and trivia questions on the sidewalk every day, rainouts excluded.

Of course the underlying motivation behind it is dark; everybody is stuck at home with nowhere to go. The options for indoor entertainment, especially where kids are concerned, were maxed out weeks ago. "Go play outside with chalk" is probably a desperate attempt by some stressed out parent to get 3 minutes of quiet. But here's the thing: it's still pretty great. When the end of stay-at-home and Shelter in Place happens – no doubt earlier than it should, since the stock market clearly is more important than anyone's life – I wonder how long it will take to go back to the way it was before. My guess is, people will try to keep up the new habits that have been forced upon them. More than a few will say "Hey I like taking walks every day, let's keep doing it!" and mean it. Good intentions or not, I wonder how many will still be going outside regularly in two months. Some people probably will. The rest will celebrate the "re-opening" by going back inside and never venturing outdoors again except to get in the car and go to Chipotle.

There is a part of me that never stops looking for silver linings, even if it's not the part that is oriented toward the world most regularly. When I feel overwhelmed by the amount of panic-inducing and ominous things happening around me, I withdraw a little. The world gets smaller. That's one reason I think, talk, and write about Trump so little these days – I see what is happening here, I feel like the country is committed to riding this one all the way to the bottom, and I'm trying to shift my focus to the things I can control in light of events I cannot.

There's nothing legitimately Good about any of what is happening in this country right now, and I have a feeling that things will continue to get worse before they get any better. Maybe I'm grasping at straws to find something about this reality that I like, but I find it low-key exciting to see people…well, I was going to finish that sentence with a list of activities but I just realized that "seeing people" is enough. It's nice just to see people. I certainly wasn't before this all started. To do that I had to get in my car and drive somewhere that other people had also driven to for the purpose of being around other humans.

Maybe the new habits will stick a little. I can't be the only one enjoying the change. But I understand how strong is the appeal of going back to Normal, even when it's pretty obvious that Normal was inferior in a lot of ways.

WORLD OF LUCK

One of my key sources of ephemera, anecdotes, and useless information was my treasured subscription to the 1980s Time-Life book series, "Library of Curious and Unusual Facts." One slim volume of the series was called World of Luck, and contained nothing but stories about incredible coincidences – the kind of thing where someone finds a rusting pair of dog tags on a beach, tracks down the original owner, and discovers that they worked in the same office or whatever. There was plenty of Unsolved Mysteries / Ripley's Believe It or Not type stuff circulating during that era, but I really loved these books because the stories were true (and not in the "three witnesses confirmed the anal probing by aliens" sense).

I just witnessed a World of Luck moment up close.

A man in Oklahoma City bought a used copy of The Grapes of Wrath. He saw a name on the inside cover that matches Question Cathy's name (a last name neither super common nor entirely uncommon). It turns out that she gave the book away to Goodwill in Texas, it somehow ended up in Oklahoma, and it was purchased by one of her work acquaintances…who also happens to live two doors down from her (Question Cathy's) brother.

He contacted her via social media and was like, QC, I don't know how to say this without sounding crazy but I think I somehow have your high school copy of The Grapes of Wrath. It sounded like some kind of weird come-on and then…well, he did. He really did.

The world is really kind of strange sometimes.

THE TIME

So, not surprisingly, Sanders is out (yes, I know that technically all of the candidates "suspend" their campaigns to hedge bets against some future scenario where reactivating it could lead to nomination). His campaign has been largely inactive and in "winding down" mode, doing things like canceling ad buys, since Michigan. As I said on the bonus podcast (via Patreon) after Michigan, the math for winning the nomination simply was not there anymore.

Way back in January I laid out a path to the nomination for him based on a gaggle of other Democrats splitting the remaining vote. Once most of the candidates bailed and the Not Sanders vote coalesced around Biden, there was no real chance short of Biden exploding into a cloud of glitter that Sanders could win. So, from that perspective, the timing of exiting the race makes as much sense now as it would have in a month or whatever. I've read arguments that there was no reason for him to quit – his cash situation is strong – but that's the flipside of the argument that there's no reason for him to continue. It's difficult to prove either proposition correct there.

There has been some discussion of the value of staying in long enough to collect 25% of all available delegates, which would earn the campaign a spot on the DNC Rules and Platform committees. This would give it some minority input on rules for future nomination contests, as well as the ability to propose things that the whole convention would get to vote on. I guess that could be useful in theory, but it's a stretch. It's hard to see any serious Sanders-proposed changes being adopted by the convention or party as a whole, so perhaps I'm being cynical but it seems mostly like it would be an opportunity to make a lot of noise. Maybe I'm overlooking something more useful.

I don't get the sense that the campaign or anyone supporting it is really interested in establishing some kind of Victory Narrative; explaining how a defeat was actually some kind of victory is one of the things that faction likes least about the Democratic Party. Politics is about power and moral victories are for losers. The way I see it, there is no "victory" but it is impossible to overstate how much impact this guy has had on the rhetoric and ideological window that defines Democratic politics now. Mainstream candidates aren't talking about – at varying levels of sincerity, obviously – universal healthcare and debt relief because Hillary Clinton inspired them to or because they read about it in some white paper. A guy ran on what used to be the mainstream liberal platform, which now counts as the Far Left because the window has shifted so far to the right. Other candidates saw that he gained support with it and they moved in the same direction. No, I don't really think any of the other candidates have a real strong commitment to like, Medicare for All. I think they're just talking about it. As sad as it is, that's a big improvement over where we've been for most of my lifetime.

It's difficult to see how this will play out moving forward, but down ballot I think it's crucial for challengers on the left to press mainstream Democrats. They'll have a hard (but not impossible) time winning, but it's absolutely essential to have some kind of counterweight to the reflexive tendency to keep moving to the right to appeal to "moderates and Republicans" which, for the ten thousandth time, doesn't even work.

Other than organizing and demanding concessions in return for support, there really is nothing else to do. The next step after that fails is lobbing Molotovs.

As for Biden, all I can say is the Democratic Party better be right about his "electability." If they lose to this fucking clown a second time with a hand-picked party insider at the top of the ticket there will be no saving them.

BLOCKED

(Programming Note: new podcast episode available today, featuring an extremely interesting take on government responses to the current pandemic by an expert in emergency management)

Shelter-in-Place has coincided with my need to crank out a couple of sample chapters, ideally one introductory and one substantive, for the book I'm working on. The other people involved are suitably convinced that the idea is solid, and moving forward will require sampling the product, so to speak. With all this time and opportunity I'd love to report that I am making great progress, but.

There are two major obstacles I've come to understand with writing a nonfiction book, presuming one takes the first step of coming up with an appropriate topic. The first is research. There is always more research you could be doing. There is always one more book to read, one more article to find, one more archive to burrow into. Some people may find research difficult to do, but I find it more difficult to stop doing. There are too many Takes, too many ideas, too many directions in which a narrative or argument could go. Before you know it, the book that exists in your head is 2000 pages long and so thorough, so complicated that maybe five living people will have an interest in reading it.

I just described all academic books, for the record.

The second problem is anticipating criticism. I think I'm pretty good at looking at arguments and finding the flaws in them. But this includes my own arguments, and over time it is adding up to a kind of rhetorical paralysis. Not only does it make it hard to construct an argument without immediately backtracking to disassemble it, but it makes the entire task end up feeling kind of pointless. Everybody (whatever number of people that may be) is just going to rip the shit out of this anyway, so what's the point.

In the end, I try to focus on that last point and convince myself to plow through that inevitability if I can get paid to do it. Some days it works better than others. Today it wasn't very helpful.

DOUBLE BACK

The Republican and Democratic parties have a similar problem with the tension between maximizing long- and short-term prospects for success. Long-term strategy and planning are difficult, if not impossible, in political parties unless they happen to be the beneficiaries of a one-party system (as in China). Competitive parties are always forced to subsume the long-term to the short, given the logical reality that if they don't hold power in the short-term any strategies intended to play out over time will be difficult to implement. Beyond that, parties are composed of political actors with ambition, few (if any) of whom are going to sacrifice their own short-term interests for something that might benefit someone else down the line.

In the GOP, as I've written about many times in the past, some people seem to realize that the party base of older, white, and largely rural voters is rapidly shrinking in comparison to more diverse and urbanized America. They are forever coming up with some new strategy to broaden the party's appeal, the kind of thing that 20 years ago would have been called "minority outreach" without causing widespread cringing. The problem, of course, is that the party's best short-term strategy for maximizing its success is to double down on white nationalism, something they've done with increasing regularity since 1980. Each election cycle someone in the Party says "Ok this time let's try to appeal to Hispanics, it's important!" and then when it doesn't work immediately, and when they sense that it's not going to gain them anywhere near as many votes as the usual dog-whistle (or plain old whistle) stuff, they go back to what they know.

The Democrats have a similar, although fundamentally less loathsome, dilemma. For years they have known that they need to increase their appeal among what used to be their core constituency, pre-1990: what we generically call "The Working Class." As Republicans rely increasingly on elderly white conservatives, the Democrats have become heavily reliant on highly-educated, largely white professionals. The Democratic base also includes African-Americans, Latinx, LGBTQ+, the young, and other important demographic groups, but the more policy preferences are bent to the desires of better-off middle-or-upper class Democrats, the less appeal it has to those other groups. So the Democrats too find themselves torn in a way this nomination process has demonstrated quite well: try harder to appeal to younger, more diverse, economically distressed people who constitute a huge pool of potential voters who don't tend to show up and vote, or simply max out on the people you can be confident will vote (and, not incidentally, write contribution checks, which are also important)?

Super Tuesday and the reaction to it underscored some of that tension. There were loud cries even on Tuesday evening that the increase in youth turnout Sanders predicted he would produce did not materialize – in short, evidence that while everyone theoretically understands the need to appeal to those voters for long-term success, in the short term the only logical strategy is to give people over 55 what they want: a Biden campaign promising not to change anything too much and to get things back the way they like.

It's not illogical, it's just counterproductive in the long term. Every time the GOP doubles back to "Let's be really racist" it makes even harder the task of, uh, broadening its appeal with people of color in the future. Similarly, every redouble to "This system works well, it just needs some tweaks and better people in charge" alienates more younger voters who very much do not believe that. You can argue, correctly, that "They're not voting now, they're not going to help us win, we can't afford to direct our efforts at them." Any electoral strategy based on young people showing up to vote is risky, to put it mildly. But at the same time, it's hard to shake the depressing realization that each election, each legislative session, each major battle in which the Democrats default to "Look, this is what our loudest and most committed supporters want" makes expanding that base in the future a little bit harder.

THE WORST YARD SIGN EVER, EXPLAINED

For the past few weeks I've seen a handful of this particular yard sign around town in advance of the upcoming primaries – I already early voted, don't worry – and it has been driving me crazy. It's like one of those flyers that violates every rule of typography and graphic design. EVERYTHING about it is wrong. It's not just bad, it's bad comprehensively.

I had reservations about shitting all over it, since the candidate was presumably some schmoe who didn't know better and meant no harm. Then I finally remembered to google him and it turns out he's some F-list right wing radio personality running in the GOP primary proudly boasting that he's the only candidate who was "with President Trump from Day One!" So, that took care of any reservations I might have had. Fuck this guy.

Here's the sign.

A couple problems. In fact, it's all problems.

1. What in the fuck is "U.S. House #4"??? Do you think there is a single voter in the country who thinks of their member of Congress as "U.S. House" and then knows the number of the district? How about you do like every other candidate on the planet and describe yourself as "for Congress." Because textbook pedantry aside, it's pretty common to simply refer to the House of Representatives as "Congress," and we avoid the confusion of the fact that there is both a State and Federal "House" in many states that way too. I guess you could add the district number, although it's not like this city is divided into multiple districts or anything really confusing. But why not write "4th District" if you felt that need? "U.S. House #4" reads like an alien or an AI wrote it.

2. The color scheme is terrible. Just terrible. There's a good reason 99% of signs use a solid dark background (navy blue, for example) with white font. It's much easier to read, with white background / dark letters a close second. "Do two bright colors" is pretty far down the list. I guess it's unique, but. It's also bad.

3. Mention that it's the GOP primary, or that you're a Republican? The incumbent Democrat won this district with 75% of the vote in 2018. The GOP challengers are essentially running a vanity campaign against a Rep who is all but unopposed. It's unclear what benefit, under those circumstances, derives from not stating party affiliation.

4. "Dr. Nasir" is two irrelevant pieces of information. For down-ballot races you want people to get one single piece of information about you – your last name. I doubt there are a lot of Shaikhs on the ballot. Get people to remember that. I guess if you feel like people will be impressed that you're some kind of Doctor, add a small Dr. to Shaikh. The first name is just totally superfluous here, a waste of space.

5. You can tell so much about what kind of guy this candidate is by the fact that he cheaped out and bought the tiny signs. "Sure it's half as effective as the full-sized sign, but we save like 10%!" Never, never, NEVER cheap out like that. If you're spending $2000 on a minimum order of yard signs, you can spend a few hundred dollars more to get the regular sized ones. This tiny sign is not just harder to see – it looks cheap, amateurish, and screaming "crazy guy who is not a serious candidate" when you see it in a field of 20-30 other full-sized signs. What did you save by downsizing to these tiny things? If money is so tight (Doctor?) that you can't spend the pennies-per-sign it costs to get a normal size, what are we supposed to conclude about your campaign?

6. The font is bad. Bold it. Fill up the space with the limited information you're trying to convey: Shaikh. Congress.

I suppose someone will one-up this with an example of even worse graphic design, but for some reason this thing raises my blood pressure every time I see it. I know for a fact that if you visit any website that sells these things, they have dozens of canned design templates available for novices. Every single one of them is better than this sign. They're templates for a reason. So this guy didn't just design a bad sign, he designed a bad sign and then went out of his way to ignore the readily available, much better options.

In conclusion, fuck this guy and his cut-rate signs and his Trump bootlicking.

STATE OF BLISS

I went and did early voting on Saturday. As I was waiting around for Question Cathy to finish, an old woman came in to vote. Her presence brought the total number of voters in the giant empty strip mall retail space to three, including me and QC. The woman was very obviously unclear about what she was doing. First she was informed that there were multiple ballots (Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, etc). Then she was informed that, as a registered Democrat, she was legally obligated in this state to take the Democratic ballot or the odd sock drawer "other" ballot.

"Why am I registered as a Democrat?" Well ma'am, you have been registered as a Democrat since 1972.

"Is Trump on the ballot?" No ma'am, Trump is running in the Republican primary.

"What am I voting for if Trump isn't on the ballot?" This is the primary election, ma'am. There is a list of candidates running for the Democratic presidential nomination to run against Trump, if Trump is the winner of the Republican nomination (the volunteer poll judge was, after all, extremely By the Book)

"I thought they were all running against Trump." Ma'am they are all competing to be the Democrat who opposes the Republican nominee in the general election this November.

"I thought that's what I was voting in now." No ma'am, you cannot vote in the November election in February. This is the primary election. First there is the primary and then later in the year the general election. Your voting history shows that you have voted in the primary election many times before.

"I thought I was voting for president. I want to vote for president." Ma'am….

On it went like this until we left. For all I know she is still standing there, with three extraordinarily patient volunteer election judges explaining it.

Later in the week QC and I socialized with two people I like immensely, probably the best people we've met in the short time we have lived here. They are both extremely intelligent. As always when I socialize, eventually someone brings up the election. I try to keep politics to an absolute minimum in social settings. After maybe three minutes we managed to move on to something else. My impression, from the brief discussion, was that the three other people at the table broadly knew who most of the Democratic candidates for president are. Someone asked who won Iowa and New Hampshire, not because the media coverage or the Iowa Democratic Party caucus confused them, but because Iowa and New Hampshire are not really a thing to 99% of us.

Combined these were useful reminders, and reminders I will attempt to remember, that the subset of Americans paying really close attention to the day-to-day of politics is extremely small. You might not previously have considered yourself some kind of well-informed political elite by being able to explain, even in general terms, what M4A is and where some of the major candidates stand on health care, but congratulations; you are. And despite the enormous amount of time, money, and energy that will be spent on this election cycle, many people (even some people who will take the time to participate) have no real idea what is going on. I'm not picking on the old lady, who for all I know might have been in some kind of state of cognitive decline that left her confused on Saturday morning. All I am saying is that it would not be unusual at all for someone to have no clear conception of what a primary is – even if he or she was about to vote in it.

It's sobering but important to remember how little most of what is happening registers.

LONG SHOT

With the Democrats in Iowa now promising to release "50% of the results by 5pm EST" – which sounds exactly like something you say to a teacher or editor when you're working on a deadline you will not meet – it is becoming clear that the dominant memory from this will not be who won but simply of what a mess it was.

Someone suggested to me that declaring victory with 0% results in was a smart thing for Buttigieg to do. My initial reaction was, that is ridiculous. The winner of the caucus will *eventually* be known, and declaring yourself the winner of something you might turn out not to win would be, if not instantly fatal to a campaign, at the very least a source of continuing embarrassment. It would go down with things like Dukakis in the tank or the "Dean Scream" in the annals of ways candidates have managed to humiliate themselves.

The more I think about it, though, there might be some defensible logic to it.

Buttigieg has bet *everything* on Iowa. Everything. He isn't polling well nationally and he isn't polling well in New Hampshire or South Carolina. He isn't making an especially strong showing anywhere except in his fund raising numbers, which are good albeit not stellar, and Iowa. So, the campaign's strategy has to boil down to: win Iowa and then use 'I won Iowa!' as a springboard to get some momentum going into the next few races. Maybe improve how well you do in NH and SC even if you don't win them (it's likely, in the view of the campaigns themselves, that Sanders and Biden have NH and SC, respectively, pretty well sewn up).

What does he really have to lose? Short of winning Iowa – again, a state he threw everything into – his campaign is kinda dead in the water anyway. So I guess the bold play is to use partial data that shows him in a narrow lead to declare victory and…hope it sticks, I guess? I mean it's not a brilliant strategy, but I'm not sure what a brilliant strategy would be given the position he's in. He's not doing particularly well overall – that is, aside from Iowa. And he has statistically zero support among black voters, which is not a real good omen for a Democratic candidate.

So, in short, I think if he ends up losing (finishing anything but first) he will be a laughingstock but so what? If he finishes anything but first his campaign's strategy didn't work and he's probably toast anyway. It's some crazy shit, but why not try some crazy shit when you probably won't improve your odds to win by behaving well and sticking to the traditional script.

"Bold move, let's see if it pays off for him."