Remembering 2012

It was a leap year – the first one in four years. Mr Cyriac started blogging. It was cold in January, unless you were in Florida or Arizona, in which case it was mild. Spring continued to bloom in Syria and people died. A plump young man completed his first month as supreme leader of The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. In 2012, about 55 million people died while 135 million people were born. A woman born Elizabeth Alexandra Mary celebrated her 60th year as Queen of the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. One of Edvard Munch’s Scream paintings, of which there are four, sold for $120 million.

Venus passed between the Sun and the Earth. Scientists found the Higgs Boson particle at a Large Hadron Collider and began to wonder what to do next. London put on an Olympic show with skydiving monarchs and sheep. For two days, 600 million Indians went without electricity in what was the largest power outage ever. Mr Cyriac and Miss Dodson went to Delhi. The unlikely became the absurd and people throughout the country began questioning why they ever started watching Homeland in the first place. Scientists concluded that chocolate may be good for the heart. Fareed Zakaria apologized for copying and pasting. Comic book movies continued to make money.

Several celebrity couples broke up. Fights between fans of rival football teams in Egypt killed more than 70. Hurricane Sandy killed more than 200 in the Western Hemisphere. Typhoon Bopha killed more than 1000 in East Asia. More than 500 people were murdered in Chicago.

A man named Felix jumped from a balloon in space. Brooklyn got a basketball team. The UN General Assembly approved the recognition of Palestine as a non-member Observer State. Miss Dodson became a certified yoga instructor. The UN Climate Change Commission extended the Kyoto Protocol until 2020 – The US is still one of the only countries to not have ratified the original treaty. Israel and Gaza continued to be Israel and Gaza. A student was savagely gang raped on a bus in Delhi, setting off protests and the beginning of a national conversation. The European Union received the Nobel Peace Prize. Barack Obama was re-elected. Six weeks after being convicted of fraud and tax evasion, Silvio Berlusconi (age 76) announced his candidacy to become Italy’s Prime Minister for the fourth time.

New Yorkers are holding bigger balls for charity. Apparently Ray William Johnson has a girlfriend. For three hours, 228 customers at a coffee shop in Canada paid for other people’s drinks. I finally saw Billy Wilder’s The Apartment and absolutely loved it. Gangnam Style passed 1 billion views on Youtube. David Brooks is still the whitest man in America, except for maybe George Will. December 21st came. And then December 22nd came. Washington and Colorado legalized pot. Gay people can now get gay married in 9 states. NASA’s robot successfully landed on Mars and fired lasers at rocks.

2012 Year in Review – List of Lists!

So I’ve compiled a list of my favorite lists that I have seen over the past couple of weeks or so, chronicling the year that was in all its glory and pathos.

From Wired: Best Memes of 2012

Memes exploded into the mainstream in 2012. And given how quickly they take shape and get rendered obsolete, this means that anyone can be smug and make people feel stupid for not knowing about the latest greatest. Some are great, some are meh, but they are very 2012. God bless Hillary and her steadfast texting.

From The Atlantic Wire: The 50 worst columns of 2012

This sounds like a daunting task. Most folks probably can’t recall 50 columns at all, let alone the 50 worst ones from the last year. Hats off to the Wire team for highlighting the insane, ridiculous and often silly opinion pieces from writers such as Thomas Friedman, George Will and David Brooks. If anything I’m surprised those guys don’t have more entries on the list. It should be noted that the New York Times appears on the list ten times – such an honor!

From Quartz: The five most disruptive technologies of 2012

Remember when you were young (it doesn’t matter how old you are because it applies to anyone born after the Depression) when everyone thought that in their lifetime, there would be flying cars and humanoid robots in the house? Well 2012 actually introduced some breakthrough technologies concerning self-driving cars (still not flying) and augmented reality.

From Foreign Policy: Five Weapons to Watch in 2013

OK fine this is not about 2012, but it’s still fascinating. In case you’re not permitted to read the article, the weapons mentioned are (1) 3D printed guns, (2) killer drone boats, (3) stealth drones (the flying kind), (4) killer robot cars and (5) electricity blackout causing flying drones. So there you have it, 2013 will be all about death robots – nothing to be scared about.

From Forbes: 10 Greatest Industry-Disrupting Startups of 2012

The overwhelming trend among new companies has been to organize data to introduce buyers and sellers to new sellers and buyers. By now most of you know about Kickstarter’s work in crowdsourcing. But what about Farmingo, a company that connects consumers with local food producers? Recyclebank incentivizes recycling by partnering with traditional retailers. Noodle sounds like a Craigslist for K-12 education.

From National Geographic: Traveler Photo Contest 2012

Nothing fancy or avant-garde, just pretty pictures. The winners are shown on the link above but take a look at the In Focus section of the Atlantic where they’ve combed through the submissions and put together their own top 50. And then they put up another 50.

From the Huffington Post: 10 funniest awkward family holiday photos

HuffPo’s favorites from the trove of images available at Awkward Family Photos. I’m not even sure if this qualifies to be on the list as there’s nothing really specific to 2012 about it, but who cares. It’s a list, it was made in 2012, and it’s hilarious. Merry Christmas to all!

Urban Rural Politics: America’s Biggest Divide

The starkest divide in American political culture is not between north and south. It is not between whites and “minorities” – not even heartland and coasts. Nothing captures the red-blue divide in the US quite like the disparity between cities and suburban/rural areas.

In 2008, something peculiar happened in Nebraska. The state’s 2nd congressional district, which contains the city of Omaha, voted for Barack Obama. On the map, the district is basically a dot of blue in a sea of red. This happened in Nebraska because it’s one of only two states that award electoral college votes by district rather than “winner takes all”. If Texas allocated votes by congressional district, then surely Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and Austin would be similar blue dots. Similarly, vast swaths of upstate New York would be red.2008 Omaha

For the Obama campaign, Nebraska’s 2nd district was not necessary for victory, but it was a nice cherry on top of their cake. While anomalous in terms of electoral history, the story of Omaha captures what’s going on in cities and states throughout the country.

The following is the results of the 2012 Presidential election by county. Red is Republican, blue is Democrat.2012_Presidential_Election_by_County

The following is a map of US population density by county. Yellow is low density, blue is high density.US population density 2000 The similarities tell a much larger story about America today. Where we live has a whole lot to do with how we live and what we believe. Perhaps we choose where to live based on the latter – a chicken and egg problem essentially. Either way, any real conceptualization of the red-blue divide in the US that focuses too much on East coast tendencies, or Midwest values is ignoring the real story.

According to The Atlantic, 27 of America’s 30 biggest cities voted for Obama in 2012 – that’s 90 percent! Furthermore, cities are getting bluer and rural areas are getting redder. We are constantly being warned that our country is becoming increasingly polarized. At least we know now where that battle lines and boundaries are being drawn.

The Importance of Texas

Yes Virginia, there are liberals in Texas, and not just in Austin. 

Quick question (and don’t look it up on Wiki) – what percentage of Texas voted for Barack Obama in 2008? Given that Texas is often seen as the “role model for red states”, it may surprise many to know that four years ago, Obama won nearly 44% of the vote. While Obama’s numbers declined by about 2% in 2012, this level of support still shows a state that is much more complicated than the caricature that it is often presented as. Convincing a small percentage of the state to turn blue can change the country for decades.

Let’s not kid ourselves – Texas is most certainly a conservative state. But even in the most ideologically extreme states, at least a third of the electorate goes against the prevailing wind. When we say that a state is really red, that just means that the state isn’t a tossup in the election. A shift of a few percentage points can change all of that. In Texas, the margin of difference is small enough to flip the state, or at least color it purple.

Texas is the second largest state in the country and has 38 electoral votes – almost 20% of Romney’s electoral vote haul. If a big blue state like New York flipped, it would be a big deal too. But electorally speaking, New York is much bluer than Texas is red (Romney won only 36% of vote there) and more importantly, the demographic trends do not bode well for future Republican gains.

Texas on the other hand is at the heart of one of the most dramatic demographic shifts in our nation’s history. I hate breaking things down in terms of white and non-white, but for what it’s worth, much of the country votes that way. As Texas becomes more racially and ethnically diverse, the greater the likelihood of a flip.

I doubt any monumental shifts will occur by 2016, but beyond that, it’s certainly a possibility. It would be foolish for Democrats to ignore Texas, and it would even more foolish for Republicans to take it for granted. With Texas, Dems are more or less guaranteed Presidential victory; without it, Republicans are guaranteed defeat. There are plenty of skeptics, but for the first time in more than a generation, Texas is being viewed as a real battleground for national elections.

Read more:

The Bitter Bluff of Secession

If the secession petitioners actually got their way, they’d be a lot worse off and the rest of us would be a lot better off.

For a brief moment after the recent election, I had hope. Prominent conservatives had publicly admitted that Obamacare is the law of the land (given the electoral results, its repeal could no longer be a priority) and that raising the top marginal income tax rate would not be the end of the world. It seemed as though we might actual have a period of bipartisanship. Some folks just didn’t get the memo.

The White House’s website has a section called We the People which allows people to start online petitions. Any petition that garners more than 25,000 signatures will get an official response from the President. There are currently petitions in all 50 states to secede from the Union due to the “unfortunate” results of the election. Other than Florida, which voted for Obama, every other state that has accumulated the requisit 25,000 signatures (Texas, Louisiana, Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, North Carolina and South Carolina) voted for Romney.

This is yet another case of red state blue state foolishness. The Romney states want to leave? If they did, the rest of the country would be better off (financially at least). With the exception of Texas, every single one of those other states get more from the federal government than they give. These states are the real moochers.

I’ve written before that blue states have been subsidizing red states for years, but thanks to these petitions, this discrepancy has been getting a lot more attention recently. If you didn’t like the links in the previous post, here’s some more in the secession context:

I still have hope that we will have at least a few months of uncomfortable and reluctant bipartisanship. But this whole secession business is nonsense. If a Texan you know wants to secede, tell them to relax. If anyone you know from the confederacy of takers wants to secede, let them know how lucky they are that nobody takes them seriously.

For anyone interested, there’s another petition on the White House’s website, entitled “Deport Everyone That Signed A Petition To Withdraw Their State From The United States Of America“. As of this writing, it has 22,601 signatures and has just over 3 weeks to get the remaining 2,399.

Demographic Breakdown of the Vote

Here is the racial and ethnic breakdown of voters for Obama and Romney.

Here is the racial and ethnic breakdown of the US population as a whole.

Crediting Obama’s victory to high minority turnout ignores the fact that minorities make up such a large part of the country and that Obama’s supporters reflect the demographic reality in the country much more than Romney’s.

Why Obama Won

All the conservative talking points about demographics are an excuse for not coming to terms with being out of touch.

Republicans have been doing a lot of soul searching following Tuesday’s election and have come up with various explanations as to why their candidate lost. The consensus for now is that the country is changing and that the party is out of step with this change.

Rather than meet this change in a responsible and realistic manner, so many prominent conservatives have resorted to lamenting the passing of a golden era, the death of “real America”. The most common statement thus far been “Obama only won because of demographics” which is a lot like saying “I only failed the math test because of numbers”. Similarly heard is “Obama only won because of the Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, women and urban residents”. Conservatives are pretending that these people are nothing more than special interest groups – as if they don’t already constitute a vast majority of the country.

In other words, when a Republican wins an election, it’s because the country as a whole voted for him – end of story. When a Democrat wins, a black man at that, the electorate is dissected so as to lay blame on those pesky minorities and women.

It should come as no surprise that the Republican establishment is mourning the end of an era in which White men ran the show. Personally, I think this is premature because White men still overwhelmingly run the shows that matter. But still, the times they are a changin.

Here is my favorite excuse from the aftermath. 

You heard it, but have a closer read. “It’s a changing country. The demographics are changing. It’s not a traditional America anymore. And there are fifty percent of the voting public who want stuff. They want things. And who is going to give them things? President Obama. He knows it and he ran on it. And whereby twenty years ago, President Obama would have been roundly defeated, by an establishment candidate like Mitt Romney. The White establishment is now the minority. And the voters, many of them, feel that the economic system is stacked against them and they want stuff. You’re gonna see a tremendous Hispanic vote for President Obama, overwhelming Black vote for President Obama and women will probably break President Obama’s way. People feel they are entitled to things and which candidate between the two are going to give them things?”

So there you have it. White men made the country and now women and the coloreds are destroying it. Rather than thinking about ways to appeal to women and minorities, conservatives are blaming them for not seeing the light, for wanting things, for not working hard enough. The self-victimization never ends.

Jon Stewart describes the conservative resentment most accurately: “They’re really only entitlements when they’re something other people want. When it’s something you want, they’re a hallmark of a civilized society.”