Friday, May 29, 2015

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Coffices

Not long ago, someone coined an apt portmanteau neologism,
i.e. coffice, as a term for a new wave of pragmatic real estate
reform. Amid the plethora of new traditional office spaces,
many in metallic and glacial high rises with minimalist design,
there has evolved the neighborhood coffeehouse as a work
space This phenomenon has occurred primarily because, in
addition to a variety of espresso drinks, teas and other
beverages, as well as assorted pastries and sandwiches, most
coffeehouses provide unlimited and free wi-fi with their
variable and instant inputs of caffeine.

Most of those who employ “coffices” also have home office
spaces, but the need for privacy becomes inevitably frequently
overridden for a change of work environment in a friendly and
populated place where as the old TV show song used to say,
“Everyone knows your name.”

Nor is the coffice only a site to display the skills of personal
typing on a computer. More successful coffeehouses provide
soft chairs and small sofas amenable to conversations,
meetings and small events. Many customers wear earphones,
so total silence is not expected, although loud noise is not
tolerated. There is often low level and pleasant background
music.

Writers are ineluctably drawn to coffices. Perhaps the
long-awaited "great American novel" will be written in one.

Dress is informal. Ties are rare.

Most of all, the price is right. One holds a work space for the
cost of a cappuccino, latte or a cup of green tea. Electric sockets
are available for no cost to drive various computers, i-pads,
i-phones and even small printers. Rest rooms are nearby, and
in neighborhood coffices there is often free parking.      

How long the coffice will endure and prosper in the business
marketplace is unknowable. It emerged rather suddenly and
inevitably a few years ago as the coffeehouse phenomenon
appeared to replace the neighborhood bar. The coffice is not
for everyone, but it does now exist for more and more younger
persons (and some older ones, too) as the world turns so digital
that we no longer often know where the rapid changes are
taking us.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Copyright (c) 2015 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Three Elements Of 2016

The 2016 election cycle is going to reveal the further impact of
some already detected demographic trends, as well as disclose
some new ones and their electoral consequences. But
demographic phenomena alone won’t bring about the eventual
results. Two other criteria will provoke outcomes.

First, and not surprisingly, there will be contests determined
by the new campaign technologies, many of them already seen
in the 2012 and 2014 cycles. Voter ID and get-out-the-vote (GOTV)
strategies have become, and will continue to be, highly
sophisticated and increasingly essential. No presidential race
or any competitive statewide contest will be successful without
very serious high-tech efforts in voter ID and GOTV, as well as
in innovative campaign communication.

Much has already been written and discussed about the campaign
demographics and technologies likely to be seen in 2016, but it is
the third element, ideological position, which might be the most
decisive element of all in 2016.

There is much more to this element than the labels “liberal” and
“conservative.”

Although there is some continuity between cycles, each
presidential cycle especially presents new and often unanticipated
circumstances. It is a given that 2016 will offer voters no incumbent
in the presidential race. The 2010 congressional redistricting makes
it very unlikely Republicans will lose control of the U.S. house,
while the imbalance of incumbents up for re-election to the U.S.
senate favors Democrats.

Commonplace conclusions from these circumstances would suggest
that, after two terms of a Democratic president, Republicans have
the edge in the presidential contest and that the Democrats are
likely to win back control of the U.S. senate (24 GOP incumbents
seats are up in 2016, and only 10 Democratic seats).

I suggest it is too early to draw these conclusions.

While there likely will be some inevitable “Obama fatigue”
among many voters, particularly among independent voters, in
November, 2016, Democratic strategists have options open to
them which might overwhelm this 8-year “fatigue” pattern. The
1988 cycle demonstrated how, with a weak nominee/ticket,
Republicans were able to retain the White House after two terms
of President Reagan. The question is: Is Hillary Clinton a strong
or weak nominee? The polls so far indicate that Democratic voters
remain determined to nominate Mrs. Clinton, who would be the
first woman nominated by a major party for president. Many
Democrats, furthermore, consider calls for the liberal party to
choose another nominee to be a conservative “plot” to deprive
them of their strongest nominee. Many savvy GOP strategists I
know, however, prefer Mrs. Clinton over a “wild card” Democratic
nominee who might snatch a surprising victory from defeat in
This is not unlike the preference of Democratic strategists
for Bob Dole in 1996 and John McCain in 2008 to be their
opponents. Well-known nationally, firmly established in their
party, Mr. Dole and Mr. McCain were nevertheless ultimately
weak nominees. Aside from the gender card she always plays. Mrs.
Clinton is a controversial figure and an unimpressive campaigner.
The current discussion of her conduct as secretary of state, and
of the allegations about the Clinton Foundation which she
co-heads with her husband, the former president, are proving to
be a protracted and enduring drag on her public image. In some
ways, her opponents are accomplishing what Mitt Romney’s
opponents accomplished in 2011-12 before his nomination, i.e., so
severely wounding his political image early that he could not
recover momentum in his race against Mr. Obama.

On the other hand, the Republican presidential nomination
contest has become, at its outset, an opaque battle of several
personalities, ranging from center right to radical right. This
reflects much of the public discussion of current conservative
politics, but not necessarily the mood of most conservative
voters. Lacking a frontrunner as the Democrats have, the GOP
field of candidates is initially very large, as it was in 2012. In
the latter cycle, the debate season produced polls with rotating,
frontrunning contestants until Mr Romney finally prevailed.
It was thought briefly that Jeb Bush would emerge quickly as the
dominant candidate in 2016, but the early picture  has at least
three major candidates, Bush, Scott Walker and Marco Rubio,
with Chris Christie and John Kasich, among others, waiting in the
wings. The debates will likely be instructive, but this cycle, the
early primaries/caucuses might not play the roles they have in the
past. Already, the traditional opening shot of the GOP contest,
the Iowa Straw Poll, is floundering as many of the major
candidates are skipping the event.

If 2014 was truly instructive of the current Republican voter
mood, it was that GOP voters wanted, more than ideological
satisfactions, to win control of the senate. The question is
whether this mood continues into the 2016 cycle. If it does, the
large field will be reduced quickly. If Republicans are mired,
however, in ideological squabbles, over social issues especially,
they risk turning off the all-important independent and centrist
voters, and enable the Democrats to win.

As for the senate races, the Democrats strategy has so far been to
recruit many previous losing candidates to challenge vulnerable
GOP incumbents. It was GOP recruitment of fresh faces, however,
that led to their remarkable gains in 2014, picking up 9 seats. The
“old face” strategy could prevent the liberal party from making the
net gains they will need to take back the senate.

Finally, there is the question of the role of “populism” in the 2016
campaign. Many have suggested that populist rhetoric is currently
a resurgent sound in contemporary politics. Some conservatives
are urging that GOP candidates embrace this rhetoric as a way to
check liberal calls for larger government, higher taxes (of the rich)
and general redistributions of wealth --- and the traditional
Democratic strategy to accuse the conservatives to be plutocrats
and worse. The problem for Democrats in employing this strategy
in 2016 is that most of the new millionaires and billionaires are
liberals, and that some of their most prominent figures have
become rich using the very techniques which party rhetoric
denounces. At the same time, the Republican grass roots is
increasingly blue collar and middle class. This would suggest
that Republican cannot outbid Democrats with populist rhetoric,
but that conservatives’ best strategy is aggressively and
persistently to demolish the liberal premises and inconsistencies.
The GOP, until 2014, failed in this task, and if they fail in it again
in 2016, they could miss an historic opportunity.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Copyright (c) 2015 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.




Monday, May 25, 2015

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Fascinationisms

Each of us has certain matters from the past which fascinate
us as Americans throughout most of our lives.

A great many Americans are fascinated by England, its history,
its legal system, its monarchy (past and present), its aristocracy,
the accents which Britons speak, its heroes (from Richard the
Lionhearted to Winston Churchill), or the grit that the British
population displayed during the first years of World War II.

Some Americans are fascinated by France and its capital Paris,
by French fashions, food, art and the language itself.

Another group of Americans is fascinated by Italy, its food,
its art, its cars and its films.

Other Americans are fascinated by domestic family dynasties,
especially (and curiously) the dysfunctional Kennedy family,
or by movie stars and other celebrities.

Still other Americans are fascinated by imported ideologies
from Europe, including Marxism, social welfarism, climate
changism, and post-modernism.

While some Americans are drawn to foreign ideologies and the
products of other countries, not many Americans want to
change our form of government.

Most persons in the rest of the world are fascinated by the
United States, its inherent history of freedom, its spirit of
innovation and technology, its popular music, its movies
and its past economic success.

The U.S. is still the most imitated nation on earth.

It might be fascinating to ponder that as we mark soon our
239th birthday.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Copyright (c) 2015 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Consequences

Some serious persons, most of them scientists, are now
suggesting a drastic shift in human life in the relatively near
future. These stunning changes include prolonging most
individuals’ lives indefinitely, curing most if not virtually all
human diseases, dramatic changes in everyday uses of
now-common resources, and in daily habits of work, travel
and pleasure.

It needs to be said that scientists have not often had a great
record recently in predicting the future. In fact, those who have
had the best winning hands in forecasting in the past century
have been certain writers, often with little scientific knowledge,
creating (as I have written before) a genre of so-called “science
fiction,” on the printed page and on television and film.

These mind-boggling futuristic anticipations and premonitions
occur at the same time that ancient human “pathologies” of
war, violence, hunger, disease, and premature death recur for
billions of persons on a crowding planet.

Although human invention has been a constant throughout
human history, it has not ever before occurred with such
velocity. Indeed, some very serious persons are suggesting
that our performance of change is now outstripping our
capacity to absorb and integrate changes and their
consequences on the human lives we now lead.

Artificial intelligence (AI) alone gives new meaning to the ancient
notion of a Pandora’s Box. Robotic devices, as only one example,
are clearly advancing human ability to accomplish things while
at the same time, among other consequences, removing the need
for millions, and eventually billions, of human jobs.

Those who are affected most by these emerging conditions are,
of course, the young. Yet the young, on one hand, have little to
say about the development of the innovation, and if history
be a guide, on the other hand, little interest in these innovations
other than for their immediate usage.

The truth is that these circumstances are probably inevitable,
primarily because human life is always primarily an experience
of the present moment. It is only “experience” which teaches
us to think about consequences --- yet “consequences” are
the major issues of innovation and rapid change.

As far as I can see, most of our education systems, already
failing in many ways and places to prepare our children with
basic skills, do very little to equip them for the complicated and
very extraordinary times ahead.

The future, whatever it will be, will not have second thoughts.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Copyright (c) 2015 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.


Monday, May 18, 2015

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: What Are UFO's Really All About?

I hope my readers who usually turn to this site for my thoughts
about politics, food, travel and culture are not dismayed to
learn that I am going to write about the so-called UFO
phenomenon (“UFO” as it is traditionally meant to stand for
“unidentified flying objects and possible extraterrestrial life”).

But I suspect that my commentary on this subject might be quite
different from what the reader has read before.

First, on the subject of “life on other planets” or “extraterrestrial
beings” I will not much comment.  I am actually an agnostic or a
skeptic on this matter. With megatrillions of galaxies, stars and
planets in the known and unknown universe, it would seem that
some form of what we call “life” exists in many places, but the
very nature of existence, as we know it now, is rarely logical or
predictable. So far, there is no true evidence of any life elsewhere
in any form. It’s certainly possible, but it might also not be so.

In the past 150 years or so, however, there has been an enormous
amount of speculation that there is some kind of life beyond our
own planet. Most of this began as a literary genre known as “science
fiction” which not only included the interaction of human beings
with extraterrestrial creatures, but also predicted most of the
fantastic advances in human technology.

In the latter case, science fiction has actually been a prophecy of
science fact. Virtually all of the devices and scientific capabilities so
imaginatively created by writers in the late 19th and early 20th
centuries have become, or are becoming, realities in the latter
half of the 20th and the early 21st centuries. Miracle drugs, extended
life spans, incredible speeds of land and space travel, primitive
exploration of “outer” space itself, “ray guns,” the internet,
“miracle” drugs and cures, robots and innumerable devices to
perform innumerable tasks all now exist. Serious persons are now
discussing unlimited lifespans, extraterrestrial human settlements,
life without disease, human civilization without hunger or war, and
other future developments which, while not yet attainable, are no
longer fantasy --- and in fact, seem inevitable and relatively soon.

Several science fiction “creations” with mass appeal have appeared
in recent years. Perhaps the first to notably reach beyond the “cults”
or “fandom” of early readers was the radio broadcast in 1938 of
H.G. Wells’ “War of the Worlds” by Orson Wells during which
millions of Americans across the country were frightened by a
realistic yet fictional account of an invasion in New Jersey by aliens.
Several science fiction books had preceded it and numerous ones
followed it. There had been Buck Rogers, et al, before that and so
many Hollywood sci-fi movies after it.

In recent years, a television series called “Star Trek” (which later
became a series of films), the films "Star Wars" (also a series of
films), “2001: A Space Odyssey” and “Close Encounters Of A
Third Kind” have appeared as iconic cultural moments in the U.S.
and other parts of the world. These four science fictions have
purported to take not only technological prescience to a higher
level, but have employed the art form to at least the pretension of
a philosophical level.

And it is this phenomenon, science fiction as philosophy, that I
want to discuss. In each of "Star Trek,"“Star Wars,” “2001: A
Space Odyssey” and “Close Encounters Of A Third Kind” there
are extraterrestrial life forms contacting human beings of the
planet Earth. In “Star Trek" and "Star Wars“ as in many science
fiction stories, past and present, the relationships and issues are
really about earthly relationships and issues of today, and are not
really predictive of what we might discover in the future in outer
space. “2001: A Space Odyssey” was perhaps the most ambitious
effort of the three, attempting to understand human existence in
an ambiguous cause from  some mysterious extraterrestrial source.
Considering that virtually all extraterrestrial encounters in
science fiction for the past century were ominous and threatening,
“Close Encounters Of A Third Kind” was a new attempt to cast the
first meeting between humans and extraterrestrials as positive and
hopeful. Each of these works were immensely entertaining.

None of these three really offer more than a popular and superficial
philosophical idea, but I do suggest that their impact and popularity,
along with the many novels, stories and films which preceded them
are an important cultural development. In fact, all of them as well
as the widely held belief that there is life elsewhere perhaps
represents a profound widespread psychological condition or
awareness that humanity is crossing a kind of threshold which is
dangerous, frightening and problematic.

For most of human history, at least in its past four or five thousand
years, religion served as a universal haven for the anxieties which
arise from what the human mind and experience could not answer.
At first there were multiple gods, then one god, and then various
mass forms of worshiping and understanding the religious deity
which seemed to peak in the 19th century. Many of these religions
exist today, and enjoy the membership of perhaps a majority of
persons worldwide. In most of these religions, there are movements
which attempt to recapture the original fervor of belief, but it is also
evident that for millions of others, religion is a cultural custom more
than a theological one.

As in each step of human development, originally multiple gods and
then a single god figure, a person sought  some understanding and
solace about death and the unknowable mysteries of life from some
external form. As human beings begin to recreate themselves with
computers and machines, and also reach some limits, it is
perhaps only natural that some would posit a new external form  of
explanation and origin.

It would seem mere egotism and species childishness to think that
if some extraterrestrial life form did exist and had the capability to
travel to our little planet, such a life form would have any interest in
interacting with us. There also might be no other life forms in the
universe, or if there are, no way for them to communicate with us
in any form.  As we face profound problems of our own, as a race of
creatures living tenuously on a relatively small planet, perhaps on
the verge of technologically abolishing ourselves, the hope and
promise of some visitors from space coming either to threaten us or
save us, seems a poor substitute for the real challenges we now face.

In a future we now face, it has turned bleaker not from threats from
the stars, but by the persistence of what we continue to visit on
ourselves.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Copyright (c) 2015 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Getting Ahead By Trailing

The way to win a presidential nomination in 2016 might be
to be behind most of the time. It remains to be seen if this
notion will prove to be true this cycle, but there are signs it
could be the ultimate strategy.

Certainly, the earliest frontrunners in the nomination races
of both major parties are in some jeopardy, especially in the
Republican race at this time. Former Florida Governor Jeb
Bush filled the vacuum from pre-campaign favorite New
Jersey Governor Chris Christie when the latter faded
following controversies in the Garden State. Then, one by
one, new major entries, including Wisconsin Governor
Scott Walker and Florida Senator Marco Rubio, soared to
the top of some polls. With Ohio Governor John Kasich, not
yet announced, already announced Texas Senator Ted Cruz,
and unannounced Kentucky Senator Rand Paul with apparent
potential to go high in the polls. a number of other GOP
hopefuls, including Carly Fiorina, Bobby Jindal, Rick Perry,
Ben Carson and Mike Huckabee also have notable potential.
Considering his charisma, it is easy to see that Mr. Christie
might make a comeback after the presidential debates begin.
In fact, his dip in the polls and public attention might be the
biggest break he receives in his as yet unannounced run for
the presidency (as he is given time to repair his public image).
This is reminiscent of the 2012 GOP nomination contest when
virtually all of the major candidates, at one time or another,
led in the polls until Mitt Romney, the early favorite, won at
the end.

On the Democratic side, former First Lady Hillary Clinton has
led throughout the earliest phase of the campaign, but has
faced relentless criticism and controversy. Her poll numbers
continue to decline in spite of a furious effort by her friends
and supporters to maintain her as the prohibitive favorite.
With minor announced or likely opposition including former
Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley and Vermont Senator
Bernie Sanders, Mrs. Clinton remains substantially ahead, but
that could easily change if some or all more formidable
opponents, including Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren,
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, and Minnesota Senator
Amy Klobuchar, entered the race later in 2015. The commonplace
comparison here is not with 2012, but with 2008 when Mrs.
Clinton was also far ahead until the primary/caucus season began.

I know I have written on this theme before, but repetition does
serve the reader an important purpose, I think. at this very early
stage when poll numbers are almost irrelevant, and so little is
known about the chemistry of the nomination contests when the
candidates have to face each other in television debates and on the
actual primary/caucus campaign trail.

My point is that 2016 might not resemble either 2008 or 2012, or
any other recent presidential cycle. Nor might the usual standards
for predicting outcomes apply, including early fundraising prowess,
name recognition, and poll numbers. With an open contest in both
parties, a potentially new electoral college map, deep nationwide
anxiety about unemployment, growth, national security and the
nation’s role in the world, I suggest that smug predictions about
final outcomes in November, 2016 are incredibly risky in May,
2015. Not only that, I suggest, whether we like it or not, the
current state of political indecision is likely going to persist
throughout the next several months, especially over the summer.

This will not prevent, of course, endless speculation provoked
by meaningless polls, quickly-forgotten incidents, candidate
media-determined flubs, and ponderous comparisons with past
cycles by various pundits and commentators, myself included.

It’s a good time, however, to take nothing for granted.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Copyright (c) 2015 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Friday, May 8, 2015

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Upset In Britain (update)

With final vote returns counted, the upset in the
British elections was big and historic as the
Conservative (Tory) Party, led by Prime Minister
David Cameron, won a clear majority of seats in
parliament. Cameron will no longer need to form
a coalition to run the government.

Virtually all opinion polls and most of the English
commentators had predicted a close race, however,
between the Tories and the leftist Labour Party.
Predictions that the Liberal Party, a partner in the
current government with the Conservatives, and
led by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, would
lose most of their 58 seats, turned out to be true,
as did the prediction that the Scottish National
Party (SNP) would sweep the election in Scotland
at the expense of Labour. Anticipation that the 
rightist U.K. Independence Party (UKIP), led by
Nigel Farage, would receive 20% or more of the vote,
and deny the Conservatives any gains, did not take
place as UKIP won less than 13% of the vote and
only one member of parliament. But UKIP was
successful in moving Cameron to a more euroskeptic
direction.

In the wake of the results, Mr. Milliband, Mr.
Clegg and Mr. Farage each have resigned as leaders
of their parties.

The leader of the SNP had said the Scottish M.P.s
would join with Labour to “shut the Conservatives
out,” but this offer was obviously now moot.

In a pattern similar to both the domestic and
international press coverage of the recent Israeli
elections, most of the domestic British media and
pollsters, as well as much of the international media,
had it very wrong about the electorate. Considering
that most of this media is biased to the left, this
emerging pattern is no surprise. U.S. media also
underestimated the size and scope of the Republican
victories in the 2014 U.S. mid-term elections.

Voters in North America and Europe, however, seem
to be ignoring media commentators, and resisting
accurate polling. An egregious example in the British
election was, despite one set of exit polls showing
the Tories doing better than expected, the pro-Labour
London Mirror newspaper insisted (an hour after
voting ended) that their exit polls showed the popular
vote to be close and the Tories far short of a majority.
(There must be some red faces at the Mirror this
morning. Pun applicable?)

Two notable Tory winners were charismatic London
Mayor Boris Johnson (a possible future prime
minister) and Bill Cash, the long-serving M.P. who is
a leader of the U.K. euroskeptics who oppose the
political unionization of Europe. Mr. Cameron had
promised a national vote on European Union (EU)
membership before the election, and now that vote
will take place. Both the Labour and Liberal Parties
are pro-EU, but each of those parties were badly
defeated in this election.

One of the consequences of the British election,
therefore, will be the probable necessity of new
concessions from EU countries to try to avoid a
“no” vote in the United Kingdom on its continued
membership.

Milliband and his Labour Party had campaigned
promising higher taxes for wealthy Britons and
increased government social spending. This was
clearly rejected by UK voters at the end of the campaign.

Actual control of the British parliament requires
323 votes (since five M.P.’s traditionally don’t vote),
not an absolute majority. With at least 330 seats
won, and new much tighter rules for dissolving the
parliament, Mr. Cameron and his party are likely
to be in charge for the next five years.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------
Copyright (c) by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.