Friday, November 26, 2004

WRESTLING WITH RHYME The blog will be on hiatus for the next nine days.

To tide you over, here's CONTRAPOSITIVE's first foray into poetry criticism: A review of WRESTLING WITH RHYME, by late-80s WWF star "Leaping" Lanny Poffo. (If Amazon.com is to be believed, the hard-to-find book is now back in print.)

The review, by Dan Aibel, was slated to appear in Brutarian magazine sometime in 2002. (No word on whether it actually ran.)



The style is derivative, the word choice bland, and there is little thematic breadth. Thinly-sketched characters are briefly conjured and then dropped. At times even the extravagantly simple, singsong rhyming structure devolves into chaos.

So it is no wonder that readers and critics blithely dismissed World Wrestling Federation star ("Leaping") Lanny Poffo’s 1988 poetry collection WRESTLING WITH RHYME when it first arrived.

And yet, more than a decade after its release, a careful reading of Poffo's debut reveals it to be a seminal work, worthy of our attention. RHYME is a volume not without flaws, it is true. But the tenacious eloquence at its core—-the plainspoken muscularity of Poffo's verse—-signals the arrival of an important new poetic voice.

And it is high time for that voice to be heard.

RHYME opens with "Before the Bell," a crude sixteen-line trifle. Poffo announces:
Before this wrestling match begins
I have some words to say
To fans from every nation
And throughout the USA
Even the sympathetic reader is likely to chafe at this opening gambit. Poffo's blunt, declaratory approach lacks subtlety and his phrasing is both rigid and unimaginative.
It wasn't very long ago
I had a ringside seat
My father was a champion
Who seldom knew defeat
Here the poem maneuvers into slightly more interesting territory. But Poffo clings as closely to a simple, predictable cadence as his bathing suit-cum-wrestling trunks cling to his well-proportioned hips. Inevitably, this uniformity numbs, rather than engages, the reader.

And so already, only two verses into the collection, it is all too easy to succumb to a kind of sleeper-hold submission—-to conclude that Rhyme is a work barren of value, without depth or emotional resonance. The lay reader can be forgiven for setting it aside almost reflexively.

But to discard RHYME at such an early stage is to forego staggering literary and intellectual rewards. It is to pass up nothing less than a window into the world of a unique, mustachioed young writer still in the process of discovering his poetic sensibility.

Indeed, given a fair hearing, RHYME reveals itself to be a collection that is at once witty and solemn, intimate and epic; one addressing topics ranging from faith to legacy to "Hulkamania"; one which works in meaningful references to Robert Penn Warren, James Madison and George (the "Animal") Steele.

The task of interpreting and assessing RHYME requires not so much a line-by-line analysis as an openness to the power of the collection as a whole.

Indeed, we must be willing to overlook missteps like the too-clever "Ode to Larry 'Bud' Mellman," the cryptic "Uncle Elmer's Wedding," and the earnest but ultimately saccharine "Breaking the Ice for Big Brothers," to get at the self-examination which is Poffo’s true focus.

Namely, through the collection’s better poems—-the scathing "Jimmy Hart," ("He's the scratching fingernails / on the blackboard of our lives"), the playful "Who's Been Stealing the Cardboard Hulksters?” and a minor masterpiece, "The Handshake Heard 'Round the World"—-a portrait of Poffo develops: He is Italian. He is Jewish. He comes from a loving wrestling family. His father, Angelo, holds a world record for consecutive sit-ups. He is charitable and loyal, but also vulnerable to pangs of vengefulness and hate.

He emerges, in short, as a complex, conflicted, pectorally-blessed, frisbee-wielding individual, aware of his shortcomings, but not resigned to them.

Poffo's poems are littered with allusions to faith and family, to neighborliness and friendship, and to God. In "What’s Behind the Smile" he notes, "I can feel His love around me" and in "Deliverance," he maintains, "The Holy Spirit came to me and filled me with such power."

Still, elsewhere, as in "Hillbilly Jim" he appears to set aside his religious scruples, musing:

Pro Wrestling is a battlefield
and danger signs our checks
For what they’ve done to Big Jim’s leg
I hope he breaks their necks.
The verse raises a question as fundamental as it is obvious: How does one reconcile the violence endemic to a wrestler's existence with the spiritual teachings Poffo seems determined to follow?

There is no simple, pat reply available, of course. Yet it is in grappling with this question, and in formulating his answer, that Poffo stakes out his ground as arguably the most important wrestler-poet since Euripides.

This crucial contest-—between the values of wrestling and those of religion—-is set out most starkly, and explored most fully, in "Faith," where Poffo writes:

Some say the pen can beat the sword
While others disagree
To hedge my bets I carry both
As you can plainly see
Here the poet is acknowledging—-coyly, and in symbolic terms—-what it means to live a cerebral life in a world of pain and sorrow and body slams.

But the verse also has a more serious undercurrent: We find Poffo (in a poem titled "Faith" no less) unable or unwilling to put his trust in justice (the pen) alone, but instead compelled from within to "hedge [his] bets," by maintaining the sword’s threat of violence.

And so, beneath the work’s droll surface, what Poffo is doing here, ultimately, is delivering a grim lesson about the contradictions inherent in the human condition, about the importance of faith, but also about its limits: Who among us has not felt the tug between our ideals and more practical concerns? How many of us have embraced lofty moral principles, only to find our better angels hemmed in by darker impulses?

It is worth pausing for a moment here to reflect on the meaning and essence of Poffo’s primary art itself. Namely, what is wrestling but an effort to physicalize and externalize the titanic internal struggle between greed and goodness, vanity and humility? What is it, really, but an effort—with the aid of bright lights, loud music, and men in curiously high boots—to dramatize and contextualize the battles between desire and discipline that animate our daily existence?

Indeed, what is the wrestling ring itself but a kind of proxy for the human soul?

And what of poetry? Is it not a means (as in "Faith") to distill those very same struggles down to their barest, silent essence? To flesh them out and render them intelligible? To find, finally, a language within which to referee the wrestling matches that rage inside us all?

If RHYME does not answer these questions, it at least directs the reader to them. All the while, it underscores the profound psychic link between a Bruno Sammartino, for instance, and a William Blake; between a Koko B. Ware and a Langston Hughes; between a Greg (the “Hammer”) Valentine and a John Keats. Certainly the task of exploring this vital nexus is not complete. But we can thank Poffo, at least, for starting us on the journey.


Monday, November 22, 2004

ENABLING HOLLYWOOD There's plenty of drivel to be found in Hollywood's output these days. ClearPlay's defenders and I share that belief. (For background on ClearPlay, click here.)

Explosions substitute for narrative, gore takes the place of drama, and watching people die is an integral part of the spectacle.

It's bizarre, offensive and disappointing. And each year the envelope gets pushed a little bit further.

But ClearPlay won't solve the problem. It may even make it worse.

Consider the case of a model ClearPlay user: He wouldn't ordinarily rent LARA CROFT: TOMB RAIDER. But because ClearPlay allows him to watch it with all violence and mayhem excised, he feels comfortable plucking it down from the video store shelves.

That's one more rental of LARA CROFT: TOMB RAIDER than would have occurred in the pre-ClearPlay world. And naturally, that rental pads the industry's wallet.

But it doesn't just pad the industry's wallet in the abstract. It sends Hollywood a clear economic message: Make more films like LARA CROFT: TOMB RAIDER.

And so the formerly-scandalized, violence-averse viewer--with the help of ClearPlay--is effectively telling Hollywood to fill the pipeline with the kind of content he'd rather avoid.

What are the ethical implications of this sort of arrangement? Is it rational to act to enrich filmmakers whose work you find so objectionable you won't even watch it unexpurgated? And is there something self-negating about admiring a censored version of a film you would otherwise consider offensive?

ClearPlay users will need to sort through these and other dilemmas on their own. But they should understand up front that when they use ClearPlay, they aren't fighting the cultural drift. They're facilitating it.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

LOOKING AHEAD For those hearty souls ready to dive back into the game: MyDD has posted a state-by-state survey of the 2006 Senate race landscape.

It's never too early.

Friday, November 19, 2004

BAD NIGHT FOR THE NBA For choking his coach, Latrell Sprewell was suspended for 68 games. Pacers players who slipped into the stands tonight and threw punches should be out longer.

You wouldn't know it from listening to the post-incident analysis from the ESPN anchors, but there is no excuse for going after a fan.

UPDATE: Toronto coach Sam Mitchell gets it right:

"It's bad. As players we're told regardless of what happens on the court you can't go into the stands. You just can't do it. Do I think the fans should share some of the blame? Yeah. But as professionals, as NBA players, you cannot go into the stands."
But Vince Carter seems not to have gotten the memo:
"You can't blame a player for reacting that way. You can't blame anybody. ... He was protecting himself. Nobody wants to be disrespected like that. You can say what you want as long as you don't put your hands on somebody else or touch him. You can't blame him."

MOVIE OF THE MONTH Embarrassed it took me so long to get around to seeing MILLER'S CROSSING: Fourteen years after it was released, this dark, gruesome film from the Coen brothers holds up as one of their strongest efforts.

The film moves through a complicated, morally-ambiguous story of prohibition-era mob feuding and revenge that would sound, on paper, like any number of flicks from the genre. But this is the Coens, so what we get is an idiosyncratic portrait that breaks all the rules.

The sets are stunning, the performances are strong and, thankfully, the movie isn't available from CleanFlicks.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

VOTE WATCH I've been reluctant to do any posting about election irregularities until all the facts are in and it becomes easier to separate the crackpot theories from the legitimate questions.

It's not yet clear which category this falls under. But it seems like something to at least keep an eye on:

What: A research team at UC Berkeley will report that irregularities associated with electronic voting machines may have awarded 130,000 - 260,000 or more excess votes to President George W. Bush in Florida in the 2004 presidential election.

The study shows an unexplained discrepancy between votes for President Bush in counties where electronic voting machines were used versus counties using traditional voting methods. Discrepancies this large or larger rarely arise by chance--the probability is less than 0.1 percent. The research team, led by Professor Michael Hout, will formally disclose results of the study at the press conference.
Press conference starts at 1pm EST. (Link via Rotten Denmark.)

UPDATE: Keith Olbermann, the mainstream media's point man on the election irregularity issue, rightly notes that similar-sounding challenges to the Florida numbers (rooted in statistical analysis and demographic data) have been leveled and answered before.

But one would think that the Berkeley folks are aware of that back-and-forth. They would have to be pretty foolish to put themselves on the line like this without some fairly compelling evidence.

UPDATE UPDATE: The Berkeley team's working paper is available as a .PDF file here. Their updated press release is here.

My take: Even if the statistical techniques the paper uses are beyond reproach--and I have no idea if they are--this kind of circumstantial case won't have an impact in the court of public opinion unless concrete, eye-grabbing examples of anomalies can be produced. (An African-American precinct in Broward or Palm Beach going overwhelmingly for President Bush, for example.)

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

FINAL CUT CleanFlicks and ClearPlay, a pair of companies that play the role of censor for dvd viewers looking to avoid objectionable content, are at the heart of a story that's been developing under the radar for the last couple years.

It's a story of special interest to artists, cinephiles, tech enthusiasts and intellectual property law junkies. So that ought to cover just about everybody who reads this blog.

CleanFlicks is a video store chain and online outlet that edits movies to remove "offensive" bits, catering to consumers who want to watch edgy movies, but would prefer to skip the sex, violence and profane language. The company performs its editing without the permission of the studios that market the dvds.

Its business model is repugnant on a whole bunch of levels:

CleanFlicks makes copies of movies without authorization; it alters copyrighted works against the wishes of copyright holders; and it has the arrogance to mess with classics like TAXI DRIVER and THE GODFATHER, and to profit from it.

Still, if what CleanFlicks does is repugnant, it isn't repugnant in any particularly interesting way: The company has been sued by the Directors Guild of America, and I'd be shocked if it didn't ultimately lose its battle in the courts.

ClearPlay, however, is a different story. Instead of censoring dvds outright, the company adopts a more sophisticated approach:

Movies are screened, and potentially objectionable content is flagged and categorized by the company; a software "filter"--a kind of temporal map of naughty moments--is created; viewers who have purchased a ClearPlay dvd player order the filter for the movie they'd like to watch and upload it onto their player.

When the consumer pops in the dvd (which they've acquired from NetFlix or anywhere else) that corresponds to the filter in question, the dvd player will scan past objectionable moments and mute objectionable words.

And using ClearPlay, the viewer gets to decide just what "objectionable" means. According to an e-mail from Jeff at ClearPlay customer support, the following filter settings are offered

1. Strong Violence: Filters excessive or repeated violence, including fantasy violence.
- Strong Fantasy/Creature Violence
- Strong Action Violence
- Sustained/Repetitious Violence
- Crude Comic Violence

2. Graphic Violence: Filters brutal and graphic violent scenes.
- Brutal/Fierce Violence
- Graphic/Bloody Violence
- Rape/Rape Scene
- Torture

3. Disturbing Images: Filters gruesome and other disturbing images.
- Macabre Images, Dead/Decomposing Body
- Bloody/Horror Imagery
- Gruesome/Disturbing Imagery

4. Sensual Content: Filters highly suggestive and provocative situations and dialogue.
- Sensual Dialogue/Situation
- Provocative/Revealing Clothing
- Provocative Innuendo

5. Crude Sexual Content: Filters crude sexual language and gestures.
- Crude Sexual Word/Dialogue
- Crude Sexual Action/Gesture
- Crude Sexual Innuendo

6. Nudity: Filters nudity, including partial and risqué art nudity.
- Rear Nudity
- Topless/Front Nudity
- Partial Nudity/Veiled Nudity
- Nude Photos/Art

7. Explicit Sexual Situation: Filters explicit sexual dialogue, sound and activity.
- Sex Scene
- Sex Related Sounds
- Sexually Explicit Actions/Images/Dialogue

8. Vain Reference to Deity: Filters vain or irreverent reference to God or a deity.

9. Crude Language and Humor: Filters crude language and bodily humor.
- Crude Scatological Word/Sound
- Crude Scatological Image

10. Ethnic and Social Slurs: Filters ethnically or socially offensive insults.
- Racial Slurs
- Social Slurs

11. Cursing: Filters profane uses of hell and damn.

12. Strong Profanity: Filters swear-words, including strong profanities.
- B*stard
- B*tch
- A**
- Sh*t
- G*d D*mn
- Middle Finger

13. Graphic Vulgarity: Filters graphic vulgarities,
- f- word, graphic vulgarities

14. Explicit Drug Use: Filters vivid scenes of illegal drug use.
- Drugs being used in a vivid/graphic manner.
Each of these filtering parameters is operated independently, so any combination of settings can be selected, giving the viewer a wide range of discretion.

So: Is there any substantive ethical difference between what CleanFlicks and ClearPlay are doing? I'm not sure, but I'm inclined to think that there is. The fact that ClearPlay's technology leaves the dvd itself intact seems like a distinction with at least some importance.

(On the other hand, ClearPlay's legal footing remains uncertain: A bill called the Family Movie Act, aiming to carve out an explicit copyright law exemption for dvd filtering software, passed out of the House Judiciary Committee by a vote 18-9 earlier this year. It is likely to be revived during the next congressional session.)

Either way, though, the more salient difference between CleanFlicks and ClearPlay is on the practical level: It's easy for the government to shut down a business like CleanFlicks that trades in unauthorized copies of copyrighted material. (It may be impossible to stop pirating, but as the folks at Napster learned, it's not difficult for the government to ruin a business model predicated on it.)

But preventing the proliferation of filtering software seems like a far dicier proposition, if only because of the convergence of filmmaking, computer and home entertainment technology. In the end, ClearPlay may or may not survive as a business, but filtering software will almost surely continue to exist.

Of course, filmmakers worth their salt, and particularly those with Hollywood clout can--and probably should--demand that studios respond by developing technology to block such filtering. But whether Hollywood is willing to alienate a substantial segment of the public by going to the mat on this issue remains an open question.

Much more on this issue in the coming weeks.

GETTING ON CONTRAPOSITIVE celebrates its first anniversary today. Some stats:
Number of posts: 411

Number of posts referencing "Bush": 100+

Number of posts referencing "Kerry": 59

Number of posts referencing "Dean": 39

Number of sites linking to CONTRAPOSITIVE: 40+

Number of countries represented by those sites: at least 4

Average daily traffic: +600% (since May)

Most traffic in one day: 5,948 hits on November 2, 2004

Blog's rank in Google search for term "contrapositive": 1
Thanks for your patronage.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

RICE FLASHBACK At the risk of beating a dead horse, let's return one last time to Condoleeza Rice's conception of justice:
BLITZER: To justice? The guy [nuclear bombmaker and proliferator A. Q. Khan] has been -- Khan has been freed. He's been pardoned by President Musharraf... Khan himself lives in a villa. And the IAEA would like to question him, and the Pakistani government doesn't even allow that to happen.

RICE: I think we all know that A.Q. Khan was a particular kind of figure in Pakistani lore, a national hero... if you don't think that his national humiliation is justice for what he did, I think it is. He's nationally humiliated.
Also in her favor: She was part of the crew that alienated the world during the first term! A bonus! (More Rice gems here and here.)

If this was an episode of THE SIMPSONS, right about now would be when Homer shouts:

And I'll never get my comeuppance! Do you hear me? No comeuppance!

Monday, November 15, 2004

THEATER PICK New York-based readers with a free night this week should try to check out HELL MEETS HENRY HALFWAY, a goofy adaptation of Polish scribe Witold Gombrowicz's mid-century novel POSSESSED.

The excellent production, by the Philadelphia-based Pig Iron Theatre Company, runs through Sunday at the Ohio Theatre in SoHo.

Meticulously directed by Dan Rothenberg, the play features inventive staging, wonderful performances from all six actors, and lots of tennis balls. (Tickets here.)

Thursday, November 11, 2004

EVEN MORE COBURN One last nugget. From a speech given by then Rep. Tom Coburn on anti-terrorism legislation proposed in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing:
"Terrorism obviously poses a serious threat to us as a free society. It generates fear. But there is a far greater fear that is present, and that is fear of our own government."
--Newsday, April 15, 1996

MORE COBURN Reader SR, after digesting Senator-elect Tom Coburn's comments on SCHINDLER'S LIST (quoted in a recent post), wants to know if the Senator-elect has made other comments that might be particularly disturbing to Jews.

You be the judge:

"This nation must stand for or against Christ," Coburn stated in the article distributed under his byline. "The Bible clearly tells us that it is impossible to stand in the middle."


Even though he entitled his article " Christian Principles Belong in Government, " Coburn said he was not promoting Christianity over other religions but only focusing on the model offered by Christ.
--The Tulsa World, March 2, 1996

"What you do, what you say, and how you live your life does make a difference. It's time to take a look at Israel. They were severely punished when they turned from God."
--The Jerusalem Post, September 26, 2004

Coburn also has a habit of referring to Jews as "God's chosen people." He probably thinks this earns him points with Jewish audiences. But I, for one, would prefer that he stop using that particular construction.

Monday, November 08, 2004

NEW YORK NEWS Spitzer2006.com is the first official campaign website I've come across that's dedicated to an office-seeker unwilling to declare which office he's seeking.

Something tells me it's governor. And something tells me Spitzer is gearing up to go public with his plans.

GETTING TO KNOW THEM Let's all give a rousing welcome to Senator-elect Tom Coburn (R-OK):

On abortion:

"I favor the death penalty for abortionists and other people who take life." (KOKI-FOX 23)

On the threat posed by gays:
"The gay community has infiltrated the very centers of power in every area across this country, and they wield extreme power ... That agenda is the greatest threat to our freedom that we face today. Why do you think we see the rationalization for abortion and multiple sexual partners? That's a gay agenda." (Salon)

On the network television premiere of SCHINDLER'S LIST:
On Tuesday, Coburn said NBC had taken network television "to an all-time low, with full-frontal nudity, violence and profanity" by airing the movie. He said the broadcast should outrage parents and "decent-minded individuals everywhere." (CNN)

On fixing Social Security:
"I don't apologize for saying; we need to protect the unborn. Do you realize that if all those children had not been aborted, we wouldn't have any trouble with Medicare and Social Security today? That's another 41 million people." (Hugo Daily News)
On gun control:
"If I wanted to buy a bazooka to use in a very restricted way, to do something, I ought to be able to do that." (Mother Jones)

On the challenges facing schools:
You know, Josh Burkeen is our rep down here in the southeast area. He lives in Colgate and travels out of Atoka. He was telling me lesbianism is so rampant in some of the schools in southeast Oklahoma that they'll only let one girl go to the bathroom. Now think about it. Think about that issue. How is it that that's happened to us?" (Daily Kos)

OH AND BY THE WAY: Just in case you had any doubt.

On Coburn:

"It's important for us to have him in the Senate. We need his medical skills, his business skills and his very thoughtful approach to tackling issues important to our nation." --Sen Elizabeth Dole (R-NC)

On Coburn:
[Former President George H. W.] Bush said Tuesday at an Oklahoma City fund-raiser that it is of “great importance to the nation” and the current president to elect Tom Coburn to the U.S. Senate to help Republicans keep control there...“It would be a wonderful thing for this country." (Daily Oklahoman)

On Coburn:
"We need him in Washington...It's absolutely essential that Tom Coburn be the next United States senator from Oklahoma." --Vice President Dick Cheney

Thursday, November 04, 2004

BALANCE OF POWER With Republicans now enjoying a 55-45 seat advantage in the Senate, what's to prevent President Bush from nominating, say, Roy Moore to be the next Chief Justice of the Supreme Court?

Here are the five senators to keep an eye on:

Lincoln Chafee (R-Rhode Island)
Norm Coleman (R-Minnesota)
Susan Collins (R-Maine)
Olympia Snowe (R-Maine)
Arlen Specter (R-Pennsylvania)
But even if all five opposed a particularly radical nominee, the result would still be a 50-50 tie, with Vice President Cheney tipping the balance in the nominee's favor.

So the Senate's five Republican moderates would need the help of socially conservative but secular-minded John McCain (R-Arizona) to defeat a truly fringe candidate.

Of course, Karl Rove has undoubtedly thought long and hard about where McCain and the others are likely to draw the line.

And everything we've learned about Rove suggests he'll edge up as close to that line as he can.

UPDATE: This piece from the Week in Review section of The New York Times tackles the flip-side of the issue: Swing-state and conservative Democrats who might back the President on key issues.

Because of who he represents, Max Baucus (D-Montana) might seem particularly susceptible to pressure from the White House. But his voting record suggests otherwise.

ANOTHER CENTURY OF FAKERS In the interest of preventing this blog from devolving into a series of increasingly vituperative partisan rants, complete with obscure Belle and Sebastian lyrics for footnotes, CONTRAPOSITIVE will begin edging back toward what might be called "regularly scheduled programming" in the coming days.

There will continue to be posts on politics, to be sure. But they won't be every few hours. And the non-political topics that have been covered in the past--film, the internet, In-N-Out Burger--will once again start getting their due.

In the meantime, give Michael Bérubé's blog a whirl. (A link to his page is now featured at right.) At least at times, it reads like a graduate school version of The Daily Show.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

SOBERING UP This morning, as I navigated through a succession of disagreeable thoughts, I found myself deeply worried about our country. Having spent the day mulling things over, I've had the opportunity to gain at least a bit of perspective.

And I'm even more concerned about our future.

Let's face facts: At a particularly serious moment in our nation's history, we have re-elected the least competent, least effective president to come down the pike in decades.

This is a man who has consistently put the interests of his political benefactors above those of the nation; who has been unwilling or unable to hold members of his own administration accountable for cataclysmic errors; and who has been an unmitigated failure as a spokesman for America to the world.

He has expanded the size of the deficit without curtailing spending. He has supported enormous tax cuts, but not the steps required to secure the homeland. And he went to war without planning for the conflict's aftermath.

These criticisms, while rooted in a left-leaning view of the world, are not about ideology. Ronald Reagan wasn't vulnerable to these kinds of charges. George H. W. Bush certainly wasn't guilty of these faults.

Yet at a moment in our nation's history when we can ill-afford such a dangerous mix of incompetence, arrogance and cronyism, we have now signed on for more of the same. And we have done it by a margin of nearly 3.6 million souls.

ONE FINAL THOUGHT: At times like this, there's often a lot of talk about the inherent decency of the American people. About their strength, character and wisdom.

But the American people blew it on Tuesday. They blew it big time. And as nation, we will be dealing with the consequences of that mistake for years and years to come.

THE DIE IS CAST In a long, nuanced post worth reading, Josh Marshall writes:
Setting aside my general political leanings, my personal views and feelings of partisanship, I think the result portends very bad things for America's role in the world and the well-being on all levels of this country.

Changes in domestic politics, in theory at least, can be shifted back at a following election. The world, though, is different. There we are just a ship--though the largest one--on waters we can never truly control. And I fear that this result will set in motion dangerous dynamics that even the relatively young among us will be wrestling with and contending with for the rest of our lives...

Before today, the course that America had charted in the world over the last three years could be seen as the result of a traumatic event (9/11) and the choice of a president who was actually put in office by a minority of the electorate. This was a referendum on what's happened in the last three years. And it's been validated.

WHERE WE ARE With 100% of Ohio precincts reporting, Bush leads by 136,483 votes.

According to CNN, Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell has said that the number of uncounted provisional ballots is "trending toward 175,000." CNN says that counties have been told to report how many provisional ballots they've received by 2pm EST on Wednesday.

Daily Kos cites an (unsourced) e-mail with the following data from 2000: 90% of Ohio provisional ballots were ultimately certified as valid, and 85% of those votes went to Al Gore. Judy Woodruff, if memory serves, cited similar figures just before 2am EST this morning.

There are a number of reasons why those numbers (assuming they're accurate) might not hold up this time around. But if they did, based on a figure of 175,000 provisional ballots, we'd wind up with:

Bush: 2,819,772
Kerry: 2,793,539
That would leave Bush with a net advantage of 26,233 votes.

If the number of provisional ballots reaches 200,000 and the ratios from the last cycle hold up, Bush's lead would be trimmed to about 10,000 votes.

That would trigger an automatic statewide recount.

And that's before we even get to overseas ballots.

In any event, we should have a clearer idea of where things stand at 2pm EST.

Does it look bleak? It looks very very bleak. But it would be irresponsible for Kerry to concede until we know how many more ballots are out there.

UPDATE: CNN says Kerry will concede at 1pm EST. According to Adam Nagourney at The New York Times, the volume of provisional ballots the Kerry camp was counting on just hasn't materialized.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004


7:02--Chris Matthews just classified Virginia as "too close to call." Granted, it's only two minutes after the close of polls, but that has to be seen as a (very small) plus for Kerry.

7:06--Chris Bowers points out that in these early minutes, solidly conservative South Carolina has also yet to be called for Bush. (According to MSNBC, Bush has picked up Georgia and Indiana, while Kerry has secured Vermont.)

7:14--Daily Kos points out that Kentucky is also being called for Bush.

7:31--CNN has called West Virginia for Bush. Not great news for Kerry that it could be called so early.

7:32--As expected, no word on Ohio.

7:51--The race in Ohio is tight in the very very early-going.

7:53--A reliable media source tells CONTRAPOSITIVE that New Jersey will be called for Kerry right at 8pm. Phew.

7:55--Illinois will also be called immediately for Kerry, CONTRAPOSITIVE is told.

8:03--CNN is calling three out of Maine's four electoral votes for Kerry, with the fourth too close to call. Meanwhile, according to MSNBC Virginia is still too close to call.

8:45--To be clear: Still nothing resembling an upset. Biggest surprises so far are that it took the networks so long to call Virginia for Bush, and that they were able to call West Virginia so quickly.

9:01--Josh Marshall posts about a disturbing story out of Pennsylvania.

9:05--It's worth mentioning, at this point, that the major media organizations have gone awfully deep into the evening without calling a single contested state for either side. That said, it has to be seen as good news for Kerry that neither Missouri nor Colorado could be called quickly for Bush.

9:31--C-SPAN has a great electoral college map. Its state-by-state snapshot beats anything being provided by the television networks.

9:42--ABC news reports that the President will be speaking to reporters soon. Terry Moran calls this "unusual." But it is not unusual as far as Bush goes--he did the same exact thing last cycle, and the move was later seen, retrospectively, as a pivotal moment in the 2000 post-election Florida fight.

9:54--At this hour, Kerry trails in Florida by about 170,000 votes. Notably, though, votes have not yet been counted in either Miami-Dade or Palm Beach counties. 0% of precincts reporting there.

10:08--Chris Matthews calls Arkansas for Bush. Not a surprise, and not a surprise it took a while.

10:33--Given the 200,000+ vote lead the President is currently enjoying in Florida and the county-by-county breakdowns, it's difficult to see a Kerry path to victory that doesn't depend on a strong Democractic tilt to absentee ballots.

10:47--Let me state the obvious. The President's decision to invite the press into the White House was a political move. It was not a window into his soul.

10:49--MSNBC calls Pennsylvania for Kerry. About time the good guys got some good news.

10:51--Jeff Greenfield calls the Pennsylvania Kerry victory the "first major disappointment for either campaign." He points out that Bush made 41 trips to the Keystone state.

11:38--Kerry trails by about 150,000 votes in Ohio with about 58% of precincts reporting. Notably, Cuyahoga County (home of Cleveland)--where Kerry leads by 50,000 votes--has reported results for only about 33% of precincts.

11:49--CBS News has called Florida for Bush. Ugh.

11:56--Kerry has taken the lead in Wisconsin: 51%-48%. He also holds leads in Iowa, Minnesota and Michigan. It looks likely that everything will come down to Ohio.

1:00--NBC has just called Ohio for Bush. If they're correct, we are just about at the end of the road.

1:50--It doesn't look good, but at this hour it's definitely not over and may not be for a couple weeks. I'm going to get some rest.

SENATE THREAD All times are EST.

6:49--Has the Kentucky Board of Elections jumped the gun and started reporting returns before the polls have closed? Mongiardo (the underdog Democrat) seems to be leading 54%-46% with 20% of precincts reporting.

7:12--Mongiardo continues to hold a 10% lead with 35.5% of precincts reporting. These numbers are likely to narrow, but no one would have predicted Mongiardo would hold this kind of lead with these many votes counted.

7:47--Mongiardo's lead is down to 5 points with 57% of precincts reporting. Still very little data coming out of South Carolina.

7:58--Starting to look very worrisome in Kentucky--Mongiardo's lead has been whittled down to 2 points with 65% of precincts reporting.

8:09--As expected, still no word on the Senate races in North Carolina and Oklahoma. But the fact that Pennsylvania race hasn't gone quickly for Arlen Specter is a good sign for Democrats nationally.

8:14--Finally, some data out of South Carolina: Tenenbaum trails by 7 points with about 8% of precincts reporting.

8:37--NBC has called the Oklahoma Senate race for Tom Coburn over Democrat Brad Carson. Devastating for Democratic hopes of taking over the Senate, which--if this result holds up--have just about evaporated.

8:58--Mongiardo leads Kentucky by 950 votes with 90% reporting.

9:08--Mongiardo has expanded his lead to 2,700 votes with 92% of precincts reporting.

9:26--Wha? Bunning has just jumped out to a 20,000 vote lead over Mongiardo, even though the number of precincts reporting has only nudged up slightly.

10:05--According to Daily Kos, MSNBC has called the South Carolina Senate race for Jim DeMint over Inez Tenenbaum. Looks like a very tough night for Democrats in the Senate--at this point even a net loss of one seat might be considered a favorable outcome.

11:20--The Florida Senate race has tightened. Betty Castor has cut Mel Martinez's lead to about 17,000 votes with 92% of precincts reporting.

11:23--CBS News has just called the North Carolina Senate race: Another gain for the Republicans.

12:40--Ken Salazar has been given the nod in Colorado. A pick-up for the Democrats.

HOUSE THREAD All times are EST.

7:39--Jerome Armstrong is doing a good job of following the House situation.

11:17--According to Dan Rather, the House will remain in Republican hands.

FORGET THE EXIT POLLS But if you just can't help yourself, here are the early numbers according to Jerome Armstrong over at MyDD.com, a source CONTRAPOSITIVE considers credible:

Kerry 45 48 42 60 52 51 51 50 58 52 49 57
Bush 55 51 57 40 48 48 47 48 40 43 49 41

UPDATE: Jonah Goldberg at The National Review is questioning the veracity of the numbers now circulating. He alleges that the Pennsylvania figures, in particular, are a Kerry campaign fabrication.

Kerry supporters in the field--and those who have not yet voted--would do well to operate under the assumption that Goldberg is right.

UPDATE UPDATE: The Mystery Pollster also warns against trusting mid-day exit polls. His point about the absence of any "weighting" mechanism seems especially important to keep in mind.

EITHER/OR Return to this page after 3pm EST--and throughout the evening--for updates.

In the meantime, here's a link back to our Election Night Cheat Sheet.

Monday, November 01, 2004

FINAL SENATE PREDICTIONS Kos sees a net gain of one seat for the Democrats, resulting in an even 50-49-1 split (50-50 when you lump Jeffords in on the Democratic side).

Jerome Armstrong at MyDD is slightly less optimistic: He sees Republicans maintaining their 51-48-1 majority.

Both analyses assume that Republican David Vitter falls short of 50% in the Louisiana Senate race, and that Democrat Chris John ultimately beats Vitter in the run-off.

At the end of last night's press conference, my head was swimming. But one thought overwhelmed the rest: He's just not up to it.

And let me be clear about what I mean.

The President may be a strategic genius away from the cameras. I have my doubts--believe me--but I concede it's at least possible that on a person-to-person level, he's a great leader, motivator and manager.

Still, in times of crisis, every president must have a command--beyond the level of bumper sticker phrases--of the arguments and ideas that are shaping the actions of his administration. And he must able, and prepared, to communicate those arguments to the American people, and to the world.

As reluctant as mainstream pundits have been to say it, last night's press conference made it clearer than ever that George W. Bush simply isn't up to that task.

TO RECAP It's time for these people to go home.

CONTRAPOSITIVE is edited by Dan Aibel. Dan's a playwright. He lives in New York City.