Alan Flippen: ‘You write, ‘If we’re just a simulation, how do you explain true love?’ Robert Heinlein addressed this in his short story ‘The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag’ and his novel Job: A Comedy of Justice, both of which are based on the world-as-simulation premise. His answer: true love is an artistic flourish by the creator of the simulation.’

☞ And a magnificent flourish it was.

Speaking of sims . . .


Seems Syms‘ symbol’s now SYMZ – and that the company has successfully delisted from the New York Stock Exchange.

If that sounds a little like successfully lowering your credit rating or successfully exiting a prestigious professional society, their rationale is: a seven-figure annual saving in fees and compliance costs.

The stock, at $10 yesterday, is down from $20 just a few months ago and up barely 35% in the four years since it was first suggested here (taking into account a special $1 dividend it paid out). It is in two businesses: value-priced clothing, which could get pretty badly mauled in a prolonged recession, and (by default if not design) real estate – many of its 33 stores sit on undervalued land, which is the real reason some of us bought the stock. Just how badly that hidden value may erode as America’s chickens come home to roost is the big question here. I’m not selling my SYMZ. And if I see it dip a few dollars cheaper, as people begin despairing an economic bottom will ever be reached (always a good sign), I might buy a little more. But clearly, the smart thing to do would have been to sell it at $20 first. And if things get bad enough, the stock could get a lot cheaper so – as usual – this is only for money you can truly afford to lose.


Gary Burton: ‘I think it would be helpful for your readers to devote a paragraph explaining the primary voting situation in these states that have been disenfranchised by the DNC. I have to say I have pretty mixed feelings about it myself. I very much want to have a voice in the selection of our candidate and feel I am being denied my right as a citizen and supporter of the party to have my vote counted. Since the Republican legislature of Florida voted to move the election date up, it feels all the more unfair to have the Democratic party choose to deny thousands of us [it’s millions of us, actually – A.T.] our opportunity to participate. Meanwhile, the Republicans are proceeding with their primaries. What’s wrong with this picture? Why should I and others like me continue to financially support the party that doesn’t allow us to vote? The only explanation I have heard to date regarding the need to punish states that messed with the DNC’s timing of the primaries lands with a thud.’

☞ This is a very good question that requires a lot than one paragraph to answer. (Please note: This is my personal understanding, not any official Party statement. I am an interested, but not an intimate, observer.)

1. Virtually everyone outside of Iowa and New Hampshire agrees that the primary system was badly in need of change. Those first two states are simply not representative of America (are there no black people in America? no brown people? no inhabitants of the sunbelt?), and Iowa’s favored status distorts America’s farm policy.

2. Knowing this, the Democratic National Committee set about a lengthy, deliberate process to come up with something better.

3. It’s a tough business, because the only states that will really be happy are the ones that get a jump on the others. That’s because the early states get loads of attention; millions of dollars in revenue (think of all the hotel bills for staffers and volunteers and media for months on end, and all the dollars pumped in for advertising); and, in the case of Iowa, instant converts to ethanol who, before they started running, opposed it. (E.g.: McCain’s farm flip: The senator has been a critic of ethanol. That doesn’t play in Iowa. So the Straight Talk Express has taken a detour.’)

4. Not all 50 states can go first.

5. It wouldn’t work for the Party Chairman just to make up a new system (‘Bang, here’s what we’re going to do’) – the Party is governed by by-laws. And even if all the 30-day notices and committees votes and such could be ignored, it would be a bad idea. The only way people can feel at least reasonably good about not being chosen to go first is if they have been part of a lengthy and thoughtful process.

6. So it was decided and broadly agreed to that there would be such a process . . . and as part of that process it came to be decided that Iowa and New Hampshire would get to keep their special positions, but that two more ‘early’ states would be added to dilute their impact and provide badly needed diversity.

7. A lot of people think Iowa and New Hampshire still have too great an advantage and that for 2012 we need to go further – perhaps some system that rotates the coveted ‘early state’ slots, and/or some system of regional primaries. There are all kinds of ideas that will be considered for 2012.

8. But for this time it was agreed to add two early states – and every state was invited to apply.

9. Michigan applied but didn’t make the cut, perhaps because, like Iowa and New Hampshire, it is a Northern state – it was the West and South that were glaringly under-represented – and perhaps because it’s pretty big. Michigan has about triple the population of Iowa and seven times the population of New Hampshire. That’s good in terms of diversity – most Americans live in populous states. But, arguably, it’s bad in terms of democracy. The idea is to have the early states be small enough that (a) even a non-billionaire upstart might be able to assemble the resources to compete; and (b) a large proportion of the electorate can actually meet and talk with the candidates face to face for extended, unscripted conversations.

10. Florida didn’t apply.

11. Of those that did apply to jump the February 5 starting gun, Nevada (this coming Saturday) and South Carolina (January 26) were selected. Both are small in population; Nevada is Western and heavily Hispanic; South Carolina is Southern and heavily African-American.

12. Everyone agrees this is not perfect. But everyone also agrees that a game needs rules – how can you have a contest without agreed-upon rules? – and this is what was decided on after an extensive, orderly deliberative process . . . and ratified by the full Democratic National Committee, including its Florida and Michigan members.

13. Part of the new rules called for severe penalties on any state that chose to ‘jump the gun.’ Without penalties, why observe the rules? There’s no practical penalty for modestly exceeding the 55 mile per hour speed limit, so most do.

14. So we adopted our rules, penalties and all.

15. Even knowing the rules (which the Republicans adopted as well) Florida’s legislature passed a bill moving up the Florida Primary to January 29.

The assumption seemed to be that the parties wouldn’t dare enforce the rules against Florida, after what we had been through in 2000. (I am a Florida voter, and I promise you that, by a margin of tens of thousands, we went to the polls to elect Al Gore.)

But how could the Party not? If we said to all the other states that – after that whole long process we had all agreed to – everyone had to obey the rules except those that didn’t, then other states might jump the gun, too. And indeed, seeing what Florida did, Michigan did, too.

16. It would be nice to blame all this on Karl Rove, and I’m not sure there isn’t something to that. Florida has a Republican Governor and a Republican legislature, and this may have been a diabolical plan to get Democrats fighting with each other and discourage Democratic donors in Florida from supporting the Party . . . or demoralize Florida Democrats to suppress their vote when it really counts, November 4.

But it’s harder to blame this on the Republicans when all but one Democratic legislator voted for the bill. And several cosponsored it.

17. Then again, in defense of our legislators, there is this important wrinkle: Attached to the bill moving the primary up to January 29 were provisions to replace unverifiable Florida voting machines with optical-scan paper ballots. So tell me: how, after what happened in 2000, could Democrats vote against verifiable elections?

18. When it became clear the Republicans would not allow the bill to be split in two – one for verifiable elections, which we all favored, and one for jumping the primary gun – our side introduced an amendment to the bill, moving the primary up (it was held March 5 in 2004) but only to February 5, as prescribed by DNC (and RNC) rules.

19. Every Democrat voted for that amendment, every Republican, against.

So the DNC was certainly sympathetic to the mess, and offered to pay for a face-saving primary of some kind to be held on or after February 5. But a full primary costs a fortune, which the DNC didn’t have; and the mini-version that was offered, with relatively few polling places, was felt by the Florida Party to be impractical – how could we tell our constituents we had protected their vote when so many would not physically be able to get to the polling places? So it’s hard to blame the Florida Party for not going along with this, much as I wish some compromise or solution could have been found.

20. So now here you are: I am making you Chairman of the DNC. What do you do? Do you say, ‘To heck with the By-Laws. Sue me – I hereby chose to disregard our Party by-laws and supersede the agreed-upon rules. But only for Florida. Well, okay, and Michigan. But nobody else!’ (Actually, the DNC was sued – for enforcing its rules. The suit was thrown out.)

When I asked people this question back when there was still time to act on a brilliant solution, no one had one.

It’s just an unfortunate situation.

The two hopes are:

  1. One or another of our fine Democratic candidates will win the nomination by enough of a margin that the primary votes in Florida and Michigan would not have affected the outcome. At which point you invite all the Florida and Michigan delegates to come to Denver for the Convention as honored – non-voting – delegates. No one cares, because their vote wouldn’t have made any difference anyway.
  • (On the Republican side, it’s ‘winner take all,’ so a state the size of Florida could swing the nomination. On our side, because the delegate selection is proportional, that’s less likely. Florida is supposed to have 241 delegates at the Convention. But if they were fairly evenly split among the front-runners, they would largely cancel each other out.)
  1. Come November 4, this is long forgotten. Democrats and Independents and moderate Republicans come out from all over Florida to sweep into office Democrats who want to get our country back on track after nearly eight years of heartbreaking misdirection and incompetence.

As lengthy as that explanation is, it doesn’t begin to cover every wrinkle and nuance, many of which I’m sure I don’t know. But I’m confident that the DNC’s Rules and By-Laws Committee, co-chaired by my college classmate Jim Roosevelt (FDR’s estimable grandson) and Alexis Herman (Clinton’s estimable Labor Secretary) were not out to favor one candidate or another, or disadvantage Florida or Michigan. The rules were adopted long before anyone could know who would break them.


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