Could an Independent Win the White House?

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I saw this question on a political forum, and realized the answer depends on what you mean.

It would be very difficult for a third party nominee to win the presidency in the current American system. A ticket with two moderate Governors got less than five percent against Trump and Hillary, the two least popular major party presidential candidates ever.

There are several systemic problems for third party nominees. Ballot access closes after the primaries are over, so independent candidates can’t make a decision after Democratic and Republicans have selected the nominee; they pretty much have to jump in before that, limiting their ability to take advantage of a divisive primary. If they don’t win states with 270+ electoral votes, the election goes to the House of Representatives, decided in an odd way (each state’s congressional delegation has one vote.) Those people will be political insiders who will have to explain to primary voters why they don’t go with the party’s choice if they go Independent, so they’ll want to stick with their guy. Early voting also starts soon enough that a third party nominee can’t depend on last minute support at the time voters start paying attention. By that point, a non-trivial number will have already backed the Democrat or the Republican.

There might be a sweet spot in which a third party nominee can win. The problem is that when the major party nominees are suitably unpopular, most voters aren’t going to go third party; they’re going to vote against the person they hate, just as plenty of Democrats went with Hillary because they loathed Trump and many Republicans held their nose for Trump because they despised Hillary. So you’d need a situation where voters aren’t enthusiastic for the major party candidates, but aren’t too worried about the other guy winning. And you’d need a third party candidate who isn’t just going to take votes away from one party, to just function as a spoiler.

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That said, there is one way an independent can win. It’s by running in a major party nomination. Trump pulled it off, and Sanders came close (and if he was ten years younger, he would be the 2020 Democratic frontrunner). 19,743,821 votes in the general election got Ross Perot just under 19 percent of the popular vote in 1992 (and zero electoral votes.) 14,015,993 votes in the Republican primary got Donald Trump the party’s nomination, and that gave him a credible shot at the white house. When looking at that record, qualified independents are going to be less likely to run on a third party ticket, when they’d have a better chance winning as a Democrat or a Republican. Assuming their interests and political beliefs are aligned closely enough with a major party, they’ll be able to take advantage of the campaign infrastructure of the national party, as well as that of every candidate in the general election. And those guys will know that their fates are intertwined with the top of the ticket.

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Movies Watched in 2017 Part 3

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This is a continuation of thoughts on films I’ve watched this year. Part 1. Part 2.

My goal is to watch ten movies from every decade (with the silent era until 1929 counting as one decade) recording various details. After over a month of watching new movies almost exclusively, I ended up rewatching some old favorites.

Movie #45/ 1930s Movie #5/ Science Fiction Film #9: King Kong
One thing that’s striking rewatching the film is how well they set things up. King Kong’s arrival in Manhattan is the last act, and he doesn’t make his appearance until about forty minutes into the film. Before that we’re introduced to the characters, as they find their way to a strange island, and encounter a weird tribe. The effects still hold up (including all the non-Kong monsters) and the set designs are incredible. Much of what works so well about the film is how they keep things interesting and intense moment to moment. The only other movie on that level is Raiders of the Lost Ark.
10/10

Movie #46/ New Movie #43/ 1990s Movie #3/ Fantasy Film #2: Ashes of Time Redux
While the director’s cut was edited in the 2000s, I’ll count this as a 90s film. It’s Wong Kar Wai, so it’s beautiful. It seems to require a knowledge of the source material to follow the elliptical narrative by providing a greater context to the characters. Otherwise, it’s interesting, but a mess to follow.
7/10

Movie #47/ 1950s Movie #3: Roman Holiday
This is a fantastic romantic comedy. Audrey Hepburn establishes herself as one of the biggest movie stars on the planet, depicting a princess who just wants to have fun. The secrets Gregory Peck keeps from her are a bit shady (especially in a modern context where he’s a middle aged guy trying to take advantage of a young woman’s naivety in order to expose her secrets to the world) but it works. Trumbo’s screenplay is witty and hilarious, but he has some interesting twists in a reverse Cinderella story about a princess who just wants to be normal.
10/10

Movie #48/ 1980s Movie #5/ Fantasy Film #3: The Princess Bride
Mandy Patinkin and Andre the Giant probably should have been nominated for Best Supporting Actor for their parts as two memorable henchmen who end up becoming allies of the main characters. The rest of the cast is great, and the script is witty and oh so memorable. Just a fun movie.
10/10

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Movie #49/  2000s Movie #4/ Movie about Politics #8/ Science Fiction Film #10: Idiocracy
I’m not sure I buy Luke Wilson as a man with average intelligence in a modern context since he seems a bit smarter than that. This is a very funny movie about a generally well-realized world in which evolution has made people dumber. President Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho is probably the standout of the idiots, as the best character in the film and the best man among them.
8/10

Movie #50/ 1940s Movie #3: Rebecca
This is an excellent gothic romance. The slow burn is slightly unconventional for Hitchcock, but he’s able to create a tremendous sense of mood in the mansion at Manderlay. The secret of Laurence Olivier’s widower is an excellent twist, allowing for a rewarding second viewing. Judith Anderson’s housekeeper is one of the great film villains, manipulating the lead while also being more batshit crazy than one would expect.
10/10

Movie #51/ New Movie #44/ 2000s Movie #5/ French Movie #2: Amelie
It’s a clever stylized film about a quirky young woman who decides to change the lives of some of the eccentrics around her, while coming to terms with how to find happiness for herself. Seeing it for the first time, I’m a bit surprised on its influence on film and television. There have been so many ripoffs.
10/10

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Movie #52/ 1930s Movie #6/ New Movie #45: Hot Saturday
I guess I’ve been on a bit of a Pre-Code kick (the films are interesting and short, which are bonuses when I’m trying to watch as many movies as possible.) Pacing-wise, this is rather top heavy with major advertised moments occurring in the last ten or so minutes. The Netflix envelope details a fight in the last ten minutes involving a character who doesn’t show up until 45 minutes into the film. The poster (seen above) is basically the last five minutes. It’s a witty enough script with a young woman going to a party and dealing with subsequent gossip. In relatively obvious news, Cary Grant has great chemistry with her, and steals the show in his bookended parts as a notorious rake.
8/10

Movie #53/ 1930s Movie #7/ New Movie #46: Torch Singer
This pre-code film is much more mixed. There’s much to like (including a sweet scene with Claudette Colbert and a little black girl her daughter’s age), and some wtf moments in some really unprofessional and selfish decisions that come with very little pushback, despite all the people affected.
6/10

Movie #54/ New Movie #47/ Silent Era Movie #4: The Strong Man
I was intrigued by what I read about Harry Langdon from Frank Capra’s biography and from a James Agee spotlight on film comedians, with the suggestion that he was on a level with Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd. This was also the directiorial debut of Frank Capra. The result is quite funny, and has some excellent set pieces.
8/10

Movie #55/ New Movie #48/ 1980s Movie #6: The Pope of Greenwich Village
Weird buddy crime film with Mickey Rourke, Eric Roberts and Daryl Hannah. The highlight is a brief scene with Geraldine Page (an actress with a record number of Oscar nominations I’m not very familiar with) who dominates completely even though she doesn’t share scenes with any major characters, and has a minimal effect on the narrative.
7/10

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Movie #56/ New Movie #49/ 1960s Movie #7/ French Movie #3/ Musical #2: The Umbrellas of Cherbourg
Excellent cinematography, set design and score in a musical that doesn’t tell the typical story of young lovers, and explores the effects of fate and miscommunication. Hell of a star turn for Catherine Deneuve.
10/10

Movie #57/ New Movie #50/ 1950s Movie #4/ Musical #3/ Theatrical Adaptation #4/ Fantasy Film #4: Brigadoon
It’s a decent, not great, Hollywood musical with an interesting concept (American tourists stumble upon a hidden Scottish village that only appears once a century.) There’s plenty of good, including a coda in an unusual place that provides a contrast to the main action, but some flaws (some of the dance sequences are competent but not extraordinary; the society doesn’t really seem like a place that has had this magic thing happen to them very- from their perspective- recently.)
7/10

Movie #58/ New Movie #51/ 1950s Movie #5/ Criterion Edition #13: Requiem for a Heavyweight
This is an example of something that doesn’t exist anymore: a televised play that was filmed live. It’s over an hour long, and tells a one-off story, so I’m counting as a TV movie. It’s one I’ve been interesting in seeing since I heard years ago that Rod Serling considered it his best work. It’s an excellent tale about a heavyweight played by Jack Palanche realizing that he’ll retire without ever being a champion, and trying to figure out what to do with his life. It handles his difficulties seriously, but not overwhelmingly. I got this on the Criterion Collection’s Golden Age of Television DVD, and the quality is surprisingly poor, so that can be off-putting.
9/10

Movie #59/ New Movie #52/ 2010s Movie #10/ Science Fiction Movie #11/ Comic Book Movie #4: Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2
This is a pretty satisfying sequel that ends up being about something (family.) It takes a while for the big villain to emerge. Before that can happen, we get the character interactions, beautiful visuals (we’re probably spoiled when it comes to modern special effects, but this is a nice looking film) and some fights against some of the minor bad guys from the earlier film, both of whom have an expanded role that ties into the theme.
9/10

Movie #60/ New Movie #53/ 1950s Movie #6/ Criterion Edition #14: The White Sheik
Fellini’s directorial debut tells a funny story of separated newlyweds. The husband tries to save face in front of his family, while the wife’s love of fumetti results in an attempted seduction by the star of the photonovels.
7/10

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Movie #61/ 1980s Movie #7 Science Fiction Movie #12/ Comic Book Adaptation #5: Akira
It’s an iconic vision of the future on the level of Blade Runner and , possibly ignored by people unwilling to check out a 1980s anime. Their loss as the animation is lavish and beautiful, the score is exceptional, and the story crams a lot of conflict from a 2000 page manga into a two hour film (the lead is a member of a biker gang who fights other biker gangs, the police/ military, and his former best friend) without the story getting overwhelming.
9/10

The 2010s becomes the first decade where I’ve seen ten films, mainly because of stuff that came out in the last year. The 90s and 40s are two decades I’ve gotta catch up on.

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Assessments

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This was something I wrote for a class on Education.

The most important element of an effective assessment seems to be the information it provides. An assessment isn’t particularly useful if it doesn’t demonstrate what a student knows, and where a student needs to improve. True/ false questions, or some of the simpler multiple choice quizzes would be prone to random chance, so it’s not very effective in determining an individual student’s level of understanding. It can be useful in determining if there’s something the entire class needs to know. If a question requires multiple steps in order for students to get to the answer, knowing that a student got the answer wrong isn’t going to be enough. Henke had a good point that teachers can sometimes forget to consider what they want to assess before coming up with the questions, something to keep in mind in the future.

The speed which with an assessment can be administered and examined is another priority. I can understand the point that frequent formative assessments can be seamlessly integrated into a class, and can even be advantageous by providing a change of pace for middle school students with short attention spans. However, it’s still best if assessments don’t take too much time out of the class. And given the amount of material a teacher reviews, it’s also better if it can be checked quickly.

I feel assessments are particularly difficult in an ELA setting, so I’m concerned about that. My experience with Common Core from student teaching during the summer reminds me that the standards can be rather vague. And sometimes the answers aren’t meant to be clear-cut. There often isn’t a correct answer in questions about ambiguous points in stories, or assignments about expressing oneself.

There are other questions, especially after reading the articles. I did like the ELA specific examples in Turner’s piece, but I feel differentiation can be especially difficult. Students will be at mixed proficiencies with both the subject matter and strategies. In addition to the difficulties of teaching ELLs, with the added complications with “linguistically diverse” (to borrow a term from Turner) there would be a potential clash with teaching kids who have a good understanding of self-assessment and some who don’t.

A valuable point was on the idea of differentiating for the top students as well. I’m interested in the nuances, as this may end up being a difficult needle to thread. I’d want students to push themselves, but I don’t want to mislead anyone (IE- implying that a student is producing worse work than someone else in the class in order to motivate the first kid.) There’s also the balancing of egos as well, although classes can usually figure out who the most advanced kids are.

Most of the focus on articles was on written assessments, which I prefer since it can be double-checked, although checklists have been helpful as a way to keep track of informal assessments. I’m curious about the logistics of one-on-one conferences. In block scheduling, Do Nows/ Entrance Slips and Exit Tickets are pretty useful terms of the structure of the class, so that’s the most likely addition to a lesson plan.

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30th Anniversary of Kraven’s Last Hunt

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A few days ago, I saw a comic convention on Kraven’s Last Hunt, and wrote it up for the Spider-Man Crawlspace.

DeMatteis believes that he has written better stories; better Spider-Man stories even, However when he’s at conventions, a third to a half of the requests for signatures are from people who want him to sign a copy of this story. His guess for why it’s so popular is that the chemistry was right; everything clicked: the art, the inking (McLeod was an accomplished artist in his own right) and the lettering (if that’s not done right, readers will just think that the story failed.)

All the panelists recall encountering fans who read the story when they were very young, sometimes as their first Spider-Man comic. DeMatteis remembers asking those readers “Are you okay?” worried he might have warped them. Fortunately, some of the content went over the heads of younger readers who just enjoyed a creepy story about a superhero fighting a monster.

DeMatteis credited Zeck for nailing the emotion of the story. He wrote Marvel style scripts in which the artist gets a detailed plot, and the narration and dialogue comes after the artist has sent in the pencils. Often, he’ll need to add some exposition because of something the artist failed to convey, be it emotion or a detail essential to understanding what’s going on. That wasn’t the case here, which meant that his narration could be more complex and psychological rather than surface-level.

More at the link.

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Advisory

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This was something I wrote for a class on education on the topic of Advisory, a portion of Middle School classes devoted to helping students with their nonacademic lives.

After reading the articles on advisory programs and classroom management, I do think that I could be a good advisory teacher. I think I listen well, and don’t lose my temper easily. There are friends who have known me for years who have never heard me shout in anger (although that may be because I haven’t dealt with classes of 30+ students.) I believe myself to be empathetic. I can respect different perspectives and understandings of the world.

I do also appreciate the significance of advisory. I can understand how the buddy system (an approach where students get mentors from higher classes) can be particularly useful, with the younger children naturally respecting upperclassmen, and the other students benefiting from being placed in a position of responsibility. It would also be better for me as a teacher to know more about the students and their concerns, due to how the personal affects the academic. While I wouldn’t understand what’s going on with every student, I think knowing what some of them are going through would make me more sensitive to the difficulties of the rest.

There would be some things I’d have to work on. I do have a sarcastic sense of humor. I don’t think I’m the type to say “Good job” to someone who didn’t succeed, but I might assume that someone who did well in a project understands that I’m kidding when I pretend not to be impressed. I feel uncomfortable doing anything that can be interpreted as rewarding disruptive behavior (IE- telling a loud kid that I admire his independence) even though I can intellectually accept that it might sometimes have a better outcome than inflexibility. It’s also odd to think about the idea that kids would spend time talking about how to manipulate me, even though that is going to happen to any teacher. And I don’t think I’d be ready with a quick response if someone insults me, although I hope I’d know better than to just rely on being in a position of relative authority.

Beaty-O’Ferrall et al. mentioned the difficulty for teachers in getting to know 125 students (as would be typical in a school with block scheduling.) There is one more element to that, which might be related since this is the time many children start feeling alienated. In the beginning, it can be a difficult transition for students going from an elementary school environment where they primarily deal with one teacher who gets to know them a lot faster (that teacher’s time is not divided by as many students, and s/he does spend more time with the students) to a system where multiple teachers spend less than an hour with them per day. Memorizing people’s names has never been my strong suit, so an advisory system would help with that, with more interactions and reasons to remember students. I’m aware that it can matter so much to kids whether the teacher knows their names.

On the top of things to remember, the issue isn’t necessarily what but when, especially when it comes to remembering things at the right time. I’m aware of the difference between generic advice and legitimate empathy at the moment, but I could easily forget about how it applies to a conversation with a student two years from now. There are also certain things I’d like to know more about. For example, to what extent is the connection between fewer discipline problems and high-quality relationships an issue of correlations? Also, the 22% of students who suffer serious disorders are unlikely to be uniformly distributed in every classroom, so that’s likely to be a different experience in different schools.

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American Sniper and Socially-Conscious Criticism

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Jamie Weinman’s piece on socially conscious criticism got me thinking about the flaws of the approach: it has a preference for bluntness over subtlety. I’m reminded on one relatively recent example: the years-old debate about whether American Sniper was too jingoistic; perhaps a modern version of John Wayne’s pro-Vietnam War The Green Berets.

I think American Sniper is a film that is nuanced and ambiguous enough that it can be seen in different ways. If you view Chris Kyle as an unambiguous hero, the film will certainly support that view. If you view him as an intense bro unable to deal with serious issues in a controversial and flawed war, the film will support that view. Since it focused on his military career and family, some of his more controversial activities (including a propensity for outright lying) weren’t relevant. It seems that some of the people who dislike the film wish for it to depict events that didn’t happen in real life (IE- Chris Kyle considering someone else’s serious and articulate criticisms of the Iraq war.)

This is a bit different from The Green Berets. I haven’t seen it, but from my understanding it’s much less amibguous than this one. The critical reception for Sniper is better, and it did get some big Oscar nominations, although in retrospect a name actor changing his physicality and affecting an accent is likely to get nominated. The criticisms about Sniper are about omissions than presentation. Eastwood is also a different director, making his second film to come out in 2014, than Wayne, who made the second film of his directing career.

There is certainly a place for art that is blunt and unambiguous about the political message. But it’s a mistake to assume that art that isn’t clearly on one side is dangerously on the other side. The real world is messy, and rarely offers obvious political answers. There’s nothing wrong with art that reflects that.

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Debates and ELLs

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This was something I wrote for a class on Education on whether debate can help ELL (English Language Learner) students.

I’m a fan of NPR’s Intelligence Squared podcast, which offers hours long Oxford style debates on contemporary issues. I also enjoyed participating in a debate on the morality of dropping the Atomic Bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki that was part of my high school history class. So I’m certainly interested in the benefits of these kinds of debates in a middle school setting. I am convinced that it fits their interests in providing opportunities to speak, and also their needs in having others listen to what they have to say. I could see some arguments when students are asked to take sides that go against what they believe, but it does seem important for children in this age group to have a better understanding of opposing points of view. Along with the I-Search, debate is part of possibly the most significant parts of a middle-school education: learning how to research.

Differentiated instruction for ELLs is a sensible approach. Varying instruction strategies will likely help all students, given the principle of multiple intelligences, and recent studies that suggest a nuance to the previous understanding of the concept: It’s not that some students learn appreciatively better under different approaches, but that students in general learn most effectively when they are taught the same thing in different ways. Scaffolding for ELLs is also logical.

In practice, there may be some issues with readiness. From my understanding, in New York City, a student’s inclusion in regular classes is determined by how long they’ve been in the country (typically a year) rather than any assessment of readiness. There isn’t much individual teachers can do about that. Relating items to a student’s extracurricular interests can be helpful, although there are potential drawbacks. The child might see it as pandering, although I’m sure they’ll typically appreciate the effort, and the indication that the teachers do care. The final assessments will also be difficult. There is the question of whether someone unable to complete a written assessment is ready to complete a class, although I can appreciate contrary arguments, especially in fields outside the Humanities. Written assessments can also be double-checked for accuracy, although I’d imagine experienced teachers are able to correctly gauge a student’s mastery with greater speed and initial confidence than I would require.

Debate seems to be something that is better for ELLs than standard modes of teaching, so it is fitting that the article on ELLs has some common ground with the article on the advantages of structured debate. Both suggest the advantages of selecting topics that are more likely to be relevant to students, especially in Middle School where they’re learning technique as much as subject matter. Both also suggest alternatives to the typical method of reading, writing and arithmetic. Finally, both acknowledge the significance of speaking and listening as something students will learn more about in the classroom.

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