Friday, May 20, 2016

Seeking Ancient Wisdom

Dear George, 
So far our year has consisted of one source of consternation after the next — car problems, a house disaster, insurance dealings, making out a will, canceling trips, medical anxieties, nightmarish politics, etc.  Sometimes if things get stressful enough, I turn to the I Ching to help think through problems.  The readings are nearly always on target and can be amazingly precise.  My brother-in-law, David Werrin, introduced us to the I Ching many years ago, and we’ve been fans ever since.  I encourage the curious reader to give it a try if you haven’t already.  

The I Ching is an ancient Chinese book of wisdom.  Influenced by Confucianism, it dates back at least two thousand years and provides guidance for moral decision making and action.  One consults the I Ching by asking a question, then tossing a set of three coins six times in a row.  Each toss of the coins results in a broken or unbroken line (see the I Ching for details), and the six lines are arranged from bottom to top in a stacked hexagram like the following example: 

The six-line hexagram is divided into an upper and lower trigram, each with its own name and interpretation.  There are eight possible combinations of broken and unbroken lines for any given trigram, and consequently there are 64 (8 times 8) possible hexagrams.  Each of the I Ching’s 64 hexagrams has a name and an associated reading which describes a life situation, provides imagery for thinking about it, and makes suggestions about effective courses of action.  To give a more concrete sense of this, I’m going to describe three questions I recently asked of the I Ching, the answers I received, and what I made of each.  My questions have do do with our loss of our sheepdogs, a household catastrophe, and crummy hearing.  The I Ching had lots to say.  

Our Sheepdogs: Loss, grief

It’s been 10 months since Duffy died and 6 months for Mike.  The dogs remain uppermost on our minds.  I sometimes anticipate them at the door when we return home late at night or look for them in bed when I wake up in the morning.  We struggle with our loss because the dogs were so central to our daily lives, particularly in terms of giving and receiving affection.  They were also the most frequent source of Katja’s and my shared experiences of happiness, and we’re keenly aware of that void.  I asked the I Ching about dealing with my continuing sad feelings about the dogs.  

The hexagram I received for my sheepdog question is No. 43, Kuai (Break-through [Resoluteness]).  The upper trigram is Tui (The Joyous, Lake), and the lower trigram is Ch’ien (The Creative, Heaven).  Thus, the image is one of a lake floating above heaven.  The water, having floated to the heavens, breaks through and comes down again as rain.  According to the I Ching, the hexagram signifies a break-through after a long accumulation of tension, like a swollen river breaking through its dikes.  The Judgment reads:
            Break-through.  One must resolutely make the matter known
            At the court of the king.
            It must be announced truthfully.  Danger.
            It is necessary to notify one’s own city.
            It does not further to resort to arms.
            It furthers one to undertake something.  

The I Ching states that the resolution of tension must be based on a union of strength and friendliness.  We must not get entangled in negative feelings.  Rather, “the best way to fight evil is to make energetic progress in the good.”  This hexagram, the I Ching notes, is linked to the third month (April/May).  

Our loss of the dogs has definitely produced a lengthy accumulation of tension in both of us.  The I Ching reading suggests we are on the verge of a breakthrough in this state of affairs in April/May.  To accomplish this, it’s important for Katja and I to truthfully disclose our feelings to one another (i.e., make matters known to “one’s own city”) and rely on friendly cooperation.  Rather than remaining bogged down in negative feelings or acting in hurtful ways (“resorting to arms”), we need to undertake new interests and “make energetic progress in the good.”  We’ll always cherish our memories of our wonderful dogs, but now is the time to break through and move beyond grief and mourning. 

Our House: Catastrophe, angst

We arrived home at the end of the day on April 6, only to find water pouring through our kitchen and dining room ceilings from a pipe that had burst in the upstairs bathroom.  The insurance company immediately sent an emergency cleanup crew, and they spent six days drying out the walls, ceilings, and floors (which included tearing out our fairly new bamboo flooring, peeling off large patches of wallpaper, and punching holes in the ceiling).  Our first floor is largely uninhabitable, and both Katja and I remain in a state of shock.  I asked the I Ching how to respond to this household disaster.

The hexagram is FĂȘng (Abundance [ Fullness]).  The above trigram is ChĂȘn (The Arousing, Thunder), and the lower trigram is Li (The Clinging, Flame).  The image signals the arrival of thunder and lightning, but, as they join together, they will produce abundance and greatness.  The Judgment states:
            Abundance has success.
            The king attains abundance.
            Be not sad.
            Be like the sun at midday.

According to the I Ching, “Only a man who is inwardly free of sorrow and care can lead in a time of abundance.  He must be like the sun at midday, illuminating and gladdening everything under heaven…The darkness is already decreasing.”

A barrage of thunder and lightning has torn apart our house, and we have been wallowing in sorrow and care for the last six weeks.  However, before we know it, we will have brand new flooring in our living and dining rooms, newly painted walls and ceilings, and a fully restored first floor — better than before, a true state of abundance and fullness.  Like the sun at midday, we need to be more bright and optimistic about our imminent future.  “Abundance has success.”

Faulty Hearing: Irritation, indecision

Aside from death and disaster, my faulty hearing is my most constant source of annoyance and frustration.  That’s been going on for fifteen years or more, and I’ve remained resistant to urgings from Katja, other family members, and friends (however gentle and supportive) to consider hearing aids.  Lately, though, I’ve been reconsidering.  Several classmates at my high school reunion were enthusiastic about their hearing aids, and some of my acquaintances at the university have said the same thing.    On the other hand, I recently had lunch with two long-time friends.  One had purchased hearing aids a year ago, but he didn’t bother to wear them to lunch because they don’t help and are simply a hassle.  The second friend mentioned that his wife had bought top of the line hearing aids several years ago but had put them away in a drawer because all they did was magnify uninterpretable sounds.  Puzzled and conflicted, I asked the I Ching, “What should I do about this?”  

My hexagram is Huan (Dispersion [Dissolution]).  The upper trigram is Sun (The Gentle, Wind), and the lower trigram is K’an (The Abysmal, Water).  Huan depicts wind blowing over water, dissolving and dispersing the water into foam and mist.  When a person’s vital energy is dammed up within him or her (the dangerous condition signified by K’an, The Abysmal), gentleness serves to break up and dissolve the blockage.  The Judgment reads:
            Dispersion,  Success.
            The king approaches his temple.
            It furthers one to cross the great water.
            Perseverance furthers.  

According to the I Ching, this hexagram has specifically to do with a divisive egotism and rigidity that separates people.  As family members cooperate in a common undertaking, “all barriers dissolve, just as, when a boat is crossing a great stream, all hands must united in a joint task.”  In particular, rigidity melts away.   This only occurs, however, when “a man who is himself free of all selfish ulterior considerations…perseveres in justice and steadfastness (and) is capable of so dissolving the hardness of egotism.”  

Hmm.  It’s hard to imagine, but this hexagram seems to imply that I have been ruled by the Abysmal — selfishness, egotism, rigidity.  Though I rarely think of Katja as a gentle wind, she does have my interests in mind.  According to the I Ching, I will have success if I “cross the great water.”  This seems to suggest that I should make and follow through on a major decision.  Numerous voices in the past have encouraged me to cross the great water, and now the I Ching is joining the chorus.   I think I will come back to the I Ching again next week and make sure this is right.  I will definitely try not to be rigid.

All in all, the I Ching readings leave me in a more harmonious place.  If one wants to experiment, the public library is bound to have copies, as do Half-Price Books, Amazon, etc.   There are numerous online I Ching sites, but the ones I’ve seen are over-simplified and crass compared to the book versions (especially the Wilhelm volume cited below).  Here’s a toast to keeping ancient wisdom in our lives. 

Source:  The I Ching or Book of Changes.  The Richard Wilhelm Translation.  Foreword by C J. Jung.  Bollinger Series XIX, Princeton University Press, 1967 (3rd edition).  

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Clifton Icons

Dear George,
Cincinnati has a lot of great neighborhoods.  Clifton, of course, is our favorite.  That might be due to our having lived here for over forty years.  But, because of its special ambience, it’s lots of other people’s favorite too.   Perched on a hill overlooking downtown Cincinnati, Clifton was one of the city’s first suburbs, a refuge for a select few from the summer heat, pollution, and disease in the city below.  

Lafayette Avenue (the “Avenue of the Barons”) near the northern edge of the neighborhood was home to vast estates in the nineteenth century, while Ludlow Avenue to the south was emerging as Clifton’s business district.  Clifton was incorporated in 1850, and expansion of the Cincinnati streetcar system in the 1880s and 1890s helped the village to grow.  The city annexed Clifton in 1893, and the University of Cincinnati relocated to Clifton’s Burnet Woods Park that same year.  Ludlow Avenue and the side streets to its north are known as the Gaslight District because of their lighting from original gas lamps.  

The neighborhood is largely residential, including mansions still here from the late 1800’s, grand old apartment buildings, and many stately homes built in the early twentieth century.   Slightly over 50% of Clifton homes were built before 1940.  Because of its proximity to the University of Cincinnati, major hospitals, Hebrew Union College, and Cincinnati State Technical and Community College.  Cliftonites tend to be well-educated.  Neighborhood residents today include students, university faculty and staff, doctors and lawyers, writers and artists, and many families. According to, about 14% of Clifton residents have doctoral or professional degrees; 55% have bachelor’s degrees or beyond; and 27% are undergraduate or graduate students.   The neighborhood is quite diverse, with about 40% of residents identifying as black, Asian, Hispanic, or multiracial.  Foreign-born residents are more frequent in Clifton (12%) than in the city at large (5%).  36% of Clifton’s households are married couples with children.  In 80% of marriages, with or without kids, both spouses work outside the home.      

Ludlow Avenue’s popular business district is home to numerous restaurants and shops.  Graeters ice cream parlor and Skyline Chili, with multiple branches across the city, are famous throughout the region, and the six-screen Esquire Theater, specializing in foreign and indie films, wins “best of city” awards every year.  Harvest, Ludlow Garage , and Biaggio’s are favorites for a special night out, and there are numerous ethnic bistros (e.g., Indian, Chinese, Latin American, Moroccan, Mediterranean) and coffee shops, as well as other casual dining spots (e.g., J. Gumbo, Deweys Pizza, Brueggers Bagels, Lydia’s on Ludlow).  Arlins and the Fries Cafe are favorite neighborhood bars.  The IGA supermarket, which was the main anchor to the business district, closed several years ago and Clifton Market, a food coop, will open there this fall.  Many of life’s amenities are addressed by our hardware store, barber shop, many hip stores for clothing and sundries, hair stylists, drugstore, florist shop, post office, travel agencies, e-cigarette dispensaries, and most recently a gourmet cookie store.  Several years ago our branch library moved into an elegant mansion once owned by Cincinnati’s early 1900’s political boss, George B. Cox.  Clifton has 14 houses of worship.  Its major parks include Burnet Woods, Mt. Storm Park, and the Rawson Nature Preserve. 

My current photography project is to try to compile a set of images that capture the essence of Clifton.   That’s tricky and could be an endless process.  Just the same, here is how part of my collection looks today.

Ludlow Avenue

The Muse of Clifton statue

Clifton Plaza and Graeter's ice cream parlor

Clifton Branch Library (former Cox mansion)

Probasco Fountain & Clifton Cultural Arts Center (former Clifton School)

Post Office, Clifton Branch

Wayne-Rawson mansion, 1860s

Fairview School

Fire station, Ludlow at Clifton

Temple of Love, Mt. Storm Park

Skyline Chili

Clifton Mosque

Ludlow Garage

Proud Rooster

Mansion, Clifton Ave. (our first apartment)

Bandstand, Burnet Woods Park

Arlin's Bar & Restaurant

Jewish Cemetery

Roanoke apartment house

United Methodist Church

Esquire Theater

Flying Pig statue, Fairview School grounds

Panagea Trading Co. & Sitwell's Coffee House

Habanero Latin American Fare

Mural, Clifton Plaza

Sources:, “Clifton”, “Clifton neighborhood in Cincinnati, Ohio”, “Clifton”, “Clifton, Cincinnati” 

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Every Day Could Be Mother's Day

Dear George,
Katja and I celebrated Mother’s Day by going to brunch at the new Harvest restaurant in our neighborhood.  I asked if she thought we still have mothers.  Katja said absolutely.  She said her mother is present every day, even moreso than when she was alive.  I’d have to agree, at least with the first part.  I’m sure I still worry about winning my mother’s approval and feel bad when I fail.  Here are a few memories on this special day.  My mother:

  • loved jazz and was entranced when Louis Armstrong and his band performed at the Silver Dome at Pine Beach.  
  • supervised our husking August corn in the front yard.
  • had such a dark tan in the summer that my father convinced us she was part Indian.  
  • made sure each of her children in turn brought a trillium to Miss Guimond, our grade school principal, when they first bloomed in April.
  • played golf at Riverside Country Club. 
  • was close friends with Jean O’Hara, Florence Caley, Nan Jacobsen, Ruth Mars, Margaret Worth, Muriel Sawyer, Jackie Burke, Janet St. Peter, Barbara Smith, Martina Steffke, Dorothy Skully, and many others.   
  • played a tiger in a community theater production at the Menominee Opera House when I was 3 or 4 years old.  
  • scolded us kids for listening to people’s conversations on our party line.  
  • packed the picnic lunch when our family went on rowboat outings to Indian Island. 
  • welcomed our teenage friends and made our home on the river a popular gathering place. 
  • would never miss her weekly hairdo at the beauty salon.
  • rescued me when I walked too deep into Green Bay water at Caley's beach. 
  • got frazzled when all of of us acted horribly simultaneously.   
  • planted an elegant garden along the west side of our front lawn.
  • was a single mom to Steve and myself when our dad wemt overseas in the war. 
  • kicked my best friend Marvin F. out of he house when he burned a box of kitchen matches on our living room floor.  
  • sat in a lawnchair on the riverbank every time her kids went swimming. 
  • sang old favorites, e.g., "The Dark Town Strutter's Ball".    
  • regularly told us “Eat your beans, Suzy” or “Straighten up and fly right.”
  • stocked the bird feeder and kept a list of the birds she saw out the kitchen and dining room windows.
  • had such a low voice that callers often mistakenly addressed her as Mister L***.
  • took me clothes shopping at Montgomery Ward, Lauerman's, and Goldberg's Men's Store.
  • hung the laundry on clotheslines in the back yard.
  • belonged to the local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution.   
  • laughed when, in the midst of a crisis, I handed her a note that said, “Don’t give up, don’t give in, try Wrecks-All” (an allusion to our family Rexall drugstore).     
  • taught me the names of all the wildflowers in our field and forest.    
  • regularly hosted big parties for family friends. 
  • was thrilled to have a baby daughter after three boys.  
  • gloried in the Menominee River sunsets. 
  • had an infectious laugh.   
  • prepared delicious whitefish, pot roast, and Swedish meatball dinners. 
  • criticized my handwriting, with the result that I stopped writing in cursive altogether.   
  • worshipped our family Irish Setters, Mike and Micki. 
  • got a nasty gash on her hand when she intervened in a dog fight.
  • crawled on her stomach on the river ice to rescue Mike when he fell through. 
  • helped us string popcorn and cranberries to put on the Xmas tree.
  • smoked too much and had lung cancer surgery. 
  • enjoyed playing bridge with friends.
  • had weekly after-dinner meetings with Steve and I to address our fighting and squabbles.    
  • was best of friends with her cleaning lady, Hannah, with whom she traded stories all day long. 
  • served sardines, creamed herring, and peanuts at the cocktail hour. 
  • showered Steve and I with praise when we cleaned up the kitchen.    
  • encouraged me to go to Antioch College because of its many fraternities and sororities. 
  • worried whenever we drove home from Ann Arbor or Cincinnati. 
  • refinished the antique organ at Farm.  
  • adored her white Persian cat, Lovey.  
  • said “I’m grateful” to Peter and me on the day she died, perhaps her last words.  
There are lots more memories, but this hopefully gives some of the flavor of our mother and her many contributions to our family.  We’re grateful too.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Life's Imponderables


Dear George, 
I tend to be pretty rigid in my thinking, and my brother Peter often encouraged me to be more open to the mysteries of the universe.  From an early age, Peter was interested in ESP and the paranormal and was drawn to esoteric belief systems like Zoroastrianism.  He especially liked puzzling about events in his own and his family’s lives that bordered on the mystical  

Some years ago Peter passed away prematurely from a heart condition.  Distraught when I received the news, I got in my car and drove across the river to the thrift shop in Newport, Kentucky.  I thought if I bought a red T-shirt it might provide a bit of solace.  There were at least three dozen red T-shirts on the rack, and I reached for the one whose hue stood out from the rest.  I was pleased to find it was my size.  But when I looked at the logo, I gasped and held my breath.  The logo said, “Si Como No, Costa Rica.”  Our last big family trip had been to Costa Rica, and Peter was the only family member to stay at Si Como No, the area’s finest resort hotel.  He had wanted a wall safe in which to store his expensive camera gear, and they gave Peter the same suite in which Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise had recently spent their honeymoon.  I was astonished at the coincidence.  What are the odds of finding a Si Como No T-shirt in a Newport thrift shop on the very day that Peter had passed away?  And the very first shirt I had picked from the rack?  Perhaps a trillion to one.  Very eerie…I couldn’t help but wonder if this were some kind of message from the beyond. 

Lately I haven’t been thinking much about mystical happenings because I’ve been preoccupied with my Fitbit.  It takes a lot of mental energy to organize one’s life in terms of numbers of steps and floors climbed.  Actually, though, my Fitbit itself was the object of a recent strange, improbable experience.  It started when I noticed that the Fitbit’s black rubber wristband was starting to peel away.  I solved the problem temporarily by winding an inch-wide strip of silver duct tape around the wristband.  The duct tape, a miracle as always, did a perfect job of holding the wristband in place.  I wasn’t happy with the color contrast though.  The silver stood out too much against the jet black wristband.  Then it dawned on me that I could use black electrician’s tape to cover up the silver tape.  I looked for electrician’s tape on our neighborhood pharmacy’s one-dollar shelf, but there wasn’t any.  I came back the next day, but it still wasn’t there.  I thought about going to the hardware store across the street, but I knew that a roll of electrician’s tape there would cost at least three dollars, and I didn’t want to spend that much.  I decided to make electrician’s tape my top priority on thrift shop and yard sale excursions. 

A few days later I stopped by Donna’s house to take her thirteen-year-old sheepdog Sophie for a walk.  Donna is recuperating from foot surgery, and I’ve been trying to walk Sophie regularly to keep her fit.  We always follow the same route — three blocks east, three blocks south, three blocks west, three blocks north.  This time, though, I decided to depart from our regular pattern and took a shortcut down a side street that I’d never walked on before.  We had gone about thirty yards when I noticed an electrician’s truck parked in front of a house with a guy putting his toolbox in the back of the truck.  As I passed by, I glanced down and saw a roll of black electrician’s tape lying on the sidewalk.  The guy had his back to me, and I quickly reached down, scooped it up, and continued on my way.  I hurried home to put the black electrician’s tape on my Fitbit wristband.  It looked great.  I couldn’t believe my good fortune.  

Afterwards I started thinking of the likelihood of my finding the very item I was looking for on the sidewalk.  It only happened because I chose to walk on a street I never walk on, the electrician was out on the sidewalk at that moment, he happened to drop his roll of tape, and nobody else had come along to pick it up. How is this even possible?  Had I entered some kind of alternate reality?  I’m certain I could spend the entire rest of my life wandering the streets of Cincinnati and never again find a roll of black electrician’s tape on the sidewalk.  If Peter were here, he would simply smile and give me a knowing look.  Is this what they mean by Kismet?  It gives one pause…  

Thursday, April 28, 2016

An Election Primer

Dear George,
I’ve been following the presidential primaries fairly closely since they began, and they’re unlike any campaigns that I can recall —  mesmerizing, perplexing, sometimes frightening.   The Democratic contest has been a lot more competitive than anybody expected, and the Republican party seems on the verge of dissolution.  In an effort to get a handle on it all, I’ve been busy assembling various relevant facts.  Though much of this information is probably familiar, I pass it along for readers’ interest and contemplation. 

The voters

How many Democrats and Republicans are there?  
A recent large national survey of over 25,000 adults by the Pew Research Center found that 39% of respondents identify as independents, 32% as Democrats, and 23% as Republicans.  Among independents, 48% lean Democratic, and 39% lean Republican.   Party identification as Democrats is higher among blacks, Asians, Jews, Hispanics, well-educated adults, women (especially college graduates and single women), and Millenials.  Republican identification is higher among  whites (especially white evangelicals, white southerners, and white males with some college or less); older persons (ages 69-86); and Mormons.   (13)

How often do various groups vote?
58.4% of the eligible population voted in the presidential election in 1996, 59.5% in 2000,  63.8% in 2004, 63.6% in 2008, and 61.8% in 2012.  Voting rates by race/ethnicity in 2012 were 66.2% for Blacks, 64.1% for Non-Hispanic Whites, 48,0% for Hispanics, and 47.3% for Asians.  Women have voted in higher numbers than men in recent decades (64% vs. 60% in 2012).  Voting rates generally tend to increase with age.  In 2012 41.2% of 18- to 24-year-olds voted, compared to 71.9% of those 65 years or older.  (4) (21) 

Campaign funding

How much have the major parties raised for the upcoming presidential election? 
As of Apr. 26, 2016, the Democratic Party has raised $370 million for presidential candidates in the 2016 Election cycle and has spent $324 million.  The Republican Party has raised $350 million to date and spent $330 million.  (12)

Who gives to Republicans and Democrats?
Political donors are commonly subdivided into Business, Labor, Ideological, and miscellaneous Other interests.  Business accounts for 75% of contributions, followed by Labor (3%), Ideological (6%), and Other (13%).  According to Federal Election Commission data (Apr. 16, 2016) on individual, corporate, and union contributions to candidates, parties, super PACs, and outside spending groups, Democrats received  greater contributions from than Republicans from Labor ($21.9M vs. $4.6M).  Republicans received greater contributions from Business ($549M vs. $398M), Ideological ($34.5M vs. $34M), and Other sources ($101M vs. $94M).  (12)

Who do Super PACS support?  
As of April 27, 2016, there are 2,265 Super PACs, and they have raised $707,071,383 in the 2016 election cycle.   Of seventeen Super PACs spending ten million dollars or more to date, 14 have supported Republican candidates and 3 have supported Democrats.  (12)

What has been the impact of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision?
In their Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission ruling (2010), the Supreme Court ruled that corporations, like individuals, have free speech rights under the First Amendment, and consequently unlimited political spending by corporations and unions should be allowed.  Critics were concerned that Citizens United would result in a dramatic increase in corporate influence in politics, enabling business corporations to “buy” elections.  According to Wikipedia information, however, corporate funding is relatively small compared to donations from a small group of billionaires based on ideology.  (23)

 How much money has been raised for specific candidates? 
Candidate committee money and outside money for current candidates as of Apr. 21, 2016, are as follows: Hillary Clinton, $256 million; Bernie Sanders, $183 million; Ted Cruz, $142 million; Donald Trump, $51 million; John Kasich $29 million.  (12)

The Presidential primaries

Caucuses vs. Primaries
Some states use caucuses and some use primaries to select party presidential candidates.  Caucuses were the original method but have decreased in number since the early twentieth century.  With caucuses, a party announces the date, time, and location of the caucus, and any registered party voter can attend.  Prospective delegates are identified as supporting a specific candidate or as uncommitted, and an informal vote to choose delegates is taken after several hours of  discussion and debate.  Primaries, which were adopted as part of a reform movement in the early 1900’s, allow registered voters to participate in selecting a candidate by voting through a secret ballot, as in a general election.  In closed primaries, only voters who are registered for a given party can vote in that party’s primary.  In open primaries, a voter can vote in either primary regardless of party membership.  (20)  In 2016 Just 14 states and 4 U.S. territories held or will hold caucuses.   Turnout tends to be lower in caucuses than in primaries.  For example, only 20% of registered Republicans participated in Iowa’s caucuses in 2012, but 31% voted in the primary election in New Hampshire.  (5)

Proportional vs. winner-take-all methods of awarding delegates
The Democrats use a proportional method for awarding delegates.  For example, if one candidate gets 60% of the primary vote and a second gets 40%, the first gets 60% of the delegates and the second, 40%.  The Republican Party, in contrast, allows each state to determine whether the proportional method or a winner-takes-all method is used.  In the winner-take-all method, the candidate who wins the caucus or the primary vote receives all of the delegates.  (20)  The Republican Party required states with primaries or caucuses before March 15 to award delegates on a proportional rather than winner-take-all method.  This year Florida and Ohio hosted the first Republican winner-take-all contests on March 15. (5)

The conventions

When are the conventions?
The Republican convention will held from July 18 to July 21, 2016, in Cleveland.  2,472 delegates are expected, and a candidate must win over 50% (1,237) to receive the party’s nomination.   The Democratic convention will be held from July 25 to July 28 in Philadelphia.  4,765 delegates are expected, and a candidate must win 2,383 delegates.  (7) 

Who are delegates? 
Delegates to the national convention are chosen at state and congressional district conventions.  Delegates are often party activists, local political leaders, members of a campaign’s steering committee, or early supporters of a given candidate.  Presidential campaigns seek local and state politicians as delegates because they usually bring the support of their followers.  (5)

The Democratic Party uses pledged delegates and superdelegates at the national convention.  Pledged delegates (about 85% of the total) are selected at the state or local level, with the understanding that they will support a particular candidate.  However, they are not actually bound to vote for that candidate.  Super delegates (15% of the total) include members of the national committee, members of Congress, governors, former presidents and vice presidents, former leaders of the Senate and House, and former chairs of the Democratic National Committee.   (5)  Superdelegates are not obliged to represent the popular primary voting in their region, but rather are free to support any candidate.  The purpose of superdelegates is for high-ranking Democrats to maintain a degree of control over the nomination process.  Examples of super delegates from Ohio this year are Senator Sherrod Brown, David Pepper (chair of the Ohio Democratic Party), and Mark Mallory (former Cincinnati mayor).   (7)  The Republicans also reserve a certain number of delegate slots for high-ranking officials.  In 2016 these include the three members of each state’s national committee (less than 7% of the party’s total delegates).  The party has instructed state delegations to bind RNC members based on voting results in their state.  (5) (22)

Can Donald Trump win the Republican nomination outright?
According to the New York Times (Apr. 27, 2016), if Trump maintains his current level of support in the remaining races, he can win a majority of 1,237 or more delegates before the convention.  However, it will be close, and if the race shifts even slightly Trump could fall short.  The outcome of Indiana’s primary on May 3 is critical to Trump’s chances.  He currently holds a single digit lead in Indiana.  (10)

What if no one gets a majority on the first ballot?
Delegates become free agents, no longer bound to follow the state’s primary results.  Anti-Trump forces are planning a delegate-by-delegate fight to back another candidate than Trump.  If there is a Republican rule change, the nominee could be someone who is not currently in the race, e.g., House speaker Paul Ryan.  (9)

The candidates

How liberal or conservative are the presidential candidates?, a nonpartisan voter education website, rates the candidates on a liberal/conservative dimension from 10L (the most liberal) to 10C (the most conservative), based on public statements, voting records, and campaign contributions.  The current candidate ratings from most liberal to most conservative are: Bernie Sanders (8.2L), Hillary Clinton (6.5L), John Kasich (4.6C), Donald Trump (5.1C), Ted Cruz (9.9C).  Sanders is the most liberal of the seven Democrats who entered the race or declined to run.  Except for Rand Paul, Ted Cruz is the most conservative of 16 Republican candidates.  (2)

How many endorsements have candidates received from governors, senators, and representatives?
According to the Nate Silver’s website, FiveThirtyEight (Apr. 25, 2016), Ted Cruz has received endorsements from 5 governors, 3 senators, and 34 representatives; John Kasich, from 3 governors, 2 senators, and 8 representatives; Donald Trump, from 3 governors, one senator, and zero representatives.  Hillary Clinton has been endorsed by 13 governors, 40 senators, and 160 representatives; Bernie Sanders by 1 senator and 8 representatives.  (15)

Who are some other candidate endorsements?  (A true but whimsical listing)
Ted Cruz: Jeb Bush, Gun Owners of America, Texas Patriots PAC, Georgia Right to Life.  John Kasich: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Charles Barkley, Jim Tressel (former Ohio State football coach).  Donald Trump: Jerry Falwell, Jr., Clint Eastwood, Hulk Hogan, Dennis Rodman, Mike Tyson.  Bernie Sanders: Erin Brockovich, Julia Butterfly Hill, Clay Aiken, Michael Keaton.  Hillary Clinton: Amy Poehler, Drew Barrymore, Ben Affleck, Tom Hanks.  (24)

How do the candidates rate on fact-checking? assessed various candidate statements as True, Mostly True, Half True, Mostly False, False, and Pants on Fire.  For the Democrats, statements were judged to be True or Mostly True 51% of the time for Sanders, 49% of the time for Clinton.  For the Republicans, statements were judged True or Mostly True 52% of the time for Kasich, 22% of the time for Cruz, and 9% of the time for Trump.  (14) 

How are the candidates doing in the polls?
USA Today’s Elections 2016 Presidential Poll Tracker reports national poll results (as of Apr. 27, 2016) as follows: Clinton, 49.5%; Sanders, 45.8% for the Democrats.  For the Republicans, Trump, 43.0%; Cruz, 30.0%; Kasich, 21.0%. (19)

How many primary delegates have the candidates won so far?
According to USA Today (Apr. 27), Trump has won 954 primary delegates; Cruz, 562; and Kasich, 153.  Clinton has won 1,151; Sanders, 1,338.  According to FiveThirtyEight, based on results to date, Trump is on target to win 97% of the primary delegates needed for the nomination; Clinton, 107%.  (15) (18)

The November election

What are the swing states in 2016?
Swing states are those in which no single candidate or party has overwhelming support, and consequently, winning swing states is the best opportunity for candidates to increase their electoral votes.   According to the Rothenberg and Gonzales Political Report, pure toss-up states and their total electoral votes are: Colorado (9), Florida (29), Ohio (18), and Virginia (13).  Toss-up states which tilt or lean Democratic include: New Hampshire (4), Wisconsin (10), Iowa (6), and Pennsylvania (20).  Toss-up states which tilt or lean Republican are: North Carolina (15).  Rothenberg and Gonzales list 19 states as favored or currently safe for Democrats (223 electoral votes) and 23 states as favored or currently safe for Republicans (191 electoral votes). (17) 

How big a problem is voter suppression in 2016?  
The ACLU reports that 10 states are putting into place restrictive voting laws for the first time.  All have Republican-dominated state legislatures.  Restrictions include early voting cutbacks, elimination of same-day registration, Voter ID requirements, proof of citizenship requirements, purging voter rolls, and dual-registration systems (e.g., separate registration for federal and state elections).  Voter suppression disproportionately affects blacks and Hispanics, the poor, the elderly, college students, and persons with disabilities — mainly groups prone to vote Democratic.  The ten states are Virginia, North Carolina, Ohio, Alabama, Mississippi, Wisconsin, Kansas, Texas, North Dakota, and Arizona.  Combined, they contain 80 million people and account for 129 of the 270 elector votes necessary to win the election. (1)

The Electoral College
The President and Vice-President are not elected directly by the voters.  Rather, their votes function to elect the “electoral College,” the group of citizens chosen by the political parties to cast votes for President and Vice-President.  With the exceptions of Maine and Nebraska, the candidates who win the popular vote in a given state receive all of that state’s Electoral College votes.  The winner of the election is the candidate who receives 270 or more of the 538 Electoral College votes.   The Electoral College system was devised by the nation’s founders who wanted to stay true to republican principles but were wary about permitting average citizens to vote.  A state’s number of electoral votes is equal to the sum of its numbers of Senators and Representatives.  Thus, the bigger the state, the more electors it has.   However, like the Senate (with two members per state), the Electoral College serves to shift power away from the nation’s most populated states.  For example, California gets 55 votes and Wyoming gets 3, but, in fact, California’s population is 66 times greater than Wyoming’s.  Historically, five candidates have lost the popular vote nationally but won the Electoral College vote and become president, including George W. Bush over Al Gore in 2000.  (vs2)

How do the Democratic and Republican potential candidates currently fare against one another in national polls? 
According to, if the election were held today, Clinton would defeat Trump (49.0 to 40.5%) and Cruz (46.0 vs. 43.0%), but would lose to Kasich (48.2 vs. 40.2%).  Sanders would defeat Trump (53.0 vs. 37.8%), Cruz (51.0 vs. 39.0%), and Kasich (46.8 vs. 42.0%)  (16)

And that’s the story for now. 

(1), “Will the 2016 Presidential Election Be Decided by Voter Suppression Laws?”;  (2), “2016 presidential candidate ratings and scorecards”; (3), “Republican National Convention, 2016”; (4), “The Diversifying Electorate”; (5), “The U.S. Presidentail Nominating Process”; (6),”Trump allies sidelined in KY delegate battle”; (7), “Superdelegates”; (8), “In Kentucky, Anti-Trump Forces Again Dominate Delegate Selection”; (9), “GOP presidential race: How a brokered convention would work”; (10), “How the rest of the delegate race could unfold”; (11), “Election Overview”; (12), “Super PACs”; (13), “A deep dive into party affiliation”; (14), “Fact-Checking the 2016 GOP presidential candidates”; (15), “The Endorsement Primary”; (16), “General Election: Clinton vs. Trump”; (17), “Presidential ratings”; (18), “Elections 2016”; (19) Elections 2016 Presidential Poll Tracker (USA Today) (4-27-16); (vs2), “What is the Electoral College?”; (20), “United States Presidential Primary”; (21), “Why women are far more likely to vote than men”; (22), “Delegate”; (23), “Citizens United v. FEC”; (24), “Endorsements for the Democratic (Republican) Party presidential primaries, 2016”