Contrasting fortunes

So, we’ve had four rounds of voting, a couple more debates, and Super Tuesday is almost upon us. Are things any clearer in the race for the White House?

On the Democratic side, it is looking as though Bernie Sanders’ wave of momentum has crashed upon the rocks of southern demographics, and it’s not clear how his campaign will recover. His narrow focus on economic issues may resonate with young white liberals, but the broader Democratic electorate seems more receptive to Hillary Clinton’s more nuanced message. This is a shame, because Bernie has the better platform, but he may have to be content with pulling Hillary a bit to the left. Hillary, even with her faults, is still a progressive and accomplished candidate, and there seems little doubt that the party will unite behind her if and when she secures the nomination.

As for the GOP, where does one start? The party establishment’s policy of pandering to wingnut Tea Partiers has come back to bite them on the ass, and it looks like they are going to be stuck with a candidate woefully unelectable, even by their own recent standards, who may drag the whole slate down to defeat.

The entire primary process has descended into embarrassing farce for the Republicans – while Bernie and Hillary debate their differences like serious, grown up politicians, the nation has watched Trump, Rubio and Cruz trade invective like overgrown toddlers. Little wonder that the GOP hierarchy are rumoured to have already written off the Presidency to focus on the Congressional contests.

Hanging over everything is the newly vacant seat on the Supreme Court, and the knowledge that the next President will have the chance to appoint a Justice who may swing the court for years to come. It will be interesting to see if the Republicans hold to their obstructionist line over the summer, or decide to try to make a deal with the current President rather than taking their chances with President Clinton.

Wild gravity

I like to think of myself as scientifically literate, so I’d always been a bit embarrassed that my knowledge of General Relativity was rather superficial. High school physics classes and popular science books had taught me that e=mc2, that gravity is caused by matter warping spacetime, and that clocks slow down when you travel at the speed of light, but until recently I’d have been pushed to explain exactly why these things were so.

Then, towards the end of last year, I watched the movie Interstellar, the plot of which turns on the time-stretching effects of extreme gravitation, which inspired me to fill in this gap in my education. So I’ve read various textbooks, and Einstein’s own pamphlet on the subject, and while, if I’m honest, the mathematics are still a bit opaque to me, I think I’ve got a fairly good grasp of the basic principles.

Just in time too; the day after I finished the Einstein book, the gravitational waves he predicted were finally discovered (or the discovery was announced, the actual event having taken place last year). It’s nice to feel that one understands the importance of scientific advances like this, but even in a state of relative ignorance it would be hard not to be awed by a story that involves black holes spiralling at near the speed of light before crashing to release the energy of a billion trillion stars in the blink of an eye. The fact that we can hear the echo of this cataclysm a billion years later is nothing short of amazing. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, humans are pretty smart.

Iowa revisited

Remarkably enough SLS has been around long enough to cover three US Presidential elections, so, on the eve of the Iowa caucuses, I feel obliged to issue some sort of forecast of the outcome.

Back in 2008 we were rooting for Hillary Clinton, not that our endorsement did her much good. This time round I have to say that, on policy, I’m leaning towards Bernie Sanders, who I think may win in Iowa and New Hampshire, though I can’t see past Clinton for the nomination.

On the Republican side it looks like Trump is going to make the early running, but I think Rubio will be the eventual candidate. The GOP race seems academic though, since I cannot imagine the Democrats losing the general election.

Whatever happens I’m hoping that the excitement of the caucuses and primaries will rekindle my enthusiasm for blogging, for a while at least.