A reader of my blog (and a formidable acquaintance) takes me to task for an earlier post about Mitt Romney in which I alluded to Kolob, a legendary planet that figures in LDS traditions.   Their comment is too sharp and too thoughtful not to be reproduced in full:

This just in: planet Kolob has yet to be discovered, but Willard Romney's 2011 tax returns have been released,Yes, planet Kolob has yet to be discovered. In fact, science has yet to verify any religious belief.

That does not stop people from thinking their own magical thinking is superior to the magical thinking of others, and use this is a form of condescension.

Is there some connection between the Romney tax problem and his improbable belief God lives near Kolob? About as much a connection between Obama's problems and his improbable belief in the Resurrection I would imagine.

Unnecessary mockery of another's religious beliefs is always an implicit invitation to unnecessary mockery of one's own religious beliefs. Most who believe in intellectual honesty try to avoid it, as it is always a quick race to the bottom.

Hmm.   I guess I'm not wearing a seamless garment?  Actually, I don't know that Romney believes anything about Kolob, as it's apparently a minor heterodox claim among the LDS that is not, as far as I know, believed to be essential to the Church's teachings.  An appropriate comparison for the President would not be his improbable belief in Resurrection (which is surely central to Christianity), but perhaps to a dispute about whether St. Paul was married, or no.
At any rate, nothing in my post asserts that any belief held on faith on my part is superior to any belief held on faith on the part of LDS, and I think my critic misread my intent if they presumed that I was  mocking the beliefs of LDS generally, or Romney's beliefs in particular.   My reader is a principled skeptic on a host of topics, so perhaps he or she was too quick to seize upon comments that referenced religion as being inherently critical?  Alternatively, my writing sacrificed clarity for a stylistic flourish? (More on that in a moment).

At any rate, my critic asks about the connection between Romney's taxes and his (supposed) beliefs about where God hangs out.  Well, at the risk of being picky please note that I didn't reference that belief at all, but merely the fact that Kolob hadn't been discovered.   Unlike God's existence (which my reader correctly notes cannot be verified), the existence of a planet like Kolob is, in principle, verifiable.   If some LDS astronomer predicted (for whatever reason) that a planet with certain properties and dimensions would be detected around a certain star, that could be tested.   This would still not prove any theological claims about any planet, whatever you called it, but again I wasn't referencing those claims.   For that reason, it would be a mistake to think that I am somehow invested in a contrary, but equally theological claim about Kobol's properties, or that I could imagine that the failure to verify Kobol's alleged existence could be enlisted to support my own brand of "magical thinking."  (Shoot, I don't even like the term "verify" that much, because of its association with logical positivism. )

The actual linkage that I had in mind was not God's existence, but Kolob's existence.   There is a play on the word "discovery" in a legal sense, in that in releasing his 2011 tax returns Gov. Romney was finally providing some transparency and documentation on an item that was as previously remote as an alleged (and as yet undiscovered) planet.   In the back of my mind I also had the image of other things that are remote to the average American: Swiss bank accounts and Cayman Island tax shelters.   Perhaps I should've chosen some other image of a remote, fantastic place (Shakespeare's "undiscovered country", or Shangri-La, etc.) as a means of making that point.   My critic is quite right about one thing: given that Mr. Romney's LDS beliefs (whatever they are) are not germane to how his taxes are perceived, it would not be appropriate to mock them.  I'm disinclined to discuss such things in general in the political arena, except perhaps in the case where a person's professed beliefs are explicitly contradicted by their actions.   That seems fair game to me, but even there I suppose I should be cautious.  Throwing stones can be contagious.

Anyway, the substance of my post clearly has nothing to do with what items either I or Mitt Romney take on faith.  It was an attempt by me to parse the whole issue of taxes and wealth in the context of framing a winning political message.  I think I was actually very fair to the Governor and made clear I think arguments that appeal to envy of another's class or wealth are non-starters with me.  Those kinds of arguments also lead pretty quickly, in my critic's phrase, to a "race to the bottom."   But I think I also made clear that Mr. Romney's lack of transparency hurts him with voters, regardless of what I or anyone else thinks about class envy.  That lack of transparency makes Mr. Romney more remote, and makes a difficult task (connecting with the average person and winning their trust) all but impossible. 

As I noted, I'm not really all that concerned about how Mr. Romney made his money.   The IRS got to see it, and presumably they apply a pretty good "smell test" to returns on income of seven figures, or more.   I was trying to explain why Romney's success, in my view, could've been part of a more user-friendly narrative that could've pointed to the Governor's potential strengths, and why his choices were simply bad politics.  This post doesn't really critique Romney's beliefs or character one bit: it's about the choices he made in the course of several news cycles that any reasonably talented politician would've understood were not in his best interests.

In conclusion, I would like to thank my critical reader for provoking this response, because one of my goals this year is to write, write and write some more...and, hopefully along the way, polish my writing skills.   Part of writing is editing, but one of the bracing things about blogs is that people often do not edit their own work.   It's a format that lends itself to a "quick-write" sort of response.  I wrote the first thing that popped into my head for an opening paragraph, looking for an exotic "grabber" to bring the reader in, and those kind of "impulse buys" clearly have their drawbacks.   While I don't think my general argument is in any way compromised by my poor choice of parallelism, my skeptical reader seized upon my first nineteen words, ran it up the yardarm and fired away.    To me, it was just another literary reference, like Croesus or "death and taxes".  If someone thought I was fanning the flames of anti-Mormon bigotry, I ask for a mulligan.   I ask my skeptical readers to consider giving me the benefit of the doubt.

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Today, Governor Romney proclaimed that Pennsylvania was in play, and that he believed that his supporters in the Keystone State would triumph, and that because of that, Pennsylvania's 20 electoral votes are going to go to Team Red.

In further news, the Romney camp announced that 147 percent of Americans now support him, that catsup is a vegetable, that being down in the polls means that you are up in the race, and that once elected they intend to normalize diplomatic relations with the Ministry of Magic.

Seriously, politicians all say stuff at times which is so transparently the opposite of what is actually happening.   It's a disease, an occupational hazard, it goes with the territory, my GOD, what state am I in right now and WHO am I supposed to be talking to in a few minutes?   In the whirligig of rope walks, puddle jumps, bunting-bearing bandstands and squalling brats, even the best-rested, best-prepared pol is going, from time to time, say things that are patently at odds with reality: witness both camps, with their Harvard-educated, highly-successful and heavily-polished candidates each busily dialing down expectations for the first debate with a furious (and utterly disingenuous) exchange of money quotes about their opposite's strengths as a public speaker.   Yeah, I've been implying the other guy is not qualified, incompetent, clueless, out-of-touch for months now, a guy who doesn't "get" the average American, but by golly, now that push comes to shove and we have to, you know, actually talk to each other it wouldn't surprise me the least if he can make a few points, so let's not get crazy expecting that, you know, I'll actually win.

So both sides do it, but some do it better than others.   Case in point:  Gov. Romney's big "secret", that Pennsylvania were back in play.   It's both highly unlikely and pointless.  In the first place, Pennsylvania, by all accounts is so solidly blue right now that you can't even find a projection that lists it as even being a possible "swing state."   Nate Silver, whose application of sabermetric style to political forecasting has an enviable track record of transparency and accuracy, has two observations about the state that are hard to ignore:

First, that this state is solidly with Team Blue:   as of this morning, the polling averages show that the President has an eight-point lead in a state that will begin early voting next week.  The respected Quinnipiac Poll even has the President up by TWELVE points.  There isn't going to be enough news cycles, enough debate fireworks, to erase eight points, much less twelve,  before early voting begins.   At best, you might see a two-point dip in that time, and so by the time the general election begins, much of Pennsylvania's electorate will have already cast their votes in such a way that the President is likely to be ahead.

What is Romney's big "secret" that could overcome that?   Well, perhaps he's hoping (though he'd be foolish to say so openly) that Pennsylvania's new "voter ID" law could reduce the number of pro-Obama supporters from making their voice heard between now and Election Day.   If so, the musings of this federal judge, who must rule by this coming Tuesday, can not give Romney supporters any confort.  It seems likely that, given the fact that Democrats in the state have gone on the offensive on this point, that whether or not the law is partially hamstrung or not, its effects will be minimized.

Here's a second problem: an upset win in this state might not mean diddly.   Let's suppose Pennsylvania actually did manage to "flip" by November, and that Gov. Romney stages a last-minute rally and wins a close race.   That's not impossible:   Nate Silver estimates that, as of this moment, there is a three percent chance that such an event could happen.  Here's the problem:  Silver's model also shows that this is highly unlikely to be dispositive on the outcome of the electoral college, giving Pennsylvania just a 1.1 percent chance of being a "tipping point" state, ahead of every other state listed as a potential "toss-up" a month ago other than New Mexico which (by the way) is favored to go the President's way, as well.   In fact, other than Rasmussen Reports, every poll now shows the President ahead in all ten of the top "swing states", a list that often as not does not even include Pennsylvania!  Thus, Silver concludes that there isn't any point in putting significant resources into Pennsylvania for either side.

There's been a lot of talk lately about poll bias, but in general polls (and especially averages of leading polls) tend to arrive at numbers that are very close to what actually happens.   In this case, we can evaluate whether or not the two camps really believe the polls by assessing their actions:  if either the President or the Romney camp believed that Pennsylvania might be in play, the story would not be a declaration of upset by the Republican challenger, but a sudden influx of money into the state to rev up the ground game and buy advertising.

That is manifestly not happening.   As the POLITICO article makes clear, neither side is opening the wallet.   In this light, Romney's declaration seems positively quixotic.   The only way he could really believe that an upset is in the works without investing real resources into the ground game and attack ads is if he believed that the dynamic on the ground will be more effected by the voter ID law than by campaigning.    I prefer to believe the Governor is opportunistic rather than personally invested in voter suppression efforts, so in that scenario he couldn't really be hoping that the laws will do what this man clearly intended them to do (I love it when they actually say what they believe):

One more thing, and this really isn't the thing that anyone likes to emphasize, but it's true:  Pennsylvania's importance in the overall scheme of things for national elections has been in decline for a long time.   Beginning in 1960, the Keystone State lost two electoral votes with every census until the last, when it only lost one.  That's a lot of electoral votes, and the changing demographic of the state makes those votes increasingly urban, diverse and...Democratic.   So Mitt Romney isn't just whistling in the dark, he's looking for a blip that goes against a lot of historic trends, and a short-term surge of mythopoeic proportions.

Not gonna happen, sorry.

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Look at this.   I mean, seriously, look and listen to this.  

This is five guys back in 1973, just five guys, but just so much happening musically and visually during 26 minutes or so.   It's not a single, it's not a rock opera per se, but it's a piece of music that's organic, ever-shifting, with recurring themes and development.   Visually, it's still arresting: the costumes, the stagecraft, the instrumentals that engage as the stage goes dark, allowing lead vocalist Peter Gabriel time to metamorphize into something new and weird.   It's damn entertaining, but there's also a serious attempt to play with William Blake and related subject matter.  

The thing begins with something that sounds like a joke.   It's whimsical at first, but there's something unnerving, too:  a pastorale, all earthy and concerned with reproduction, but also a feast of crows assembled from the wreckage of a great battle.   Disturbingly, it seems that the author of this feast is the "mighty One" that slays with the sword that comes out of his mouth....which, it turns out, looks very much like a black light, wielded as one might carry a crucifix.  Yeah, it's weird and wonderful.  I sure would like to have a shot at playing the whole thing some time.

Make no mistake, it would take a bit of doing. You need an outstanding drummer to handle the tempo changes and odd meters (2+2+2+3 vs. 3+3+3 at times).

You need a keyboardist who can play two rigs at the same time, and do a reasonably good job of aping the Mellotron sounds and organ registrations (particularly difficult: an instrumental that builds out of the rhythm of a Leslie speaker at a certain speed and level of overdrive).

 You either need two players to cover the bass and rhythm guitar parts like Mike Rutherford, or you can have a double-neck guitar and sit next to a pair of bass pedals.    I mean, those kind of guys have just got to be falling out of the woodwork, common as church mice, right?

Your other guitarist needs to be pretty versatile, playing little filigree work as one of either two or three guys on acoustic 12-strings, but also able to do the volume knob business and finger-tapping on the electric. Oh, and you need a vocalist who is a showman who can also play the flute.

I'm game if anyone else is.