Monday, January 30, 2012

You guys want to see something weird?

Check out this old post of mine. Look at the comments.

You'll note there's lots of spammers coming through. I mean, for me, anyway. I don't get a lot of traffic round these parts, so six spam comments on the same post over the course of a few months is worthy of mention.

Anyway, it makes me wonder what they're up to. At first, I couldn't figure out why they were all flocking to that post in particular, but I'm relatively certain it's because it has "good investment" in the title. It's not a coincidence that most of the links are to sites where you can buy gold, real estate, and the like.* I guess they're trying to leech away some of the torrents of web traffic that arrive at my site by googling "good investments," clicking through to the 53,252th page, and following the link to my site.

But here's what's really strange about these posts: whoever authored them actually took the time to respond to my post!

Okay, a couple seem a little... autogenerated. For instance,
Hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs), plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs), and all-electric vehicles (EVs) have many benefits compared with conventional vehicles: better fuel economy, lower emissions, lower fuel costs, increased energy security, and more fueling flexibility among others.
is lifted straight off the Department of Energy's website. And the most recent comment -- "I'd like to get the opinion of gold buyers on this. Gold and electric cars are different commodities, but it's an interesting contrast all the same." -- isn't exactly a model of clarity, either. So that one's probably by a robot.

But another one takes a moment to mount a semi-cogent critique of my point:
Plug-in electric vehicles are still pulling electricity generated from a power plant somewhere, be it a coal plant, or natural gas plant, or a nuclear plant..... They will not truly be a sollution" to pollution/CO2 until we can coat the roof, hood and trunk with solar panels, so the cars can generate & store most of their own power while driving or parked in the sunshine!
It doesn't exactly address my post, but whoever wrote this at least took the time to read a couple of paragraphs and put together a handful ideas about them. It's really a rather lot of effort to put into the third spam comment on a months-old post on an ultra-obscure personal blog.

It's baffling. How could this possibly be an effective advertising strategy? The total number of eyes that will see those links -- even after I've posted about them! -- is probably about 25. The total number of clickthroughs is almost certainly going to be zero. Even if the authors are being paid some abysmal hourly wage, there's no way a few of these comments were constructed in less than three or four minutes. Someone out there is paying a lot of money to have their lackeys read my blog and pretend to be interested.

Which, when I think about it, is fine by me. Readers are readers. All are welcome!



*Apparently, anyway. I haven't clicked them and I don't really suggest that you click them either.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

About plowing know-how

It's finally snowing here in Minneapolis -- awful sludgy stuff, on top of a layer of ice, but snow nonetheless. Of course,a few inches of snow and ice doesn't have the slightest impact on life here in the cities, but it's still a relief to be able to walk outside without seeing the grass. Januaries in Minnesota are supposed to be white, not green and grey.

That relief is, in turn, a somewhat odd sensation for a transplant like me. I remember just two years ago, when I first arrived in the Midwest, how strange it was when I realized that the snow that fell in December wouldn't melt until spring. Coming from North Carolina, where even the heaviest snows never last more than a week, it was initially difficult to wrap my head around the idea that snow was a permanent condition, not a special occurence. As most of my friends know, I refused to drive for the entire three months spanning from December to March, fully convinced that snow and driving were supposed to remain mutually exclusive.

That's all a very convoluted lead-in to this link. The Atlantic Cities collected information from various cities around the country about their snowplow fleets, and discovered little correlation between average annual snowfall and fleet size. The story concludes, reasonably enough, that snow contingency planning is more a product of cultural expectations than of need; in short, Minneapolitans have fewer snowplows per capita than New Yorkers because they're willing to tolerate snow on the ground for longer.

My personal experiences leave me no doubt the second half of their hypothesis is true. (Although, in my experience, many Minnesotans make the opposite error and overestimate their ability to function in extreme conditions. A blizzard here invariably leads to a lot of cars on the side of the highway and a lot of cars stuck in backroad snowdrifts.) But is Minneapolis's smaller snowplow fleet actually any less effective than New York's? Anecdotal evidence tells me no.

Minneapolis and St. Paul respond to snow with city-wide drill that's almost military in its coordination. A snow emergency is called. The plow fleets go out. Everybody knows where they're going to plow, and when they're going to plow, and on which side of the road they're going to plow. Parked cars are moved accordingly. Two days later, the roads are (more or less) clear. Living here, it's easy to forget that the plan the cities have mapped out is actually quite impressive, particularly because it requires cooperation from residents. New York, by comparison, may have three times as many plows per person, but their system for using those plows seems to be strictly amateur hour. I'ts impossible to imagine the New York's vicious kerfuffle over snowplowing repeating itself in the Twin Cities -- not because people wouldn't be upset if plowing was handled badly, but because it's inconceivable the metro governments would screw up that badly.

So while the Atlantic's article is interesting, I think it's far too quick to jump to a cultural explanation for the trend it's observed. Snowplows are like any other resource: how much you have of it is important, but how efficiently you use it is also important. And cities like Minneapolis, Buffalo, and Cleveland have plenty of practice putting their plows to the best possible use.

(h/t: Brad Plumer)

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Uncle!

Okay, fine! Two weeks ago I declared the Republican primary over, and resolved to not speak of it again. Ever since, I've ignored the various dramas of the campaign trail, telling myself that they were the product of media boredom. None of this really mattered, right? Right...?

Doubts began to creep in.

You win, real world. I was wrong. Mitt Romney is still very probably going to win the nomination, but his sudden collapse in South Carolina has been breathtaking. Inevitable candidates don't just up and lose their 20-point leads overnight. To Newt Gingrich, of all people.

That leaves two questions. First, how could this even happen? People have accused the "anyone-but-Romney" theory of being too pat, but frankly, it's hard to explain the current movement in the SC polls any other way. Republicans never liked Romney, they still don't like Romney, and as the field narrowed, and as Romney's post-Iowa/NH sheen wore off, enough of them fled to a single competitor to put that competitor out in front. In other words, Romney's momentary polling surge was not the result of his being just-like-any-other-candidate, but a manifestation of the herd effect that bolsters primary winners. South Carolinians didn't switch into Romney's camp after Iowa because they learned to love the man, but because everyone likes voting for a winner.

And the second big question: if Newt wins today (as seems extremely likely), what then? I think that largely depends on what Rick Santorum does. If Santorum interprets a Gingrich victory as Romney being vulnerable and decides to stay in the race and test his luck further down the road, he'll continue to split the anti-Romney block and Romney will win. If, however, Santorum interprets his low vote total in SC as an indication of his campaign's inviability, then he may drop out and we'll suddenly have a two-man race (well, two and a half -- there's still Ron Paul). In that case... okay, Romney will still win.

Try as I might, I can't believe in Newt. Certainly, the developments over the last two weeks have been fun to follow. Newt's rise has reminded us all that even the most obvious political predictions can fall apart in the blink of an eye. But I just can't convince myself that anyone but Romney has a shot. Where is Newt's organization? His party backing? How can he sustain a lengthy campaign against someone as practiced as Romney? There's just no way, however long this drags out, that Romney won't grind his way out front. And there's little chance that Gingrich won't slip up and say something unbelievably stupid before the end. Remember his Fascist Moment two months ago?

So while perhaps the primary has become worthy of comment again, nothing's really changed. It's still Romney.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Wikipedia blackout

In about a day, Wikipedia will go dark for 24 hours, as a protest against the abominable anti-piracy bills (SOPA and PIPA) currently passing through Congress. I'm pretty excited about this, for a couple of reasons. First, as I've said before, this is an extremely important issue and it's good to see the web community banding together to fight back in a dramatic fashion. Wikipedia is the world's sixth most-trafficked site and its disappearance will not go unnoticed.

Second, it's good to know that Wikipedia's opposition to the bill hasn't dimmed even as public opinion has shifted to its side. In a dramatic change of fortune, SOPA certainly appears to be on the ropes at the moment, and the forces of good seem to have the upper hand. Some of the bill's worst provisions -- mostly involving DNS blocking -- have been stripped out. But the copyright lobby hasn't given up yet. I've seen it suggested that a compromise bill is possible, preserving anti-piracy measures but including protections for "legitimate" sites. No compromise is acceptable. Even a compromise bill would infringe upon essential free speech interests. Piracy on the web is intrinsically linked with the web's ability to serve as a free-wheeling platform for any kind of speech, and any attempt to limit piracy will also necessarily limit speech. Anonymity, privacy, and equal access are the internet's building blocks, and all three are invariably eroded by anti-piracy efforts. Even if you think that piracy is a genuine social or economic problem (and I very much don't), it's a problem dwarfed by the importance of preserving free and open internet culture. A few copied movies is the small price we pay for a better society, and the Wikipedia community seems to realize that.

One more (tangetially-related) observation: I think it's interesting that Wikipedia has decided to move forward with its blackout, while Google and Facebook appear to have abandoned their own plans to go dark. I suspect this is a reflection of the different decision-making processes in each organization. Google and Facebook are controlled by handful of high-level directors, who undoubtedly receive daily briefings on SOPA's progress through the legislative branch. Wikipedia's decision, by contrast, was made by a large group of contributors and community members. It's perhaps unsurprising, then, that Wikipedia's collective enthusiasm for the blackout was sustained even in the face of rapid political developments. Populist movements are often slow to change course.

There was a debate tonight

But I hope you didn't watch it because it didn't matter.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

What the 1% does

The Times, apparently pursuing something of a "class warfare" motif today, has published a few nifty income inequality gadgets. My favorite is a breakdown of the top 1% by profession. I can't embed it directly, so you're going to have to go check it out on your own, but I highly recommend that you do. Here's the link.

There's a lot here, but I think the most interesting part of the diagram is how the color of the boxes shows what percentage of people in a profession are in the top 1%. (Darker means more fat cats. You can get the exact figures by clicking on the boxes.) A couple of observations:
  • Most doctors make off like bandits. CEOs do well, too, but maybe not as quite as well as you'd expect.

  • A plurality of the 1% is composed of managers -- but managerial positions don't appear to be especially lucrative. There's just vastly more of them than there are doctors, lawyers, and CEOs -- so the handful of exceedingly well-paid positions still outnumber these other professions.

  • Perhaps unsurprisingly, most of the 1% is composed of the very richest members of a huge array of industries. Over 10,000 of them are waitstaff!

  • If wealth is your aim, avoid machine operation as a career. You've got less once chance in one thousand of reaching the 99th percentile.

  • What should you do? Turns out, it doesn't really matter what your occupation is. Just try to work in "Security, commodity brokerage or investment companies." Without fail, the members of a profession with the best odds of being rich are in these industries. It's easy to see: dark red basically signifies "financial industry workers" on the chart. (Excluding banking, which appears to offer more modest rewards.) While this pattern is certainly no surprise to anyone who's been paying attention for the last six years, seeing it in this context still chafes. After all, do the skills of managers, CEOs, lawyers, or supervisors really differ so much across industries? If pay is in any way a reflection of training or ability, this chart suggests that the abilities and training of securities lawyers and financial industry supervisors are more alike than the abilities and training of securities lawyers and, say, judges. Well, maybe. But I don't buy it.

Friday, January 13, 2012

The congressional war on the internet

Somehow, I always knew this day would come.

For the first time in its short existence, 4:17 A.M. faces an existential threat. The copyright system -- never much loved around these parts -- has finally struck back, and is marshaling forces that could put an end to my little blog.

My antagonist is Congress. Its weapon: SOPA.

I'll admit, the idea is so preposterous that I didn't see it at first, but...

Wait, everyone knows what SOPA is, right? No?

Okay, let me back up a bit.

Short version: SOPA stands for the Worst Thing to Ever Come Out of Congress, at Least Since 2004 or So.

Longer version: SOPA stands for the Stop Online Piracy Act, and it's a bill currently making its way through Congress. SOPA would give copyright holders the legal ability to block easy access to web sites that are "facilitating" copyright piracy.

Maybe that doesn't sound like a big deal, but it is.

For starters: many, many sites (to name a few small ones: Youtube, Facebook, Gmail, Twitter) allow users to post and share their own content. In doing so, they necessarily enable a certain degree of internet piracy. Copyright infringement happens every single day on these sites. (Have you ever e-mailed someone an MP3? Have you ever listened to an unofficial version of a song on Youtube? You're one out of millions.)

Right now, content publishers aren't held legally liable for the content created by their users. SOPA eliminates that protection and effectively puts all social media in the crosshairs of the MPAA, the RIAA, and any number of other of peevish, self-interested copyright holders.

Of course, SOPA probably isn't going to kill Youtube, or Google. But it will force Youtube and Google to become ultra-paranoid about their own users. In order to protect themselves from the law, these sites will have to closely monitor the content uploaded by people like you and me (which is creepy enough in its own right), and reject anything that bears a resemblance to copyrighted material. Even if you don't think the added expense would have a detrimental effect on technological development (and you'd be wrong), the sites would not have the resources to sift out true infringers from more marginal cases. In other words, you should expect parodies and artistic reinterpretations of old work (both of which are legally permitted) to get deep-sixed alongside actual duplicates. Huge swathes of content could simply evaporate overnight. The economic cost might be steep -- but it would pale next to the creative cost. Today, the internet is a thriving repository of universally-accessible culture, but that could all change in the blink of the eye if SOPA's copyright scolds get their way.

But that's not even the worst part. Whatever threat SOPA poses to massive, popular sites, its effects on small projects would be more oppressive. That's because the standards laid out in SOPA are so broadly drafted that almost anything might be construed to trigger its provisions. After all, a site can "facilitate" piracy without actually engaging in copyright infringement itself. Unlike Google, small sites erased by SOPA won't be able to fight back. They'll just disappear forever, and likely be quickly forgotten. (The potential for abuse is obvious. All rightsholders have to do is allege a copyright violation, and BOOM -- the government walls off access to a competitor or a promising startup.)

As I was saying. The idea is so preposterous that I didn't see it at first. But this very blog is threatened by SOPA's provisions.

Loosely interpreted, the bill could shut down web pages that encourage acts of online piracy (for example, by, I don't know, describing how to circumvent the NY Times paywall). It could close off access to sites that link to filesharing hubs (like thepiratebay.org). It might even endanger sites that publish anti-copyright editorial content.

Really, what could be more absurd? My fly-by-night policy blog, targeted by an act of Congress. But stepping back, 417am.com isn't even a close call. It's not a pirate site, but it's unabashedly pro-piracy. Nevermind that I have a combined readership of twelve or fifteen. Nevermind that virtually everything here is of a political nature. SOPA only has one response to any transgression, regardless of degree or intent. The nuclear option. Should some paranoid rightsholder stumble across my humble weblog, they could well add it to the ranks of the e-Disappeared.

Oh, I could appeal their claim... but the bill's appeal process is laughably insufficient. SOPA only provides for appeals in the first five days after a site's takedown. That's an unreasonably brief period in which to mount a complex legal challenge. The shortness of the allotted appeals period is probably, on its own, an insurmountable obstacle for many site owners.

So most likely, I'd just be out of luck. Oh well! It was nice while it lasted!

Among those in the know, there's nearly a complete consensus against SOPA. All the major tech companies oppose the bill. Most legal scholars oppose it as well.

But of course, congresspeople can rarely be described as "in the know," particularly when newfangled technologies like the personal computer is involved. So the bill plods forward, and the future of thousands upon thousands of sites, pages, apps, services, and companies -- some of impressive pedigree and some not yet even a spark of an idea in their creators' minds -- remains in doubt. Including, somehow, my silly little soapbox.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Winter is not coming

Hey, does anyone else remember the last two winters, which brought uncharacteristic amounts of snow and cold to the East Coast, leaving Jim DeMint to declare that "It'll snow until Al Gore cries uncle"?

Well, today it's January 9th, and the temperature here in Minneapolis, Minnesota is a balmy 49 degrees Fahrenheit, without a smidgen of snow to be seen.

This is, for the record, unusual.

No doubt Jim DeMint and all the other politicos who were caught gloating over the fall of climate science will now see their error and recant. Apologies, I'm sure, are forthcoming. Congress -- its concerns aroused and vigor renewed by this new, conclusive data -- will leap to address the problem. Right?

Right, guys?

Wait, there's still a primary going on?

Well, technically there is, I suppose. But the contest is, for all intents and purposes, as good as over. Despite what you may have heard on television, Romney KOed the competition in Iowa. The going-ons in New Hampshire are something more akin to a victory lap than an actual campaign.

How can I be so sure? Because of this: poll after poll is confirming that Romney now leads in South Carolina.

South Carolina was going to be the last stand hope of the anti-Romneys. Its ludicrously conservative voters were going to stand athwart the Romney campaign and yell "stop." South Carolina was going to be Romney's Waterloo.

Except then Romney won Iowa (or maybe he didn't. But worrying about who actually won the Iowa caucuses ignores the essence of the contest, which is not so much about securing a plurality as it is about getting your name splashed across the media in a positive context, a prize Romney has already secured), and South Carolinian Republicans decided that they were basically okay with this Romney guy after all.

All it took for South Carolinian Republicans to leap gleefully onto the Romney train was an eight-vote nudge in Iowa. Imagine what'll happen after Romney wins New Hampshire in a 25-point landslide.

And when Mitt "Pro-Choice, Mormon Governor of Massachusetts" Romey takes South Carolina, it's safe to say he's going to take every other primary as well.

So that's all, folks. Exhale. Resume your lives. Over the next few days you'll see reams and reams of coverage coming out of the newspapers and cable stations, much of it featuring strange little men with names like "Gingrich" and "Santorum." Ignore it. None of those guys matters anymore. We have our winner, and despite the dearest hopes of so many Democrats and Republicans, it's just Willard Mitt Romney. As expected.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Should Ron Paul run as an independent?

Earlier I was talking to my dad about the Republican primary, and he mentioned a possibility that has, for some reason, never seriously occurred to me: the Ron Paul third party run.

I know Paul has said this is off the table, but... is it really? Think about it. Paul's an idiosyncratic quasi-Republican who draws large chunks of his support from voters not inclined to back either of the major parties. His appeal extends far beyond the bounds of conventional red-versus-blue politicking into far regions of the electorate that rarely make their way into a ballot booth. Already, he's forced the GOP to reckon with some of his views by taking part in the primary. But if he were to enter the general, he'd likely also poach a number of Democratic voters and could well throw the election one way or the other. (Okay, he'd almost certainly throw it to Obama, if anyone. But still. The media is equally certain to spend many, many months trumpeting Paul's bipartisan appeal and doing the best it can to convince anyone listening that his candidacy poses a threat to both sides. Certain DC cliques are a sucker for this stuff and would respond accordingly.) Paul's well-known enough that he could make a reasonable case that he belongs on the debate stage with Romney and Obama, a la Ross Perot.

While, for most candidates, third party runs are pointless expressions of vanity -- money sinks that don't do much but risk sabotaging their ideological allies -- Paul's views diverge enough from an ordinary Republican's that running his own ticket makes a certain kind of sense. I don't really think Paul has any great love for or loyalty to the GOP, anyway. So why not maximize his impact and forge through all the way to November?

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Going Negative

I can't find a video online but Newt Gingrich was really angry last night about the results in Iowa. He was particularly mad at Mitt Romney, who he felt had run a negative campaign against him.

There is always a lot of discussion about whether the correct strategy is to run a positive or negative campaign. Pundits spend a lot of time speculating about how voters will respond to each type of campaign. However, in this case it seems pretty clear that a negative campaign is the correct strategy for Romney.

Romney is at best a mediocre candidate and a mediocre guy. He is untrustworthy but his views are generally acceptable to conservatives and he seems genuinely competent. He also doesn't seem intolerable as a person but he's not first on my list of people I would want to hang out with. This has been the case for 6 years and ads that list his accomplishments and show him smiling with children aren't going to change this perception. As a result, his best strategy is to spend his money showing people that Gingrich is corrupt, Paul is a nutbar, and Santorum opposes contraception. I think this is what he will continue to do.

Update: Here's the speech

The Broad Appeal of Protectionism

David Brooks has an article today about the lack of viable politicians who appeal to working class white Americans. One part at the end is interesting:
If you took a working-class candidate from the right, like Santorum, and a working-class candidate from the left, like Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, and you found a few islands of common ground, you could win this election by a landslide.
Those two candidates disagree on almost every issue (LGBT rights, foreign affairs, taxes etc.) but they do share a common focus on the outsourcing of American jobs. They have different policy prescriptions; Brown opposes free trade, Santorum wants to give special tax rates to businesses that manufacture in America. However, they seem to agree that using the power of government to favor american businesses at the expense of foreign ones can make America more competitive.

Santorum seems to even recognize this unlikely alliance:
“The -- the cool thing about my plan as opposed to Herman's plans and some of the other plans out here, it'll pass tomorrow. It would pass tomorrow. Why? Because industrial-state Democrats want those jobs and they know if we put a pro-manufacturing- jobs plan on the table it will pass overnight. We'll get votes from Indiana and Pennsylvania and Ohio and Michigan, all of those states.”
In earlier times, middle class voters from manufacturing states voting together in an effort to protect their industries was quite common. The Democrats and the Republicans have both become more ideological recently, so this sort of alliance seems unlikely. As globalization continues itll be interesting to see if these sorts of alliances can form in the future.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Does Santorum have a shot?

Conventional wisdom has it that Mitt Romney has all but locked up the nomination, even though the very first caucuses won't start for a few hours yet. Usually, I don't put much stock in conventional wisdom about elections (where the wisest choice is often to abstain from predicting anything), but this time might be a little different. Romney really does seem unstoppable. Making Romney's case once again, here's Ezra Klein:
Let’s say fortune smiles on those of us who need to sell papers and Santorum edges out Romney. That would be front-page news all across the country. Santorum would be on the cover of every magazine. He would be booked for every political talk show. He would be the subject of every op-ed page. And yet, not a person out there — perhaps not even Santorum himself — would think for a moment that a Santorum victory in Iowa means that Rick Santorum will be the Republican nominee for president in 2012. Indeed, for all Santorum’s sudden strength, the InTrade betting markets give him a 4.5 percent chance of capturing the nomination. Some surge.

...

Rather than challenging Romney, Paul and Santorum are preventing a challenge to Romney. There is reason to think that a candidate like Newt Gingrich or Rick Perry could make a strong run at Romney if they caught momentum out of Iowa. But Paul and Santorum are squeezing those candidates out in Iowa, and since Romney is almost certainly going to romp to victory in New Hampshire, it’s much harder to see where a plausible not-Romney can score an upset victory that would actually change the underlying dynamics of the race. The strength that Paul and Santorum are showing in Iowa is, in other words, a boon to Romney’s chances, not a threat to them.

And once Romney begins racking up primary wins, he’s the nominee.
I find this argument pretty convincing, but it also has a pretty huge problem. Nobody "thinks for a moment" that Santorum can win, but why can't he win? Personally, I'm finding it surprisingly difficult to say.

Compare Santorum to Ron Paul. (As Klein points out, Intrade considers them both about equally likely to win.) Paul has spent a very long time challenging Republican orthodoxy. He's a fringe political figure, but he's a fringe political figure with a reputation. Party activists types already have an opinion about Ron Paul; he's got a lot of enemies; his positions are notably idiosyncratic. Many of his supporters are the crankiest of the cranks. The idea of Ron Paul heading up the GOP ticket turns most of the party elite to stone. There's no way Paul could realistically surmount the obstacles between him and the nomination.

Next to Paul, Santorum looks... not so bad.

Okay, he certainly has major weaknesses. His campaign doesn't have much of an organization (basically, it's all in Iowa). He's not well-known. And his primary focus is on social conservatism and bombing Iran, while the conventional wisdom -- there it is again! -- says that 2012's Republicans are concerned with economic issues.

But are these actually persuasive reasons for ruling Santorum out? I'm not so sure. His organizational issues are a hindrance, no doubt -- but a couple of solid wins (Iowa and South Carolina, for instance) will raise his profile fast. What about the importance of focusing on the economy? Here, I think the conventional wisdom really is wrong. Yes, the economy will probably be the central issue in the general election, because there's been more cause for voters to change their mind about it over the last four years than anything else. But primaries aren't about picking between different ideas for leading the country, they're about picking candidates that sync most closely with a party's views. Last I checked, the GOP hasn't abandoned social conservatism, even slightly.

Finally, there's Santorum's relative anonymity. In my view, anonymity isn't a weakness at all -- it's Santorum's greatest strength. If the last few months have taught us anything at all, the list of qualifications for being a Romney alternative is incredibly short:
  • Must be more conservative than Mitt Romney
  • Must not be Jon Huntsman
The list of things that can help disqualify a candidate from being a Romney alternative, on the other hand, is longer:
  • Can't remember executive departments
  • Committed sex crimes
  • Is less electable than Mitt Romney
  • Wants to reduce military commitments overseas
  • Megalomania
  • Not knowing what Libya is
  • Being, like, maybe a huge racist
  • Flirted with supporting universal health care
  • Granting small kindnesses to illegal immigrants
As of right now, many Republican voters presumably realize that Rick Santorum is both more conservative than Romney and is also not Jon Huntsman. And according to six months of polling data, that's quite enough for Santorum to earn a good number of those votes. The more they learn about him, though, the more likely they are to find that he's actually kind of a bad pick.

If you look at things that way, Santorum's actually entering the race in a state of peak electability: he's an anonymous conservative with no visible political blemishes. He is, in other words, nothing if not superior to the deeply-tarnished, widely-loathed, not-so-conservative Newt Gingrich... who, people have happily been conceding, once posed a major threat to Romney. So what gives? Why was Gingrich viable while Santorum isn't? Why is Santorum continually lumped in with Paul? Is he really worse or more embarrassing than pre-surge Cain?
Like I said, I'm going with my gut here. I expect Romney to sweep to victory in a few hours. Still, "poor odds of winning" isn't the same as "no chance whatsoever," and it sure seems like a lot of people are saying the latter while there's only really any evidence for the former.