Decision 2016: the 404 Error Page War

404 ErrorGentle reader, Daniel Bean has written the most important article yet about the 2016 presidential election, The Presidential Candidates’ 404 Pages, Ranked. For those of you who are not computer freaks, a 404 page is what a web server sends out when it can’t find the actual page requested. It used to be, one would usually see just an awkward and ugly page proclaiming, “Not Found.” This was generally followed by some lightly technical jargon about URLs and ports. But it has pretty much always been possible to have custom error page and now most websites use them. And as Bean points out, often to great effect.

The Uninspired and Just Plain Bad

But not always. Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina both have standard 404 pages. They are very similar to the error page for Frankly Curious — boring but not embarrassing. Ted Cruz manages error pages by loading his home page. That may seem like a good idea, but it is actually very bad from the standpoint of usability. It confuses users, but then most Ted Cruz supporters are already pretty confused.

Lindsey Graham, however, has a 404 page that is embarrassing. It the default kind that says, “I couldn’t be bothered to provide a proper error.” So the visitor is told, “Not Found.” This is followed by the standard detailed but useless message, “The requested URL /franklycurious was not found on this server. Apache Server at Port 80.” The question comes to mind: if he can’t hire a competent web designer, how is he going to fill his cabinet? (Note: if you go to his direct site — instead of the subdomain, which is the first thing I found — he does the same stupid thing that Ted Cruz does.)

But what is amazing — thrilling in its total horribleness — is Rand Paul’s 404 page. It is a standard page from CloudFlare with a search box and “results” from the site. It looks just like those awful pages that come up when a website’s name registration lapses. But the truly horrible part is that regardless of what you enter into the search box, the same results come up. I’m sure this will be fixed soon, so don’t miss your chance to have Rand Paul waste your time and bandwidth!

The Inspired and Often Good

Bean didn’t much talk about the bad 404 pages. He focused on the good ones. And there are a number of them. Shockingly, God’s elder brother Rick Santorum has a snarky but compelling bit about Hillary Clinton. I think this is a political mistake — it uses that image of Clinton in sunglasses texting where she looks cool and in charge. But at least the page looks good. I think it looks a lot better than Marco Rubio’s page. Of course, Marco Rubio’s whole website kind of sucks.

Martin O’Malley’s 404 page is okay. It’s him on a horse with the headline, “Hold Your Horses. You’re Going the Wrong Way.” But I’m with Bean in not really liking it. It seems vaguely embarrassing and I’m not sure why. He might have been better off with the Carson or Fiorina model.

Hillary Clinton’s 404 page is charming. It features a picture of the young Clintons with Donald Duck with the headline, “Oops, that link wasn’t what it was quacked up to be.” Bean considers it the best. I understand this; I just don’t agree.

Hillary Clinton 404 Page

I think there is something to be said for having a little dignity. In Clinton’s case, the “fun” angle might be good because people tend to think of her as kind of intense.

Mike Huckabee’s 404 page is nice, and more straight forward. [Update: it is now used to sell stuff, which is really all Huckabee is about. -FM] It isn’t quite as good as it could be because the image of Huckabee fishing isn’t great. And it too has a sad joke, “Oops! Looks like you caught the wrong page.” It’s a little bit charming and a little bit, “Ugh! My grandpa’s on Facebook.” But that’s fine.

It isn’t surprising that I like Bernie Sanders’ 404 page the most: I’m inclined to like him. But I really do think it is the best in an objective sense because it is so Bernie Sanders. It is a short YouTube video that starts automatically. Sanders explains that you have come to the right website but not the right page. And it is said with the same kind of direct and authoritative tone that he explains why the minimum wage needs to be raised.

Regardless, I think it is great that these candidates took the time to create customer 404 pages. The truth is that it is only freaks like Daniel Bean (and me) who are likely to ever see these pages. But I’m really glad that Bean brought the issue to my attention. I think he was wrong, however, when he wrote, “You probably should not base your vote in the upcoming election on this.” You definitely should! And by that, I mean that you should vote for Bernie Sanders.

GOP’s Lack of Women: Extremism Not Polarization

Congressional Women by Year

Here is a little factoid that will tell you almost everything you need to know about politics in America. There are currently 14 Democratic women in the US Senate and there have only ever been 17 Republican women in the Senate. The graph above is from Derek Willis’ article at The Upshot, GOP Women in Congress: Why So Few? It shows the total number of women in Congress since World War I. Up to 1990, the two parties were pretty much the same. But since then, the Republican Party has become unhinged. The Democratic Party is almost to the point of gender parity. But the Republican Party has flatlined.

Sadly, Willis’ article is kind of an apologia for the Republicans. If you read it very carefully, you will see that there really is something wrong with the Republicans. But the article tries very hard to make it all about the dysfunction of the system itself. The Democrats are electing a whole lot more women and the Republicans aren’t, “And political polarization seems to be a major reason.” How is that? Well, the argument seems to be that those women who are Republicans are more moderate — thus less likely to make it through the primary process. Yet, “Democratic women who are potential congressional candidates tend to fit comfortably with the liberal ideology of their party’s primary voters…”

This isn’t “political polarization”; this is “Republican extremism.” And this is something that I’ve written about a lot around here. I still find it hard to fathom how it is that Republicans continue to get roughly half the vote in presidential elections. People who were happy with the Republican Party of Nixon and Reagan should be quite comfortable with the Democratic Party of Obama. The fact of the matter is that there isn’t really a liberal party in the in the United States. We have an extreme right, even proto-fascist, party in the Republicans. And we have a centrist party in the Democrats. It is only relative to the Republicans that any kind of case can be made for the Democrats being liberal.

The whole thing indicates why in our system liberals can never succeed by “moderating.” The Republicans have moved hard and fast to the right. Democrats have moved slowly to the right — that’s especially true on economic issues, but even regarding social issues, the party often lags behind the public. The the huge gulf opened up by the intensity of the Republican move causes journalists to discuss the change as “political polarization” as if what had happened was the Republicans and Democrats both moving to the extremes. In addition, people like Peter Wehner are able to claim that Democrats are the real extremists without being laughed out of polite society. It’s just ridiculous.

It’s pretty clear what would cause the parties to be more symmetric in terms of female participation. The Democrats could become more liberal. That would make the existing Republican Party more appealing to women in the middle of the political spectrum. So increasing polarization would cause more female Republicans to be elected to Congress. Of course, the same thing would happen if the Republicans became less extreme. But that just proves the point that the issue is Republicans extremism and not polarization.

Almost 51% of the nation is female. Yet when one party sees an enormous growth in the representation of women while the other sees its growth stagnate, it is time for yet another column about systemic polarization. Journalists not being able to discuss the issue honestly is one of the things that allows this situation to continue. The Republican Party ought to be ashamed of the current situation. But no: the problem isn’t them; the problem is just “the system.”

The Purpose of Lester Bower’s Death

Lester BowerLester Bower is dead. The state of Texas killed him last night. He had been on death row for 31 years. It’s not clear whether or not he was guilty of the crimes he was convicted of. At this point, there was certainly reasonable doubt — not to mention a shadow of a doubt. But once you are convicted of something — regardless of how bad the trial or your representation — it is really hard to get your conviction overturned. For roughly three decades, Bower had been trying to get the judicial system to consider the new evidence that almost certainly would have exonerated him had he been given a fresh trial.

People I talk to — death penalty advocates most especially — have a really screwy idea about how “justice” works in this country. They think that every person put to death has been found guilty three, four, or more times. This is literally never the case. Appeals only deal with whether the original trial was fair. So even when there is new information, it tends to be discounted unless it can be shown that it was improperly withheld in the original trial. As Radley Balko noted in The Washington Post yesterday, “‘Beyond a reasonable doubt’ is the alleged standard at trial. But once you’ve been convicted, you’re essentially tasked with proving your innocence.”

So the system is started and everyone involved in it just watches it proceed. It’s like a car with its cruise control set running down innocent people. And all anyone cares about is that the system works. It was it set at 65 mph; is that the speed with which it ran people over? Then it’s fine. It’s amazing to think about. And it reminds me of the 2012 Republican presidential debate when Rick Perry was asked if he ever lost any sleep over the thought that anyone had been wrongly put to death in his state. He said no, because appeals blah blah blah. Of course, he isn’t like most people; he has to know how limited and flawed the appeals process is. He just doesn’t care. Because he’s evil.

Of course, there was nothing special about Lester Bower. He’s one of many people who at bare minimum the state hadn’t proved guilty but nonetheless executed. Imagine if we had a large supply of small trash cans face down on a conveyor belt being fed into a machine that then crushed them. And there were people running around and lifting up the cans before they were fed into the machine, showing that there were kittens underneath many of them. Would any reasonable person say, “It’s good we saved those kittens, but obviously none of the cans that get crushed have kittens under them.” That would be madness. But of course, that’s what death penalty advocates say. Every time someone on death row is exonerated, they proclaim that it shows that the system works, and call for more executions.

I really don’t get it. In the video above, the audience twice breaks out in cheers — In less than a minute! — about the fact that Texas executes so many people. These are not people who are considering whether these people are guilty or innocent. They simply don’t care. They have no sense of empathy. They think the people being executed are “those” people — never people like themselves. Rick Perry’s argument is that the death penalty is justice — completely side stepping the question, which asks how we can know that.

Last night Texas killed another most likely innocent person. But his innocence hardly matters. His death serves a symbolic purpose. It allows death penalty advocates — big and small — to say to the world, “We’re tough!” In a sense, the fact that Bower is innocent makes it all the better. It says they are willing to even kill the innocent in the name of protecting the innocent. It’s a sad day in American, but then, almost every day is. Forgive us Lester Bower.

Morning Music: Pretenders

PretendersMy friend Will is a big Pretenders fan. I’ve never been quite so hot on them, but I did go through a period where I really liked, Learning to Crawl — especially their third person cover of The Persuaders’ song, “Thin Line Between Love and Hate.” The truth is that the Pretenders are really good at doing other people’s music. Another song that comes to mind is “Stop Your Sobbing,” which is infinitely better than The Kinks’ version.

But my favorite Pretenders song is a Chrissie Hynde original, “Kid.” When I was younger, I always heard the song as being sung to a child. Now it doesn’t sound like that at all. But there is a clear power differential: the singer has it and “kid” doesn’t. It’s kind of like “Thin Line between Love and Hate,” but during a period when the abuser is more appreciative of the love she is receiving, more regretful for the pain she causes.

Anniversary Post: Hot Air Balloon

First Public Hot Air Balloon FlightOn this day in 1783, the first public modern hot air balloon flight occurred. The idea that heat rises is very old, so it is always hard to discuss issues about hot air balloons. They have been around a really long time. The Chinese used hot air balloons for military communication in the third century. But the modern hot air balloon was created by the Montgolfier brothers — Joseph-Michel and Jacques-Étienne. They invented what you think of when someone mentioned having brunch in a balloon.

A brother-in-law of mine has his own hot air balloon and he and his daughter take the thing up all the time (when the weather is good). I find these contraptions extremely scary. But this is just because they are extremely dangerous. A friend of mine had her arm and two ribs broken in a bad landing in a hot air balloon. It was about to land when a big wind came up pushing it sideways. The crew were much more badly hurt.

Still, I think that hot air balloons are cool. And in the 18th century, it was the “only way to fly.” Now, I’ll stick with the airplane.

But happy birthday hot air balloon!