Sunday, March 2, 2014
Both have been here before—many times—and come home empty-handed. Deakins, who shot Prisoners this year, now has 11 Oscar nominations but has never taken home a trophy. Newman, the composer for Saving Mr. Banks, is on his 12th nomination without a win. And they're just the most extreme examples of this year's nominees waiting to hear their names called for the first time: Lone Survivor sound designer Wylie Stateman is on his seventh nomination; five others, including Gravity cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (who in my opinion is already due an Oscar for some of the finest cinematography ever in Children of Men), are staring an oh-for-six in the face.
In addition to being really unfortunate for the nominees, this is also relevant information in the neverending quest to predict the Oscars. Many pundits look at longtime losers and give them higher odds of winning, thinking they are "due." The law of averages may be a fallacy, the logic goes, but Oscar voters nevertheless feel sympathy for these perennial bridesmaids, throwing them an Oscar as a kind of lifetime achievement award.
If this is the case, though, how have we ended up with people on their 11th and 12th winless nominations? The "due" argument didn't ring true to me, so I decided to canvass past Oscar results to see if it held any water. It turns out not only that nominees are no more likely to win coming off a losing streak, but also that their chances actually decrease the more the Academy rejects them.
It's a strange paradox. Receiving nomination after nomination suggests that you're an Academy favorite; if anything, that should lead to a better-than-average win rate. But for this exclusive club—people with at least five Oscar nominations in competitive categories—it doesn't always work out that way. The table below shows how many people with at least a certain number of Oscar nominations—let's call the number n—were still winless when they received that nth nomination. The table also compares this to what we would statistically expect, if Oscar winners were chosen completely at random (given that most categories have five nominees per year, "random" is defined as everyone has a 20% chance of winning—and an 80% chance of losing).
For five-, six-, and seven-time nominees, fewer go winless than we'd expect, thanks to high win rates among less veteran nominees. But as the table shows, and as the graph below brings into sharp visual focus, the actual winless percentage quickly overcomes the theoretical winless percentage as we look at Hollywood's most-nominated elite.
Here, then, is the paradox: after a certain point, continuing to get all that recognition in the form of nominations—yet continuing to lose on Oscar night—actually starts to suggest that the Academy is pointedly not voting for you. Your chances start to shrivel up as early as the 0-for-5 "milestone"; people entering their fifth or higher nomination without a win have historically won that nomination just 13.8% of the time. As you'll see in the table below, that's inflated because nominees have still found success at levels like their sixth and eighth nomination. Someone doesn't truly hit rock bottom until they achieve 10 nominations and zero wins; people on their 10th or higher nomination who haven't won an Oscar by then have only triumphed 6.9% of the time (six out of 87 tries).
The win rate jumps around a lot because of small sample size, but on the whole it's not pretty—certainly below the randomized 20% benchmark in most cases. The sixth- and especially eighth-nomination win rates are interesting anomalies, suggesting there is a last-gasp window for perennial Oscar losers to prevail before being cursed to double-digit oh-fers. The average win rate on the sixth nomination feels like it is early enough to still fall into the random variance of non-veteran nominees—in other words, it's conceivable that someone could make it to five winless nominations not by being repulsed by voters, but rather just through random chance...and then their turn comes in Round Six. This is the escape hatch through which Lubezki is expected to drop when he wins his first Oscar tonight—and it's why his four other fellow 0-for-5ers have a fighting chance tonight where Deakins and Newman (more on them in a second) do not.
Meanwhile, the high eighth-nomination win rate is driven by an excellent 50% (four out of eight) win rate among actors and directors on their eighth nod without a win—without which this percentage would fall to a below-average 18.9% (seven out of 37). On this, I am open to the theory that Academy voters do throw sympathy votes to famous nominees who are overdue for an award. Acting and directing Oscar nominees are household names, even outside of Hollywood; others, such as sound designers and cinematographers, are decidedly not, even inside Hollywood. Justly or unjustly, it is possible that Oscar voters just don't notice when technical crewmembers go winless, but the omission is far more glaring when it's an auteur or superstar. Eight nominations may simply be the breaking point for this kind of glare. The jury is still out for sure, however, because four in eight is far too small a sample to draw meaningful conclusions from.
There is also some suggestion in the data that, for extremely unlucky nominees (those on their 18th or 19th nomination, or worse, without a win), voters finally do wake up and throw them sympathy Oscars. (Perhaps it just takes 10 or so extra nominations before the media gives the same kind of attention to winless mortals as winless celebrities.) People on the 19th nomination or higher without a win have a 33.3% success rate—two out of six, in absolute terms. However, because of the small sample size at these high altitudes, we cannot be sure if this holds any statistical significance.
Still, overall, people who we would see as "due" for an Academy Award actually fare very poorly. Again, it's particularly evident from the table how the win rate really craters around 10 winless nominations. Returning to the original point of this post, it's bad news for Roger Deakins and Thomas Newman, who fall exactly within the dead zone. People in Deakins's position have historically won just 7.1% of the time, and those in Newman's have in fact never gone home happy. Suffice it to say, you should not be picking either of them in your Oscar pool on the basis that the Academy considers them due. And, appropriately, both of them are considered extreme longshots by pundits to prevail tonight.
Clearly, serial losing is not a coincidence; it suggests there's something about you the Academy doesn't want to vote for. Yet it remains a familiar refrain among Oscar prognosticators that a nominee will win because he or she is due. Occasionally, being due even boosts a nominee's odds of winning in the eyes of the public. But it is just not a valid argument for saying someone will win.
In baseball, if you have an .000 batting average, the smart money for your next at-bat isn't on you getting a hit; more likely, you're just a really terrible hitter. It's no different when it comes to the Oscars. Once you hit 10 nominations and no wins, it's valid to start telling yourself, "They don't like me. They really don't like me!"
Thursday, February 27, 2014
Well, luckily, I've been following this year's Oscars race as closely as if they were a Colorado recall election. Below are my own Cook-esque "ratings" of each of the 24 Oscar races—complete with "leans," "likelies," and "tossups." Now, note that these represent not my personal picks (which in some cases differ), but rather my view on where the conventional wisdom lies for each category. My hope is that, when you tune into the Oscars on Sunday night, these ratings serve as a viewers' guide to how well the night is staying on script.
Best Picture: Leans 12 Years a Slave
On a night that should otherwise feature few surprises, this may very well be the most competitive Best Picture race in years. 12 Years a Slave is seen as favored, but quite a few pundits (myself included) are picking Gravity, and American Hustle was also seen early on as a potential dark horse.
Best Director: Solid Alfonso Cuarón
Cuarón faces no realistic competition. His Gravity was so technically heavy, and reliant on his vision, that no one in Hollywood doesn't think he deserves this.
Best Actor: Solid Matthew McConaughey
The star of Dallas Buyers Club has swept the precursor prizes, although at least one pundit is picking Leonardo DiCaprio in Wolf of Wall Street. But there's no reason to think McConaughey has slipped up or done anything to cough this up.
Best Actress: Solid Cate Blanchett
Not even the controversy surrounding Woody Allen can screw this up for Blanchett.
Best Supporting Actor: Solid Jared Leto
Leto's performance as a transgender AIDS patient in Dallas Buyers Club is the stuff Oscar loves. If Michael Fassbender hadn't refused to campaign for his role in 12 Years a Slave, we might have had a race, but he did and we don't.
Best Supporting Actress: Likely Lupita Nyong'o
The one acting category that's even remotely competitive. This looked safe for Nyong'o for a long time, but Jennifer Lawrence has picked up steam in some observers' eyes, and momentum is important in Academy races.
Best Adapted Screenplay: Solid 12 Years a Slave
An easy win for the Best Picture favorite in a race where it doesn't have to face its two biggest rivals, neither of which qualified in this category.
Best Original Screenplay: Tossup
This is a good old-fashioned horse race between American Hustle and Her—the former the Best Picture juggernaut, the latter the quirky low-budget film this category loves.
Best Animated Feature: Solid Frozen
Or Frozen solid. Ha. Ha. Ha.
Best Foreign Language Film: Likely The Great Beauty
Best Documentary Feature: Leans 20 Feet from Stardom
Best Cinematography: Solid Gravity
Best Costume Design: Leans The Great Gatsby
Best Film Editing: Leans Gravity
Best Makeup and Hairstyling: Solid Dallas Buyers Club
Best Production Design: Likely The Great Gatsby
Best Original Score: Solid Gravity
Best Original Song: Likely "Let It Go"
Best Sound Editing: Solid Gravity
Best Sound Mixing: Solid Gravity
Best Visual Effects: Solid Gravity
Best Documentary Short: Solid The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life
Best Live-Action Short: Leans The Voorman Problem
Best Animated Short: Solid Get a Horse!
Friday, February 21, 2014
The category pits 12 Years a Slave's Lupita Nyong'o, in her first film role, against last year's Best Actress champ, Jennifer Lawrence, in American Hustle. To the naked eye, it looks like a mismatch: Lawrence is the most beloved person in Hollywood these days, and her film is the most nominated this year, with 10 nods.
But in a twist, Oscarologists overwhelmingly predict Nyong'o to prevail on awards night—and it's actually not as crazy as it sounds. The merits of their performances aside, the numbers—that is to say, statistics from Academy Award history—are on Nyong'o's side.
Two factors are seen as potential impediments to Nyong'o. The first, of course, is that she's a rookie; why would the Academy honor a performer who hasn't paid her dues? However, Oscar actually has loved debutantes in the past. A full 73 actors and actresses have been nominated for an Oscar in their first film role, and 16 of them ended up taking home the gold. That's a 21.9% success rate—not statistically dissimilar from the straight 20% odds that a nominee carries into a category with five nominees.
The second potential obstacle is, sadly, Nyong'o's race. The Academy is overwhelmingly old, white, and male—in other words, the most conservative demographic group. In the past, they have been perceived to shy away from voting for diversity (think Meryl Streep over Viola Davis in 2011 or Crash over Brokeback Mountain in 2005). But that's not exactly a fair charge. In the acting categories at least, black nominees have also triumphed at just about average rates. In fact, their 22.2% success rate (14 wins in 63 nominations) is even better than the flat one-in-five odds.
One piece of Oscar conventional wisdom is supported by the numbers, however—but it's a point against Lawrence. Academy voters like to spread the wealth and usually avoid granting a performer two Oscars in a row. Lawrence, as a winner last year for her role in Silver Linings Playbook, is thus at a disadvantage here, at least if history is to be trusted. Of the 32 opportunities actors have had to win two Oscars in a row, it's only happened five times over the years; that's a below-average success rate of 15.6%.
Those who aren't following the Oscars closely this year may think Lawrence looks like a lock in theory. But a Nyong'o win is backed up by both anecdotal and empirical evidence. Don't let an uninformed assumption ruin your Oscar pool this year.
Tuesday, February 11, 2014
A November 19 preliminary round narrowed the field to two city councilmen: Democrat David Alvárez and Republican Kevin Faulconer. Alvárez, the race's labor-backed progressive, was a surprise qualifier, taking the Democratic "nomination" most expected to go to moderate Nathan Fletcher. As a result, Alvárez has had a harder time winning over the political middle, which is more important in San Diego than in most urban areas; Democrat Mike Aguirre has endorsed Faulconer, for instance. However, Alvárez is probably better positioned than Fletcher would have been to activate the city's grassroots on the left: organized labor and Latinos in particular. While Faulconer personally has outraised Alvárez personally, Democratic independent expenditures are sitting on much more cash.
Twenty years ago, that progressive coalition could never have won a municipal election in San Diego. Unlike virtually every other big city in the United States, San Diego is not a hotbed of liberalism and a bottomless pit of Democratic votes. Historically, it has actually been quite conservative—electing just one Democratic mayor between 1971 and 2012—thanks in large part to its military heritage. The Coast Guard, Marine Corps, Navy (including the famous Pacific Fleet), and thousands of defense contractors all have a presence in the city to this day. Good defense-related jobs have also created a naturally conservative upper crust in suburbs like La Jolla, which, unlike as in most major cities, are within the city limits (and thus eligible to vote for mayor).
But, like the rest of the country, the City of San Diego is changing. Conservatives are switching their registrations to decline-to-state or moving out to the exurbs, leading to a net loss of 50,000 Republicans since 2000. Meanwhile, minority voters are the city's fastest-growing cohort, pumping up Democratic registration numbers by 9,000 since 2000. The new San Diego has amassed more and more political clout as its numbers have swelled, throwing the city's longtime conservative identity into doubt. Instead, today San Diego is as swingy as Ohio or Washoe County—and it's brought the mayoral election to within the margin of error.
So who's going to win this nail-biter battle for San Diego's soul? It all comes down to which San Diego turns out. We'll be able to see this very starkly as the results start trickling in—because San Diego's cultural divide has sharp geographic boundaries to it. It's surprisingly simple; parts of the city north of Interstate 8—which bisects San Diego just north of downtown—are Republican strongholds, while precincts south of I-8 vote Democratic, as if flipping a lightswitch. A tool by Joe Yerardi at inewsource shows what that looked like in the November 19, 2013, preliminary election (image courtesy of the Liberator blog):
At a single glance even someone who has never been to San Diego (as I have not) can distinguish San Diego's urban precincts from its suburban ones. Physically separated by the interstate as well as the narrow San Diego River, the two San Diegos are equally far apart in their political preferences. A SurveyUSA poll, conducted January 20–23, found that voters who live south of Interstate 8 planned to vote for Alvárez by 20 points (56% to 36%). North of the freeway, voters preferred Faulconer by an even larger 61%-to-34% margin.
What accounts for the polarization? As already mentioned, northerly communes like La Jolla are full of affluent, moderate Republicans; across Interstate 8, though, it feels more like Cambridge or Berkeley. These are the walkable, trendy neighborhoods of the young: Normal Heights, with a median age of 31; North Park, named a premier American hipster haunt. But, mostly, it is about race. The turf north of I-8 is as white as the Padres' home uniforms, while the city's Latinos remain confined on the side closer to the Mexican border. Once San Diego's gentrified urban neighborhoods give way, a transformation takes hold:
That map is courtesy of the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service, whose national Racial Dot Map is quite simply the most important tool on the internet today. The map makes painfully obvious the where and why of the new San Diego. The city is home to hundreds of thousands of Latinos, overlapping almost exactly with its Democratic precincts south of Interstate 8. Once you get south of the Martin Luther King Jr. Freeway (Route 94), there is virtually no one white to be found. It is these precincts—once inconsequential and outshone—that in the new San Diego can be mobilized enough to drive David Alvárez to victory. The race's final SurveyUSA poll found Latinos breaking 61% to 32% for Alvárez; whites preferred Faulconer 58% to 39%. Sound familiar?
Unfortunately for Alvárez, it remains difficult to get these voters to the polls—or at least more difficult than it is for Faulconer to turn out his well-to-do base. The conventional wisdom is that Faulconer has done well among voters who cast their ballots early—as 170,000 people, or about half the expected turnout, already have. According to that most recent poll (which had the race overall at Faulconer +1), Faulconer was up by five points with early voters.
That means we'll have a good idea where the race stands pretty early on in the night. When the early-voting results are released (hopefully right at 8pm PT, when polls close), if Faulconer leads by at least four to eight points, he has built a formidable firewall against Alvárez's Election Day ground game, widely viewed as superior thanks to organized labor and Democratic community organizing. If not, we may well be in for another night like the preliminary election: one where Alvárez gets closer and closer as it gets later and later, until he comes from behind for the win on the very last vote dump.
More is on the line tonight than a simple mayoralty, however. This special election is set up pretty perfectly for the GOP. A Democratic incumbent was caught in a sex scandal, giving them a shot in a low-turnout special election at a seat that is usually only up for grabs during minority-turnout-heavy presidential years. It is a chance for the GOP to recreate something more like the off-year 2005 mayoral race, when 70% of voters lived north of Interstate 8, and less like the 2012 election, when just 57% of voters did.
Yet it's not looking like they'll get there. In this onetime conservative stronghold, the Republican candidate is still fighting for his life—suggesting it's less about the turnout conditions and more about simple, inexorable demographic change. If Faulconer cannot win under these conditions, Republicans may never win City Hall here again—and that, in turn, would signal the passing, once and for all, of the old San Diego.
Monday, January 20, 2014
I hope @MrBrianKenny can work up some righteous indignation about these Oscar nominations. Not seeing a lot of transparency in process!— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) January 16, 2014
Oscar nominees announced. Cue the outrage over the voting process! Did anyone put an inferior movie on their ballot? C'mon Twitter! #sarcasm— Tyler Kepner (@TylerKepner) January 16, 2014
(And yes I know HOF voting process can and should be better. Just funny how it's the only non-political election anyone complains about.)— Tyler Kepner (@TylerKepner) January 16, 2014
A few weeks after the Hall of Fame election unleashed perhaps baseball's greatest internecine vitriol yet, some BBWAA members were clearly still smarting. The Hall election that they administer has come under attack for both its results and its process, and many voting members got defensive about it. What this Oscar comparison revealed is that they clearly think they are being singled out for criticism—with the implication that this is unfair. The BBWAA's sins are no worse than any other imperfect voting system, they believe, yet baseball's zealots attack them with unprecedented nastiness that's disproportional to the severity of the crime. Why can't we all just get along like those nice people in Hollywood?
It's hogwash. Because anyone who uses the Oscars—the Oscars–as an example in their argument that the Hall of Fame gets exposed to an undue amount of criticism is not a very close watcher of Hollywood's awards season.
The Oscars, of course, are second-guessed all the time—not just by fans, but by the media and blogosphere too. People are still fuming about Crash's defeat of Brokeback Mountain for Best Picture of 2005, and accusations of racism flew after Meryl Streep defeated Viola Davis for Best Actress just two ceremonies ago.
But that's just the results.
People in the Oscar-watching business have the same complaints about their voting process as baseball observers do about the BBWAA's. The difference has been—are you sitting down for this?—the Academy has actually listened and changed its voting process in response.
Probably the best example of this happened two years ago when controversy erupted over the Best Original Song category. Across all of 2011, the Academy's music branch found just two songs worthy of nominations, despite a long list of excellent qualifiers. Having just two nominees in a category and at an awards show more accustomed to five was an embarrassment for the Academy, and sharp criticism of the music branch's convoluted nomination system flew in from all sides. Within a few short months, the Academy announced that it would throw out the old process and switch to a simple new method: the five songs with the most votes would get nominations. It wasn't hard, and no one felt like it undermined tradition. The following year, Adele's "Skyfall" bested four other solid nominees in the category.
What's that? Best Original Song doesn't have the same prestige and tradition around it as, say, Best Picture? Well, the Academy has futzed with that award too—probably more than any other. Prior to the 2009 Oscars, the Academy stirred the pot by announcing it would double the number of Best Picture nominees—and change their method of choosing a winner from first-past-the-post to instant-runoff voting. The changes were a response to criticism that smaller, independent films with strong but not widespread followings were being crowded out of the Best Picture race by the Hillary Clintons and Mitt Romneys of the race that had the resources to compete. The Oscars had always been a competition with five contestants—not only for Best Picture, but to this day that remains the number of nominees in almost every Oscar category. Yet the Academy wasn't afraid to mess with tradition to make their process better.
Two years later, the Academy tweaked the process again based on feedback and perceived issues with the new Best Picture experiment. Currently, instead of forcing 10 Best Picture nominees in a year that might not merit it, the Oscars' nomination system is flexible enough to produce anywhere from five to 10 nominees. The modified instant-runoff voting system is complex but ingenious. Imagine that—a group always striving to improve its election process, even at the edges. The Academy has a very instructive lesson for the BBWAA here: if you change your process and don't like it, you're not stuck with it. Every change can be a learning experience, and you have as many tries as you need to get it right.
Finally, the Oscars are continually adding and reinventing categories as needed. The award for Best Makeup was created in 1981 as a direct result of the outcry over The Elephant Man's (1980) lack of recognition for what was obviously to so many an award-worthy makeup job. An award for Best Animated Feature was added for 2001 in order to address the Academy's longstanding anti-animation bias. Today, there are movements afoot to add categories such as Best Casting, to split categories such as Best Makeup and Hairstyling, and to combine categories such as Best Sound Mixing and Best Sound Editing.
So, no, the Hall of Fame is not the only non-political election that people complain about. Within the baseball universe, people hear incessant complaints about baseball's election process; in the blogosphere of Oscar watching, the chorus for change is equally loud. So it is within any industry, really—from similar crowd-pleasing rules changes at the Emmys to choosing the next monarch of England. The BBWAA simply thinks they're alone in receiving criticism because they're not plugged into any of these other circles. Maybe if they were, they'd learn a valuable lesson: other organizations bend under the weight of public pressure to improve—and almost none are worse off for doing so. If the BBWAA is upset because it feels like it is the only election that people hurl their invective at, maybe they should also consider that theirs is also the only election that refuses to evolve.
Monday, January 13, 2014
As I do every year, then, here's a list of the dates of each state's State of the State address for 2014—updated in real time as dates are announced. Tune in for an unbeatably rich appreciation of local politics; alternatively, after each speech is delivered, I'll link to the transcript on this page as well.
Alabama: January 14 at 6:30pm CT
Alaska: January 22 at 7pm AKT
Arizona: January 13 at 2pm MT
Arkansas: No speech in 2014
California: January 22 at 9am PT
Colorado: January 9 at 11am MT
Connecticut: February 6 at noon ET
Delaware: January 23 at 2pm ET
Florida: March 4 at 11am ET
Georgia: January 15 at 11am ET
Hawaii: January 21 at 10am HAT
Idaho: January 6 at 1pm MT
Illinois: January 29 at noon CT
Indiana: January 14 at 7pm ET
Iowa: January 14 at 10am CT
Kansas: January 15 at 6:30pm CT
Kentucky: January 7 at 7pm ET
Louisiana: March 10 at 1pm CT
Maine: February 4 at 7pm ET
Maryland: January 23 at noon ET
Massachusetts: January 28 at 7pm ET
Michigan: January 16 at 7pm ET
Mississippi: January 22 at 5pm CT
Missouri: January 21 at 7pm CT
Montana: No speech in even-numbered years
Nebraska: January 15 at 10am CT
Nevada: No speech in even-numbered years
New Hampshire: February 6 at 2pm ET
New Jersey: January 14 at 3pm ET
New Mexico: January 21 at 1pm MT
New York: January 8 at 1:30pm ET
North Carolina: No speech in even-numbered years
North Dakota: No speech in even-numbered years
Ohio: February 24 at 7pm ET
Oklahoma: February 3 at 12:30pm CT
Pennsylvania: February 4 at 11:30am ET (budget address)
Rhode Island: January 15 at 7pm ET
South Carolina: January 22 at 7pm ET
South Dakota: January 14 at 1pm CT
Tennessee: February 3 at 7pm ET
Texas: No speech in even-numbered years
Utah: January 29 at 6:30pm MT
Vermont: January 8 at 2pm ET
Virginia: January 8 at 7pm ET (McDonnell) and January 13 at 7pm ET (McAuliffe)
Washington: January 14 at noon PT
West Virginia: January 8 at 7pm ET
Wisconsin: January 22 at 7pm CT
Wyoming: February 10 at 10am MT
National: January 28 at 9pm ET
Saturday, January 11, 2014
There was a lot of anger this week. There were people saying anyone who didn't vote for Greg Maddux should lose their right to vote. After one writer actually was stripped of his right to vote, the liberal writers and bloggers who condoned the Deadspin poll suggested that nonserious voters like Murray Chass get their votes revoked instead. And I've seen it written that the Hall of Fame needs to step outside its current voting process and form a committee to get PED users like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens into the Hall, because the current process clearly won't be voting them in any time soon.
I want to be 100% clear: as I've said many times, I believe Bonds and Clemens are Hall of Famers. I don't believe players should be banned for life from the Hall of Fame because they committed offenses that weren't even enough to get them banned a single game when they played. (For those who played during the drug-testing era, I believe that MLB's clearly delineated rules—50 games for a first offense, 100 for a second, and life for a third—set the ground rules for a player's eligibility. If someone fails three drug tests, he's banned for life, including from the Hall. If he fails less than three, he served his time and all should be forgiven.) I also believe that Murray Chass, Ken Gurnick, and others were wrong and destructive to have voted the way they did—opting for Jack Morris over Greg Maddux, choosing to leave slots on their ballot open when there are up to 20 Hall-worthy players, etc. etc.
But, to be clear, I also believe that millions of Americans were wrong when they went into the voting booth on November 6, 2012, and voted against my preferred candidate. Likewise, I hate that a small minority of people don't treat their vote with the respect that I, as a lover of politics and a junkie for government, believe it deserves. People make silly write-in votes, or they vote for third parties in extremely close and consequential elections. But that's their right; people disagree sometimes. And I don't support efforts to change the way we elect presidents because other people happened to be allowed to vote for someone else—and certainly not because a small minority of people acted really stupidly. (That's always going to happen.)
Therefore, while I sympathize deeply with those in baseball who are frustrated with the BBWAA's incompetence (in my opinion) to elect worthy candidates, I urge my compatriots to tone it down a bit and think about the reforms they're proposing. The key phrase in the previous sentence is "in my opinion"; other people can have different ones, and we need to accept that. I don't think I'm any more flabbergasted than any of you at the ignorance that some voters put on display, and I agree that they'll probably never come around and that that's unacceptable. But think about Rand Paul or Elizabeth Warren or whoever might be your own ideological opposite; they probably drive you up a tree too. "How can he THINK THAT?!?" you've probably yelled at the TV. Well, because this is America.
We have to be rational enough to draw the line between process and results. If we don't like the results—even if we find the results completely maddening, irrational, and corrupt—we can't automatically think the process must also change. It's easy to think we've crossed over that line where the ends justify the means: "Barry Bonds is so obviously Hall-worthy that any process that doesn't elect him is necessarily wrong." Except that's a big problem, because 65.3% of BBWAA voters—and probably a comparable percentage of the public—don't agree. Extend that logic to politics—"Ron Paul is so obviously the best candidate for president that any process that doesn't elect him is necessarily wrong"—and the undemocratic nature of that kind of comment becomes clear.
(It's this kind of logic that has led to laws, such as voter-ID laws, that load the die in favor of one party over another. Both sides have historically been guilty of trying to change the rules because they so desperately believe decision-making power must be taken out of the hands of those who disagree with them. I oppose these laws even more than I oppose laws that I'm ideologically against because they specifically undermine what should be the bipartisan priority of fairness.) People do have a right to their opinion, and saying so isn't a squishy way to evade the issue. It's a reality we have to deal with. Instead of trying to oppress others, it's something we have to learn to adapt to. That's the only way we can—hopefully—move on to the stage of trying to persuade others to our side and return to a productive dialogue.
Make no mistake—authority must be flexible, and so some rules must sometimes change. The Constitution has to be a living document, and the BBWAA bylaws must change with the times. That's why I support changes that vast majorities of the BBWAA (say, two-thirds or three-fourths) can agree on—just like we allow our Constitution to be changed via the amendment process. I believe eliminating the "you can vote for a maximum of 10 players" falls into this category; I don't think I've seen a single baseball writer still defending that rule. But when it comes to disqualifying certain voters for the contents of their votes—no matter how disrespectful—or forming committees that circumvent a majority, we should not even be considering it. It would, quite literally, be the BBWAA version of tyranny.