Saturday, December 1, 2012

Quantifying politics

So if I had a team of interns working for me, here's something I would have them do.

1. Quantify the relative value of each elected, partisan office in the country. Maybe the President is 10000, a Senator is 50, a Congressperson is 10, a Governor is 200, a state senator might be 2 a state legislator 1 etc...

2. Count up the values each party has currently.

3. Repeat this for every year in US History (adjusting for changing numbers of offices).

4. Plot that out.

But I don't. And it's kind of a Hurculean task.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Presidential Probability - Winners and Losers

A few years ago, I created a spreadsheet that calculated one's probability for becoming president in the future based on other factors (like offices held and success or failure in previous races). With the 2012 election over we can now look at who won and who lost - assuming that all of these players want to be President - and by how much. They're ranked from biggest winner to biggest loser. [Obama isn't listed, because he is already President]

Joe Biden - Winner - Being re-elected to the Vice-Presidency, Biden's odds of becoming president actually went down from when he was elected four years ago (29.55% to 25%). This is because his path to the presidency has changed. People elected president usually ascend to the White House following the President's death. People re-elected VP have always been elected on their own (and the number would be a good bit higher but for Gore's narrow loss). Still, had he lost re-election he would have joined the likes of Walter Mondale and Dan Quayle as Vice-Presidents who sought re-election and lost. Then his odds drop to 0%, so that's a pretty big change in odds.

Obama's new cabinet members - Winners - There will be new cabinet members, and some of them will find themselves elevated to a 0.38% chance of becoming president (For Senators, this is no improvement).

Romney's would-have-been cabinet members - Losers - Some of them would have been given Cabinet positions and for many of them, that would have increased their odds of becoming president (if only marginally), just as Obama cabinet members will.

The Romney sons - Losers - All are male and all are 35 years old or older but Craig. The four older sons would have seen their chances for becoming President go up to 3.23% and Craig's would be at 2.27% until he became old enough (none share Mitt's first name, but that doesn't matter now). Now their chances are pretty much the same as anyone else's - pretty close to 0%.

Paul Ryan - Loser - Being nominated was a big win for Ryan. It elevated him from the minuscule level of a House member (0.83%) to the level of a major party Veep nominee (13.33%) but had he actually won the Vice-Presidency, his chances would have jumped again to 29.55% instead of dropping to 7.45%. This somewhat overstates his chances. Most of those failed VPs who became Presidents were in the days when the Electoral College vote was a little less rigid. Since 1840, being the losing VP and going on to be elected President has only been pulled off once - by FDR. That would give him about a 1.5% chance, still nearly double where he was before.

Mitt Romney - Loser - Had he been elected, obviously his chances of becoming President would have gone to 100% (or perhaps less barring a sudden death or Electoral College scandal), but since he lost, his chances drop to 8.89% (though, in reality probably even lower).

If there are faithless electors, then there will be more chances for winners and losers, but I doubt that getting a faithless elector vote for President actually gives you a 1 in 5 chance of becoming President. It's probably more a recognition of your credibility - it doesn't make you more likely.

Below is the full table of rolls and probabilities.

If you… % chance # of people who've done it # who eventually became president
Win the popular vote for President† 93.75% 32 30
Come in first in the Electoral College 97.37% 38 37
Are appointed Vice-President 50.00% 2 1
Are elected Vice-President 29.55% 44 13
Are re-elected Vice-President 25.00% 12 3
Receive Electoral College votes for Vice-President 12.90% 124 16
     - same as above less faithless electors 13.33% 120 16
     - same as top and lose†† 7.45% 94 7
     - same as above less faithless electors 7.87% 89 7
Come in 2nd in the Electoral College* 12.50% 48 6
    - same as above post 12th Amendment 8.89% 45 4
Are appointed Secretary of State** 9.23% 65 6
Come in 3rd or lower in Electoral College 4.44% 45 2
    - same as above less faithless electors 2.50% 40 1
         - only faithless electors 20.00% 5 1
         - same as above post 12th Amendment 0.00% 19 0
Are elected Speaker of the House 1.89% 53 1
Are the legitimate child of a President 1.31% 153 2
    - who lives to 35 2.35% 85 2
    - are a son 2.27% 88 2
        - who lives to 35 3.23% 62 2
        - who shares his father's first name 12.50% 16 2
Become a Senator** 0.85% 1877 16
Are appointed a Cabinet official (other than State)** 0.38% 524 2
Elected to House*** 0.18% 10251 18
Run for re-election as Vice-President and lose ‡ 0.00% 3 0
After record keeping began in 1824. Not all states are accounted for though. The Constitution specifies that the president and vice president be chosen through the votes cast by electors chosen by the states, rather than by a direct popular vote. At first, some electors were chosen by state legislatures, but by 1836 all states but South Carolina chose electors through a statewide popular vote. (S.C. followed suit in 1860.)
*John Qunicy Adams shows up twice because he came in 2nd then became president and then came in 2nd again
**Not counting those ineligible for Presidency
†† In place of nominated
James Sherman was running for re-election for Vice-President in 1912, but died days before the election. His ticket came in 3rd. He is not counted here since he was ineligible for re-election.
*** Best number I could find. It's difficult to find an accurate list of all former house members, and thus to eliminate ineligible house members

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Vietnam, Korea and the White House

For most of American history, wars have tended to produce Presidents. Washington, Jackson, Grant, Hayes, Garfield, Arthur and Eisenhower were all generals during war, and veterans of all of the "major" American Wars of the 18th, 19th and early 20th centure: the American Revolution, War of 1812, Mexican-American War, Civil War, Spanish-American War, World War I and World War II have served in the White House. In fact, the majority of Presidents have been veterans (if you count Reagan, Carter and G.W. Bush).

But it appears that the Vietnam War will join the Korean War as the only major American Wars to not produce a president. The longest span between the end of a war and a veteran of it being nominated for president was the 51 years between the end of World War II and the nomination of Bob Dole. If that is the limit, then Korea's clock ran out in 2004. Vietnam's runs out in 2026. Which gives Vietnam Veterans 3 more chances, but it doesn't appear that there are any who will emerge.  After three straight failed nominees - Gore, Kerry and McCain - it's hard to imagine a Vietnam Vet who will run or be nominated. Many of the Vietnam Veterans who've served in congress have retired, and Bob Kerry lost his race to rejoin the Senate.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Election Day

1. If Romney loses, and if you want to try and designate the moment he lost it, I think there are two candidates. One is when he penned the editorial "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt." True, he didn't choose the title, but he didn't protest it too much either. It is one of the few positions he took in the gulf between the 2008 campaign and the 2012 one and it turned out it was both wrong and politically damaging. He might have won Ohio without it. The other moment was when he overestimated the threat that Perry represented and tacked to the right of him. This caused him to go hard on the issue of the immigration. I think a Mitt Romney who supported the Dream Act would be the favorite today instead of the underdog. But that Romney was strangled to beat a candidate who could have just been ignored.

2. Romney has been out of elected office for 6 years. The last candidate from one of the two major parties to have been out of office that long was Dwight Eisenhower in 1952, because he never held elected office before being elected president (making him something of anomaly). If we don't include him for this reason, we have to go back to Wendell Wilkie in 1940 - who also never held elected office. Then there's Hoover in 1928. But if we want someone who once held elective office, but had been out for 6 years or more, you have to go back to John W. Davis in 1924. By the time he ran for president, he'd been out of the House for 11 years (though during that time he'd been Ambassodor to the UK and Solicitor General). Let's say we want to find someone who never held an appointed or elected office for at least 6 years. That eliminates Eisenhower and Hoover (though Wilkie still never served in the government).

So, what if we want someone who once served in elected office, but then didn't serve any government role for 6 years and was the nominee of one of the two major parties of the time. How far do we have to go back then? We have to go back to William Jennings Bryan who in 1908 had been out of the House for 13 years.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Monster(s) in my Midst

A couple of recent events - the Jerry Sandusky case and the release of the Boy Scout's perversion files - have led me to reflect on an event from my own childhood that parallels the two events.

I was in Boy Scouts my whole childhood - and pretty active in it too. About 6 months after I joined my troop, one of the assistant scoutmasters (let's call him Larry) resigned. When I asked my parents aboout it they were pretty straightforward with me about it. Jerry had also been an assistant football coach at the high school I would eventually attend and my mother told me that he had "approached" a boy in the shower. That was reported to school officials, and he agreed to resign and leave town. And that's what he did. He packed up his family and moved half-way across country.

This was handled rather matter of factly as I recall. It was not reported in the media, and though it was an open secret, no one ever said "hey, this is wrong. We should prosecute the guy, or force him to seek counseling or something. But just making him leave town is only pushing the problem onto someone else. It's highly likely they'll be other victims because of it." Two years later, my troop was at an event in Larry's new home state and he stopped by to say hello. No one was creeped out by him and I remember being glad to see him. None of the adults in the troop, at least one of whom was there when he left, thought that his visit was inappropriate.

When the Jerry Sandusky case broke, I naturally started thinking of this event. What ever happened to the guy, I wondered. So I looked him up in his new home state. Sure enough, about 10 years after the incident in my hometown (and about 8 years after I last saw him) he committed some crime that got him registered as a sex offender. I'm not sure what he did, but I can guess. I wonder now if the victim in that case knows about what happened to Larry in Texas; how people kind of knew what they were dealing with, and pushed Larry their way. I wonder if they thought about suing.

Then, this month, the Boy Scouts released their perversion files. I searched them, and even though many of the "perverts" listed in it were listed by number, Larry was in there by name. There was a file on him about the incident that got him run out of town. The story I had heard was wrong. Larry didn't approach a high schooler at the shower of the high school, he molested two boys on a Boy Scout camping trip. A trip I was likely on. Even though I don't know which two boys he molested, I definitely know them. I knew everyone in my troop. I guess I was lucky it wasn't me, but it feels weird to feel lucky that someone else was sexually assaulted.

So now I wonder, did my parents know the real story (probably not and they don't claim to). The parents of the two victims, according to the file, decided not to prosecute. Do they know what happened to Larry later?  Do they regret that decision? And what about the school officials - a Catholic school I should note - where he worked? They knew. Or the scout troop leaders? And how many victims did Larry leave in his wake before he was caught?

I guess my main thoughts on all of this is that the Jerry Sandusky case is only special in that he was so high profile. This story, or one similar to it, played itself out in town after town, all across the country, for decades. I hope that now we're in a place where no one would just "run the guy out of town on a rail." and that we'll look back on that behavior the same way we'd look at "Colored Only" drinking fountains, as an ignorant and fear-based behavior that now seems so far out of step with American values. The people who made these decisions are people I know well (even when I'm not sure who decided what). Good people. In some case people I admired. And they made these horrible decisions because that's what you did at the time. I'd like to think that these kinds of decisions aren't made anymore. And I wonder what decisions I'd make today that would be looked at in the same way 30 years from now.

Anyway, this seems like an appropriate post for Halloween. There are monsters out there, and some of them are upstanding community leaders.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

On Romney, Service and Ambition

Mitt Romney is a man of considerable talent and ability - a real life John Galt if you will. He claims that he wants to be president to help the American people. In 2008, after the election was over, he found himself largely free of commitments. He could have done anything. At the same time, American was plunging headlong into the worst economic recession in 80 years. So what does a man of such talent with free time and a drive for service do when Americans are suffering - a man who believes in the private sector and that government doesn't create jobs or solve problems? 

In Mitt Romney's case he raised money for Republican candidates, wrote a book and served on the board of Marriott. 

He did not fund raise for charities, create a foundation or otherwise dedicate his extensive business and political skills towards alleviating the problems that Americans face. When Americans were hurting and Romney could have dedicated himself to service in a non-governmental role, he chose to run off to Galt Gulch and wait for the collapse to complete. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Weekend of the World

1. If Oscars were given for one's cumulative effort over the year, Matthew McConaughey might get a nomination for best actor. None of his roles this year are good enough on their own, but he's put together a group of good efforts and yes, in some he takes his shirt off.

2. Film making is a relatively new art form. Closely related to stage drama, it is a collaborative art. But unlike the stage it is permanent rather than ethereal. How many thousands of plays have come and gone, lost to humanity forever? And while films have been destroyed and lost or, like Savannah Smiles, merely forgotten many of them remain. We've already seen movies remade over and over again. Rear Window has not only been remade, but it was the basis for Disturbia and Fright Night (which itself has been remade). So is it getting harder and harder to come up with a truly original story?

Monday, October 8, 2012

Weekend of the World: Debate

1. Trying to discredit Obama by calling this the "Worst economic recovery" in xx years is a little like criticizing a coach for an ugly win. First of all, there haven't been that many recoveries since the Great Depression, so it's kind of a small sample size. Second, this recession was worse than all those others. And third, no growth still puts you in the middle of the spectrum. It's not as good as strong growth, but still better than a recession. Of course, Americans are optimists, so slow growth won't meet with their expectations. There are certainly things that Obama could have done to make the recovery better (It's almost always true that people can do better, but the more you expect the less likely that is to be possible), and I'm sure the administration would have done things differently if it had thought it might lose Sen. Kennedy's seat in early 2010 or known had bad things were, but still, this isn't as devastating an attack as people make it out to seem. It's like a college freshman complaining about how lousy his girlfriend is in bed - there are still a lot of virgins who would gladly trade places with him (Spain, Greece, etc..).

2. At the debate, Romney had the advantage of being able to behave as though we were in a crisis, but Obama had to behave as though we were not. He had to be calm and low-energy. Not that he didn't suck, but he had some disadvantages going in.

3. In the $20,000 pyramid category "Things Obama wished he'd mentioned at the debate" you can add this: when Romney was going on about his ability to reach across the aisle, Obama should have mentioned that Romney, in one term, used his veto power 844 times - and that 700 times the legislature overrode it.

4. What Joe Biden should have said after Ryan's laugh line about him knowing  "that sometimes the words don't come out of your mouth the right way".  "Y'know I've had my fair share of gaffes. In fact I might be an expert in gaffes. And that was no gaffe. That was him speaking from the heart." OR "I know gaffes. Gaffes are my forte, and that was no gaffe."

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

My Best Debate Questions

The first presidential election I voted in was in 1992. That election was notable for a lot of reasons, but one that stuck with me was the introduction of the town hall format in which undecided voters were allowed to ask questions.

I remember being disappointed with the questions that were asked, though going back and re-reading them, I realize I was too harsh.

Aside: It's really interesting to read old debate questions and answers knowing what we know now. For example, in '92 someone asks the candidates when parties will nominate women and/or African-Americans for president. No one gives a date, but they all say they'd like to see it within their lifetime. Perot even names a few possibilities: Colin Powel (who he thinks will be on someone's ticket in '96), General Calvin Waller (who died before the '96 election), Sandra Day O'Connor and Dr. Bernadine Healy Bush throws out Dr. Lou Sullivan. Meanwhile, America's first African-American president was then a new law professor at the University of Chicago working on registering voters for the '92 election.

Anyway, ever since then, I often find myself thinking about what question I'd ask were I given the chance. I often gravitate to questions where all answers are somewhat unappealing, perhaps because that gets one close to the truth, perhaps because it reveals some lie. 

Below I've listed the best questions I've been able to come up with. They're in no particular order, except for the last one. Also here's some questions by Ruth Marcus. And others from Politico

Obama: Are American's better off than we were four years ago, and if not, why shouldn't we change leadership?

Ryan: You have advocated for a government that is small and limited. You have simultaneously criticized the President for not using the goverment to undo damage to the economy that was enormous and widespread. Isn't pursuing a small, weak government tantamount to asking that government be less capable of solving big problems? Do you see any disconnect between what you advocate for and what you criticize the president for?

Romney: In a video you made while at Bain Capital, you said it would often take 8 years to turn a company around, and yet you've criticized the President for not turning the country around in half that time. Why is reviving the nation's economy easier than turning a single business around?

Obama: Why haven't you dealt with the fiscal cliff yet? And what is your plan to do so? Do you believe the threat of it is hurting people, and if so do you regret agreeing to it?

Romney: In your 2008 concession speech you predicted that President Obama would "retreat from the war on terror" and "declare defeat", that a win by Obama "would mean attacks on America, launched from safe havens that would make Afghanistan under the Taliban look like child's play. About this, I have no doubt." Do you believe your prediction was accurate? If not, how much credence should we give your prediction this year that "If Barack Obama is re-elected...the future will not be better than the past."?

Romney: During the primary you bragged that you'd never had a DC address. Why do you think that is a good quality, especially in light of the fact that you ran for the Senate and named someone who's lived in DC for more than a decade as your Vice-President?

Romney: A central claim of your campaign is that, as a successful businessman, you are uniquely qualified to restore the economy, because you understand how the economy works. Looking at American history, which presidents do you think follow that model? Which successful businessmen, once in the White House, became good shepherds of the US Economy?


During the primary, Rick Santorum said of you "The experience Gov. Romney keeps touting out there is not the experience you need to be president. A CEO directs people to do what the CEO thinks is right to do, and those people work in his chain of command. Senators and congressmen don't work for the president. You've got to work with people, not order people." Isn't that a valid point? 

Both: The day after Paul Ryan's convention speech, a lot of the discussion was about what the independent fact-checkers were calling untruths within it. No one's hands are clean. For example, Politifact has labelled X of Gov. Romney's statements as Pants on Fire and only Y of President Obama's. And yet, both sides turn to the fact-checkers for defense when the other side is found at fault. Unfortunately, this campaign is becoming a race to the bottom.Would you both be willing, from now until the election, to use the fact-checkers - or some other group you can agree on - as a referee, submitting ads to them for approval before running them, pulling ads found to be egregiously untrue and issuing apologies for statements that are deemed the worst level of falsehoods such as "pants on fire"? Or maybe you could have a standard bet on facts? Perhaps $10,000? Gov. Perry may not have been a gambler, but you know the guy who invested in Solyndra is. 

Romney: You've claimed the stimulus didn't work and that what we need are tax cuts to get the economy going, but 36% of the stimulus WAS tax cuts. So if tax cuts are what is needed, then why didn't the stimulus work?

Obama: You came to office promising to change the way Washington worked, with the implication being that you would be a post-partisan president. I think it's safe to say that you've failed in that. Where did you go wrong? How partisan do you predict a 2nd Obama term would be?

Romney: At the convention you said that ""If Barack Obama is re-elected...the future will not be better than the past." Do you think the United States is so weak that it is only one bad president away from an eternal downward path? 

Obama: A lot of people are out of work, and have been for a long time. Median income is down. Despite promising to change Washington, it's more partisan than ever. You failed to close Guantanamo, pass cap-and-trade legislation and comprehensive immigration reform. As a result, a majority of Americans say they don't think you've earned a second term. Are Americans wrong to be disappointed in you?

Both: (via Walter Pincus) "If the need arises again to send American forces to fight abroad, would you get authorization from Congress and a special tax to pay for those operations?"

Ryan: After the midterm election, Sen. McConnell said that "The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president." He didn't say that it was to create jobs. Do you think that Republican efforts to deny Obama a second term undermined their ability to achieve lesser goals like creating new jobs?

Romney: You've been unwilling to make more than 2 years of your tax returns public. You've also avoided telling Americans the specifics of how you would pay for the tax cuts you propose while reducing the deficit. You're a businessman. Would you invest in a business that would only show you last year's financials and would not provide you the details of their business plan?

Romney: Some have characterized the absence of George W. Bush from your nominating convention as a tacit admission that his presidency was a failure. But at the same time, a lot of your advisers served in the Bush administration. So do you think George W. Bush was a successful president or not?

Both: When President's leave office, there is often an ugly pardon process in the final days. In addition, many find it unseemly when President's pardon former political appointees as both of the Bush's did. Would you commit to a promise to never pardon one of your political appointees for crimes committed during your presidency and to no pardons between the Presidential election before you leave office and the day you leave office?

Both47% of Americans pay no income tax. Is this a problem and if so, how do we solve it?

Romney: If you were a successful governor of Massachusetts, why is it that only 6 years after leaving office, you aren't likely to win the state in November?

A note before the final question: Let me point out that I believe the following question is very dirty pool. It really is not fair, because it is designed to make Romney look like a racist, and I don't believe he is a racist. Nor do I believe that an answer of "no" makes one a racist. But, if that were his answer, it could be a devastating question.  I wouldn't ask it though and I wouldn't respect someone who did.

Romney: Some people have said that your campaign's attack on the welfare waivers the Obama administration issued was a racial dog whistle. This, combined with the behavior of a few bad apples at the RNC who threw peanuts at a reported and the fact that you're polling at 0% among African-Americans creates for some the perception that while Republicans are not racists, the Republican Party is where racists find a home. So I wonder, have you ever voted for a black person and if so, who was it and when?

Monday, October 1, 2012

Weekend of the World - Irony and Elections

1. With all the money that is moving from wealthy Americans - money that would have probably sat in stocks or other forms of savings and holdings - to the world of advertising and campaigning, well over $2B; it is like a little bitty stimulus package paid for mostly by a tax on the wealthiest Americans.

2. SAT scores are down on the verbal element. But students who used to not take the test are now taking it because more kids are going to college. Which means comparing one year's results to another is meaningless. A better analysis would be to compare the average SAT score of incoming freshmen at the top 100 colleges. That, I suspect, is going up. As near as I can tell, the Flynn effect is still happening and the SAT's probably adjust for it automatically. So another good question is how would today's students do on the older tests?

Monday, September 17, 2012

Weekend of the World - Egg and Chicken

1. The egg came first - The euphemistic question: "Which came first, the chicken or the egg" doesn't really need asking anymore . Thanks to evolution we know that the egg came first.

Once there were no chickens, but there were two birds that were nearly chickens, but not quite. And those birds got it on (cluck clucky cluck cluck cluck...oh yeah. Aside: I'm sure you can find not-quite-chicken pornography on the internet if you're interested). The female not-quite-chicken was knocked up and laid an egg that contained a slightly mutated offspring that was genetically a chicken - the first chicken - the Eve of chickens if you will. But Chicken Eve definitely came from an egg, because that's where chickens come from, so the answer to "Which came first the chicken or the egg?" is definitively egg. And when someone says "We have a chicken and egg situation here." You can reply "No we don't, we have a situation where we don't know the chronology of events."

2. Obama's flexibility comment - Back in March, Obama was caught on a hot mike telling Russian President Medvedev "This is my last election. After my election I have more flexibility." when talking about missile defense negotiations with Putin. The right pounced on this as a sign of Obama's duplicity and just this week I saw Lynn Cheney comment on it (Why is she relevant again?) The assertion seems to be that Obama is telling us one thing and Putin another and thus he's lying to us. Now I'm not sure exactly what he's telling Putin that he's not telling us. He basically tells Putin he can't negotiate on any of this stuff right now. Is he telling the American people something different? But even if we're hearing a different story, what makes people so sure that he's lying to US. Certainly there are times when, strategically speaking, it is useful to stall, and telling him that he can't deal until after the election - even though he doesn't plan to deal at all - has got to be a tried and true technique. Of course, Obama can't pull us aside and tell us - "Shhh....I'm just telling him that to delay. I don't plan on being any more flexible if I win re-election."

Monday, September 10, 2012

Dollar Store Dentistry

Recently I watched a Frontline episode on children's dentistry and Medicaid. In a nutshell, it is difficult - but not impossible - to turn a profit on providing dentistry to children on Medicaid. But it's important that the system be well-managed to avoid perverse incentives like choosing more profitable/expensive procedures when cheaper ones are available.

Then, I read about how J.C. Penney will start offering kids free haircuts. This is a classic loss leader strategy, the idea being that once people have invested the time in going to J.C. Penney, they'll end up buying enough merchandise to cover the cost of the haircut.

But why stop at haircuts? What if JC Penney stores (or Dollar stores or any store that might serve the same clientele that relies on Medicaid) set aside a small space for a dentist's office and then they offered dentistry to Medicaid patients. All they would really have to do is break even and then they'd reap the benefits of the same spillover shopping that they're hoping to get from the haircuts. They could even team up with Kool Smiles (or a similar, not under investigation business) to provide them low rent space inside their stores to get that spillover. They could also make themselves look like the kind of place that, y'know, actually cares about kids health.

Not that this is the best solution to dealing with health care for those who can't afford it, but it might be a good one under the current system.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Weekend of the World - Promises, Promises

1. The whole Ryan-GM plan thing is starting to bother me. Paul Ryan said about Obama at the RNC
"When he talked about change, many people liked the sound of it, especially in Janesville, where we were about to lose a major factory. A lot of guys I went to high school with worked at that GM plant. Right there at that plant, candidate Obama said: 'I believe that if our government is there to support you, this plant will be here for another hundred years.' That's what he said in 2008. Well, as it turned out, that plant didn't last another year. It is locked up and empty to this day."
Now the thing is that none of that is a lie. Every single statement is true. Some of the fact-checkers have labelled it some level of misleading or incomplete, and I agree with Matthew Dowd who was the chief strategist for the Bush-Cheney 2004 campaign who said that Ryan "was trying to convey that Barack Obama was responsible for the closing of the GM plant, and that isn't true."  Mostly I do so because without the implication, this part of the speech is meaningless. Obama's statements are completely unrelated to what happened at the plant (because the government didn't support them), so why mention them together, other than then to create an unflattering implication?

But still, the facts are correct.

But that isn't what bothers me. It's these two things:

One is that some Ryan supporters are overplaying their hand. George Will, in the same conversation with Dowd, insisted that the plant did close under Obama because the last jobs didn't leave until April. Now, one could reasonably argue that the plant closed in December when the closure was announced and most jobs went away; or that it closed in April when it actually shut down. But what one can't argue is that Ryan was accurately talking about the April date. Obama's speech was in February 2008. Ryan said the plant "didn't last another year." So either he was talking about the December date or he was wrong/lying about how long it took to close.

The other thing that bothers me, is that when Ryan finds himself in a situation where he can take the high ground and say that he wasn't lying - that his statements were mischaracterized, he instead acts as though he regrets having missed an opportunity to lie. So then he starts lying. He says "What I was saying is the president ought to be held to account for his broken promises." Sigh.... Here's what Obama said:
And I believe that if our government is there to support you, and give you the assistance you need to re-tool and make this transition, that this plant will be here for another hundred years. 
What Obama never says is the word "promise". [He does say it 8 times in the speech, but he's talking about "America's promise" or promises by others]. This is a classic, if-then statement. The "if" was never done, so we can't complain about the "then" not happening. Obama is stating a belief - that's not the same as a promise. Not at all. [And since when has Paul Ryan been pro-big government bailouts and interventions in the market? Isn't he for letting businesses stand or fall on their own?]

So while Ryan didn't technically lie at the RNC, he has pretty much every time he's talked about it since (and he did so before as well).

2. While Romney seems to be behind Obama right now, Obama supporters have reason to be concerned.

Until now, Obama has been spending more money, but that will change. Romney has more money on hand, will likely raise more money between now and the election and he's now free to start spending it.

Romney will likely gain from the debates. Studies show that it makes the challenger look more presidential. And he's not a bad debater, so he's unlikely to pull a Rick Perry.

It's hard to imagine the economy getting much better, but it's easy to imagine it getting much worse. A collapse in Europe or China, or concerns about the fiscal cliff or something unforeseen could all cause a sudden negative change in the economy. Romney would likely gain from that.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Weekend of the world - Invisible Obama's Invisible Birth Certificate

  • Better Medical records - I recently had surgery, and every time I go to the doctor, they ask me if I have any allergies. Every time. The same doctor. Don't they write anything down? It's like having a goldfish for a doctor. I can't believe that we haven't got a better system yet. I should have an electronic medical file that any doctor can access (and every one has to) and will know the results of every test I've taken, every drug I've been prescribed, every diagnosis I've ever had, everything.  Dental records, the dermatologist, everything. I got a dip/tet vaccine booster recently because I couldn't remember when I'd last had one, so I was given another just in case. I can't be the only one. These kinds of things must account for a lot of waste. How many people don't remember the answers to important questions? How many people don't understand their own medical history? How much waste and how many errors does all of this account for?
  • Random history factoid - I realized that no matter who wins the election in November, we could end up going 16 years with Presidents who served in office in a state other than their birth state (Bush - Connecticut and Texas, Obama - Hawaii and Illinois and possibly Romney - Michigan and Massachusetts). In fact, the last three losing nominees were all the same (Gore - DC and Tennessee, Kerry - Colorado and Massachusetts and McCain - Panama and Arizona). This would be the longest stretch ever, eclipsing the 15 years and 6 months put together by Arthur (Vermont and New York), Cleveland (New Jersey and New York) and Harrison (Ohio and Indiana). I guess it's testament to how much more transient we've become. A Romney win followed by a tragedy could break that because Paul Ryan is a native of Wisconson (Biden was born in Pennsylvania but served in Delaware).

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Weekend of the world: Armstrong

Thoughts about items in the news.

1. Neil Armstrong - I think the guy was a fantastic pilot and engineer and probably was the best choice to command Apollo 11 and thus be the first man to walk on the Moon. But he was probably a poor choice to be The First Man to Walk on the Moon. The first part is about his ability to do the job of the mission, and in that - by all accounts - he excelled. According to people in the know, it's possible that with another Apollo astronaut at the helm, they would have had to abort the landing, so it's hard to argue with his selection in that respect. But the second part has to do with his role for every day after he got back. What NASA could have really used was someone less humble, less interested in a quiet life and more interested in the spotlight. A person who would grant every interview (or most at least) and go on talk shows at key points in the space program and an icon who could have been a tireless and unquestioned advocate for NASA, space exploration, science funding and engineering in general might have served the public good better. That person could show up at house science committee meetings to ask for more money and who is going to attack him? For NASA it might have been a missed opportunity, but it's hard to imagine who they should have chosen instead.

2. Akin breakin' heart - The first thing I thought of when I heard Akin's answer about self-aborted pregnancies was the book Watership Down in which the author notes that rabbits can in fact do this. Of course, people aren't rabbits and most Congressmembers should know this. Talking about "legitimate" rape is definitely offensive and I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and allow that he meant to say "forcible" rape. But that's only slightly better. Saying that 13 year old girls who consent to sex with an uncle or girls with down syndrome or girls who are raped while passed out, can't have an abortion if they choose to do so is pretty offensive. But also (not equally, but also) offensive is how far off he is on the science. This is not a guy who was talking off the cuff about a subject he isn't vested in. This is a guy who is very involved in abortion and has introduced legislation on it. And worse, in my eyes, is that he's on the freakin' House science committee. That he should have such a complete misunderstanding of the science is professional malpractice and is unforgivable. Unfortunately, it's all too common. I was once at a dinner where I sat next to a member of the House science committee (they determine NASA's budget) and his knowledge of space and science was appalling. He didn't know the Moon had no atmosphere. He didn't know that the Moon wasn't really "on the way" to Mars. He thought the Moon was "halfway" to Mars. So, this is what we have to deal with.

3. There were originally three good opportunities for Romney to get a bump and take the lead in the election: when choosing his VP, the convention and the first debate. There are other events that could occur (bad unemployment reports, collapse of Europe, etc...) but those are "planned" the way these are. The first came and went with no real bump. I doubt the second will, as people have too many other options on TV and for entertainment. Those who tune in will be the decided and they'll tune in to see the candidates validated their opinions (good or bad). Everyone likes to point to the '92 Democratic convention and the big bump Clinton got. What no one mentions is that Perot dropped out of the race, a bit crazily, on day one of that convention. So a lot of that bump was because the race changed from a three man race to a two man race. Anyway that leaves the first debate. Challengers usually win this. They suddenly are seen as equal to the President and for a host of other reasons they often do better. And Romney is a pretty good debater. So if you want to know when the race will be won or lost, it's probably the debates (or unemployment numbers).

3b VP choice. - George Stephanopoulos asked a Democrat earlier this year who "they were most afraid of." He meant who would be most likely to help Romney win.  But that isn't what scares me. The VP has three jobs: Candidate then Adviser and then, maybe, President. A bad Adviser doesn't scare me, because they will just be compensated for by other advisers, and a good Adviser probably only makes the presidency 1-2% better. But a bad President is a very bad thing. So if you plot out how good a Candidate someone is on the X axis and how good a President they would be on the Y, the people who scare me are in that bottom right quadrant (good Candidate, bad President). For me that isn't Paul Ryan. He's probably in the middle in both regards. Marco Rubio might be that person, or Rep. Joe Walsh (just because he'd be so bad as President), but not Ryan is not. Luckily I think people are pretty good at discerning this. Mondale, GHW Bush, Gore, Cheney and Biden were all pretty fit to be President. Quayle is possibly the only one that got through. Palin, Edwards and Ferraro, on the other hand, were all pretty weak (with Edwards being the "scariest" one since he was such a good Candidate).

4. I like Oregon to beat USC twice this year, once close and one a blow out. Then go to the BCS title game and lose to the SEC champion. But not so much that I'd put money on it. I love that in the College Gameday season preview they didn't even mention Missouri or Texas A&M when discussing the SEC. Welcome to irrelevance guys.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Why isn't everyone just ignoring Harry Reid

Sen. Harry Reid (D) of Nevada has claimed that someone told him that Mitt Romney didn't pay taxes for 10 years, but he won't tell us who that person is beyond being a Bain investor. Now why a Bain investor would know how much tax Mitt Romney paid, but almost no one else does, I don't know.

Even if we believe Harry Reid is telling the truth - that someone did in fact tell him this, the credibility of this story falls only a little bit above "In a dream I had, a leprechaun told me that Romney paid no taxes for 10 years." On a 100 point credibility scale, the story is in the low single digits. But the media is running around like a bunch of junior high instigators saying "Mitt, you aren't going to believe what Harry said about you."  in the hopes that they'll fight by the softball field after school.

And Mitt is taking the bait. Here's what he should have said the first time he was asked about it.

"And how credible do you think Harry Reid's claim is?"

Because if they don't think it very credible - and I don't think anyone does, then the response is "Then why are you wasting our time with this?"

Now Reid has oversold his story, saying things like "you do pretty well if you don't pay taxes for 10 years when you're making millions and millions of dollars" and "the word is out that he has not paid any taxes for 10 years. Let him prove he has paid taxes, because he has not." which crosses the line from "Here is what someone told me, and I can't confirm it, so take it at that value" to insisting something is true with the flimsiest of evidence. 

Had he not, he would have had a better position. I don't think there would be anything wrong with reporting something he heard, which he thought was credible, as long as he includes all the caveats - like "I can't tell you who it is" and "That, and that Romney won't release his returns, are the only evidence I can offer." He could even say that he gives it little value, based on the lack of evidence. Then everyone can consider it and discount it appropriately.

So Harry Reid is showing poor judgment (or lying), the media is showing even worse judgement and Romney is mishandling the whole thing. 

Monday, July 16, 2012

Welcome to Nothing More Powerful

Welcome to my other blog - Nothing More Powerful. The title is a reference to the Victor Hugo quote "There is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come" because the general gist of this blog is just a place for me to dump many of my crazy and unexplored ideas. Unlike my other blog, this one will not focus on any theme really, except things that interest me. So there will probably be posts on college football, lesser sports, politics, government, Star Wars, star wars, space exploration, reasons why Charles Krauthammer should be punched in the face, history etc...but probably nothing on cooking, Dancing with the Stars,  Harry Potter or Romania. Posts will be infrequent, so I wouldn't check in every day unless you like disappointment. I've started with some edited posts that I original ran elsewhere and one new, original post. 


On the aftermath of the Obamacare decision

The Supreme Court recently released it's decision* on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare). In the wake of the decision, which I'm not really discussing here, there has been a lot of spin that's been difficult to sort through. Here are my thoughts on what's being said and specifically what's accurate and what is not
  1. First of all, there's been a lot of discussion about whether or not the "shared responsibility payment" paid by people who can afford health insurance but choose not to buy it is a tax or a penalty. Reading the decision the answer is pretty simple. Basically it is a tax but it's not a tax because it's a penalty. OK...maybe it's not that simple. Chief Justice Roberts basically says that it's a tax in the eyes of the Constitution because "it produces at least some revenue for the Government." So any fee, penalty, tax, royalty etc... that produces some revenue is a "Constitutional tax."  But within the law, Congress called the payment a "penalty" instead of a tax. Within laws passed by Congress "tax" has a specific meaning different from a fee, penalty, etc...and, is treated differently than these others things. For example, the Anti-Injunction Act applies only to a tax. In this case, the Anti-Injunction Act does not apply because it is not a tax - as defined by Congress. That it is not a tax as defined by Congress was a unanimous decision, but that it is a tax as defined by the Constitution was only 5-4. So the confusion comes from one word -tax - being used for two different and distinct but overlapping meanings (similar to the way the word "man" can be used to refer to all people or specifically to men or to an individual male). To more clearly state what I wrote before:  Basically it is a "Constitutional tax" but it's not a "legislative tax" because it's a "legislative penalty."
  2. Some pundits have accused Obama of lying about Obamacare's status as a tax. Back in 2009, Obama, in an interview with George Stephanopoulos said pretty emphatically that it was not a tax. But then he had the Solicitor General argue that it was a tax and was thus a constitutional use of Congress' taxing power. Both of those statements are true, but they are not contradictory. Obama was arguing that it was a "constitutional tax" and not a "legislative tax," which the Supreme Court agreed with in it's entirety.  And, the Solicitor General argued that it was not a tax for the purpose of the Anti-Injunction Act, with which the Court also agreed.  So when he told George Stephanopoulos that it wasn't a tax that wasn't a lie, as long as he was talking about it legislatively.  And not only is that the more charitable position to take, it is the more logical one. Calling the penalty a tax under the Constitution's taxing power is a bit of an esoteric statement, fitting for a courtroom but not every day speech. Colloquially people don't refer to every fee or penalty as a tax. And really this isn't a tax in the classic sense, because it isn't intended to raise money. The purpose is to modify behavior by making it more expensive to live without insurance. Ideally, from the government's standpoint, no one would pay the penalty, because everyone who could afford insurance would buy it. If your goal is to have no one pay it, then it isn't meant to generate revenue and it isn't really a "tax" in the colloquial use of the word.
  3. Others, including Romney, have called Obama a liar because he promised he wouldn't raise taxes on the middle class. Politifact does call this a promise broken, but they're taking a very expansive and literal view of that promise - one that includes increased taxes on cigarettes and an increased tax on tanning services. So if you take that view, then the outcome of the Supreme Court decision calling the payment a 'tax' is irrelevant since he'd already broken it and if you take the view that Obama was only referring to income taxes on people making less than $250,000 it's also irrelevant since this isn't an income tax. He was either already a liar (or he had already broken his promise) or he isn't one now. This decision didn't transform him into a liar. It's also worth asking if breaking a promise is the same as lying. 
  4. Meanwhile, some conservatives are saying they lost the battle, but won the war. George Will called it a "substantial victory" and Charles Krauthammer celebrates that " the Commerce Clause is reined in." But I'm unclear on what behavior they think is stopped. The Obama administration wasn't arguing that the Commerce Clause gives Congress unfettered power. Neither is anyone else. Their point has always been that this was an exceptional situation because the need for healthcare is "unpredictable and involuntary." Much was made of the fact that no one could find a good precedent, beyond a gun purchase mandate from the 18th Century, for this law; and Justice Scalia went to a ridiculous example - having the government mandate the purchase of broccoli [which fails the limiting principle Verrilli gave because purchases of broccoli are never unpredictable or involuntary] - perhaps because he couldn't think of a realistic possible action that the government might take. Even then, Verilli agreed that no, the government can't make you buy brocoli. So everyone was in agreement on that. The Obama administration was saying that in general Congress can't compel you to enter a marketplace, but that health care is a unique exception, and the opposition said that health care wasn't unique, with which the Supreme Court agreed. But that isn't much of a gap between the two sides, making the decision pretty narrow. And I don't know what other laws - current, proposed or existing only as a twinkle in a young legislator's eye - George Will thinks has been stopped by this decision. I don't think there is one. 
  5. Romney's position has been harder to understand, but eventually correct. First, his spokesman said that Romney thought that it was a penalty (which is correct) but that it wasn't a tax (with which the entire Supreme Court disagrees). Romney later said that he would go with the ruling of the Supreme Court, so it was a tax (which is correct). Romney also said that in the law he signed in Massachusetts the mandate wasn't a tax, which is also probably true depending on Massachusetts law. So, it appears that Romney's final position is correct. The federal "shared responsibility payment" is technically a tax, but not in the way that most people actually use the word. It is only a tax as defined by the Constitution in a way that is mostly unused outside of Constitutional scholars. It is primarily a penalty. The Massachusetts law is also a penalty and isn't a "tax" as defined by the Constitution because the Constitution isn't relevant to state taxing. But it may be a tax under a some other definition within state law of which I am unaware.
  6. Paul Ryan, to name one person, has criticized Obama for calling the payment a "penalty" instead of a tax because had it been called a tax, it would never have passed Congress. We can't really know if that is true, but if it is, it says several things. First, it says that Congress isn't using the right criteria  when voting. If calling something a penalty instead of a tax is all it takes to change the outcome of a vote, when the substance of the bill being voted on doesn't change at all (except for how it's treated by the Anti-Injunction Act), then it would appear that Congress is too concerned with syntax. It also appears that Ryan is accusing the President of tricking Congress into voting for the law because "he says one thing to get this past Congress and then another to get it past the Supreme Court" which also doesn't speak well of Congress. Are they really so easily fooled?  The answer to all of this is likely that, yes, Congress is too concerned with syntax. But making a 99.999% trivial change to a law, like what to call a payment, that changes it from dead to passed is not hypocrisy or lying. It's good legislating and good leadership and good politics. So that may be why Ryan finds it "frustrating".
  7. When it appeared that the ACA was going to be overturned by the Supreme Court, there was much hand-wringing about how Obama, a former constitutional law professor, could have a law he championed be overturned as unconstitutional. For example, Chris Wallace asked " How damaging to the President, if in June the Court were to rule that this former Constitutional law professor/President was on the wrong side of the Constitution both on the Arizona law and on Obamacare?" And Haley Barbour said it would be "interesting" for a former constitutional law professor's "signature law" to be invalidated because it's unconstitutional. The implication being that the President should know what the outcome of the Court case will be and if he doesn't it's probably because he wasn't much of a Constitutional scholar. Even before the case was decided, I thought it was ridiculous. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court often holds an opinion that is different from the Court's majority, but no one accuses him or the other Justices of not understanding the Constitution (well, maybe Thomas). How the Court will decide a case is something of a crap shoot, so no one can really be belittled for getting it wrong. Heck, even when they're unanimous they're often overturning a decision by a lower court judge who is probably pretty well versed in the law themselves. So the whole premise is silly. But, what I haven't heard is Wallace or Barbour say "Wow, I guess the President really does understand the Constitution - better than even I do," which while unproven by the events in June, would at least be consistent with their earlier statements. 

    Thursday, July 5, 2012

    Give DC representation in tandem with other territories

    Note: This blog post originally ran several years ago on a different blog.

    The DC voting rights bill is dead, and the unique situation that made a compromise possible is evaporating. But this seemingly devastating setback may be an opportunity to pursue a real solution for a problem the Founding Fathers never foresaw: that some citizens might live in territories so small that they will never be deemed eligible for statehood. To fix this, we need a Constitutional amendment to address all territories, not just DC.

    Let's not mourn the loss of this bill too deeply. While getting representation in the House would given residents some representation in the government, it was at best a fragment of a solution that would still leave DC residents as lesser citizens. It isn't even clear the law would have withstood the constitutional challenge that was sure to follow.

    Even with House representation, DC residents would still have lacked representation in the Senate and the right to vote for or against amendments to the Constitution or vote in any contingent elections.
    Neither of the other popular solutions, statehood or retrocession to Maryland, seems remotely likely. DC is probably just too small (and too heavily Democratic) to be a state in the opinion of many Americans. Maryland is unwilling to take on DC and DC residents are not eager to suddenly become residents of Maryland. Both of these other solutions would likely require a constitutional amendment to nullify the 23rd Amendment giving the District electors in the Electoral College. Additionally, there are some who believe that both statehood and retrocession violate the District Clause of the Constitution. Finally, even if one of those solutions could make it through the vast political challenges and the legal challenges, it would still be incomplete. That's because the problem is larger than DC.

    The problem is not that DC doesn't have a House member, it's that five million American citizens don't have the voice in their government that residency in a state provides. While the District is unique when compared with other territories in which disenfranchised Americans live, it is not unique in the nature of its situation.
    DC Voting Rights activists should work with the residents of Puerto Rico, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) (and even American Samoa whose residents are not citizens but rather Nationals. Despite that, they do have a stake in this if they ever aspire to full citizenship) to create a lasting, flexible solution.

    We need a Territorial Representation Amendment. The amendment as I see it would read like this:

    Section 1: Congress may designate any Territory, Commonwealth or District of the United States, or a combination thereof, as a Represented Territory; or add such to an existing Represented Territory, so long as there is no more than one Represented Territory that is less populous than the least populous State at the time of its designation.

    Section 2: For purposes of representation in the House of Representatives, each Represented Territory shall be treated as though it were a State.

    Section 3: If there is at least one Represented Territory as designated under section 1, then for purposes of representation in the Senate, and election of the President and Vice President, the combination of all Represented Territories shall be treated as though it were a State.

    Section 4: For purposes of article V of this Constitution when the mode of ratification is by state legislatures, the combination of all Represented Territories shall count as one State and use a convention where each Represented Territory is represented proportionally.

    Section 5: The twenty-third article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States is hereby repealed.

    Ideally this would pass with a law limiting the federal District to the land immediately surrounding the Capitol Building - those under the control of the Architect of the Capitol - thereby relieving DC citizens of the onerous District Clause (Article I, Section 8, Clause 17). Or perhaps it would just repeal the District Clause.  But that would not be required. 

    This amendment would enable Congress to grant all U.S. Citizens full representation without having to make tiny Guam into it's own state. And the result would have the combined benefits of upholding America's value for representative democracy, without any question of constitutionality, while being more politically palatable than the other courses of action.

    If it were ratified, the U.S. would likely end up with three Represented Territories. One for DC, one for Puerto Rico and one for all of the rest. DC would get one house member, Puerto Rico would get six, and the other territories would share one. All of these areas would vote for the same two Senators, both of whom would likely come from the larger Puerto Rico. The electoral college votes could be divided up using the Congressional District or proportional vote method.

    The amendment would be more politically viable because it comes with greater political parity and would include many new allies. In Puerto Rico, both parties are competitive. Their Governor is Republican, but their delegate is Democratic. The other territories are more mixed — the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands is heavily Republican, for example — so this would not create two de facto Senate seats for the Democratic Party, as adding DC by itself would.

    Additionally, it would result in a net loss for the District in the Electoral College, where they're over-represented anyway, making the law more appealing to strategy-minded Republicans. Parity has been a key part of adding new states and is the reason they were often admitted as pairs. Furthermore, Puerto Ricans and other islanders become natural allies to the cause and can supplement the national organization needed to ratify an amendment in 38 legislatures in seven years.

    While the idea of having two Senators who are likely from Puerto Rico might not seem appealing to DC residents, it is structurally no different than having two Senators, both of whom are from Maryland, as would happen in retrocession. And DC would still make up one eighth of the combined Representative Territories (CRT) which would make it foolish for office seekers to ignore. Furthermore, if Puerto Rico ever obtains statehood or independence, DC would find itself the largest piece of the CRT.

    The CRT would be able to ratify amendments by electing representatives to a Territorial Convention and would be able to vote as one state in the rare event that there is another Contingent Election.

    Such an amendment would not only make residents of the Nation's Capital full citizens, but it could, once and for all, correct the unseemly problem of having any citizens, in a country that prides itself on its democratic principals, who are not allowed representation — and have no reasonable chance of getting it — solely because of which part of the country they live in.

    The purchase the world plan

    Or "An attempt to achieve world domination by purchasing every other country."

    One of the biggest problems with the world is that so few of its residents are American. We have tried to remedy this situation in the past through widespread immigration. However our ability to absorb foreigners and make them American cannot keep pace with the rest of the world’s ability to make new foreigners.

    Recently it seems that our policy has changed to an attempt to kill all foreigners. This plan has many drawbacks, namely dead Americans, dead foreigners, high cost and again an inability to keep up with the production of new foreigners. Even if carried out successfully this policy will result in the death of many attractive Polish and Czech women and thus cannot be allowed.

    My alternative plan is to purchase each country in the world one by one. Move its citizens to America, split up the money we paid them for their country amongst them, allow them to assimilate, and resettle their country with native-born Americans. Rinse and repeat. We could start with the smallest country (Nauru) and work our way up to China and India. Sure it would take a long time, but not as long as killing everyone; and we get to spare those hot Eastern European women.

    Before everyone says ‘Oh the French will never sell.’ The French are businesspeople like everyone else. They recognize a good real estate deal when the see one (See: Louisiana Purchase). We just need to offer them a euro amount that makes sense.

    Note: This blog post originally ran several years ago on a different blog.

    President Boehner? Statistically unlikely.

    Note: This blog post originally ran in 2008 on a different blog.

    There are several different paths to the White House, but I was trying to determine which ones were the best and which were the worst.

     So I ran the numbers based on history to find out which jobs best position you to win the presidency. In general I shied away from "uncountable" items such as "war hero" or "nominated for President." [Which nominations do you count and which do you not?] I tried to pick from categories that had a small group to start with. Some of the results are a little surprising. And yes, I recognize that these are small sample sizes that give weird results, but that's part of the fun.

    The premise is that first you must do the item in column A. If you do that, then column B shows you what your chances are of becoming president.

    Some people were president, then did the item in column one (like come in 2nd in the Electoral College) but then never became president again. So they would count in column C but not column D.

    Hopefully this all makes sense. Al Gore, by the way, has done 4 of the top 5.

    If true, Marvin Bush has a statistically better chance of being President than Nancy Pelosi does. 

    This is all as of late October 2008.

    Top Ten Zombie Movies of all Time

    ZombiesNote: This blog post originally ran several years ago on a different blog.

    There are a lot of reasons to love zombie movies. The often complicated sub-text about how fragile civilization and civility are. The statements they make on race, consumerism and our incompetent and/or morally bankrupt governments.  The fact that in zombie movies, unlike let's say, vampire or werewolf movies, the characters have no idea what is going on. Usually no one even says the word "zombie" and there are no Scream-style other-zombie-movie references where characters draw upon their zombie knowledge to know what to do - no, they have to figure it all out by themselves. And last, but not least, is that zombie movies are freaking terrifying because - again unlike stupid vampire or werewolf movies - that stuff could really happen. Yes, the reanimated dead walking the streets feasting on our tasty flesh is one bad day away.
    So which ten movie are sure to inspire a lifelong and difficult-for-your-friends-to-understand love of the zombie genre? Here is my list.

    10. Cemetery Man (a.k.a. Dellamorte Dellamore) - This movie is significantly different from the others on the list. It's the only one that isn't a 'zombie apocalypse' movie. In fact it's a zombie romance film. It's pleasantly weird and not scary at all. It's a foreign film and it feels foreign in a good way.
    910. Resident Evil - The zombies don't show up until half way in, but what makes this movie is the mystery, trying to figure out what the heck is going on and the creepily precocious girl computer - The Red Queen. Zombie dogs, Mila Jovovich in a short skirt and the Day of the Dead homage at the end are nice touches too. The sequels continue the homages (mostly to Day of the Dead, which doesn't even make the list) but lack the good story telling.
    9. Zombieland (2009) - Not as good a comedy as Shaun of the Dead, but good. Woody Harrelson's character wasn't as funny as I expected, but the running gag of rules that pop up on the screen and the cameo are two of the brightest spots. They avoid the bunker element of most zombie movies - instead making a road movie - and that was probably a good choice. It's one of the few zombie movies that actually uses the word "zombie," even though they aren't technically undead.
    8. Night of the Living Dead (1968) - The original modern zombie film and a classic. The movie is claustrophobic and tense. It's one of the first major films to have an African-American as the hero, but it's clearly dated in its treatment of women. The ending is fantastic and the conflict among the characters is  what makes the film so watchable. The film borrows heavily from the novel I Am Legend, and, ironically, is better than the three direct attempts to adapt the novel to a movie - much to the chagrin of author Richard Matheson.
    7. Dawn of the Dead (2004) - This remake of a sequel (one of the only ones ever) is technically superior to all the others. It borrows all the best parts and puts it together into a very tight film, but there's nothing new or unique and it can feel a bit hack. But still what it lacks in freshness it makes up for in visuals and acting. Sadly the remake of Day of the Dead, which like Dawn of the Dead also features Ving Rhames but as a different character, is going straight to video.
    6. 28 Weeks Later - A good sequel, with more of the scariest zombies* of them all and without cheating too much. Though it has some silliness (why do we keep seeing Robert Carlyle and how does he get out of the holding cell where Alice is held anyway?) and lacks the easy-flowing structure of 28 Days Later it does well with the hamstrung starting point and ends in a decidedly darker place.
    5. Shaun of the Dead - The best of so very many attempts at zombie comedies (Night of the Living Dead was originally pitched as a comedy called Monster Flick). The movie has a hysterical hook about people who are zombie-like, without being zombies. It's got good lines, good site gags and good physical comedy. And it includes the excellent question "how can you put your faith in a man ...whose idea of a romantic nightspot and an impenetrable fortress are the same thing?"
    4. Return of the Living Dead - A lot of people hate this movie. They call it Zomblotation. But it was the first zombie movie I saw and it scared the bejeezus out of me. Technically a sequel to Night of the Living Dead it takes a more comedic approach. The zombies can talk (though they make for poor conversation since all they want to talk about is eating your brains ASAP), run, think and are basically unkillable making them the most formidable of all zombies. If you can choose, you want to meet Romero zombies (slow, stupid and destructible) and not Russo zombies. The ending of this one is at least as good as Night of the Living Dead. The sequels are all pretty awful though.
    3. Night of the Living Dead (1990) - One of the few remakes to be better than the original. Romero wrote the script for the remake, and in addition to better acting (Tony Todd is better than Duane Jones, I'm sorry, but it's true) and production value it benefits from a better and less pathetic heroine and a significantly better ending (when the original had a great ending to start with).
    2. Dawn of the Dead (1978) - A sequel that's better than the movie it follows (why Scream II never mentions it I'll never know). It has a brilliant premise, even if it distances itself from the previous story, and is the first true 'zombie apocalypse' movies. It makes a great statement on consumerism and the mall culture of the late 70's (making an unofficial trilogy with Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Mall Rats) but it suffers from Romero's inability to write bad guys who are anything other than unrealistically evil.
    1. 28 Days Later - I know, technically these aren't zombies (see note below) but this movie is a zombie film that respects the second law of thermodynamics. It brilliantly replaces the crazy flesh-eating Russian engineered plants from the 'comfortable catastrophe' of Day of the Triffids - the book, not the movie - with remarkably non-comfortable flesh-eating infected humans. These blood-spewing non-humans are fast, incomprehensible and the most terrifying incarnation of zombies of them all - partly because they're believable and partly because of the creepy theme song. The love story is weak, but the instantaneous transformation rule and the awesome final act (after Jim is to be executed) more than make up for that. Oh and did I mention that Jim, the hero, is a bike courier?

    * Technically the creatures in the 28 ---- Later movies are not zombies but rather crazy people. But this is my list and while I've discounted the creatures in I Am Legend and Army of Darkness, I'm keeping these.