Category Archives: Politics

Post Election 2020 Thoughts – Part 1

“You’ve come a long way, baby! ”

— Virginia Slims cigarette slogan, late 1960s [1]

An abbreviated list of firsts: Jackie Robinson, Yuri Gagarin, Orville Wright, Louis Brandeis, Hattie Caraway, Barak Obama, Jeannette Rankin, Kim Ng.

All are significant modern era historic firsts: All of these people are remembered as much for what their personal achievements represented as much as the individuals themselves.

And now we can add Kamala Harris to that list, come January 20, 2021.

That such “breakthroughs” would happen was never in doubt. And, maybe these aren’t the specific persons many would have hoped would be first.

Vice President Elect, Kamala Harris

Many would have perhaps preferred: Josh Gibson or Satchel Paige to Jackie Robinson; perhaps John Glenn or Alan Shepard to comrade Yuri; brother Wilbur, Samuel Pierpont Langley, or even the German Karl Jatho to Orville. And on and on.

In the end, it does not matter who was first, just that these breakthroughs did happen – although we tend to remember these “firsts” much more than other nearly equal very worthy contenders. For sure, we recognize all these breakthroughs as individual achievements that history will keep indelibly recorded, and – to various amounts – as team achievements as well. More important, each marks a breakthrough for humanity. An expansion of possibility for America, or more importantly, for humans. Each marks a broadening of our hopes, imaginations and expectations.

Congratulations to Kamala Harris. I join the nation and the world in wishing her well.


Last week the Virginia Slims slogan of the ‘60s flashed into mind (top quote). Now, finally, Kamala Harris, a woman – and a person of color, no less – has been elected to be vice-president of the United States. Ladies: you’ve come a long way! And thereby so have all of us; so has our nation.

I feel a similar sense of pride to what I felt watching Barack Obama take the oath of office, standing in our friends’ house just outside Amsterdam, Netherlands, on January 20th, 2009, to become the 44th President of the United States. [Here is an essay from my old website to honor the 2008 election]

To all the above I say: Great, great and … great! Accomplishments and events like this show us what is possible for humanity. They show that talent, meaningful participation and leadership can be found, and are being found, everywhere and anywhere in all humans.

My soapbox here. It is simply impractical and inefficient by any measure – morally, intellectually, economically, politically, culturally – to restrain any fraction of the nation’s intellect and potential, whether it be leadership positions, education, service or any sort of employment. In the case of female participation: Why would any society aspiring to reach its maximum potential also limit fully one-half of its talent from contributing in any way they can?? I submit that this is a reason that some cultures, for example mostly Islamic countries, have lagged in all these areas, including intellectually and economically.

A fair system, with a “wide net”, will capture all sorts of interesting and diverse individuals.

Kamala Harris is just the latest obvious observable example of breaking through and reaching potential. Not hers. Not women’s. But society’s. America’s. The world’s. The whole race’s potential.

In fact, it was bound to happen. It was inevitable. Just the latest indication: an aged dam cannot hold back an immeasurable and growing ocean of water forever. First a crack, then a trickle, then a deluge.

What am I talking about?

Consider first women’s representation in Congress. It is absolutely zooming. The first plot here shows the fraction of Congressional seats occupied by females since 1920; that’s 100 years ago (coincidently when women got the nationwide right to vote, via the 19th Amendment). The numbers are Representatives plus Senators. (In this 1st plot, which is linear-linear, slight fluctuations in number of total seats over time. [1] Lower house grew from 435 to 436, then 437 in 1959 as Hawaii and Alaska added, then reduced to 435 after 1960 census; [2] Upper house Senate seats expanded from 96 in same period for these new states, and 100 ever since).

Plot 1: Women in US Congress since 1920 elections, % of seats available



In 2021-22 women will make up over 26% of the 117th Congress, an all-time high. Although this is barely over half the 51% of American adults who are female, the growth in participation is exponential.

Plot 2: Logarithmic plot of women in Congress as % of seats available. X-axis is log of year since 1920

This 2nd figure shows women’s congressional participation in a log-log (logarithmic) plot, dating back to the 1968 elections. Straight lines in log-log plots indicate pure exponential growth. With a straight-line coefficient of determination (R2) of at 0.97 this is clearly exponential growth in these 5+ decades.

Of course, this exponential trend cannot continue indefinitely, since the total number of seats in Congress stays (for the foreseeable future) quite limited.

One assumes that at some future time — within a decade perhaps –the curve will turn to be more or less level with 50%.

Or perhaps more than 50%.

Reason #2 for the inevitable breakthrough, and a good reason to expect a higher “plateau” than 50%, comes from looking at graduation numbers beyond secondary education. Women exceed men at every level — from Bachelors, to Masters to PhD degrees and law degrees — and most areas and levels have done so for quite some time.

Women are getting basic university degrees at a rate about 50% above men (roughly 59% of college bachelor degrees are going to females; only 41% to men). Although college degrees are certainly not necessary for service in high office – examples such as Harry Truman and Scott Walker have demonstrated this – it is certainly a very, very good indicator. Especially, for some sad reason, Law degrees. (Sorry, you lawyers). Women have outnumbered men in Law School and law degrees for several years, although the margin is slimmer here, roughly matching the US adult population at 51-49%). Not just bachelor’s degrees; Women are earning more advanced degrees of almost all sorts than men, including medical degrees. [3]

This education disparity indicates that female participation at all levels of society will continue to accelerate in all areas. That’s good news.

As a short side note: if participation in many advanced areas shoots much past 51%, and stays there, then a deep study of educational data and experiences might well suggest that we are currently giving young men short-shrift in opportunity development. However, these things can take decades to reveal themselves.

A healthy, growing society welcomes and encourages input, participation, leadership, and ideas from every single one of its citizens. And it develops potential. To do otherwise is to limit itself. Regardless of your politics, Barak Obama, Kamala Harris and Kim Ng, et al, are indications we are doing just that.

Good luck America.

Joe Girard © 2020

Thanks for reading. As always, you can add yourself to the notification list for when there is newly published material by clicking here. Or emailing joe@girardmeister.com

[1] Virginia slims cashes in on the women’s lib movement with a cigarette and ad campaign directed at women
[2] Women get far more degrees than men; even at PhD Levels
[3] Women earning more advanced degrees than men
And: More women in medical school than men


Vote

“Vote early, and often”

— attributed to many


Firstly, I must make it clear that voting is important. If you are of age and registered: vote! And vote only once. Please.

Voting’s importance is not because your single vote could sway a governor or presidential election; those odds are less than trivial. One in trillions. More on that later.

Voting is very important. Healthy turnout numbers legitimizes our democracy. When large numbers of voters “sit out” an election, that election result suffers reduced credibility, both at home and in the eyes of the world. My son took the time recently to convince me that 400 Electoral College Votes could have gone to Did-Not-Vote in 2016 (only 270 EC Votes needed to win).

In 2016 voter participation ranged from a low of merely 42.5% in Hawai’i to a high of only 74.1% in Minnesota. The 2008 turnout across the nation was a paltry 56%. In 2008 and 2012 national turnout was only 58.2% and 56.5%, respectively. This deprives both winners and losers of credibility, and validity.

So, secondly, larger tallies on each side allows winners to claim more support, while also encouraging them to also recognize that there are significant differing points of view. Well, we can at least hope on that second part.

One vote will never tip an election, but the votes of you and a few of your friends could be enough to trip a re-count.

Please do vote. We cannot be an authentic democracy without healthy turnout.

The good news is that across the country preliminary numbers suggest 2020 will have much higher levels of participation. For instance, as of October 29 Texas had already recorded more votes than were cast in all of 2016, when only 51% voted there.

_________________________________________________________________________

The quote atop this essay is most often attributed to Chicago’s murky election past, during the last ½ of the 19th century and the first ¾ or so of the 20th century. Some actual Chicagoans who have said this range from gangster Al Capone to mayors William “Big Bill” Thompson and Richard “The Boss” Daley.

Historians have more accurately traced “Vote early, vote often” further back to the first half of the 19th century, when it was first used publicly by John van Buren – son of our 8th President, as well as one of his senior advisors. Perhaps that’s an indication of electioneer shenanigans through that century as well.

The history of ballot box stuffing and vote buying notwithstanding (especially in “political machine cities”), is a thing of the past (so far, for several decades, thank God), and the command is said rather tongue-in-cheek.

Although some vote fraud will certainly occur, I have no great concerns that it will sway any statewide election, let alone the Presidential election (which is essentially 50 statewide elections, plus DC – thus sequestering “good” state results from sullied or doubtful ones).

Worriers will point to three statewide election elections that have been agonizingly close in recent history.


1) 2004, Washington state: Christine Gregoire defeats Dino Rossi for Governor by 133 votes (or 129, depending on source and date). This is the closest governor race in US history and was decided only after two recounts, several court challenges and a few court cases. In the end, over 1,600 counted votes were determined to be cast fraudulently, although there is no indication that the fraud was intentional, nor that it would have changed the outcome. [1]

[Aside: this election was among 2nd wave of indications – the 1st was in 2000, with defeat of 2-term incumbent Slade Gorton for Senate by Maria Cantwell – that a giant blue political tidal wave was rolling up on Washington, a condition that will continue well into the foreseeable future, and making November elections there quite easy to predict.]

2) 2008, Minnesota: Comedian Al Franken defeats Norm Coleman for US Senator by 225 votes, or 312, depending on whether we take the State Canvassing Board results, or the ad hoc panel of three judges chosen per constitution by the States Chief Justice. In any case the margin was a squinty eye-watering wafer thin one, indeed.

Very similar to the Washington case, later analysis found that almost the same number of fraudulent votes had been cast and counted, about 1,670. Again, this was not necessarily intentional, and no we can’t know how they voted; or if it would have changed the outcome. [2]
Minnesota was also turning blue, and still is.

As interesting asides: (a) Norm Coleman is the answer to a trivia question; he not only lost a Senate race to a comedian, he lost a Governor race [1998] to a professional wrestler, Jesse Ventura. Oh, the ignominy. (b) The months’ long delay in deciding the winner cost Presidential Obama a bit of momentum, as Franken’s vote would become the 60th filibuster-breaking vote on the Dem side of the aisle, allowing them to steamroll legislation without inter-party compromise for about 18 months.

3) 2000, Florida: George W Bush defeats Albert Gore for president by 537 votes [coincidentally remarkably close to the total Electoral Votes available: 538]. This provided Bush with the state’s entire slate of 25 Electoral Votes and gave him a “victory” in the Electoral College by the slimmest of margins: 270 to 268. (As of 2012, Florida now has 27 EC votes).

Much has been written about each of these elections, and I don’t really wish to pick at old scars and turn them into open wounds, yet again. We are in enough drama and pain as it is.

__________________________________________________________________-

How important is your vote? Well, even though each vote is very important (as stated above), the likelihood of any single vote changing the outcome for a state’s electors is mathematically insignificant. In that regard, the Florida voters of 2000 no doubt cast the weightiest presidential votes in history.

Again: How important is your vote? It is common for small population states and large population to complain about balance of power in choosing presidents. The most repeated refrain is that a very large state, say California, is under-weight when compared to a small state, say, Wyoming. Simple math suggests this is true: divide the state’s Electoral Votes by its registered voter total and we find that a vote in Wyoming is about 3.1 times more “electorally powerful” than a vote in California.

Electoral votes per state, 2012-2020

I submit that is indeed simple. Too simple. To truly evaluate a single vote’s “weight” the scoring must be more dynamic. One must consider not just Electoral Votes and total voters; one must consider the vote spread between winner and loser.

Such slightly advanced math deeply erodes the value of a Wyoming voter. Why? Currently Trump has an insurmountable 38% advantage. Add Wyoming’s low EC weight, and a single Wyoming voter’s weight falls from the top to near the middle.

Using average polling data from October 1 to 27th, I attempted to weigh each state’s voter’s relative effect on the outcome. It’s a simple formula: take the EC votes and divide by the expected difference between winner and loser.

To get an estimate of maximum single voter effect, I did a parallel calculation, reducing the expected difference by the average Margin of Error across all pollsters. [To avoid dividing by zero – such as when the MoE is equal to or larger than the expected spread – I used a small number (537) … hence the max impact in those states is roughly equivalent to that of a Florida voter in 2000].

The results were interesting. For ease, I have ratioed all the values relative to the top single voter power of all states. The top 13 States are shown in this figure. It tells us that (a) these are the states to watch come election night (and the days, weeks to follow); and (b) if you must skip voting these are the states your absence or neglect will have the most effect.

Three low population and low EC states (3 votes each) Alaska, Montana and South Dakota remain near the top, but get nudged down by expected differentials. (e.g. Alaska, Trump +6.0%, MoE ±5.7).

States’ Single voter relative power

Since many of these states are in the eastern time zone, we should get a fairly good idea of how the Presidential election will turn out early on. In the Central time zone Texas and Iowa will let many west coasters know likely results before they’ve even voted. If it comes down to Pacific time zone, only AZ and NV have real potential impact.

[I have casually and unapologetically lumped Nebraska and Maine into the same model, even though they assign single EC votes based on their few Congressional Districts.]

And next, are the bottom 13 states, ranked by single voter power. Note: these fall to the bottom not particularly because these are states with disproportionately few EC votes or such high populations; it’s because the outcome is not in doubt.


[Their “Max Power” ratio drops, since Texas could be so high. In effect, even at their most powerful (thinnest margin), their effect withers further if a larger state ends up close: these voters always weigh less than 1/1000th the power per single voter in a contested state].

States with weakest single voter power


Even smaller states like Connecticut, Maryland, DC and Mass that are heavily weighted by the simple ECVotes/population computation get pushed to the bottom of significance, alongside California and New York, due to high expected win/loss margins. You can color in your Electoral College map early for these states. Well, any state not in the top 13 as well. {Rhode Island may well lose an EC Vote after the 2020 census, and will drop into this group}.

Things and order jumble about, but only slightly, if we re-calculate assuming that the full Margin of Error is realized for each state. For example, big Texas — now a battleground state — jumps from #8 to #1. Georgia drops from #1 to #4. Details in the two tables at the bottom.


I must admit that this is a concept that I adopted and simplified from an extensive effort over the past few decades by Andrew Gelman, a statistics professor at Columbia University (cue Abe from “The Amazing Mrs Maisel” here). He’s been joined recently by Gary King and John Boscardin, as well as Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight, to determine the odds that your single vote will decide the entire election, based on where you live. Of course, the odds are astronomical, but statistically quantifiable; the inverse of that possibility is a measure of the state’s single voter power. My results, arrived at with simpler math to account for my simpler mind, has much the same results (although I don’t think they’ve done it yet for 2020) [3]


These high-powered statisticians take into account far more than I have. For example, likely voter turnout. And odds the election is even close enough for that single state to make a difference (which further de-rates low EC vote states). That is too much computing, and voter turnout (abysmal and getting drearier for decades) will be a wildcard in 2020, with most areas now expecting record turnout.


In any case, like they say: “Every vote matters; count every vote.” My ballot’s in already. I know it won’t make any difference as to who wins; but it’s a vote for democracy. And that’s important.
May there be peace. Fingers crossed.


Until next time,


Joe Girard © 2020

Thanks for reading. As always, you can add yourself to the notification list for when there is newly published material by clicking here. Or emailing joe@girardmeister.com

[1] Gregoire wins by 133 (or 129) votes, with over 1,600 votes deemed to be fraudulent., Seattle Post-Intelligencer, June 5, 2005

[2] Franken win tainted?; 1,670 fraudulent votes tallied, The American Experiment, July 1, 2016

[3] When One Vote makes a difference (but never in a statewide race)

Table 1. All States at Nominal Power per single voter

StateNom Strengths
1Georgia1.00
2Florida0.0258
3Ohio0.0166
4North Carolina0.0146
5Iowa0.0090
6Alaska0.0050
7Arizona0.0047
8Texas0.0042
9Nebraska0.0035
10Nevada0.0034
11Pennsylvania0.0027
12South Dakota0.0021
13Montana0.0021
14Minnesota0.0020
15Kansas0.0020
16North Dakota0.0018
17Indiana0.0017
18New Hampshire0.0016
19South Carolina0.0016
20Maine0.0014
21Wisconsin0.0014
22Missouri0.0014
23New Mexico0.0013
24Utah0.0013
25Vermont0.0012
26Colorado0.0012
27Michigan0.0011
28West Virginia0.0011
29Wyoming0.0011
30Idaho0.0010
31Delaware0.0010
32Tennessee0.0010
33Oregon0.0009
34Mississippi0.0008
35Virginia0.0008
36Hawaii0.00078
37Rhode Island0.00069
38Arkansas0.00066
39Kentucky0.00066
40Illinois0.00063
41Alabama0.00061
42Oklahoma0.00060
43New Jersey0.00058
44Louisiana0.00058
45Washington0.00050
46Connecticut0.00048
47California0.00040
48Maryland0.00039
49New York0.00038
50Massachusetts0.00027
51DC0.00026
Table 1, Relative single voter weight, all polls nominal
A single voter in Georgia is ~3,800 times more significant and powerful as one in DC

Table 2. Relative single voter weight, all states at max strength per voter (i.e. poll margins reduced by average margin of error).

StateAll Max
1Texas1.00
2Florida0.763
3Ohio0.474
4Georgia0.421
5North Carolina0.395
6Arizona0.289
7Iowa0.158
8Alaska0.0419
9Pennsylvania0.0153
10Nevada0.0133
11Nebraska0.0053
12Minnesota0.0032
13Indiana0.0028
14Kansas0.0020
15Montana0.0018
16South Carolina0.0015
17South Dakota0.0014
18Missouri0.0012
19New Hampshire0.0010
20North Dakota0.0010
21Wisconsin0.0009
22Colorado0.0009
23Maine0.0009
24Michigan0.0008
25Utah0.0007
26New Mexico0.0007
27West Virginia0.0006
28Vermont0.0006
29Tennessee0.0006
30Oregon0.0006
31Idaho0.0006
32Delaware0.0005
33Wyoming0.0005
34Virginia0.0005
35Mississippi0.0005
36Kentucky0.00036
37Hawaii0.00036
38Arkansas0.00035
39Illinois0.00035
40Rhode Island0.00033
41New Jersey0.00032
42Alabama0.00032
43Louisiana0.00029
44Washington0.00028
45Oklahoma0.00027
46Connecticut0.00023
47California0.00019
48Maryland0.00019
49New York0.00018
50Massachusetts0.00013
51DC0.00011
Relative Single Voter Strength if each state is at Max power (I.e. full Margin of error reduces final vote difference)… A single Texas voter is 9,100 times more powerful than one in DC

Sound of Silence

Well, there’s only one thing I can say about the war in Viet Nam.
Sometimes when people go to Vietnam, they go home to their mommas without any legs. Sometimes they don’t go home at all. That’s a bad thing. That’s all I have to say about that.

– Forrest Gump
Forrest Gump (Tom Hanks) at speaker podium. (Forrest Gump, the movie — used here under US Copyright Fair Use law)

In the 1994 box office smash and critically acclaimed movie “Forrest Gump” there is a re-enactment of the massive May, 1970 Anti-War Rally, at the Lincoln Memorial and Reflecting pond, on the Mall in Washington, DC. In the movie, the eponymously named lead character is inserted into the speakers’ program, and he gives a short speech. 

Most of the speech was not heard by the crowd.  Movie viewers didn’t hear it either.  That’s because – per script – the sound system was disrupted by an anti-anti-war protestor, disguised as a part of the security detail, just before Tom Hanks, as Forrest Gump, stepped up to the microphone. [Forrest Gump’s unheard speech before the Reflecting Pond anti-war rally, in DC, with the whole scene. — early link was taken down, I suppose for copyright issues.]

That doesn’t mean he didn’t have anything important to say. The words above are what Tom Hanks claims to have said into the dead mike.

I recently came across some old essay notes that reminded me what happened when Wes Studi – a Viet Nam war Veteran, accomplished actor, and full Cherokee Indian – spoke at the 2018 Academy Awards.  The reaction of “the Academy” was if he hadn’t spoken at all.  Hardly louder than crickets.  He was only asking for recognition for films that honor those who fought for freedom around the world – especially when it wasn’t at home.

Much of the US population dealt with Viet Nam war veterans rather disrespectfully, especially from 1968 until about 1980.  Instead of treating them as youthful wide-eyed 18 to 20 year olds, sent off to do their country’s dirty work in a proxy war of the Cold War era, they were spat upon and derided as “baby killers.”  This was most unfair.

Hollywood and the media treated them rather shabbily and ungraciously as well, usually depicting them as damaged goods and misfits.  This is well-documented, and doesn’t even touch upon the disturbing “Full Metal Jacket” and “Coming Home.”  From last year’s Oscars … it seem the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences still feels that way.  [I stopped watching awards shows a while ago].

I touched on this in an earlier essay, but it was longer and the treatment of Viet Nam vets, particularly with regard to Hollywood, was part of a broader context.

I don’t have much more to add. But: Now that we have learned that the Pentagon has been lying about progress in Afghanistan for 18 years, we can justifiably cite the refrain of the 1970 protest at the Lincoln Reflecting pond: it’s time to bring our boys home.  Dying in Afghanistan it appears is as worthless as dying in Viet Nam. 

Staying in a war 6,000 miles away for 18 years? “You break it, you bought it” is not an intelligent foreign policy. Stupid is as stupid does. [H/T to Rep Barbara Lee (CA), the only person in either House to vote against the Afghanistan War Resolutions (2001), which she did on the basis that it was too broad, and had no “end game.” Even Ron Paul voted “Yea.” Astonishing.]

By the way, Hanks’ co-star in Forrest Gump, Gary Sinese, is doing wonderful things for veterans and first responders through his actions, words and foundation. Bravo, sir.

That’s all I have to say about that. 

Joe Girard © 2019

Thanks for reading. As always, you can add yourself to the notification list for when there is newly published material by clicking here. Or emailing joe@girardmeister.com

[1] Screen Play for “Forrest Gump.” http://www.imsdb.com/scripts/Forrest-Gump.html

On the Border — a Library in Defiance

The US-Canada Border Runs Through this Tiny Library.

Meet the only library that operates in two countries at once.

by Sara Yahm (c) of Atlas Obscura

Rumor has it the 18th-century surveyors who drew the official line between the U.S. state of Vermont and the Canadian  province of Quebec (*) were drunk, because the border lurches back and forth across the 45th parallel, sometimes missing it by as much as a mile. But the residents of the border towns didn’t particularly mind, mostly because they ignored it altogether.

The Haskell Free Library and Opera House stands athwart the US-Canadian border, on the Derby Line

{Link to the entire article here.  For copyright purposes I did not want to cut and paste the entire piece.}

Enjoy

Joe

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* Editor note: actually the British colony of Lower Canada.  The line was to be surveyed as the international boundary per the Treaty of Ghent at the conclusion of the War of 1812, which was signed on Christmas Eve, 1814, and formally ended the war.  We will never know what would have happened if Col Andy Jackson and his ragtag army, allied with locals and pirates, had not defeated the British at the Battle of New Orleans, just a few weeks later.

On State Sizes and Power

Anyone who has glanced at a map of the United States has had this thought: Look at all those big states with straight lines, something like Tetris assembly blocks.  Perhaps you’ve expressed it out loud: What’s that all about? — All those straight lines?

All US States have at least part of their borders made up of “straight lines”

Perhaps none draws your attention more than my home state of Colorado, and not just because it is somewhat large; in fact the 7th largest of all states south of 49 degrees.  It’s because its boundaries are four perfectly “straight” lines (as is Wyoming): two east-to-west, spaced exactly 4 degrees of latitude apart; and two north-to-south, spaced exactly 7 degrees of longitude apart.  [Since the world is curved, the east-west lines are, of course, not perfectly straight].

Tetras Blocks

Now why is all of that?

The history of state shapes — and straight line boundaries — long precedes the incorporation of western states into the union.  It’s a fact that the shapes of each of the original 13 states also had straight line boundaries, mostly along lines of latitude. And each of those, in turn, got their straight lines from charters issued by the Monarchs of England, in the 17th and 18th centuries.

All of the original 13 colonies that made up the original US had straight lines in their colonial borders

Those original colonial charters, issued well before the Declaration of Independence, laid down much of the DNA for the political conflict we suffer today, now well into the 21st century.

Hearkening back to those original charters, with boundaries following straight lines as well as hill crests and river channels, led to colonies of vastly different size and population.  When the colonies’ representatives assembled in the Continental Congress – eventually to seek independence from England – the smaller colonies (think Delaware, Rhode Island, and 9 more) were wary of the potential political power from larger, more populous and economically more brawny, muscular colonies, especially Virginia and New York.

Once independence was attained – de facto after victory and Yorktown in 1781 and officially by the Treaty of Paris 1783 – the 13 independent states hammered out their differences by many compromises to became a single nation, which we generally respect today as the Constitution of the United States; it became the federal rule book on March 4, 1789.

When the Paris Treaty was signed the new government immediately had some very important questions regarding states’ relative powers to address.  How to administer all the new land west of the Appalachians, and what are the details of how new states are to be transformed from territories to state stauts?

A top criterion for this evolution was that no state should have excessive power over the others.  This was a lesson learned through the tribulations of the Continental Congress. Sadly, this is largely unwritten and not in any legislation that I know of or could find.  Nonetheless, upon entering the Union, a state would necessarily be comparatively weak, since only 60,000 residents were required to apply – most original states had many times that.  But, by allocating a fairly consistent amount of land area to new states, their power could be constrained to reasonable limits as their populations grew. Expecting that it would take many generations to populate “the west”, and believing that the climate was consistent with reports of “the vast American desert”, most of the western states were allocated larger areas.

In short, new states were allocated area commensurate with the expected ability to grow a population that would make them all roughly equal in political power.

There were a few errors made here, including: 1) the westward emigration occurred much more rapidly than expected; and 2) without a full understanding of various western climates, they could not accurately forecast what the full and final population of these new states would be. Spend much time in the vast lands between the Pacific coast and the Appalachians and you can attest that they are much more varied than anyone in 19th century DC could expect.

To address these needs of expansion, new states and balancing state powers:  there was first the Land Ordinance of 1785 followed by its sister legislation the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, which allocated five states in the new Northwest Territory (north of the Ohio River and east of the Mississippi River). These eventually became, in order: Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin.  Removing the quirk of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula we can compare their landmasses and today’s Electoral Vote power as shown in the table here.  I’ve also included the first two “western states”, Tennessee and Kentucky, which joined the Union before Ohio, under the same general guidelines.

Land Area and EC votes of first 7 States admitted after independence (but not Vermont: a freak of history)

Although there is certainly some variation, it is not nearly as wide as the original 13. Among those, Virginia had area of 67,000 sq miles* to Rhode Island’s 1,500sq mi.  And an Electoral College weight of ten to R.I.’s three votes.  In fact, Rhode Island was so put off and fearful that they did not ratify the Constitution until 1790, and hence their Electoral Votes, although it mattered little, were not counted in George Washington’s first election. [* – This is not the exact area of the original Virginia; I have stripped off most of the lands west of the Appalachians that was removed as part of the 1st Bank of America compromise; this also happened to other original states, especially North Carolina and Georgia. These sizes can be seen in the second map, above].

The allocation of most subsequent new states was intended to keep a balance between the states more or less in order.  Using lines of latitude and longitude, a long and established practice dating back to the monarchs, was continued with each and every new state (with the exceptions of Hawai’i and Alaska: the latter’s eastern border was established by treaty) as this was a convenience in the drawing of territory and state lines.  Although this approach had very little regard to geography (for example, the towering Rocky Mountains run right through the middle of Colorado) it was easy to assign areas in this way.

[A coincidental oddity: the border between Colorado and New Mexico, along the 37th parallel, passes within a few feet of the peak of Raton Pass]

There were certainly some anomalies, and in some regard, they curse us today.  Of course, Hawai’I and Alaska, admitted in 1959, were freaks of history.  But, they are quite small with regard to population and will forever remain that way.  But there were others.  “Free” West Virginia was split off from Virginia during the Civil War.  Virginia’s area was further reduced to 42,700 sq miles and West Virginia comes in at a relatively puny 24,200 sq mi.

Before the bloodletting of the Civil War, two other states were admitted under relatively “unplanned” circumstances.  States that bore no resemblance to the unofficial rule of keeping states’ powers relatively balanced.  Those two were Texas and California.  And the circumstances were directly related to haste — and in trying to cement the United State’s ownership of these lands during and after the Mexican-American War.  The California Gold Rush (“In a cavern, in a canyon, excavating for mine; dwelt a miner, 49er and his daughter Clementine … “) added to the urgency of speeding California into the union, in 1850. The government played up the urgency of admitting them rather quickly without regard to (and without understanding) how large their populations could grow.

These two, Texas and California, came in massively at 268,600 and 163,700 square miles.  Wow. So much for planning and vision. Their populations have since swelled so (California far more than Texas) that they carry much more sway on national politics than was ever envisioned in our country’s long history.

At the time those states (CA and TX) could conceivably have been split into 3, 4 or even 5 territories, each slated to become a state at some point.  However, that would have disrupted the delicate balance between the number of slave and free states.

So we carry these historical relics and artifacts with us today in our national politics.  The impacts on things like the Electoral College and political clashes is huge.  Most people have a complaint about how it is working out.  Many workarounds have been suggested.

As of today, eleven states, plus DC (Colorado is now on track to become the next) have passed legislation to join a Compact wherein they are committed to giving all their Electoral Votes to whoever wins the national popular vote.

As during the Constitutional Convention, most small population states will remain wary of the larger states, especially California — especially as the size of the Compact grows — and as the Compact threatens to drown out their their Whoville voices. At some point, perhaps only Horton will hear them. As of now, the 18th century constitutional compromise that protects smaller states from the massive vote generating capability of the larger states still protects them … at least for now.

Anyway, that’s the short story on all the straight lines, how we got them and how it affects us today. Thanks for reading — and there’s a final note below with plots showing that, overall and excepting CA, TX, HI, AK and the original 13, the allocation of state sizes and shapes was actually done pretty well.

Peace

Joe Girard © 2019

To contact Joe just email him at joe@girardmeister.com

You can add yourself to the “New Essay Notification List” by clicking here.

Final Thoughts.

  1. I must acknowledge a fun little book by Mark Stein that gave me some factoids and insights, called “How the States got their Shapes”, Smithsonian Books, (c) 2008
  2. For completeness and visualization: Below I have plotted the states’ area vs their number of electoral votes.  In the first plot, all 50 states are included.  The visually obvious Electoral outliers with extraordinary power according to the founders, are (in order) California, Texas, Florida and New York.  California and Texas — and to a certain extent Florida — are freaks of historical circumstance.  New York is of course one of the original states.  (California currently gets 55 votes; New York and Florida 29, and Texas 38).

In the second plot, the original 13 have been removed (as have West Virginia and Maine, since they were spin offs of original states) and the historical freaks.   Florida is retained.  The 2nd plot is on the same scale as the first, so that one can see that these remaining states make a nice little cluster and one can deduce that, odd historical circumstances aside, the federal gov’t did a pretty good job of controlling and normalizing states’ relative power.  A few states have very low Electoral Votes (e.g. the Dakotas, Wyoming, Montana), and that’s understandable, as the government did not really understand how these areas could not support much population.

Scatter of State sizes and Electoral Vote Compared: 2nd Plot does not include original 13, TX, AK, CA.

I contend the Electoral College method of choosing presidents and Veeps would be nearly bullet proof with a few changes; and the first change would be to make the total cluster plot of states population and power look like the second plot, and not the first. It can reduce the likelihood of winners losing (and losers winning), and respect the choices of smaller states without completely doing away with the Electoral College, which is effectively what the States Compact does.

 

 

Olympischer Nationalismus

It’s Olympic time again.  The athleticism and elegance have been, so far, most extraordinary.  Most memorable.

Her name is Aliona Savchenko, and I suppose it’s possible to forget her name.  Even her story.

His name is Bruno Massot, and I suppose the same goes for him.  Sigh.

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The modern Olympic games were founded mostly on the energy and vision of Pierre de Coubertin. He sought to improve international relations and harmony through the (supposedly) non-political path of sports competition. It was certainly a beautiful vision; but I’m not sure he’d be quite so happy with how things have turned out.

I’m also not sure how or when the Olympics became so nationalistic.  I personally find all the nationalistic shouting a bit embarrassing and – considering Baron de Courberin’s vision – a bit shameful. It pains me to hear of nations’ medal counts, and the focus on athletes’ nationalities.

In the first few modern Olympics – 1896, 1900 and ’04 – athletes competed only for themselves, and perhaps their local sports clubs. Like “The Milwaukee Swimming Club.” There was clearly no nationalism.

So, how did it start? Perhaps the first inkling came at the 1908 London Olympics.  The Games had first been awarded to Rome.  But Italy was struggling and in recovery from a massive eruption of Mt Vesuvius in 1906.  The games were reassigned to England.  It was the third consecutive time that history had contrived to put the Olympics in the same city as the World’s Fair.  In those days the World’s Fair was a much bigger deal than it is now; much bigger than the Olympics.  They almost didn’t survive.

In those early years, when the Olympics were held alongside the World’s Fair (1900 in Paris; 1904 in St Louis), it was often not clear to spectators and competitors what sort of event it was. An Olympic event, an Olympic demonstration, or even a World’s Fair competition? Decades afterward, Margaret Abbott went to her grave never knowing that she had won an Olympic Championship in 1900, as discussed here: Olympic Lyon and Abbott.

That’s when the first “Parade of Nations” in an Opening Ceremony occurred. It seems to have been a pageantry and marketing ploy to make the Olympics standout against everything else going on around.

In that “parade”, the American flagbearer Ralph Rose – a shot putter and giant of a man at over 6’-5” and 250 pounds – refused to “dip the flag” as the American contingent passed before King Edward VII. Throughout the games the British judges and referees were perceived by many to be more than a bit biased against the American athletes.  So petty.

I suppose some flames of healthy patriotism will naturally spill over into blatant nationalism.  Consider the Cold War, and the heavy, boot heeled Soviet oppression behind the Iron Curtain, and especially upon the states of Hungary and Czechoslovakia – the brutal suppression of pleas for freedom there in 1956 and ’68. Or anti-colonialism, as teams from around the world competed against, say, the United Kingdom.

On the other hand, thumping of chests over medal counts, and hoping for a victory by someone – an otherwise nameless and faceless person – who wears the colors of your country, or the country of your ancestors, strikes me as out of bounds.  Strikes me as unsportsmanlike and well outside of what Baron de Courberin envisioned for all of us.

And worse, shouts of “U-S-A!! U-S-A!!”, accompanied by fanatic flag waving, bring, for me, visions of 100,000 Germans singing “Deutschland über Alles” in Berlin, 1936, under countless Nazi flags, their right hands extended in salute to their Führer. All this as German athletes – whether they ascribed to the Nazi political philosophy or not; and many did not – racked up victory after victory.

Even with Jesse Owens and “The Boys in the Boat” participating, a united pre-war Germany overwhelmingly “won” the medal count at the Summer Games in ’36. There were plenty of opportunities for nationalistic and enthusiastic German sports fans to throw out their right hand, show off their Nazi tolerance – if not complete sympathy and allegiance – and shout “Deutschland!!!!”

(Of course, Norway easily “won” the medal count in the ’36 Winter Games, hosted also in Germany, in beautiful Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Bavaria. For some reason the IOC allowed the same country to host the winter and summer Olympics in 3 of the first 4 Winter Olympics.  The only exception was 1928, when Amsterdam hosted the Summer Games; clearly The Netherlands was an inappropriate Winter Games host. The games were held in St Moritz, Switzerland.  Then, both Olympics were suspended for ’40 and ’44 for WWII. After that, each has been hosted in separate countries. Since 1994 they are not even in the same years)

The games are for the athletes and their performances are for us to admire.  Period. The end. Unless you are from very, very tiny Liechtenstein, I don’t see any need for particular pride for a country’s medals.  [Per capita, Liechtenstein has certainly won the most medals in Olympic history.  At a population of under 40,000 they have gained a total of ten winter games medals, two of them gold, over the years.  Astounding. If the US had won at the same rate, they’d have about 90,000 medals, all time. “We” have fewer than 300 Winter medals; and only 28,000 if you tally Summer Games – which are heavy on track and water events and in which Liechtenstein has never seriously competed.)

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Aliona Savchenko is a world-class figure skater.  At age 35, she is “ancient” compared to many of her competitors. As her name suggests, Aliona Savchenko is Ukrainian, competing for that nation in the Salt Lake 2002 Olympics, as well as the Goodwill Games.  Before that she won the pairs competition Nebelhorn Trophy “for the Ukraine” in 1999.

A new coach and a new partner led Savchenko to move to Chemnitz, Germany.  After initial struggles, they soared to German and European prominence.  She earned German citizenship and won bronze medals at the 2010 and ’14 Olympics (in Vancouver and Sochi).

Again, she changed partners and coaches, hoping to beat the “biological clock”, and perhaps give gold one last shot. 2018 would be her 5th Olympics. Her new partner was a Frenchman, from Normandy, Bruno Massot.

Yet again, after initial struggles with a new partner and coach, the team blossomed, earning the German championship and gaininig world recognition.  However, their participation on the great world stage was hindered: As nationals from two different countries, they could not be a team, unless the native’s country would permit it.

Of course, France would not simply let Massot skate for Germany; they eventually made him pay 30,000 euros for a release.  Blatant blackmail if you ask me. The French say they let him off easy: they first asked for 100,000. But the Olympics would be something different.  How much would that extortion cost? So, Massot applied for German citizenship. It was approved just last November.

So here we have Germany – who will long be remembered for their ancestors’ hateful attitude and treatment toward outsiders – long be remembered for their horrible occupations of France and Ukraine – long be remembered for Nazi atrocities – today accepting over one million Middle Eastern Refugees.  And now accepting a mixed French-Ukrainian figure skating team as their own.

Massot is a strong, powerful and graceful skater.  Six feet tall and solid muscle.  Savchenko is a bit of a “doll” at a full foot shorter.  But all five feet of her is dynamite.

Savchenko & Massot: Beauty, elegance, grace and athleticism

Of course, they won: a Ukrainian and a Frenchie ironically competing under the German flag. Sorry to repeat: It was Savchenko’s Olympic fifth try — with two different countries and three different partners. That’s persistence.

When the final scores for the Russian team went up (the last team to skate), and it was clear Savchenko and Massot had won, the bronze-winning Canadian team – led by the adorable and ebullient Meagan Duhamel – rushed over to congratulate and hug them. Yes, there were tears of joy all around – they don’t call it “kiss and cry” for nothing – and for a moment I felt like joining them in a “tissue moment.”

Yes!! This! This is what the Olympics should be about.  We don’t care which countries win the events; or the most medals.

The athletes are showing us what it is about.  Breaking down barriers.  Ignoring international boundaries.  Ignoring politics.  And simply admiring the human spirit… in ourselves and in each other. And demonstrating what that spirit can lead athletes – what the human spirit can lead all of us – to accomplish. Isn’t that why we loved and remember Nadia Comaneci?

Tomorrow the women’s teams from Canada and the US will compete for the gold medal in hockey.  Personally, I win (and lose) either way; I have allegiances both ways.  And, yet, I’m sure that after a very hard-fought re-match they will sincerely hug and congratulate each other.  And many will probably cry.

And that will be in keeping with the hope, spirit and intent of Baron de Courberin. Or, in other words: something we can all aspire to.

As to the French? Well, we will be in Caen — Bruno Massot’s home town in Normandy — later this spring. My guess is they will have a plaque or a sign up, trying to steal away a little of Bruno’s glory. And M. De Courberin will toss in his grave.

Thanks for reading

 

Joe Girard © 2018

 

 

 

 

Supreme Thoughts

Supreme: 1) Highest in rank or authority; 2) Highest in degree or quality; 3) ultimate or final
–  Merriam-Webster

I recently read a fun and interesting article by Jonah Goldberg.  (Yes, I know – that Jonah Goldberg – please don’t roll your eyes and give up on me). At once randy and riveting – sending insults in many directions –  he does cite and make some interesting points.

After starting out on the topic of the weird magic of orbs, he quotes an Annandale Public Policy survey that determined 75% of American adults cannot identify all three branches of government. (Yes, I know – shocking).  And more than one-third of Americans cannot name a single right conferred by The Bill of Rights.  (As my wife and I say at this point: “And they vote.”)

Trump touches “The Orb” in Riyyad, Saudi Arabia, with Saudi King Salman and Egyptian President al-Sissi.

It’s a good enough starting point for me, but I’ll go off into theory and conspiracy-land instead of slinging poison-dart words.

The US Constitution’s first three Articles deal with the three branches of government.  Article I – The Congress; Article II – The Executive Branch; Article III – The Judicial.

Digging into Article III, it is interesting to note that the Constitution does not – I repeat: the Constitution does NOT – set the number of Supreme Court Justices.

Seal of the Supreme Court of the United States

In fact, the number we have come to know and grow accustomed to – specifically, nine – has not always been the total number. The number is set by acts of Congress. And can be modified by acts of Congress.

When the Supremes first sat, in 1790, the odd number was six. [1].  Why is six odd? It is not, generally speaking, a good idea to have an even number of people deciding things.  Ties can result, and in the Supreme Court, ties lead to no action at all.  Whatever was law before is law after.

In 1807 they judiciously raised the number to seven.  In 1837 it was raised to our familiar nine (perhaps some sort of north-south compromise … I’ll have to look into it).  Oddly, in 1863 it was raised to an even ten.  [At this time the South had virtually no representation in Congress, they bolted to their own government, and it was pretty clear that the North would probably win the war. Not sure if that’s why a seat was added.]

Finally, in a fuss over President Andrew Johnson (Lincoln’s successor … remember, he was impeached and avoided getting removed from office by a single vote), the number was reduced back to seven.  This precluded Johnson, a Tennessee southerner, from appointing any judges.

Then in 1869, with Johnson out and Grant in office, the number was raised back to nine – I suppose to re-enforce the government position on Reconstruction. Or to spite Johnson.

And there, at a total of nine, is where the number of justices has remained for nearly 150 years.

The Supreme Court has had its own building, shown here, since 1935.

Upshot #1 is that Roosevelt’s plan to “pack the court” was not the least bit unconstitutional; although it did represent the sort of power grab that was a hallmark of the his presidency.  Roosevelt believed in “go big, or go home”; he attempted to jack up the number to fifteen, thus giving himself a slam dunk on any issue before the court. Probably no other president did more to establish the tradition of a very powerful executive branch.  [After Obama, and, especially, now Trump, it looks like people in both parties have recognized this danger].

Upshot #2 is a wild long-shot prediction – or perhaps observation of the possibility – that something supremely weird could happen, most likely in 2021: Expansion of the court to 11 members, or more.

My thought process. The backlash against the Republicans for painting themselves into a corner: first with Trump, and then with Moore. These will yoke their general popularity numbers in the ditch for years – and will almost surely result in Congressional seat losses in 2018.  Even popular presidents lose seats in off-year elections (see Obama in 2010).

Unless the Reps can bump Trump and field a Knight (or Dame [2]) in shining armor for 2020 – or the Dems run another truly “horrible” candidate, as in 2016 – there is a good chance the Dems will hold the Whitehouse and both branches of congress come 2021.

Here’s where current events come into play.

  • The Senate has gone “nuclear”. That means the good old days of needing 60% and plenty of compromise to get anything passed (used to be two-thirds) are basically gone.  No one plays nice anymore.  Could blame Harry Reid, but there’s not enough mud or ink for all the villains.  Now it takes only 50-50 (if you have the Whitehouse … the VP casts tie-breaking votes in the Senate).

[The lower house of Representatives has always been designed to go fast: only a simple majority has ever been required … except to commence the Amendment process]

  • Some Supremes are destined to retire, or pass away, soon. So, look for good odds that Trump will get to appoint at least one more judge, securing the Right’s slight advantage (currently approx. 5-4, even noting that Kennedy and – in a few cases – Roberts have swung left a few times).
  • Anthony Kennedy is 82. Although the left sees him as a hateful ideological enemy, he sides with them frequently and is always the “swing” vote in closely decided 5-4 cases.  He probably isn’t sure about Trump (who is?), and, as a relative moderate among right and left sharks, might be hanging on to see what happens in 2020.
  • Even older is Ruth Bader Ginsberg. She is 85 years old and looks 105; her energy is visibly dwindling to all court observers.  A true Progressive/Leftist believer, she is surely hanging on, hoping that Dems win the Whitehouse in 2020.  But she could pass any day, and no one would be surprised.
  • Steven Breyer, at 79-1/2 could keel over too.

If Trump gets to appoint even one more judge, look for the Left and Dems to get super energized. Even more than the hornet’s nest we are observing now. Why? This could “lock in” a perceived rightward slant for at least another decade (even though this court did uphold “Obamacare”, AKA The Affordable Care Act, and Same Sex Marriage rights).

They will seek to overturn any perceived disadvantage by adding at least two seats to the court.

That’s my Far-Out-From-the Center-Field-Peanut-Gallery prediction for now.  Call me out on it in a few years if the Dems take the elections in 2018 and 2020.

Well, the future beckons.  Let’s be careful servants out there!

Cheers and best wishes for 2018.

Joe Girard © 2018

 

[1] Actually the number was five, although Congress set the number at six.  The sixth justice was not confirmed by the Senate until a few months later.

[2] The equivalent of Knight for females is Dame. When she receives her title, she is said to be “daymed”, not “knighted.”  Link

Another Love Story

Another Love Story

“There’s no tick-tock on your electric clock,
But still your life runs down”
— Harry Chapin (song: Halfway to Heaven)

The Long Island Expressway is often called by its acronym LIE, and seldom  by its assigned number ID: I-495.  It is also often called the Long Island Distress-way, a tribute to its notorious snarly traffic jams that can go on for miles and miles and several hours each weekday.

Monday through Friday the expressway turns into a slothful snake, slithering on the cold concrete as it stretches from the Queens Midtown Bridge out east to Suffolk County.  Late in the morning and early in the afternoon, the LIE wakes up.  The traffic drops below a volume threshold, and — voila! — cars can often zip along at 65mph (105 kmh), sometimes even with a few car lengths between them.

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I have a confession to make.  During my high school and college years, I didn’t like the contemporary popular music as much as I let on.  Sure, I learned the words to many of the more popular songs and was, thereby, able to fit in.  I faked it.

The songs that attracted me were more earthy.  Songs with words that could be understood; songs with words that told stories; songs where the words were more important than the music.  The music was simply the walls upon which murals were painted; murals that told stories of a vast range of “ordinary” people, trying to do their best, survive the world’s vagaries, and just – somehow – get along.

Thirty or forty-five years ago a guy would rather die before admitting that Barry Manilow’s songs about a washed up show girl (Copacabana) or a man who mourns that he is no longer in love (Tryin’ to Get the Feeling Again) were his preference.  Include Gordon Lightfoot’s saga of a doomed freight ship (Edmund Fitzgerald).  Or maybe worse, “chick” songs: Judy Collins singing a ballad about someone who did all the right things in life, except the important things (Send in the Clowns), or acknowledging that everything important we think we know about life might be wrong (Both Sides Now).

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At lunch hour the LIE offers an enticing route for mid-day errands.  Clients to meet.  Lunch with friends.  Errands to run.  Doctor appointments.  In the summer, pick up or drop off kids at camp, make an early get away to – or late return from – the outer beaches.  Trucks are out making deliveries and pickups.  Noon hour traffic usually zips, but it’s a crap-shoot: sometime it’s a bit tight for 65mph, and – with just one accident, or breakdown, or a little precipitation – it can return to “the Distress-way”, slowing to a sudden and unwelcome complete stop.

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Shoot, I even liked some ballads, like Marty Robbins’ cowboy ditty “West Texas town of El Paso” and Simon & Garfunkle’s “The Boxer.”  Among the “story teller” singers and songwriters, by far I liked Harry Chapin the most.  He wrote and arranged his own songs.   His voice was just bad enough that anyone could convince themselves they could sing them.  But the stories — the lyrics — captivated me.

Harry Chapin, Album cover: Heads & Tales

By Chapin’s own admission, he was a delusional dreamer.  His first songs (he often joked) went something along the lines of “If only everyone could hold hands and hum along to the wonderful songs I am singing, the world would be a wonderful place and we’d have peace and friendship and boundless goodwill.”

Born to a musical and theatrical family, Chapin even made a brief yet successful foray into movie making, writing and directing a documentary for which he earned an Academy Award nomination.[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legendary_Champions]

Harry found his stride in music in his own form of ballad, telling stories of life.  His breakthrough song, in 1972, was Taxi, a story about a taxi driver who has lost his life’s dream and purpose — and then, without warning one night, he picks up a fare who turns out to be a former lover needing a ride home.  Her life has also not turned out so well.  They briefly reminisce.  Among his many studies:

  • Sniper – a confused and frustrated young man seeks notoriety ·
  • Better Place to Be – a midnight watchman fills his empty life for one night, and then, maybe, for the rest of his life. ·
  • WOLD – a washed up DJ is still trying to make something of his life and career
  • Mr Tanner – A dry-clean shop owner with a talent for singing ·
  • Corey’s Coming – an aged railroad worker still hangs out at the rail yard
  • What Made America Famous – Hippies living in a communal hovel survive the scare of a life [which he also wrote into a full length musical play,The Night that Made America Famous; it ran a full season at the Ethel Barrymore Theater in Manhatten]
  • Dance Band on the Titanic – title tells it all
  • 30,000 Pounds of Bananas – a young truck driver negotiates the hills of eastern Pennsylvania
  • Dogtown – Life in the old whaling town of Gloucester, MA ·
  • Mail Order Annie – Life on the North Dakota Plains
  • Vacancy – A Motel Keeper’s Life
  • Six String Orchestra — Harry makes fun of his guitar abilities
  • Tangled up Puppet — A father’s love for his daughter is clouded by the mystery of transition from young girl to young woman

It was in telling the stories of simple salt-of-the-earth people’s lives that Harry made his mark, but it took a while before he made it really big.  Most of his good songs were quite long, six to ten minutes.  That makes good concert material, but doesn’t get you on the radio. After a few years, with the help of his wife, Sandy, he finally made it really big.

Sandy had already been in an unhappy marriage and divorced with three children – and nine year Harry’s elder – when they met.  [Of course, Chapin adapted their meeting and falling in love to a song: I Want to Learn a Love Song]. When they married, Chapin adopted her children and became the loving father that they never had.

The Chapins’ marriage and coming together as a family began a happy story just as it ended a sad story for Sandy — a sad story she wrote into a poem … and Harry turned into a song.  All at once the story describes both the relationship between her first husband and his father, as well as the relationship between her first husband and her children.  The song was poignant, touching and of the right length, under four minutes.  Harry had his only #1 hit with Cat’s in the Cradle.  Now he wasn’t just famous and well off, he had a substantial cash flow.

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There is a lot to do to set up a benefit concert.  Especially when you have to — okay, maybe when you insist on — doing most of it yourself.  Better leave plenty of time, just in case the LIE gets all jugged up.  After a few hasty phone calls and a quick check to make sure that the contracts, music and guitars are all packed – oh, and a fast food lunch – it’s time to hit the road.  The LIE is remarkably smooth.  To heck with that silly 55mph speed limit, 65 is plenty safe.  And besides, the oil crises are long over.

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Born exactly one year after the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, perhaps Harry Foster Chapin was destined to great things. He surely had great visions. Great aspirations. Harry was out to change the world. He received a commission to the Air Force Academy. But he dropped out: the military was certainly not his style. He transferred to Colgate in his home state of New York to study music and theater, through which he — of course — intended to change the world. He soon learned it wasn’t so easy. When his music couldn’t change the world, he figured out another way: he would use the money and notoriety that his musical success provided to change the world.

Among Harry’s many concerns were the inanity and the evil of Hunger.  And not just hunger, but hunger on a global scale.  Harry founded and funded the WHY (World Hunger Year, which is now called Why Hunger … http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_Hunger_Year).

The foundational beliefs of WHY are: 1) that the world produces every year more food than we can all possibly eat and, yet, people suffer in hunger around the world, and 2) that most causes for hunger are local, and therefore can be solved locally.  But he didn’t just think globally; he also founded the Long Island Food Bank.

Harry was in love with the human race; and wanted to make a huge positive impact.

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I saw Chapin in concert only once — at Arkansas State University.  I think it was April, 1977.  He was alone.  Perhaps one of his brothers Tom or Steve came out to do a few songs with him.  He had a rather large band and following at that time, and I wondered why he was mostly alone.  Well, it turns out that by this time most of the concerts Harry did were benefits, usually supporting a combination of local charities (philharmonics, theaters and food banks were often favorites) as well as his world causes.  He was WAY ahead of his time; before FARM-AID and LIVE-AID he was putting together concerts with other save-the-world types like John Denver and Elton John. Turns out he often had a falling out with his band, and they wouldn’t perform with him – sure his causes were great, but they wanted to be paid.  Harry didn’t care about the money and couldn’t figure out why they did.

At least two of his songs were views of his own life.  One an overview: the appropriately named Shooting Star, in which a man lost in his own visions is given meaning to life by his wife.  And another song was a portent: 30,000 lbs of Bananas, in which a young distracted driver must negotiate a potentially deadly situation while driving a truck.

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Harry lived fast and hard, always on a mission.  He wrote and performed constantly.  Even with a large income, he gave so much money away that he had no idea how much money he had.  He lived simply, driving a 1975 Volkswagen Rabbit, eating quickly and horribly.  Nonetheless, he had the ear of President Jimmy Carter, and lobbied congress on the president’s behalf to get support and funding for the Commission on World Hunger.

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The LIE is really moving now.  Not much farther now.  The concert will be just past the next exit; from there to East Meadow, near Levittown, the humble first post-war planned community — the one that set the model for suburban sprawl.

The 1975 Rabbit has moved to the center lane, preparing to exit soon, as it shoots down the expressway, when — suddenly — it slows from 65 mph to 50, then to 40, then to 30.  The emergency flashers come on.  Cars are whizzing by on both sides.

The driver is trying to make it to the right shoulder.  Something is terribly, terribly wrong.  Its slows to 20, then 15 mph.  Is there a chance to slide into the right lane?  No, a car is there and the Rabbit nearly collides with it; the Rabbit’s driver over-reacts, veering to the left.  It hits the car to its left. Careening and over-correcting again, it turns to the right, entering the right lane ahead of an 18-wheel tractor-trailer semi-truck, en route to a delivery at a Long Island supermarket.

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<updated> Thirty-six years ago this summer, on a glorious, sunny and beautiful Thursday noon hour, July 16, 1981, Harry Chapin made his way down the LIE, as he had so many times before.  Heck, New York City was his hometown.  Along the way he passed signs and exits (“that he should have seen“) for parks, buildings and humanitarian institutions that would one day bear his name.

He was a man with a big heart and big dreams.  He had spent his adult life giving from his heart, sharing his dreams.  Now, his big heart had little left in it; on that sunny afternoon Harry Chapin had a massive heart attack right there on the LIE, and at that moment it became, truly, a Distress-way.

His car came to a nearly complete stop, directly in front of a grocery store delivery truck.  The truck was unable to stop.  In a cataclysmic collision, the truck not only rammed the tiny Rabbit, it ended up on top of Chapin’s VW Rabbit.  Ironically, he was under a truck carrying 30,000 pounds of groceries. Miraculously, brave passersby, together with the truck driver, were able to extract him from the car, through the window, just before it erupted into an inferno.  To no avail.  Harry left his heart and dreams behind and moved on, aged only 38.

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When I heard the news that night, where I lived with two friends in a rented house in West Seattle, I got physically sick.  This was a punch to the gut.  My intestines roiled and their contents emptied out.  As was our custom, when someone famous died, we would have an Irish wake – which meant drinking.  For me it was a drowning of sorrow.  And at that time, I didn’t know the half of it.  I just liked Chapin’s music.  I had no idea of what a big dreamer and doer he was.

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I don’t think I would have liked his politics much.  As a dreamer he had the opinion that every problem should be fixed with a big societal toolbox.  He was hanging out with Michael Moore before he was famous, helping keep his little protest-print-shop in Flint, Michigan alive.  I’m sure Harry would be touring the “Occupy” protests, going from city to city, country to country, putting on free concerts and offering encouragement.

But Harry was way better than that.  He didn’t just demand that somebody else, or government, fix problems.  He set out to do it himself.  He poured himself into his beliefs and humanitarian causes.  And THAT I admire.

My lessons from Harry:

  • Life is short, sometimes tragically short.  Get over it.
  • Get a dream and just do it.
  • Tell your stories.  Share your dreams.
  • Be in a bit of a hurry.
  • Enjoy the Music of Life, whatever it sounds like to you.
  • Make no excuses for whatever inspires you, no matter what others may think.
  • Pick causes greater than yourself
  • Listen to your wife

 

Don’t let this be you:

Oh, I’ve got something inside me —
Not what my life’s about.
I’ve been letting my outside tide me
Over ’til my time runs out

— Harry Chapin (song bridge lyrics: Taxi)

Joe Girard ©November, 2011 (republished, slightly edited ©2017)

Notes:

(1) this essay’s title “Another Love Story” is derived from the title of Chapin’s Album: Sniper and Other Love Stories.
(2) Long Island Expressway: I don’t know why it is I-495.  The rule is that the first digit (“4”) is supposed to indicate a loop or bypass to the nominal route (I-95).  Not only is it not a loop, it is a spur and doesn’t even formally connect to the I-95.  Those crazy New Yorkers.
(3) Disclosure: “Even though Chapin was driving without a license, his driver’s license having previously been revoked for a long string of traffic violations, his widow Sandy won a $12 million decision in a negligence lawsuit against Super Markets General, the owners of the truck.” — Wikipedia
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Joe Girard’s other older essays at essays

 

Final thoughts: Some choice songs:

 

Modest Proposals for American Football and Elections

Somethings need to change.  And I’m not shy about making some suggestions from an “originalist” point of view.

American football and American elections are dying. Let’s make some changes.

Football first.  The games are too darned long. And unnecessarily violent.

Does anyone remember why there is a two-minute warning?  Well I’m old enough to remember that the remaining time shown on the stadium clock was unofficial.  It was just the best guess of a skilled guy up in the booth.  Imagine the home team driving for a winning score with 30 seconds left.  They could try for a field goal, or try to get a little closer and score a touchdown.  And then — shockingly and suddenly — the head referee blows his whistle and announces the game is over. They never got a chance to do either one.  The game — just — ended. Because the time on the stadium clock was unofficial.

The two-minute warning was just that: a warning.  The stadium clock might show 1:32, or 2:32, left in the game.  But no worries, the head referee would stop the game, walk over to each head coach, and announce that there was precisely two minutes remaining. Plan accordingly. Then the game would resume.

Now, decades later, the two minute warning is just a chance to sell more commercial time.  It’s a waste of fans’ time. And a free time out for the team that should probably lose anyhow.

More wastes of time.  TV timeouts.  Team A scores a touchdown.  What happens? TV timeout. Then there is a kickoff.  What happens after the kickoff (which is usually a boring touchback) … another TV timeout.  That’s about 5 minutes of wasted time for a score.

Plus, most punts are followed by several minutes of TV timeouts.  Yes, TV and commercials pay those insanely stupidly high salaries.  I guess that’s why there’s Tivo; to tolerate those 4 hour games.

If you’ve ever been at a football game, you’ll notice all these awkward moments when the teams are just standing around for several minutes.  What’s up? They are waiting for the TV commercials to end. That’s one of the main reasons real Football fans (read: soccer) just don’t “get” American Football.  All that standing around time; all those commercials.

I have more ideas, but will stop with this.  Who really cares if the receiver gets two feet in-bounds? That concern leads to more replay reviews, which can take several minutes a piece.  Go with one foot, like college.  It leads to more scoring, more offense and a faster clock.  That’s what fans want anyhow.

Here’s another one, but not so much about wasted time.  When a player commits a personal foul he should get red-carded, like in soccer.  Then his team must play with only 10 players (or less if more players commit such an egregious foul). Ok, maybe it’s like hockey and it’s only for two or five minutes.

Dead ball personal fouls completely mess me up.  Apologies to non-football people, but consider the following situations.  Team A punts to Team B, who returns the ball a few yards after a tackle. It’s first and 10.  After the play is over, a player from Team B commits a flagrant personal foul for a 15-yard penalty.  Why is it not then first and 25 when the offense comes on?  Nope, first and 10.

Also I’ve seen where team B’s offense converts a first down, and then there’s a dead ball personal foul.  The ball is moved back 15 yards, but it’s first and 10.  Why?  Penalize the malicious penalty. The current process is going way too easy on violence.

Politics and elections have gotten way too divisive.  Yet, the electorate has told us something. Mrs Clinton received 48% of the popular vote; Mr Trump 46%.  We are divided.

Yet Mr Trump won 58% of the electoral votes.

The problem is not the Electoral College system, per se, but the way most states choose to allot their Electoral College votes: winner take all.  Even if the winner gets less than 50%!  For example, in my home state of Colorado, Mrs Clinton took 48% of the popular vote, Mr Trump only about 43%. And yet Mrs Clinton was awarded ALL 9 Electoral Votes (although at least one “faithless” EC voter from Colorado tried to cast votes for someone other than Clinton; and were thrown out by the Colorado Secretary of State).

As Electoral College voters are not permitted to vote their conscience in most states, and the division of votes in most states clearly does NOT reflect the balanced concern of the voters, I make the following suggestion.

Simply: award each states’ Electoral College votes according to how that state votes on a pro rated percentage basis. Assigning only whole numbers of votes, and using the Girard-system, this past US presidential election would have ended up: Mrs Clinton, 261 votes.  Mr Trump 261 votes.  The remainder would have gone to Gary Johnson (14), Jill Stein (1) and Even McMullin (1).

For example: Instead of ALL California’s 55 votes going to Clinton, Trump would’ve gotten 18; Gary Johnson 2; and Jill Stein 1. Further, amazingly, in Wyoming Clinton would’ve gotten 1 vote, and another 3 in Alabama and 7 in Georgia.

In such a situation where no candidate receives a clear majority (270 required out of 538 total) the House of Representatives must decide among the top 3.  Almost certainly they would have eventually chosen Trump. But he would’ve had to negotiate with the likes of Paul Ryan, and he certainly would have been much less of a braggart about his “electoral landslide.” (In the final actual tally, Trump had 304, and Mrs Clinton 227.  There were 7 “faithless electors”; 2 fled Trump, and 5 left Clinton).

Speaking of the House of Representatives, I have one final modest proposal for these bi-annual elections as well.  We all know that many Congressional Districts are highly gerrymandered by political parties to give themselves as many seats in congress as possible. And we know that many Representatives have been in their seats for decades.

Here is my proposal. It has two parts.  First, award a state’s seats proportionally.  Suppose a state gets 10 Congressional Seats. Each party submits the name of 10 candidates.  There are no districts. There is no gerrymandering — at least for CD (Congressional District) seats. Award the seats just like for the presidential electors.

And here is the kicker.  Pick the “winning” names randomly from the original slate.

For example: In Colorado the seats would have been awarded 3 Democrat, 4 Republican and 0 Independent  (the same as the final turned out). Now the excitement starts: Have a lottery show!!  Pick the names from ping pong balls.  No more safe seats.  Even if your party wins 6 out of 7 seats, there is no guarantee that your #1 candidate gets picked. Eventually a de facto term limit kicks in.

Have fun with that.  And it’s all constitutional!!

The two-party system, with entrenched and loud-mouthed politicians, will certainly kill us.  I could at least have football as a distraction as we swirl down the toilet bowl, but they need to fix that too!

cheers

Joe Girard (c) 2017

 

Collegial Codes and Conspiracies

November 20, 2016

A few Tuesdays ago – a day we will all recall for decades to come, if we live that long – I just couldn’t bring myself to watch the election returns. I was disgusted by the campaigning, the candidates, and the pompous potshots by everyone from ants to asshats.

After reading that Nate Silver had the chance of a popular vote/electoral mismatched vote as high as 10% [1] – and hoping to dear God that would not be the case – I squirreled myself safely away from outside earshot of the TV and commenced to thinking about the Electoral College.  Its birth.  Its history.  What it means today.  Then I tapped out a pretty good rough draft of an essay.  A Joe Girard classic format.

The essay was overtaken by destiny. As Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogard) said in Casablanca: It seems destiny has taken a hand. Maybe someday I’ll finish it and publish it.  Here’s what happened.

I tapped my notes out on my ASUS tablet, onto which I’ve installed the Politico app (a well-regarded and usually considered slightly left-leaning news source).  Politico feeds news headlines – usually very, very occasionally – across the bottom of my screen.  After a couple of hours I took a peek.

Virginia for Clinton.  Of course.

Florida for Trump.  Odd, but Okay, not totally unexpected.

North Carolina for Trump.  Less unexpected.

Then the feed that Ohio was looking like a Trump win.  And possibly Pennsylvania too.

Now to Central Time Zone.  Wisconsin looks like a Trump win.

Oh… My… God.  This could really be happening. It IS happening. I saved the draft essay and browsed to the CNN and Fox sites for maps shaded red, pink, purple, sky blue and navy blue.  Some quick math showed Trump with a very plausible path to 270, well before 10PM Mountain Time.

And THAT was the end of the Electoral College essay.

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Soon, on December 19, 2016, the 538 Electors from the 50 states, plus DC, will meet in their respective states and District, and cast their votes for President and Vice President of the United States of America. Presumably at least 290 will vote for Donald Trump, and 232 for Mrs Clinton, with the destiny of Michigan’s 16 electoral votes STILL not determined at this writing (although it is looking like a slim margin Trump win at the time of this writing).

This is the “Real” Election for President and Vice President.  When we voted for Clinton or Trump (or whomever) on November 8, we were actually voting for an entire slate of Electors who are pledged to vote for those candidates on December 19.

Some people are saying it ain’t over til it’s over; it ain’t over till the fat lady sings; and other such mixed metaphors. Well, they’re right.  That’s how the system works and Mr. Trump is not officially President-elect until those votes are cast.

Before discussing that, let’s talk about who these Electors are.

They are not just Joe and Jane average-citizen who have signed a pledge to vote a certain way, if they should themselves get elected.

They are party loyalists.  The life blood of their respective parties. Almost always they’ve been very active in their state’s political parties.

For example, an elector from California is Christine Pelosi.  The daughter of Nancy Pelosi.

An elector candidate from Maryland is Michael Steele, the (black) former head of the Republican National Party.  [Maryland went for Clinton, so Steele will not be voting as an Elector on December 19].

All potential candidates for Elector are screened by their state parties well in advance of the election. It’s obvious that the main qualification is party loyalty, and the bar for party loyalty – as you can surmise and see from the examples – is very high.

Can you imagine a Pelosi voting for anyone other than Mrs Clinton?

No, of course not.

But for those who simply fall ill at the very thought of a President Trump, let me offer an alternative outcome.  It involves my own wildly conceived conspiracy.

The Electors were chosen, in most cases, well before it was clear that Mr Trump would be the Republican candidate.

Since their selection by their state parties as Electors, an astounding number of Conservatives and Republicans have gone quite public with their disdain for Mr. Trump.  So much, that they did not support or vote for him.  From the ranks of politicians there is, for example, Mitt Romney and all the Bush families. Karl Rove considers Trump “a complete idiot.” Three term South Dakota Senator Larry Pressler didn’t support Trump. Neither did former Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman (who lost his seat to comedian Al Franken by a few hundred votes in 2008). John Huntsman.  Christine Todd Whitman.

It’s actually quite a long list, which I will spare you the tedious task of scanning.These are big name Republican politicians who openly did not support Trump.  Trump was publicly shunned.

And then there’s the “conservative” intelligentsia.  Jonah Goldberg, chief editor at at National Review (William F Buckley’s magazine!! For crying out loud) lambasted Trump every chance he got.  Glenn Beck ran far away from the “idiot” Trump.  George Will brilliantly pointed out on a Sunday Talking-heads news show this summer that Trump “has been a Republican for all of about 15 minutes.”

These were the “Never Trump” folks. Their cast was large, significant and influential.

That Trump won without much support from the faithful Right is truly astounding.

But could it also be his undoing?  As most of the Electors were chosen before it was certain that Trump would be the Republican candidate … could they turn the tables on him since so many “Conservatives” and “Republicans” don’t consider Trump a true Republican? Not a qualified representative of their “party of values” to serve as President.

That’s the genesis of my conspiracy theory.

Now, don’t presume that ANY Republican Electors will vote for Mrs. Clinton.  Not gonna happen. Mrs Clinton is stuck at 232 and no petition is going to get her to the 270 needed to be President.

But … What if 37 or more Electors conspired to cast their Presidential vote for someone more … uh, digestible… than Trump?

That would reduce his tally from 306 to 269, or less.  A person cannot be elected President outright by the Electoral College with fewer than 270 votes.

But whom would these 37 (or more) unfaithful Electors vote for, and how would they choose such a person?

Well, consider the Constitution’s provision in such a case. The House of Representatives chooses the next President, and they can only choose from among the THREE candidates who receive the most Electoral votes. [In 1824 John Quincy Adams ran second to Andrew Jackson in the Electoral tally, but was chosen by the House as 6th President, since Jackson did not secure a majority of Electoral votes and was considered, by many, to be too wild and uncivilized to be President.  He eventually did win outright in 1828 and 1832).

Here’s how the House of Representatives chooses: Each state gets only ONE vote.  And a clear majority, that is 26 states, is required.

When the new Congress is seated, next January, the Republicans will have a majority of Congressional seats in about 33 states, the same as now.  Suppose … now just suppose, a band of unfaithful Republican Electors spoke secretly with Republican House leaders, including Speaker Paul Ryan (WI) and decided to bump Trump.

In this conspiracy, 37 Electors (who are sworn and pledged to vote for the Republican candidate, Donald Trump) break their pledge.  Most vote for the pre-arranged preferred candidate, let’s say it’s Joe Girard.  Ha!! Just kidding.  Let’s say Mitt McCain (another fictional character). Who then comes in third place.

When the votes are sent to Washington, no single candidate has a majority.

The top three candidates are sent to the House for consideration.  And John Romney is chosen.

Yes, this is the stuff of cheap fictional novels.

And it’s not going to happen.

But it IS possible. Trump COULD still be thwarted.

Sincerely, I am your conspiracy theorist …

Joe Girard © 2016

[1] Nate Silver has become something of a highly regarded prognosticator in election season.  I think he’s more of an eccentric and talented statistician.  A wizard with numbers.  Here are a couple of his newsfeeds in the last week before the 2016 election.

(a) http://fivethirtyeight.com/features/the-odds-of-an-electoral-college-popular-vote-split-are-increasing/

(b) http://fivethirtyeight.com/features/election-update-the-campaign-is-almost-over-and-heres-where-we-stand/

[2] Politico is highly regarded. I take it to be slightly left leaning by this review, and that it’s editorial leadership came from Washington Post. http://www.allsides.com/news-source/politico

Also slightly Left per this research (as well as NPR’s taxpayer funded slight Left lean):

http://www.forbes.com/sites/jeffbercovici/2011/03/22/science-settles-it-nprs-liberal-but-not-very/#414296f499e8