Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Rapid-Fire Book Club, Not Political Current-Events Edition

Right on cue, huh?

Today, we got a kitty. Or rather, a cat; she's 5 years old. Her name is Mooch, she's as heavy as a cat with that name might suggest, and her hobby in the first hour or so of life in our house seems to be crawling under things.

But this is not a cat blog.

While in Madison to get Mooch, I've added one book to the collection: History Lessons: How Textbooks From Around The World Portray U.S. History, by Dana Lindaman and Kyle Ward.

By 'around the world', the table of contents mentions textbooks from Brazil, Canada, the Caribbean, Costa Rica, Cuba, France, Germany, Great Britain, Hong Kong, Iran, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Nicaragua, Nigeria, North Korea, Norway, the Philippines, Portugal, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Spain, Syria, Vietnam, and Zimbabwe.

I bought it as it seemed a nice companion to Lies My Teacher Told Me by James Loewen, which examines U.S. textbooks on their knowledge and portrayal of American history. That's the domestic portrayal; here lies the overseas portrayal.

I'm not expecting sunshine and lollipops.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Why Political Current-Events Books Suck

Dick Cheney has a new autobiography out, called In My Time. In it, he says that the "undisclosed location" you kept hearing about during his time in office was in fact his house. Past that, Dick Cheney is Dick Cheney for a couple hundred pages.

Congratulations. You have successfully read In My Time.

In fact, you have successfully read every political current-events book or autobiography ever.

I make a point of not buying any of these books. I've been burned by them enough times to where I've soured on the entire genre. There's no point in curling up with any of them, be they slanted left, right or center. The way you "read" one of these books for maximum return is, you let someone read it who's paid to read it, let that person pick out whatever new revelations happen to be in the book (and usually they will pick out one or two), let the book pass through the one news cycle it will occupy, and then promptly forget the book ever existed.

Because you will promptly forget the book ever existed.

Some years down the road, these books turn up in a used bookstore like all the others. One of the reasons I like used bookstores is that they are a book's test of time. It's a test of a book's shelf life. If you see a brand new book on the shelf and it looks attractive, fine and dandy. But it may not look that way ten years down the road, and unless you're the type of person to quickly resell a book, it's going to keep sitting there on your shelf, possibly getting less attractive by the day. If you go to a used bookstore, though, and see a 10-year-old book that looks attractive, odds are you'll be fine.

Political current-events books and autobiographies have the shortest shelf lives of anything likely to appear in that bookstore. Including the periodicals. The thing about a political book referencing current events is that the book ceases to be relevant as soon as the next election hits or too many of the major figures in the book (or certain key figures) leave office. It may even cease to be relevant upon some single piece of news- a bill addressing something the book spends a lot of time on is passed, for example. By the time it hits a used bookstore's shelf, it seems dated to the point of comedy, sitting alongside titles about Tip O'Neill and Dan Quayle, and books which warn of the consequences of voting incorrectly in an election from the 1980's where both winner and loser have since left public service.

Did you read Al Franken's Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them? I did. There's a whole chapter in there going on about how the death of former Senator Paul Wellstone was turned into a political event that led to the election of Norm Coleman to Wellstone's seat. Since the book was written, Franken ran against Coleman and took Coleman/Wellstone's seat. Does this chapter now have any further relevance to anything? Is there anything more we can squeeze out of it? I highly doubt it. (And that's not even getting into all the chapters concerning Bush 43.)

That kind of thing happens all across the genre.

In the most extreme cases, this can happen even before the book is ever made available for sale. Jerome Corsi, for example, put out a book on May 17 entitled Where's The Birth Certificate? asking, of course, where Barack Obama's birth certificate was. (Astute readers may recall me not wanting to give the birthers the time of day after a piece I wrote in April. Sorry. They're needed today.) On April 27, however, about three weeks before it was put on store shelves, Obama held a press conference that basically went 'Here, here's the damn birth certificate; the state of Hawaii made an exception to their normal rules and released it just so you'll stop calling them about it and keeping them from their actual work, now will you shut up about it already?' The media spent the rest of the day tearing birthers a new one for wasting everyone's time with lunacy. (They promptly found fresh and exciting lunacy to give airtime to, but hey, we can't have everything.)

Where's The Birth Certificate debuted at #6 on the New York Times bestseller list anyway, though the Times had placed a symbol next to the book's listing noting that some retailers had gotten bulk orders. That's a bad thing. That means the book publisher may be, and likely is, inflating sales figures by buying a bunch of copies of their own book. As if to underscore the point, the next week it dropped to 14th, and then out of the top 35 entirely. It never returned to the list.

By comparison, the book immediately above Where's The Birth Certificate? when it debuted on the hardcover nonfiction list, Bossypants by Tina Fey, was on the list for its seventh week at the time. It's now in its 20th week, yet to fall out of the top 10. Lest you think I'm cherry-picking, the current top 10 have been on the best-seller list for, respectively, 6, 40, 15, 2, 2, 13, 20, 12, 15 and 6 weeks. There's a lot of stability at the top of the list.

And the bulk-buying symbol showed up again just one week ago... for After America: Get Ready For Armageddon by Mark Steyn, another political current-events book, which is currently in 4th place, one of the pair of 2's.

Just by looking at the title- After America: Get Ready For Armaggedon- can you guess the general gist and tone of the book? Of course you can. It's the same gist as the ones called In Defense Of America or The Coming Armageddon or whatever we're-all-gonna-die-and-it's-all-Obama's-fault book is this week.

This is the other thing: forget the old phrase 'you can't tell a book by its cover'. In this genre, the hell you can't. Is an Ann Coulter book called Demonic really going to be any different from an Ann Coulter book called Treason or an Ann Coulter book called Godless or an Ann Coulter book called Slander or an Ann Coulter book called Guilty: Liberal "Victims" And Their Assault On America or an Ann Coulter book called How To Talk To A Liberal (If You Must) or an Ann Coulter book called If Democrats Had Any Brains, They'd Be Republicans? They're all Ann Coulter being Ann Coulter for a couple hundred pages.

It's like the old criticism of Madden games being annual roster updates. All you have to do is look at the author, look at the title, and you've basically got everything there is to get out of it. None of these books are going to be all that much different from the author's usual fare. Someone will buy them for sure, but once those people pull out the little scraps of interesting information, there's not much point to them beyond their one little news cycle.

Needless to say, none of these books are going to be joining the Rapid-Fire Book Club anytime soon. I may buy a lot of books, but every book I buy, I buy with intent to read. I gravitate towards titles that tell me something new, that present new stories, fresh ideas, challenging thoughts.

And there's nothing fresh or challenging in this section.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Random News Generator- Montenegro

Apparently, we're got basketball news today. Because professional basketball is totally... a thing... that I watch.

Philadelphia 76ers first-round draft pick Nikola Vucevic, who hails from Montenegro and went to USC, signed on Thursday a one-year deal to play for a club in his home nation, KK Buducnost Podgorica. He is the second draft pick to do so, and the first of the first-round picks.

Like many NBA players overseas, Vucevic would much rather be playing in the NBA. But with the lockout in place, that's not an option, so what he and a lot of other NBA players have gotten in their overseas deals is a clause that says as soon as the lockout ends and the NBA is up and running again- whenever that is- the players can immediately break their overseas contracts and go back to the NBA, no hard feelings. The overseas clubs are taking it as the unique, one-time opportunity that it is.

Some more than others. Grantland's Rafe Batholomew wrote in July about how the Philippines, a nation where basketball is the de facto national sport, managed to gather an A-list roster of NBA stars, including Kobe Bryant, Derrick Rose, Chris Paul and Kevin Durant, for a pair of exhibition games.

Vucevic and fellow Montenegran Nikola Pekovic (of the Minnesota Timberwolves but, for now, signed with Serbia's Partizan Belgrade for the balance of the lockout) will, meanwhile, be representing their country at Eurobasket 2011, the European championship for national teams, which begins on Wednesday in Lithuania and will involve some 28 NBA players in total, with a lot more having their rights held by some NBA team or other should they decide to play there. It will double as Olympic qualifying, and may be the last semi-meaningful basketball that fans are going to get for a while.

For the first time, 24 countries will participate instead of the usual 16. This decision was reached after qualifying had started, and in essence means everybody who participated in qualifying ended up going to Eurobasket. (Except Hungary. Everybody laugh at Hungary.) Montenegro did not need any of the additional qualifying spots; they won their qualifying group and would have gone through anyway.

The more marquee players involved in Eurobasket: Joakim Noah and Tony Parker (France), Zaza Pachulia (Georgia), Chris Kaman and Dirk Nowitzki (Germany), Luol Deng (Great Britain), Danilo Gallinari (Italy), Andrei Kirilenko (Russia), Pau Gasol and Ricky Rubio (Spain), and Hedo Turkoglu (Turkey).

Montenegro has been drawn into Group C, which is sure to be highly contentious, as alongside them are Bosnia/Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Greece, and Finland, who must be wondering why it had to get drawn into this neighborhood. The only other component of the former Yugoslavia to be in the tournament is Serbia, who would have replaced Greece had they been drawn into the group. Serbia instead sits in Group B with Italy, France, Germany, Israel and Latvia. Pre-tournament favorite Spain is in Group A alongside host Lithuania, Portugal, Great Britain, Turkey and Poland. Group D contains Russia, Georgia, Belgium, Bulgaria, Ukraine and Slovenia.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Yes, A Man From Texas Running For President Actually Said This

I won't keep you very long today because I don't want to dilute the point.

Here is Presidential candidate Ron Paul, while in Gilford, New Hampshire, while saying that we shouldn't bother calling in FEMA over Hurricane Irene:

"We should be like 1900; we should be like 1940, 1950, 1960," Paul said. "I live on the Gulf Coast; we deal with hurricanes all the time. Galveston is in my district."

If you didn't just shoot out your screen and aren't quite sure as to why this is the single stupidest thing Ron Paul has ever said in his entire life, head here and find out how Galveston made out in 1900. It comes complete with authorities downplaying the danger of an oncoming hurricane.

BONUS: Thanks to Penny Arcader Tomanta, who dug up the 1940's (1943, specifically, the forecasts for which were actively censored by authorities), 1950's (1957, specifically), and 1960's (1967, specifically, which at least saw evacuation efforts). All of which hit Texas.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Morning Disaster

This morning, a construction worker in Owensboro, Kentucky found what he thought was a homemade firework near a gas tank. As people naturally do in these situations, the man lit the firework near the gas tank. The make of the firework, which was actually commercially-made, was rather moot because either way it went blammo and sent the man to the hospital.

This is not the dumbest thing I can think of that has been done with fireworks.

The dumbest thing I can think of that has been done with fireworks involved a morning-zoo radio show called "Ray Lytle's Morning Disaster" at WQLZ-FM in Springfield, Illinois. Specifically, the dumb thing involved a man named Jim McGill, aka "Jim the Photographer", the show's resident butt monkey. McGill, as a stunt to entertain people standing in line for concerts, often stuffed a tube up his buttocks and shoots bottle rockets out of the tube.

But wait, there's more!

In May 2004, WQLZ was sponsoring a battle of the bands. Jim the Photographer was needed to once again supply his unique, horrifying idea of fun. Some rounds were deposited down the tube, and fired successfully.

Then a further round went not so well.

According to Lytle, one round must have had more sparks in it than usual. However many sparks it had, the firework blew up 5-10 feet from McGill's buttocks, and some of the sparks went down the tube.

McGill went to the hospital for a brief stay, but found no sympathy from the radio listeners. Not because they thought McGill was being stupid. Because they thought it was a prank. Remember, McGill was the station's butt monkey. On March 29, the Morning Disaster crew "mourned" his "death" from "severe rectal trauma". (Not to be confused with McGill's actual death in 2007 from undisclosed but presumably unrelated causes.) And if this didn't qualify as severe rectal trauma, who knows what does.

It's not often you get to say "thankfully, the construction worker only lit the firework next to a gas tank". As opposed to McGill, who in addition to being next to a group of people, was standing on top of a Hummer at the time and therefore was also next to a gas tank.

In conclusion, do not light fireworks next to any part of your body- hands, rectum or elsewhere. Nor anyone else's body. Or whatever petroleum deposits are laying around.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

If You Had Any More Tawdry Quirks, You Could Open Up A Tawdry Quirk Shop

AMY: Where are we?

DOCTOR: We're in trouble.

RORY: What is that?

DOCTOR: A star. A cold star. (runs to the doors and opens it, letting in a blinding light) That's why we're freezing. It's not a malfunction. We're drifting towards a cold sun. That's our danger for this version of reality. (closes door and looks at the larger monitor on the wall)

AMY: This must be the dream. There is no such thing as a cold star. Stars burn.

DOCTOR: So's this one. It's just burning cold.

RORY: Is that possible?

DOCTOR: I can't know everything. Why does everybody expect me to, always? (heads to console area and sits dejectedly)

--Doctor Who, "Amy's Choice"

...okay, we're not quite at that point, and we're certainly not getting blinding light off of it, but we do have a new record for coldest star, clocking in at 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

No, the elderly are not about to come bursting out of the senior center to come kill you. Yet.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Okay, The Gold Investors Win This Round

The basics of investing in commodities revolves around scarcity: the less of something there is to go around, the higher the price, and vice versa.

Over the course of the current... well, what can only be described as a gold rush, really... this hasn't really come up, at least not directly. The price of gold has gone up not so much because people think there's less gold to go around, but because there's less money to go around and gold is at least a stable thing.

Well, now there's less gold to go around. Hugo Chavez, president of Venezuela, intends to nationalize the Venezuelan gold industry, plans announced last week and formalized Tuesday. Not only that, he's making efforts to transfer physical gold reserves to Venezuela; that amounts to an estimated 16,190 gold bars.

That amounts to 211 tons, which is estimated to take about 40 shipments and take a huge amount of effort to physically transport.

The decree is being called almost identical to a law passed in 1965 that nationalized gold mining, and a 1977 law giving the government exclusive rights to extract it. There is no word, however, on whether either of these laws said anything about Venezuela importing gold reserves from overseas, as is now in the works.

According to Chavez's administration, this is being done to get the gold out of countries with unstable economies- namely, European ones. According to local opposition, though, this is being done primarily to shore up a campaign warchest. Chavez faces re-election in 2012. One opposition legislator, Leomagno Flores, said on the floor of parliament, "They are greedy for money for the campaign and want to bring the gold to Venezuela to turn it into cash ... please, this is heresy." Another, Miguel Angel Rodriguez, told Chavez' finance minister, "You will liquidate the gold and sell it because the only thing you know is how to rob, to rob and to rob!"

If Chavez was hoping to keep his own economy stable on the news, it didn't work. Standard & Poor downgraded Venezuela's credit rating on Friday. If you follow credit ratings, it was dropped from BB- to B+. If you don't, it was dropped from the 13th-highest ranking to the 14th, with anything below rank 10 for any of the three major credit agencies being a junk bond. Moody's has them at rank 15; Fitch at rank 14.

Perhaps some gold will assuage their fears.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Rebels Take Gadhafi Compound

I'm just going to direct you towards CNN, or whatever network is airing Libya coverage for the moment. I'm watching Sara Sidner inside the Gadhafi compound in Tripoli, who can barely get a word in edgewise over all the celebratory gunfire. According to Sidner, the rebels have taken so much ammunition from Gadhafi, and they are so assured of victory, that they now feel free to waste ammo by firing it into the air.

This includes anti-aircraft missiles. Celebratory anti-aircraft missiles.

There is no sign yet of Gadhafi himself- he may have fled the country for all we know- but at this point, there does not appear to be much he could do anymore anyway.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Blackjack Does Not Work That Way

When a politician is called out on something they said, and they stand by it, they are often said to be "doubling down".

This is fine.

Until they continue to stand by the original statement, and are said to be "doubling down" a second time. Or a third time. Or whatever. You'd be amazed how many times someone can double down in a given debate...

Since he took office, [Barack] Obama's strategy has been to double down on the nation's failed financial elite, from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to AIG to Bank of America.

This cannot stand any longer. Clearly, we need to review the rules of blackjack.

After you are given your first two cards of a hand- but only at that point- you are given the option to double down. When you double down, you double your bet, are given one more card, and then you are forced to stand on whatever you are given at that point. The dealer then shows his or her card, and the hand is over.

Let us review:

When you double down, you get ONE MORE CARD AND THEN THE HAND IS OVER. You do not get to double down twice. The hand is over. Stop betting. The rest of the blackjack table hates you.

This is also wrong:

[Rick] Perry, for his part, initially didn’t double down on the [Ben] Bernanke comments, but he was unapologetic this weekend after being asked about his comments reportedly making members of Congress nervous.

As we have already established, you may only double down immediately upon getting your first two cards. You can't draw extra cards and then double down. So if Rick Perry didn't initially double down, he could not have doubled down at all.

This is a correct usage:

The plaintiffs had argued that the deadline had not passed because the DOT had promised them this was a pilot project, but the DOT has emphatically denied ever saying that the PPW bike lane was a trial, and Judge Bunyan saw no credible evidence to the contrary. Jim Walden, the attorney for Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes and Seniors for Safety, has said his clients are reviewing their options. But these are people—especially those who live in fancy homes on Prospect Park West—are used to getting their way, and it wouldn't be surprising to see them double down and take this all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court is a definitive end to the bike lane debate alluded to here. They are the highest, and last, court that can be asked to rule on an issue. In metaphor terms, they are the one additional card before the hand absolutely ends. Well done, Gothamist!

A much more appropriate blackjack term, when there is the possibility of additional chapters to a story, would be the simple hit: drawing another card. It can be done repeatedly without necessarily ending the hand or providing an immediate win, loss or push. So, remember, fellow writers: unless there is a definite end to the process soon after doubling down, "Hit Me" before I hit you.

This has been a message from Concerned Citizens For Proper Gambling Metaphors.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Stop Reading Chain Letters, Seriously, Come On

So this has been making the rounds on Facebook lately. You may have seen it yourself; I've been hit from several sides by it:

Salary of retired US Presidents ………….$180,000 FOR LIFE
Salary of House/Senate …………………..$174,000 FOR LIFE
Salary of Speaker of the House …………$223,500 FOR LIFE
Salary of Majority/Minority Leaders …… $193,400 FOR LIFE
...Average Salary of a teacher ……………. $40,065
Average Salary of Soldier DEPLOYED IN AFGHANISTAN $38,000
I think we found where the cuts should be made! If you agree… Copy and RE-POST

The sentiment expressed by this... what do we use to describe it? Chain post?... is pretty obvious: if we're going to be making budget cuts, "I think we found where the cuts should be made".

Only one problem: are those facts and figures actually accurate? We need to figure that out before we get out the torches and-- oh, screw it, you lit the torches long ago. Well, it'd be a nice thing to know regardless. We wouldn't want to have our facts wrong and look stupid, would we?

There are two main things we have to cover: first, are these salary figures accurate and where did they come from. Second, we need to settle the 'FOR LIFE' side of the equation. This, it can only be assumed, refers to the pension that those officeholders receive upon leaving their respective bodies. We need to find out if they actually get a pension equal to their active-duty salary; and if not, what the pension actually is.

First, we'll handle the President. A current President's salary, most recently revised in the administration of Bush 43, is $400,000 per year, up from $200,000 previously. He also gets a $50,000 non-taxable stipend. But current Presidents aren't on the list. We want retired Presidents. While $180,000 is a commonly-given answer, their pay- their pension- is actually not a fixed amount. It is indexed to match the salary of current Cabinet members. That salary, along with many others in the highest levels of the executive branch, is part of something called "Executive Schedule". Executive Schedule covers top-ranked Presidential appointees, sorting their salaries into five levels, given Roman numerals I-V. I is highest. Everyone at a given level gets the same salary.

Everyone in the Cabinet sits at Level I. Which means, by extension, retired Presidents also get Level I pay. The salary there, currently, is $199,700. That's actually MORE than the angry chain-post claims by $19,700.

Just for fun:

*Also at Level I are the Director of National Intelligence, Chairman of the Federal Reserve, Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, and the directors of the Office of Management and Budget and the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

*Level II salary is $179,700. Sitting here, among others, are the Joint Chiefs of Staff and deputy secretaries.

*Level III pay is $165,300. Undersecretaries sit here. Yes, that is a different thing from deputy secretaries. Also sitting here, among others, are the Solicitor General, the directors of the FBI, DEA, Peace Corps, Office of Government Ethics, and Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services, the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and chairmen for the FCC, FTC, SEC, FDIC, OSHA, Consumer Product Safety Commission, National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities, and Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

*Level IV gets $155,500. Assistant Secretaries go here- yes, that's another level- along with various Inspector Generals. Also here are the heads of the Bureau of the Census, National Institute of Standards and Technology, Office of Science, Food and Drug Administration, Bureau of Prisons, and Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

*Level V gets $145,700. Among the people here are the Archivist of the United States, and heads of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, US Geological Survey, US Bureau of Mines, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, and the Smithsonian's Museum of Natural History.

The other governmental figures, the members of Congress, match the figures shown here, at least, while they're actively in office. That isn't in dispute. However, the pension is not full. Nor is it immediate, or even automatic. In order to get any Congressional pension at all, members of Congress must first earn it by having served a bare minimum of five years in civil federal service. So if you serve two terms in the House and then lose out on a third term, you're out of luck unless you find some other governmental position in which to get that other year.

There are other restrictions as well. In Congress, you are not eligible for a pension until your 50th birthday, and even to get it then, you have to have served for 20 years or be part of nine Congresses. Other than that, generally speaking, you qualify either on your 62nd birthday, or upon having served for 25 years.

Your pension is figured combining your years of service with the average of the three years in which you earned the highest salary, along with factoring in (PDF file) which of two federal retirement plans you have. (They introduced a new system in 1987, the Federal Employees' Retirement System (FERS) and employees who started prior to 1984 were given the option of which plan they preferred, FERS or their current one, the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS).) However, your pension is not indexed, like former Presidents, and your initial pension amount cannot exceed 80% of your final salary. CSRS sees you max out after your 32nd year. There is no maximum under FERS, but we'll calculate at 32 years there as well for comparative purposes.

Congress currently gets an annual pay raise unless Congress votes it down. This is a different pay structure than the retired President. At no point in time do Congressional salaries and pensions of retired Presidents meet up in the way they do in the chain-post. The poster had to have gotten them from two different sources that were working on two different timeframes.

The older pension plan, CSRS, is figured as such:

High 3-year average X years of service X .025 = Annual pension

The newer plan, FERS, is figured as such:

[High 3-year average X .017 x years of service up to 20] + [High 3-year average X .01 x years of service past 20] = Annual pension

In 2006, the most recent year available, the average CSRS recipient was getting $60,972 annually. 290 people had retired under CSRS The average FERS recipient, of which there were 123, was getting $35,952 annually; this is the average newly-incoming members of Congress should look at. Individual figures are not given.

Let us assume, for theoretical purposes, the 32-year scenario for all, with three-year averages all locked at current levels:

House/Senate: $174,000
Speaker of the House: $223,500
Majority/Minority Leaders: $193,400

This means that, under CSRS, they would each get in annual pension:

House/Senate: $174,000 x 32 x .025 = $139,200 annual pension
Speaker of the House: $223,500 x 32 x .025 = $178,800 annual pension
Majority/Minority Leaders: $193,400 x 32 x .025 = $154,720 annual pension

And under FERS, there is no maximum, but it would take 66 years in Congress- which has never been done- to achieve 80%. After 32 years, it works out to 46% of that same salary:

House/Senate: [$174,000 x .017 x 20 = $59,160] + [$174,000 x .01 x 12 = $20,880] = $80,040 annual pension
Speaker of the House: [$223,500 x .017 x 20 = $75,990] + [$223,500 x .01 x 12 = $26,820] = $102,810 annual pension
Majority/Minority Leaders: [$193,400 x .017 x 20 = $65,756] + [$193,400 x .01 x 12 = $23,208] = $88,964 annual pension

Remember, those are theoretical, perfect, absolute-maximum pensions that someone could get, today, by leaving Congress. Not only is it nowhere close to the claimed amount in the chain-post, even in a perfect scenario, but the newer plan, FERS, which newly-elected members are placed into, gives them LESS money, significantly less, than the plan that the older members get. So the chain-post is way off here.

Next, we have the teachers. Their average is pegged at $40,065, but this number appears dubious. This number is overwhelmingly seen only in repostings. The most relevant things I could find that uses $40,065 as an average are here, the Elk River Public School District in Minnesota, where $40,065 is the median male income; here, Upper Little Caillou Elementary in Chauvin, Louisiana, where $40,065 is the average faculty salary in 2006-07; and here, Blanket High School in Blanket, Texas, where $40,065 is the average base salary for Blanket High's entire district. Frankly, these appear to be nothing more than lucky shots, because there are so many numbers thrown around in so many districts in so many categories that any given dollar amount is bound to match something somewhere. I shifted the average one dollar lower, to $40,064, and came up with schools in Cape Girardeau, Missouri and New Albany, Indiana. One dollar higher, $40,066, matches the average base salary for a district in Amarillo, Texas.

Blind luck.

As it happens, it's pretty hard to get a blanket figure for "teacher" if you're not really paying attention. When you look for it, you'll find they're usually parsed out by state, by experience, or by type of teacher, and while $40,065 never shows up, the numbers work out to where that comes pretty close to an average of some sort. (Although most of the groups show that $40,065 would skew a few thousand dollars low of average.) It may have been that someone took all the salaries in one of the lower-paying groups shown, smashed them together as a mean average with total disregard as to weighting, and used the result in the chain-post. However, it's almost impossible to tell what group they used.

The first Google result for 'average salary' takes us to, and the most popular search there is for teacher salaries. An average person needing to smash an average together would most likely go here to do it.

Smashing a mean average together from the 10 categories shown produces $43,934.20, a little less than $4,000 short of the given average. So that's not what the originator did, not precisely. But it is close enough to imagine that this was done somewhere or other. Just not at

An actual average, however, is available via the National Education Association. (PDF file.) The average for all classroom teachers was estimated, for 2010-11, to be $56,069, up from $55,202 the previous year. The chain-post's number now looks fairly wildly off.

As for a soldier in Afghanistan, $38,000 matches the number given in the fourth Google result for "average annual salary troop afghanistan", something on Yahoo Answers talking about one specific rank in one specific branch- a tech sergeant in the Air Force.

The Army base pay scale is shown here; the equivalent rank is staff sergeant. $38,000 is higher than any of the figures listed; the highest is $34,088 for a staff sergeant serving for over 6 years. (Privates are started at $17,611 for the first four months.) However, that is only base pay.

An average is even more problematic to track down than that for teachers, because of the sheer number of variables and bonuses that get in the way of producing that nice, clean single average. I was never able to get that straightforward average. The three most relevant are hardship pay ($225 a month, or $2,700 a year), combat pay ($150 a month in Afghanistan, meaning $1,800 a year), and family separation allowances ($250 a month, or $3,000 a year). Combined, that's $7,500 tacked onto your base pay right there if you have any dependents, or $4,500 if you don't. There is also food allowance, clothing allowance, hazardous duty pay, and various other factors.

There is one more, fairly major oversight made by the chain-post: when in a combat zone, a soldier's pay becomes tax-exempt. That provides a substantial boost to someone's salary. It's not going to get anyone swimming in champagne, not by a longshot, but it's nothing to sneeze at either.

Suffice to say, on what has been supplied, $38,000 is certainly one possible number, but a more responsible thing to do is give a range, and while it's a rough, broad estimate, an average soldier in Afghanistan could probably expect between $30,000 and $60,000, somewhere between 'pretty bad' to 'actually fairly decent'. Were I to venture a guess of my own, I'd settle on something around $50,000, give or take. But don't take that as gospel.

So where does this all leave us? Let's revisit the chain-post:

Salary of retired US Presidents ………….$180,000 FOR LIFE
Salary of House/Senate …………………..$174,000 FOR LIFE
Salary of Speaker of the House …………$223,500 FOR LIFE
Salary of Majority/Minority Leaders …… $193,400 FOR LIFE
...Average Salary of a teacher ……………. $40,065
Average Salary of Soldier DEPLOYED IN AFGHANISTAN $38,000

And now, let's revise it to reflect the actual numbers we've found.

Salary of retired US Presidents ………….$199,700 (and rising) FOR LIFE
Salary of House/Senate …………………..$174,000, then $35,952 FOR LIFE
Salary of Speaker of the House …………$223,500
Salary of Majority/Minority Leaders …… $193,400
...Average Salary of a teacher ……………. $56,069
Average Salary of Soldier DEPLOYED IN AFGHANISTAN depends on A LOT OF THINGS but is probably between $30,000-60,000, TAX-FREE

The sentiment of the chain-post- that elected officials make much more in comparison to teachers and soldiers- is accurate. However, the exact numbers are almost completely wrong, mostly in a direction that makes the differences more stark than in reality, and the Congressional pension numbers are ridiculously off. And the tax-exempt status of the soldier in Afghanistan gives a big boost to their entire pay structure.

This chain-post is an example of the phrase 'garbage in, garbage out'. It looks to have been put together very lazily, with bad and very possibly outmoded data. Someone probably got angry, had general, predetermined ideas of what the numbers were going to be, threw together the first numbers they could come up with that looked right, and made a post out of it. As such, the numbers only have the most threadbare of resemblances to reality.

To borrow Politifact's rating scale, I rate this chain-post Mostly False.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Rapid-Fire Book Club, Farmers' Market Edition

If you happen to ever be in Madison on a Saturday- ever, even in the dead of winter- and there aren't massive protests going on, the Dane County Farmers' Market is something you really need to do. Every week, enough vendors from around the area set up shop to run a ring around the entire Capitol Square, which when it's not the dead of winter, is exactly what they'll do.

Your task is to walk a lap around Capitol Square- you will go clockwise because the oncoming rush of humanity behind you will force you to- and load up on as much fruits, vegetables, meat (in deer, cow, chicken, turkey, duck, pig, trout, bison, emu and dog-bone varieties), cheese from cows, goats and sheep (minding the sheer volume of bottleneck at the Brunkow Cheese booth surrounding the samples of juusto), baked goods, honey products, maple products, and assorted offerings from auxiliary food stalls without ending up like that guy from the Monty Python skit that got detonated by a wafer-thin mint. And just to keep things interesting, every time you round a corner of the square, there's some sort of person wanting some sort of support for some sort of political cause. Whether we're angry or not.

And then you can buy little trinkets as the market empties out on one corner onto State Street, where you will be assaulted by so many restaurants that you will soon no longer fit into your car and have to walk home, which is why State Street is pedestrian-only, according to the sources in my head.

That established, after nearly bursting, off I went to Avol's Bookstore, just off State, to add two books to my shelves:

*A.V. Club- Inventory: 16 Films Featuring Manic Pixie Dream Girls, 10 Great Songs Nearly Ruined By Saxophone, and 100 More Obsessively Specific Pop-Culture Lists
*Rich, Katherine Russell- Dreaming in Hindi: Coming Awake in Another Language (there was a celebration of India's independence day, which was on the 15th but celebrated today because it's the weekend)

So... Bad News Concerning The Hikers.

After an inordinately long wait to hand down a verdict concerning Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal, the remaining two hikers held in Iran on charges of illegal entry and espionage, they have been given a guilty verdict and sentenced to eight years in prison: three years for illegal entry, five for espionage (the evidence for which has still yet to be presented). They've already been in detention for two years, but it's doubtful that there's any credit being given for time served.

There is no official comment as of yet from the families, but one can imagine their reaction.

The movement dedicated to their release, Free The Hikers, has no intention of giving up. According to a Facebook post by organizer Brendan McShane Creamer, "We're getting them home & it's not going to be in 8 years." They are currently brainstorming ideas on just how to make that happen. If you have any- any respectful ones, that is- you're encouraged to Like the Free the Hikers Facebook page and chime in.

Obviously, this is not over yet.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Coffee Rings: Why?

First off, glorious, fantastic news for my fellow Cubs fans: general manager Jim Hendry has been fired.

That established... every so often I post a little science project here. Well, here's another one:

1. Drink a cup of coffee and make sure the cup leaves a stain.
2. Sit there watching that stain as it dries.

Yes. That is your science experiment for today. It formed a ring, right? Your question is, why did it form a ring?

"Because the cup's base formed a ring and the coffee just stuck to it?"

...ooookaaaay, there's that too... tell you what, go get a flat-bottom cup and do it again.

"More coffee? Can't I just skull a 5-Hour Energy or something?"



"It formed another ring."

Okay, now why did it do that?

"Because Obama refuses to do something about the illegal Colombians taking the jobs of hardworking taxpayers!"

Holy hell, man. It's COFFEE. The University of Pennsylvania recently- and I'm sure they have some larger purpose for this I'm not thinking of yet- looked into not only why that happens, but how to prevent it.

I'll let them explain.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Phrases You'll Probably Never Want To Use Again

Have you ever used the phrase "cakewalk"? You probably have, in the context of seeing something very, very easy.

You awful, awful racist, you.

The original cake walk was conducted on plantations in the South, and surely you can already see where this is going. Its original intent- or at least, its stated intent- was to give slaves a temporary chance to get back at their masters. Were they to actually get back at their masters, they likely would have done so through grievous bodily harm, which would be kind of bad for the master, so that wasn't done. Instead, they could just mock him for a little while, parodying overly genteel aristocratic mannerisms. This is something they were already doing in private, only now it was done in front of the master. (That's a $12 article, by the way.)

At the conclusion of this mocking, the slaves would pair up to form couples, and do a high-stepping walk, a promenade. The master would then judge all the walks, and award a cake to the best one. Thus the term.

The issue, of course, is that it's no longer really mocking the master if the master's throwing the party, awarding the prize for the best mocking, and has the last laugh by sending everyone back to work as his slaves afterwards. But that was never brought up much.

In fact, the whites eventually took the cakewalk for their own purposes, using it in minstrel shows by whites in blackface. Some tellings go that the whites didn't know they were being mocked, and maybe some never did, but now it was a moot point. Now the blacks were the ones being mocked, and it wasn't exactly subtle. No longer sending up their masters, now they were portrayed as really, honestly trying to be like their masters. And, of course, the other whites in the audience ate it up. Ha ha, look at those black people that aren't really black people but we'll pretend they are because then that makes it okay!

Eventually, though, the black community managed to take the cakewalk back, using it as something of a forerunner to other dance styles, such as the Charleston and the Lindy Hop. If those whites like the cakewalk, maybe they'll like some other dances of ours.

Over time, the meaning of the word 'cakewalk' shed all connotations except the recreational nature of the original event, and from there changed into a term meaning something easy (even though the dance itself isn't).

The cakewalk still survives to this day, though partially due to its history and partially due to its age, its usage has shrunk drastically. It survives in a very unlikely home: the Highland Dance community, where the high-stepping fits in with the generally athletic, ballet-like nature of the other dances used.

No word on if they bake any cakes for the occasion.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

At Least They Still Have Drinking

A bill will be introduced to the Russian legislature later this year that over the next several years will impose many of the same restrictions on smoking as in the United States and elsewhere throughout the world. In fact, Russia intends to go even further than most, stopping just short of a total ban.

The restrictions, which include high taxation, graphic warnings about the dangers of smoking, the banning of sponsorships and most ads, and restrictions on where tobacco can be sold or used (tobacco could only be sold in large supermarkets and could not actively be displayed as being for sale), would bring Russia into compliance with the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. Currently, 174 countries are party to the convention and 168 are signatory; the most recent party is St. Kitts and Nevis. The United States, while progressing along the path, remains non-party along with 20 other nations.

10 have signed but not ratified: Argentina, Cuba, Czech Republic, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Haiti, Morocco, Mozambique, Switzerland and the United States.
11 others did not sign or ratify; the deadline to sign was June 29, 2004: Andorra, Dominican Republic, Eritrea, Indonesia, Liechtenstein, Malawi, Monaco, Somalia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Zimbabwe.

40% of Russia's population smokes, with 400,000 deaths in Russia per year being blamed on smoking. And while the ban is welcome among most everyone else, questions arise as to how stringently it will be enforced, given Russia's poor reputation for corruption. According to one Russian blogger quoted in the Moscow News, "In order to have doubts, one only has to walk through any train, where anyone who feels like it smokes right under the ‘no smoking’ signs. It is not a question of how heavy the punishment is, but of its inevitability. And we don’t have that. Who will enforce the law? The cops, of whom 99 per cent smoke like chimneys?”

Meanwhile in America, holdouts are getting creative. Reports indicate a rise in roll-your-own-tobacco stores, where a smoker dumps loose tobacco into a machine which then rolls it into cigarettes, one at a time. (One such store recently opened here in Watertown; I am not giving them free advertising.) Not only do they get the cigarettes, they get them cheaper, as roll-your-own-tobacco stores don't carry the high taxes prerolled cigarettes do. The anti-tobacco fight, as a result, is shifting towards closing that loophole; Arkansas banned roll-your-own-tobacco machines in April and more states are expected to follow.

Nobody said quitting smoking was easy.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

It's The Other Recall Election Day, Wisconsin

Yes, there are still two recall elections. I told you about them last week.

If you're in one of the two districts, vote. Control of the state Senate may no longer be on the line, but that doesn't make the races worthless.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Worst Presidential Campaign Ever

Among the many things you're going to hear over the course of the 2012 Presidential election is that it's a "big election". Sooner or later, someone is going to tell you that in any Presidential election. Of course it's going to be a big one. It's THE Big One. The one race that everyone employed by any given party is ultimately devoted to. It's the one every party- EVERY party, big, small, fringe and joke parties alike- prep for first, last and foremost. If a party runs no other candidate for no other office, they are at least going to go for the Presidency.

(How wise a strategy this is, as opposed to focusing on state and local races, is another matter entirely.)

The issue we're focusing on today is the relative value of 'big'. In the grand scheme of Presidential elections, where would any given race rank? What is the biggest of the Big Elections? On what race did the most ride on the outcome?

The answer to that is likely 1860, involving Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas. Incumbent President James Buchanan's administration was completely consumed by the issue of slavery, as was the Lincoln-Douglas election. Douglas pledged during the campaign that a Lincoln win would mean Southern secession. Lincoln won, without a single vote from the South (he was not given ballot access). Douglas' warning quickly came to be.

1864 is likely second place on the list. The Civil War was going badly for the North at the time, and Lincoln was vulnerable because of that. Had his 1864 opponent, George McClellan, won, odds are he would have sought peace with the Confederacy, or at least, the Democrats would have made him do it. The only thing that saved Lincoln was that the tide of the war turned in his favor before Election Day.

We won't get into every election we've had, or even any further into these- though given enough time, knowing myself, I would probably try- but that's the high-water mark. Secession and the outcomes of the Civil War and the slavery issue rode on those two elections.

However, what's also kind of fun to look at is what it looks like at the bottom of the table. Has there ever been a small Big Election? One where both candidates looked so utterly alike, or so utterly subpar, or the stakes were so utterly low, that the outcome really didn't matter?

Yes. Yes, there has. And it came not very long after the two biggest.

Dateline, 1872. The incumbent, Ulysses S. Grant, was rather popular nationwide, as the North's victorious general in the Civil War, the one that took Robert E. Lee's surrender and the President most in charge of Reconstruction. He would go on to get hit with multiple corruption scandals in his second term (spoiler alert), scandals that would deeply mar his legacy and his historical ranking but that didn't come into play here. He was popular. The Democrats were still in disarray from the aftermath of the Civil War, with reminders of their secession being all anyone really having to bring up to beat them. So the election ought to be a breeze, right?

Well, it's not like Grant's going to go unopposed. Enter the Liberal Republicans. need a second to get all the laughing out of your system?

...okay, let's continue. Because the Democrats were in such disarray, and because a win over them was such a given, the Republicans began to feud over just how far they should go to the left. Back then, parties didn't exist just to exist, as they basically do today. Parties were created to aim for a specific goal. Once that goal was achieved, the party dissolved and the component people went on to new parties with new goals. Under this system, the Republican Party should have died when slavery did. The problem was, the Republicans couldn't agree on whether it was really dead or not. (PDF file. Or really, less a PDF file than an e-book.) Some- the Liberal Republicans- figured that slavery was dead and wished to move on to new goals. Others figured that slavery was still existent in other forms that just weren't called slavery, and without Reconstruction, outright slavery could very easily resurface.

Within government, Grant also faced pressure from members of Congress trying to take advantage of the spoils system. Also known as patronage. Also known as hiring your friends and major donors to work for you in cushy government jobs as opposed to treating it like any other job with applications and exams and such. This would prove to be one of Grant's corruption scandals, but really, the spoils system had been used and taken as a given for decades beforehand, and people only cried foul about it when Grant tried to slow it down by refusing some of the patronage appointments made by Congressmen. Every time Grant refused to let someone appoint their friend to some post or other, he made a new enemy. Then he made the mistake of partaking in patronage himself, appointing friends and family, and he got hit with the charge by the Liberal Republicans... many of which were trying to take advantage of patronage themselves. (Including, if my fellow Watertown residents will examine page 10 of the PDF file, Carl Schurz.) It was blind leading the blind and hypocrites attacking hypocrites.

It all led to the Liberal Republicans wanting to run someone else in 1872. The man they chose was Horace Greeley, publisher of the New York Tribune. You may know him as the 'Go west, young man' guy, whether or not he actually said it first or not. They nominated him in a separate convention, deeming themselves a brand-new party.

To the shock of the Liberal Republicans, who were aiming for Charles Francis Adams and let the convention get away from them. Carl Schurz went to a piano and started playing Chopin's Funeral March. Political boss Thurlow Weed wrote to a friend, "Six weeks ago I did not suppose that any considerable number of men, outside of a Lunatic Asylum, would nominate Greeley for President." Other feelings were similar: they didn't know how things got to the point that Greeley grabbed the nomination, but he did, he was going to be a disaster, they were screwed and they knew it.

Meanwhile, the Democrats were aware that they were still in the national doghouse. They knew they didn't have anyone on their roster that could take out Grant. But they really, really wanted Grant to lose. So they had a brainstorm: they would nominate Greeley as well. Greeley was keen on halting Reconstruction, which was a nice selling point, and besides, nominating Greeley meant that there was only one major Grant opponent instead of two. Two Grant opponents would just split the anti-Grant vote and allow Grant to win. (Some members of the party, the "Straight-Out Democrats", wanted an actual Democrat, and ran Charles O'Conor as their nominee. He didn't want it. They gave it to him anyway. O'Conor didn't campaign.)

Horace Greeley had never successfully run for office before. He had been appointed to serve three months in the House to finish out someone else's term, and had run for office seven times at various levels, but never won. It showed. If a vegetarian atheist socialist who's never won a race for public office sounds like a fringe left candidate now (though there are certainly some who would vote for such a person based on that profile), imagine how it looked when one ran a major-party campaign against an incumbent war hero in 1872. Greeley had no idea what he was doing. The Democrats turned out not to be of very much help, because Greeley had attacked them just as much as Grant and the feeling was mutual. They had no idea how to help each other out and often wondered why they should, but somehow the Democrats still thought they had a chance.

Think if the Greens tried to nominate Ralph Nader, let the convention get away from them and wound up with Cynthia McKinney, and then the modern-day Republicans, concluding their field was terrible, nominated McKinney too and spent the rest of the campaign trying to convince each other that, no, really, we seriously nominated Cynthia McKinney, same as the Greens, and now we're trying to make her President so that we can beat Barack Obama. The Greens would be angry because they didn't get who they really wanted, the Democrats aren't budging from Obama, and the rank-and-file Republicans will be trying to figure out just what the hell is going on here well into the following spring.

It was a loud, boisterous, deeply confusing election, but in the end, Grant easily swept aside the in-way-over-his-head Greeley, who by Election Day just wanted the damn thing to be over. The score was 286 electoral votes to 66. When the results came in, he said, "I am the worst beaten man that ever ran for that high office. And I have been assailed so bitterly that I hardly know whether I was running for President or the penitentiary."

"Now, hold on," you may be saying. "You said this was the least consequential of all, didn't you? You've got a dispute here over whether Reconstruction should be continued. Blacks saw their rights rolled back for decades after Reconstruction ended. How is that not consequential?"

Simple. Between the time of the election and the time the Electoral College met, Greeley died. The campaign had drained too much out of him. He lost control of the New York Herald to Whitelaw Reid, his wife died a week prior to the election, and he was getting savaged the whole time as only major-party Presidential candidates can, from three sides, with almost nobody coming to his aid. Not only that, he was in the middle of recovering from getting swindled by a diamond hoax that may very well be covered here in detail in its own right at some point. It was too much for one man to take. With that, the field was essentially reduced from two to one. Greeley's electors were instructed simply to use their own judgment, and they scattered to the four winds. (Had he won, Greeley's running mate was Benjamin Gratz Brown. Whether he would have also ended Reconstruction appears questionable. Back then, Presidents didn't get to choose their own running mates, and while Greeley was sure that Reconstruction should end, Brown was wavering on the issue.)

Historian Eugene H. Roseboom later wrote in the 1957 book A History of Presidential Elections, "Never in American history have two more unfit men been offered to the country for the highest office."

Surely, we can do better than that. It's kind of hard not to.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Random News Generator- Burundi

Burundi is one of the poorest nations on Earth, having been repeatedly devastated by civil war. They have seen two genocides between the Hutu and Tutsi ethnicities. In 1972, Tutsis killed Hutus. In 1994, Hutus killed Tutsis in something of an extension of the more well-known genocide going on in Rwanda around the same time. Both of the 1994 genocides were set off by the same event, that being the shooting down of a plane containing the presidents of both nations, both Hutu.

The bulk of the violence only ceased in 2006, though even then, one splinter group, the National Liberation Front (a Hutu group), continued to fight for two more years. Burundi has since turned its attention to rebuilding the smoking crater that has become their home. In terms of GDP per capita, they rank ahead of only DR Congo.

Among the mediators who helped broker peace, or at least tried to, was current South African president Jacob Zuma. Zuma wrapped up a three-day return to Burundi on Friday in which the two signed an economic pact. The scope of the pact seems to be fairly comprehensive, with various articles on the topic mentioning cooperation in agriculture, defense, education, energy, finance, infrastructure, sports (Times Live mentions South Africa sending 3,000 soccer balls), transportation and tourism.

Zuma was also called upon to help soothe once-again-rising tensions in Burundi before they degenerate into another war. Last year, Pierre Nkurunziza was re-elected president with 91% of the vote (and without opposition) after the opposition claimed it to be a rigged election and boycotted. Much of that opposition has since fled the country or went underground.

The chief opponent: Agathon Rwasa of the National Liberation Front.

Zuma, however, declined to get involved this time. Hopefully, someone will.

Friday, August 12, 2011

God Is On Hold

If you have felt strangely empty, desperate to feel like you're doing something with your life, why not make your computer do something and then take all the credit?

All this could be yours with the latest donate-screensaver-time-to-large-scale-computing project, LHC@Home 2.0. CERN- the guys with the Large Hadron Collider, the thing some people worried might create a black hole and kill us all- needs some help in looking for the so-called Higgs boson, aka the "God particle", a particle that gives mass to all other particles. They're looking to simulate particle collisions.

If you'd like to help out, head here. Or rather, bookmark it and come back in a bit. They got a tad overwhelmed with volunteers and are trying to make room for more. If you can't wait around that long, here are other projects. Or continue to feel strangely empty. Your call.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Politicians-In-Firesuits Thing

Over the years, in various places, I've heard various people put forward a proposal that politicians wear the logos of their donors, like a NASCAR firesuit. I remember first seeing it written by Dave Barry in his book Dave Barry Hits Below The Beltway; it may have come earlier, but that's where I first know of it. In other early mentions, it was used in a similarly jocular manner. However, as the years went by, money pervaded elections more and more until finally the dam broke with Citizens United, and rhetoric in all levels of society became increasingly jumentous, subsequent proposals became progressively angrier and are now only just short of dead serious.

So maybe it's time we took the NASCAR firesuit proposal and looked at it seriously. Its heart is in the right place, so let's try to flesh it out, clean it up, and see if we can make something out of it that we can seriously put forward.

First off, since the idea is to expose for easy public viewing who has "bought" someone, it's only going to do to put the titular logos where they can be easily seen. The most common method by far of viewing a politician is straight-on, while he or she is standing behind a lectern. Which means any ad that is going to be seen enough to matter must be placed in that region. You're not going to get much use out of sticking a BP logo on someone's sock. The logos must also be large enough so that each of them can be made out by someone watching an average-size television. That limits the number of ads that can be displayed. A person can have a million donors, but you can't put a million logos and names on that person's clothing. They'd never fit, especially not on the top-front area. Even if they all made it on, the firesuit would be a jumbled mess. By seeing everything, you see nothing. You'll maybe get ten to fit without problems arising, so that's what we'll go with-- the ten largest donors.

We should also consider the cost of the firesuit itself. Simpson Racing has them starting in price at $110. Each. Also consider that you would have to update each one, every quarterly reporting period, to reflect the new top ten. That's going to get very expensive, very quickly.

I personally see no reason why the firesuit's job can't be handled cheaper and more efficiently by a safety vest, available for $5 a pop. (Besides, it'd be a lot easier to wear in summer. Much less heatstroke-y.) All you would have to do is attach ten slots to each where you could insert laminated tags, like a baseball card album, and you're good to go. I imagine each slot being numbered 1-10, with the bigger donors getting the lower numbers, positioned closer to the candidate's face, like so:

1 2
3 4
5 6
7 8
9 10

Next question: who gets the vests? Obviously, any incumbent or challenger for a seat in Congress. That's the whole idea of the proposal. But who else? We'll expand it to include registered candidates for governor and President. (Though we'll allow the President himself to go vestless when on official, non-campaign business. We don't need him making a speech in front of the United Nations or something while festooned with the logos of Bank of America and United Healthcare and six different PACs. That's just needlessly embarrassing ourselves.) I'll stop there because after that you start to get into cost concerns quickly; the next level down is state legislatures and that's a lot of people. But, if you've looked at Wisconsin lately, you may consider it worth the cost and if so, go for it.

After each quarterly reporting period, everyone will get an envelope from the FEC containing their new tags for the quarter and instructions on where on the vest each one goes. The vests, we'll say, must be worn to every legislative session, signing ceremony, stump speech, town hall, or other campaign event or official function. You also must have all 10 tags in their proper place. (We'll allow them the dignity of being inaugurated vestless. And if some random constituent spots them at Burger King eating a Whopper and starts asking them stuff, they can go ahead and chat.)

The logos and names that go on the tags will be determined on an all-time basis, from throughout your entire political career, with dollar amounts adjusted for inflation. (When someone donated, though, will be how we determine ties for placement; we'll weight things toward more recent donations. If it's still a tie, we'll go alphabetically.) We will include in this dollar count the value of ads that can be tied to benefit one specific candidate. (The existence of third-party candidates may make this more difficult when they are present, as they create a weird sort of deniability, but it's better than nothing.) This means any PAC that thinks they can get away with delaying disclosure until after an election, that then got into the top 10 with those contributions, will show up on vests like a scarlet letter as soon as they reveal, and will remain there until ten other groups spend more and knock them off the vest. Dead companies are also eligible; after all, if a company went Enron and collapsed after cooking the books, you'd want to look around and see who's wearing an Enron logo. If you've self-financed enough to put yourself into your own top ten, that counts as well. You'll go on your own vest.

Just in case someone chooses not to wear the vest, we'll also make this information searchable online. You'd be able to search by person and by donor, so as to see how deep a given group's pockets are and who they've dug their claws deepest into.

Violations will not be a set dollar amount. It's too easy to game. It's too easy to "buy" a violation through thinking that the cost is "worth it". Instead of dollars, we'll fine by percent. That way, it hurts everybody equally. Finland does this with a lot of their penal code, something called a day-fine. Let's go with a violation for not wearing the vest being charged at 1% of receipts newly announced over the past quarter. This is not the same as the money you actually got. This is the money we just found out about. (Again, we are hedging against PAC's holding off on announcing until after an election. If they ever, ever, EVER mention their donations during a politician's entire political career, the very next quarter, it goes on their record.)

Now, 1% may not sound like much, but no matter how much money a politician takes in during a campaign, every cent of it is aimed towards winning that election. It goes out as soon as it comes in. It's designed to. Being made to dig an extra 1% out of the budget, which you may have to get from people who just found out that their money may not be going towards helping you win but rather towards helping you pay your fine for being stupid and/or deceitful, that's going to make some wallets close until the fine is paid. And given that they would close just as you need them to open up extra wide, that's going to cause some problems. Additional violations will add up quickly. If you get up to a 10th violation, your campaign budget will have taken a major hit, both from self-inflicted money problems and from voters wondering just why you're so ashamed to display "who bought you." Misordering the tags, while still a violation, isn't nearly as bad. We'll charge that at a quarter of a percent.

I suppose since we've gone this far already, we might as well talk colors too. Let's just agree that it would be an assault on all our eyeballs to have everyone in bright yellow and orange. That said, there are three ways we can go with this:

1. Politicians may choose their own colors. (One solid color per vest, though. No campaign logos. No McCain star, no Obama sunrise O, none of that. And no gaudy technicolor things designed to obscure the logos' prominence.)
2. Everyone gets the same neutral color- gray, perhaps.
3. Everyone is color-coded by party: Democrats in blue, Republicans in red, Greens in green, Libertarians in yellow, independents in gray, everyone else in whatever color it is they pick. (Non-partisan races, you ask? You forget, those are not the races that would see vests in play.)

There is, I imagine, a debate to be had between 2 and 3- is it better to avoid formalizing the political team-sport mentality more than it already is, or better to give low-information voters a better chance to tell people apart. (The people picking 1 likely don't think color matters much.) I'll leave that debate to the comments section if anyone wants to pick it up.

A couple other odds and ends concerning vest conduct:

*Spare vests and tags are available. They do have to be able to wash them, and hey, someone might lose a tag under the couch or in the laundry or whatever. If you need more, just ask.
*You don't have to wear the vest outside U.S. borders. We seriously do not need that kind of international incident. So if you're willing to do all your campaigning to American voters in Canada just to get out of wearing the vest, well, shine on, you crazy diamond.
*Because the vest is required apparel, we are going to have to make it a crime to yank the vest or any of the tags off the politician in an attempt to take them out of action. Should someone actually do that, the politician will be permitted to go vestless until they have a reasonable chance to put on a new one.

Is this a free-speech violation? No. It's a dress code. Dress codes happen all the time. It is, however, the weirdest dress code we'd be likely to enact anytime soon.

But until we can get ourselves back to the point where this all returns to being a simple silly joke, perhaps it's something to consider.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Soccer: That's Just A Fad Too

We needed three seats. We got two. I need happy news.

Luckily, I got it: Major League Soccer just struck a three-year TV deal with NBC. According to the deal, the mothership will air two regular-season MLS games, two playoff games, and two national-team games per year, and Versus- soon to be renamed NBC Sports- will air 38 regular-season games, three playoff games and two nationa-team games.

Those two regular-season games on NBC may not look like much, but they are the first regular-season games to be on American network television. Prior to this, only playoffs and the title game got network play (on ABC).

But soccer will never get over in the US, right?

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

It's Recall Election Day, Wisconsin

Or at least, the main recall election day, the one with the six Republicans up for recall. (The two remaining Democrats make their defenses next tuesday.)

If you are in one of the districts voting, vote. Find time to vote. Make an excuse. Invent an excuse. If you're at work, to hell with work. Tell the boss you're voting and you'll be in when you're done. It is too damned important not to.

If you somehow don't know whether you're voting today, check the map here at Maddow Blog. If you live in one of the red areas on the map, you're voting today. If you live in the blue regions, you are either voting next Tuesday or you're in Dave Hansen's district and have already voted.

Monday, August 8, 2011

How Dense Can You Get?

Today I want to toss up a TED talk and get in some time working on the soccer book. (Clubs covered so far: 636. On deck: Velez Sarsfield of Argentina.)

So here's Alex Steffen in Edinburgh, Scotland, talking about how to reduce carbon emissions on a city-wide level. (First hint: the higher the city's density, the lower the emissions.)

Sunday, August 7, 2011

It's Just A Fad

In all the hoopla of the credit downgrade, there was a birthday yesterday that we need to mention., not Lucille Ball, but I grew up partially on old I Love Lucy reruns, so hey, happy birthday, Mrs. Rotted-Out Corpse Unless You Were Cremated.

In fact, we're celebrating here the 20th birthday of the World Wide Web. You know, the 'www' that websites don't even bother making you type out anymore. Yesterday in 1991, the very first website was created. That website is here. The content of the site, back at the start, was to inform visitors how to make text, create their own sites, search the then very very tiny Web for information etc. Today, such information hard-wired into the psyches of the online population, the site tells the story of the Web's invention.

The Web's only 20 years old. For all the ages of things out there that make you feel old... the Web can't even legally drink yet.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Countries By Credit Rating

So... the US got downgraded by Standard & Poor.

Where does that leave us in relation to the rest of the world?

If you don't follow credit agency ratings regularly, the names of the ratings are likely to look a bit inflated. Every rating from the three major agencies- S&P, Moody's and Fitch- contain the letters A, B or C, often multiple times. Or at least, every rating that any country with a rating currently has.

For ease of comprehension, here, we're going to throw all those alphabet-block ratings in the garbage. We will rename them by their tier number: the best rating from a given agency will be reassigned the number 1, the second-best rating gets a 2, and so on. I figure that's something much more easily understandable. We'll also note the dividing line between "investment-grade" and "speculative-grade"; aka the junk bond line. For all three, the line happens to divide tiers 10 and 11.

As of today, here are the countries sitting on each rating. Note that not every country has ratings from all three, and some countries have no ratings at all.

In case you're wondering, one country currently matches the United States in all three ratings. That country is New Zealand.

1- Australia, Austria, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Guernsey, Hong Kong, Isle of Man, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Singapore, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom
2- Belgium, New Zealand, South Korea, United States
3- Abu Dhabi, Bermuda, Kuwait, Qatar, Slovenia, Spain
4- China, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan
5- Chile, Italy, Slovakia
6- Andorra, Czech Republic, Estonia, Israel, Malta, Oman, Ras Al-Khaimah, Trinidad and Tobago
7- Aruba, Botswana, Malaysia, Poland
8- Bahamas, Cyprus, Ireland, South Africa
9- Bahrain, Bulgaria, Kazakhstan, Lithuania, Mexico, Russia
10- Barbados, Brazil, Colombia, Croatia, Hungary, Iceland, India, Montserrat, Morocco, Panama, Peru, Portugal, Tunisia
11- Azerbaijan, Indonesia, Latvia, Romania, Uruguay
12- Costa Rica, Egypt, Guatemala, Jordan, Macedonia, Montenegro, Philippines, Serbia, Turkey
13- Angola, Bangladesh, Cook Islands, El Salvador, Gabon, Mongolia, Venezuela, Vietnam
14- Albania, Bolivia, Bosnia/Herzegovina, Cambodia, Cape Verde, Dominican Republic, Georgia, Kenya, Mozambique, Nigeria, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Senegal, Sri Lanka, Suriname, Uganda, Ukraine, Zambia
15- Argentina, Belarus, Belize, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Ghana, Honduras, Lenanon
16- Ecuador, Fiji, Grenada, Jamaica, Pakistan
20- Greece

1- Australia, Austria, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Isle of Man, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, United States
2- Belgium, Hong Kong
3- Bermuda, Italy, Japan, Kuwait, Qatar, Slovenia, Spain, United Arab Emirates
4- Cayman Islands, Chile, China, Macao, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan
5- Czech Republic, Estonia, Israel, Malta, Oman, Slovakia, South Korea
6- Botswana, Poland
7- Bahamas, Malaysia, South Africa
8- Bahrain, Cyprus, Lithuania, Mexico, Russia, Thailand, Trinidad and Tobago
9- Brazil, Bulgaria, Kazakhstan, Mauritius
10- Barbados, Colombia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Hungary, Iceland, India, Latvia, Panama, Peru, Romania, Tunisia
11- Azerbaijan, Guatemala, Indonesia, Ireland, Morocco, Uruguay
12- Armenia, El Salvador, Jordan, Philippines, Portugal, Turkey
13- Angola, Bangladesh, Egypt, Georgia, Montenegro
14- Albania, Bolivia, Dominican Republic, Fiji, Lebanon, Mongolia, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Senegal, Sri Lanka, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, Vietnam
15- Bosnia/Herzegovina, Cambodia, Honduras, Ukraine, Venezuela
16- Argentina, Belarus, Belize, Jamaica, Moldova, Nicaragua, Pakistan
17- Cuba
18- Ecuador
20- Greece

1- Australia, Austria, Bermuda, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, United States
2- Belgium, Hong Kong, Spain
3- Abu Dhabi, Kuwait, Slovenia, South Korea
4- Chile, China, Italy, Japan, Saudi Arabia
5- Czech Republic, Estonia, Israel, Malta, Slovakia
6- Malaysia, Poland, Ras Al-Khaimah, San Marino, South Africa
7- Cyprus, Thailand
8- Bahrain, Iceland, Ireland, Lithuania, Mexico
9- Aruba, Brazil, Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Morocco, Namibia, Peru, Russia, Tunisia
10- Azerbaijan, Colombia, India, Panama, Portugal, Romania
11- Costa Rica, Egypt, Guatemala, Indonesia, Macedonia, Philippines, Turkey, Uruguay
12- El Salvador, Lesotho, Nigeria
13- Angola, Armenia, Cape Verde, Gabon, Kenya, Serbia, Sri Lanka
14- Bolivia, Georgia, Ghana, Mongolia, Mozambique, Seychelles, Suriname, Venezuela, Vietnam, Zambia
15- Argentina, Benin, Dominican Republic, Lebanon, Rwanda, Uganda, Ukraine
16- Cameroon, Ecuador, Jamaica
17- Greece

Friday, August 5, 2011

Rapid-Fire Book Club, Toilet Mishap Avoidance Edition

The handle broke on the toilet and I went into Madison while it got fixed. What, you were expecting a geyser of fecal matter to gush forth from the bowl or something?

Anyway. Two books to report today...

Hartston, William- The Encyclopedia of Useless Information

And it's pretty much that. None of the stories are very long, mostly just little factoids, but the thing it has going for it is a lot of stuff my other books don't contain. When I get books like this, I flip through them quick to gauge if there's very much new material in it or just a bunch of stuff that's either in my other books or that I'm already well-aware of. This one passed inspection and I'm likely going to carve it up for prompts that I can expand on here. Just like the other random-trivia books in my arsenal.

Poignant, Roslyn- Professional Savages: Captive Lives and Western Spectacle

In 1882, nonwhite races had a hard time dealing with the Western world. They tended to be regarded as "savages" that needed to be "civilized", something that generally involved one of a couple things:

*Missionaries showing up one day and declaring everything they saw an affront to God and then obliterating entire cultures and replacing them with Bible studies,
*Colonialists showing up one day and declaring everything they saw as property of Europe and then shooting entire cultures until that became true, or...
*The kind of thing that happened to the subjects of this book, a group of Aborigines from North Queensland, Australia. What happened to them was that they were "recruited" by someone from the West, shipped to the West, and paraded around as the "uncivilized" "savages" they, according to the West's sensibilities of the time, were. A lot of the time, the word "cannibal" would be thrown in as well, whether or not that was actually true. Most of the time, a "savage" so "recruited" would never see home again. I mentioned another such instance back during the Vancouver Olympics, that of "Anthropology Days" in the 1904 Games in St. Louis. But a better-detailed story on it can be found at Slate.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Welcome To Guttenberg

I'm continuing to try and brainstorm any possible way that we as a nation can find our way towards gaining and maintaining a leadership of reasonable, rational adults. I'm sure you have too, but I would like to have ideas to use beyond 'Vote out ALL incumbents! Both sides!' To me, that's not really enough. I mean, the past three elections- 2006, 2008 and 2010- have been considered 'waves', elections where large chunks of seats changed hands, and after three straight rounds of electoral carnage- on both sides- this is where we stand, a place most would agree is even worse than where we started before those three elections.

So a straightforward throw-the-bums-out mentality, with no further direction, isn't working.

'Term limits!'

12 year-limit, right? You tell me what possible good a term-limiting is going to have on someone that's doing their damage within months, weeks, DAYS of taking office. Scott Walker didn't even wait for his inauguration before pressuring outgoing governor Jim Doyle to kill a high-speed rail project. There is no term limit in the world that's going to prevent that. No, I want something else. Something new. Something outside the box.

Something like a political hall of fame.

...okay, how many of you stopped reading and went off to go ogle pictures of Jennifer Love Hewitt?

For the rest of you, I'm envisioning an American Political Hall of Fame. First off, halls of fame are awesome. Second, and more to the point, done correctly, it can be used as an inspiration to greatness- a concrete, independently-bestowed, high-profile honor that cannot be bought or campaigned for but rather must be earned. It can also be a humbling device, a way to tell those getting a big head, 'you may think you're some hotshot, but these are your betters, and they expect more of you'.

This might also, incidentally, have an effect on the rest of the public. You see, as much as some of them may deserve it, even when elected officials behave themselves, we're still pretty hard on them. We any offhand remark saying how they'd like to see something or other happen as a "promise" to be filed alongside the stuff they stump for in campaign rallies, and damn the man or woman who then "breaks" their "promise" by subsequently regarding that offhand remark as an offhand remark. Damn the elected official who loses a vote and then fails to find some way to brazenly ignore the vote and ram through their defeated policy goals anyway. Damn them if they ever go home and take a day off of work. Oh, no. They're playing golf. While people are out of work and/or starving and/or getting killed by something or other, which in a total coincidence has been the case at every time ever. The BASTARDS.

When called on this, every single time the response will be along the lines of 'Well, they're being held to a higher standard.' Nobody ever actually defines this standard. It's this morphing, evolving thing that nobody ever actually seems to reach.

With a Political Hall of Fame, that 'higher standard' is no longer that kind of moving target. There's your higher standard, cast in bronze and marble and free on Tuesdays. Here's who you're trying to live up to.

But you've got to put it together properly in order for it to be any of these things.

First, we need a location. Someone's got to house the Hall of Fame. But I want to start by noting where I DON'T want it: anywhere in the Beltway or environs. Too insular. Too self-congratulatory. Doesn't send a good message at all. I also do not want it in any city in the country where it would not be the town's primary claim to fame. A good Hall of Fame makes the town synonymous with its Hall. 'He's going to Cooperstown.' 'He's going to Canton.' That's what I want here.

Think of it like this: take every city that houses a major league team in the five major leagues- MLB, NBA, NFL, NHL, MLS. Eliminate every single one of them. Take any city that houses an NCAA Division 1 program. Eliminate those cities too. And Division 2. And Division 3. All out of consideration.

While you're at it, you can also dump any city claiming to have the first or biggest of anything or which prominently claims to be the 'capital' or 'home' of anything or anyone.

All done? There's your starting point.

I'd like to have it in Iowa, near the Mississippi. First off, I've been in that area and it's just lovely. Second, the Mississippi has a nice Americana value to it. Third, Iowa is the home of the first Presidential primaries. Any semi-serious candidate, anyone serious enough to stump in Iowa, would be almost obligated to show up at some point. How much of an effect it has on them is up for debate, but the assumption here lies on it either having at least some effect, however small, on some of the candidates, and/or it having an effect on the voters who visit and then almost certainly look at the candidates and go 'why can't YOU be like that?'

As for a specific town, I'm going to pick Guttenberg. It's a small town, about 2,000 people, and local geography dictates that it'll never be all that much more than that, but that's fine. If you want a town to be destined as a synonym for what we're doing, you don't want any town that's known for anything. Which limits you largely to small towns. Guttenberg's main claim to fame is that they have a lock and dam of the Upper Mississippi. That's it. (The local geography of Guttenberg is that it's a thin strip of development on the riverbank, pressed in by bluffs. The bluffs can be built on, though, and are reachable, so we'll stick the Hall up there. It'll be a nice view and it cuts down on flood risks. Am I thinking about this way too much? Like I care.)

So we have a location. Now the much more relevant question: how to determine who's going to Guttenberg.

First, let's define who's eligible for enshrinement. There are two main rules:

1. Eligible candidates must, of course, have something to do with politics. This could be elected officials, unelected members of the public sector (such as Cabinet members, Supreme Court justices, staffers, members of the bureaucracy, etc.), campaign workers, journalists, lobbyists, activists, pollsters, whatever. However, whoever they may are, they can only be judged on their political body of work. John McCain, for example, can't have his Vietnam experience count for him except as it relates to his use of it as a utensil over his political career.

2. Candidates become eligible for induction after having been dead for a minimum of 25 years. No exceptions. Any earlier than that and I feel the process will become too partisan for there to be a good enough appraisal. I do not believe the political world can be trusted to properly judge its own contemporaries; there will be too much partisan posturing and not enough historical hindsight into a candidate. Besides, there really is no 'retirement' to speak of. You can continue to have an effect on politics right up to your final breath and beyond the grave. It really will not do to have anyone who's alive get inducted, run for office on it and win, and then proceed to suck. That costs everyone involved credibility.

Next, the induction process.

Round 1 will be public nominations. I want to, at some point in the process, involve the general American public, give people a sense of ownership of the place. This is my method of doing that. The main ballot- Round 2- will consist of 50 names in any given year. 45 names on the inaugural ballot will be decided by the public, through online nominations. We'll say they can nominate up to 10 people. The top 45 names- after the removals of fakes and ineligibles- go on the ballot. The other five slots will be handed to... well, here we'll just call it the Veterans' Committee like most Halls of Fame call their secondary committee. We can call it something else later. The Veterans' Committee is a panel of whoever the Hall of Fame curators deem fit. Their job is mainly to fill in the mental gaps. They're going to try and put more obscure names on the main ballot, names that the general public wouldn't really ever think to nominate.

Round 2 is the main ballot. Here, let's just be honest, I'm cribbing heavily from baseball's procedure. It's a good way of doing things and fits in nice with what we're trying to do. The main ballot is sent to a group of political historians, none of which can already have been on the Veterans' Committee. We'll aim for somewhere between 500-1,000 of them. They're our equivalent of the baseball writers- they specialize in the knowledge base we need, and besides, of all the groups of people that get dragged into political fights, they actually largely get left alone to do their thing. They're perfect Hall of Fame voters. They'll get the main ballot of 50 names and be asked to vote to elect up to 12 names. Just like in baseball, anyone who claims at least 75% of the vote is inducted into the Hall of Fame. 75% is well and plenty enough to keep above a partisan fight. Plenty of political types would get 50% of the vote. It's that last 25% that'll get you.

If you don't get 75%, you're not in, at least not yet. However, other top performers on the ballot get a consolation prize: anyone who gets at least 10% is guaranteed a place on the ballot for the next year. The remaining places on the ballot are placed up for grabs in the next Round 1 nominations, with 3 spots reserved for the Veterans' Committee in years after the first.

On the other hand, should anyone be so unfortunate as to not claim a single vote- it happens in baseball, so don't laugh- that person becomes ineligible for five years. This will help cut down on people trying to shove a name through the nomination process that are just totally, completely unacceptable.

Usually in a Hall of Fame, that's the end of it. You're in, you're in. However, this is history we're talking about. Times change. Sentiments change. People who seemed like good choices upon their induction can, over time, turn out to not look nearly as good. This has happened before in a related hall, the Hall of Fame for Great Americans in New York City, housed at Bronx Community College. (It also had a dead-for-25-years requirement, though they bent it a few times.) That Hall, while a point of national pride in its time, was intensely campaigned for in only the one round of balloting (this is why the public is not given the final round) and made some very questionable choices. James Buchanan. Stonewall Jackson. Sidney Lanier, campaigned for by the Daughters of the Confederacy after Booker T. Washington had gotten in. You look at such names now, and honestly, James Buchanan is not someone worth honoring like that. That's not like putting Eppa Rixey in baseball's Hall of Fame. That's like inducting Turk Wendell. Bad choices like that cost a Hall credibility in later years.

The Hall died off for lack of interest, mainly because not enough people were getting elected. People were used to electing 10 people at a time, once every five years. (We're doing a much smaller annual induction, so that won't be much of an issue.) It also got overshadowed by baseball's Hall of Fame, which was inducting people who were still alive. (We'll hold firm on that point. We also will refrain from simply reanimating the Hall for Great Americans, as it took from all walks of society and we're focused squarely on politics.)

We're going to allow for the possibility of bad choices with an ejection mechanic. We'll let the first ten years of the Hall go, so we can build up the place a bit. Starting in Year 11, nominations will ask the public which single Hall of Famer they feel to be the least deserving of enshrinement. The Hall of Famer with the most votes will be placed onto an ejection vote on the main Round 2 ballot.

However, just as it's tough to get in, it's just as tough to get yanked back out. It will take 75% of the vote to evict. If 75% vote to evict, out they go. Their plaque will be saved, but placed in a special exhibit outside the walls of the Hall of Fame with a second plaque explaining why they were kicked out. (They are, however, eligible to be re-enshrined.) If they don't get 75%, that Hall of Famer is safe for one year, plus an extra year per 10% of the vote they came in under 75%. If in Year 1 Abraham Lincoln got 74% of the vote to evict, he would be safe in Year 2 but would be eligible for eviction again in Year 3. If he got 65%, he'd be safe in Years 2 and 3 and would be eligible again in Year 4. however, the voters were more reasonable, said 'wait, are we seriously voting on whether to kick Abe Lincoln out of the Hall of Fame?!' and under 5% voted to evict, that's eight years of safety he's got ahead of him.

So when on the calendar are we doing all this? I'm timing the induction ceremony for around late August: nice weather in eastern Iowa, still green and nice but after the worst of the summer heat passes. We work backwards from there: online nominations go on over March and April, the main ballot is drawn up, printed out and deliberated on over the course of May and June, and I'd like the inductees announced on July 4 for obvious reasons.

So now we just need to get someone to pay for and build the thing. Also maybe we should tell the people of Guttenberg, Iowa about the plan. They might not like it if someone came along and just started randomly pouring concrete without warning.

Now how do we find the money? Darned austerity.