Archive for October, 2008

More Electoral Fun

October 20, 2008 Leave a comment

Four addenda to my post on Electoral Fun:

1. I should have warned that in Dave Leip’s Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections, the coloring of states in the maps is counter to current standard usage: the atlas has states colored red if they vote Democratic and blue if they vote Republican. This will be clear enough after studying any one of them for a few moments, but I want to spare any initial confusion.

2. It’s worth adding to my list of years with close elections the year 1880. Go to the results page in the atlas, click on 1880 in the left margin, and you’ll see the results for that year. James Garfield won the popular vote over Winfield Hancock by 4,453,337 to 4,444,267. The electoral vote wasn’t as close: 214 to 155.

But there’s another interesting feature. If you look at the map, you’ll see that the blue (Republican) states are all to the north, the red (Democratic) states all to the south.

3. With this last observation in mind, you can go to another interesting page at the atlas. Once you have clicked on the results for any given year, look at the links below the national map and find the link “Compare National Maps by Year.” Click on it. You’ll find all the maps for the elections from 1824 to 2004 on one page, allowing you to see by color how the states, or regions, voted from election to election. The persistence of the South as a Democratic voting block (occasional landslide aside) until Reagan’s election in 1980 leaps out visually.

4. Finally, be sure to go to the Electoral College Calculator for 2008. It has as its initial setting the results of the 2004 elections. The states are all listed, with their electoral vote totals. You can change the winner of certain states, then hit the “Update Map and EV Totals” button and see the result. For example, leave everything else the same but move Colorado and Virginia from the Republican column to the Democratic one. You find that Obama wins narrowly.

Categories: History, Politics

Electoral Fun

October 20, 2008 Leave a comment

I’ve had some fun the last two days reviewing the popular and electoral vote counts for past presidential elections. It all started when I decided to find a list of all vice-presidential candidates in order to compare them (within the limits of my historical knowledge) with Sarah Palin. I found a table at infoplease and quickly realized that lots of vice presidential candidates were new to me.

By the way, it’s worth recalling the fact that Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution states that “after the choice of the President, the person having the greatest number of votes of the electors shall be the Vice President.” Until the passage of the 12th Amendment, there was a single pool of candidates. The candidate with a majority of the electoral votes became president; the runner-up became vice president. If the top vote getter did not receive a majority, the House got to vote. The 12th Amendment was passed by Congress in 1803 and ratified by the states in 1804, in time for the 1804 election. Under its terms, the presidential and vice presidential pools were separated.

I quickly lost interest in examining the qualities of vice presidential candidates. Instead, fascinated by the popular and electoral vote numbers, I began to examine elections in which one or the other or both were close. For a closer analysis of this, I recommend Dave Leip’s Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections. Clicking on Results, one is led to data for the most recent election (2004) and a list of years on the left margin. Clicking on any year leads to data for that year.

Let’s look for example at 1960. (This was the first presidential election I was old enough to pay attention to, but without much understanding. I couldn’t figure out, for example, why Kennedy had someone named Johnson as a running mate but Nixon had a building.) Clicking on it, you’ll be reminded that Kennedy beat Nixon by a popular vote margin of 34,220,984 to 34,108,157 and an electoral vote margin of 303 to 219. I always remember this as a nail biter, with the shenanigans in Illinois. The electoral vote suggests it wasn’t so close after all. Clicking on Popular Vote State-Level Data on Leip’s atlas entry for 1960, we are led to the voting results by state, where we see that in Illinois, the vote for Kennedy was 2,377,846 to 2,368,988. Now that’s close. And 27 electoral votes were at stake. Switch them from Kennedy to Nixon and the electoral vote becomes 276 to 246. We can go one step further. Missouri voted for Kennedy 972,201 to 962,221. Imagine a slight change in voting there, switch the 13 electoral votes to Nixon, and Kennedy wins 263 to 259. Neither has a majority! (A lot of strange things happened that year, including some electoral voters giving their support to Harry Byrd.) The election goes to the House!

This is what I mean by electoral fun. The scenario I just described can be found in the Leip atlas entry for 1960 by clicking on the “What if?” button. Another scenario described there under “What if?” has New Jersey switching a little over 11,000 votes to Nixon, along with the switches of less than 5000 votes in each of Illinois and Missouri that give them to Nixon, in which case he wins the election.

Here are some other years worth checking out:

1800: You know this one. Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr tie with 73 electoral votes apiece. Sitting president John Adams gets only 65 electoral votes, with Charles Pinckney just behind at 64. The House chooses Jefferson.

1824: No wonder Andrew Jackson didn’t like John Quincy Adams. Jackson gets 99 electoral votes to Adams’ 84. Jackson wins the popular vote too. But he doesn’t have a majority and the House chooses Adams.

1876. Of course. This was a bitter one, a precursor to 2000. Samuel Tilden wins the popular vote, 4,286,808 to 4,034,142. Rutherford Hayes wins the electoral vote, 185 to 184. Results are disputed in several states. Congress meets to resolve the disputes and declares Hayes the winner.

1968: Nixon has a narrow margin over Humphrey in the popular vote, 31,783,783 to 31,271,839, but the electoral vote isn’t so close, 301 to 191. Of course, George Wallace is a major factor, with 9,901,118 popular votes and 46 electoral votes. The Dave Leip atlas provides this “what if” scenario: a change of 41,971 votes in three states (Missouri – 10,245 votes; New Jersey – 30,631 votes; and Alaska – 1,095 votes) from Nixon to Humphrey results in no electoral majority, throwing the election into the House.

1976: Another close one. Carter wins the popular vote over Ford by 40,831,881 to 39,148,634 and the electoral vote by 297 to 240. The what if? Move 5,559 votes in Ohio and 17,624 votes in Wisconsin from Carter to Ford and he wins the election. (Note that there’s a missing electoral vote. That’s because one Washington State elector cast a vote for Reagan rather than Ford.)

2000: A real close one. Gore wins the popular vote by 51,003,926 to 50,460,110 and the electoral vote by 291 to 246, with the District of Columbia elector (in principle for Gore) abstaining from voting. As for the what if, a tiny change in Florida’s popular vote gives the electoral vote to Bush.

What? Bush actually won the Florida popular vote? But then he would win the electoral vote 271 to 266. He did? But then he would have won the election. He did? Really? The Supreme Court said so? Um. Gosh. What about the House?

I better re-read the Constitution.

Categories: History, Politics

More on Droppin’ g’s

October 20, 2008 Leave a comment

A few weeks ago, I wrote about Sarah Palin and the speech pattern known as “dropping g’s,” with reference to a post on Language Log and to an earlier primer on g-dropping at Language Log.

Two days ago, three additional posts on the subject appeared on Language Log, as follow-ups to Steve Pinker’s op-ed piece in the New York Times on Palin’s pronunciation “nuc-u-lar” for the word nuclear and Geoff Nunberg’s post in response. I recommend looking at Mark Liberman’s post two days ago, the subsequent post by Geoff Nunberg, and yet another Liberman post. It’s a lot of reading, but fascinating.

Part of the issue is the extent to which such speech patterns as g-dropping are part of one’s natural accent, set early in life, as opposed to being folksy tools one employs for effect. And if such patterns are tools, under what circumstances are they used? The first of the three posts includes a discussion of g-dropping by McCain and Obama in last week’s third debate. (It’s not just Palin!) The second of the three focuses on Palin, including the following discussion:

Palin can signal authenticity simply by refashioning her original accent, rather than acquiring a new one. You can actually hear how this developed if you pull up the Youtube video of Palin as a 24-year-old Anchorage sportscaster fresh from her broadcasting classes in college. She wasn’t in control of her accent back then: she scattered the desk with dropped g’s: “Purdue was killin’ Michigan”; “Look what they’re doin’ to Chicago.”

It’s strikingly different from the way she talks now in her public appearances, not just because she’s much more poised, but because she’s learned how to work it. When she talks about policy, her g’s are decorously in place — she never says “reducin’ taxes” or “cuttin’ spendin.'”

But the g’s disappear when she speaks on behalf of ordinary Americans — “Americans are cravin’ something different” or “People… are hurtin’ ’cause the economy is hurtin’.” It’s of a piece with the you betchas, doggones and the other effusions that are meant to signal spontaneous candor.

Now there are clearly a lot of people who find this engaging, but I can’t imagine that anybody really supposes it’s artless. What it is is a stone-washed impersonation of a Mat-Su Valley girl. I wouldn’t be surprised if Palin and her friends perfected this way back in high school. There’s no group that’s so unselfconscious that its members don’t get a kick out of parodying their own speech: most Brooklynites do a very creditable Brooklyn, and every Valley girl can do a dead-on Valley girl. And with all credit to Tina Fey, she wouldn’t be so brilliant at doing Sarah Palin if Sarah Palin weren’t so good at doing herself.

See, too, today’s Liberman post and Nunberg’s response on verbiage vs. verbage, following up on James Wood’s article in the October 13 New Yorker titled Verbage: The Republican War on Words.

Thank god for Sarah Palin’s appearance on the national scene. She provides so much material for us to contemplate and learn from.

Categories: Language, Politics

Eloquent Support for Obama (from unexpected quarters)

October 20, 2008 Leave a comment

I’m a little late in pointing to two editorial endorsements of Obama that were widely publicized over the weekend, those of the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune. In 161 years, the Tribune had never before supported a Democratic nominee for president. These are strange times indeed. As striking as the support itself are their eloquent expressions of that support. I recommend reading both in full. Here are excerpts.

From The Los Angeles Times:

We need a leader who demonstrates thoughtful calm and grace under pressure, one not prone to volatile gesture or capricious pronouncement. We need a leader well-grounded in the intellectual and legal foundations of American freedom. Yet we ask that the same person also possess the spark and passion to inspire the best within us: creativity, generosity and a fierce defense of justice and liberty.

The Times without hesitation endorses Barack Obama for president.

Our nation has never before had a candidate like Obama, a man born in the 1960s, of black African and white heritage, raised and educated abroad as well as in the United States, and bringing with him a personal narrative that encompasses much of the American story but that, until now, has been reflected in little of its elected leadership. The excitement of Obama’s early campaign was amplified by that newness. But as the presidential race draws to its conclusion, it is Obama’s character and temperament that come to the fore. It is his steadiness. His maturity.

We may one day look back on this presidential campaign in wonder. We may marvel that Obama’s critics called him an elitist, as if an Ivy League education were a source of embarrassment, and belittled his eloquence, as if a gift with words were suddenly a defect. In fact, Obama is educated and eloquent, sober and exciting, steady and mature. He represents the nation as it is, and as it aspires to be.

From the Chicago Tribune:

Many Americans say they’re uneasy about Obama. He’s pretty new to them.

We can provide some assurance. We have known Obama since he entered politics a dozen years ago. We have watched him, worked with him, argued with him as he rose from an effective state senator to an inspiring U.S. senator to the Democratic Party’s nominee for president.

We have tremendous confidence in his intellectual rigor, his moral compass and his ability to make sound, thoughtful, careful decisions. He is ready.

Obama is deeply grounded in the best aspirations of this country, and we need to return to those aspirations. He has had the character and the will to achieve great things despite the obstacles that he faced as an unprivileged black man in the U.S.

He has risen with his honor, grace and civility intact. He has the intelligence to understand the grave economic and national security risks that face us, to listen to good advice and make careful decisions.

When Obama said at the 2004 Democratic Convention that we weren’t a nation of red states and blue states, he spoke of union the way Abraham Lincoln did.

It may have seemed audacious for Obama to start his campaign in Springfield, invoking Lincoln. We think, given the opportunity to hold this nation’s most powerful office, he will prove it wasn’t so audacious after all. We are proud to add Barack Obama’s name to Lincoln’s in the list of people the Tribune has endorsed for president of the United States.

Categories: Politics

Wait ’til Next Year!

October 20, 2008 Leave a comment

Well, the Red Sox didn’t make it, despite their historic game 5 comeback, their victory in game 6, and their initial lead in game 7. My hopes for a “real” World Series (a Series matching teams that are among each league’s original 5 teams still playing in their original cities) are dashed. But how can one not share in the Rays’ joy? What an amazing season! They came through whenever they had to, especially against the Red Sox, in two great September series and now.

David Price sure served notice that he plans to be a great one. First choice overall in the MLB draft a year ago. Turned 23 last month. Made his major league debut on September 14 against the Yankees. Pitched in 5 regular season games, just 14 innings. And there he was last night, entering against the Red Sox with the bases loaded and 2 outs in the 8th, striking out J.D. Drew, then dominating the 9th. I can’t wait to see him in the World Series. This team is going to be fun to watch.

Categories: Sports, Today's News

Hayden Planetarium and Me

October 17, 2008 Leave a comment

Earlier today, upset by John McCain’s continued mockery of the “overhead projector” at Chicago’s Adler Planetarium, I wrote about how McCain’s lack of appreciation of planetariums is at odds with his avowed interest in providing “opportunities from elementary school on for students to explore the sciences.” The role a planetarium can play in exciting a child’s imagination is not abstract to me. I experienced it directly growing up in New York, thanks to the Hayden Planetarium, a part of the American Museum of Natural History.

I fell in love with the skies early on. When I was 4 or 5, to feed my interest, my mother would read astronomy books to me. I can now name only a bare handful of constellations, but back then I could name them the way some young kids can name dinosaurs. And nothing was more exciting than a trip into Manhattan to see the current planetarium show, look at the exhibits, and wander through the gift shop. My memory of all this is faint, but I remember the awe with which I looked upon the Zeiss (“overhead”) projector, able to project the skies of any season onto the dome. And I remember the large meteorite on display in the exhibit space. It must have been the 15 1/2 ton Willamette Meteorite.

Willamette Meteorite, American Museum of Natural History

Willamette Meteorite, American Museum of Natural History

I also recall that on one visit, the lady in the gift shop was surprised by all the astronomy I knew. I was probably talking non-stop to my mother about various astronomical facts.

My love for astronomy didn’t last. I liked math too, and when I got the Golden Book of Mathematics at 8, that pretty much did it. Astronomy was pushed to second place. Or maybe lower — I had to make room for baseball too. Still, I pursued astronomy on the side for many more years. I got a 6″ reflector telescope from the Edmund Scientific catalogue when I was in junior high school, and a beautiful Questar telescope in August 1967, before starting 11th grade. I collaborated with a friend in Chemistry class that following year on trying to get spectra of sky objects with my Questar and his Nikon. We even took our images to Hayden Planetarium to discuss with one of the staff scientists, who gave us the bad news that there wasn’t much there. Our attempt to run the light gathered by the telescope through a little spectrosope I got from Edmund’s and then onto the film in the camera had basically failed. Then, in the summer of 1968, I studied astronomy at the Summer Science Program in Ojai, California. (The program still exists and is still awesome. We attended a 50th anniversary reunion in July.) And in the summer of 1969, before going off to college, I attended another summer program in astronomy. At the Hayden Planetarium! I commuted to the city with my father each morning and took the subway up to the museum. Some days, I’d walk down to 72nd St. and have lunch with my grandmother. She would have been 76 then, and a great cook.

Well, that was pretty much it for astronomy for a few decades. I would still use my telescope on occasion. And in grad school I started reading some astronomy books for fun. But I never studied it again. Yet, astronomy returned to my life unexpectedly 5 years ago when I became a member of the board of the Astrophysical Research Consortium, the entity that manages the Apache Point Observatory in Sunspot, New Mexico on behalf of a group of universities. I’ve traded in my 3.5 inch Questar for a 3.5 meter telescope and the 2.5 meter telescope of Sloan Digital Sky Survey fame. Pretty cool.

We visited the observatory in April and took some pictures. Here’s a look into the primary mirror of the 3.5 meter telescope.

Primary Mirror, 3.5m Telescope, Apache Point Observatory

Primary Mirror, 3.5m Telescope, Apache Point Observatory

And here’s where the 2.5 meter Sloan survey telescope lives. The building slides on tracks to expose the telescope to the sky.

Housing, 2.5m Sloan Telescope, Apache Point Observatory

Housing, 2.5m Sloan Telescope, Apache Point Observatory

And there’s a heck of a good view from the observatory down to the white sands of the Tularosa Basin.

Tularosa Basin, New Mexico, from Apache Point Observatory

Tularosa Basin, New Mexico, from Apache Point Observatory

All of this is part of my life thanks to that overhead projector in the Hayden Planetarium.

Categories: Education, Science

Red Sox Still Alive!

October 16, 2008 2 comments

There could be a “real” World Series yet. (See my post yesterday about having a World Series in which each participant is one of the five teams in its league that goes back to the beginning of the 20th century and still plays in its original city.) When I saw online that the Red Sox were down 5-0 in the 7th, I figured I’d turn it on in time to see the end. I didn’t count on a half-hour-long top of the seventh in which the Rays upped their lead to 7-0, which is where things stood when I turned on the TV to see the end. And I sure didn’t count on what happened next. I can’t say it better than Joe Posnanski, who has just posted his own thoughts.

If they can just get a two-out, two-strike RBI single from Pedroia …

And if they can get a three-run homer from Papi …

And if they can get a two-run home from J.D. Drew …

And if they can get a 254-pitch at-bat from Coco Crisp and then, with a runner at second, let him hit a hard single to Tampa outfielder Gabe Gross who then uncorks the worst playoff outfield throw since Barry …

Then all they will need, in the bottom of the ninth, is a terrible throw from Evan Longoria and a line shot game winner by J.D. Drew over Gross’ head.

It all happened, just like that. Wow!

Categories: Sports, Today's News

Palin and Elitism

October 16, 2008 Leave a comment

One of the benefits I have derived in reading Andrew Sullivan’s blog at The Atlantic Monthly is my discovery of a whole cast of thoughtful, articulate conservative writers. It’s comforting to know that Bill Kristol (not thoughtful!) is not the norm. My latest find is Heather MacDonald of the Manhattan Institute. She writes for their publication City Journal, in print and online.

Three weeks ago, with reference to Sarah Palin’s campaign, MacDonald wrote a piece entitled Anti-Elitism Goes Too Far, with the subtitle Sarah Palin’s defenders shouldn’t mock the value of learning. Clearly MacDonald and I have different views on the contemporary university, but I very much enjoyed her concluding passage:

… wouldn’t it be possible to signal that it’s not just paying the mortgage, pumping the gas, and enjoying her husband and children that qualifies a working mom for the vice presidency, as one commentator has suggested, but that the study of history and political thought might help, too? Such study can be accomplished at the University of Idaho no less than at Princeton.

I am not suggesting that having an Ivy League degree, or indeed any kind of degree, is a prerequisite to occupying the White House. I would have been delighted if a businessman who had created a successful enterprise were on the ticket, no matter his academic background. But the wisdom of the past offers its own lessons for political leaders; the Founders, who peppered their advocacy for the Constitution with discussions of the ancient Greek Amphictyonic council and the Holy Roman Empire, would have been surprised to see that resource so gleefully dismissed.

MacDonald’s most recent on-line article is Gettin’ All Mavericky. Its subtitle is Conservatives should not sacrifice standards for political advantage. It’s well worth reading. Here’s a portion: Read more…

Categories: Politics

McCain’s Appearance

October 16, 2008 Leave a comment

The impression Senator McCain has left on me in the second and third presidential debates is that of someone old and tired, lost somewhere in the past. This isn’t a statement about his age, or his intellectual capacity. He’s clearly a vigorous guy. It’s hard to imagine how anyone endures the physical, mental, and emotional intensity of a presidential campaign. It’s more about his demeanor, his continued focus on now-tired ideas, on the trivial, on slogans, on meanness. What he says, how he carries himself, the expressions on his face all are of a piece, and not an inspiring piece.

The New Yorker’s superb writer George Packer captures some of what I’m seeing in his latest blog post:

It made me sad, watching the tight-necked, pop-eyed, clenched-jawed, eyebrows-twitching, shoulders-heaving, ghoulish-smiling, rapid-blinking John McCain go from pale to translucent as he flailed away on TV last night, to remember the man I saw at a town-hall meeting in Salem, New Hampshire, last January—years ago. Back then he was witty, he was relaxed, he was appealingly combative, he was generous. For sheer talent at engaging with voters he had it all over both Obama and Clinton. The contrast now is so severe that it makes running for President seem like a personal disaster on the scale of a prolonged nervous breakdown leading to physical and psychological ruin. This campaign has done something terrible to McCain. And it’s entirely his own fault. Character is fate.

See also the comments of The American Conservative’s Daniel Larison. Some excerpts: Read more…

Categories: Politics, Today's News

That Overhead Projector

October 16, 2008 Leave a comment

In last night’s McCain-Obama debate, Senator McCain referred yet again to the earmark for a $3 million overhead projector that Senator Obama supported:

MCCAIN: … But I would fight for a line-item veto, and I would certainly veto every earmark pork-barrel bill. Senator Obama has asked for nearly $1 billion in pork-barrel earmark projects…

SCHIEFFER: Time’s up.

MCCAIN: … including $3 million for an overhead projector in a planetarium in his hometown. That’s not the way we cut — we’ll cut out all the pork.

The morning after the first McCain-Obama debate, I wrote about McCain’s other pet earmark peeve, the $3 million allocated for a study of bear DNA in Montana, noting that I was troubled about “his continued use of this expenditure as an example of self-evident waste, without making any effort to educate the audience (or perhaps himself) on why it’s a waste.” The same remark applies here, as does my suggestion that underlying this is an appeal to traditional anti-intellectual, anti-science currents in this country. Read more…

Categories: Politics, Science, Today's News