On the Electoral College – I

As Election Day gets closer and closer, we’re starting to see more and more references to “polling numbers”. “This candidate has a six point lead, up from four a week ago.” “A new poll narrows the gap between the candidates.” Things like that. But these polls and their numbers are grossly misleading. In addition to the inherent biases in the polls, they all overlook one simple but important thing.

We do not choose our president by direct popular vote.

We never have.

There’s this thing called the Electoral College. When you vote, you are actually choosing a set of electors who have sworn to vote for the candidate you have chosen. Not that big a deal, except there’s a distinct imbalance in the Electoral College. Smaller states have a disproportionate amount of electors, and therefore slightly more influence than they should based solely on population.

How that came about is a matter of history, and reveals something about the true nature of the United States.
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Questions for the Presidential Debates

We’re just a couple of days away from the first Presidential Debate. They’ve become a regular feature of the campaign. They’re not just good theater, and a flub in one can ruin a candidate – but they provide the only direct comparison between the main candidates. In the rest of the campaign, they don’t face each other. It’s all speeches and ads.

True, they are formal and stage-managed. But consider them to be the “job interview” portion of the task of applying for the job of President. Just like a job interview, you get to see the candidates in person, in a format where they aren’t the ones in control of the situation.

As always, I have questions I’d love to ask the candidates if I ever had the chance.

First, some questions for both of them:
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In Sickness and in Health

This past weekend, while the press was once again ignoring all the many scandals surrounding and – to put it mildly – all the “misstatements” from Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton decided that being at a 9/11 memorial ceremony was worth toughing out a mild case of pneumonia.

She wasn’t able to do so and had to be helped off the scene, leading to yet another round of questions about her health and “fitness” for the Office of President.

In all the hubbub, shouldn’t one be asking why we care about a candidate’s health in the first place?
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MOVIE REVIEW: My Neighbor Totoro (Japan, 1988)

You know, I’m finding it difficult to understand why this animated kids’ movie is so well-liked by both people and critics. It’s got none of the things you expect and love from both animated films and kid movies. It’s billed as a fantasy, but even the non-fantastic elements reveal that it takes place in some crazy Bizarro World.

Let’s take things from the top, shall we?

The movie opens with a really lively and bouncy theme song, so you are deluded into thinking all will be right. But that’s the only song in the movie! There’s no other singing or musical number that they can sell to the kids (or their parents).

It goes downhill quickly from there. We see a father and his two daughters in a dangerously overloaded truck as they move to a new home in a small farming village. If this were a normal movie, the kids would be bickering amongst themselves, and whining to their barely tolerated dad about how they hate leaving all their friends behind and moving to someplace out in the middle of nowhere. But they are actually a happy family! Insane!

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You’ve Forgotten Them Already, Haven’t You

Assuming you knew about them in the first place….

One top medalist from every country that won a medal at the Rio Olympics.

If you won your country’s only medal, you’re in.

If you won your country’s highest medal (gold > silver > bronze), you’re in.

After that, it’s pretty much personal preference. I did try to choose a good variety of sports, and those athletes who won multiple medals.

I tried to be consistent with the captions. It’s not really easy when you’re trying to put this together as quickly as possible so it doesn’t get dated. I hope I at least got everyone’s names right.

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First Time Gold

In a lot of ways, the Olympics is about Firsts. First to cross the finish line, coming in first place in a tournament…. There are also the first times a sport has been played at the Olympics.

Some of the best “firsts” happen in the medal ceremonies, when a nation’s anthem gets played for the first time to mark that nation’s first gold medal. In Rio, this happened nine times. Ten, if you count the “Independent Olympic Athlete” team.
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So, Who Won the Olympics?

So, Who Won the Olympics?

This question pops up every two years at the conclusion of the Games (either Winter or Summer). The simple answer is whichever nation got the most medals. Usually, as was the case this time, it’s the United States. This achievement is crowed by people who seem to believe that success in an international sporting competition somehow validates a nation’s greatness. Or that individual athletic achievement only matters when your name is Michael Phelps or Simone Biles.

Let’s be fair. The United States is one of the most populous nations in the world. We have a truly vast pool of talent to draw on. And our large, vibrant, and robust economy means that when talent does appear, we can offer the best in training, technology, and equipment to help those aspiring athletes reach greatness. Well, at least in the sports we care about….

Gee, if only there were some way to take population size and economic factors into account. I wonder what the Medals Table would look like then… Continue reading

The Other Problem With the Olympics

It happens every two years. People gripe about the Olympics. Corruption in the International Olympic Committee, doping scandals, and the like. They swear they aren’t going to follow them, and yet they keep an eye on the medal tables and whatever else the media tells them to pay attention to.

In and among their litany of complaints, they might mention how the Games have gotten too expensive for a city to host. The displacement of people, the disruption of everyday life for the residents, the oppressive security measures, the wasteful expenditures on facilities that will never turn a profit (as if making money was the only reason to host the Games).

They have a point. The Games have gotten rather expensive. But it’s not just inflation, or hosts trying to “one up” the previous games.

It’s that the Olympics have gotten too big.
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The Olympic Team to Root For

One of the more notable athletes competing in the 2012 Olympics in London was Guor Marial, a marathoner from South Sudan. A refugee from Sudan’s civil war, he managed to make his way to the US. In high school he started competing in track, and made All-American in college. Noting that his time in the marathon was good enough to qualify for the Olympics, friends and coaches encouraged him to apply.

There was a problem, though. He wasn’t a US citizen and couldn’t be on the US team. He wanted to represent the new country of South Sudan (where he was born), but that country hadn’t yet met the International Olympic Committee’s requirements to field a team. The IOC suggested that he run for Sudan. Marial’s response was pretty much along the lines of “The Sudanese Army killed almost all of my family and forced me to flee the country. Do you honestly think I’m going to compete under the same flag?”

The IOC found a loophole. They allow for “stateless” athletes to compete under the Olympic flag. Wearing a generic black and gray track suit, and being given the three-letter country code of “IOA” (Independent Olympic Athlete), he ran in the marathon, finishing with a respectable middle-of-the-pack time of 2:19:32.

Since then, the refugee situation has gotten worse. Millions of people are being displaced by civil wars and strife all across the globe. Mindful of this, the IOC wondered if any potential athletes were sheltering in refugee camps or otherwise counted as “displaced” people.

They found quite a few….
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