Sunday, November 21, 2010

An Uncanny Coincidence

We learn in today's editions of both the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times that a deadline of sorts has been set for the pullout of NATO troops from Afghanistan -- 2014! Between now and then, "primary security responsibility" will gradually be transferred from western troops to the government of President Hamid Karzai. Combat operations for the former will gradually cease (or at least be diminished), in favor of training the locals.

But officials from various NATO countries apparently did not reach complete unanimity; some stated that the deadline was firm, while others indicated it might slip depending on conditions on the ground in 2014.

Amazing as it might sound, 2014 is exactly the same deadline I have set for myself for the imposition of a low calorie diet. I've had this objective since 2002, but it's always been part of a long-term strategic plan, not something I wanted to rush into prematurely. After all, my body is pretty accustomed to carrying around excess fat, and who knows what kind of damage an abrupt and significant change could cause. My stomach, for example, could issue a complaint, probably couched in diplomatic language, that could be devastating to my public image.

I think gradual is best. There is no need to go "cold turkey" on large portions of meat and potatoes. If a lot of people did this simultaneously, the result could be devastating to the meat and potato industries -- and heaven knows we need all the jobs we can find these days. Likewise, cutting back too suddenly on the whipped cream I use to top off my chocolate sundaes wouldn't do the dairy industry any good. If my cholesterol stays a little too high as a consequence -- well, that's just the price I have to pay for being a good American consumer and caring more about other people than my own good health.

So, I am reconciled to starting my diet in earnest in 2014 and working towards it incrementally by decreasing my daily caloric intake by 0.048 per year in the interim. Of course, if conditions change between now and then, I reserve the right to modify my position and postpone that diet until such time as the situation seems appropriate.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Supreme Court Overturns Giant Victory in World Series

In a stunning and unexpected development, the United States Supreme Court has vacated the recent victory of the San Francisco Giants over the Texas Rangers, awarding the World Series crown to the team from the Lone Star State.

Justice Antonin Scalia wrote the majority opinion, which prevailed on a 5-4 vote in the case known as Bush v. Giants.

Justice Clarence Thomas concurred, and his office issued a tersely worded statement providing supporting rationale: "What He Said."

"In this opinion, the majority rests heavily on its most relevant precedent, Bush v. Gore," Scalia wrote. "In that case, the Court established beyond the shadow of a doubt that the actual results simply don't matter. Just as the number of votes case in 2000 carried little weight in the presidential election in the State of Florida, so too, by analogy, does the number of runs scored by the Giants in the World Series have little bearing on the actual outcome. Umpires are fallible; this Court is not."

"This Court is bound by the Constitution. No other document or set of facts in evidence is relevant -- especially the opinions of the liberal elite sitting in the press box who claim to be witnesses. A careful and thorough reading of this founding document reveals no clause giving the government -- and by extension, any other body that exists within our territorial boundaries -- the power to declare any athletic team located or residing in the State of California to be the winner of any contest that might be remotely construed as coming under the jurisdiction of the Interstate Commerce clause. Since there were only two teams vying for supremacy in the World Series, and it is clear that the Constitution does not permit a team from California (and certainly not San Francisco) to be the winner, it therefore follows logically that the title properly belongs to the Texas Rangers."

An attorney for former President George W. Bush, who sat in the stands during the games played in Texas, lauded the ruling, indicating in a prepared statement that "the President is gratified that the Court has once again seen fit to validate the rule of law in a nation that has violated so many of our basic freedoms over the past two years. Of course, the textbooks in Texas would have reported in any case that the Rangers won, but it's nice to have the formal record correspond with the facts as we know them to be."

Justice Sonia Sotomayor issued a sharply worded minority dissent, claiming that the Roberts Court was distorting the founders' intent. "Neither corporations nor the States of California and Texas were in existence when the Constitution was written," she stated. "How this opinion, and several others within recent memory, can be construed in the context of a 'strict constructionist' philosophy, is totally beyond comprehension."

Justice Anthony Kennedy, siding with the majority, explained his vote by saying "I went with the liberals last time. It was the conservatives' turn to win."

Sunday, November 7, 2010

A (Mostly) Thoughtful California Electorate

Regular readers of this blog may assume that I think the recent election demonstrates thoughtfulness on the part of California voters because mostly liberal candidates won statewide offices. That is not the point I wish to make here.

Voters demonstrated sophistication and thoughtfulness, first, because they failed to allow the onslaught of money to purchase their brains. As we all know, Meg Whitman vastly outspent her victorious opponent, Jerry Brown, yet came up short in the polling booth. Proposition 23, which would have "suspended" air pollution control regulations (probably forever, due to the ridiculous criterion established for lifting the suspension), was supported in large part by out-of-state oil companies. The voters saw through it and defeated it by a hefty margin -- 61.2% "No" to 38.8% "Yes."

Dramatic evidence of careful voting is also exhibited by a comparison of the results of Propositions 20 and 27. The former was designed to extend the mission of the pre-existing Redistricting Commission -- which was created by an earlier proposition to put the post-census redistricting process for state officials in the hands of an impartial citizens' commission rather than the gerrymander-prone legislature -- to federal Congressional seats as well. The latter would have scrapped the Redistricting Commission altogether. Thus, Propositions 20 and 27 were, for all practical purposes exact opposites. It is difficult to imagine a rationale for voting for or against BOTH of them; the more logical approach would be to vote for one and not the other (in either direction).

In fact, most Californians did precisely that -- voted for one but not the other. Statewide, Proposition 20 passed by a vote of 61.4% to 38.6%; Prop 27 failed by a vote of 59.6% to 40.4%.

Clearly, some voters did vote for or against both of these propositions; otherwise, the passage rate for one would have been precisely equal to the failure rate of the other. By subtracting the "No" vote percentage of Prop 27 from the "Yes" vote percentage of Prop 20 (and taking the absolute value, i.e. using a statistical method that ignores the direction of the deviation, which in this case is irrelevant), one can calculate a "discrepancy" score that might be considered a measure of the degree to which voters acted in an intellectually consistent manner. Statewide, that discrepancy score is 61.4 minus 59.6 -- or 1.8. (See last week's post for a related issue on intellectual consistency.)

In mostly liberal Los Angeles County (where Brown trounced Whitman by 62.7% to 32.5%), the discrepancy score was 1.1. Reasonably liberal Santa Barbara County (Brown got more votes than Whitman but not by a huge margin) had a discrepancy score of 1.32. Extremely liberal San Francisco had a score of 2.78.

Conservative counties Kern, Orange, and Riverside, where major statewide contests went Republican by substantial margins, had discrepancy scores of 3.22, 5.35, and 6.09, respectively.

The pattern (did I just see some of you liberals smiling?) did not hold across the board. Fiorina clobbered Boxer in conservative Kings County, with a discrepancy score of 2.28. Fresno County, where both Whitman and Fiorina came out on top, had a moderately low discrepancy score of 2.07. In conservative and tiny Butte County, the discrepancy score was a lowly 0.85.

In liberal Humboldt County, where Brown got 56% of the votes for governor to Whitman's 36%, the discrepancy score was a whopping 10.51. What in the world do you suppose those voters were smoking?