October 25, 2010

US Mid-Term Elections: A Typical Result Likely

After the American Century

The media hype about these midterm elections has been devoid of historical memory. One breathless journalist after another has been proclaiming that a vast change is taking place. In fact, this midterm election looks much like those of the past.

Typically, the part occupying the White House loses seats in both the House and the Senate at every midterm election. Between 1842 and 1990. only one sitting president managed to win seats, and that was Roosevelt in 1934 after his spectacular early successes in the New Deal. Otherwise, in that 150 year period, EVERY president lost. Even popular presidents like Eisenhower and LBJ suffered big losses in the midterm elections of 1958 and 1966. Eisenhower lost 48 seats in the House and 13 in the Senate. Johnson lost 47 in the House and 4 in the Senate. So, should Obama lose roughly the same number of House seats, as now projected, he would be in good company.  Note also that Clinton lost 52 seats in the House in 1994, FDR lost 71 House seats in 1938, and Reagan lost 8 Senate seats in 1986.

Perhaps the media have lost track of this pattern in US elections because it did not hold true twice in recent memory. First, in 1998, Clinton did not lose any Senate seats and gained a few in the House. But since he had lost so many seats in 1994 and not gotten so many of them back in 1996, this was less a victory than it might appear. Second, in the aftermath of 9/11, George W. Bush (who received less than half the vote in 2000), was able to terrify the nation into supporting their president. That was a special circumstance, to say the least, and in 2006 the midterms were "normal" again, as he lost 30 House seats and 6 in the Senate.

One other typical pattern of midterm elections is also running true to form: the races are tightening as we near election day. Races that Republicans seemed likely to win have become ties in several states. Few now think the Republicans will be able to regain control of the Senate, though it does seem they have a good chance to retake control of the House. This could lead to grid-lock in Washington (as in 1995-96), but then again, gaining control of the House might force the Republicans to develop detailed policies again, rather than simply working to obstruct.

I do not regard this election to be anything unusual in the history of American politics. I do not even think the Tea Party is all that significant, since its members are almost all people who would vote Republican anyway.  Given huge secret campaign contributions and lots of media attention, they nevertheless do not seem to be changing the overall pattern very much. US elections are mostly decided by the one-third of the voters who are in the middle, and  they waffle from one party to the other on a regular basis. Unhappily, many of this group are not deeply analytical and appear to have historical memories that stretch only back about three or four years, at best. The beconomy, specifically, their own situation, is the main issue for such voters. With unemployment high, growth sluggish, and lots of foreclosures, this economy would be hard on any incumbent president.

In nine days we will know the results, but the statistical pattern suggests that Obama and the Democrats are not about to suffer anything more than the typical rebalancing inflicted by voters on the incumbents. Why should anyone familiar with American politics think that the nation had suddenly become liberal, or that the Democrats could expect to hold on to 59 Senate seats? Expect the Republicans to regain the House by a small margin, while the Democrats hold on, barely, to the Senate. 

October 13, 2010

Who is Energy Efficient? Blue States

After the American Century
All solar demonstration house on the Washington Mall

Once again the individual American states have been evaluated for energy efficiency, and again California is the most efficient, with Massachusetts close behind. Basically, the "blue" states that voted for Obama are the most energy efficient, while the over-consuming states are mostly the "red" states that apparently don't really care about being green. Note the states at the bottom of the list, Alabama, Mississippi, and Wyoming. These are also states that don't want a national health care system. Their motto should be "Pollute often - die young."

Here is the complete list:

#1 California          #18 Arizona           #35 Tennessee
#2 Massachusetts    #19 Colorado        #36 Kentucky
#3 Oregon              #19 District of Col #37 Alaska
#4 New York         #19 Nevada           #37 Georgia
#5 Vermont            #22 New Hampshire  #37 South Carolina
#6 Washington       #22 New Mexico #39 South Dakota
#7 Rhode Island     #24 N. Carolina   #41 Arkansas
#8 Connecticut       #25 Illinois           #42 Louisiana
#8 Minnesota         #26 Idaho             #43 Missouri
#10 Maine              #27 Delaware      #43 Oklahoma
#11 Wisconsin        #27 Michigan       #43 West Virginia
#12 Hawaii             #27 Ohio              #46 Kansas
#12 Iowa                #30 Florida          #47 Nebraska
#12 New Jersey     #31 Indiana          #48 Alabama
#12 Utah                #32 Texas            #48 Wyoming
#16 Maryland        #33 Montana        #50 Mississippi
#16 Pennsylvania  #34 Virginia        #51 North Dakota

Note that the "swing" states in presidential elections fall right in the middle of the list, including Michigan, Ohio, and Florida.

The list has changed somewhat in the last year, as states like Arizona and New Mexico have climbed to higher positions as they have adopted more solar energy.

If you want more information, click here.

October 07, 2010

We Need a Travel Olympics!

After the American Century

The ancient Greeks created their Olympics based on the skills needed back in their day, such as running, throwing a spear, jumping over things, and the like. Today, the world is far different and people need quite different skills. I therefore propose a new Travel Olympics. More disciplines must be added, but here are some vital skills that should be celebrated.

500 Meter Suitcase Race. Participants must run as they carry a standard suitcase, without wheels, that weighs 23 kilos. In the other hand they must hold a carry on bag that weighs 10 kilos. The racecourse must include at least one staircase of 15 or more steps.

2000 Meter Suitcase Relay. As above, with teams of 4. The suitcase handoffs will be crucial.

Security Control. Each participant must be wearing normal street clothing as they enter the Security Control area, carrying with them a 10 kilo bag containing a laptop computer, camera, and other items designated by the directors of the competition. The winner is the competitor who can in the shortest time, remove a a belt, shoes, watch, jacket, spare change, two pens and a memory stick, each in a different pocket, pass through the metal detector, and reassemble and put back in place all their belongings. Points will also be given for the elegance of movement. To be performed with accompanying music, as in figure skating competitions.

Airport Marathon. Contestants are at an airport, blindfolded, and told what gate they must find. The blindfold is then removed as a sketchy map of the airport is given to each.  The winner is that person who first navigates all the obstacles to the proper gate. The obstacles shall include passport control and security control. The signs are to be contradictory, and anyone asking directions incurs a five minute wait in line.

Speed shopping in duty-free, the winner being the person who saves the most compared to high street prices, after spending $1000.

October 05, 2010

Book Buyer's Nil Served: Ipad's absurd marketing arrangements

After the American Century

One of the chief advantages of getting an Ipad, I imagined, was that I would be able to buy American books quickly and easily. Most of the scholarly books and many of the novels I want are simply not available anywhere in Denmark, and often they are hard to find  in the UK as well. However, Apple has chosen to set up its sales in such a way it will not sell most US books to a person whose residence is outside the US. Even when I am physically present in the US,  because my Ipad belongs to a person with a Danish address, I can only access and buy a tiny selection of books selected for the Danish market.

Imagine going to New York on holiday, entering a real bookstore, selecting several volumes, and then being told at checkout that you may not purchase these books unless you have a bank credit card tied to an American address. This is material for a sketch by Monty Python.

The obvious comparison is Amazon's Kindle reader which costs only a quarter as much as the Ipad, has a much longer battery life (measured in weeks not hours), is lighter in weight by far, and apparently (I have not done this) can download an enormous number of books regardless of where you are in the world or where your billing address might be.

While the Ipad can play videos and music, show photographs, surf the internet, and do lots of other things, the  buyer without a US address who wants American books is ill - indeed almost NIL - served. I could understand (though not like it much) if Apple made a selection of American books available in the EU as a whole, but to slice up the European market into tiny national segments is absurd. Why should the Brit, the German, and the Dane be forced to go to different virtual stores? What is Apple thinking? Are they thinking?

In the present "store" I can get quite a few books by the great Danish author of a century ago, Herman Bang, but I cannot get much of anything contemporary in Danish or in English. A new German novel had a nice review in the New York Times yesterday, but using the Apple "service" I cannot buy this book in either German or in English. It is sham, a joke, a hoax, and quite nonsensical. Indeed, it is close to false advertising, for Apple to brag about their book service when it really is only for people with an American billing address.

No doubt there will be some way to work around this silliness, and eventually Apple will discover that it is not selling books abroad because they actually are not for sale. But for now the  eager young IT chaps at the Apple store could offer no help, and it was all they could do to suppress their irritation and keep up a facade of "service."