Saturday, November 13, 2004

Leap year trivia

It is a bit unseemly of me to be posting these words on the Ides of November, some nine months past their relevance. But better late than never. And 2004 is not yet over, so here are my thoughts on the matter of leap years, and on the very odd month of February.

There are many who say that to make up for the deficit in our 365-day long year, we add a day to the end of February during each bissextile year, or leap year, as it is more commonly known. But those who say this are not quite right, although they are right enough for government work. What actually happens is that we *insert* a day before the 24th day of February, which then becomes the 25th, the 25th being bumped up to the 26th, and so on.

"Well so what?" you immediately ask, since you are not a fool. "Whether you insert a day or add a day is functionally equivalent. There is absolutely no distinguishing between the two!" And for most of us, that is true. But if you belong to the Parish of Blessed Mark Barkworth, whose feast is on the 27th of February, then every leap year you would celebrate your patron's solemnity on the 28th instead.

I did say this was trivia.

If you are among the roughly 1 in 97 people to have been born in the last 5 days of February in a non-leap year, then every leap year your birthday falls one day later than most people would expect. Does this mean that you are obligated to write didactic missives explaining their error to everyone who wishes you a happy birthday one day early? Of course you would be, except you should not violate the spirit of charity. No, it is far better to kindly accept the blessings and gifts of your generous well-wishers, and then to quietly celebrate your birthday a second time with your friends among the illuminati who understand the subtleties of the Roman calendar.

If you are lucky enough to be among the roughly 1 in 292 people whose birthday was in the last 5 days of February in a leap year, then three out of four years you would celebrate your authentic convivium the day before your vulgar one.

Understanding this insertion eliminates the anguish of how to celebrate the birthdays of our children who were so "unfortunate" as to have been born on February 29th. We now understand that there is no misfortune at all; their birthdays fall on the 28th in most years, and on the 29th only in leap years. The problem does not exist; it is a mere figment of our ignorance.

"But wait," it dawns on you, "the poor souls born on the 24th of February during a leap year, they are the ones robbed of 75% of their birthdays!" Not at all. But to understand why not, we must look at the Roman calendar in a new way. Or rather, in an old way, in the same way that the ancient Romans did.

We all know that the calendar we use today is nearly identical to the one used by the caesars, and so we can fool ourselves into thinking we understand their approach to it better than we actually do. The most prominent difference in outlook between us and the ancients was their custom of counting *down* their days to Calends, Nones, and Ides.

Every Roman month has Ides, which are the thirteenth day of that month (or the fifteenth for March, May, July, and October) and Nones, which are the fifth day (or the seventh, for the four months mentioned above), and Calends, which are always the first day of the month. So the Ides of March are the fifteenth of March. The fourteenth of March is the 2nd Ides (or more usually "pridie Idus", the Eve of Ides), the thirteenth is 3rd Ides, the twelfth is 4th Ides, and so on until you reach the Nones on the seventh of March. The sixth is the Eve of Nones, the fifth is 3rd Nones, and so on until the second of the month is 6th Nones. Finally, the first day of the month is the Calends of March.

This means that the feast of Blessed Mark Barkworth, mentioned above, falls on the 3rd Calends of March. Yes, that's right, it is in the month of February, but it is called the 3rd Calends of March ("tertio Calendas Martii" in Latin). It seems confusing, but it is surprising how quickly you can get used to counting down the days like this. It is a habit appropriate to a forward-looking people.

So in the year 708 A.U.C, Gaius Julius Caesar decreed that starting that year and for every fourth year thereafter the 6th Calends of March were to be counted twice ("bis" in Latin). Keeping in mind that Romans counted days down, we see that the first 6th Calends of March in a leap year are the twenty-fifth day of February, and the second 6th Calends of March are the twenty-fourth. The second 6th Calends are thus referred to as the bissextile day, from "bis sexto Calendas", or "twice 6th Calends". It is this bissextile day that makes our leap year.

So if you were born on the bissextile day, then your birthday is the 6th Calends of March, which falls every year on the 24th day of February, and in leap years it falls on the 25th as well. Far from unfortunate, you! Rather than losing 75% of your birthdays, you are actually increasing them by 25%!

Now, sometimes charity must take a back seat to Truth. If you were born upon the 6th Calends of March, whether it were in a bissextile year or not, it obviously behooves you to write before the next leap year to all your closest and wealthiest friends and make sure that they understand the intricacies of our Roman calendar and the implications thereof. You must not be too subtle about it, and you certainly must not tolerate ignorance!

And let me be the first to wish you a happy birthday. And many more.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

At midnight (appropriately enough), I finished reading Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. Wow.

This is simply an amazing book. One of the blurbs on the back cover calls it "the finest English novel of the fantastic written in the last seventy years." I'm used to seeing all kinds of exaggerated praise heaped upon books by their own covers, but I'll seriously have to consider this one.

I first heard about the book on NPR, in an interview with the author, Susanna Clarke. It is inevitably to be compared with the Harry Potter novels, which I have all avidly read, myself. And indeed, it is set in England, among magicians.

But there is nothing else really in common. Jonathan Strange is set in the first two decades of the 19th century, in an England that considers magic to be a perfectly commonplace pursuit to be engaged in by aristocratic gentlemen. Of course, they are all theoretical one has actually gotten the magic to work for three hundred years, and practical magicians are unknown. But why?

And then one day, a man arrives who seems ready to restore the Tradition of English Magic.

Yet it is worth comparing this book with the Hary Potter novels, if only because you'll be thinking about them as you read it. The all-pervading magic in both of them is unlike what you find in other books, after all.

I think that comparing Jonathan Strange to Harry Potter is like comparing Tolkien and C. S. Lewis. Lewis and Tolkien had an underlying Christianity, whether in the general morality or (in the case of Lewis) in the form of explicit Christian symbols. Lewis wrote Chronicles of Narnia for children (of course, he wrote much more for adults, but I'm thinking of Narnia, here), and it makes for easy reading, though one filled with deeper meanings. Tolkien, on the other hand, writes of a darker, sterner world. It's much slower reading, and it's not designed for bedtime stories (nonetheless, a friend of mine was read The Lord of the Rings for bedtime stories...). I don't mean to slight Lewis to praise Tolkien; I'm concentrating on their styles (not their substance) and the feelings it evokes in the reader.

The Harry Potter books were immediately engaging to me. They're easy to read, and while I was writing my dissertation, I would get to bed about 2 or 3 AM and immediately read them for an hour or more. When I started reading Jonathan Strange, it took me longer to get into it, and I was immediately struck by the stern, severe tone of it. But I gradually was dragged deeper in, and by this past day, I was totally absorbed.

It's hard to say which of these has had the greater influence on me. I judge a book or movie most by how long I'm pondering it after I finish. And I think I'll still be thinking of the consequences of the ideas of this book for years.

This is almost an alternative history (a genre of which I'm very fond), but not in the usual way. It's an England which reveres a Tradition of English Magic. It's a national heritage, even if it has lain dormant for centuries. A practical magician working for Wellington in the battles agains Napoleon is considered perfectly appropriate, although a novel idea. It's a novel with footnotes. It's a novel which makes very good use of footnotes! They sometimes go on for a page or two, and they're as fascinating to read as the text. By the end of the book, you'll be able to recite by heart the names of the great English magicians of the past and their fairy servants. You'll know the supposed folksongs that refer to the magic of the legendary King of Northern England. And you might almost think that you'd heard them once, as a kid, as nursery rhymes.

Susanna Clarke has done a wonderful job of...demystifying magic, of making it seem like a part of normal life. Which has the effect of giving you an unsettlingly surreal feeling, when you stop to think about it.

I'll write more on this later. The Methodism that appears in the book is worth discussing.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

The Munchkin coroner on Yassir Arafat

A friend and I have been trading movie and TV lines that were appropriate for Arafat's long "illness," when we kept hearing conflicting reports as to whether he was dead or alive.

The most obvious were from

Monty Python's "Holy Grail": "I'm not dead yet! I think I'll go for a walk."

Monty Python's "dead parrot" sketch: "It's not dead. It's resting."


Saturday Night Live: "Generalissimo Francisco still dead!"

I just thought of another one, from "The Wizard of Oz":

As Coroner, I must aver,
I thoroughly examined her,
And she's not only MERELY dead,
She's really most SINCERELY dead.

Feds want black bozes in cars

Fox News is reporting that the Feds want car manufacturers to install black box data recorders in all new cars. The proponents keep talking about how it would be so wonderful to have this data to understand how crashes happen. I'm sure it would. But you don't have the right to force the citizens to collect it or turn it over to you.

Thankfully, a lot of groups have privacy concerns over this and are saying so.

Why doesn't anybody insist on just enforcing the Constitution's 10th Amendment? Designing the manufacture (note I didn't say the interstate sale) of cars is not one of the powers delegated to Congress by Article I, Section 8. Therefore, Congress cannot pass such a law. Therefore the Executive branch agencies cannot require this.


Wednesday, November 10, 2004


Arafat finally kicked the bucket. The BBC is breaking the news right now (as of about 11:10 PM EST); I'm listening online, while finishing up a late night at the office.

Now who? And where's the missing billion?

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

My anticipation builds...

I just received the following e-mail from NASA:

Date: Tue, 9 Nov 2004 17:16:55 -0500 (EST)
From: GDMS Auto Mail <***@***>
To: ***

Subject: GDMS Document Release

A new revision to 547-PG-5330.1.1, FASTENER INSPECTION TEST PLAN has been released. You have received this notification because the document is on your GDMS Working Documents List.

Oh. My. Gosh! My glee can hardly be contained! The fastener inspection test plan?? The new one is out?!!!

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Kerry to speak at 1 PM

Concession speech, presumably. He's already called Bush to concede, according to Fox.

Kerry concedes

Fox News is just now reporting that Kerry has called Bush to concede. The Bush team is waiting to let Kerry's camp make the formal announcement.

Electoral Calculus

What happened? When I went to bed early morning November 3, 2004, Bush had gotten 269 votes, enough to at least tie. Now I wake up, and it's November 3, 2000. Ugh.

OK, I'm sitting down with Opinion Journal's Electoral College Calculator. I wonder--since Fox has Bush at 269 with Ohio (20 votes), is it likely we'll wind up with this election in the House? Hmmm...

First of all, let's see where we are, safely: With Ohio, Iowa, New Mexico, Nevada, and Wisconsin undecided, Bush:Kerry is 249:242. I'm combining the undecided state list from Fox News (watching it right now) and Yahoo. If Bush really does take Ohio, its 20 electoral votes put Bush up to 269, which means Kerry can do no better than tie, which would send us to the House.

If Kerry got Ohio:

That would make the electoral ratio be 249:262 (I'll put all of these as Bush:Kerry from here on out). Kerry would still have to win either Wisconsin or at least two of NV, NM, and IA.

How might the election be thrown to the House?

1) Kerry takes Ohio and Iowa. Bush takes Nevada, New Mexico, and Wisconsin.

2) Bush takes Ohio. Kerry takes Wisconsin, Iowa, Nevada, and New Mexico.

Where are we, really? Looking just at two outlets, Fox and Yahoo, it seems that they agree on New Mexico and Iowa as still undecided. Yahoo has Nevada for Bush and Wisconsin for Kerry. Fox has Ohio for Bush. Combining those results, it's 274:252. Bush has won without a vote in the House.

I'm almost disappointed. I like seeing unusual Constitutional situations put into use. On the other hand, that would probably make the left cry "Illegitimate!" for another four years, but with Bush winning 51% of the national popular vote, this would be a hollow claim, by their own standards.

Ohio called for Bush!

Fox News has just called Ohio for Bush. This puts the electoral college at 266:211 for Bush, as FNC has it tabulated. With Alaska expected to be won, as well, that would put Bush at 269, just one vote shy of an outright win. As much as I'd be fascinated to see this election thrown to the House (just to watch details of the Constitution at work), I'll sleep better with him winning that magic 270 votes.

Return of the Solid South!

With Florida being called for Bush, we are securely back to the days of the Solid South, now flipped so that it's the Republicans who are the favored party. Heh, great-grandfather would enjoy the joke.

Was Maryland ever a solidly Democratic state in the days when the Dems were the conservatives? Maryland was (is? Hard to say, now.) Southern, Confederate. They had the votes to secede, but Lincoln sent the troops in to prevent the legislature from voting. These days, it's Democratic in the latte-sipping mould. I suspect it has a lot to do with the permanent camp-followers living around the Federal District, the same bunch that has changed the politics of Northern Virginia.

Of course, I enjoyed living as a Federal camp-follower in Maryland's D.C. suburbs, myself...

Anyway, it's interesting to see two elections in a row in which the Democrats have finally made the change into a regional, not a national, party. Hmmm...sounds like I'm quoting Zell Miller. Not that I mind.

But if the Democrats have turned into a regional party, wouldn't the Republicans be the same? Well, a fair question. The Democrats are a party of the borders; the margins. Large population areas on the (Atlantic & Pacific) coasts, plus states on or near the Canadian border. More or less. The Republicans technically fall into a region, as well. (The region of where the Democrats ain't!) But the Republican region is physically much larger. It's the South, the West (up to the Rockies), and much of the Mid-West (however that's defined).

So if we Southerners wanted to secede again, we're finally realigned, politically.


I really should explain that line about my great-grandfather enjoying the joke. He was, of course, the son of a Confederate soldier and a Democrat like nearly every other Southerner of his generation. These were the days of the Solid South, in which no Southern state sent a single electoral vote for a Republican. But by the mid-20th century, the parties had pretty much finished their political realignment, with the Republicans becoming the conservative party and the Democrats the liberal one. We Southerners are naturally conservative, of course, but that also means we're also resistant to changing party affiliation when the parties change. That's why we've spent the second half of the 20th century with a lot of conservative Democrats who were nearly indistinguishable from the new generation of Republicans in their political beliefs.

My great-grandfather, interestingly, picked up on the trends fairly early on. Wasn't 1960 the first election in which cracks appeared in the Solid South? He started voting for Republicans before most of the rest of the South did. My dad, two generations below him, was younger and quicker to change, going for Republicans about the same time. But interestingly, my grandparents held on to the Democrats for a long, long time, up into my own lifetime.

Anyway, the man would have enjoyed today's results.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

European election observers

Go. Home.

The International Herald Tribune has a smirky little article entitled "Global monitors find faults." (Link via Drudge.) I've posted on this topic before, but this article has gotten me angry all over again at this insult to American sovereignty. And shame on the State Department for even inviting them.

Some of the pearls of wisdom from our Great White Fathers Across the Sea:

"To be honest, monitoring elections in Serbia a few months ago was much simpler"..."They have one national election law and use the paper ballots I really prefer over any other system." --Konrad Olszewski, Poland

"Our presence is not meant as a criticism."

"Unlike almost every other country in the world, there is not one national election today."..."The decentralized system means that rules vary widely county by county, so there are actually more than 13,000 elections today."

[Good. We're not a centralized Leviathan state. We have popular sovereignty and local rule. Dictatorships are so much easier, aren't they, Mr. Gould? --Ed.]

The United States is also nearly unique in lacking a unified voter registration system or national identity card, Gould said... [Again. Good. --Ed.]

--Ron Gould, Canada procedures being used in the extremely close contest fell short in many ways of the best global practices. other country had such a complex national election system.


And a Democratic poll observer, of course, is quoted having some encouragement for this bunch of would-be colonialists. On the other hand, I am enthused to see this closing comment in the article:

Not everyone agrees. Jeff Miller, a Republican congressman from Florida, considers the monitors an insult and has publicly urged them to leave. "Get on the next plane out of the United States to go monitor an election somewhere else, like Afghanistan," he said.

Yes! Good for Mr. Miller! And to the OSCE, I say, "%&#*@@!!," "^&*!," and "Go home and oppress your own colonies!" :)

Hawai'i and missile defense

I'm not going to place any bets on Bush winning Hawaii tonight, even though I'm encouraged by those recent polls showing him slightly ahead of Kerry there. But the fact that Bush is even close is intriguing to me, and I've been trying to figure out why he is doing even this well in such a liberal state.

The one thing that comes to my mind is North Korea. The last I remember, Hawaii and Alaska are the only two states that can already by struck by North Korean nuclear missiles. Bush has been promoting the National Missile Defense program, while I think Kerry's against it. (Maybe I'm assuming, here, but I really suspect Kerry's against NMD.) So with Bush having put together the beginnings of a defense system, Hawaii knows that it has some protection it wouldn't have under Kerry. Of course, once the North Koreans get longer-range missiles, we might all be in the same boat as Hawaii and Alaska. The future can't come quickly enough on the missile defense program.

I haven't heard anybody else talk about NMD and Hawaii this election. Any thoughts?

Cautiously optimistic

I wonder who coined that phrase. It gets sooooo used these days. But I like it. Fox News has Bush:Kerry at 207:144 electors now. Drudge has it at 196:133.

Penna. called for Kerry, Michigan trending Kerry. But Ohio and Florida trending Bush...

Gravity normal, air returning, terror replaced by cautious optimism!


I like that line.

Interestingly, the heavily unionized-Democratic county where I am in Ohio is split almost evenly: Kerry leads Bush 50.0% to 49.7%. Interesting. Maybe it was that whole weather thing...nah.

Car commercials

A quick break from politics tonight. I just saw a Jeep commercial. A volcano erupts. A few seconds later, among the falling "bombs" (I think I've got that term right), a Jeep Cherokee lands in front of the camera, a mile from the volcanic cone. Covered in dust, but undamaged. It flips on its windshield wipers and drives safely off. I got a nice laugh out of it.

Then you see in small print, "Do not attempt." Good grief! Are the lawyers so eager to scare up suits that Jeep feels it has to explain that this scenario is a joke? Do they really believe that some idiot is otherwise going to drive his Jeep up an erupting vocano and ride the explosion back down?! To quote Lucy, "Arrggghhhhh!"

Maybe this is related to politics tonight, after all. After my joking about the air drop of lawyers to Ohio, my dad had to look up that Shakespeare quote: "The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers." (Henry IV, ii, 6) (With apologies to Instapundit, Southern Appeal, and Volokh. We'll consider them off-limits.)

Low cloud cover hurts Democratic post-election strategy

Here in my section of Ohio, the rain appears to have stopped, but we're left with low cloud cover. I'm not sure what the ceiling is tonight, but I think it's too low for the massive air drop of lawyers the Democrats have been planning for this state. I do not think they can fly high enough to safely open the parachutes, nor can they fly above the weather and still see the drop zones.

If I look closely...yes, I think I can make out the search-lights starting up. Is that an air-raid siren I hear?

And as for here...

We've got rain here in Southern Ohio. My conservative but heavily union-Democratic, strongly-partisan section of Southern Ohio. We'll see how it affects the results in this swing state.

Voting and the weather--a critique of the logic

I always hear that rain helps Republicans on election day. Supposedly Democrats are less enthusiastic about voting and are more likely to be discouraged by bad weather. Now, I don't know if this is really true at all, but even supposing it is, I've got a criticism of the conclusions some people draw from it.

I've often heard people turn this around and say that if bad weather helps Republicans, then good weather helps Democrats. Assuming the scenario we put out above, this would not be the case.

Example 1:

In a given state, let's say that you have a population of 100 citizens that has 50 Democrats and 50 Republicans. Without considering the weather, you would expect a pretty evenly split vote.

If it rains on election day, then our "toy model" (a simplified description of how the system works) would say that maybe...40 Democrats go to vote, and 45 Republicans vote. The Republicans win.

On the other hand, if there is clear weather, then 50 Democrats vote and 50 Republicans vote, and you're evenly split. It's not that the Democrats have been helped by the weather, but they simply weren't hurt this time. You're back to the situation you expected without factoring for the weather.

Example 2:

Now, let's suppose that you have another state with 100 citizens, broken down as 55 Democrats and 45 Republicans. Ignoring the weather, you'd expect the Democrats to win the elections.

Now let's throw in a thunderstorm. A larger percentage of Democrats stay home than Republicans, but by how much? Depends on how strong the weather effect is. Republicans normally expect to lose elections, but if Democrats are preferentially discouraged from voting, Republicans might have a chance to win some.

If the weather is good, everybody votes, and the Democrats win. Again, though, it's not that the Democrats are helped by the weather. They're simply left in the situation they would naively expect (that is, without accounting for weather).

Example 3:

And finally, if we have a state of 55 Republicans and 45 Democrats, then the Republicans would expect to win, whether it rains or not. If it rains, the Republicans win by a larger margin. If it's clear and sunny, they win, 55% to 45%.


So even if the weather affects voter turnout the way people assume, it can't be claimed that "good weather helps Democrats." Good weather simply removes a factor from consideration.

Additional points:

And I suspect that it is also untrue that "when election day is sunny, Democrats win elections," which I think I've heard a liberal bragging once. As I've pointed out above, that would only be the case if the Democrats would win the election anyway. Say, if they have more citizens than the Republicans do. Although I've heard it claimed that a slightly higher percentage of the population identifies itself as "Democrat" than "Republican," I don't think this means the same thing.

For one thing, people often vote for the other party. When Reagan won his lanslide 1984 election, you don't think all of his votes came from Republicans, do you? There's a reason we still refer to "Reagan Democrats." In the South, we still have a lot of (mostly older) citizens who are Democrats but who are as conservative as we Southern Republicans are. The Democratic Party used to be the conservative party, after all. Of course, that was a century and a half ago...but some attitudes die hard, especially if you still regard the GOP as the party of invasion and Reconstruction. My great-grandfather was the son of a Confederate States soldier and was, as nearly all of his generation were, a Democrat. But by the time my dad was in college and getting interested in politics, my great-grandfather had started to realize the parties had essentially switched places, and he began voting for Republicans. As did my dad. My grandfather, on the other hand, took a while longer to catch on. Well, maybe these things can skip a generation.

Most of us in the South have decided that the GOP is closer (now) to our beliefs than the modern Democratic Party is, and we vote accordingly. But there are still plenty left who are conservative Democrats and don't show any immediate signs of officially jumping ship, even if they'll vote for Bush in the election.
Think of Zell Miller if you want a good example.

The Republicans control the Senate, the House of Representatives, the Presidency, most state governorships, and I think most state legislatures (these last two from vague memory...I could be wrong). This can not be all a result of the weather! It's because Republicans attract more people than Democrats do, at least at this period in history.