So, I was looking through the channels

Last night, ABC was airing a show, that I had never heard of, called American Inventor. I was stunned and asked the following question: Will they ever run out of ideas for “reality” television?

Well, since apparently, network execs won’t shy away from any idea for a “reality” TV show, even one as crappy as American Inventor, I have some ideas for them.

Survivor: Inner City Detroit

Normal People, Abnormal Jobs

Behind the Counter at McDonalds

American Hooker

To any TV network employee reading this, I don’t mind if you take an idea, just as long as I get money out of it. And both you and I know you like them.

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I just discovered a funny show.

Yesterday, for the first time ever, I watched The Colbert Report (pronounce reh-pore). That show is funny.

It comes on at 11:30 PM on weekdays here, immediately following The Daily Show. When you compare Stephen Colbert to Jon Stewart, you get, in my opinion, a far funnier person. Stewart is quite predictable nowadays–take a couple shots at Bush, interview someone (usually incorporating a shot at Bush), have someone else do a segment, and then hand it off to Colbert. You can throw in a 3rd shot at Bush for good measure.

According to Wikipedia, Colbert’s show was pitched in the following manner: “Stephen Colbert parodies The O’Reilly Factor.” This manifests itself most clearly in “The Word” which is clearly based on O’Reilly’s “Talking Points.” This is by far the funniest segment of the show, as Colbert makes ridiculous (and ridiculously funny) statements with even funnier statements shown at the side.

As it may be clear to you if you look at the bottom of the screen, I am conservative. Both Colbert and Stewart mock conservatives far more often than liberals, and both are Democrats. But I like Colbert; I don’t like Stewart. Colbert’s mockery comes mostly with his style. Stewart’s comes with what he is actually saying. Thus it is far easier to swallow Colbert’s humor. Plus I have no problem with someone mocking Bill O’Reilly.

If it came on a bit earlier, I might become a devoted follower of The Colbert Report. As it is, I’ll catch it when I can.

The Election of 1860, the Constitution, and Southern Secession

I attend a small university deep in the south of Virginia. That means that my friends down here who read this may villify me. But as I tell them, I can’t help it.

The election of 1860 indirectly triggered one of the biggest disasters in United States history. Out of four major candidates, Abraham Lincoln was elected president with 39% of the popular vote in the nation, and 0% of the popular vote in the South. Realizing that they no longer had power to elect a president, and fearing that, because he was a Republican, Lincoln would try to end slavery, the South seceded. James Buchanan’s indifference did not help either.

I will now digress for a moment. The Electoral College was created to form a buffer between the voters and the most powerful office in the nation. Since votes were counted by states, not by individual, the main result is that states elect the president, not the people. It is my impression that because, as states, South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Lousiana, and Texas, would be ruled by a president they did not elect, they seceded.

Well, guess what. The other states did elect the president, and thus the states as a whole elected the president. Lincoln got a majority of the electoral vote, after all. Just because the Southern ones did not vote for the winner does not mean they could secede. Secession was, in part, the South throwing a fit that they could not have a say in the election of the president. If Lincoln had not been elected, but, say, Breckenridge had, the South would not have seceded.

I derived this analysis one day last month, because I thought I needed a good reason why secession was ridiculous. I still wanted to share it because I had never seen it before.

However, I found a better explanation today, while researching for this piece, and it needs to be mentioned. The Constitution explicitly prevents secession.

In full, here is Article VI of the Constitution of the United States:

All Debts contracted and Engagements entered into, before the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be as valid against the United States under this Constitution, as under the Confederation.

This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.

The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.

———-

What is important here? It is the third paragraph. Read that and try to tell me that secession is provided for in the Constitution. Basically, all members of all 3 branches of the government – legislative, executive, and judicial – “shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution.” By seceding, the Southern states were clearly removing their support for the Constitution that their elected and appointed officials had promised to support.

It would be easier if I just showed you where I found this reasoning. The logic in this piece here is crystal clear, makes perfect sense, and can not be denied. It was part of a research project by secondary school students in Wisconsin, but that does not take away its reasoning – after all, they got it straight from our Constitution.

The only way to support secession is through the Declaration of Independence, but guess what – that’s not the law of the land.

Reagan, the Soviets, and the End of the Cold War

Many conservatives regard Ronald Wilson Reagan as a hero for bringing about the end of the Cold War. Many liberals believe that the U.S.S.R. would have fallen without any aggressive action by the United States, and that Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev’s admission of this was the reason why the Soviet Union collapsed and the Cold War ended.

The truth is probably somewhere in between.

Communism as it was practiced by the Soviets was untenable. They could not endlessly support both their military prowess and their impoverished people, and at some point the collapse would be inevitable. Many think that by recognizing this, Gorbachev, and his policies of glasnost and perestroika, brought about the end of the Soviet Union.

So what was Reagan’s role, then, if it was Gorbachev who initiated the reforms inside his own country and brought about the window needed to bring down the Soviet Union?

Reagan became president of the United States on January 20, 1981. Mikhail Gorbachev became General Secretary of the Communist Party on March 11, 1985. For over four years, Reagan battled not Gorbachev, but Konstantin Chernenko, Yuri Andropov, and Leonid Brezhnev.

Upon entering office, Reagan decided that the best way to end the Soviet Union was to build up an “arms race” to the point where the Soviets could not carry on without starving their own people. This was a new approach, as beforehand emphasis had been on controlling the buildup of nuclear weaponry with a series of Strategic Arms Limitation Treaties. This policy, however, could not guarantee that the American and Soviet governments would limit their weaponry, and provided room for one side to take advantage of the other. Reagan changed U.S. policy to a buildup which would hopefully bankrupt the U.S.S.R.

The likes of Brezhnev, Andropov, and Chernenko perceived Reagan’s build up as a threat, and in response, they built up their arms. This was exactly the plan: before long, the Soviets would be compromising the well being of their people merely to keep up with the United States.

Reagan’s other idea, the Strategic Defense Initiative (dubbed “Star Wars” by critics), would ideally protect the United States from a nuclear strike if the Soviets sent one. The Soviets regarded this, too, as a threat – the U.S. could stop a Soviet strike and then send a devastating one over to the U.S.S.R. in response to the initial strike.

The Soviets were at their breaking point when Gorbachev took over, and began looking to negotiate with Reagan, as well as initiate reforms within his country. Reagan decided that now was the time to negotiate.

So if the Soviet Union would have ended anyway because the system did not work, and because eventually a Soviet leader would realize this, why does Reagan deserve any praise?

The answer: Reagan accelerated the end of the Cold War. He recognized that the Soviet leaders in the first term of his presidency would not easily allow the United States an upper hand in military arms, even if it meant abandoning the people of the U.S.S.R. Had Reagan continued the policies of the presidents before him, it would have taken much longer for the Soviets to reach that point where they could not maintain their military and their people. In that case, who knows how much longer the Soviet Union would have lasted? Who knows how many more people the Soviet regime would eliminate? Who knows how much longer the people of both the United States and the Soviet Union would have lived in uncertainty?

Reagan most definitely deserves praise for accelerating the demise of the Soviet Union. It is absurd to disregard his role in the end of the Cold War when looking back at, and analyzing, his presidency.

Additional Reading:

Wallace, Chris. Character: Profiles in Presidential Courage. New York: Rugged Land, 2004.

Chapter 11, “The Zero Option: Ronald Reagan and the Soviet Union,” pp. 206-232 is about this topic.

Failure: Herbert Hoover, Franklin Roosevelt, and the Great Depression

Many history textbooks condemn Herbert Hoover for twiddling his thumbs while the United States suffered from a Great Depression. Then, a hero emerges: suddenly, behind the strong leadership, active approach, and brilliance of Franklin Roosevelt, the United States began to slowly but surely bring itself out of the depression. Some books will admit that the depression did not end until World War II, but almost always he is given credit for alleviating it with his new approach.

History textbooks will not tell you the truth. Both Hoover and FDR took an active approach to ending the depression, and both of them failed.

It’s a well known story. On October 24, 1929, people began to sell their stocks in large numbers. On October 29, 1929, the bottom fell out: people were only interested in selling stock, not buying, and prices tumbled. The Great Depression was under way.

Most people realize that Hoover did not start the depression. It’s a misconception, however, that he did nothing to try and help it. Rather, he signed a lot of legislation in an attempt to alleviate the situation. He signed the first Federal unemployment assistance in history into law with the Emergency Relief and Construction Act. According to Wikipedia, he “[established] the Federal Home Loan Bank system to assist citizens in obtaining financing to purchase a home.” Wikipedia also states that he “increased public works spending.” He signed the Agricultural Marketing Act and the Reconstruction Finance Act. This all occurred over the course of four years. Unfortunately for Hoover, the depression continued to worsen. By 1933, about one out of four Americans were without a job. This can probably be attributed to the Smoot-Hawley Tariff, a bill signed (“reluctantly” says Wikipedia) by Hoover in 1930. This was Hoover’s huge mistake, one not made by Roosevelt. Clearly, however, it is absurd to suggest that Hoover sat by idly during his presidency while the nation suffered.

In 1932, Franklin Roosevelt was elected to replace Hoover. During the campaign he had promised a very vague “new deal.” It became clear soon after the election what he meant. It is pointless to go through every act FDR created: everyone knows he was active in trying out his plan to help the economy. What is important is the details. (For Hoover, it was important to state the multitude of legislation he passed; for FDR, it’s well known he signed a multitude of legislation.)

Between 1933 and 1940, Franklin Roosevelt tripled taxes – all types of taxes – when people needed money. He also demanded that crops and farm animals destroyed and killed – when people needed products to sell. The Cato Institute, a libertarian organization, asks ten “Tough Questions for Defenders of the New Deal” in this article. And in this article, the New Deal is revealed to have harmed the poorest Americans. A few things here are quite amusing. FDR raised taxes on almost everything, among them tires (“including tires on wheelchairs”), electricity, and radios. FDR had polio, which confined him to a wheelchair, yet he taxed tires on wheelchairs. And those famed Fireside Chats? As the article points out, “Yes, to hear FDR’s ‘Fireside Chats,’ one had to pay FDR excise taxes for a radio and electricity!”

Read the two articles above carefully. FDR’s economic policies did far more harm than good.

Why then, you might ask, is FDR renowned for his responses to the Depression, while Hoover is condemned? The answer is simple: political skill. Herbert Hoover was best known as a Stanford engineer. He was not a politician. The only political office that he ever held prior to being president was Secretary of Commerce, a position to which one gets appointed. Franklin Roosevelt, however, served as Governor of New York prior to becoming president. His political skill was recognized as early as 1920, when he was the Democratic vice president nominee. He never won a presidential election by less than 333 electoral votes. Roosevelt was also a far better speaker. Fireside Chats, inaugural speeches, “the only thing we have to fear, is fear itself,” “a day that will live in infamy.” Hoover has, well, nothing. FDR skillfully used his abilities to make people think that his programs were working. Hoover was not able to do so. But if you read the work and numbers provided by Cato, it’s clear that FDR harmed more people than he helped. But they thought they were doing better thanks to FDR.

Many people admire FDR today for the same reasons. They learn from their parents and grandparents. Students learn from history textbooks, written by professors who, for the most part, are liberal and admire another legacy FDR left: that of a government that tries to use its power to help its citizens. Of course, this legacy would not have been possible without his political skill. They use FDR and his high status to support their liberal views of today.

Hoover and FDR both took an active approach to government in order to get the U.S. out of the depression, and both failed.

Who are the Most Famous Athletes in American Pro Sports?

Introduction

Well, I did a study to find out the answer. I posted a survey on surveymonkey.com and provided a link to it on numerous message boards on ESPN. I got the 100 responses I was looking for within 24 hours, on the dates 4/3/2006 and 4/4/2006.

Most Popular Sports

I first asked people to pick as many out of 4 professional sports they paid most attention to, between: NFL, NBA, MLB, and NHL. I found that 69.7% of the people who responded to this question were NFL fans. 16.2% were NBA fans. 20.2% were MLB fans. 8.1% were NHL fans. These figures do not add up to 100.0% because of the participant’s ability to pick more than one sport.

The Questions

The next four questions were each about a different sports league. The basic wording for all of them was: “Give the first and last name of the first player that comes to mind when you think of the [insert league here], active or retired.” I will post these findings at the end of the article.

Age Distribution

A final important question was posed. It was about age. Participants fit into one of 5 options: Under 18, 18-25, 26-40, 41-55, and 56+. 99 people responded. 22.2% were under 18, 50.5% were between 18 and 25, 20.2% were between 26 and 40, 5.1% were between 41 and 55, and 2.0% were above 56.

Below are the findings for each of the 4 major professional sports in the U.S.

Football

NFL players were by far the most spread out in terms of fame. Two players tied for first: active quarterback Brett Favre and retired quarterback Joe Montana were each named by 12 participants (12.0% each). Two more players were tied in the third spot: active quarterback Tom Brady and retired running back Barry Sanders each received 10 mentions (10.0% each). Long retired running back Jim Brown received 7 mentions (7.0%) and thus was the fifth most famous NFL player. In the end, 11 players received at least 3 mentions.

Of note here are the presence of only quarterbacks and running backs, which are often considered “glamor positions:” positions that receive great amounts of fame. That is certainly reflected here.

Basketball

Retired guard Michael Jordan was by far the most famous NBA player. He was the person named by 72 of 100 respondents (72.0%). A distant second was active guard Kobe Bryant, who received 9 mentions (9.0%). Another distant finisher, retired guard Magic Johnson, was third with 3 mentions (3.0%). These were the three to receive at least 3 mentions.

The only consideration that could be conceived is that in the NBA, retired players draw more fame than active players. However, taking Jordan out of the equation would show active players as more famous. Jordan skews the results and makes any filtering difficult.

Baseball

Retired and deceased MLB outfielder Babe Ruth was mentioned most often: 23 (23.0%) times. A close second was active outfielder Barry Bonds, who was named by 20 (20.0%) of participants. Active shortstop Derek Jeter finished third: he was named by 11 participants (11.0%). Active designated hitter David Ortiz, with 4 mentions (4.0%), and active outfielder Ken Griffey, Jr., with 3 mentions (3.0%) rounded out both the top five and the list of players with over 3 votes.

What are the two most noticeable trends? 1) Active players appear far more famous, and 2) position players, rather than pitchers, appear more famous.

Hockey

NHL is similar to basketball in its disparity between its most prominent player and the rest. This one icon, if you will, is retired winger Wayne Gretzky. He received a majority of the mentions: 57 out of 95 (60.0%). Retired defenseman Bobby Orr was a distant second receiving 10 (10.5%). Other players with at least three mentions were active winger Jaromir Jagr (6 mentions, 6.3%) and retired winger Gordy Howe (3 mentions, 3.2%).

Retired players again seem far more famous, but this is skewed by the retired Gretzky’s widespread fame. However, unlike basketball, when you take the icon out of the question, in hockey the retired still retain the majority of fame. Perhaps this is a commentary on how hockey has fallen out of favor with the general public, which could explain why older players are better known.

Final Analysis

One way to decipher these findings is to say that Michael Jordan is the most famous American professional athlete of all time, as of today, with Wayne Gretzky as a relatively close second.

However, this may not be the most accurate analysis, because the athletes were divided by sport. Perhaps if 100 people were surveyed merely to name one athlete from these 4 sports, the results would be different.

What we can determine is that Michael Jordan and Wayne Gretzky are the biggest icons in their individual sports. Such figures are lacking in football and baseball.

There are a few ways of looking at this. They are not all mutually exclusive. This breakdown will serve as my absolute final analysis.

1. Michael Jordan and Wayne Gretzky are the most famous athletes in sports (see above).

2. Football and baseball are more popular because the fame of individual players is more spread out.

3. The fame of individual players is more spread out in football and baseball because these are the two most popular sports.

4. On a note similar to point 2, basketball and hockey are less popular, and therefore people only know of a handful of basketball and hockey players, and the first one they think of will almost always be the most famous person in that sport.

5. The fame of Jordan and Gretzky is simply too immense for other athletes in their sports to compete with.

6. When you consider that nearly seven-tenths of the participants followed the NFL closely, you might say the following.

6A. More people who follow the NFL means a wider variety of NFL athletes are known.

6B. Fewer people who follow other sports means a smaller variety of NBA, MLB, and NHL athletes are known.

7. Mostly younger people responded: 72.7% of participants were 25 or younger. This could explain the fact that, in general, fame of more recent athletes was higher than that of less recent athletes.

7A. When looking exclusively at hockey: the fact that 1) mostly younger people participated, and 2) very few NHL fans participated also explains, perhaps, the falling out of hockey from the national scene, leaving only it’s older fans remaining.

Your Turn

What do you think of the way the study was done? The results? Do you have any more analysis that I may have missed? Please comment!