30 January 2010

Southern Comfort

Is it true that southerners are more prone to violence than people from other parts of the country? Don't know, but my gut reaction would by "Hell, yes! You all have a problem with that!!?" I noticed when I lived in NYC for four months that New Yorkers routinely said things to each other clearly NOT expecting a physical confrontation to result, and our southern students just as clearly expected just that.

Maybe this item is evidence:

Pitchers from the South are more likely to hit batters

You might call this one "Sentences to Ponder." It only applies, however, when the batter is white.

I found this info here. Most of the comments seem to take issue with the report. Except for this one:

Southerners are, true to stereotype, nicer and more polite in default situations but much more aggressive when their honor is threatened. Southerners have higher rates of "crimes of passion" but lower rates of regular premeditated crimes. Southerners are also more likely to forgive someone who committed a crime of passion or a crime to uphold his honor.

Come to think of it, the comments are as interesting as the post.

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Repubs react to Q&A

Apparently it seemed like a good idea: televise the confrontation between the brightest lights of the Repub congress with the hapless Obama.

And I actually have seen some commentators try to spin it that way. But this seems more likely the Repubs real take on it.

but I could be wrong.


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29 January 2010

Bookmarks are for sissies

I found a blog that looked interesting, smart, and amusing, not in that order. Just so I won't lose track of it, I am linking to it here. Perhaps it will divert me and Carmen as we get buried under 10 + inches of snow tonight.

I'm too lazy and inept to organize my bookmarks in any meaningful way.

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28 January 2010

Without Comment

Feel good video, I hope

It has been a long day. My eye hurts. I am tired. Met a new friend and neighbor on the bus today. He goes to my university and has to pay out-of-state tuition. He's illegal. For that reason his family discourages him from any more education: what is the point if you are illegal? And we are waiting for another 10 inches snow storm tomorrow. I was going to stay home, but foolishly forgot to fill my prescription for the drug that will make me psychotic if I don't take it, so I have to drive back up the mountain into the storm tomorrow.

So I watch this on Sullivan's site and feel a lot better.


now for a long hot shower and some cognac.


25 January 2010

Drama in your life

Not enough drama in your life? Same ol' rut, day in and day out, with strains of "The Volga Boatman" droning on as the soundtrack to your boredom?

Take a tip from Jeff and Erin: get married this way.

and get "Lux Aeterna" as your own personal soundtrack through life.

black clothing optional.

and thanks to Sullivan. Once again

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24 January 2010

Neil Gaiman

The New Yorker has a profile of Neil Gaiman, one of Carmen's favorite authors. I've liked everything of his I've read (or seen), but don't want to have favorite authors. The profile is fascinating if you are familiar with him, and odd enough to make you read something of his if you aren't. Here's my favorite quote, combining several authors who would be my favorite authors if I had any.
The writer Gene Wolfe says that “Sunbird,” Gaiman’s story about an epicurean club that eats the mythical phoenix, “is so much in the style of R. A. Lafferty it’s almost as if Lafferty were dictating it from Heaven.”

He was a kid I can relate to:
As a child, he was bookish and broody; for his tenth birthday, he asked for a shed and got a kit of pine boards, which his parents assembled at the bottom of the garden. It was where he read: the Narnia books; Roger Lancelyn Green; a neighbor’s father’s “Dracula”; Chesterton, borrowed from the library. Instead of studying for his bar mitzvah, he persuaded his instructor to teach him Bible stories—the Behemoth, the Leviathan—and the secret teachings, about Lilith and the Lilim, which he used in “The Sandman.” To his father’s dismay, he spent his bar-mitzvah money on American comics—a good investment, as he sees it now.

He started out writing the comic book "Sandman" ... and has an arresting way to describe its success:

“Sandman,” Gaiman says, is sexually transmitted. “Guys who wanted their girlfriends to read comics would give them ‘Sandman.’ They’d break up, and the girl would take the ‘Sandman’s and infect the next guy. It grew on a vector.”

A strange fellow. Maybe I should read more of him.

he could become my favorite author with an English accent who wears black.

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23 January 2010

Hi! I'm from Tech Support...

We'll have you up and running in no time!

picture not faked.

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The End of History! .... uh, No.

I love maps - here's a pair showing the retreat of Freedom, defined here as liberal democracy (not to be confused with Democratic liberalism). Very interesting, but perhaps a bit overheated in its commentary. For one thing look at South America. Argentina, Brazil and Chile, three of the largest Latin countries, are now "Free," as is Mexico for some years now.

For another, anyone who thought Russia was going to be a western style liberal democracy probably thought gun control and universal health care was just around the corner for the USA. The two largest Muslim countries are also 'free.'

A mixed bag, but look carefully at India and South Africa. And Mongolia, wedged tightly between the Russian and Chinese behemoths. And there is the odd fact that nearly all of the Anglosphere is free. Blame it on Magna Carta and the Glorious Revolution.

well, depending on how one feels about Kenya, Nigeria, and Uganda.

now if we could just get the Mongols to speak English.

thanks to Andrew Sullivan for finding this. He reads the blogs so I don't have to.

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19 January 2010

OK - someone's reputation improves

Doctors. Or at least some doctors. Or one: Sanjay Gupta. Yes, a media figure, and yes, I am cynical too (and I haven't seen any of the TV coverage).

Still, this seems to be what a doctor should be doing.

alright. That's it. Now it's back to cynicism and gloom.

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18 January 2010

For Mr Sobrino: Without Comment

17 January 2010

Democratic failure

Cementing their image as a party of totally feckless bunch of self serving buffoons, the Mass. Democratic congressional delegation stands by while their party stands to loose the 'Kennedy Seat,' its reputation, and the Health Care Reform bill. From a Talking Points Memo reader working in Massachusetts:
As a disappointing aside, Mass's Congressional delegation has been nearly invisible over the past week. Markey's been out a little bit; so too has McGovern. But I live in Somerville, Capuano's home territory, and he should be holding fifteen rallies this weekend. He's been invisible---almost figuring that he'd be well-positioned to take on Brown in 2012. That's inexcusable given the stakes. The same goes for Steven Lynch in Southie---hell, Brown's most aired advertisement shows him "winning over" some voters there; Lynch should be hitting back, but he's nowhere.

Way to go guys.

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E-Reader Wars kindled

(I know - bad pun. What can I say? It's genetic)

Here is the WaPo's comparison between the new Nook from Barnes and Nobles and the old Kindle from Amazon. I put it up because I am fascinated by e-books, but also the first sentence of it is, how shall I put this, misleading.
Amazon.com's Kindle is no longer the only e-book story out there.

It never was. There were several e-books out there, including a very nice Sony reader that was sold at Borders. But, that is what passes for journalism. It's not really untrue, but it is an intellectually lazy and distorting way to present the frame of your article. It has to be a contest, a struggle. Pledge your support here.

I know because this is the way I write my lectures.

Carmen is scandalized: "You just make things up!"

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Japan and illegal immigrants

I am putting this article up because I want to share it with my students in my 'Migration and World History' class. It is from the WaPo. Japan's problem with illegals, immigration in general, and a shrinking population are different from ours in major ways. Still, watching the way the government is enforcing the laws on immigration might be instructive.

Here is the gist of it in two paragraphs:
As a result, the number of illegal immigrants has been slashed, often by deportation, from 300,000 in 1995 to just 130,000, a minuscule number in comparison to other rich countries. The United States, whose population is 2 1/2 times that of Japan's, has about 90 times as many illegal immigrants (11.6 million). ...

...That policy, in a country running low on working-age people, is helping to push Japan off a demographic cliff. It already has fewer children and more elderly as a percentage of its population than any country in recorded history. If trends continue, the population of 127 million will shrink by a third in 50 years and by two-thirds in a century. By 2060, Japan will have two retirees for every three workers -- a ratio that will weaken and perhaps wreck pension and health-care systems.

Well, someone is going to have to pay our Social Security tax so I can retire in relative comfort.

beside, I am well on my way to learning Spanish (after a mere 45 years of trying).


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15 January 2010

Budget woes

Everyone wants to blast everyone about the deficit. But nobody, and I mean nobody, in either party wants to consider doing anything serious about it. Here, though, is a perfectly straightforward proposal from Kevin Drum in Mother Jones:
But if we were even close to having a sane political class in this country, it wouldn't be that hard to hit this target: (1) Let the Bush tax cuts expire. Nobody was overtaxed in the 90s. (2) Do a conventional fix for Social Security. This would be good for another 1% or so. (3) Get serious about reining in Medicare costs. Squeezing another 1% via Medicare changes wouldn't be that difficult if both parties were willing to treat it as a real problem instead of a chance for demagoguery. (4) Add in a modest assortment of spending cuts (smaller military, unprivatized student loan, reduced ag subsidies) and revenue increases (estate taxes, carbon taxes, financial transaction taxes) and you'd get the rest of the way there. If you don't like these suggestions, feel free to sub in your own ideas here.

For a country as big and rich as the United States, this stuff isn't even very painful. We could do it in a single legislative session and 99% of the country would barely notice the effects. And yet it's the next best thing to impossible. It doesn't speak well for our future.

My modest change would be to craft a series of taxes and tax credits to lower our dependence on petroleum, not for any 'Green' reason, but simply as a necessary step for national defense. But then, I am not part of any political class, sane or otherwise.

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"Lord of the Ring" in Latin

At least three people reading this blog like Latin. So here is a special treat.
Cum Magister Bilbo Baggins qui vivebat Perae Extremae nuntiavit eum centesimum et undecimum diem sui natalis breviter cum convivio magnificentiae egregiae celebraturum esse, erat multa fama et commotio in Hobbitone.

Unfortunately the fanatic who is doing this has only gotten through the first page of the first chapter of the first book, but after all, it is a tale that grew in the telling anyway.

makes me nostalgic for my old copy of Winnie ille Pu.

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13 January 2010

Witnessing for our Lord and Saviour

That would be Jesus the Christ. Lately I have felt my minimal faith growing ever weaker. . First the situation at St Paul's... the overwhelming support of the torture regime by American Christians. And now this.

One good Christian's take on the Haiti disaster.

Que vadis, domine, indeed.

I'll probably feel better about this tomorrow.

Update: Nope.


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10 January 2010

The Self-Esteem Cult

Over on Andrew Sullivan's site there is a post debunking the self-esteem movement. Oh thank God. Someone had to do it. Of all the supposed secular virtues, "self-esteem" has got to be one of the most over rated. Here's a quote from a review of Barbara Ehrenreich's book on positive thinking:

In fact, as a brief recounting of Bob Torricelli's career would usefully illustrate, it can be a huge part of the problem. New research has found that self-esteem can be just as high among D students, drunk drivers and former Presidents from Arkansas as it is among Nobel laureates, nuns and New York City fire fighters. In fact, according to research performed by Brad Bushman of Iowa State University and Roy Baumeister of Case Western Reserve University, people with high self-esteem can engage in far more antisocial behavior than those with low self-worth. "I think we had a great deal of optimism that high self-esteem would cause all sorts of positive consequences and that if we raised self-esteem, people would do better in life," Baumeister told the Times. "Mostly, the data have not borne that out."

Racists, street thugs and school bullies all polled high on the self-esteem charts. And you can see why. If you think you're God's gift, you're particularly offended if other people don't treat you that way. So you lash out or commit crimes or cut ethical corners to reassert your pre-eminence. After all, who are your moral inferiors to suggest that you could be doing something, er, wrong? What do they know?

Sounds about right. I am sure God means well for us, but I have never been convinced that he wants us to be comfortable.

hmm. Maybe I should skip my happy pill tonight.


The Poetry Nook

In researching that last post I came across an article about salads, where the writer warned against provoking a "leptin-resistance cascade". This inspired Valerie, a reader, to create this little poem.

Leptin-resistance cascade?”
It sounds fun … like a parade.
A gay cavalcade
Or a waltz in a glade
Or a sip of some pink lemonade -

While the traffic is stayed
Rousing airs could be played
And promises made
Cost-benefit weighed
If “pro-leptites” could only be swayed.

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Clemen's notebook: Food

Interesting article on common foods that most people avoid eating but are good for you. I don't want to forget this, so I'll stick it here. Maybe you are interested too.
  1. Beets: Think of beets as red spinach, Dr. Bowden said, because they are a rich source of folate as well as natural red pigments that may be cancer fighters.
    How to eat: Fresh, raw and grated to make a salad. Heating decreases the antioxidant power.
  2. Cabbage: Loaded with nutrients like sulforaphane, a chemical said to boost cancer-fighting enzymes.
    How to eat: Asian-style slaw or as a crunchy topping on burgers and sandwiches.
  3. Swiss chard: A leafy green vegetable packed with carotenoids that protect aging eyes.
    How to eat it: Chop and saute in olive oil.
  4. Cinnamon: May help control blood sugar and cholesterol.
    How to eat it: Sprinkle on coffee or oatmeal.
  5. Pomegranate juice: Appears to lower blood pressure and loaded with antioxidants.
    How to eat: Just drink it.
  6. Dried plums: Okay, so they are really prunes, but they are packed with antioxidants.
    How to eat: Wrapped in prosciutto and baked.
  7. Pumpkin seeds: The most nutritious part of the pumpkin and packed with magnesium; high levels of the mineral are associated with lower risk for early death.
    How to eat: Roasted as a snack, or sprinkled on salad.
  8. Sardines: Dr. Bowden calls them “health food in a can.” They are high in omega-3’s, contain virtually no mercury and are loaded with calcium. They also contain iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper and manganese as well as a full complement of B vitamins.
    How to eat: Choose sardines packed in olive or sardine oil. Eat plain, mixed with salad, on toast, or mashed with dijon mustard and onions as a spread.
  9. Turmeric: The “superstar of spices,” it may have anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties.
    How to eat: Mix with scrambled eggs or in any vegetable dish.
  10. Frozen blueberries: Even though freezing can degrade some of the nutrients in fruits and vegetables, frozen blueberries are available year-round and don’t spoil; associated with better memory in animal studies.
    How to eat: Blended with yogurt or chocolate soy milk and sprinkled with crushed almonds.
  11. Canned pumpkin: A low-calorie vegetable that is high in fiber and immune-stimulating vitamin A; fills you up on very few calories.
    How to eat: Mix with a little butter, cinnamon and nutmeg.
I already drink pomegranate juice and use frozen blueberries on my cereal, along with cinnamon, but the others I am going to have to work at. Don't think I can stomach the canned pumpkin though.

And as always, remember: chocolate and red wine are health foods.

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Bad writing and history

Well, about history in the making actually. Here are 29 tips on bad writing about Afghanistan. I like them because with just a bit of tweaking you can use these for bad writing about almost any historical subject.

Feudalism, anyone?

btw, my bad vision has been cured through the miracle of modern medicine. Can't you tell?


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08 January 2010

"Avatar" and the White Messiah complex

Haven't had a chance to see "Avatar" yet, a fact partly explained by snow storms and cataract surgery. Both at the same time can complicate your life. I have been reminded of the fact that Carmen really doesn't like winter on a mountaintop. Anyway, we have not been able to see the movie, though I, Carmen, Maire, Murty, and young Clovis all intend to see it soon when the weather lets up (say, April).

We are all agreed that we want to see it mainly for the stunning visual effect due to the new technology involved. None of us have heard anything good about the plot, dialogue, etc. But David Brooks offers his own commentary on the movie as a story, or myth, involving the ubiquitous "White Messiah."
This is the oft-repeated story about a manly young adventurer who goes into the wilderness in search of thrills and profit. But, once there, he meets the native people and finds that they are noble and spiritual and pure. And so he emerges as their Messiah, leading them on a righteous crusade against his own rotten civilization.

He then goes on to recount most of the action in "Avatar," making it sound slightly foolish and naive. Not to mention a bit racist.

It rests on the stereotype that white people are rationalist and technocratic while colonial victims are spiritual and athletic. It rests on the assumption that nonwhites need the White Messiah to lead their crusades. It rests on the assumption that illiteracy is the path to grace. It also creates a sort of two-edged cultural imperialism. Natives can either have their history shaped by cruel imperialists or benevolent ones, but either way, they are going to be supporting actors in our journey to self-admiration.

It’s just escapism, obviously, but benevolent romanticism can be just as condescending as the malevolent kind — even when you surround it with pop-up ferns and floating mountains

Now when we actually see the movie I will write my own reaction to it. For the moment I will just say that I never thought illiteracy was a path to grace. But then, I was a Federal bureaucrat once.

but I got out after 10 months

UPDATE: Please see the comments. A reader thinks that Brooks is deriving much of his idea from this article from "Racism Review". He has a point. Check it out. If a student did this I would gig him not for plagiarism but for failure to cite the source of his inspiration.

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06 January 2010

The election before the election

There is always an election before the election and it is about money. Cold hard cash. Who has it and who is going to get it. If the money bags don't back you, forget it. Which is why this news is interesting. I am not smart enough to know if it is really a problem, or just wishful thinking on the part of The Washington Monthly. But, in politics as in every other endeavor, follow the money

As a rule, the RNC and DNC spend the year before an election retiring their debts and filling their coffers. In 2009, however, the RNC's finances got worse -- Steele started with $22.8 million in cash, and about a year later, has $8.7 million. The difference was the RNC's investments in the off-year elections, most notably New Jersey's and Virginia's gubernatorial races.

The investments paid some dividends -- Republicans lost all five of 2009's congressional special elections, though they won both gubernatorial campaigns -- but the RNC nevertheless spent more than $90 million in an off-year and doesn't start 2010 on the right financial footing.

Anyone out there with an opinion?


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Foxx News: We report, you decide

That lovable old scamp, Virginia Foxx, is once again in the news and making Tarheels everywhere proud*. From the Washington Monthly:
* Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), who appears to be stark raving mad, told a conservative talk-radio show yesterday that President Obama has "not kept a single promise to the American people.... All the promises he's kept are the ones that endanger our lives."

A commenter on that item about VF who IS, in fact, as near as I can tell, BSFC, says this: "To imagine Foxx as a former teacher makes another one cringe. It's impossible to imagine her treating all students fairly." She used to teach at dear old Appstate. They canned her, which explains why as a state rep she did NOTHING to support the institution. I won't comment on any of the stories I have heard about her since I can't verify them, but I can say that everyone I knw at school who ever knew her loathes her. And not just for her political career.

*For the record, I am a Virginian

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04 January 2010

Andalucian Vampires, singing

As promised, here they are, "1800 los Inmortales," from their knock-em-dead performance at the Cadiz carnaval, singing a song of deep social and political importance. There is also a lot of talk about blood, as one might imagine.

Carmen showed this to me. She found it on youtube while searching for Spanish hymns for her church (she's the piano lady there). And this is what came up on her search. Weird, but oddly compelling.

and, a vampire wanna-be. on helium

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03 January 2010

The Future is here

When I was a kid I had dreams of space travel and reaching the stars. I even read If and Analog magazines of sci-fi. known in those quaint days as "Science Fiction." And not much respected, I must say.

I also remember watching a TV show called "Truth or Consequences." No, that wasn't the code name for a government interrogation program, but a quiz show. The little town of Hot Springs, NM, was so taken with their show that they changed their town's name to - Truth or Consequences, NM. I even remember that.

Now, a half century later, the ever outside-the-box residents have voted to raise their taxes for their share of a $225 million Spaceport America project scheduled to open in 2011. The first tenant will be Virgin Galactic.
The facility, to consist of hangars, a terminal and the runway, may garner additional tenants if commercial space travel proves popular. The project is under the jurisdiction of the Spaceport Commission, a state agency.

Now there is a job I want - spokesperson for the New Mexico Spaceport Commission.

Somewhere, Arthur C. Clarke is saying, "What took you chaps do long?"

our next episode of strange Sententiae posts will be brought to you by 19th Century Singing Vampires. Really.

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02 January 2010

Bankers: our best and brightest

I have been gratified to see the torrent of end of decade retrospectives, many from newspapers and magazines on the web, pointing out how awful the decade has been on the reputations of most of our institutions and their leaders. I've been harping on that for some time now. No body's rep survived the Double Zeros.

So let's look at bankers, the super remunerated captains of finance who were so brilliant they had to be paid ka-zillions or they would go work for someone else.

Right now they are racing to beat the clock before the new banking regulations go into effect so they can replace the $50 billion they will lose when certain business practices are banned. They intend to change their rules, charge new fess, and anything else they can think of. In many cases you will pay a fee for having a credit card and another fee for having a checking account. This must be true for I read it in the Wall Street Journal.

The interesting part of this article though is this:
The changes come against a backdrop of rising anger at the nation's banks—having been largely supported by hundreds of billions of public bailout dollars in late 2008 and 2009. One recent survey by Chicago's Bank Administration Institute found that 43% of retail-bank executives feel that consumer trust in banks has eroded in the past six months.

ONLY 43% of these guys think the public is losing faith in them!!!!. What's wrong with the other 57%? Delusional? Out of touch? Vacationing in the Tuva Republic?

Or are they simply the smart ones who figured that the public faith in banks had eroded as far as it could erode long ago?

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Alexander Hamilton, the rap song

Years ago, when I taught at a little school called Hamline University, two of my students wandered into my office and performed a rap song about Augustus Caesar.

In that spirit, consider this: of all the weird, unlikely, complicated life stories of all the founding fathers of our nation, none was stranger than Alexander Hamilton's. Michael Lind once wrote a book insisting that Hamilton rather than the slave owner Jefferson should be our national hero.

So, to present this epic biography, Lin-Manuel.

what next? a musical about Evita Peron?

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Americans, a British take

Now that we have looked at how English sounds to Italians, let's look at how Americans seem to the English.

Not so bad, actually. We are polite, friendly, and charming without seeming to be. At least if you believe Geoff Dyer in the book review section of the NY Times. Here's one of his observations about how Americans seem to be LOUD:
Granted, these visiting Americans often seem to have loud voices, but on closer examination, it’s a little subtler than that. Americans have no fear of being overheard. Civic life in Britain is predicated on the idea that everyone just about conceals his loathing of everyone else. To open your mouth is to risk offending someone. So we mutter and mumble as if surrounded by informers or, more exactly, as if they are living in our heads. In America the right to free speech is exercised freely and cordially. The basic assumption is that nothing you say will offend anyone else because, deep down, everyone is agreed on the premise that America is better than anyplace else. No such belief animates British life. On the contrary. A couple of years ago a survey indicated that British Muslims were the most fed-up of any in Europe: a sign, paradoxically, of profound assimilation.

Having been to England a couple of times I admit I see his point. So I will dedicate this post to my friend, English Will, who will not become an American citizen even after having lived here 20 years.

He says it's so he won't have to vote for the clowns we nominate in presidential races.