A postal problem

Yesterday, I emailed the following letter to my Representative and Senators. If you agree, more voices could only help.

Several times, I’ve tried raising this issue directly with the United States Postal Service, but not only can I not find anyone there who can help, I can’t even find someone who can direct me to someone who might have a clue. So perhaps you, as a member of Congress, can access the upper echelons of postal management, to suggest that this is a small piece of standard procedure that really needs to be changed.

The issue is the touch screen at each clerk’s window. Every time I go to the window to mail a package, the clerk asks “is there anything liquid, fragile, hazardous, etc., in this package?” But they can not accept me responding to them; I have to touch the screen to say “no.” The same screen that the previous customer was drooling on, and the customer before sneezed at, and I have no idea when last the screen was washed.

Everything else in the post office recognizes the current pandemic: the clerks wear masks and gloves, there are decals on the floor marking six-foot distances between customers, there’s a sign on the door saying “no more than 10 people in the lobby at one time; if you’re #11, please wait outside.” But there’s this touch screen that they insist—for no good reason except that the system requires it—every single customer must touch. Touching the screen to say “no,” and then again to say “yes, give me a printed receipt,” adds nothing to the postal experience. It doesn’t make anything more secure, doesn’t make anything more efficient, but it surely does help spread germs and virus.

Can you please look into having the USPS change this useless, and potentially dangerous, customer experience?

When did inflation become good?

Are there any other financial geeks out there with long memories?

I was watching Fed Chairman Jay Powell’s press conference today (after the release of the Fed statement), and kept experiencing cognitive dissonance each time he said something like “we want to get inflation up to two percent or a bit more.”

I think (think) I understand the need for inflation, but one of my earliest political/economic memories is Gerald Ford’s WIN campaign. It wasn’t about electoral victory; it stood for “Whip Inflation Now.” All through those years, the constant struggle was to get inflation down. That it was way too high.

And I guess, without consciously thinking about it, I subconsciously assumed that inflation is bad, and straight-line value, year to year, is good.

Now, listening to the Fed, I’m assuming the need for a little inflation is to justify annual salary raises, to justify low-level price increases, to justify paying interest, and so on. If a dollar today was worth precisely what a dollar was worth ten years ago, any company paying its employees raises would be losing money every year.

At least, that’s my assumption. Anyone else out there have a better explanation for why the Fed thinks we need to have some low level of inflation?

Help inflate my economic knowledge. Donations accepted at paypal.me/IanRandalStrock .

An editorial unendorsement

In the world of political endorsements, especially those emanating from newspapers’ editorial boards, it’s fairly rare to see an unendorsement. But the Orlando Sentinel just did, and they did it with class and style. “Our bad,” “a fairly dismal candidate,” and “juvenile lapse in judgment” are not phrases one often reads in a serious newspaper’s editorial. But they are entirely appropriate in this one (even if that second one actually referred to his opponent).

Give it a read: “We apologize for endorsing U.S. Rep. Michael Waltz, who wants to overturn the election”

Where are the Republicans who want to run for president in 2024?

I’m surprised no Republican leader has taken what seems to be a very obvious opportunity to take control of the party. I would think that any legitimate Republican could publicly announce that this year’s election is over, and Donald Trump lost, and that it’s time for the party to return to rational, good leadership that cares about the people. I should think any Senator doing that, heck, even most of the Representatives or Governors, would automatically become the party’s front-runner for the next Presidential nomination.

The pundits keep talking about President Trump’s hold on the voters, pointing to the 74 million people who voted for him. But how many of those voters, when given the choice between some other non-Trump Republican and any Democrat, would vote for the Republican? Most of them, I’d wager.

Donald Trump is a loud, rampaging bully, but he’s over. He lost the election, and in 2024, he’ll have been a fuming, bloviating, irrelevant ex-president for four years; not the least bit appealing to voters. Imagine a rational candidate standing up and saying “okay, we tried an experiment. Now we know what happens when a plutocrat with no governmental experience gets elected. We know it’s not for the best. So let’s instead elect a rational Republican, someone who can work with the other branches of government—rather than trying to ignore or dominate them—and someone who can work with other countries around the world.”

This is the United States of America. We know the government should not be a cult of personality. And at home, behind closed doors, I’m sure every would-be Republican leader knows the same thing. I guess they’re waiting until after Inauguration Day to start showing their mettle, but in the meantime, the country continues to suffer from the buffonery emanating from the White House. Showing true leadership, breaking with Donald Trump now, before he is an ex-president, could be an incredible boost for the party’s fortunes, as well as the personal political fortunes of whoever steps up to take the lead.

Donate to Ian Randal Strock’s very much tongue-in-cheek 2024 presidential campaign fund at paypal.me/ianrandalstrock .

Failed Wartime President Trump

On March 18, referring to the then-brand new Covid-19 pandemic just sweeping the country and the planet, President Donald Trump called himself “a wartime president” (https://www.npr.org/2020/03/22/819672681/trump-tries-on-the-mantle-of-wartime-president).

It’s nearly nine months later. Lame duck President Donald Trump has given up doing his job as President (though he’s still rampaging all over the place claiming he won re-election). Should we hang the mantle (shackle?) of “wartime president” around his neck? As of December 2, 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports 249,570 Americans have died of Covid-19 (https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nvss/vsrr/covid19/index.htm).

For comparison, the Department of Veterans Affairs lists Battle Deaths in America’s Wars (https://www.va.gov/opa/publications/factsheets/fs_americas_wars.pdf):
World War II (1941-45): 291,557
Civil War (1861-65): 214,938 (Union and Confederate combined)
World War I (1917-18): 53,402
Vietnam War (1964-75): 47,434
Korean War (1950-53): 33,739
American Revolution (1775-83): 4,435
War of 1812 (1812-15): 2,260
Mexican War (1846-48): 1,733
Indian Wars (1817-98): 1,000
Spanish-American War (1898-1902): 385
Desert Shield/Desert Storm (1990-91): 148

In other words, of all American wars, more soldiers died on the field of battle only in World War II than people have died in nine months of Covid-19. More people have died this year of Covid-19 than our number of war dead in every other war in which the United States was involved. More of us have died in 2020 of this virus than the number of American soldiers who died on the field of battle in all the wars we fought, combined, except World War II and the Civil War.

My point? My point is: yes, he’s leaving office in seven weeks, but he’s not doing his job now. He seems to be unable to carry out the duties of President. The Vice President and the Cabinet should activate section 4 of the 25th Amendment, and try to show a little leadership, a little class, on their way out the door; try to help us survive the next few months, which CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield said will be among “the most difficult in the public health history of this nation.”

I spent the last twelve years, since the publication of my book, The Presidential Book of Lists, trying to avoid one word in the subtitle. Every time someone looked at that book, they saw the one word, “worst,” and asked me who the worst President was. And every time, I would demur, avoid answering, and turn the conversation to another point. No longer. We now have a clear “winner”: Donald John Trump is clearly the worst President in American history.

Speaking Electronically

I gave another lecture today, again on the Presidents. It’s similar to the talk I gave a few weeks ago (though I’ve modified and updated it; as I always do, to keep it current, and because I always want to say something else). I think it went well; most of the people watching had very complimentary things to say about it. But it’s still an awkward feeling for me: I spent an hour sitting here talking to my computer. I very much miss—and am so looking forward to—doing these things in person, with an audience in the same room, so I can judge their reactions, expanding on pieces that interest them, and eliding sections when their attention drifts. On the computer, with everyone simply a muted black box on the side of my screen, while large on the screen are my slides, I have no way to judge the audience, no ability to feed off their enthusiasm, no ability to interact with them. Sure, I take questions at the end, but I’ve gotten so used to the free-form version, taking questions as I go, that it’s just not comfortable doing it this way.

On the other hand, the electronic-only communication forced on us by the pandemic means that I am speaking to more groups farther away; groups that couldn’t afford to have me travel to them, and groups too small for me to ever consider traveling to them at my own expense. So it is expanding my audience. But still, I am eagerly anticipating returning to doing this stuff live, in-person.

However, I am available, and even with the minor discomfort, the reviews I’ve seen of my recent talks tell me that I’m doing a good job. So if your group is looking for a speaker, I’m available. My two main topics are the US Presidency, and writing and publishing. Reach out; maybe we can connect.

Writer’s tip jar (speaker’s tip jar) is always available, and donations are gratefully accepted, at paypal.me/ianrandalstrock .

Virtual Convention Weekend

Virtual convention weekend: Philcon has moved most of the con online, and I’m doing four panels for them (the most I’ve had at any virtual convention this year). One of them was already this evening, but the two tomorrow and one Sunday I thought I had are actually three on Saturday (November 21):

10am: “Heinlein’s Third Rule of Writing” with Barbara Barnett, Lawrence M. Schoen, Michael Swanwick, and Elektra Hammond.

2:30pm: “Kickstarting Your Next Project” with Keith DeCandido, Danielle Ackley-Mcphail, Neil Clarke, and Alex Shvartsman.

8:30pm: “What Else Might Have Changed?” with Simone Zelitch, Miriam Scheiber Seidel, and Tom Doyle.

The panels are on Zoom, with after-panel discussions on Discord. Details on the Philcon web site.

Presidential Numbers

A couple of numbers you haven’t heard much of, regarding this year’s presidential election.

The 2020 election of Joe Biden to the presidency is the 59th election in US history (is, not was, because it’s ongoing; the electoral college has yet to cast its ballots, which will be counted by Congress on January 6, 2021, to determine the winners of the election).

On Inauguration Day, January 20, 2021, Biden take office as the 46th president in US history (since the State Department has told us that Grover Cleveland’s two non-consecutive terms mean we should count him as both the 22nd and 24th presidents).

Biden’s first term will be the 68th presidential administration (since each president’s term counts as a separate administration). January 3, 2021, will mark the end of the 116th Congress and beginning of the 117th Congress.

At the moment, Biden is the 37th president-elect in US history. The term “president-elect” doesn’t appear in the Constitution, and is relatively new (historically speaking). The Presidential Transition Act of 1963 (Public Law 88-277) says “The terms ‘President-elect’ and ‘Vice-President-elect’ as used in this Act shall mean such persons as are the apparent successful candidates for the office of the President and Vice President, respectively, as ascertained by the Administrator following the general elections held to determine the electors of the President and Vice-President in accordance with title 3, United States code, sections 1 and 2.”

Tips gratefully appreciate: www.paypal.me/IanRandalStrock .

Vice Presidential not-the-first

On Saturday (November 7), I made mention of a pundit’s misstatement about one of the “firsts” that Kamala Harris will bring to the vice presidency. One of my friends on Facebook recommended writing an op-ed for the New York Times.

I’ve all but given up submitting pieces to newspapers because, if they’re timely, I have to figure out which paper is likely to say yes on the first attempt, because I won’t get a chance to submit it elsewhere, or by the time I don’t submit it, it will be incredibly dated. And if they’re not time sensitive (personal failing here), I tend to lose interest in submitting them after two or three newspapers fail to respond (and no newspapers respond negatively; they all say “if you don’t hear from us in [some amount of time], that means we don’t want it”). So I’ve taken to publishing my essays on my own blog, and hoping to eventually see some remuneration from sympathetic readers (it hasn’t happened yet, but I’m eternally hopeful).

At any rate, I wrote this piece Sunday, November 8, and submitted it to the Times with this cover note:

My first appearance in the Times was a letter to the editor commenting on the coverage of the 1984 election. I knew it appeared only after reading the letter in the paper, realizing it agreed with my views, and then seeing that the byline was, indeed, my name. After that, I earned my degree in political science from Boston University, went on to a career as a writer and editor, and am the author of three books on presidential history and trivia.

On Tuesday, they published a similar article by a staffer, making me grumble good-naturedly: obviously, the piece I wrote was a good idea, it was something they were interested in publishing, it’s just that my timing was off (though admittedly, I wrote it the same day everyone was thinking the same thing). So I’m publishing it here for your delectation.


Not all the “first”s are Kamala Harris’s

Kamala Harris

Kamala Harris will be the first woman to be vice president, the first of Jamaican/African heritage, the first Asian-American, the first to use a different last name than her spouse, and several other firsts. But there’s one thing I’ve heard far too many times from pundits and commentators in the last few days, one first that is not hers: She will not be the first person of color to be vice president, or the first of other-than-European descent.

Charles Curtis was vice president from 1929 to 1933. Prior to that, he served more than three terms in the Senate (resigning in the middle of his fourth to become vice president), and before that, seven terms in the House of Representatives, representing Kansas. During his time in the Senate, he served as president pro tempore and as majority leader, and he co-authored an early attempt at the Equal Rights Amendment.

Charles Curtis

Prior to his political career, Curtis was a lawyer in Kansas, and prosecuting attorney of Shawnee County, Kansas, from 1885 to 1889. And after retiring from the vice presidency (he and President Herbert Hoover were landslided out of office in the election of 1932), Curtis resumed his law practice in Washington, DC.

Curtis is the last vice president to have been born in a territory: he was born in Topeka, Kansas Territory, on January 25, 1860. Kansas became the 34th state a year later.

Curtis was a member of the Kaw Nation. His mother, Ellen Papin, was Kaw, Osage, Potawatomi, and French. His father, Orren Curtis, was English, Scots, and Welsh. Through his mother, Curtis was a descendant of chief White Plume of the Kaw Nation and chief Pawhuska of the Osage. His mother died when he was 3, and his father fought in the Civil War. Curtis was raised by his grandparents: his maternal grandparents on the reservation, and his paternal grandparents in Topeka.

Curtis and his wife, Annie Elizabeth Baird, had three children. She died in 1924. Curtis is the last vice president to have been unmarried during his entire time in office. His sister, Dolly, acted as his official hostess for social events. When he took office as vice president, Curtis was 69 years old: the oldest person to become vice president (though that record was exceeded by 71-year-old Alben Barkley in 1949).

Vice presidents at the time did not enjoy the partnership with their presidents that has marked the last several administrations, and the formerly active senator bristled at the inactivity of the office. So, trying to make the best of it, he enjoyed the status of the vice presidency, and made a big deal out of his rise “from Kaw tepee to Capitol.” He decorated his office with Native American artifacts and posed for pictures wearing Indian headdresses.

2895_109185243074Charles Curtis died a heart attack on February 8, 1936, at the age of 76. He was buried next to his wife at the Topeka Cemetery in Kansas. He was featured on the cover of Time magazine on December 20, 1926, and June 18, 1928, while serving in the Senate, and on December 5, 1932, as Vice President.

By the way, Harris is also not going to be the first vice president to have had a long-term relationship with a man. But the story of Vice President King will have to wait for another time.

Tips gratefully accepted at www.paypal.me/IanRandalStrock .

Most Popular Votes Ever… Until Next Time

Another one of those factoids floating around, in the absence of final, definitive data relating to this year’s presidential election is the number of actual votes the ticket of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris is receiving. Yesterday, Biden said “we’re on track to receive more than 71 million votes. That’s more popular votes than any other presidential ticket in history.” And he’s absolutely right. However…

As I start writing this, Biden and Harris are up to approximately 72.5 million votes. Donald Trump and Mike Pence have approximately 68.9 million.

While it is entirely true that Biden/Harris will get more votes than any other presidential ticket, it is also incredibly trite. It’s actually much more interesting (and less common) for a president to be elected with fewer popular votes than a previous president. That’s only happened 21 times in the 58 presidential elections we’ve had (in 1792, 1796, 1800, 1816, 1820, 1824, 1912, 1924, 1940, 1944, 1948, 1960, 1968, 1976, 1980, 1988, 1992, 1996, 2000, 2012, and 2016). The reasons those vote totals were lower vary, from the fact that no one was running against James Monroe in 1820, to the four-way free-for-all in 1824, from increasing discomfort with Franklin Roosevelt’s continual presidency in 1940 and 1944, to incredibly close elections in 1960 and 2000, to strong third-party candidate showings in 1912, 1968, 1980, 1992, and 1996.

Popular vote increases over time, as does the population of the US (from 2.8 million in 1780, to 5.3 million in 1800, 23 million in 1850, 77 million in 1900, 151 million in 1950, 281 million in 2000, to 328 million today, for example), the number of citizens (those eligible to vote), and the number of registered voters. And then, of course, in addition to the steady growth of those numbers, there were also the quantum leaps: the extension of popular vote throughout the states in the early years of the republic, the 15th guaranteeing the former slaves the right to vote (in 1870), the 19th Amendment guaranteeing women the right to vote (in 1920), the 26th Amendment lowering the voting age to 18 (in 1971), and so on.

Popular vote milestones (the first candidate to reach):
100,000: Thomas Jefferson in 1804 (104,110)
500,000: Andrew Jackson in 1828 (642,553)
1,000,000: William Henry Harrison in 1840 (1,275,390)
2,000,000: Abraham Lincoln in 1864 (2,218,388)
5,000,000: Grover Cleveland losing in 1888 (5,534,488)
10,000,000: Warren Harding in 1920 (16,144,093)
20,000,000: Herbert Hoover in 1928 (21,427,123)
30,000,000: Dwight Eisenhower in 1952 (34,075,529)
40,000,000: Lyndon Johnson in 1964 (43,127,041)
50,000,000: Ronald Reagan in 1984 (54,455,472)
60,000,000: George W. Bush in 2004 (62,040,610)
70,000,000: Joe Biden in 2020

Presidents who received more popular votes than any other candidate in history:
George Washington in 1789: 43,782
Thomas Jefferson in 1804: 104,110
James Madison in 1808: 124,732
James Madison in 1812: 140,431
Andrew Jackson in 1828: 642,553
Andrew Jackson in 1832: 701,780
Martin Van Buren in 1836: 764,176
William Harrison in 1840: 1,275,390
James Polk in 1844: 1,339,494
Zachary Taylor in 1848: 1,361,393
Franklin Pierce in 1852: 1,607,510
James Buchanan in 1856: 1,836,072
Abraham Lincoln in 1860: 1,865,908
Abraham Lincoln in 1864: 2,218,388
Ulysses Grant in 1868: 3,013,421
Ulysses Grant in 1872: 3,598,235
James Garfield in 1880: 4,446,158
Grover Cleveland in 1884: 4,914,482
Grover Cleveland in 1892: 5,556,918
William McKinley in 1896: 7,112,138
William McKinley in 1900: 7,228,864
Theodore Roosevelt in 1904: 7,630,457
William Taft in 1908: 7,678,395
Woodrow Wilson in 1916: 9,126,868
Warren Harding in 1920: 16,144,093 (the first election in which women could vote legally)
Herbert Hoover in 1928: 21,427,123
Franklin Roosevelt in 1932: 22,821,277
Franklin Roosevelt in 1936: 27,747,636
Dwight Eisenhower in 1952: 34,075,529
Dwight Eisenhower in 1956: 35,579,180
Lyndon Johnson in 1964: 43,127,041
Richard Nixon in 1972: 47,168,710
Ronald Reagan in 1984: 54,455,472
George W. Bush in 2004: 62,040,610
Barack Obama in 2008: 69,498,516
And now, Joe Biden in 2020.

And those who didn’t win the election, but still received more popular votes than any other candidate in history:
Andrew Jackson in 1824: 151,271
Samuel Tilden in 1876: 4,288,546
Grover Cleveland in 1888: 5,534,488

And for those of you who are more graphically inclined, here’s a graph of popular vote totals over time. Each time the top line makes a new high marks an election in which a presidential candidate received more popular votes than any other candidate in history.popularvotetotals

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