Selectoral College

For the third time in a century we have another election in which the candidate who won the popular vote did not gain enough electoral votes to win the presidency.  This probably leaves you scratching your  head, wondering how that’s even possible?    After all, the number of electors each state has is based on the size of that state’s population, right?  If a candidate gets the most votes in that state, that candidate wins all of the electors for that state.   If you sum up all those votes the winning candidate should have the biggest total in both the popular vote and the electoral vote counts.   Right?  Yet, we have two recent examples where the candidate who won the popular vote LOST the electoral vote.  (Gore in 2000, and Clinton this year.)

You don’t need to have a degree in math or political science to understand how this can happen.   It looks complicated because there are so many states involved and the outcomes in those states are determined not just by votes cast, but by the percentage of voters who actually vote.   If we look at a simpler system, and just assume everyone who can vote does, electoral math – and weird outcomes like we’ve just seen – are much easier to understand.

An Example

Let’s imagine a country that has just 6 states.   One state has a population of 100, the other five have populations of 10 each.   Each state is allotted one electoral vote for every 10 people.  (We round up to the next 10, so a state with 13 people would be treated as though it had 20 and thus get 2 electoral votes.)  Electors are awarded on a winner-take-all basis:  whoever wins the most votes in that state, even if only by a single popular vote, wins all of the electoral votes.

State Population Electors
Big State 100 10
Small State 1 10 1
Small State 2 10 1
Small State 3 10 1
Small State 4 10 1
Small State 5 10 1

Now, suppose you have an election to decide between candidate Jim and candidate Nancy for the next president.   Even if all of the Small States vote unanimously for Jim, giving him 50 popular votes, he’ll only get 5 electoral votes.   But if Jim loses in the Big State, even by only a few votes, Nancy gets all 10 of that state’s electoral votes, and thus beats Jim.  All Nancy needs to do to win is get 51 votes (Jim would presumably get the  other 49.)

Candidate Big State Tally Small State Tally Popular Total Electoral Total
Nancy 51 0 51 10
Jim 49 50 99 5

Nancy’s electoral tally is 10, but Jim’s is only 5.  Yet, the popular vote CLEARLY favored Jim, giving him a total of 99 (50 from the Small States plus 49 from the Big State) with Nancy only receiving 51.  Nancy wins with the most electoral votes even though she lost the poplar vote.  Jim could lose by a very wide margin in the Big State — as much as 26 to 74 — and still win the popular vote (76 to 74), but lose the electoral college the way we’ve laid this out.  This system is quite obviously biased in favor of the state with the most (voting) people.

Unbiasing the Bias

Let’s see if we can fix that the same way representation in the US’s legislative branch (Congress) was fixed.   We’ll start by giving every state just one more electoral vote.  We end up with Big State having 11 votes and each Small State having 2.  Together the small states have 10 votes, which is better than before but still not enough to overcome Big State’s voting “power”.

So, let’s give every state two additional electoral votes and see what happens.

State Population Electors
Big State 100 12
Small State 1 10 3
Small State 2 10 3
Small State 3 10 3
Small State 4 10 3
Small State 5 10 3

Now each Small State has 3 electoral votes for a total of 15, and  the Big State has 12.   Recalculating the tallies …

Candidate Big State Tally Small State Tally Popular Total Electoral Total
Nancy 51 0 51 12
Jim 49 50 99 15

Nancy now has 12 electoral votes, but Jim has 15, so Jim wins both the popular vote and the electoral college.  We can all agree this is a fair and decisive outcome.

Or, is it?

In fact, this doesn’t eliminate the bias at all; it just shifts it to the smaller states.   Sure, it gives the Big State 20% more voting “power”, but it gives each of the Small States 200% more voting power.

Let’s go back to our example and change the vote counts so that Nancy gets 80 votes in the large state and Jim only 20.  Nancy still gets no votes in the Small States like before and Jim gets all of the popular votes there and so wins those electoral votes.

Candidate Big State Tally Small State Tally Popular Total Electoral Total
Nancy 80 0 80 12
Jim 20 50 70 15

Nancy wins the overall popular vote with a tally of 80 to Jim’s 70 (20 from Big State plus 5 x 10 from the Small States), but loses the electoral college to Jim with only 12 votes to his 15.   In fact, Nancy could completely trounce Jim in the Big State, even winning it unanimously in the popular vote, and get 4 votes in every small state,  giving her a whopping 120 votes to Jim’s 30.  Jim would still win the most electoral votes and thus win the election.

A more recent, up-close-and-personal example

Our example isn’t all that far off from what the electoral map actually looked like in the first US election, held in 17881.  In that election, John Hancock (Federalist) soundly defeated George Clinton (anti-Federalist).  This map shows how the distribution of slave states and free states or industrial vs agrarian states was more or less even for both candidates.   Worth noting, 51 out of the 96 total electoral votes rested with just 5 of the `13 states.  That is, more than half the electoral college — clearly enough to carry any election — rested with less than half of the states.    If electoral votes were simply one-state-one-vote, the 8 smaller states would have the greater power.   Left to a one-(land-owning)-man-one-vote system, the more populous states have the upper hand.   Rather than pick one or the other, the Framers of the Constitution came up with a system that combined these two extremes.

Electoral Map of 1st US election, 1988.
Electoral map of 1788 — first US election. Hancock vs Clinton.

In the 2016 election cycle, Donald Trump won the most electoral votes and thus won the presidency even though Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by nearly three million more than Trump.   Let’s look at how electoral math  figured into this by looking at one of the two, electorally-large blue bastions, New York, which has 29 electoral votes, and a handful of small (by population), red states that have a total of 29 electoral votes between them.  The following table2 depicts just such a collection.

Red State Clinton Trump Electoral
Idaho 189,765 409,055 4
Iowa 653,669 800,983 6
Montana 177,709 279,240 3
Nebraska 284,494 495,961 5
South Dakota 117,548 227,721 3
West Virginia 188,794 489,371 5
Wyoming 557,93 174,419 3
Totals 1,667,772 2,876,750 29

Both the popular vote and electoral vote tallies indicate Trump to be the clear winner among these states.   New York, on the other hand went unambiguously for Clinton with 4,547,562 votes to Trump’s 2,814,589.  Clinton absolutely demolished Trump in New York’s popular vote and thus gained its 29 electoral votes.   But, take a look at what happens when you add the New York popular vote with that of the red states:

State(s) Clinton Trump
Blue (NY) 4,547,562 2,814,589
Red 1,667,772 2,876,750
Totals 6,215,334 5,691,339

In the overall totals, Clinton wins over half a million more votes than Trump in this subset of states — a margin of about 4.4% —  yet they come out dead even in the electoral count.

Let’s throw in just one more small red state — Alaska, for example, which has only three electoral votes — Clinton still beats Trump by nearly half a million votes, yet loses the electoral count 32 to 29.   Or, try this with Maine, which splits its electoral votes:  Two went to Clinton, one to Trump.   Clinton wins this electoral match-up by just one point, which hardly reflects the popular tally in which she wins by over a half million.

What are those “bonus” electoral votes really worth?

Suppose we paired up as many red and blue states as we could and subtracted two electoral votes from each of these states.   In our example (before throwing in Alaska), we would discount New York’s two “bonus” electoral votes along with another two votes from one of the red states.  That leaves 12 bonus from the other six red states.  Now, divide the difference in the popular vote count (around 500,000) by these remaining 12 electoral votes and you find that they are worth just under 44,000 popular votes EACH.  (This number would vary, of course, depending on actual voter turn out in a given election.)  In other words, without this electoral bonus, for Trump to have matched Clinton in terms of the popular vote in these red states, he would have had to win an additional 87,000+ votes in each state, on average.   If you subtract that number from the vote tallies for Trump in each of the red states and then recalculate the totals (including New York), Clinton beats Trump by more than a million popular votes, yet still ties him in the electoral count, 27-273.

I said on average rather generously.  In fact, electoral votes aren’t “averaged”, so if we want to be truly strict about this, we’ll insist that Trump would have needed at least 87,000 more votes per state, for each of those six states.   Where the popular margin was clearly in his favor, as it was in this sample, he still wins both the popular and electoral counts.  If we include Alaska and apply this arithmetic,  we have roughly 34,000 popular votes per bonus electoral vote.  Subtracting twice this number (~68,000) as we did before, from Alaska’s popular count for Trump actually has Clinton winning Alaska in both the popular vote and electoral counts, 30-27.

If we apply this same arithmetic to all 50 states, Trump’s electoral edge of 77 electoral votes versus Clinton’s popular margin of 2,865,075 means each of those “bonus” electoral votes had the equivalent of 37,200 popular votes for Trump.  Since he didn’t have to actually win those votes, he in effect won the election at a discount of sorts.

Is there a better way?

One solution that is regularly (and often) proposed is to do away with the electoral college completely and have just a popular vote.  This would work fine when there is a clear choice or when a large enough part of the electorate is behind one of the candidates to make the vote clearly decisive.  When voters are more or less evenly split, the system becomes highly vulnerable to ballot-box stuffing, voter intimidation and other types of fraud, or even counting errors or the rare loss of ballots from just one polling station.   The electoral system makes this sort of rigging extremely difficult, and is highly fault-tolerant against slip-ups whether they are deliberate or accidental.   It is also unlikely to produce a tie, in which case the Constitution says the election is decided by a vote in the House of Representatives.   This has happened twice, the last time being nearly 200 years ago.  In every election since the electoral college has delivered a very clear decision.

Another solution is to eliminate the additional two electoral votes per state.   This sounds especially appealing when you realise that the whole reason we even do this relates indirectly to slavery being legal early in our history.  I’m not going to go into the specifics of this, here.  It’s sufficient to say that taking away those two electors from each state just puts us back to the first scenario where states with larger populations have the electoral edge.   (Click here for a more detailed explanation of the link between slavery and the electoral college.)

Vote-splitting — allocating a states electoral votes in proportion to the popular vote — is yet another popular idea.   Where there are only two candidates this amounts to nothing more than the system I described at the beginning of the example.  Furthermore, suppose a state had only two electoral votes.  How would you split these between two candidates when one of them had a significant majority in the popular vote?   If there were more candidates, there would still be two major ones, leaving the other, minor candidates to function as little more than spoilers.  It doesn’t really solve the problem; it merely “kicks the can” down the road a bit further.  (You can begin to see why the Framers left this up to the states.)

You Can’t Fix “Stupid” … or  “Lazy”

I believe that the real problem isn’t the electoral college; it is the electorate — the voting public — themselves.   Any system that puts such important decisions to a vote as we do REQUIRES participation in that system for it to work properly.   That means that eligible voters MUST VOTE, at the very least.    When too few show up, the system becomes unstable, “wobbly” and decisions like electing a new president become about as random as flipping a coin.   The electoral result will still be quite definite, but it is just as likely to disagree with the popular vote as it is to agree with it.

The electoral college is designed to ensure a decisive victory one way or the other.   In fact, it quite purposely punishes poor voter turn-out by often handing the election to the least popular candidate.  And, for those who say, “But I did vote!  For a third-party candidate.”, I would answer that the electoral college also punishes poor understanding and willful ignorance.   To vote in the general election you must understand or at least accept that, like it or not, there are two main candidates and only one of them will win.  Voting for a third party candidate because you think you shouldn’t have to choose between the “lesser of two evils” will almost certainly result in your vote helping to elect the greater of the two.

Summing it Up

This example is a simplified version of  precisely what happened in this year’s election, as well as 2000’s and 1960’s.   Instead of just six states, we have 50 (plus DC) and there are far more combinations of state populations and electoral vote tallies.   But, the underlying mathematics is the same.    You only need to know how to add numbers and compare them to see which is larger.  It is tempting to say that anyone who can’t understand such basic arithmetic probably shouldn’t be voting.    It is much more accurate to say that those who don’t vote can’t count.


Babette’s Feast

This is a fun little puzzle inspired by the movie Babette’s Feast and my solution provided me with an opportunity to learn how to use the MathTex plugin for WordPress to render mathematical expressions.

The Problem:

For her feast, Babette invited many people to be seated around a round table. She prepared a table plan but all the guests arrived and took a seat so that everyone was sitting in front of somebody else’s place. Is it possible to turn the table so that at least 2 guests are sitting in the right place?

The Solution:

The short answer is, Yes, it is possible. Another way to phrase this is to ask, Does there exist an arrangement of guests around the table such that prior to rotating the table, no guest is found at his or her assigned seat, and following a rotation of the table (guests remaining where they are) at least 2 guests are at their assigned seat? Consider two specific cases. (Note that the number of guests is always the same as the number of assigned seats. For simplicity, we’ll assume the table is round, and we’ll also assume that both the guests and the seating are equally distributed around the table so the space between any two seats is the same for all seats around the table.)

Case 1: Just two guests, each initially at each other’s assigned place, π radians apart. Rotate the table through π radians and both guests are now seated at their assigned seats. (Somewhat trivial, and yet it looks like it might be a nice base case for a proof by induction.)

Case 2: More than two guests, each seated one place to the left of their assigned seat. Rotate the table clockwise one place and every guest is now seated at their assigned seat.

But, the problem is harder than that, isn’t it? We want to know if, for ANY given seating arrangement and distribution of guests where no guest is at his or her assigned seat, if it is possible to rotate the table to where at least 2 guests are now at their assigned place.

Let’s define the distance d_{gp}  between a guest g_i  and his/her place p_i  be the minimum number of places to the left or to the right the table would need to rotate for that guest to find themselves in front of their assigned place. Note that  d_{gp}  is never more than \frac{n}{2}  where  n is the number of guests.

If every guest were maximally distant from their place, the sum of these distances would be bounded above by n\left( \frac{n}{2} \right)  or \frac{n^2}{2} .  The actual sum of the distances is given by

\displaystyle\sum_{i=1}^n \frac{n^2}{{|g_i - p_i|}} \leq \frac{n^2}{2}

Rearranging this a bit gives us

 2\leq\frac{1}{\sum_{i=1}^n \frac{1}{{|g_i - p_i|}}

Notice two things: First, this is only defined if there is at least one misalignment. Since we’re not interested in the fully-aligned case this isn’t a problem. The second, and more important thing to notice is that the minimum actual distance will never be less than 2. This makes intuitive sense if you look at case 1, above. But, consider yet another case where n > 2 and all of the guests are in their proper seats. The minimum misalignment possible is achieved by picking any two guests seated next to each other and having them swap seats. The distance between all other guests and their respective places will be zero, but for each of these two guests it will be 1. 2 x 1 = 2, i.e. our lower bound. Since the left-hand side is a constant, this holds for all n > 1.

Keeping this same arrangement in mind, observe that no matter how many times we rotate the table, in either direction, we cannot return these two to their original (i.e. correct) places. We can misalign all of the other guests by rotating just one seat to the left or to the right, leaving at least one of the two misalligned seats still misaligned. To put this another way, we have constructed two subsets of seats – the misaligned subset, and its complement, the aligned subset. Moreover, there can never be just one misaligned pair; there must always be two.

Now, consider the two sequences {g} and {s} which represent arbitrary but otherwise fixed orderings of our guests and their seats. Suppose the first element of {g}, g_i  aligns with the first element of {s}, s_i . If we examine the rest of {g} vs {s} we’ll either find a match … or we won’t. If we find another match, we have our two guests seated at their assigned places and we can start the first round of aperitifs.

But, if the first elements do not match, the drinks must wait. We rotate {s} so that s_{i+1}  becomes s_i , for i in [1,n], moving s_1  to s_n . We apply multiple rotations until an s_1  aligns with g_1 , and look for a second matching pair. Again, if we find a second matching set, we’re done. Drinks are on. If there isn’t a match (put the decanter down, colonel) we still have more work to do. Rotate {s} again until s_2  aligns with g_2  and look again. But, notice that our search space has shrunk by 1. We can continue doing this all the way down until we are looking at g_{n-1}  matching an s_{n-1}  (after some number of rotations) and a g_n  that must match s_n . Why must it? Recall that even in the most minimal misalignment of guests vs seats, there will be at least TWO mismatches. Consequently, by rotating through all of the matches, then mismatching them by rotating, we are isolating those mismatches. And these aren’t just any mismatches. These are mismatches that are NOT swaps. In fact, they are in the complement of the set of mismatches resulting from swaps, making them mismatches by rotation. Since all we have done is rotate the elements within {g} and {s}, and not change their order, we have accomplished what we set out to do: we have rotated the seats (i.e. places), keeping the guests stationary, until at least two of the guests find themselves at their assigned place.

Now then, Let’s EAT!!

Rules of Enragement

During a discussion over the merits of Obama’s presidency the other night, my correspondent heatedly insisted that the military hates Obama and that a major reason for this is the changes he’s made to the Rules of Engagement or ROE, which spell out when and how US military forces may “engage with” (i.e. open fire on) enemy forces. It was my friend’s opinion that under Obama, these have become more restrictive, in essence allowing the enemy (e.g. Taliban or ISIL combatants) greater latitude before US forces could deem returning fire justified.I researched the broader (the military hates Obama) claim, and this specific (ROE) claim and I would like to point out the following:

First of all, despite how much control you might think a president has, he (or she) doesn’t usually have any direct say in such details as ROE. That’s what generals and diplomats are paid to do. In the region in question, it was McCrystal and, later, Patraeus who developed those, based on their knowledge of counter insurgency and the intricate political and military workings of the region. Obama’s role in this amounts to, perhaps, hearing briefs on them, but, probably not much more than signing off on them.

Secondly, as of January of this year, the ROE have actually become LESS restrictive. For example, whereas before US troops had to actually see hostile intent (someone had to shoot at them before they could return fire, say), current ROE in Afghanistan allow them to fire on someone who’s doing nothing more than wearing an ISIL T-shirt.
What’s telling, however, is that in spite of this change, nearly all of the sites that come up when you do search for “Obama” and “ROE” are historically right-wing mouthpieces (e.g. Washington Times, Fox News, Breitbart, &c), repeating the clearly specious claim that Obama has made things more dangerous for our troops. What they conveniently omit is that Generals McCrystal and Patraeus both had more restrictive ROE, which they based on the their experience that showed counter-insurgency or COIN operations don’t use the same calculus as all-out combat. Expending huge resources to kill just a few of the enemy makes you look weak in their eyes. And even if you take out many of them, because these are “locals”, the more you kill, the less support you have among the population and, consequently, the better it is for your enemy. Sometimes, you “win” more (or lose less) by not fighting. At least not directly.

In fact, Obama ordered more drone strikes during his first month in office than did GWB during his entire presidency. That is to say that, rather than send troops into harms way, Obama has opted to use alternative methods. You may question (as I do) the morality of doing that on other grounds, certainly. But, in terms of trying to limit troops exposure to danger, I think Obama has done a better job than he’s being given credit for.

This brings me to the broader claim that the troops hate Obama. While “hate” is a rather strong word, it seems that Obama does indeed enjoy the lowest approval ratings. among the military, of any president in recent memory. But, on closer examination, this has nothing to do with ROE or anything about soldiering or military strategy. It has more to do with career choice, gays, and the role (and treatment) of women in the military.

According to a recent survey conducted by the Military Times, The main gripe you hear from those service persons who voice disapproval of President Obama is that their career opportunities and benefits — promotions, pay increases, posting preferences, &c — aren’t coming as often or as easily as they once did. One article even used the term “military EMPLOYMENT” (as opposed to military service) when describing the elevated levels of dissatisfaction. In other words, this is about job dissatisfaction, rather than matters of foreign policy, rules of engagement, or the price of tea in Mosul.
The other gripe is about the change in the military policy toward gays. And, as it happens, there’s a pretty clear divide in terms of who cares and who doesn’t. Most of the grumbling on this point comes from those who have been in the military the longest. You don’t hear it so much from newer, younger men and women. And, when pressed, regardless of career longevity, most if not all will tell you that it has made little or no difference to those who aren’t gay.

Coincident with this is the lifting of restrictions on women in combat roles. Women can now fly combat missions in fighter aircraft, and participate in combat on the ground. Those who object say that it distracts the men who, they claim, will “instinctively” try to protect the women first. Most, however, quickly point out that women have always been in combat zones: this is just a different way to be in those zones.

Lastly, and perhaps most significantly, is the reaction to Obama’s crackdown on sexual assault in the military.   Obama has instituted a very strict, zero-tolerance approach to this and the “old boys” don’t like it one bit.  Their claim is that it has made their work environment uncomfortable, that the flow of communication among co-workers is hampered by the sense that saying the wrong thing will land you in hot water more easily now.   Try as I might (and I have to admit, I’m not trying all that hard) I just can’t feel alot of sympathy for their “discomfort”.   Incidents of rape and sexual misconduct have, for too long, gone unreported or the accuser has wound up being assaulted by their rapist and then by the military justice system seeking to make the matter go away without holding anyone accountable.   That has changed and continues to change and it comes as no surprise that the ol’ boys don’t like the new rules  one bit.  Small wonder they hate the guy who has spoiled their fun and their “workplace camaraderie”.

The military has changed a great deal over the past two or three decades, both in terms of its mission and composition. Some of the larger changes have come during if not as a direct result of Obama’s administration.   Change is never comfortable and anyone who has been a part of any large organisation undergoing major changes knows these are always accompanied by much grumbling and dissatisfaction among those who preferred the “old ways” of doing things, who want things to remain the way they “always were”.   The same hold true for the military.   Their disapproval of Obama can generally, if not entirely be summarised as resistance to change.   Blaming Obama for changes in ROE, or saying the troops hate him for being a “bad CIC” are simply unsupportable by fact. This of course doesn’t stop right-wing pundits, repeating lies big and small,  as often often as it takes until they are accepted as truth.


The Higher Cause

Recently, a comment appeared in response to this article. Quoting: “… as McDonald’s had the law on its side, it was time for the protesters to turn their attention into lobbying for a greater cause, to get the law changed for the benefit of the greater hills community in the future.”

In fact, we ARE protesting for greater cause. This protest is NOT soley about having or not having a McDonalds here in Tecoma. It’s really about the way they trampled the Democratic Process to bully their way in. Their request for a permit was clearly and unambiguously turned down by our local council in a unanimous decision, following the submission of an unprecedented number of written objections to their application, having deemed it “unacceptable” and inappropriate. The planning laws in Victoria, specifically clause 65, constitutes the local council’s authority to make this determination.

McDonalds, not satisfied with the democratic outcome, took their case to VCAT, which is comprised of “members” who are appointed by the queen’s representative in Victoria. They are not elected. They need not be judges. They need not even be lawyers. In fact, VCAT, strictly-speaking, isn’t even a court. And yet, it has the power to override any local council decision, so long as it is “legal”. What constitutes a “legal” VCAT decision is so over-broad that they can do pretty much anything they like so long as it isn’t clearly criminal.

And, just to make sure you understand how undemocratic VCAT is, how little your voice, my voice, and the voice of all or friends and neighbours matter anymore, the recent VCAT decision against Stonnington confirmed their stance that community objection is “irrelevant”, regardless of how many object.

THIS is the larger issue: Our democracy in Australia is being replaced with unelected, unaccountable institutions that can decide the fate and composition of OUR communities, forcing us to bear the consequences of their bad decisions.

This may be “legal” in a strict sense, but it is by no means moral. Despots throughout history have always claimed to be acting within the law — that is fundamental to what a dictatorship is, law as dictated by one person. But, we live in a democracy, and our Law is meant to be a reflection of the norms and mores of the community who live by it. WE say what the law is, WE give the government power to author it and enforce it. When that reflection becomes distorted, it isn’t the community that must adapt; it is the Law which must be changed.

NRA: The Pros and the Constitution

The NRA’s stated purpose is the defense of Americans’ Constitutional (Second Amendment) right to keep and bear arms, and they zealously maintain that this right is both absolute and inviolable and all but natural. In its landmark 2008 decision, Parker v. District of Columbia, the US Supreme Court held that self-defense is a natural right and that a 31-year-old ban on handguns in DC violated the Second Amendment. The NRA and gun rights supporters would have us all believe that the Second Amendment — and the right to bear arms –was somehow written on different paper than the rest of the Constitution and that it can thus never be changed. History simply does not support this position. In fact, it provides two Constitutional examples that support repeal — or at the very least, clarification — of the Second Amendment: Prohibition, and Slavery.


The ratification of the Eighteenth Amendment (18A) in January, 1919 ushered in the brief era of prohibition against the manufacture, sale, and transporation of alcoholic beverages in the United States, enforced under the Volestead Act of 1920. It was repealed just thirteen years later by the Twentyfirst Amendment. Its passage was mainly supported by Republicans, who hypocritically portrayed themselves as “dry”, tea-totalling moralists, and by Women Suffrage groups, who were themselves engaged in the long-running struggle to recognize women’s right to vote in the US. The third bedfellow were conservative and/or fundamentalist Christian groups, particularly the Methodists and Baptists. Women Suffrage groups believed that consumption of alcohol promoted domestic violence, concluding that it’s prohibition would greatly reduce such violence. One can easily imagine they’d be willing to do a bit of political horse-trading: that is, agreeing to support prohibition in exchange for support in their battle for voting rights. That the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified just a year and a half after 18A makes this seem all the more likely.


Some gun rights advocates will quickly point out that neither 18A nor 21A were part of the Bill of Rights and are therefore somehow less a part of the Constitution itself. Aside from the fact that this is a patently specious claim, the Thirteenth Amendment (13A) changed something that was originally codified in the Constitution itself, that is, slavery.

Slavery is mentioned three times in the main body of the US Constitution. It first appears in Article 1, Section 2, which lays out the “math” by which the number of representatives from each state are to be determined. So-called “other persons” (which included slaves) would count as three-fifths of a person for these purposes. This clause was inserted as a compromise between slave-holding (and also less populous) states and the more industrial, more densely-populated “free” states. The slave states, ironically, wanted their slaves to be counted as whole persons to help boost their alotment of representatives; free states felt that slaves shouldn’t be counted at all. Slavery is mentioned a second time in Article 1, Section 9, which prohibits the importation of slaves. Notice that this didn’t make slavery itself illegal. It simply meant that slave holders had to “buy American”. Slaves could still be bought and sold so long as they were born and bred in the US. It was not only legal to own slaves; it was constitutional!

The third and probably most damning codification of slavery in the Constitution is found in Article 4, Section 2, which established that run-away slaves caught in a free state must be extradicted back to the state — and the owner — from which they had escaped. There is neither question nor doubt that slavery was very much a part of and explicitly supported by the US Constitution.

It is historical fact that Founders such as Jefferson, Washington, Franklin, and Madison, though slave-holders themselves, abhorred slavery and recommended that slavery be abolished. Yet, it was so strongly entrenched in the national economy and psyche that it would take nearly a century, culminating in what still remains our most lethal war to excise it from our laws and our land.

And yet, the fact is that slavery in the US — somthing that was even more “Constitutional” than the right keep and bear arms — was abolished.

Then and Now

Over the past 226 years since the Constitution was first ratified, much has changed in the world and in the United States. The country has grown in land, population, and world presence and influence. Things we take for granted today didn’t exist in 1787: Flight, computers, space travel, the marvels of modern medicine come quickly to mind. There was also no such thing as a police department anywhere in the US. We had volunteer fire departments since colonial times, and hospitals had already been around, in various (sometimes rather gruesome) forms long before the Revolution. And, even though the US had no standing — that is, regular — army, we could (and out of necessity, on many occasions DID) call up volunteers to form well-regulated militias. These could take the form of rag-tag groups of citizens with guns or farm implements assembled into a posse to track down a wild animal or a criminal that might be serving grief to a town or hamlet. Or, it could be a larger, more highly regimented mustering of “troops”, under a chain of command who had, at some point, received formal training in the arts of war, such as during the Revolution.

But, with the possible exception of Philadelphia, no city had a police force. Police work, as such, was done by local sheriffs and their deputies, who were usually elected by the localities they served. These duties were about as limited as their resources and amounted mostly to process serviing, evictions, and handling the occasional “civil disturbance” (i.e., Friday night down at the local becoming a bit too energetic.) New York didn’t even have a police department until well into the nineteenth century. Same for Boston. Police departments that did exist were more constabulary than para-military. The highly-organized system of ranks and chain-of-command was something that didn’t really appear until after the Civil War.

To be able to handle situations that required more than a sheriff and a deputy or two, citizens (read: male land-owners) would be called upon to volunteer for deputization to address the issue at hand. Once the matter had been resolved, these deputies would then be dismissed. Obviously, having an armed citizenry to call upon was necessary in such times and circumstances.

We have long since outgrown the ability of a single sheriff or a handful of constables to keep watch and maintain order when the “boys” get a little to worked up. We now have highly-organized, well-armed law enforcement at local, city, state and federal levels. We also have the most expensive, well-armed, well-trained military on the planet. It is painfully clear that need for an armed citizenry so that we can form “well-regulated militias” no longer exists. To suggest that the purpose of keeping citizens well-armed is to prevent the government from getting too much power is to ignore one simple fact: GOVERNMENT ALREADY HAS FAR, FAR MORE FIREPOWER THAN ANY WELL-ARMED CITIZENRY COULD EVER HOPE TO OVERCOME. (I’ve already covered this point in an earlier post, so I won’t belabor it here.)

Making Amends

There is, therefore, no longer a need for militias to maintain the security of a free state. We have police departments and our military. There is also clear and unequivocal precedent for modifying the Constitution itself, as well as amending the amendments. There is nothing “sacred” about any one particular word, phrase, or sentence in our Constitution. What makes it important is something more than the sum of its parts, or the durability of any one of its parts. Our Constitution lays the foundation for a government that is empowered by the governed — We, the People. But, we are not frozen in time. We are born, we live, we die, our way of life continued by those who come after us. Neither, then, is the Constitution frozen in time, nor should it be. The Framers knew this and made provision for it to be amended, even expected, encouraged, and authored such amendments right from the start. To suggest that any part of it is “sacred” or otherwise immutable is not only silly, it demonstrates a poor grasp of the Constitution itself as well as a disregard for the principles embodied therein.

If any part of the Constitution should be held in highest regard, it should be the opening words — the Preamble.

We, the people, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution of the United States of America.

The NRA and gun rights adherents will tell you that an armed society is a polite society. In fact, however, societies in which politeness — domestic tranquility, if you like — is maintained by the threat of lethal force is called prison. Allowing anyone to purchase a gun without so much as a simple background check, or allowing anyone to own weapons that can fire more than a handful of bullets without reloading, does far, FAR more to undermine the general welfare than to promote it. We invest our trust and our treasure in providing for our common defense against those who would seek to destroy that which we hold dear, who would seek to take away those blessings of liberty from ourselves and from our children. The NRA can shout and carry on all it likes about the “sanctity” of their precious Second Amendment. What is becoming clearer with every mass killing, with each new incident of a child or some innocent bystander being gunned down by weapons the NRA has actively encouraged everyone to own, carry, and use, is that the NRA and the Second Amendment are out of step with the rest of the Constitution, and with the values of the people who wrote it, and all who are sworn to uphold it and abide by it. We, the People, have long since outgrown our need — or our use — for both of them.

The Assumption of St. Ronald

McDonalds deserves to recover NO damages from the Tecoma 8, nor from anyone else for one simple reason: “assumption of risk“.

If you knowingly engage in an activity in which there is an obvious or clearly stated risk, you are not entitled to sue for damages in the event of injury sustained therein. Take for example, riding on a roller coaster. The operator of that ride must do “due diligence” to ensure the ride is safe and that no physical harm will come to those who ride it, such as may occur from malfunction of the ride or some component of it. However, they issue very clear warnings that people with certain medical conditions (e.g. heart problems, pregnancy) should not ride. They also point out that they are NOT responsible for items that may be lost during the ride (loose change, glasses, &c.)

If someone hops on the roller coaster, having seen the sign but decided to take the RISK of if it inducing a heart attack, they cannot expect to sue for damages should they, in fact, have an M.I. Same holds for the person who, say, looses spare change, or that expensive piece of jewlery that became dislodged and was ejected during the ride.

McDonalds boarded the Tecoma roller coaster knowing FULL WELL what they were getting into. They were told, in writing, in the media, on social networks, to their faces, by hundreds in person, and by thousands around the world: DO NOT BUILD IN TECOMA. You WILL be resisted.

But, they proceeded. They assumed the risk.

And now they want to recover damages due to construction delays and additional “unforseen” costs such as the security force they’ve employed? Who are they trying to kid, here? Oh, and they want attorney fees on top of that?

What HUBRIS!! What GALL!! What. A. Joke.

McDonalds KNEW there was a risk. They absolutely knew it. Their disregard, their arrogance, and their failure to live up to their own corporate propaganda — striving to earn the “trust” of communities — are all too evident. It is painfully clear that they knew what they were getting into. They assumed we weren’t serious. They assumed we’d grow weaker and give up. They assumed the risk.

They assumed too much.

McDonalds in Hot Water … Again

One of those so-called frivolous court cases people seem to recount often is the one in which McDonalds was sued by a woman who was scalded by coffee, purchased at McDonalds. The pop media made a joke of this, lampooning the woman as the archetypical “litigious American” who’ll sue anyone with deep pockets at the drop of a hat. In fact, it was an al-too-good example of just how proficient McDonalds PR department are at spin. The nearly 80-year-old suffered third degree burns (this is the kind where burn fully penetrates the skin) on her groin, buttocks, and thighs when the too-hot coffee spilled on her. She was hospitalised for over a week and required skin grafts and follow on treatment for the next two years. A jury awarded her over $2 million, but, in fact she received far less than this because McDonalds appealed the decision, tied her up in court for years, after which she finally settled for an undisclosed amount somewhere below $600,000. I’ll let you think about that for a moment whilst I set up for the next paragraph.

You see, McDonalds KNEW it’s coffee was too hot, but it’s management decided that they’d rather pay claims — over 700 of them, as it turns out — than lower the temperature of the coffee. They KNEW it, but because they have more money than decency, they chose to apply money, rather than decency, to the problem.

We have the same situation here in Tecoma, now. McDonalds KNEW it was not wanted up here. They claim the economics and zoning were favorable to building a store here. What they didn’t give any consideration to was that there is no DEMAND for one, here. I suppose they just reckon than if there’s no law against it, and it’s an area where disposable income per square kilometer is over some threshhold, they’ll put a store there, the community’s wishes be damned.

And now they’re suing us — specifically, eight of my neighbours and friends — essentially for putting up a huge resistance to their efforts to build here. They knew they weren’t wanted, and rather than do what a GOOD business does and simply look elsewhere to build, they bullied their way into our area, unwelcome, unwanted, and now unashamed of their rapacious tactics. They are claiming “injury” from not being able to build here. I say any such injury is SELF-INFLICTED. This is like the guy who jumps in front of an oncoming truck, gets run over, and then tries to sue the driver for the injuries he sustains.

There is no “law” that dictates limits on how hot coffee should or should not be. McDonalds could, in that case, claim that they did everything according to the law. And yet, through their negligence, as a result of their careless disregard for peoples’ well-being, they injured nearly 1000 people that we know of this way, at least one of them quite severely. They now find themselves in “hot water” with our community. WE didn’t put them there; they hopped in — no DOVE in — ignoring the very clear wishes of the community, and using legal thuggery to have its way in spite of our wishes.

They are feeling the “burn” and want to hold us liable for their injuries? Sorry, McDonalds. You got yourself into this soup, your own avarice drove you into a boiling hot caldron of your own making.

An Open Letter to Catriona Nobel, CEO, McDonalds Australia

Dear Ms. Nobel,

You have a golden opportunity to turn McDonalds Australia into a shining example of corporate responsibility and good citizenship by doing somethng very simple: Give up on building a store in Tecoma or anywhere in the Dandenongs. Now, I know, you’ve already bought the land there, made all these plans, and so forth. Let me point out that by donating that land to the town and buliding a park there — JUST a park, now — and using it as a sort of “rainbow” to tell all of Victoria — promise to all of Victoria — that you won’t build any stores in the Dandenongs, ever, you will score mega-tonnes of community love and appreciation that would otherwise cost BILLIONS. It’s cheap advertising, and a win-win for you and for us here in the Dandenongs (especially those of us in Tecoma.)

I’m writing this not because there’s Buckley’s chance of you ever reading it, let alone taking it to heart. But, I just wanted it to be out there, in writing, that you had your chance to make this all come out right. You had the power and the opportunity, and, so far, you’ve simply squandered it.

I’m sure your board of directors will be very, very impressed come the next shareholders meeting.

Warmest Regads,
Nick Seidenman
Tecoma VIC