Thursday, September 11, 2014

Does Georgetown University Have the World's Smallest Athletic Facility?

As an alumnus of Georgetown University, today I received an email alert that tomorrow there will be a live webcast of the groundbreaking ceremony for a new athletic structure on campus.

According to the email,

This exciting milestone marks a historic moment in Georgetown’s tradition of athletic excellence.

The new four-story, 144-square-foot facility is named for legendary Hoyas men’s basketball coach John R. Thompson Jr., and is supported through the generous philanthropy of Georgetown’s alumni, friends and donors.
Imagine that! A four-story building that has only 144 square feet of space. Twelve feet by twelve feet, spread out over four floors. A handful of study carrels for grad students are bigger than that.

Is this a dollhouse or a miniature gymnasium?

Just in case a corrected email goes out that says the John R. Thompson, Jr., Intercollegiate Athletic Center is not intended for dwarf bowling tournaments, I have attached a screenshot below:

Hoya Saxa!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Fuzzy memories of elections past

An odd letter made its way into the Charlottesville Daily Progress today.

The letter, submitted by Albemarle County resident Hubert Hawkins, makes an argument about retaining Virginia's tradition of open primary elections, in which any voter, regardless of party affiliation, can participate in either the Democratic or Republican party's primaries for nominating candidates for the general election. (Virginia voters do not register by political party, so "party affiliation" is determined by the voter's own individual preference and observations of primary voting patterns and recorded financial contributions to candidates and party committees.)

Mr. Hawkins tries to undergird his point by reminiscing about the only time he crossed party lines to vote in a Republican primary:

Years ago when Oliver North opposed John Warner in the Republican primary, I was a Democrat who never sought to meddle in Republican elections. But I knew that my senator was going to be a Republican, no matter who won the party’s primary, because my party had no competitive candidate. So I voted in the Republican primary, fearful of what outcome might ensue from the victory of such a controversial character as North.

I have never regretted my vote, and I have always been grateful that Virginia law allows all voters to participate realistically in the future of the state and nation without restrictions on what party they may have belonged to.
The problem with that example? Oliver North never challenged John Warner for the Republican Party of Virginia's nomination for the U.S. Senate, in a primary or through any other method.

John Warner, Larry Sabato, and Mark Warner at UVA, June 2014
John Warner ran unopposed for the GOP nomination in 1990, and he had no Democratic opponent in the November election. Nancy Spannaus, a devotee of political cult leader Lyndon LaRouche, was the only other candidate on the ballot that year. Warner beat Spannaus by sweeping every county and city and earning 80.9 percent of the vote.  The absence of a Democratic general election candidate that year may be what Mr. Hawkins is trying to recall in his letter to the editor.

In 1994, Oliver North sought the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate and winning it in a convention against former Reagan administration official James C. Miller III. There was no primary election that year, and John Warner was not on the ballot. North went on to lose the general election to incumbent Democrat Chuck Robb in a three-way race that also included independent J. Marshall Coleman. That election was the subject of a popular documentary film, A Perfect Candidate.

In 1996, Jim Miller challenged John Warner for the nomination in a primary election but Warner won and went on to face Democrat Mark Warner in the general election.

After serving one term as Virginia''s governor, Mark Warner eventually won John Warner's U.S. Senate seat in 2008, after John Warner decided to retire.  The two of them remain on friendly terms (as seen in this video from earlier this year) and, in fact, John Warner has endorsed Mark Warner's re-election bid this year.

Regardless of what one thinks about the merits of Mr. Hawkins' argument about open primaries, it's important that the person making that argument have his facts straight. For that matter, it is the responsibility of the newspaper's editors to ensure that such factual errors do not make their way into print.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Washington Post reporter gets several historical facts wrong

An article in the print edition of the Washington Post on Sunday, July 27 (p. C5), includes three glaring errors that would have resulted in a failing grade on an elementary school history test, yet only one of them has been subsequently corrected on the newspaper's web site.

The article, written by Ileana Najarro with a print-edition headline "Wolf is making his last push for holiday," explains how retiring U.S. Representative Frank Wolf (R-VA10) is advancing legislation that would make Washington's Birthday a federal holiday celebrated on the actual date of his birth, February 22, rather than floating each year on the third Monday in February.

One of Najarro's errors relates to how the holiday came to be celebrated on a date other than February 22:
President Rutherford B. Hayes established Washington’s birthday in 1879 as a holiday for the District’s federal workers, Wolf said. The holiday was extended to all federal workers six years later, but it wasn’t until 1971 that it was moved to the third Monday of February as part of President Gerald Ford’s Uniform Monday Holiday Act.
Gerald Ford did not become President until August 1974. The law was passed when Lyndon Johnson was President. Johnson signed it on June 28, 1968, and it took effect January 1, 1971, when Richard Nixon was President. Ford did sign a bill in 1975 that amended the Uniform Monday Holiday Act to restore Veterans' Day commemorations to November 11, regardless of its day of the week.

A second error, also not corrected, misplaces the origins of George Washington:
Sitting in his office, [Wolf] spoke of his geographical connection to the first president: Both were originally from Philadelphia, and both have held office in Winchester.
It used to be said that "every schoolboy knows" some fact about U.S. history. One such fact is that George Washington came from Virginia. He was born in the Northern Neck, in Westmoreland County near Fredericksburg. In later years, Washington made his home at Mount Vernon, just down the Potomac River from the city that bears his name. As a military officer, Washington did maintain an office in Winchester during the 1750s in a building that still stands near Cork and Braddock Streets.

Washington also served his country in Philadelphia, presiding over the Constitutional Convention in 1787 and moving there from New York as President before the capital was established in its present location.

The sole error that was corrected reads, in the print edition, like this:
Although the holiday is still recognized as Washington's Birthday, it's come to be known as Presidents' Day, with several states honoring all presidents at once. Wolf said he abhors this "hijacking" because Washington's birthday is honored equally with that of President Richard M. Nixon, who was impeached.
Andrew Johnson was impeached. Bill Clinton was impeached. Richard Nixon resigned before articles of impeachment could be brought before the House of Representatives for a vote.  If any newspaper's editors should know this, it would be those of The Washington Post.

The Post's correction of this error appears at the top of the page on its web site:
An earlier version of this story incorrectly said that President Nixon was impeached. He resigned before he could be impeached. This version has been corrected.
The "corrected" paragraph says that Nixon "resigned in disgrace."

So... Where were the copy editors?  How did sloppiness like this make it through the Metro section's editorial process?  Will the other errors also merit corrections in print or on the Post's web site?

Note:  The web headline for Najarro's article is: "Rep. Frank Wolf’s final acts include restoring Washington’s Birthday."

(Cross-posted from Where Are the Copy Editors?)

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Adventures in the Land of the Mathematically Challenged

A letter to the editor in today's Daily Progress tries to draw attention to the problem of expensive housing in the Charlottesville area.

The letter writers, however, display a sad sort of incompetence when it comes to their grasp of everyday mathematics.

They explain that

according to the U.S. Census, the median value of owner-occupied housing in Charlottesville from 2008-2012 was $286,400. With the median household income in Charlottesville at $44,535, a mortgage on the median home value is likely more than half of your monthly net income.
That may all be accurate but the howler follows in the next paragraph:
Homes under the median value are rare, and are often no more than 800 square feet and/or in complete disrepair.
The second part of that sentence may or may not be true, but the first part is demonstrably false.

It is not possible that homes "under the median value are rare," since, by definition, 50 percent of all homes are under the median value. (The other 50 percent are, by definition, above the median value.)

Perhaps the writers were trying to say that homes available for purchase that are also below the median value are rare, but that is not what they said.

Would this kind of innumeracy (mathematical illiteracy) be solved by adopting the Common Core, or made worse by it? Or would this demonstration of innumeracy be solved more simply by having a good copy editor?

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

50 Years Later, Barry Goldwater's GOP Convention Speech Still Resonates

“Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice” was the biggest applause line of Barry Goldwater's speech accepting his party's nomination as a presidential candidate.

It is probably also the most misunderstood, ripped-out-of-context line in a speech that stands, even today, as a succinct definition of conservatism.

Surprisingly, in 3,186 words, Goldwater never used any form of the word “conservative” in this famous speech. This stood in contrast to four years earlier, when he scolded supporters who threatened the cohesion of the Republican Party by saying, “Let's grow up, conservatives.”

Fifty years ago today, on July 16, 1964, grown-up conservative Barry Goldwater spoke to the GOP convention in San Francisco.*

Most readers of this blog are too young to remember Goldwater's 1964 presidential campaign, yet it is almost universally credited with launching both the modern conservative and the modern libertarian movements. The principal founders of the Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation worked on Goldwater's campaign. The founding members of the Libertarian Party were Goldwater campaign volunteers, and Virginia's current Republican National Committeeman, Morton Blackwell, was the youngest Goldwater delegate at the 1964 convention.

The campaign set the stage for a transformation of the Republican party and Ronald Reagan's election in 1980. As George F. Will has put it, Goldwater won the 1964 election but it took 16 years to count the votes.

Something of a prĂ©cis of his 1960 book, The Conscience of a Conservative, Goldwater's convention speech endeavored to explain conservatism – or what he called “Republicanism” on that occasion, eschewing specific references to the C-word – to listeners who had not yet learned much about it and who unfairly feared it.

In the same speech, Goldwater displayed a certain amount of prescience regarding the course of human history and offered advice to his fellow Republicans who, then as now, often found themselves among bickering factions.

In one, brief paragraph about halfway through the speech, the Arizona Senator summarized the conservative view of individual liberty and the proper role of government.
We see, in private property and in economy based upon and fostering private property, the one way to make government a durable ally of the whole man, rather than his determined enemy. We see in the sanctity of private property the only durable foundation for constitutional government in a free society. And beyond that, we see, in cherished diversity of ways, diversity of thoughts, of motives and accomplishments. We do not seek to lead anyone's life for him - we seek only to secure his rights and to guarantee him opportunity to strive, with government performing only those needed and constitutionally sanctioned tasks which cannot otherwise be performed.
Goldwater also drew a contrast explicitly to the communist, totalitarian vision and, implicitly, to big-government liberalism then in vogue, and recognized the tensions inherent in simultaneous pursuits of liberty and equality.
Those who seek absolute power, even though they seek it to do what they regard as good are simply demanding the right to enforce their own version of heaven on earth. And let me remind you, they are the very ones who always create the most hellish tyrannies. Absolute power does corrupt, and those who seek it must be suspect and must be opposed. Their mistaken course stems from false notions of equality, ladies and gentlemen. Equality, rightly understood, as our founding fathers understood it, leads to liberty and to the emancipation of creative differences. Wrongly understood, as it has been so tragically in our time, it leads first to conformity and then to despotism.
In a line that could be welcomed equally today by the Tea Party and by the Occupy movement, Goldwater said that conservatives must “resist concentrations of power, private or public, which enforce such conformity and inflict such despotism. It is the cause of Republicanism to ensure that power remains in the hands of the people.”

And, as if envisioning the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Empire a quarter-century later, Goldwater made remarkably accurate predictions in this paragraph:
I believe that we must look beyond the defense of freedom today to its extension tomorrow. I believe that the communism which boasts it will bury us will, instead, give way to the forces of freedom. And I can see in the distant and yet recognizable future the outlines of a world worthy our dedication, our every risk, our every effort, our every sacrifice along the way. Yes, a world that will redeem the suffering of those who will be liberated from tyranny. I can see and I suggest that all thoughtful men must contemplate the flowering of an Atlantic civilization, the whole world of Europe unified and free, trading openly across its borders, communicating openly across the world.
Toward the end of his speech, just before the famous line about “extremism,” Goldwater pointed out the factionalism in the Republican party was not necessarily new, but also was not necessarily bad.

The GOP, he said, is “a Party for free men, not for blind followers, and not for conformists.”

Then he quoted Abraham Lincoln in 1858 “because he probably could have said it during the last week or so: "[The Republican Party] was composed of strained, discordant, and even hostile elements.'”

As if warning the Tea Party and “establishment” branches of the conservative movement of the 21st century, or the social conservative and the libertarian factions, Goldwater admonished: “Let our Republicanism, so focused and so dedicated, not be made fuzzy and futile by unthinking and stupid labels.”

Explaining that the Republican Party should require no litmus tests, Goldwater explained:
the beauty of this Federal system of ours is in its reconciliation of diversity with unity. We must not see malice in honest differences of opinion, and no matter how great, so long as they are not inconsistent with the pledges we have given to each other in and through our Constitution. Our Republican cause is not to level out the world or make its people conform in computer regimented sameness. Our Republican cause is to free our people and light the way for liberty throughout the world.
It was in that context – between “stupid labels” and the beauty of the American system – that Goldwater added:

“I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue" -- the second part being so often forgotten while the first part so often misinterpreted.

He concluded with the modest thought that conservatives have “a very human cause for very humane goals.”

Perhaps suggesting that he knew victory in November was unlikely, Goldwater went on to note that his 1964 campaign was a first step in a long journey.
This Party, its good people, and its unquestionable devotion to freedom, will not fulfill the purposes of this campaign which we launch here now until our cause has won the day, inspired the world, and shown the way to a tomorrow worthy of all our yesteryears.
Barry Goldwater's nomination acceptance speech of July 16, 1964, can be viewed in its entirety on the C-SPAN web site, where you can see people smoking openly on the convention floor.

*Twenty years later, when the Democrats chose the same city for their nominating convention, then-UN Ambassador Jeane J. Kirkpatrick repeatedly dripped with contempt the phrase “San Francisco Democrats” in her own GOP convention speech.

(Cross-posted, in slightly different form, from Bearing Drift. A shorter version of this essay also appears on