Friday, April 30, 2010

Oaks 2010 Disclosure

Blind Luck, along with Beautician and Tidal Pool.

Friday, April 23, 2010

2010 Kentucky Derby: Linkage

The Kentucky Derby is the first Saturday in May, which this year happens to fall on my birthday. That won't happen again until 2021.

The Louisville Courier-Journal of course has extensive coverage of the Kentucky Derby, including the 2010 Derby Briefing Book and the Horse Racing and local events blogs. The C-J's most-requested Derby recipes was originally published back in 1997: make sure to pick up a gallon of bourbon.

Events follow a schedule, and most everything in April and May are scheduled around Derby and the events scheduled around Derby. Thunder over Louisville, the fireworks and air show, is two weeks before Derby. BBC Brew Day is the week before Derby. The Great Steamboat Race is the Wednesday before Derby; the next day is the parade, and Oaks is on Friday.

Hunter S. Thompson wrote about the 1970 Derby (sort of) in "The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved", and William Faulkner wrote on the '55 Derby in "Kentucky. May. Saturday." (h/t JH). Faulkner opens that piece by penning a paean to Kentucky as fine as you'll find. I'm queuing up the 1969 film of Faulkner's last book.

Anyhow, this post was intended to be about coverage of the race itself. The official sites are Oaks, Kentucky Derby, and Churchill Downs. Churchill owns for online wagering.

The New York Times' The Rail blog covers the Triple Crown. The 2009 edition was begun on April 20, and featured a blackberry-bourbon mint julep recipe. Steven D. Levitt often reveals his Derby picks at the Freakonomics blog (he was pretty hilariously wrong in 2009). The Baltimore Sun's horse coverage is more geared towards the Preakness. But it makes me think about how fantastic "The Wire" was.

Blood Horse has coverage of Triple Crown Mania, and CBS Sports and ESPN have horse racing feeds. Many horse racing sites like the Daily Racing Form are oriented towards subscribers, although there are some blogs ( 1 2 3 4 5 6 ). Wikipedia has a list of the winners back to Aristides.

The Kentucky Derby YouTube channel has including replay back to 2002. Here's the 2009 Derby, 2008 Derby and Oaks, 2007 Derby, 2006 Derby, and 2005 Derby, as well as things like Welcome to Louisville and Making your Mint Julep. I moved to Louisville in 2004, right after Smarty Jones won; so the first Derby I really paid attention to was won by Giacomo.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Succumbing to Facebook

I resisted MySpace, and resisted Facebook for a long time. I've been a member of, a local social networking site, for nearly as long as I've been here in Louisville; but it's local.

But last week it came out that, with the drop in revenues from the recession, they were converting the site into a paid-only dating site. I reckon that's about the end of what interest I took in the place. So I finally knuckled in and made a Facebook account last Wednesday, April 14.

O well.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Scoundrel's whist: A card game

Scoundrel's Whist is a game for four players. It is a trick-taking game with some similarities to whist, but with a greater emphasis on competitive play and a scoring system that rewards capturing many low cards rather than taking many tricks.

One player is selected as the dealer, who shuffles the deck and deals out thirteen cards to each player, beginning with the player to his left. The final card is dealt face-up onto the table, and indicates which suit is trump. After the trump suit is chosen, the dealer adds the card to his hand, and play commences with the player to his left.

In addition to the trump suit, two cards trump all other cards: the Jack of Clubs and the Jack of Spades. These two cards are known as the "scoundrels." If the two scoundrels are played in the same trick, the second scoundrel wins the trick. However, when a player wins a trick with scoundrels, he or she discards the scoundrels from the trick. Thus, the point value of the scoundrels don't count against his or her score.

The first player leads the trick, placing a single card face up on the table. Each player continuing to the left plays an additional card to the trick, and must play a card of the same suit if they have one. A player with no card of the suit may discard a card into the trick or play a trump. The trick is won by the highest card of the suit that led, or otherwise the highest trump card. After a trick is won, the player turns the cards face down into their pile. Play continues around to the left until all 13 tricks have been played.

After the tricks have been played, players count up the value of their cards, and the player with the highest point total wins. Cards are scored as follows: All face cards and 10s are worth -1 points, the 8s and 9s are worth zero points, and all 2s, 3s, 4s, 5s, 6s, and 7s are worth one point.

A canny observer might notice some parallels; other scoring systems are occasionally used.

For electoral fusion

Lots of folks are dissatisfied with the two-party system. They feel it's a racket, that the two parties aren't substantively different because they seek the median voter, that they can't identify with either party or vote in good faith for either of them. It may be that for these reasons, some people don't participate in the fundamental institution of liberal democracy: the vote.

So there is a desire for third parties from people with widely varying ideological positions and backgrounds. But in most places in the U.S., third parties are not viable. This is a consequence of "Duverger's law", the principle that any political system with simple majority voting tends to evolve into a two-party system, because minor parties tend to act as spoilers. This is certainly no ironclad law, but it seems to generally hold true in the United States.

So people looking to create viable alternatives to the two main parties often advocate for some type of electoral reform, such as proportional representation or instant-runoff voting. Some folks who wish for viable third parties admire the multi-party democracies of Europe, where many ideologically varied parties govern through coalitions. However, these countries use a parliamentary system of democracy with proportional representation that is quite different from America's presidential system. Changing our electoral system in this way would result in a practice of democracy that is quite different from what Americans expect, and would generally require sweeping constitutional reforms or even a new constitutional convention if implemented above the level of local government. Americans generally don't expect opposition parties to field a shadow government or dissolve the government when they win an election.

There is an easier way to enable viable third parties, however, with a simple electoral reform that hearkens back to the earlier days of American democracy: electoral fusion. When I moved to New York some years ago, I was surprised by how viable third parties were there. It's certainly not a perfect system, and it may be a necessary-but-not-sufficient change to create viable third parties, but it can be very functional in the right situations.

Electoral fusion received a lot of press last year as a consequence of the dramatic 2009 special election in New York's 23rd Congressional district. After President Barack Obama nominated the conservative-leaning district's Congressman, John H. McHugh, as the Secretary of the Army, a special election was scheduled to fill his seat. Eleven Republican Party county chairs chose moderate Republican Dede Scozzafava as the GOP nominee for the race, while the Democratic Party chose Bill Owens as their nominee, who was cross-endorsed by the Working Families Party. However, the Conservative Party, who normally cross-endorses the Republican candidate, chose longtime Republican Doug Hoffman as their nominee. Scozzafava fared poorly in the polling and dropped out of the race, leaving Hoffman as the conservative frontrunner. Although Hoffman narrowly lost the general election, if he had won, it would have been a victory for ideological conservatives who wanted to ensure that conservative Republicans, not moderate ones, held the seat. Hoffman's bid for the seat was a consequence of New York's inclusion of viable third parties, driven by electoral fusion.

Electoral fusion is a system in which third parties appear on the ballot, but are allowed to cross-endorse the candidates of other parties. Some of the major third parties in New York include the Working Families Party, associated with labor unions, and the Conservative Party, dedicated to promoting ideological conservatism. Other parties include the Right to Life Party, the Independence Party, and (formerly) the Liberal Party. In most elections, the Democratic, Republican, Working Families, and Conservative Parties will all appear on the ballot, but the Working Families Party will endorse the Democrat candidate and the Conservative Party will endorse the Republican candidate. So for example, if (hypothetical) incumbent Democrat Michael Brown* was being challenged by Republican William Jones*, Michael Brown would appear on the ballot as a candidate of the Democratic Party and the Working Families Party, while William Jones would appear on the ballot as a candidate of the Republican Party and the Conservative Party.

One consequence is that voters can more clearly signal politicians their priorities and beliefs. If Michael Brown wins re-election due to a large turnout by union voters voting on the Working Families line, he might reasonably conclude that labor issues are a high priority for his constituents. If William Jones is swept into office by voters voting on the Conservative Party line, it might convince him to take a more conservative, rather than moderate, tack as a Republican. Or imagine that William Jones was endorsed by the Republican Party, the Conservative Party, the Right to Life Party, and the Libertarian Party. If Jones received relatively few votes on the Right to Life Party line but many votes on the Libertarian Party line, he might reasonably conclude that liberty and property rights are more especially important to his constituents, and build his record on that.

Another consequence is that in many districts, third parties can routinely attract enough votes to stay on the ballot. And when necessary, they can field their own candidates. Often, cross-endorsing the candidate of the two large parties allows them to exist in "sleeper mode", waiting for the time when fielding an independent candidate can be useful. And third parties are certainly not limited to rubber stamping the candidates of the main parties.

Alyssa Katz's 2005 story in the Nation highlights some of these effects. She describes how the Working Families Party in 2004 endorsed Republican State Senator Nick Spano, who won re-election by only 18 votes, which infuriated many progressive Democrats but helped lead to the GOP relenting in its long opposition to a minimum wage hike the WFP wanted. In an unusual election in 2003, Letitia James won a New york City Council seat as an Working Families Party candidate running against a Democratic candidate who had been convicted of soliciting prostitutes and not paying child support.

This is what happened in the 2009 New York special election. Generally, the Conservative Party cross-endorses the Republican candidate. But in this case, committed conservatives who were unsatisfied with the ideological position of Scozzafava nominated Hoffman to run on the Conservative Party line. This eventually impelled Scozzafava to drop out of the race, which was widely regarded by conservatives as a victory for their ideological preferences.

So the New York special election demonstrated the advantage of allowing voters to more clearly express their preferences. And it is an important tool to fight corrupt incumbents in otherwise noncompetitive districts.

Guest-blogging at the Volokh Conspiracy, David Schleicher observed last year that electoral fusion helps reduce the lack of competitiveness in city council elections, leading to the elections of Republicans Fiorella Laguardia, Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg in largely Democratic New York City. Many districts have a very partisan electorate, which can lead to corrupt political machines; electoral fusion was a key ingredient in the fight against Tammany Hall.

Moreover, unlike proportional representation or instant runoff voting, electoral fusion is not alien to American democracy. Fusion has a long history in America; during the 19th century, it was practiced in elections at all levels of government. This practice only ended at the end of the 19th century, when ballot rules were introduced that required political parties to obtain access to the ballot through petitions, and the two dominant parties outlawed the practice of letting a candidate's name appear on the ballot twice. The rationale for this was merely to protect the hegemony of the Democratic and Republican parties. That is the sole purpose of banning electoral fusion: to ensure that the two main parties have a permanent duopoly on political representation.

New York is the only state that didn't ban electoral fusion at the time; it was the only state that followed the argument that electoral fusion is often the only way to defeat an entrenched and corrupt political machine. And so New York was the only state to preserve a political system that included more than three parties. Electoral fusion is legal or has been legalized in a few other states, although third parties have not necessarily been as successful as in New York. In 2009, Oregon legalized fusion voting, aiding the Independent Party of Oregon and other parties. The National Open Ballot Project is one organization that advocates this.

Of course, electoral fusion is not without its critics, who protest the way it enables vanity parties, or criticize specific third parties like the Working Families Party from both the right or the left. The Working Families Party certainly is one of the most notable New York parties, and attracts attention for its successes, organization, and practices (1, 2, 3). A system that allows third parties to exist will enable a diverse group of parties: some will be terrible, or ideologically repellant to many people. The WFP will be stronger or more prominent in some districts, and the Right to Life Party more so in others. In addition to a Conservative Party and a Liberal Party, there may be a Socialist Party competing in the marketplace of ideas. But that doesn't mean that the existence of third parties can't improve elections or political representation within the context of our two-party system. And legalizing electoral fusion would be a simple, easy change.

See also:
* These names are made up from the fourth and fifth most popular first names and surnames in the U.S. Any similarity to real candidates is accidental.

Spring 26: Green has returned

Today is the 26th day of Spring. Things move quickly at this time of year.

I saw my first daffodil in full flower on the 89th day of winter, the Friday that was the day before the equinox. In another day or two, the daffodils were in full flower.

Next was the yellow-flowered forsythia, and the purple saucer and white star magnolias came into full bloom. Then the Bradford pears burst into flower. By now, nearly all the trees are well into leafing out: from the bleak frozen winter of a month ago, everything is transformed. The tree pollen is really bothering my allergies, but the streets are nice and shady.

Last Sunday, I figured out how to hook up our bike trailer, and took the boy out for his first bike ride in Central Park. It was a good idea to take short ride; he still has a little getting-used-to-this to do.

Louisville Cycling Blogs

A while ago, I tried to compile a list of notable or regular Louisville-specific bike blogs. It's a few months old, but still pretty reasonable. Post more, guys!

No such list would be complete without Broken Sidewalk, of course.

Check out the blog for new local business Vic's Classic Bikes. Here's one for you, Hal Heiner.