Heads I Win, Tails You Lose

Here’s another weirdness about Iowa.  In 6 of the 1,681 precincts that caucused last night, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders ended up in a tie and flipped a coin to decide who should get a delegate.  It’s not exactly a rational way to pick a President, is it?

bigstock-coin-flip-5807921But it gets even weirder, because Hillary Clinton won all six of the coin tosses.  What are the odds of winning six coin tosses in a row?  As simple mathematics would reveal, and as several newspapers have reported, Clinton had exactly a one-in-64 chance — or 1.6 percent — of winning all six flips.  Most of us could never dream of winning even two of three coin flips in a row, much less a half dozen.

What kind of coin were they using for these flips, anyway?  Was it of the two-headed variety, or improperly weighted, or did Sanders’ minions fall for the old heads I win, tails you lose trick?

Hillary Clinton may not have fared as well as she wanted in the Iowa caucuses, but she sure lucked out in the coin toss category.  She probably should have bought a PowerBall ticket.

Iowa Is Weird

Kish and I spent last night watching the news networks’ breathless coverage of the Iowa caucuses (“Tonight, America finally casts its first votes of 2016!”) and we came away with one overwhelming reaction:  Iowa is weird.  In fact, it’s very weird.

It’s not the people of Iowa who are weird, of course — it’s the process.  Rather than trooping off to the private voting booths like the rest of us, Iowans employ a strange caucus system that requires you to leave your home at night in the dead of winter, sit in different corners of a church or hall, and yawn through speeches by supporters of the different candidates.  This year, if you were a Republican caucusgoer, that meant enduring speeches by supporters of 11 different candidates before your vote is counted.

usa-elections-iowa-caucusHow many of us would put up with that appalling time-suck, and how many perfectly rational Iowans who would otherwise vote the normal way decide to skip the caucuses?  The answer is:  a lot.  Even with all of the media hype about record turnouts for the caucuses, the fact is that only a fraction of the Iowans who vote in the general election participate in the caucuses.

But the caucuses are even weirder as a result of the 24-hour media machine.  Last night we watched as reporters and cameras prowled caucus sites, shouldering their ways between voters and actually recording Iowans trying to convince each other to change their allegiances.  Of course, most of us like the idea of casting a private ballot in a voting booth (or what passes for a voting booth these days) and would no more want a camera recording our every move as we exercised our franchise than we would want to watch a 24-hour marathon of Barney episodes.  The caucus participants also were heavily “entrance-polled.”  And at least some Iowans have become so wedded to the supposed importance of their caucuses that they say that the amount of time a candidate physically spends in Iowa is a factor in their ultimate decision — while others earnestly assure the rest of America that they take seriously their role as “first voters.”  (Stay humble, Iowa!)

So let the pundits talk about how the Iowa caucuses are really a good way to start the process, because candidates need to get out and press the flesh and do “town halls” and eat with the locals at diners and rub elbows with the evangelicals at church.  In reality, the demographics of the participants in the bizarre Iowa caucus process aren’t remotely representative of those of the rest of the country, and the caucus process itself no doubt exacerbates the discrepancy.

This year the caucuses will serve a useful purpose of winnowing out the fields; Martin O’Malley on the D side and Mike Huckabee on the R side both “suspended their campaigns” after dismal showings, and hopefully more faltering candidates on the overcrowded Republican side will throw in the towel, too.  But don’t expect me to care too much about the results, otherwise.  (Although, if I were a Hillary Clinton supporter, I’d be concerned that she barely beat Bernie Sanders and got less than 50 percent of the caucusgoers support after being the prohibitive, well-heeled favorite for months.)  Let’s move on now to states where they hold real elections, shall we?

Fresh Fish

  
Hey, Dr. Z!  Look, I took your instruction that I need to eat more fish, and had some absolutely fresh off the boat grouper for lunch.  It made me realize, once again, what a difference freshness makes.

I feel so much healthier now!  Of course, I had French fries and a few beers with the fish, and the fish was fried . . . but hey, it’s a start!

Mother Nature And The Storm

We think we’re pretty advanced, scientifically and technologically, but Mother Nature can still throw us a hard slider every now and then.

Consider the blizzard that is battering that East Coast this morning.  New York City might get as much as 16 inches of snowfall, Philadelphia is canceling public transit, thousands of flights at the Charlotte and Raleigh airports were canceled, and motorists have been stranded on snow-covered roadways.  (Surprisingly, the storm bypassed those of us in the upper Midwest, which is the normal habitat of appalling winter storms.)

Storm RdpAnd Washington, D.C. — well, let’s just say that the Nation’s Capital freaks out when even a tiny bit of snow is forecast, so a big storm causes runs on stores, gas tank topping, and other over-the-top, panicky behavior.  That’s the way it was 30 years ago when Kish and I lived there, and according to news reports that’s the way it still is today, too.  It doesn’t exactly give you much confidence about how the citizens of D.C. would react in a real crisis.  The frightened, frantic crowd scenes when Godzilla appears above the Tokyo skyline probably would be an accurate depiction.

The storm also reminds us of our interconnectedness.  With some of the nation’s busiest airports affected, good luck traveling by air today.  Airlines are estimating that more than 7,500 flights will be scrubbed, which is like dropping a paralysis bomb into the nation’s transportation grid.  Even if you’re on a flight that is leaving from an unaffected city, you might learn that the earlier leg of the flight was coming in from, say, Philadelphia.  And trying to get anywhere by roadway if you’re in the snow-battered regions is foolhardy unless the trip is essential.  If there’s one thing I learned living in D.C., when the snow does fall in Washington it’s wise to not get into your car, because people who live in places where snow is rare just don’t know how to drive in it.  Why expose yourself to the possibility that the person trying to navigate a multi-ton missile on icy, snow-covered roadways doesn’t know what the hell he’s doing?

From the news stories, it looks like Mother Nature won this round.

When Politicians And School Lunches Intersect

What a relief!  Senators in Washington, D.C. are working on legislation that will make school lunch tastier!

Can anyone imagine a more infernal combination than politicians and school lunches?  Each is supremely hellish in its own right; what depths of awfulness might be probed if they intersected?

20101025saladbarAnyone who has ever eaten a school lunch won’t forget the experience.  Hairy, fatty chicken, reheated “Johnny Marzetti,” hamburgers with the consistency of hockey pucks, flaccid, undercooked french fries — the painful mental images are still down there, lurking in the bleak, dark depths of your consciousness.  And yet, kids confronted with even those culinary catastrophes could choke them down.  Then, when Michelle Obama decided to strive to make school lunches healthier, the effort produced lunches so revolting that even hungry kids found them to be intolerable.  And now Senators, of all people, are going to try to make school lunches tastier?  Really?  We’re going to rely on Senators to decide what the burly, hairnetted lunch ladies are going to be ladling out to the unfortunate kids whose parents won’t pack them a lunch?

C’mon, people.  Give the school kids a break.  Feeding hungry kids a decent lunch is much too important to leave to members of the World’s Greatest Deliberative Body. Instead, why not have a responsible, representative body make the decision — like, say, the student council in every school that is going to have to eat this stuff?

 

Beards And Bacteria

Beards seem to be a source of endless fascination for medical researchers and health care reporters.  Ever since Peter Griffin grew a beard that served as home to a nest of birds on Family Guy, their prevailing view seems to be that male facial hair must be host to countless forms of microbial life and teeming with potential disease-causing agents.

bird-beard-peterSome stories contend that the coarser nature of beard hair makes it more likely to trap food particles, note that stroking beards can cause a transfer of germs, and offer helpful observations like “If someone [is] eating dairy products it can get stuck in their beard and become a bit rancid.”  In another recent incident, a microbiologist took swabbings from beards, pronounced himself appalled by the results, and provoked stories with leads like this one on the USA Today website:  “Beard hygiene is important unless you want to have the equivalent of a dirty toilet seat growing out of your face, according to a microbiologist who swabbed a bunch of beards and was shocked by the results.”

Makes you want to cringe any time you’re in the vicinity of some stranger with a rancid sour milk-scented hairy toilet seat on this face, doesn’t it?

So, speaking as a guy who’s had a beard for the last 20 years, it was refreshing to see a new bit of research that counters the notion that beards are germ-ridden potential public health disasters waiting to spread plague and illness throughout the population.  A study published in the Journal of Hospital Infection found that clean-shaven men are more than three times more likely to have a challenging form of infection-causing bacteria called MRSA (for methicillin-resistant staph aureus) on their cheeks than bearded guys, and also are more likely to have faces with staphylococcus aureus, which can cause skin and respiratory infections and food poisoning.

Why would this be true?  Researchers think that those two forms of bacteria might form colonies and breed in the microabrasions caused by men repeatedly scraping their faces with sharp objects (otherwise known as shaving).  And, even more intriguing, a separate analysis indicates that beards may be home to microbes that actually kill bacteria, which could lead to the development of new forms to antibiotics — which something that the world desperately needs because bacteria are becoming increasingly resistant to the current array of antibiotics.

That’s right:  in the space of a single article, beards go from filthy petri dishes of lurking disease to the potential salvations of the human race!  I think I’ll celebrate by guzzling some dairy products and letting a few drops find a whiskery home.

The New, Very New, Newest New Coach

Hey, the Browns have a new head coach!  What year is this, anyway?  2014?  2013?  2011? Or, pick just about any year before that?

hue_jackson_web_01_10_2012Look, Hue Jackson seems like a perfectly capable assistant coach.  ESPN thinks he was a good hire, and the fact that he is apparently committed to unload embarrassing butthead Johnny Manziel certainly is a point in his favor.  Some say Jackson is a “perception-changing” hire for the Browns, too.  But let’s face it — we’ve heard the song and dance about how the prior hires, from Mike Pettine going back through all of his predecessors before him, were uniquely trained and qualified and positioned to lead the Browns out of the grim, we’re a laughingstock team that will suck and lose NFL games in impossible ways forever wilderness.  Of course, none of them did.  They all failed miserably, just like the coaches before them did.

Why should I believe Hue Jackson will do any better?  No offense, but it’s not like his prior coaching experience with the Cincinnati Bengals and Oakland Raiders has involved Super Bowl wins.  And every Browns fan remembers how Romeo Crennel, with his New England Patriots Super Bowl rings and defensive know-how, was supposed to turn around the Browns’ fortunes, or how Butch Davis, with his Miami Hurricanes’ national championship fresh in memory, was supposed to do the same.  It didn’t happen for them, or for any of the other would-be Browns saviors, either — and this year, with the NFL playoffs underway, the Browns are on the outside looking in, just like always.

il_214x170-890063290_27m0So I’m going to reserve judgment on Hue Jackson.  What will it take for me to start trusting the hype?  Getting rid of Manziel and his colossal head-case ego, planning and executing a competent draft, and making intelligent free agent acquisitions would be a good start.  But I’m not going to move back to Believeland until the Browns win a few games — in fact, enough to make the playoffs.

If that happens, I’ll gladly admit that, by being skeptical of what might be accomplished by Hue Jackson, I was a Huge Jackass.