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In the last several years, Old Ellicott City has been flooded several times. Last night was the worst – worse even than when we got 2 feet of rain in a month a few years back. Why, then, was this the most devastating flood in EC’s 150 years of record keeping?

First, a quick disclaimer. I’m a hobbyist, not a hydrologist. That said, I don’t think anything I say will be objectively incorrect – an over-simplification, perhaps, but it should be pretty near to the truth. The reason why EC flooded is specifically related to rain rates. Here’s some data from the NWS last night:

906
NOUS41 KLWX 311619 CCA
PNSLWX
MDZ505-506-312030-

Public Information Statement
National Weather Service Baltimore MD/Washington DC
1216 PM EDT Sun Jul 31 2016

…Historic heavy rainfall Saturday in Ellicott City…

Extremely heavy rain fell Saturday evening in Ellicott City,
Maryland. Thanks to rain gauge data from Ellicott City, which is
provided by Howard County to the National Weather Service, we have
detailed information on how quickly the heavy rain fell.

The following table lists the rain that was recorded by this
gauge. Note that the gauge reports in increments of 0.04 inch:

DURATION AMOUNT TIMEFRAME
—————————————-
1 minute ..0.20 from 7:51pm-7:52pm
5 minutes ..0.80 from 7:50pm-7:55pm
10 minutes..1.44 from 7:50pm-8:00pm
15 minutes..2.04 from 7:46pm-8:01pm
20 minutes..2.48 from 7:44pm-8:04pm
30 minutes..3.16 from 7:36pm-8:06pm
60 minutes..4.56 from 7:30pm-8:30pm
90 minutes..5.52 from 7:00pm-8:30pm
2 hours…..5.92 from 6:45pm-8:45pm

The storm total at Ellicott City was recorded as 6.50 inches.

The nearest point precipitation frequency estimates in NOAA Atlas
14 come from Woodstock, which is approximately five miles away.
Based on this data, the precipitation amounts with duration 10
minutes to 2 hours statistically have a less than one tenth of
one percent (less than 0.1 percent) chance of occurring in any
given year.

This data is preliminary and is subject to correction.

This, folks, is insane. 2 inches in 15 minutes is an 8 in/hr rate. That rivals some of the rainiest places in the entire world. Though it has been dry, it is simply impossible for the ground to absorb that kind of rainfall that quickly. Think of your house’s downspouts. They collect water from your entire roof in gutters. The gutters funnel all of the water into a 3 inch wide downspout. You may have a 1000 square foot section of roof collecting into a downspout whose area is less than 1 half a square foot. If the rain rate is sufficient, you’ll back up that downspout and the water will cascade over your gutter. It’s even worse if you have several gutters joining together, both because it provides even more water to your downspout and also because the turbulence of that confluence inhibits the ability for the water to make smooth forward progress to the egress.

Something very similar happens in Ellicott City.

Drainage basin in the immediate vicinity of Old Ellicott City.

Drainage basin in the immediate vicinity of Old Ellicott City.

Here, you have a few dozen square miles of hilly terrain seeing rain rates of upwards of 8 inches per hour. All of this is funneled into a steep walled channel; the Tiber River running along Main Street, Ellicott City. This “downspout” dumps into the Patapsco on the far right hand side of the map – from there it has a much wider and more mature track on its way to the Harbor. But the confluence of these several tributaries around Old Ellicott City leads to a turbulent choke point. They water can’t drain fast enough. It overflows the banks.

Why did this much rain happen? Well, now you get into murkier territory. First, dew points were in the 70s. That, simplistically, means that there was a ton of moisture in the air. Why was there a ton of moisture in the air? You can keep rolling it back from one cause to the next, from heat waves to wind directions to ocean temperatures and on and on.

The safest thing to say is that every so often things like this happen. They happen in a lot of places. We got 4 inches of rain in two hours 2 miles easy of Old EC, and it didn’t really bother anything here as our drainage patterns are different. Every so often, that heavy rain happens in the wrong place and something catastrophic occurs. What is noteworthy about this particular event is its locality. Yes, we’ve been aware for days that heavy rain was expected in the area. But no one can predict this outlier event. One particular place got very unlucky.

End of objective fact and onto disputed ground.

Many climate models predict that more heavy rainfall events are expected under global warming conditions. This is VERY tricky to pin down, particularly when focusing on one locality compared to another. Some places will dry out, others will get wetter. It is, however, pretty well predicted that we’ll see heavier max rainfall events (again simplistically) because warmer oceans and atmospheres can hold more water. Let’s say that, under the paradigm of the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries (the lifetime of Old Ellicott City), you’d expect by random chance to see an event like this once every 200 years. The global warming models might now be suggesting that you’d see an event like this once every 100 years, or 50 years, or 20 years. It doesn’t mean that any one storm is “caused by global warming”. It means that the witches brew that can spawn an event like this over some random swath of land will be available more often. More dice rolls means more snake eyes.

This is all still very controversial. In fact, I’ll say another controversial thing: I don’t know that global warming is a net negative to the planet. We may, in 50 years, have a globe that is more verdant than previously if examined broadly. The problem is that we’ve built our infrastructure in the previous few centuries (or longer in other places) given a particular climate paradigm, and that paradigm is changing. Maybe Manitoba will be the world’s breadbasket in 50 years, to the great benefit of some…while Oklahoma will be absorbed into the desert. Sucks for Oklahoma, benefits someone.

How do we adapt to our brave new world? I said something similar when Katrina destroyed New Orleans. To rebuild a city situated below sea level in a area prone to massive hurricanes is irresponsible. But here we are. The Army Corp of Engineers did what they could to reduce the possibility of disaster, but it’s still likely in our lifetimes. Same goes for Ellicott City. They can, will, and probably should rebuild. But it’s going to happen again, unless the overall dynamics of the fluid flow through the area are fundamentally changed. How does one do that? You got me! Dams upstream? Dredge both the Tiber and Patapsco? Or, maybe you abandon the lower floors of buildings? Do you move the location of parking lots? Even the best case might turn a once in 20 years disaster into a once in 100 years disaster. Given enough time and real estate, it is impossible to prevent every scenario.

It’s a difficult question. Last night was not the passage of a massive tropical system. It was a random summer storm. It could happen again tomorrow or not for 60 years. It’s nearly impossible to have predicted this, even two hours before it happened. Evacuations, once we could tell it was going to be a huge problem, would have put more people in cars during the 20 minutes when the river rose 20 feet. In a way, it’s merciful that we had zero warning because a half an hour warning would have led to people trying to save possessions and instead getting caught in the torrent.

Regardless of the causes, the whole thing leaves me sick to my stomach. Maryland is a state full of transplants, like myself, yet Old Ellicott City is a historically anchored area, full of character, history, and life. I have relationships with antique people there, my favorite bar is there, I’ve been there in the depth of winter and the heat of summer. My rehearsal dinner was there. We just brought the girls to the train museum two months ago and were in the caboose when a train rumbled down the tracks. It was a great experience in a great place, and I know that place is hurting now. I’m personally pretty bummed out today because in some way that place is also part of me. I do know that we’re supposed to stay away for awhile as emergency crews and those trained in this sort of catastrophe do their work. But I won’t stay away forever. Old Ellicott City will be back and I’ll be back there soon enough. History is shaped by events like these; last night is now part of Old EC’s history.

DSCN0985_cc_crop_ed

Clock, now gone

 

The other week, my daughter told her babysitter that she didn’t want to play with kids who had different color skin than her at the playground. I found this to be more disturbing than I should. My three year old occasionally comes off as a genocidal maniac when she speaks her ridiculous little mind. I generally know better than to pay her much heed. But, given the state of race relations these last few years and especially last few weeks, I couldn’t help but ruminate on it.

We don’t talk to our daughter about race beyond what the Big Book of Why tells us about melanin. Until we moved 3 weeks ago, our neighborhood was very diverse; say 40% white, 20% black, 20% Hispanic, and 20% Indian/East Asian. We were at the playground constantly, and my daughter played well with all kids, without distinction. She would occasionally make references to the girl with the brown skin, but the category “black” meant nothing to her. In fact, she once called an Asian girl with jet black hair “the black girl” while we were also playing with a girl with dark skin. It is the quintessential “color blind” approach. I kept thinking to myself that maybe if she grows up in an environment like this, she’ll know nothing different and her world will be better than the current one.

Unfortunately, she doesn’t grow up in an environment where the default is an equal footing. In fact, I think it’s impossible to passively maintain an understanding of racial equality. Now, humankind in general and white America in particular have a history of malice and are subconsciously tainted by our culturally inherited prejudices…but even in absence of that, I think it’s still impossible. Children cannot ignore obvious discriminating criteria when making value judgments. Race is too obvious for them to be blind to it.

For instance, you go out on a hot driveway barefoot, and you say “that’s hot, I don’t want to do that anymore.” We always correlate based on limited data. In the case of driveways, it’s called common sense, but in the case of people, it’s called stereotyping. In previously mentioned playground incident, we suspect that she came across some rowdy kids who happened to be black, and generated a theory in her head: kids that look like that always act like this. She then tests that theory with all of her future encounters. She’s said very similar things about big kids and boys previously – she doesn’t want to play with the people that recently made her uncomfortable.

The problem, in my mind, is because of confirmation bias. This is a statistically fallacy that we are all guilty of, and one that, I believe, is further strengthened by our deep seated cultural prejudices. Confirmation bias is the idea that you will make a theory, use all supporting data to support your theory, and ignore all opposing data. For instance, I’ve always thought that cops are more likely to pull over black people and pretty women on the highway. Now, some data would say that this profiling is probably statistically supported (at least the black people part), but that’s besides the point. I find myself seeing a car on the side of the road, making an internal bet (“I bet it’s a black person or pretty woman!”), and then giving myself a high five when it’s true. But when it’s false I don’t say “huh, what a crummy theory.” I instead forget that datapoint and wait for my next high five. Confirmation biases always support your own dumb theories, whether justified or not.

Certain characteristics are obvious and easy to associate. Gender, skin color, weight, height, hair color, and so on. We cannot help but draw correlations between these characteristics and behaviors. Once we make these stereotypes, we cannot help but amplify them with our confirmation biases. In order to avoid developing prejudices from these initially harmless daily observations, we must actively evaluate our thoughts. A three year old isn’t particularly introspective. In those cases, we adults have to help them avoid developing bad attitudes, in the same way that we force them to say please or thank you.

A few voices that I respect recently pointed out that the “colorblind” approach is not doing anyone any good. It’s for the same reason that the “all lives matter” rejoinder to the current discussion is useless. We’re not starting from a place where we are prone to respect everyone equally. To be blind is to ignore reality and to leave it unchanged. We certainly aren’t blind by nature. Look at human history – when have we not enslaved, degraded, and persecuted? To combat these trends, it takes an active approach in opposition to our nature.

I have been thinking about how I could handle it if my daughter popped the “I only want to play with kids with the same color skin as me” statement in my presence. One response is “you’ve played with plenty of people who are different than you, don’t be ridiculous.” But that doesn’t correct anything. Maybe a better one is “people are sometimes mean to other people because they are different than them. You’re not allowed to be. Everybody’s different and you can’t decide who you don’t want to play with until you get to know them. Now get out there and say hello or we’re going home.” She doesn’t get juice if she doesn’t say please, she doesn’t get the playground if she disqualifies friends because of how they look. And as adults, we need to do the same thing, either via deep introspection or by talking to someone who has a perspective that can shed lights on where we fall short. There’s no quick fix here, and we might only be able to identify and address a percentage of our own shortcomings. But we can at least help our kids develop less of them than we did.

No Shirt and Gloves

When I used to run constantly, I had my clothing program down to a science. It was based almost entirely on the temperature at the start of the run, which I found to be the most important factor, over precip, humidity, etc. I’d be no shirt down to 62-63 degrees. Short sleeves and gloves below 57-58. Long sleeve below 49-50. Something under my shorts starting at 37-38. Pants/tights around 22-23. But while temperature drove the decisions, the other factors did play a role. I was constantly in search of a very specific scenario…the rarely encountered no shirt and gloves day.

And I think I just ran in it tonight.

The no shirt and gloves day would occur in that narrow window between gloves and no shirt, say 59-60 degrees. It has to be very humid, so humid that your body retains heat due to having problems effectively sweating. But cold enough that my hands, poor circulation and all, got raw. Typically, you’d want the run to be at moderate intensity to generate more heat. Tonight was 59 degrees, calm, humid, just barely starting to drizzle. As for intensity, everything’s a harder effort to me since my resting heart rate is like 15 beats per minute higher than it was 10 years ago. This might have been my chance. But alas, I’m not the runner I used to be. Back in the day, I’d run through Centennial Park without a shirt on a double after work when it was 63 degrees and windy. People would be wearing fall jackets and hoodies. Kids would yell at me. Parents would be confused or disgusted. I didn’t care. When you’re fast, none of that noise matters. I did exactly what served me most optimally and could care less what they thought.

These days are different. I am not in nearly the physical shape I was 10 years ago. I’m pale white (these boundary cases often happened in the fall when I was tanned from hundreds of summer miles), simultaneously less skinny but also less muscular. More importantly, I’m trudging along at 7:30 pace rather than clipping through at 6:20 pace. These days, even in the heat of summer I feel like a creepy hobby jogger when I slog through the neighborhood in my doughy old age.

I have a vague recollection of encountering these conditions several years before, toward the end of my vain efforts to prolong my running career. I’m pretty sure I pulled the trigger on it, coming home red chested, but with a well wiped nose. I’m not sure though. I do know that there was one year where I was able to run without a shirt (at lunch, from work no less – it’s hard to imagine running around the work parking lots without a shirt now…geez) for 12 straight months. It was a Tiger Slam situation – not in the same calendar year, but Feb to Jan or something. I was very proud of it at the time.

Runners are typically nudists, as are backpackers, so I pretty much have it covered from both sides. Anyway, I’ll let you know if I ever find myself in this situation again and take the plunge.

Hillary Cheney

Many people despise Hilary Clinton. She is the ultimate opportunist, backroom oligarch. She has done things that would get other people fired, and is so far undisciplined. She may even end up president, despite all this.

In other words, she’s a liberal Dick Cheney. Recall, half of the population loathes Dick Cheney for equal and opposite reasons. He’s a shrewd operator who tests the bounds of legality to accomplish his goals. While Clinton is a woman who threatens the conservative mindset, Cheney is an old white man who personifies it.

I dislike both of them. I don’t like that they represent an America whose leaders are chosen from a privileged minority of power brokers. But I don’t really hate either. They are products of their environment, bred to fulfill a role in a system that requires such polarization. Maybe we can find some camaraderie in the fact that 80% of us loathe someone for similar reasons.

Networks

Let’s say that a third of Americans are Republicans, a third Democrats, and a third somewhere in the middle (with me). Right now, something like a third of Republicans are all about Donald Trump, which is noteworthy because he’s an insane neo-fascist megalomaniac. That’s about 1/9th of the population. I routinely cull my Facebook friends, but currently have about 250. Statistically speaking, I should have about 30 Trump supporting friends. They should be super excited since no one like him has ever attempted to run for president, and they should be overflowing my feed with calls to bomb Aladdin’s hometown or exterminate religious minorities. But they’re not. Silence. Since I stay fairly close to the center, I have a lot of conservative facebook friends who consider me a militant liberal since I’m the most liberal person in their circle and a lot of liberal facebook friends who think I’m the second coming of Newt Gingrich because they can tolerate no further right perspective than mine.

And therein lies your explanation. Most people are entirely stovepiped. I’d love to see an infographic from Facebook showing the interconnectedness of people politically. Let’s say that we all just told everyone who we wanted to vote for right now. Then, let’s draw different colored lines from you to all your supporters. I’d have 100 Hilary people, 25 Sanders people, 50 Rubio people, a dozen Bush, Rand Paul, Chris Christie, Fiorina, and than like four Cruz and Carson and two closeted Trumps. But there are A LOT of Cruz and Trump supporters. They might have 80% of their friends split between Cruz/Trump (natural bed fellows), with their feeds all about making America Great again, like when we had slavery and so on.

That we are polarized as a country and planet is not a novel observation. I just want someone to render it in a graphic. We cluster ourselves into these narrow silos of like thought. It’s no wonder we hate everything else. We can’t possibly understand it. We drink our own bathwater, almost exclusively. We only hear the strawman version of other people’s views. Everyone on our feed bashes Obama, so we think that everyone must think he’s awful, regardless of what the economy says. There are people out there that think Trump is preaching the Gospel, and all of their friends confirm this assessment. No one reminds them that we all kind of felt bad about interning the Japanese in WWII, because all the people that would have that perspective are having apoplectic seizures about how horrible Cruz and Trump are to each other. No one is convinced. No one is educated. No one sees the other side. No one even looks.

This graphic would show a world divided, two ships, at full sail, passing in the night.

On Santa’s Origins

Abigail,
As it is Christmas season, you may be wondering, “Daddy, who is Santa and why does he bring people presents on Jesus’ birthday?” This is a good question. Recall, on your birthday, people bring YOU presents – it’s not like the Easter Bunny delivers candies to the elderly when it’s your birthday. So why does Santa do it at Jesus’ birthday? Is Jesus OK with it? Is Santa Jesus?

First off, let’s get one thing straight. Santa Claus is not Jesus Christ. They have some similarities though, and Santa knows Jesus. Both of them were born, both of them died, and both of them live on in the hearts of men, women, boys and girls. While Jesus rose from the dead and is still alive the same way he has always been alive, Santa lives in a different way.

Santa Claus is the new name for a man named Saint Nicholas, who lived in Turkey (the country, not the sandwich) a very long time ago, back when Turkey was part of the Roman Empire. He loved God and loved Jesus, and felt that giving people secret presents was a good way to show others that love. Jesus thought that this was a nice idea; after all, Jesus gives gifts to people that have done nothing to deserve them too. While Jesus’ gift is the biggest gift of all, eternal life, Santa gives littler gifts, gifts that you can hold and play with, or wear and play in. Jesus loves illustrations and parables. Santa is like a large, jolly parable in a red suit, giving gifts to the nice boys and girls, despite the fact that all are naughty and fall short of the high standards of true nice. Santa is like grace, if only grace rode a sleigh and ate far too many cookies.

So, how does it all work? Well, when St. Nick (that’s what his friends call him) died, he went to the heavenly registrar’s office and was given a few options for the jobs that he could fill in Heaven: gardener, roofer, lumberjack, poet. They were great jobs, but what he REALLY wanted to do, was to keep giving presents to boys and girls. He thought to himself, “When I was an imperfect man, I could give presents to a hundred children in my town. Now that I’m reborn with a perfected body, I should be able to give presents to all the children in the whole wide world!” As I mentioned before, Jesus thought this was a good idea. St. Nick was so happy to hear this that he decided to celebrate the yearly event on Jesus’ birthday.

There was a problem though: the people still living on Earth didn’t know when Jesus’ birthday was. You might think, “Come on, they didn’t know the most important person ever to live’s birthday??” Yup. They didn’t know it. Remember, Jesus wasn’t famous for almost 30 years after he was born. He was born in a manger, for crying out loud. His parents knew days and weeks and months based on the Jewish calendar, and most people on Earth were using a whole different calendar by this time. Everyone forgot, like when you don’t play with a toy for a month and it stays stuck behind the couch until you move.

Finally, someone decided to re-use a holiday called Saturnalia as Jesus’ birthday. This sent shivers down St. Nick’s spine. Saturnalia was at the end of December. Almost all the people in the world, particularly at that time, lived north of the equator. You see, in December, it is winter in the northern hemisphere. This is because of the way the earth is tilted with respect to its orbit around the Sun.

But that’s neither here nor there. The point is St. Nick was going to get cold when he delivered all those presents. Very cold. So cold that he decided that there was no way he could do it unless he lived someplace that was cold all year round so that he could get used to the chill. This was actually convenient, as Jesus thought it was prudent for Santa to stay away from people during the rest of the year. Jesus knows people, you see. People will steal, they’ll pillage, they’ll do all manner of sinful things. It was best for St. Nick to keep out of sight. The North Pole was just the place.

There was another condition on his new employment. He still had relatives on earth. He didn’t want his friends and family to know that he was doing the presents, so he had to come up with a new name. He decided on Santa Claus, because his first elves all came from a place that would eventually become Holland. They had strange accents, and used to mess up his real name all the time. He finally just started calling himself what they were calling him by mistake. It stuck.

So, by a few dozen years after he started, Santa Claus was all set up on the North Pole. He had elves to make toys – mostly swords and baby dolls at first, but eventually everything up to micro-electronics. The big companies, you see, waive their patents for Santa, since it is fantastic marketing to have one of your products seen in a sleigh. He had some major logistical challenges when getting started as well. Back then, there were no airplanes, no trains, no cars, and barely even any roads. Horses found the North Pole to be far too cold. He thought about riding polar bears, but they would get too hot in certain parts of the world, and they occasionally eat children, which is particularly inappropriate during the Christmas season. Really, the only option was reindeer driven sleighs. He requested an allocation of supersonic magic dust which was delivered within two business days by an armored vehicle. He was all ready to go, but no one knew that he was coming.

He started it out as a secret, then, dropping a toy here, a book there, some sweets in a shoe (that’s what people called candy in the old days), tasty meat and so on. People were confused, but grateful. Soon, they started to realize that all of this stuff was showing up on the same day, December 25th, Jesus’ birthday. Even more confused, they set up guards to watch. Nobody could see Santa though, at least not anyone who was too tall to ride the rides at the amusement park. Only kids could see him at first, because believing is seeing.

People sometimes say that seeing is believing. But this is all backwards, especially when it comes to Santa Claus. In order to see him, you have to know that he’s there, and look based on that assumption. Me, I saw him a lot of times when I was a kid. I saw his sleigh in the sky when we were driving home from Grandma’s house some years. I heard him on the roof. Once, he even knocked over something in my room in the middle of the night! See, Santa, though quick, is not very graceful. It’s all those sweets (candy), and the fact that he only gets one really good workout a year, on Christmas Eve.

Anyway, since I saw him when I was a kid, I can still see him. In fact, your mother and I interviewed with one of his elves, Henry, right before you were born. It’s standard procedure for Santa to consult with parents before a baby’s first Christmas. Even though Santa’s a nice guy, he’s only around one day out of the year. Some large elves make believe they’re Santa in malls and such, something which Santa is fine with: this is also great marketing. Your parents are around all the time, so we make the rules and Santa is completely fine with that. In fact, he uses our rules when determining whether you’re naughty or nice. So, you better be good for goodness sake. And good is defined by this guy, right here, Little Pea. Don’t you forget that!

We told Santa to only bring you one or two presents each year. I know, I know – but think about it little baby. You have all you need already, right? We have a little house! A bunch of presents wouldn’t fit! So, when Jesus’ birthday comes around, you get a couple presents from Mom and Dad, and a couple from Santa Claus. Occasionally, an elf or a reindeer, or even Mrs. Claus (they met in Iceland when he was on his way to the North Pole – it’s a whole different story) will send you a little present.

One thing is very important to remember. Some kids get a lot of presents from Santa, and it’s a good thing because if they didn’t, the economy would collapse. Some get very few, and we set aside some of your presents to help bring holiday cheer to those less fortunate every year. For you, you must understand that you can be happy with what you’ve got; a little or a lot. Stuff isn’t what makes you happy, and presents aren’t what makes Christmas special. It is the bigger things like family and love, friends and fellowship, mystery and holiness, and most of all Jesus that make Christmas special.

One last thing…not everyone believes in Santa Claus. Some folks can’t even see him when he’s right in front of them, dancing a jig. They think it’s silly (though they don’t complain about the presents) and there are even some people who think that you shouldn’t believe in Santa either. It’s possible to live your life without believing in anything, or believing certain things so much that there’s no space for other things. Maybe one day your relationship with Santa will become a bit more complicated than it is now, and maybe you’ll start to see him a different way, but just remember: there’s mystery, magic, and miracle in this world. Whether it’s Santa and elves or not, doesn’t much matter. There’s more to life than what you can see with your eyes and hear with your ears. Believing is what makes life worth living.

So, Abigail, this year on Christmas Eve, keep your eyes on the sky. Listen for bells. Look for a jolly man in a red suit. It’s possible you’ll catch a glimpse, or even a smile and a wink if you’re lucky. Enjoy these simple, happy times. You’re only young once, and sometimes, it’s harder for old people to believe the way that you can. When you meet such people, give them a wink and a smile. Maybe, if they’re lucky, they’ll see Santa Claus too someday.

I’m not the first person to have had this thought. And this chain of events certainly won’t play out; I am, like everyone, apathetic and defeated when it comes to politics. But it would be interesting if it did.

Maybe one day I go to a democratic debate and tell them I’m going to ask a question about, I dunno, how to reform the health care system while still hanging on to the beneficial parts. A layup, they’re all excited to answer it. But instead, when I get the mike, I say, “There are 300 million people in this country, yet we get our leaders from two prominent families. Is there something wrong with our system, or are you really just better than the rest of us?” Hilary Clinton, who has heard this before, will brush it off, saying that she’s not her husband’s shadow and can stand on her own record. The other candidates will cower from it, since they know that Hilary will represent the party and they don’t want to step out of line. The most republicans won’t even touch it, lest they be blatant(er) hypocrites when the next Bush sibling wins their primary.

But maybe the press would give me my bully pulpit for a few days as a reward for my audacity. They’d say “Why do you think that we keep selecting candidates from the Bush/Clinton clan?” and they’d ask me if this is a bad thing.

Winning a presidential election requires two things: money and notoriety. Enough of the latter, and you’ll receive the former (ala Obama, circa 2008). The Clintons and the Bushes have both, in spades. Why does money matter so much? Because campaign finance is hopelessly broken. And why can only a select few achieve the required level of notoriety? Because the voting districts are so hopelessly gerrymandered that the party selects candidates that it knows can’t lose and breeds them to promulgate their political endgame.

Is it a bad thing that only rich and influential people are qualified to govern our country? Only indirectly. A lot of rich people are rich for a reason. They’re smarter, work harder, are savvier, are trickier, are more brutal. These are good qualities to have in a leader. There’s a reason why us listless youths aren’t in charge; we’re not particularly good at focusing on big picture plans. I’m fine with our leaders coming from a narrow aristocracy; say the top 0.5%. It’s how the founding father’s envisioned it, after all. If we pay enough lip service to the fact that we’re still a meritocracy, we’ll be OK despite this. That top 0.5% probably includes within it half of the qualified folks, and that’s a big enough sample size to have some choice. But when we elect on notoriety and money exclusively, we end up with bumbling Bushes election after election.

Surely we can do better than to select candidates from one family or another. Hilary Clinton, I’m sure she’s great. She’s nothing like her husband, none of the smooth charm, so she must have something else keeping her afloat. And Jeb Bush doesn’t seem quite as dunderheaded has his likable brother. Nevertheless, we shouldn’t elect them if for no other reason than the principle of the thing. That doesn’t mean we won’t; if you gave me even odds that either Jeb or Hilary would win, I’d take that bet in a heartbeat. But we shouldn’t. Chelsea’s not old enough to continue it after 8 years, so I feel like we’ll probably want to break that habit at some point. The Bush girls never really seemed serious enough to inherit the kingdom either.

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