January 2008

Bobby Fischer has died at the age of 64. One year lived for each square on a chessboard. (Was he thinking about that?)

I wonder how he felt about machines taking over the game. Chess is now a “solved” problem in the sense that no human can win reliably against the machines anymore. Of course, it’s not “solved” in the sense of there being a machine that can always at least draw given the advantageous color (assumed to be white, but that doesn’t matter for these purposes). Probably Go will become machine-dominated within a few decades too, though so far it’s proven a tough nut to crack, which is somehow pleasing.

RIP, Bobby Fischer.

New Jersey has become the second state to pass the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, following Maryland. (Yay, New Jersey! In an odd coincidence, I heard this news while in a hotel room in New Jersey. I will give the state a big kiss when I head out tomorrow.)

The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact is not a highway maintenance agreement. It’s a plan —  a workable, entirely constitutional plan — to replace the electoral college system with a true popular vote. In a nutshell: each state in the compact agrees to give all of its electoral votes to the national popular vote winner (regardless of the winner in that state), and the compact only goes into effect after enough states have signed it to decide elections (that is, the members must control at least 270 votes in the electoral college).

Now we’re one state (more importantly, 15 electoral votes) closer to real democracy in the US. Thank you, Governor Corzine. In California, the state legislature passed the compact only to have it vetoed by the incomprehensible Governor Schwarzenegger, who said “I cannot support … giving all our electoral votes to the candidate that a majority of Californians did not support.” Okay, so you’d prefer to give the presidency to a candidate that a plurality of the country did not support, Arnold? (I think he meant “plurality” not “majority”, but English is not his native language so we’ll give him a break on that one.)

I’ll balance this out with a complaint about New Jersey: they have the funny you-can’t-pump-your-own-gas law (seen that in Oregon too, but nowhere else). All gas stations here in NJ are “full service”, meaning that an attendant has to come pump for you. But, just like pumps everywhere in the United States, the gas pumps in New Jersey have stickers saying “Do Not Leave Pump Unattended While Pumping Gas”. In practice, though, that’s exactly what happens: the lone attendant dashes around from pump to pump, running credit cards, making change for customers, asking people what kind of gas they want, all while leaving unattended the pumps he’s already started. So as far as I can tell, the full-service-only law actually results in reduced safety at gas stations, or else those stickers are pointless.

But the gas thing is a minor quibble compared with passing the NPV Interstate Compact. Who’s next? It’s pending the governor’s signature in Illinois…

Is it just me, or does Barack Obama consistently do much better than polls project? I seem to recall this happening in Illinois, too, both in the Democratic Senate primary contest, and then again in the general election (yes, he was expected to win the general election by a lot, but he did even better than that). Now he’s done it again in Iowa, and I’ll bet a nickel that he does better than projected in New Hampshire as well.

What could it be? Could people be telling pollsters one thing and then voting another? Or was this time just an artifact of the Iowa caucus system (but… I thought the effects of the caucus system would have been taken into account by pollsters, since they do ask about peoples’ second choices as well).