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The Perfect March Madness Bracket, Part II

23 March 2013

In the last post, we saw that the odds of picking the two play-in games and the Final Four perfectly are a straightforward 1/32.  Three out of every 100 people will pick those five games perfectly, on average.  But there are 60 more games to pick, and the simplest method of estimating those odds is to assume a monkey is making them, so that the odds of predicting all 60 games perfectly are (1/2)^60, or one chance in 1.15E18 (1.15 quintillion).  If everyone in the U. S. (315 million of us) picked these 60 games using that method each year, it would take almost 3.7 billion years for a perfect 60-game bracket to be repeated.  Since the Big Bang, then, there would have been four occurrences of a perfect 60-game bracket, randomly selected.

But we don’t have to pick these games randomly, as we said last time.  The odds of a 16-seed beating a 1-seed in a regional tourney, historically speaking, are zero; the odds of a 9-seed beating an 8-seed are 53%, and all of the other matchups in the first full round (32 games) have intermediate odds.

So let’s assume, again, that the probability of the higher-seeded team winning can be described by this graph of historical NCAA tournament data during the 60 games between the first full round and the Final Four.


And let’s adopt a rational, intelligent strategy:  In any given matchup between an X seed and a Y seed, we’re going to pick the statistically most likely winner, and we’re going to assign a probability to that outcome from the chart to left.  To simplify the process, we’ll assume that all four regional tourneys have an equivalent distribution of probabilities, so we can compute the probability of a single 15-game regional tourney, and then raise that probability to the power of four to get the 60-game estimate.

First Round

In the first round, 1 plays 16, 2 plays 15…8 plays 9, and so forth.  When 1 plays 16, we’re going to pick 1, and we’re going to assume that the probability of that outcome being correct is 1.0.  When 2 plays 15, we’ll pick 2, with a corresponding probability of 0.95.  When 3 plays 14, we’ll pick 3 (seems like this one shows an upset frequently, but we’re playing the odds), with a corresponding probability of 0.83.  For 4 vs. 13, we pick 4 (0.78); for 5 vs. 12, we pick 5 (0.66); for 6 vs. 11, we pick 6 (0.67); and for 7 vs. 10, we pick 7 (0.60).

The 8 vs. 9 game is an oddity; we pick 9 (0.53) instead of 8 (0.47).

The combined probability of correctly picking the eight games in the first round of a single region is therefore the product (1.0)*(0.95)*(0.83)*(0.78)*(0.66)*(0.67)*(0.60)*(0.53) = 0.0864853, or about 9%.

Second Round

In the second round, seed #1 plays seed #9, which requires us to interpolate on the chart.  Let’s use the regression line y = (3.631 * x) + 45.702, with the value of x being 9-1 or 8.  Thus y = (3.631 * 8) + 45.702 = 74.748%, or 0.75 expressed as a fraction, and we pick the top seed.

Seed #2 plays #7, which is a seed difference of 5, which implies a probability of 0.67.  Subsequently, for 3 vs. 6, we pick 3 (0.6); and for 4 vs. 5, we pick 5 (0.53).

The combined probability of picking the second round perfectly, assuming we picked the first round perfectly, is therefore (0.75)*(0.67)*(0.60)*(0.53) = 0.159258, or about 16%.  Most importantly, the odds of picking BOTH the first and second rounds correctly in a single region is 0.0864853 * 0.159258 = 0.0137735, or slightly better than 1%.

At this point, we need to combine all four regions by raising 0.0137735 to the power of 4, which yields odds of 0.0000000359894, or 3.6E-08.  Let’s put that in perspective by noting that it’s equivalent to one person out of 28 million picking the first and second full rounds of the tournament exactly right.  If every person in Mexico City picked a bracket, only one of them would be likely to get these 48 games exactly right.  As a point of reference, the odds of our proverbial monkey picking those games correctly would be one in 2.814E+14, or one in 281 trillion monkeys.  The intelligent human, using the seedings as her guide, is 10 million times more likely to pick the first two rounds perfectly than the monkey.

Third Round, or “Sweet Sixteen”

We’re starting to see a weakness in our approach now.  You may have noted that in the second round, 4 played 5, and the seeding difference of 1 always gives us a 47% chance of 4 beating 5, which means we pick 5 (0.53).  From here on out, we’re going to assign even odds (0.5) to these games pitting the X seed against the X-1 seed, and we’re going to pick the X seed in two regions and the X-1 seed in the other two regions.  Everything else remains the same as before.

In the third round, then, 1 plays 5, and we pick 1 (0.60); 2 plays 3, and we pick 2 in two regions (0.5 each), and we pick 3 in the two other regions (0.5 each).  So the combined probability across all four regions in the third round is (0.6^4)*(0.5^4) = 0.0081, or 0.8%.  The cumulative probability of picking the first three rounds perfectly across all four regions is therefore 0.0000000359894*0.0081 = 2.91514E-10, equivalent to one person in 3 billion getting them right…that’s two persons on the whole globe in any given year, if every single human on the planet picked a bracket.

Fourth Round, or “Great Eight” – the Quarterfinals

Because we’ve already calculated the odds for the Final Four, this is our last round-by-round task before putting it all together.

We have two games pitting #1 vs. #2.  We’ll pick one #1 and one #2, both with probabilities of 0.5.  We also have two games pitting #1 vs. #3, which ever so slightly favors #1 (0.53) in each case.  Our combined probability is therefore (0.5^2)*(0.53^2) = 0.07, and the combined probability for rounds 1-4 across all four regions is therefore 2.91514E-10*0.07 = 2.04453E-11.

Putting it All Together

The last step is to multiply all of the rounds’ individual combined probabilities together.  The play-in games yielded 0.25; the first four full rounds yielded 2.04453E-11; and the Final Four yielded 0.125.  The combined probability, therefore, is 6.3892E-13, or one person in 1.565 trillion.  If all citizens of today’s United States had been picking the brackets since the time of Noah, we’d have seen one person get it exactly right.

Still, those odds are a lot better than the monkey’s, which would be 1 monkey in 37 quintillion (3.68935E+19) picking all 65 games exactly right.  For tasks like this, the human reasoning ability stacks things in our favor compared to our closest genetic relatives, the chimps and bonobos, by a factor of 23.6 million!

More Sophisticated Methods

You might be saying, “qb’s approach sounds OK, but surely there’s more human intelligence than just the seedings.”  And you’d be right.  Take this guy’s approach, which was designed for March Madness pools (i. e., $$$) rather than simply computing the probability of picking a perfect bracket.  But still, there’s a lot of heuristic merit in what he brings to the table.  The problem is, of course, that his approach is mathematically very complicated, and the question for our purposes is, “how much better are the odds of picking a perfect 66-team bracket using Nate Silver’s method than qb’s method?”

To do that, you’d need a BIG computer, maybe even a supercomputer, because you’re going to need to run what’s known as a Monte Carlo simulation, with all of the data that Silver’s method requires, for the specific 66 teams that actually get picked for the big dance.  And then you’re going to need to run that simulation at least twice as many times as you expect the probability to be, and compare its results to the actual results.  You could run the Monte Carlo simulation a couple billion times and see if one of the predicted brackets reproduces the actual tournament outcome perfectly, game by game.

The big difference, of course, is that qb’s method is simple and can be used even before you know who’s in the tournament.  Silver’s method, by contrast, requires mountains of data for the 66 teams actually picked, and then it takes a supercomputer a while to run all of the simulations.  Note that sports networks on TV like to use Monte Carlo simulations of individual games, and they typically run 10,000 simulations of that one game to come up with a probability for that matchup.  It may be more accurate to do that, but can you imagine running 10,000 simulations for each of the possible matchups in a 66-team bracket?

So we’re starting to see how the Law of Diminishing Returns comes into play.  It may be – it probably is, for the sake of argument – that Silver’s sophisticated method increases the odds of picking a perfect bracket.  But by how much?  Hard to say.  But if Silver’s method conferred an advantage over qb’s method that is comparable to the advantage qb’s method has over the chimpanzee’s random-selection method, then the odds of Silver’s method producing a perfect bracket would be 1 in 68,000, roughly one person among the population of Missouri City (near Houston) or Temple (home of Scott & White).  Sorry, but qb don’t buy it!

Still, Silver’s method is fascinating, and I’d love to have access to the code that does the analysis.

The Perfect March Madness Bracket, Part I

19 March 2013

Lots of posts out there on the probability of predicting a perfect, 66-team tournament bracket. The logic does not seem terribly refined, though; the simplest approach misleads us into thinking it’s far less likely than it really is, as do many of the methods. qb’s approach will be to come up with the maximum conceivable probability based on seed-to-seed matchups; the simplest method requires only 5 keystrokes on an RPN calculator but is the methodological equivalent of asking what the probability is of the proverbial monkey sitting down to a typewriter and hammering out _King Lear_. It’s actually at least a million times more probable than that; humans know how to use historical data reasonably well.

The Simplest Approach

These days, there are two play-in games to fill a 64-team bracket, so there are actually 66 teams involved.  In order to get one champion out of that mess, we have to play – and therefore predict the outcomes of – 65 games.  (Prove it:  2+32+16+8+4+2+1 = 65.)

Assumption #1.  If we assume that in every game the teams are evenly matched, the odds of a pool participant (“bettor”) picking the winner correctly is 1/2.

Assumption #2.  If we further assume that the outcome of any game is completely independent of the outcomes of any or all of the rest of the games, probability theory says we can simply multiply all of the individual probabilities together to obtain the overall probability of the entire list of predictions being 100% correct.

If there were only 3 games (i. e., if the NCAA tourney were only the Final Four), then the probability of a single person picking the bracket perfectly under those same assumptions would therefore be (1/2) x (1/2) x (1/2) = 1/8 or 12.5%.  In the case of a 65-game bracket, the probability is (1/2)^65 = 2.7105 x 10^-20; in other words, one person in 36,893,500,000,000,000,000 (36.9 QUINTILLION!) persons will get it right, on average, picking evenly-matched teams at random.

Incidentally, two things.  First, you’ll see some folks saying the odds are one in NINE quintillion.  That number is correct if you’re only picking the 64-team bracket of yesteryear.  Second, in these days of Obamacare and limp-spined RINOs, the quantity “trillion” is starting to sound ordinary, so “quintillion” – a million trillions – just causes the ol’ melon to go TILT.  But let’s say each person in the United States (~315 million of us) picked a bracket of evenly-matched teams every year until, on average, we finally got a perfect bracket from someone.  The odds say that it would take us 117 BILLION years to get one; or a more rigorous interpretation would be that if we ever got one, it would probably take 117 billion more years until we got another one.  Given that the scientists say the earth is about 4.5 billion years old, give or take…well, you get the picture.

Surely It’s Not That Hard!

Those odds just seem absurdly long, don’t they?  I certainly think so.  A lot of people get pretty close.  And the main reason has to do with Assumption #1; we know, intuitively, that the games are NOT evenly matched, and further, we have a pretty good idea which of the two teams in each matchup is the better team, even though it gets tougher to predict as we reach the later rounds in the tournament.  In other words, we’re intelligent beings, most of us (current White House occupants and their 2008 and 2012 voters excluded).

That’s what “seeding” is about.  The NCAA seeding procedure is based upon the assumption that the better a team does in the regular season, the more the odds should be stacked in that teams favor to reach the Final Four, where the real barnburners take place.  There’s a financial aspect to that, of course, because no TV network exec in its right mind wants Duke, North Carolina, Kentucky, Kansas, Ohio State, Florida, UCLA, and Michigan knocking each other out by the end of the Sweet Sixteen, leaving UNM vs. Colorado State and Michigan vs. Central Florida to battle it out in the Final Four.  (Well, maybe @Sam Smeaton would want such an outcome.)

But there’s also an incentive aspect:  If a team’s position in the tournament is going to be chosen at random, what’s the incentive to play hard in the conference tournaments or the late regular season if that team knows its early-season record is enough to score an invite to the dance?  But if the most dominant teams during the regular season are assured the easier paths to the Final Four, then there’s a powerful incentive to finish strong.

So the upshot is that the brackets are designed to reward the top seeds:  in the first round of each region, the #1 seed plays #16, #2 plays #15, and so forth, all the way to #8 vs. #9.  If the seeders have done their job well, we ought to expect that #1 is highly likely to beat #16 but that the #8-#9 tussle will be a knuckle-biter.  Assuming the higher-seeded team wins each game in the first round, the next round pits #1-#8, #2-#7 and so forth.  Again, #1 ought to beat #8 handily, and #4-#5 should be very closely contested.  The same principle applies all the way to the four regional finals, where we expect each region’s #1 seed to play #2 for the right to go to the Final Four.

It turns out that, historically speaking, the seeders have done pretty well, if we measure that by the relative success of each seed in the first round.  Number 16 has NEVER beaten #1, #2 beats #15 about 95% of the time, and (surprisingly or not), #8 only beats #9 about 47% of the time.

So we’re on pretty safe ground substituting a different first assumption, represented by the graph below.


The horizontal (x) axis represents the difference between the seeds of any two opposing teams; for the #13 vs. #4 game in the first round, this number is 13-4=9.  The vertical (y) axis is the probability that the higher-seeded team will win.  According to this chart, the #4 seed has historically won 78% of its first-round games.

Caveat:  for the Final Four games, of which there are three, all of the contestants are expected to be #1 seeds, so we should probably assume these games are evenly matched so that the probability of predicting each game correctly in the Final Four is 1/2 or 50%.

In the play-in round, there are two games, each involving evenly matched but likely inferior opponents.  Let’s assume the probabilities here are 50% as well.

To recap thus far, the odds of picking both play-in games correctly are 1/4, and the odds of picking the Final Four results perfectly are 1/8.  Multiply the two together, and we see that already we’re down to a 1/32 chance, and we haven’t even dealt with the First, Second, Third, and Fourth rounds, a whole 60 games!

Part II to come, with the payoff.

Off-the-Charts Chickpea Salad

4 July 2012

qb just started laughing during lunch, this stuff is so good.  Try it with some leftover grilled chicken still cold out of the refrigerator, and a glass or three of a Sauvignon Blanc or a Pinot Grigio.

(BTW, ‘chickpea’=’garbanzo bean.’)

THIS RECIPE SERVES 8-10 PEOPLE AT ABOUT A CUP PER PERSON.  Each 1-c serving is about 180 calories.

In a large bowl, blend the following vegetables:

20 scallions or green onions, chopped

2 lb ripe tomatoes, diced

2 cucumbers, peeled and diced

2 cans of chickpeas, drained (Bush brand, 15 oz. size or so)

2/3 c fresh parsely, chopped

2/3 c fresh basil leaves, chopped

1-1/2 c fresh bell pepper, diced (use yellow, red, orange for vibrant color)

In another bowl, combine the following for a dressing:

1/2 c FRESHLY SQUEEZED (!) lemon juice

2 Tbsp minced fresh garlic

4 tsp salt

2 tsp black pepper

1/3 c olive oil

Stir vigorously to emulsify, pour over vegetable blend, and toss.

When serving, add 1-2 Tbsp of finely crumbled feta cheese on each plate.

Exile: The Psychology and Statistics of Choosing a Church

4 September 2011

qb doesn’t have time to read a lot of blogs – really, only two – but his favorite is Richard Beck’s Experimental Theology blog.  Beck is Professor and Chair of the Psychology Department at Abilene Christian University.  He is a Christian by faith, Universalist by soteriological conviction, liberal-leaning independent by politics, and research psychologist by trade (in addition to his teaching appiontment).  He is also an uber-blogger and – now – published author of Unclean, an exploration of the psychological dynamics of purity and their implications for the church.  He is a gifted writer, a statistics geek, an unapologetic technophile, and an Apple aficionado.  He is also kind, thoughtful, compassionate, clever, creative, funny, and self-effacing without being overly self-conscious.  If you have ever wondered, for example, what sort of latent theology underlies Bill Watterson’s “Calvin and Hobbes,” you owe it to yourself to check out Dr. Beck’s blog series on it.  It is serious, seriously funny stuff, and delightful to read.


No, qb does not agree with everything Dr. Beck posts on his blog.  Let’s get that out of the way.  But that’s not what this post is about.


But one of the great services Dr. Beck has done to and for qb is to raise the profile of psychological aspects of Christian belief, Christian praxis, and Bible study.  For 40+ years, qb has just taken it as an article of faith that psychology has little to no bearing on Christian faith, that our faith in Christ ought to make psychology pretty much irrelevant:  “the Bible says it, we believe it (or not), and that settles it.”

Dr. Beck has thoroughly disabused qb of any such naive notions, even as it pertains to even the authorship – and, hence, our understanding of “inspiration” – of our Scriptures.


If the image above is any indication, our family hadn’t a prayer of finding a church here in Amarillo that suits us all.  The ideal situation would have been that one of the rows would sum to five, but we were not even close.  We had a 12, a 14, two 17s, and a 15.  And the 12 was the church we were attending at the time I took the poll, which just means that it was the most immediately familiar church and therefore the least objectionable to the boys.  One of the churches was the one we left in 2007; two of the boys would have been happy to go back, but Jenn and I were adamantly opposed, as you can see.  Sometimes ignorance really is bliss.

A couple of months ago, since I took this poll, our eldest son got invited to participate in a Wednesday evening teen program at a church that hadn’t even been on our list.  It’s the Presbyterian church downtown in an old, historical-registry type building that is simply beautiful.  But it’s an establishment, Protestant, main-line church, so I was skeptical that our son would find much to commend it.  After all, he’s the one that wanted to go back to the independent Christian Church we had left, primarily because so many of his high-school friends go there on Wednesday night.

One of the first things he said about the Presbyterian youth group event that first Wednesday – unsolicited by me in any way – was, “y’know, Dad, they don’t talk about how many great things they’re doing or how they’re so much of a better youth program than anyone else in the city.”  What in the world did he mean? I asked.  “Well, during the Wednesday program at [the church we left in ’07], that’s all they seem to talk about, giving away iPads, always saying how much bigger and better their programs are.”  Wow.  Out of the mouths of babes…

It turned out that our eldest son really took to the group, and they welcomed him with open arms.  The youth directors have really worked with him, so much so that he wanted to join them on their ski trip to Jackson Hole.  (No, that was not their winter service project!)  So on our way home from our family ski trip at Steamboat, we dropped him off in Winter Park to get picked up by the chartered church bus headed north to Wyoming.  He had a great time.  He’s now involved in teaching the middle schoolers before the high school kids get there.

We soon came to find out that some of our middle son’s friends from school were also attending this Wednesday program, so both he and our youngest decided to give it a try.  They were likewise sold on it and now go eagerly every Wednesday night they don’t have an athletic event or something.

Of course, Jenn and I could see that the train was leaving the station.  There was no way we were going to walk away from a church that had already done so much for all three boys.  So we started going on Sunday mornings, and what do you know?  The music is great; the band is led by acoustic guitar and so is not overwhelming to the senses like at our old church.  The preacher looks and sounds a lot like the one we left, and he has a similar business background and a similar CEO mentality, so that’s unfortunate; but we’ve learned – believe me, we’ve learned! – not to get involved in church leadership, so we shouldn’t have to deal with him much.  They pray a lot, and they use a lot of lay leaders, and they have integrated women pretty fully into all of the public aspects of the assembly.  There’s a lot of community outreach going on, and they put a high priority on getting kids involved in mission trips.  All in all, a pretty great place…and it came out of nowhere.  In fact, it had been there in downtown all along, but I had never even thought of it as an option.


Because I’m not a Presbyterian, that’s why!  And I’ll never be a Presbyterian.  I’ll never be into Reformed theology, and I’ll never be a neo-Calvinist.


In 1982-83, I was a freshman at Texas Tech, where I had gone to play on the tennis team and to be near my friends, nearly all of whom had gone to LCC.  When the Aggies came to town to play basketball, I sat in the Red Raiders student section, but I was rooting for A&M.  I’ve just got maroon blood coursing through my veins.

It has been sorta the same thing at First Presbyterian.  Imagine walking into a Reformed church with a copy of Sanders’ The God Who Risks under your arm!  It’s knee-slappingly hilarious to be an open theist at a neo-Calvinist church.  Some ironies are so rich, you just can’t quit grinning inside.


The struggles continue.  We were pretty spoiled at our old Sunday School class, the demise of which catalyzed our departure from that church.  It’s just plain hard to find a new Sunday School class when you’ve seen how good they can be as a community within a community.  But at least the boys like to go to their Sunday School classes, and they like the assembly as well.  So we’re staying, Reformed theology or no.  Reverence, liturgy, sexual parity in public roles in the assembly, reasonable volume, and friendly folks…it’ll work for now.  Maybe we’ll find a place to plug in, too.  We’ll see.


The thing is, though, that after five years in exile, I get it.  I get why people leave church and never come back.  I get why they’re frustrated.  I get why they’re disillusioned.  And I get why a lot of nonbelievers look at the church and say, mercy, what a sham.

I get why some people seem to say, I love Jesus, but I hate the church.  For the first time in my life, I get that.

In many ways, Jenn and I are still exiles.  Anytime you know you’re not at home and you know you can’t go home, you’re in exile.  We’re not Presbyterians, and when the boys get asked if they want to “join the Presbyterian church,” we’ll politely ignore the invitation or, if pressed, gently tell their youth leaders “no, thanks.”  (More on that some other time.)  When the boys are 18, they can make those decisions on their own.

But it’s more than that.  We still don’t have a home, or at least it doesn’t feel like home.  We’re independent Christians, looking wistfully back toward an Independent Christian Church we had experienced as Zion.  We knew it wasn’t perfect, but it was home, we loved the people, and it was a congenial place to grow and contribute and serve and love.  Until November 2005, anyway.

Now these are the words of the letter that Jeremiah the prophet sent from Jerusalem to the remainder of the elders who were carried away captive—to the priests, the prophets, and all the people whom Nebuchadnezzar had carried away captive from Jerusalem to Babylon.   (This happened after Jeconiah the king, the queen mother, the eunuchs, the princes of Judah and Jerusalem, the craftsmen, and the smiths had departed from Jerusalem.)  The letter was sent by the hand of Elasah the son of Shaphan, and Gemariah the son of Hilkiah, whom Zedekiah king of Judah sent to Babylon, to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, saying, “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all who were carried away captive, whom I have caused to be carried away from Jerusalem to Babylon:  Build houses and dwell in them; plant gardens and eat their fruit.  Take wives and beget sons and daughters; and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, so that they may bear sons and daughters—that you may be increased there, and not diminished.  And seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to the Lord for it; for in its peace you will have peace.

Jeremiah 29:1-7 (NKJV)

Finally, a Constitutional Conservative Enters the Race

27 June 2011

Chris Wallace’s “ham-handed” (William Bennett’s assessment) questioning of Michele Bachmann on Fox News Sunday is all over talk radio this morning. As a rule, I avoid TV political talk; it’s too painful to watch, and this would have been no different. But now having heard the exchange about Ms. Bachmann as a putative “flake,” qb is grateful for it.

First, it shows how deftly Ms. Bachmann can handle boorishness. She’s apparently used to having to deal with it.

Second, along the same line, it contrasts her style somewhat with Mr. Christie, who has recently showed us how HE deals with female boorishness, in the form of his “none of your business” response to the woman who questioned him about his right to send his own kids to parochial schools while making state education policy for NJ’s public schools. Where Mr. Christie brings a true Jersey pugilism, Ms. Bachmann brings a measure of finesse.

Third, qb has kept Ms. Bachmann at a distance for no other reason than the mainstream media’s template on her: she is a bomb-thrower, a loose cannon, an ideologue, an unserious person. The Wallace interview has forced qb to engage her directly rather than letting the media template run interference. And qb likes what he sees and hears. As regards conservatism, she is the real deal.

Fourth, although qb is a huge fan of Sarah Palin and believes the media template on her is equally unfair, Ms. Bachmann brings a stouter intellectual pedigree than Ms. Palin and will have no trouble establishing street cred among the illuminati. The Wallace interview gave qb his first chance to see it on display.

qb will not vote for BHO – period – so the GOP primary is the only race that matters. Like many, qb maintains a slot for a sort of “default” candidate, the candidate for whom qb will vote if no better candidate enters. Thus far, qb has probably been cornered into putting Santorum in that slot even though it’s pretty clear he won’t win the primary…and Santorum seems a bit sanctimonious anyway. With the entry of Ms. Bachmann into the primary field, qb heaves a sigh of relief: this is someone qb can support with some enthusiasm.

Her entry accomplishes more, too:

1. I hope it blunts Rick Perry’s momentum toward entering the primary. However formidable Perry might be as a political campaigner, the pistol-toting swagger is going to get tiresome and will remind people of Bush 43. That will be a liability in the general election, and Perry gives no indication he could subdue that imagery (nor that he would see the need to). I like Rick Perry, and he would have become qb’s default had he entered already, but Bachmann trumps him on both style and substance.  Plus, I’m suspicious of his commitment to secure borders as a prerequisite to immigration reform.

2. I hope it blunts the “draft Christie” movement most publicly led by Ann Coulter. (For the record:  in terms of conservative politics, doing your policy homework, and sheer rhetorical ferocity, qb LOVES Ann Coulter and understands why she has this fetish for Christie.)  For all of his no-nonsense virtues, and they are many, Christie is fatally wounded on anthropogenic global warming and cap-and-trade; his position on CO2 is hard to distinguish from Obama’s and Romney’s. If Christie were in the primary and were to win it, qb would have to pull the lever in November 2012 and then keep his fingers crossed that the House would never send him a cap-and-trade bill.

3. Ms. Bachmann’s resume is pretty impressive. Mother of five of her own, and foster mother to 23 (!); Master of Laws degree; tax attorney; William and Mary sheepskin; and successful conservative Representative from one of our bluer states, the state that gave us Hubert Humphrey and Paul Wellstone and Garrison Keillor, top-rank liberals all.

4. Newt Gingrich represents the old GOP; Ms. Bachmann emphatically represents the new, Tea-Party-driven GOP. Politically speaking, hers is a face that will wear well over time. She is tough and courageous, but not gratuitously so. And her conservative credentials are simply not in question.

5.  Ever since I had the chance to read Secretary Rumsfeld’s memoir, Known and Unknown, I’ve decided that I should begin applying the Rumsfeld Test to candidates:  can I imagine Donald Rumsfeld agreeing to serve in this person’s Cabinet or in the White House as a policy advisor?  If the answer is “no,” that’s a BIG strike against the candidate.

She’s not perfect. But politically, she strikes me as an ideal fit for a primary that heretofore lacks an electable conservative. She can fire up the base; she commands the respect of the Palin wing; and she will not be intimidated by the Rockefeller-Rove wing of country-club pragmatists. And when it finally becomes apparent to the libertarians that Ron Paul will NEVER be the nominee and will NEVER be president, I think they’ll come around and pull the lever – even if they have to hold their noses – for someone like her instead of staying home and helping BHO win another term.

So qb has a new default candidate for the GOP primary: Michele Bachmann, U. S. Representative from Minnesota.

As it pertains to the horserace for qb’s vote, it’s Ms. Bachmann’s to lose. And she might lose it; we’ll have to see how she does. But given today’s slate, it’s Bachmann, hands down.


What I Wish He’d Said

4 May 2011

Fellow Americans, Allies, and Lovers of Freedom Across the World:

We need not be reminded of the monstrous evil that al Qaeda brought to American shores on September 11, 2001.  We buried 3,000 of our mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, and children over the next days and weeks, and no doubt the raw bitterness of that evil remains freshly present to all who were touched by it nearly ten years ago in New York, Pennsylvania, and our nation’s capital.  Since that date, our fellow citizens have buried many more family members who laid down their lives for us in pursuit of justice and national self-defense.  In this life, we cannot hope to restore to them what they have lost, but we can extend to them our hand, our fellowship, and our shared grief.

And we can extend to them one other gift, the commitment to pursue the vision of peace, safety, and liberty that we received as a fragile stewardship from our nation’s founders.  Central to that vision is the pursuit of justice, by which we tell the world that the American experiment was, is, and will always be worth the price in blood to protect.  In our better moments, as throughout most of our history, our shared vision is to be a blessing to the world, and although we have not always lived up to that ideal in every particular, it remains our fondest hope and aspiration.  For that reason, from time to time we send our armed forces to distant lands to secure justice and to plant the seeds of liberty, opportunity, and prosperity, not only for ourselves but also for those who cannot secure these blessings on their own.  To be an American is to look outward upon a world of sickness, violence, tyranny, and injustice, not with detached pity, but with moral resolve and a sober commitment to contest those oppressive forces wherever divine providence might grant us success.

While we have prosecuted the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, brave men and women in our intelligence services have toiled long and hard, well behind enemy lines and in the most dangerous places on earth, to provide us with credible information that we can use in the pursuit of justice.  It is difficult, inexact, and anonymous work, but it is essential and irreplaceable.

This past Sunday evening, acting on information compiled, sifted, integrated, and distilled over these past ten years, a small band of highly skilled, wonderfully trained, and profoundly courageous young men embarked on a covert assignment:  to enter a hardened residence in northern Pakistan by night and capture the United States’ most wanted terrorist, Osama bin Laden.  In the course of that raid, which took less than an hour, bin Laden and several others refused our call to surrender, engaged our forces with lethal weapons, and were killed.  None of our American forces was lost or injured, a remarkable fact for which we are deeply grateful.  We took custody of bin Laden’s body, and after a wide range of tests confirmed his identity beyond any doubt, the United States Navy buried him at sea in full accordance with Islamic traditions and practices.  Our military accorded bin Laden the full dignity that attends human life in any form.

In our gratitude at the safe return of our brave men from this decisive mission, we should not be too quick to rejoice at the death of Osama bin Laden or any of his inner circle.  As the great poet John Donne wrote nearly four centuries ago, “any man’s death diminishes me.”  We have not sought this war against the agents of terror; it has been thrust upon us.  We do not, in the first place, seek to shed the blood of others; we seek only to protect the blood and the freedom of the innocent lives placed in our care.  Nor did we seek vengeance, but rather an opportunity to uphold justice.  I regret the loss of life that attended this mission and ask you, my fellow citizens, to temper your joy with Donne’s sober recognition that we are all “involved in mankinde.”  Justice that requires us to take human life is never a fitting occasion for triumphalism; it is an occasion for introspection, and for a realistic appreciation of how far we have yet to go before we can enjoy the “peaceable kingdom” that Isaiah foretold.

As the temporary custodian of the people’s White House, as Commander-in-Chief of the United States armed forces, and as the successor to the honorable former president George W. Bush, whose foresight prepared the ground for what our young warriors have now achieved, I wish to extend my personal and heartfelt thanks to all of those who have labored so diligently and with such great competence, not only for the last several days and weeks, but since that awful Tuesday morning in 2001 when the new reality of global terrorism made its presence tragically known.

Good night, may God bless America, and may He have mercy on us.

An Open Letter to Laura Ingraham

29 April 2011

Dear Laura:

qb yields to noone in loyalty to your radio program.  When qb is on the road and has good 3G signal or Wi-Fi, he catches you live via FlyCast on KJCE-AM 1370 as the preferred alternative to Glenn Beck; otherwise, he listens to KGNC-AM 710 here in Amarillo from 2-5 after Rush Limbaugh in lieu of Sean Hannity.  qb loves your toughness, your ideological conservatism, and your intellect, and despite your Ivy League pedigree (Dartmouth Law), you normally seem pretty down to earth.

But today, you should be ashamed of yourself.  I have seldom heard such a disrespectful, self-important, petty, condescending segment as your interview of the president of the national Black Chamber of Commerce, Mr. Harry Alford.

Petty:  When you make your guest wait several minutes until your clever (!) little segue is over, why is it any surprise that your guest has his speakerphone on when you finally go to him?  Other people are busy, too, and don’t forget:  you asked HIM to come on your show.  He was doing YOU a favor, not the other way around.  Where are your gratitude and understanding?  Disrespectful to YOU?  C’mon, lighten up.  It wasn’t that big a deal.  You remind me of Barbara Boxer, not Jack Nicholson.

Condescending:  Who do you think you are, bloviating about how “if any of my producers did that [answered your call on speakerphone], he’d be walking out the door right now?”  Are your producers your serfs, and does it inflate your sense of self-worth to be so glib about their jobs?

Self-important:  Wow, I’m not sure where to start except to say, “see above.”  “Great disrespect…millions of people listening to this program?”

Oblivious:  Mr. Alford is now your ally, despite the fact that he voted for Barack Hussein Obama in ’08.  He is “all in,” ready to do whatever he can to ensure that anybody but BHO wins in ’12.  Where do you get off lecturing him concerning what YOU want from him?  Is he getting uppity on your plantation?  Did you not hear yourself?  Do you think he has no intelligence of his own?  Here Mr. Alford is using the most direct, polemical rhetoric possible to castigate BHO for his policies, and you treat him like an inferior.

I don’t know what else to say.  I expected SO much better from you.  I double-dog dare you to go back and listen to yourself, especially the first half of the interview.  And I dare you to come on Monday and apologize for such an embarrassing display.

A loyal listener and fellow arch-conservative,