Statistics Saturday: US Acting-Presidents Under The 25th Amendment Name Lengths Over Time


Three data points: Bush, Cheney, and then Cheney. Names are represented as blue dots; the average length (5.333) as green dots.
I know what you’re thinking: wait, didn’t George H W Bush serve as Acting President twice while Ronald Reagan was under anaesthetic for colon surgery? No, it was just the one time. Dick Cheney served as Acting President twice, for two of George W Bushs’s colonoscopies. I don’t know how you and I both got this mixed up. Yeah, Bush should have been Acting President while Reagan was in surgery after getting shot but nobody was on top of things enough to organize that at the time.

Reference: Measuring the Universe: The Historical Quest to Quantify Space, Kitty Ferguson.

Statistics Saturday: US Presidential Name Lengths Over Time


The rise and fall of US Presidential name lengths, per successive administrations. Also included is a five-president running average. The average name length is rather higher from Garfield-to-Kennedy and has been in a long-term decline since Eisenhower.
Yes, yes, I know what you’re thinking: I’m treating successive presidential administrations as a proxy for time, as though the term of office of, say, Zachary Taylor were equal to that of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Believe me, I thought about weighting this against term of office and then literally everybody I know wrestled me to the ground and slapped me silly so this is what you’re going to get.

Reference: Stages to Saturn: A Technological History of the Apollo-Saturn Launch Vehicles, Roger E Bilstein.

How To Know It All


Hi. I’m a know-it-all. I’m aware this might surprise you, since most of you faintly like me. You don’t like me enough to help me move a couch into a new apartment, I mean. You like me enough that you don’t particularly want to slug me. If you do it will be from a sense of civic duty. You might feel some pride. But it’s the pride of voting in the boring elections about whether to extend the municipality’s participation in the regional 9-1-1 service agreement for two years. This is the most socially welcome a know-it-all can hope to be. I decided long ago I wanted to be able to move in both know-it-all and likable-person communities. And now I’d like to share with you, the non-know-it-all, some secrets in how to be a know-it-all.

To set out being a know-it-all might seem intimidating. Even the name suggests you ought to know a bunch of facts about a bunch of things. This common misconception keeps millions of prospective know-it-alls from fledging. There are two things you need to do to be a know-it-all. The first to spot some commonly-agreed upon fact or amusing bit of trivia. Let’s see how you do with this sample. Which of these are commonly-agreed-upon facts or amusing bits of trivia?

  1. There’s a leap year every four years.
  2. North Dakota was the 39th state admitted to the United States.
  3. Stop, drop, and roll.
  4. No spider is ever more than three light-years away from you.

The correct answer is to be already writing a comment about how no, centennial years are not generally leap years in the Gregorian scheme of things. And that’s not even starting on the we-could-make-this-legitimate dispute about whether President President P Presidentson signed North Dakota’s or South Dakota’s statehood papers first. Because what makes a know-it-all is the second thing you need to do. Explain how, if you are being precise, some true thing can be argued in the right lights to be imperfectly true, which is the same as false.

So to know-it-all, recognize statements that nobody feels any need to dispute. Then dispute them. Be polite about it: start out by saying how “You know” or “It’s a common misconception” or “To be precise”. Follow up with anything. It doesn’t have to be correct. Just plunge in with the confidence of a white guy talking on the Internet. Bludgeon your conversational opponent into submission. Eventually, they slug you, and you’ve won.

The biggest danger, besides to your face, is if there’s another know-it-all ready to jump in the conversation. You might need several layers of technical points before your opponent gives up. That’s all right. There’s only a couple topics that know-it-alls really specialize in. One of the great ones is David Rice Atchison, who often hits trivia lists as having been Acting President for one day in 1821. The incoming President wouldn’t take the Oath of Office on a Sunday, and so the office devolved upon the President Pro Tempore of the Senate. But wait, you say. Yes, the President’s term had expired, but so had the Congress’s, and so Atchison wasn’t the President Pro Tempore of anything. My counter: ah, but until 1890 the Senate customarily chose a President Pro Tempore only when the Vice-President was absent from Washington City or on the final day of a Congressional session. Thus they believed they were choosing a potential successor in case of a vacancy between sessions. Fine, you might answer, but then Atchison never swore the Oath of Office and therefore did not act as President. I retaliate: granted the Oath of Office might be necessary to exercise the powers of the presidency. But Atchison’s accession is covered by his oath as a member of Congress to uphold the laws of the nation. And those laws would include the Succession Act of 1792 then in effect.

At this point, I should explain, we are furious in our debate. There’s people trying to pull us apart. People are emerging from their houses to see what all the excitement is. People shouting about offices “devolving” upon people is pretty exciting stuff even in these troubled times.

You’ve got more nitpicking to deploy. If taking the Oath of Office isn’t necessary to merely be President then the actual President took office at noon on the 4th of March regardless of whether he was sworn in. There was no vacancy for Atchison to fill. I answer. Before the 20th Amendment there was no constitutional specification to when a non-acting President’s term of office began. Stymied? You can ask how Atchison, the President Pro Tempore of the Senate, could be an Officer of the the United States, which the Constitution specifies as the only people eligible for the succession. And then I point out David Rice Atchison was 13 years old in 1821. Not all of 1821, but in March of it anyway. The question of whether he was President for one day was about the time in 1849 that the new President didn’t want to take the Oath of Office on a Sunday. And then you slug me.

And I win.

I can’t tell you why you’d want to be a know-it-all. All I know it’s the best.

My Big City Plan


OK, so my brilliant plan. I’m going to find one of those cities laid out in the decades right after the American Revolution. The ones that have their downtown streets named Washington, Adams, Jefferson, et cetera in this neat pattern right up to the point where they gave up, which was Monroe. Then, I take it over. (Some work needed on this part.) Next, I finish the renaming — “Quincy Adams”, guys, it’s not that hard — of streets to complete the Presidents set. And then I go pointing out to news-of-the-weird item types that this town, established 1802 or whatever, has a street grid that perfectly predicts the Presidents of the United States. And finally announce that therefore we can say with certainty that the next President will be Commerce Park Drive North. Done.