When was music?

If I made my own list of the 50 best albums of all time, I don’t think I’d include Sgt. Pepper. Granting that it’s a Very Important Album, I just don’t like it that much, and every time I go back to it, it seems to get a little worse: It has at least three novelty songs, one of the all-time worst Beatles tracks (the shrieking “GOOD MORNING GOOD MORNING”), and more mediocrities than you’d expect—”A Day in the Life” is awesome, but it only takes up so much of the album. Yet even writing this feels like some sort of moronic hot take, because of the critical weight that Sgt. Pepper carries; its reputation, like practically everything else from the late 60’s, is unassailable.

As a guy who likes pop music and making ranked lists of things, I’ve gotten tired of seeing the same boomer icons in the upper echelons every time. I would much rather listen to My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy or Strange Mercy than to anything by the Rolling Stones, and I suspect lots of people younger than about 45 would agree with that. And yes, we could make our own list, but cultural consecration matters. I think MBDTF should crack the list, the broad American sense of what matters from our music history. But to make any headway, first we have to know what we’re up against. To what extent do the 60’s and 70’s dominate these lists?

To that end, I decided to look into the Rolling Stone list of the 500 best albums. First created in 2003 by “a panel of 271 artists, producers, industry executives and journalists“, and then updated in 2012 to include more recent stuff, it’s supposed to be the “definitive list of the 500 greatest albums of all time”. Of course, it’s not. But it has a few advantages over other lists: It reflects a genuine consensus of the kind of people who care about Rolling Stone-type taste, it’s really long (so many things can get on the list somewhere), and it has a fair claim to some kind of broad cultural importance—Wikipedia articles about these albums, for instance, usually mention their rank on this list. So what can we learn from it?

We can start with a nice little image of every album in it, arranged by year and what I’ll call “rank score”. This is just a way to assign points so that we can value each album more intuitively—the top album (Sgt. Pepper, of course) is worth 500, number two (Pet Sounds) is worth 499, and so on down to the last album (Aquemini; it would almost have been better not to include it at all than to suggest that there are nearly 500 better albums), which is worth 1. Here’s what that looks like:

All Albums

The albums stretch from Frank Sinatra’s 1955 In the Wee Small Hours to 2011’s The Smile Sessions, which is by… the Beach Boys. Yes, the most recent album on the entire list is 1960’s detritus that the band didn’t even bother to release at the time. But, as you can see, the list has at least something from most years. In fact, the only years that don’t feature any albums are 1958 and 2009.

A quick look at the top artists (everyone with 4 or more albums on the list) shows a pretty strong tilt toward the 60’s/70’s period, but there’s maybe a little more temporal (and not any other kind of) diversity than I’d expected:

Top Artists

The Dylan/Beatles/Rolling Stones trifecta (each with 10 albums on the list) is just what you’d expect, and once again we see a ludicrous celebration of meaningless late work. Dylan’s Modern Times comes in at 204 and is by far the highest ranking album of 2006, beating Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black by 247 spots. (It’s also beating The Times They Are a-Changin’, which isn’t on the list at all. I would be fascinated to meet an actual human who loves Modern Times but not Dylan’s “early, folky, political stuff”.) But still, at least there’s some concession to the existence of music after 1980, with Talking Heads, U2, the Police, the Smiths and Radiohead all joining the elites.

When you start playing around with the numbers, though, the time bias really begins to show. This graph shows how many albums from each year made the list:


If this is a skyline, it’s clear that the skyscrapers are almost all in the 1965-1980 period. The tallest is 1970, with 26 albums—one out of every 20 albums on the list is from that year. And this only looks worse if we change the y-axis to show us the rank score, instead of just the raw number of albums released:

Rank ScoreYear

Scroll back and forth between those images a few times, and you’ll see the left side of the graph steal a lot of blue from the right. So it’s not just that Rolling Stone is choosing more albums from the boomer period; they’re also ranking them higher.

I went looking for the most decorated 10-year period (really 11 years, to make it sound better), and just as you’d guess, it’s 1965-1975. This period makes up about 20% of the total timespan the list covers. Yet it contains 43% of the albums on the list, and 50% of all possible rank points. According to Rolling Stone, half of the best stuff in pop music history came out in just eleven years. And if we expand the cutoff to 1980 (as you can see above, there’s a real change in the skyline there), then we’ve got 55% of the albums and 62% of the rank points. For Rolling Stone and whatever experts were on its panel, pop music history basically happened from 1965-1980.

Now, looking at the charts above, you might think, well, 1991 looks pretty decent. That’s when Nevermind came out, and Rolling Stone ranks that album a respectable 17th, so I thought maybe there was a wave of grunge (possibly even some hiphop) on the list that year. Not really! Here are the best albums of 1991, according to them:

Rank Album Artist
17 Nevermind Nirvana
54 The Birth of Soul Ray Charles
63 Achtung Baby U2
65 Back to Mono (1958–1969) Phil Spector
75 Star Time James Brown
153 The Low End Theory
A Tribe Called Quest
209 Ten Pearl Jam
214 Proud Mary: The Best of Ike and Tina Turner Ike & Tina Turner
221 Loveless
My Bloody Valentine
255 Metallica (“The Black Album”) Metallica
310 Blood Sugar Sex Magik
Red Hot Chili Peppers
377 The Ultimate Collection: 1948–1990 John Lee Hooker
397 Blue Lines Massive Attack

What a picture of 1991! Who can forget walking out of Terminator 2, quoting a Simpsons joke, adjusting your Air Jordans, hopping into the car, and cranking up an album literally called Back to Mono and featuring the year 1958 in its title? Of the 13 albums on this list, 5 are compilations or reissues by artists who peaked decades earlier. If you remove that sort of thing, the skyline shifts even more to the left:

Rank ScoreYear, no compilations

It’s not as big a shift as it might be, though, because Rolling Stone starts including compilations from a pretty early date—their 11th best album, for instance, is The Sun Sessions, an Elvis compilation from 1976. They clearly did this so they could include even older artists in the list, people whose best work predates the era when musicians thought in terms of coherent album-length works. So in the top 30 we also have something called The Great Twenty-Eight by Chuck Berry and The Complete Recordings by Robert Johnson. These aren’t really albums in any traditional sense; they’re more like “things that were available on a disc of some kind.” Certainly they weren’t painstakingly crafted statements by the artists: Johnson was dead decades before anyone assembled whatever that thing is. Just think of how we listen to those guys today. I’ll still listen to Abbey Road all the way through, but when Chuck Berry died I just shuffled a bunch of his songs on Spotify—basically The Great Almost All of It.

Reaching back to people like Robert Johnson shows another weird feature of this list: Its insane hubris. Johnson is one of my favorite musicians, but it’s pretty strange to see him here. He sang virtuosic, cryptic blues songs in the 1930’s accompanied only by his acoustic guitar; how on earth do you stack that up against Pet Sounds? It’s very obviously not the same kind of thing. Yet Rolling Stone notably does not claim to be covering the best rock albums or even the best pop albums. They claim to be covering albums, full stop, and they clearly think they mean every album of any kind.

This mainly has the effect of revealing how little the overall group behind this list understands anything outside of the 1965-1980 period. It’s most notorious with hiphop. The top-ranked hiphop album on the list is Public Enemy’s 1988 It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, a solid choice, except that it comes in at 48. “Everything ever done in hiphop is pretty good,” Rolling Stone says, “but it’s no The Band, the second-best album by The Band.” They fill out the rest of their top 100 with zero other hiphop albums; next-highest ranking is Kanye West’s 2005 Late Registration at 118th; Outkast only has two albums on the list, none in the top 350; there’s nothing by Tupac, Scarface, or the Roots; The Plastic Ono Band is ranked 23rd.

For all that, I think the hubris is even clearer when it comes to jazz. Here again, they really just shouldn’t have included any at all. Instead, Miles Davis’s 1959 Kind of Blue comes in at 12th (just behind the Elvis compilation and ahead of The Velvet Underground and Nico). From there, here is the history of jazz according to Rolling Stone, using a reasonably capacious definition of the genre:

Rank Album Artist Year
12 Kind of Blue Miles Davis 1959
47 A Love Supreme John Coltrane 1965
95 Bitches Brew Miles Davis 1970
101 In the Wee Small Hours Frank Sinatra 1955
103 Giant Steps John Coltrane 1959
248 The Shape of Jazz to Come Ornette Coleman 1959
308 Songs for Swingin’ Lovers! Frank Sinatra 1956
358 Sketches of Spain Miles Davis 1960
447 Getz/Gilberto Stan Getz / João Gilberto featuring Antônio Carlos Jobim 1964

From this we learn that jazz took place between 1955 and 1970, and consisted of 7 musicians (counting Getz, Gilberto, and Jobim separately) and nine albums. Why not include Louis Armstrong’s Hot Fives/Sevens box sets? Or The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady or Mingus Ah Um, which Charles Mingus even had the decency to release in this time period? Or anything by Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, or Billie Holiday, among, I am told, others? It can’t be because many of these artists did their best work before the album era; we’ve already seen that any collection of songs counts as an album. I guess it must be that the vast majority of jazz doesn’t measure up to 1969’s Boz Scaggs, by Boz Scaggs (coming in at 496, ahead of, again, Aquemini). (Also, I’ll admit I’m sort of amazed Herb Alpert didn’t somehow sneak in there).

The batshit confidence you need to put Kind of Blue in your top 20 and then basically forget the entire genre exists for the next 500 spots is related, I think to the conviction that the soundtrack of baby boomer adolescence represents the apex of pop music history. Which is important, because we also shouldn’t overlook the possibility that this is sort of true. I know my own list would still include a lot of Dylan and the Beatles. Chronological clusters in culture happen. Plato knew Socrates and Aristotle; Haydn taught Beethoven and Mozart; Shakespeare and Cervantes died (more or less) on the same day.

So maybe 1965-1980 was just the right time for pop music to happen; it wouldn’t be unthinkable, just as, if we ranked the best symphonies of all time, I doubt we’d have a ton from the 1990’s at the top of the list.  But I’m not entirely convinced by this argument. For one, Rolling Stone aimed so preposterously high; their list theoretically should include the best symphonies of all time, assuming they were ever recorded. (There are no good classical albums, according to Rolling Stone.) For another, this brief dip into non-boomer genres shows that the people behind this list have no idea what they’re talking about when it comes to the periods and genres outside their small window of cultural love. They’re not ignoring Tupac because 1969 is better than 1994; they’re ignoring him because they don’t know what to do with him, whereas some of them have fond memories of that one track on Boz Scaggs.

I get it. If I had to list 500 albums, I’d probably have at least three Weezer albums on there by the end. Is the Green Album a masterpiece? No, but I really liked listening to it in high school. I’d also have stuff like Let England Shake and How I Got Over and Bachelor No. 2 and Jacksonville City Nights and A Sailor’s Guide to Earth, none of which made a huge cultural impact but all of which are very well done and mattered to me. And more to the point, they’re just as good as virtually everything on this list. The 10th best Beatles album is not inevitably better than good stuff from 2008, even if it wasn’t released by Bob Dylan’s ghost.

With enough millennials on the panel, I think we’d see more albums like those—the “second best album from The Band” for people who tend not to revere baby boomers, to say the least. And we’re ready: We’ve been nostalgic since before we were finished doing the things we’re nostalgic about. Our culture’s best musical days may be behind us—but they’re catching up.


Future History Part II: Where Will Trump Rank?

Note: This is a post I wrote on January 9, 2017; at the time, I found it too depressing to publish. With Presidential rankings in the news, I thought it might be interesting to revisit.


Donald Trump is obviously going to be one of the worst Presidents in American history, but will he be the worst? In this post, I take a stab at predicting some possible outcomes of his Presidency. Of course, this should all be taken with a grain of salt; in an earlier post, I suggested that he might lose the election by about 200,000 votes, and instead he won it by about -3,000,000 votes. Moreover, it’s tough to determine a President’s legacy in the heat of the moment. I remember thinking back in 2005 that George W. Bush was easily one of our two worst Presidents; with the mellowing effects of time it now seems clear that he is merely one of the five worst. So guessing before Trump even takes office will be difficult. Yet, why not?

The Ceiling:

If we assume that Trump will do even a small fraction of the things he has said he will do (and political history suggests that he will try), or even that he will simply continue to behave as he has so far, then the best thing that could happen to his legacy would be for him never to take office. Perhaps he would decide Washington D.C. is too muggy and resign; perhaps his flagrant conflicts of interest would accidentally infringe on something Republican representatives care about; perhaps Putin would simply text him, “change of plans”.

In that case, the clear historical comparison would be William Henry Harrison, who died on his 32nd day in office. It’s a common misconception that this places him near the bottom of the Presidential rankings, but this is based on the naive assumption that when Presidents do things, those things are mostly good. In fact, many of the Presidents have tended to do mostly bad things. As a result, WHH is really a middle-of-the-pack guy, near the other forgettable do-nothings like Fillmore and Coolidge. Once you get toward the bottom ten or twelve Presidents you’re already looking at guys like Nixon and Hoover, and WHH clearly didn’t cause as much harm as them. So does this mean Trump has hope of being merely forgotten?

Well, not quite. He has already had a poisonous impact on American discourse and incidents of intolerant violence, his election has delivered a blow to American credibility that we (justly) may never recover from, and he has even managed to ramp up the risk of war with China. Harrison did pick horrible President John Tyler as his VP, so that’s a knock on him, but I think you have to put Trump below WHH even now. I’d say he’s down around Harding or McKinley, in the bottom 12 or 13. Verdict: Ceiling = 13th worst President.


The Floor:

Given his vindictiveness, pettiness, cruelty, and utter ignorance of the world, Trump might start a nuclear war. In that case he would be our worst President. Depending on the scope of the war, he would also have a shot at becoming the worst person in world history. Verdict: Floor = Worst Human Being of All Time


The Likely Scenario:

Of course, it’s impossible to predict exactly what Trump is going to do (I doubt he has a very clear idea himself), much less what will happen outside of his control in the next four to eight years. But a few things seem quite likely:

  • He will oversee a fairly extreme version of Republican dismantling of the welfare state. Since the GOP has the House and Senate, we should expect something like the Ryan Plan to pass, as well as some sort of repeal of Obamacare. How this affects his rank will depend on your political views, i.e. whether you think it’s bad that tens of millions of people will lose health insurance, children will go hungry, inequality will skyrocket, etc.
  • He will be the most corrupt President in modern history, if not ever. So far he has not even bothered to hide his conflicts of interest; he doesn’t even quite seem to grasp the concept of a conflict of interest. I think this is because he doesn’t understand the idea of interests beside his own, but general stupidity would explain it, too. In any case, this would not only be reprehensible on its own merits, but could lead to the kind of deeply distressing systemic corruption described by Matthew Yglesias. But even if it stops short of that—essentially a dystopian kleptocracy with massive inequality and zero first-amendment protections—it would still be on the order of the kind of corruption that always pushes people like Grant, Harding, and Nixon down in the rankings.
  • Many things will stop functioning. He’s staffing everything with ideologues and cronies. I expect something like Bush’s FEMA in virtually every department Trump pays any attention to.
  • He will enable and occasionally enforce massive civil rights / human rights abuses. His immigration policy is essentially ethnic cleansing; his attitude toward Muslims is lightly revised 1930’s anti-Semitism; the company he keeps and the rhetoric he inspires have already set racial politics back decades.
  • He will destabilize the international order. The degree essentially depends on the extent to which the international order is capable of withstanding a hateful idiot at the helm of the world’s most powerful country. Current international context does not bode well for the reign of a man who thinks NATO is a protection racket and views foreign policy as a vehicle for putting his name on hotels in every nation.

I feel confident he’ll do all that. But as the list goes on, it becomes less clear exactly how bad each thing would get, and of course we don’t know exactly what else he might do on top of it—it wouldn’t be surprising if he goes right back to the regulatory atmosphere that caused the Great Recession, for instance. Perhaps he’ll do a good thing, too, although it’s difficult to imagine what it would be.

In any case, this is already enough stuff to guarantee him a place in the bottom three. He skates past Buchanan (he lost several states to secession, but it’s not clear that many Presidents would have done too much better) and Bush (his disastrous wars were limited to two countries) and joins Andrew Jackson (genocide, economic collapse) and Andrew Johnson (setting back the cause of racial justice for 100 years) down at the bottom. Those are a tough two to beat; they caused a lot of damage. It’ll be tough to beat them—there’s no equivalent to an electoral college bailout when it comes to wreaking moral havoc. In essence, we have to hope that the Trump of lazy incompetence (his business life) overpowers the Trump of hateful cruelty (his political and personal life). That should be just enough to ensure that he is not quite the worst person ever to hold this job. Verdict: Likely Scenario = Hopefully third worst President

The MVP of Meeting MVPs, Part II

With the NBA season officially underway, it’s time to revisit last year’s post about the connections between MVPs. To get right to it, here is the updated version of the image at the center of everything:

Screen Shot 2017-10-17 at 2.16.21 AM

We see here every player who has won the NBA MVP award. They’re connected if they ever played on the same team, even if they were together before one or both of them had won—so Westbrook and Durant are connected, even though when they were both on the Thunder Westbrook hadn’t won yet. The thickness of the edges—the lines connecting the players—reflects how many years they played together; the color is more or less based on the team they shared.

Two major things have happened since last year’s post. First, Westbrook won the MVP. This means we’re developing a new little cluster over there on the left. The crazy thing is that this would still have been true if the voters had (correctly) given the trophy to the other major contender, James Harden (I’m from Houston), since he was also on the Thunder. He has a reasonable shot at winning it sometime in the next few years, so that little cluster might still grow.

The second major event is that Derrick Rose joined the Cavs, connecting him to LeBron James. I’m proud to report that, unlike virtually everything else I have predicted on this blog, I pretty much correctly called this one: Last year, talking about how the graph might grow more interconnected with time, I said:

Derrick Rose could be a key player here; often these guys start moving around when they’re a little worse, either because of age or, as with Rose, injury.

It was an obvious thing to guess, but so were a lot of things that didn’t pan out. Anyway, with these two events, our overall interconnectedness has grown quite a bit. Last year 22.5% of MVPs were solo artists; this year, we’re down to 18.8%.

What’s next? I still have hope that we can connect the two major clusters. Step one is for Kawhi Leonard to win the MVP; I don’t really want that, since I dislike the Spurs, but he is the favorite in Vegas at the moment. Step two is for someone from the other cluster to switch teams; again, Rose might play a big role here, a Bob McAdoo for our troubled times. And, down the road, who knows what will happen with Westbrook—it’s hard to imagine that guy ever taking fewer than 20 shots a game for an NBA season. Someday he might have to travel to make that work.

Bonus content: Now that I have a big list of the entire careers of MVPs, I can ask hard-hitting questions like, when did the NBA have the most (past or future) MVPs playing at the same time?

Of course, you could also ask when the NBA had the fewest MVPs, but the answer there is dumb: From 1951-1954, Bob Cousy was the only guy in the NBA who would ever win an MVP, in part because the award had not yet been invented. In the modern era—say, 1980, when they introduced threes— there are two answers, both kind of weird. In 1981, there were six (Kareem, McAdoo, Dr. J, Bird, Magic, and Moses), but only because Bill Walton was in the middle of an injury that lasted two entire years. And then in 1994, you also had six (Ancient Moses, Barkley, Karl Malone, Robinson, Olajuwon, and Baby Shaq), but only because Jordan was on his mysterious baseball walkabout.

Anyway, the answer for most at once is 2010, when there were 12 active MVPs. That year LeBron won it for the second time. Back then, every winner of the 00’s was still around, in various states of collapse (Shaq, Iverson, Duncan, Garnett, Nash, Nowitzki, Kobe). And every winner of the 10’s (so far) had just joined the league (Rose, Durant, Curry, Westbrook). LeBron was the pivot.

We’ve had 11 concurrent MVPs a bunch of times: Once in the 80’s, twice in the 90’s, and four times since then. But today, we’re sitting at just 9, with Nowitzki almost certain to retire before we can boost the numbers much. Still, everyone else is either young enough to play another 5-6 years or is LeBron James, so we’ve got a shot to get back up there—and who knows, maybe Rose will join them all.

The Worst First 100 Days

Trump’s first 100 days have been a unique cocktail of horror and failure, but where do they rank historically? Is he as superlative on this metric as he is on, say, health, or intellect? It’s a tough question to answer, because there are lots of different ways to judge the first 100 days.

One path is simply to assess the state of the union: How well is the country doing at the end of the first 100 days, compared to before? In these terms, the worst first 100 days surely belong to Lincoln. He had only been in office for about a month when the South attacked Fort Sumter, basically starting the Civil War. Some people would argue that Lincoln bears a lot of the blame for the Civil War, but they’re mostly buried in Confederate graves with the rest of the pro-slavery traitors who lost that war. So although you can’t easily top “descending into civil war” as a catastrophic start, it doesn’t really reflect on how well Lincoln was doing the job at hand.

Another way to look at it is personal success: How well did the President accomplish his goals? The clear worst all time on this metric is William Henry Harrison. During his first 100 days he died, one of the worst professional setbacks you can have. Not only that, his death saddled the nation with his idiot successor, John Tyler, the subject of our nation’s first impeachment hearings, a sitting President not re-nominated by his own party, and the only President whose death was not recognized by Washington, since he had joined the Confederacy.

The thought of Tyler raises another question: Which President caused the most destruction in his first 100 days? This is a tough one to answer, but here are three candidates:1  

  • Rutherford B. Hayes immediately ended Reconstruction as a condition for winning the Presidency at all. Clearly this was a good political move for him (he got to be President), but, as historian Eric Foner argues of Reconstruction in general, “What remains certain is that Reconstruction failed, and that for blacks its failure was a disaster whose magnitude cannot be obscured by the genuine accomplishments that did endure.” So Hayes had a big hand in that, which seems pretty bad.
  • Gerald Ford pardoned Richard Nixon during his first 100 days. The ethics of this are debatable I guess, but it was a major blow to him politically, and one reason he was never elected President.
  • My personal choice: During his first 100 days, Nixon started Operation Menu, a secretive bombing campaign in Cambodia. At the very least this killed thousands of people; at worst, it was an important step in Nixon’s general Cambodian policy, which contributed to the rise of people like Pol Pot.

So where does that leave Trump? In terms of sheer destruction, I don’t think he matches Hayes or Nixon. What makes him interesting, though, is his unique blend of horrific policies and political failures:



Of course, these are not comprehensive lists, but this is still a pretty unusual mix of achieving bad goals while also failing in spectacular fashion. He has somehow managed to combine historically destructive outcomes with several high-profile failures to do anything at all. I guess we could consider this some sort of grotesque reversal of an inspirational poster I loosely remember from high school:


Though not scientifically accurate, this inane claim makes an important point. Man’s reach should exceed his grasp; no one reaches more greedily than Trump, and no one has a tinier grasp. I’d say his first 100 days aren’t quite the personal failure of Harrison, or the policy horror of Nixon, but they’re historic nonetheless.


1. One fascinating case that just misses the cut: Harry Truman, who on his 116th day in office dropped a nuclear bomb on a city.

The Courage of Our Convictions (for Perjury)

It seems pretty likely that Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently committed a felony, which is a pretty compelling reason to remove him from his position at the head of our nation’s justice system. Specifically, it appears that he committed perjury by lying under oath. Under any reasonable interpretation, the case against him is pretty straightforward. During his confirmation hearings, he said, “I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that [i.e., the Trump] campaign and I did not have communications with the Russians.” But he did have communications with the Russians, in that he met with the Russian ambassador at least twice during the Trump campaign. This sounds a lot like perjury.

In the real world, perjury cases are pretty difficult to prove, which is probably usually a good thing. This article gives a pretty good rundown of the difficulties of pinning a perjury charge on Sessions for this issue. The long and short of it is that language is full of ambiguity. Did Sessions mean that he didn’t meet with the Russians as a Trump surrogate? Did he just forget about the meeting, like an idiot?1  These distinctions matter, from a legal standpoint.

Still, there was one famous case not too long ago in which these ambiguities were widely ignored by our legislative branch. The impeachment of Bill Clinton in 1998 rested largely on a perjury charge, in circumstances that were also fairly ambiguous—this is where we got Clinton’s famous line that “It depends upon what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is”.2 But at the time, a lot of our legislators believed that ambiguities were not important, and that Clinton should be removed from office. Perhaps we should encourage our current Senators and Representatives to take a page from then-Alabama-Senator Jeff Sessions, and find now-Attorney-General Jeff Sessions guilty of perjury.

Fortunately, nine of the Senators who voted Clinton guilty of perjury are still in office. In the House, there are 26 remaining Representatives who cast the equivalent of “guilty” votes on a perjury charge.3   Their names appear below, along with contact information. We can safely assume that they all believe strongly in a very broad interpretation of this law, so it would be very unfortunate if they missed the chance to convict Sessions for meeting with Russian officials and then claiming under oath that he did not meet with Russian officials. To that end, if any of these people represents you (you can check your representative here), or if you have a phone, it only makes sense to contact them and urge them to hold fast to the principles they demonstrated in the Clinton era: find Jeff Sessions guilty of perjury, and do everything they can to remove him from office. To quote a longtime perjury-hawk, “the American people believe no one is above the law.”

Chamber Person Represents Phone Number for D.C. Office Other Contact Info
Senate John McCain Arizona (202) 224-2235 https://www.mccain.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/contact-form
Senate Mike Crapo Idaho (202) 224-6142 http://www.crapo.senate.gov/contact/email.cfm
Senate Chuck Grassley Iowa (202) 224-3744 http://www.grassley.senate.gov/contact
Senate Pat Roberts Kansas (202) 224-4774 https://www.roberts.senate.gov/public/?p=EmailPat
Senate Mitch McConnell Kentucky (202) 224-2541 http://www.mcconnell.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?p=contact
Senate Thad Cochran Mississippi (202) 224-5054 https://www.cochran.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/email-me
Senate Jim Inhofe Oklahoma (202) 224-4721 https://www.inhofe.senate.gov/contact
Senate Orrin Hatch Utah (202) 224-5251 http://www.hatch.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/contact?p=Email-Orrin
Senate Mike Enzi Wyoming (202) 224-3424 http://www.enzi.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/office-locations
House Don Young Alaska at-large 202-225-5765 http://donyoung.house.gov/
House Jim Sensenbrenner Wisconsin 5 202-225-5101 http://sensenbrenner.house.gov/contact/info.htm
House Hal Rogers Kentucky 5 202-225-4601 https://halrogers.house.gov/office-info
House Chris Smith New Jersey 4 202-225-3765 http://chrissmith.house.gov/contact/
House Joe Barton Texas 6 202-225-2002 https://joebarton.house.gov/
House Lamar S. Smith Texas 21 202-225-4236 http://lamarsmith.house.gov/
House Fred Upton Michigan 6 202-225-3761 http://upton.house.gov/contact/zipauth.htm
House John Duncan Tennessee 2 202-225-5301 http://duncan.house.gov/
House Dana Rohrabacher California 48 202-225-2415 https://rohrabacher.house.gov/contact/offices
House Ileana Ros-Lehtinen Florida 27 202-225-3931 https://ros-lehtinen.house.gov/contact-me
House Sam Johnson Texas 3 202-225-6673 http://samjohnson.house.gov/
House Ken Calvert California 42 202-225-1986 http://calvert.house.gov/contact/
House Bob Goodlatte Virginia 6 202-225-5431 https://goodlatte.house.gov/
House Ed Royce California 39 202-225-4111 http://royce.house.gov/contact/stopby.htm
House Frank Lucas Oklahoma 3 202-225-5565 https://lucas.house.gov/contact-me
House Rodney Frelinghuysen New Jersey 11 202-225-5034 https://frelinghuysen.house.gov/contact-us/
House Walter B. Jones Jr. North Carolina 3 202-225-3415 https://jones.house.gov/contact-me
House Frank LoBiondo New Jersey 2 202-225-6572 https://lobiondo.house.gov/contact-me
House Mac Thornberry Texas 13 202-225-3706 http://thornberry.house.gov/contact/
House Robert Aderholt Alabama 4 202-225-4876 https://aderholt.house.gov/
House Kevin Brady Texas 8 202-225-4901 http://kevinbrady.house.gov/contact/
House Kay Granger Texas 12 202-225-5071 http://kaygranger.house.gov/contact-kay
House Pete Sessions Texas 32 202-225-2231 https://sessions.house.gov/contact
House John Shimkus Illinois 15 202-225-5271 https://shimkus.house.gov/
House Steve Chabot Ohio 1 202-225-2216 http://chabot.house.gov/contact/
House Mark Sanford South Carolina 1 202-225-3176 https://sanfordforms.house.gov/contact/

(Note: If you don’t immediately see any useful contact information in the linked sites, try scrolling down to the bottom of the page. A lot of these guys hide their office locations and phone numbers down there.)


1. This line of defense hinges on the idea that Sessions completely forgot meeting the ambassador of Russia, the country that was then all over the news for its suspicious involvement with the Trump campaign that Sessions was heavily promoting. In other words, Sessions is arguing that he is too stupid to be the Attorney General, rather than too criminal. 

2. Clinton was right about this. He made a present tense statement, “There’s nothing going on between us”, which was true at the time he said it. Compare Sessions’s claim that he meant he never met with the Russians “as a Trump surrogate”, which is not what he said. 

3. I’m referring to everyone who voted “Yea” on Article I of H.Res.611, as recorded here. It appears to me that Article II also dealt with a perjury charge, but since it failed I ignored it. 

Donald Trump is the Fattest President in 100 Years

Is Donald Trump the fattest President in 100 years? This is, in some ways, not an important question, and it’s cruel to shame people about their weight. Yet, Trump himself thinks it’s very important to judge people on the basis of weight, and he would clearly be infuriated to learn that everyone knows he’s the fattest President in 100 years, which might distract him from killing us all and ruining the world for a little while. So let’s investigate this.

According to his fake medical records, released by handing a grifter a piece of paper on a TV show, Trump is 6’3″ and weighs 236 pounds. This would give him a body mass index (BMI) of 29.5, just shy of the range considered obese (which starts at 30). Where would that place him among U.S. Presidents? Well, it’s tough to get reliable data about weight for Presidents before about WWII, but we can be pretty certain that William Howard Taft was fatter; Wikipedia tactfully notes that “Taft is remembered as the heaviest president; he was 5 feet 11 inches (1.80 m) tall and his weight peaked at 335–340 pounds”. Taking the upper end of that estimate, Taft’s peak BMI would have been about 47.4, which would make him “very seriously obese” according to the Wikipedia BMI page. Trump is nowhere near that, so that gives us a clear limit—104 years ago, there was definitely a fatter President.

What about the intervening century? Only two people strike me as contenders; everyone else was pretty obviously thinner than Trump. Some guy looked into Presidential BMI a few years ago; that writer doesn’t cover everyone, and I think a few of his findings are a little off, but I think he’s close enough on most Presidents that we can safely rule them out. (Harding and Coolidge, the two post-Taft guys he leaves out, were not obviously overweight, either). But for two Presidents I wondered if he was correct.

The first is Bill Clinton, who according to a Phil Hartman impersonation loved to eat fast food. But a quick glance at some photos indicates that he was thinner than I remembered. Here he is in his famous Arsenio Hall appearance; he looks reasonably svelte. In this New Republic article about his health habits, the highest weight they mention is 216 lbs, which, given his 6’2″ height, would indicate a peak BMI of 27.7—overweight, but still shy of Trump.

The other guy is Lyndon Johnson, who is listed in the blogpost above as weighing 200 lbs. But LBJ’s weight fluctuated a lot; he was naturally kind of paunchy but vain enough to diet constantly (and sometimes, apparently, to wear a girdle). One book puts his peak weight as high as 220 lbs; another as “more than 240”. LBJ is usually listed as 6’3.5″ tall (I suspect he was measured very carefully so Lincoln could keep the height record, at 6’4″), so with a weight of, say, 245 lbs, that would give him a maximum BMI of 30.2.

Does that mean LBJ takes the crown from Trump? Is Trump merely the fattest President in the last half century? Not necessarily. Trump’s height and weight records are probably lies. I’m saying that not just because they are claims that Trump made, and not just because any sane person would clearly have released actual medical records if he wasn’t lying, but because the empirical evidence suggests it. Weight changes over time and is difficult to estimate from afar, but Trump’s claim to weigh 236 lbs was met with some healthy skepticism, as in this Washington Post article. It seems plausible that he weighs at least a little more, perhaps in the 240-250 range. But amazingly, the better case has to do with his height. As that article shows, photos of him standing next to other people strongly suggest that he is not 6’3″; Politico also found his driver’s license, which says that he’s 6’2″. Apparently he gets quite angry when people say that he’s 6’2″, but there you have it: Donald Trump is 6’2″. He’s not 6’3″; he’s 6’2″. To be clear: That’s 6’2″ for Donald Trump’s height, which is not 6’3″, and instead is merely 6’2″.

So, even if we don’t change the weight, adjusting to his actual height gives him a BMI of 30.3, nudging him into the obesity range and just past peak-fatness LBJ. When you consider that he probably actually weighs more, the case is that much stronger; at just 240 lbs, he’s up to 30.8. It seems safe to say it: By BMI, Trump is the fattest President in 100 years.

One question remains: Is BMI a good way to measure this? It’s a famously limited metric; a person in great shape might weigh a lot because of muscle mass, so you often get misleading results—e.g., peak Barry Sanders reads as obese on this metric, which is clearly not correct. Could it be that Trump is actually really healthy? After all, in the ludicrous doctor’s note he released during the campaign, the author claims that, “If elected, Mr. Trump, I can state unequivocally, will be the healthiest individual ever elected to the Presidency.” Is there something to this?

No. Obviously not. To find a healthier President among the other 44 you have to go back… one, to Barack Obama, who is 16 years younger and still plays basketball on a regular basis. Is this answer a coincidence, or perhaps too partisan? Well, you could also go back… two, to George W. Bush, who is also younger than Trump even though he left office almost a decade ago, and who famously liked to work out all the time. Even Bill Clinton, who is also younger than Donald Trump, was jogging to those McDonald’s. Trump apparently loves fast food just as much, and in that Dr. Oz appearance with the fake medical records, we have this exchange:

OZ: How do you stay healthy on the campaign trail?

TRUMP: It’s a lot of work. When I’m speaking in front of 15 and 20,000 people and I’m up there using a lot of motion, I guess in its own way, it’s a pretty healthy act. I really enjoy doing it. A lot of times these rooms are very hot, like saunas, and I guess that is a form of exercise and, you know?

He thinks public speaking is a form of exercise, because he moves his arms around and it is sometimes hot in the room. This is not a man who works out, or, indeed, fully grasps the concept of working out. So, while it is possible that the use of BMI unfairly maligns the fitness of some Presidents, it clearly barely scratches the surface of Trump’s unhealthiness.

Conclusion: No matter how you look at it, Trump is the fattest President of the last 100 years. Spread the word.



P.S.: He’s also 6’2″.

Future History

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the best historical comparisons for Clinton and Trump as potential Presidents. For Clinton, I think it’s clear that she’d fit right into the legacy of Bill and Barack–the expected center-left progress characterized by a lot of little policy achievements, ordinary failures, and one or two big signature moves. At worst, I see her as someone like Jimmy Carter, well meaning and competent but stymied by forces outside the President’s control. At best, the guy who comes to mind is Teddy Roosevelt: Too hawkish (though, like her, also a better diplomat than he often gets credit for) and hilariously wonkish (he was so into managing everything that he got involved in arguments about new rules for football and the spelling of words in English), but a tireless worker, an advocate for fair play, and a brilliant politician and institutional architect.

Where micromanagement leads.

For Trump, the ceiling and floor are somewhat difficult to imagine. For the former I guess I can see a case for a Coolidge-like Presidency, where his utter inattention allows things to just sort of chug along while people of color are the victims of constant terrorist violence and the economy careens toward the Great Depression. At worst I can see him incorporating a sort of greatest-hits of the worst things Presidents have ever done–Watergate is a nice model for his paranoia about election rigging; Wilson’s casual stance toward the re-emergence of the KKK is basically already underway at Trump Campaign headquarters; the Alien & Sedition Acts look like the basis for his position on freedom of the press and libel laws; Harding’s notorious corruption is low-hanging fruit for a guy who literally goes on trial for fraud later this month; and given Trump’s cavalier stance on nuclear weapons, he could end everything by revisiting the Cuban Missile Crisis, except this time swapping out Robert F. Kennedy for Donald Trump, Jr.

If I had to tie Trump to just one President, though, I think I’d go with Andrew Jackson: A populist who combined violent racism with distrust of elites, financiers, and government involvement in the economy. The latter stuff led Jackson to cancel the central bank charter in the U.S. and generally issue policies now thought to have contributed to the Panic of 1837, one of the worst economic recessions in American history. The violent racism, of course, led to the Indian Removal Act, which in turn led to the Trail of Tears.

These kinds of things seem like they’re in play in a Trump Presidency. He rails against money in politics, corrupt insiders, and “this Janet Yellen of the Fed” in particular. It’s easy to imagine him deploying his angry incomprehension of economics to put his thumb on the scales (he has basically indicated that he would like to do this) and essentially wage a destructive war against the modern economy. Certainly his utterly indefensible use of anti-Semitism is partly about its historical role as the socialism of idiots. But it also points to Trump’s real campaign emphasis, the racism. He has based his career on a sort of modern-day Mexican Removal Act, with a Muslim ban thrown in for good measure. It’s important not to be too haphazard with a comparison like that; the Trail of Tears was a human catastrophe, an ethnic cleansing that killed thousands. I don’t think Trump is going to march immigrants through the snow until they die. But it’s not too much of a stretch to say that he advocates ethnic cleansing—the definition of the term varies depending on where you look, but it’s basically the removal of an ethnic or religious group from a territory with the aim of making it ethnically homogenous.1 Trump does not explicitly advocate for the violence that often accompanies ethnic cleansing, but the purging, deportations, and vision of purity are  right in his wheelhouse, and on a scale that our country has not seen in decades (perhaps a scale large enough that, practically, it would require Internment Camps, along the models pioneered by enthusiastic Trump supporter Joe Arpaio, thus checking off another of our Worst Hits).

I think America would survive a Trump Presidency; we survived Jackson’s, and that was in an era where a national collapse was much more thinkable than it is now. But I also think it would do lasting, terrible damage, to the white people duped by a man who understands their problems even less than he cares about them, and even worse to the people of color who would experience the worst of a history most of us thought we were done repeating. I used to wonder how on earth we still had Jackson on our money, given all that he did. I chalked it up to some combination of historical ignorance and apathy. I still think it was that—but, apparently, for a lot of people it was also a kind of aspiration.


1. It’s kind of chilling, when you read different definitions of the term “ethnic cleansing”, how closely they echo Trump’s ideas. On Wikipedia, it’s “the systematic forced removal of ethnic or religious groups from a given territory by a more powerful ethnic group, with the intent of making it ethnically homogeneous.” The Encyclopedia Britannica calls it, even more aptly, “the attempt to create ethnically homogeneous geographic areas through the deportation or forcible displacement of persons belonging to particular ethnic groups.”  In the Oxford English Dictionary (that link is behind a paywall), it’s “The purging, by mass expulsion or killing, of one ethnic or religious group by another, esp. from an area of former cohabitation.” Wikipedia has some more legal definitions here. It’s fair to say that Trump is not explicitly calling for terrorist violence, but he does favor ethnically and religiously targeted mass expulsions of people (especially Mexicans and Muslims), and I think it’s pretty clear that this is based on the misguided dream of homogeneous American whiteness that underlies his “Make America Great Again” slogan.