January 18, 2018

Jim Stiles, blowhard? Half blowhard?

The iconic Delicate Arch at Arches National Park. (Author photo)
Jim Stiles, proprietor of the Canyon Country Zephyr online newsmagazine, likes to portray himself as the intellectual heir to Cactus Ed Abbey. Maybe I should say "THE heir" to emphasize that. And, what led me to this blog post was seeing High Country News run a retrospective on the 50th anniversary of "Desert Solitare," Abbey's memoir, environmental manifesto and quasi-anarchist screed about his years of seasonal ranger service at Arches National Monument, today a national park. I checked the Zephyr (which I sometimes like as a tweaker of the more mainstream HCN, to see if Stiles had something similar up, and he didn't yet.)

Among his heirship angles is attacking eco-tourism as wrecking Moab, Utah in particular and the American West in general.

I'm no defender of swapping the single-industry mining or logging nature of many Western towns for one of tourism. And, per that link just above, Stiles is half right, maybe more. But, to say that eco-tourism has caused the problem is itself bullshit. I told High Country News the same when it wrote a semi-puff piece about Moab's retiring mayor.

Western small towns and counties, unless forbidden by state law, can ameliorate this issues with eco-tourism (or the stagnant wages of extractive economies on the decline) by:
1. Increasing the local minimum wage
2. Getting developers to build affordable housing, including through either the carrot of subsidies or the stick of requiring it as part of a larger development.

Stiles mentions neither of those. (Moab's mayor never mentioned trying to get the rest of the city council to sign off on such, either.)

That's not all. Other actions could include:
3. Funding for other things to broaden the local economy done via an increased hotel-motel tax, which would primarily tag high-end tourism.
4. Getting the nearest recreationally developed federal area to work better to promote local attractions and events.
5. Getting counties to adopt county zoning policies outside of city limits.

Stiles' ERMIGOD GREEN TOURISM reached shitstorm level over the creation of Bears Ears National Monument. With Trump's (will it stand?) downsizing of BENM, Stiles reiterates claims that national monument designation involved no additional protection, gave American Indian tribes in the area no additional empowerment, and other things.

He's half-right on the first; the protection would have been even better were it to have been moved to the custody of the National Park Service.

But, he's not all right, and that's because he's all wet on No. 2. Jonny Thompson covered that by noting specifically:
A monument manager would be overseen by a commission, made up of one representative from each of the five tribes, and one each from the U.S. Forest Service, BLM and National Park Service. The tribes, collectively, would have the loudest voice in decision-making.
That's more than just "advisory," Jim.

Yes, most of the tribal powers with Bears Ears are advisory, not statutory. But not all of them.

He then ventures into Anglocentric stances from the top, when he claims:
For the purposes of this story I refer to the area of Grand Gulch and Cedar Mesa as “Bears Ears.” But please note that in the forty-seven years I’ve known and wandered southeast Utah, literally NOBODY ever referred to the region as ‘The Bears Ears”  until two years ago. That title is a piece of product packaging and marketing by mainstream environmental organizations and the outdoor recreation industry and has never been a name that meant anything more than the two buttes that lie along the southern edge of Elk Ridge…JS
Gee, Jim, maybe you should expand your circles.

First, what do Navajos, or Ute, or Hopi, call "Cedar Mesa"? Or "Grand Gulch"? We know what the Navajos call "Bears Ears," and that is "Bears Ears."

Second, and related, what do they call the entire area?

Third, other national parks and monuments are named after just one portion of the territory. Saguaro National Park, which surely was not called "Saguaroland" 100-plus years ago, has more than just saguaros. Really, Jim, this is dumb shit.

Fourth, related to Point No. 2 on my first bullet points? Why not empower tribal cops for patrolling? Since this is outside any reservation, I presume that they could, as appropriately deputized, arrest Anglos, which SCOTUS says they can't on their reservations. The "Jim Chees" comment aside, Stiles in that piece, and per this HCN submission of his last year, seems conflicted or schizo in general about the idea of antiquities protection actually being put in place.

And, Jim, progress in gear is often good. So what if a CamelBak or other brand is called "portable hydration"? It uses no more plastic than the inside liner of a 2-quart canteen of 40 years ago, is a lot lighter, and less bulky. My Kelty tent is a lot less bulky than an old Army pup tent.

Beyond that, while Stiles is half-right, it's rarely more than that. Among areas where he's not close to all-right, per Paul Larmer, is to blame only environmentalists for the "amenities economy." Every been to Aspen or Vail, Jim? Jackson Hole? Or, even closer to you, Park Cities? The ski industry is worse than greenies.

Ditto on people building second homes in Montana or whatever. Most of them have nothing to do with environmental tourism. Stiles is conflating problems and issues with others.

On the third, hand, with a company like Patagonia hiring as an "ambassador" the guy who climbed Delicate Arch, sometimes he is more than half right.

On the fourth hand, not everybody who goes to Arches is always hiking 40 miles a day with backpack. Nor do we think carrying a CamelBak rather than that old plastic-line aluminum canteen, let alone old Army surplus ones, lessens the value of the hike.

And, per an HCN commenter of a decade ago, and also an HCN review of his book, I do think he is a son-of-an-Ed cultist, self-created, and he likes that. And, like Cactus Ed, maybe he's not all environmentalist. Maybe he's got a bit — or a bit too much — of Ed's anarchist blood. That said, I think his anarchist level is less, and less activist than Ed's. I've never heard Stiles talk about throwing car tires off canyon rims.

And finally, Jim, speaking of tourism being a new version of extractive industry, how much money do you make portraying yourself as "THE Heir" of Abbey and "THE Protector" of what's truly best for that area? I mean, you clearly, premeditatedly, spin Abbey mythology. (And Stiles does that while seeming to avoid Abbey's dark side on things like immigration, as Charles Bowden noted, and things like alcoholism, which most of Abbey's groupies ignore.)

What Stiles needs to do is address the issue of capitalism and hypercapitalism.

January 17, 2018

#Cardinals notes — Yadi Molina, Hall of Famer?

Yadier Molina
Long time St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina has said that when his current contract expires after three more years, he retires.

So, even as his name has drawn a bit more Cooperstown speculation from top-tier baseball writers, I'll add my thoughts to that.

First, WAR. It's not a perfect stat, and for catchers, especially, leaves out some things like pitch framing skills.

Nonetheless, right now, that number, which is at 35.4 WAR, doesn't look great.

Let's add 6.6 more to round out his career to 42 WAR.

And, only three catchers with lower numbers than that are in Cooperstown. One is Roy Campanella, career shortened by a tragic car wreck at the tail end, and shortened at the front end by not being pure white. The others are undeserving Veterans Committee adds Rick Ferrell and Ray Schalk, and deadballer Roger Bresnahan, who had a decent career when playing full time, but with the exception of one season, stopped doing that after he turned 30. Next lowest are Ernie Lombardi at 45.9 and Buck Ewing at 47.7. Lombardi is a beneficiary of the ultra-live 1930s plus, like Farrell, a thinning of talent during World War II that let him play well into his 30s. Ewing is buried another full decade back in the dead ball era than Bresnahan and, in addition, played half his games at other positions.

So, right there, doesn't look good. To frame the other way? Ted Simmons, at 50.1, has the lowest WAR of any catcher who's stimulated serious discussion about Cooperstown and not already in. (Thurman Munson, at 45.9 and career ended early by fatal plane crash, should get more discussion, in my opinion. In fact, I can't believe he's not already there.)

So, barring a late resurgence, going by WAR, it's going to be tough for Yadi.

There's the total intangibles, like pitch framing, though. And other tangibles, like still being the top active catcher in caught stealing percentage, despite his reputation reducing the number of challenges. Also, he's second career-wise, behind just Pudge Rodriguez, for total zone runs for a catcher, and will come close to his record before retiring.

OTOH, other than his peak of 2012 and 2013, he's not had a single year above 3.5 WAR.

Throwing out the undeservings, and playing Campy and Munson forward, I think we can say, per Ted Simmons, that 50 WAR is the cutoff point for catchers.

And, that means that unless Yadi's boosters can sell a bigger picture, he's not in.

Personally, I'm still not sure. Kind of the Jim Edmonds of catchers, but with even more in the way of intangibles to judge. Personally, I'd say he falls right around 50-50.

January 16, 2018

TX Progressives talk #MLK50 and more

Belated thoughts from this corner of the Texas Progressives on Martin Luther King Jr. Day itself, while noting, per the hashtag, that this is the 50th anniversary of his assassination.

Here's this week's roundup:

Neil at All People Have Value blogged about the Houston Democratic Socialists of America-endorsed slate for 2018. APHV is part of NeilAquino.com.

PoliTex reminds Texans that we are first in the nation with our primary elections, and that the deadline to register to vote in them is two weeks from today.

Socratic Gadfly is still waiting for Lupe Valdez to take a political stance.  And in a sidebar, he had snarky pieces about Trump's alleged payoff to Stormy Daniels and what's new on Gorilla Channel viewing, both run with Ken Silverstein's Washington Babylon.

Michael Li outlines the Texas redistricting case SCOTUS has agreed to hear.

Therese Odell at Foolish Watcher reluctantly climbs down into the shithole.

Grits for Breakfast points out a problem with life-without-parole sentences.

Off the Kuff takes a shot at predicting which female candidates for Congress in Texas have the best chance at getting elected, and Lion Star has video of some of the CD-16 candidates (he seems to like Norma Chavez).

Even as larger communities like Houston have welcomed the New Year and largely turned the page on Hurricane Harvey, this is not the case for many other Texas cities and towns. As Texas Leftist shares, Harvey is very much a 2018 reality for coastal towns like Rockport.

Downwinders at Risk chronicles the holiday in the aftermath of the cancellation of the Arlington MLK Day parade (the one Greg Abbott was supposed to be the grand marshal of).

Jim Schutze at the Dallas Observer notices that life has gone on in Dallas even after tearing down the statue of Robert E. Lee.

Texas Standard's regular aggregation of state news includes the story at the Statesman that justices of both the Texas Supreme Court and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals heard in a symposium from experts on how to better serve defendants with mental health issues.

Leah Binkovitz at the Urban Edge ponders the Houston region's transit future.

Sarah Martinez at the San Antonio Current documents the brief but impactful life of the #DentonTrumpster, and Leif Reigstad at Texas Monthly profiles some Texans, well known and lesser known, that we lost last year.

January 15, 2018

Ross Douthat, Tyler Cowen have lightweight religious dialogue

The piece is about six months old, but I only came across it recently, and it's a hoot, while also being a sad illustration of the Peter Principle, especially in Douthat's case, and a warning about false appeals to authority, if anybody thinks Cowen's thoughts on religion are worth crap just because he's a thought-provoking (though not necessarily insightful) economist.

Anyway, here it is — Ross Douthat and Tyler Cowen have a back and forth on religious belief that is laughable.

Among Cowen’s biggest hoots is deploring the lack of Bayesianism in most religious belief. I suppose he thinks Richard Carrier’s Bayesian book-cooking in the name of Jesus mythicism is spot on? Cowen also confirms that his libertarian bona fides are deep and thoroughgoing when he claims to be a Straussian on religious issues. Anyone who invokes Leo Strauss for THAT bears careful watching. (Note to Massimo Pigliucci: Cowen strongly blurbed Harry Frankfurt’s new book, which was the first reason I became highly skeptical of it.)

Straussianism plus Bayesianism brought to putative religious study.

First, miraculously-based religious events, per a Humean definition of miracles, don't have priors, you know what I mean, Vern? Yes, one can crack open "The Golden Bough" and point to something like a virgin birth in places around the world. Whether or not the Frazier-Campbell type approach to comparative religions in myth and ritual is true or not (less true than not, usually), or whether this reflects a quasi-Jungian mindset that Stith-Thompson and the encyclopedias of mythology reference, nonetheless, in the naturalistic, Humean world, such things have no priors, period.

That said, I'm on record multiple times in multiple places in thinking that Bayesian probabilities as used by Gnu Atheists like Carrier is a bucket of warm shit.

And, a Straussian? As in the big noble lie? Well, Paul said "I am all things to all men," and Og Mandino lauded him as the world's greatest salesman, so in that case, Cowen may have more in common with Douthat than he recognizes!

Douthat responds by ignoring that both Blaise Pascal and C.S. Lewis stacked the deck with their wagers on, respectively, the existence of god and the divinity of Jesus.

It's true! For an existentially-thinking secularist, this life, as the only one we have, IS "eternity," if you will. So, Pascal stacks the decks that way. Second, he ignores whether this is the Christian god or some other, though, as a semi-orthodox Catholic with touches of Jansenism, we know where he was placing his bet, and it wasn't on Allah or Yahweh. It may not even have been on the Protestants' version of the Trinity, for that matter.

Cowen then replies that he takes William James seriously. Wow. “Varieties” only shows how deep-seated are the human mental evolutions that have been “hijacked” by the development of religion. Nothing more.

Worse, this is from someone claiming just a few paragraphs earlier to be a religious Straussian? While William James was about many things, I don't think he was about the Straussian big lie. On the other hand, his insistence on interpreting religious experiences by pragmatic value could leave him open to being moshed up with such things.

Rusty then extends that to a “mystical ineffability means its true!” stance. He doesn't question how this might lend itself, or not, to a Straussian take.

Surprisingly, near the end, Douthat lays out his own Bayesian take, and only 45 percent of his total of 100 percent is for classical theism.

That’s called “Cafeteria Catholic,” Rusty, next time you lay that label on the likes of John Kerry or any pro-choice Catholic.

Douthat finishes by invoking Nicholas Taleb’s black swans and saying that, among religions, Christianity is the blackest of all. This is nothing more than a fancy new presentation of Tertullian’s “Credo quia absurdum.”

January 13, 2018

Beto O'Rourke hits Northeast Texas (updated)

As I called him to friend Brains, the "Kennedy brother by an El Paso mother," riffing on some talk about him, in the inside-the-Mopac type media, came to Northeast Texas Wednesday afternoon.

Beto ORourke

This is my blogging opinion take on him; for the news angle at one of his stops (to which I will reference), go here.

That said, let's dive in.

First, he does seem to be a bit of a squish on health care. His answer to a question on the issue was to talk about "universal health care" then say single-payer is "one way there." Now you know why he's not a co-sponsor of HB 676, which I guess needs a new primary sponsor with John Conyers and his sexual harassment payout skedaddling Congress.

Sema Hernandez in the primary is running specifically on this as one of her main campaign issues. (She also notes that he voted for Trump's military budget and hasn't backed House bills for special wage increases for tipped employees or to make college free for all low- and middle-income students.)

Second, and also referenced in that news story, was a fair amount of "bipartisanship" talk. To talk that you want Trump to succeed unless it's in the country's best interest means we have to trust your judgment, without an issue-by-issue spell-out of what issues will draw your opposition. In general, bipartisanship, American style, sucks. It's another reason I wish we had multiparty parliamentary democracy.

Third, I noted in the story that he doesn't take PAC money. I didn't quote his comment on not taking corporate money — because candidates can't accept direct contributions from corporations anyway. PolitiFact notes he has taken moderate amounts of PAC money in the past, and has still taken "conduit PAC" money in this campaign.

ActualFlatticus of Twitter infamy also donated to conduit PAC Act Blue. As I said about his donations, why an individual donor doesn't just donate to a candidate, I don't know, other than trying to hide specific targets of donations.

That said, there are pluses to the campaign.

First is that he's getting out there.

By the time you read this, he will have visited at least 180 of Texas' 254 counties in the past several months. That's more than many Dems running for either senator or governor in the Pointy Abandoned Object State™. It's almost certainly the most of anybody since Victor Morales in 1996 on the Senate side. There's more about that in the news story, specifically related to Morales' main primary opponent, Jim Chapman.

Over that time period, looking at just John Cornyn and Booger Ted Cruz runs on the GOP side, with Kay Bailey Cheerleader Hutchison's higher popularity, the Dems have had marginally better senatorial than gubernatorial candidates, but not by lot.

Ron Kirk had a Metroplex popularity base in John Sharp's 2002 alleged dream team list, but struggled to move left from being a known Shrub Bush supporter. (Fittingly, he accompanied past GOP voter Tony Sanchez, who ran for governor, and Sharp himself, a Republican in all but name today, running for lite guv.) Rick Noriega in 2008 was OK. David Alameel in 2014 was another ConservaDem/Republican in drag. Noriega was the only one to have run for office before, and state rep in a relatively safe district isn't a big deal.

O'Rourke knocked off ConservaDem Silvestre Reyes to get his House seat. He has an appetite for campaigning. He's genial and charismatic.

He may be a squish, but almost certainly less of one — on different issues — than Wendy Davis for gov in 2014. (Also, she was running for a state office, he for a federal one.) He has no ethical baggage, either. Assuming he gets the nomination, Democrats could do worse. For example, I'd take him over either of the Castro brothers, I think.

Some are now knocking Beto for proposing a year of universal service for high school graduates. I'm not saying it's perfect, and I'm not saying that having it in place — if it were truly universal and immediately post-high school — would lessen American warmongering by threatening to get rich kids shot. But, a number of Dems proposed it shortly after the Iraq War bogged down, in part for such reasons. And, many European countries have such a system. So, on that issue, I'm not joining the knockers. That said, Stace notes that there will be class-based issues of fairness that could be  problem.

Also, at least to the face of Tucker Carlson, Beto is not a squish on immigration-related issues.

In short? I'd vote Hernandez in the primaries, but accept O'Rourke in the general.

See this long profile of O'Rourke in the new Texas Monthly for more.


Update: Brains disagrees with my vote ideas, saying he'll undervote the general if it's Beto, or "Bob," to note his actual first name. I jokingly called him a "Kennedy brother by an El Paso mother," but, per Brains' well-researched piece, he might be "John Kerry's brother by an El Paso mother," minus the military service.

I'm still not totally ready to move off my vote pivot, but that's more food for thought.

I still don't think the "universal service" idea of Beto-Bob (there, NOW he sounds Texan) is necessarily a bad deal. It could be, but it ain't necessarily so. And, it's been  used as a bit of a gotcha. I actually find the fact that Beto-Bob has already backed off it more disconcerting than the idea itself.

As for him being a squish of some sort on single-payer? Well, if it is truly universal, in that everybody in the country, no ifs, ands or buts, has coverage, that's the rock-bottom starting point. A lot of the other developed counties that have national health care have co-pays, after all, and some people bashing Beto-Bob on this may not be aware of that. No, it's not ideal, and it's not close to gov candidate Tom Wakely's idea of a Texas NHS. But, if it is universal coverage, that's the baseline.

Per Wiki, many of those other countries have what is called two-tier care. Part of that second tier, with Denmark France and Germany countries mentioned by name, is for private insurance to cover the cost of copays. And, yes, that's deliberately boldfaced. Many countries with national health care use a two-tier system like that. Government insurance covers all basic medical and surgical needs. You buy private care for elective and experimental surgery and other things.

People need to look at the details of how universal health care works in these other developed countries, and is funded, in general. If you're poor, copays, etc., are usually paid by the government, kind of like Medicaid. But, if you're middle-class, in most the developed world? No, you need to have your own wallet open. Not a lot, maybe. But you need to have your own wallet open.

I went into this in much detail when I called out the groupies of Actual Flatticus and his toady, ShirtLost DumbShit Zack Haller, for being sketch on the details themselves.

And, if you're citing "Medicare for all" as your national health insurance model, you need to note that the actual Medicare program requires you to have your wallet open if you're middle class.

As for people bashing Beto-Bob for wanting national health care to be useable at for-profit hospitals? You folks are either ignorant or willfully obtuse if you think nonprofit hospitals are significantly different from for-profits, because they ain't.

Thirty seconds of Googling found me not one but two Pro Publica pieces with in-depth coverage of major ethical wrongs of nonprofit hospitals.

If you want a true British NHS, as I do, fine. But stop falsely claiming that, within the current hospital system, nonprofits are somehow enlightened. For that matter, per Wiki, a few extra quid and bob will get you extra service even in an NHS hospital.

The NFL of concussion likes and Kaepernick hating is a nonprofit, for doorknob's sake.

Another issue is that "no copays" people may not be talking about cost controls. I sure don't want a no-copays national health care that still costs more than twice as much to treat a person as other developed nations.

Finally, given that the current Medicare covers things like chiropractic, we need to make sure the government isn't paying for alt-medicine or pseudo-medicine.

January 11, 2018

#TxPolitics on the issues — Wakely, Valdez, Richards for gov

Here's my first summary of position stances of the actual and possible progressive candidates of note in this year's Texas governor's race, with Democrat Lupe Valdez, Democrat Tom Wakely and Green (pending party achieving ballot access) Jan Richards.

The sharp eye will note a few things.

One, at least a sharp Green eye will note, is that Richards still needs to flesh out a few positions.

The other, that anybody with two brain cells will note, is that Valdez currently stands for nothing.

As noted, these come from campaign websites or Richards' GP page. Don't believe me? Look for yourself.

Valdez's website is nothing but a giant campaign contribution solicitation at this point.

Maybe this is how Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa and other TDP honchos advised her to run — on nothing but a story and a name.

That just might work if it gets her a runoff vs ConservaDem Andrew White. But, what if it's her and Wakely in that runoff?

Or, what if people who don't get to hear a brief soundbite from a short in time, packed in candidates forum like that in San Angelo, don't hear anything. or read anything, to sell them on her, and she doesn't even make a runoff?

Hey, Lupe? If you or your handlers update your website, I'll update this chart.

If not? I'll keep reposting it. (I'll edit fonts and font sizes as necessary, now that I know more how it fills out.

Brains offers a bigger picture "Resistance vs. Revolution" as part of a series, with a first-post overview, including a good butt-kicking for Andrew White.

January 10, 2018

#TheResistance loves it some #Oprah2020
I do not, nor Zuck the Huck; #NeverOprah

I know, I know, I'm a bit late to the social media party, but I wanted to fire a blunderbuss at the whole idea of celebrity Democratic candidates for president and not just Oprah Winfrey.

OK, in the last six months, three celebrities of various sorts have been getting talked up by Democrats of some sort as 2020 presidential candidates.

The latest? Oprah Winfrey after her Golden Globes appearance.

This would be the same Oprah who has a borderline quack, Dr. Mehmet Oz, as a regular show member. And, Dems? Per your bashing of her, he's definitely more of a medical quack than Dr. Jill Stein.

And I haven't even mentioned notorious antivaxxer Jenny McCarthy.

She also has Dr. Phil McGraw, who had "professional ethics" problems His dad, also a counselor, was censured for the normal reasons a psychological counselor might get into ethical trouble. Think #MeToo.

Other than that, she's simply vacuous on a number of issues. Not dumb, necessarily, but no trail.

Her solution for problems in general is New Age positivity. Nope, that doesn't really work, especially when that's just of the quackery she promotes. Or promoting the warmongering of Shrub Bush. (Besides that link, she had him and his memoir on in 2010.)

So, no! Per somebody else, we know how celeb candidates have fared in the past. (Meanwhile, TheResistance is already claiming its unfair to say Oprah is just like Trump when the closest wording to that has been "Oprah is another celebrity billionaire, just like Trump," which is totally true.)

Second has been Mark Zuckerberg.

That would be a person whose business has admitted to manipulating customers psyches, spying on them, booting customers it doesn't like and violating federal housing laws on the advertisements it accepts. He's also a manipulator of loophole-ridden California state law on public benefit charities.

Of course, that's not that different than Barack Obama, a quasi-celebrity when elected. His campaign invented digitally targeted ads, his administration increased Bush's spying on Americans and prosecution of leakers, and violated housing ethics in forcing homeowners to bear almost all the housing market's pain after the Great Recession.

Zuckerberg's solution, otherwise? Use more Facebook!

Third has been Mark Cuban.

First problem is that he's a tech-neoliberal type, just like Dear Leader. Second is that he's currently a Republican! Third is that, other than being a Republican, we know even less about his ideas for the country than Winfrey's or Zuckerberg's.

Even worse for the left-liberal or Berniecrat portion of the crowd? All three are multi-billionaires. In essence, this is a call for a return to feudalism, or an oligarchic riff on elective monarchy like the Holy Roman Empire.

Beyond that, things don't look better.

Otherwise, you have some Democrats talking up Joe Biden, who would be gerontocrat for sure, turning 78 shortly after election day 2020. Berniecrats continue to push his name for re-election, despite him being older than Biden, the Sanders Institute being the latest proof yet he's just another Democrat, and the possibility that his wife might be indicted before then. Others mention Kristen Gillibrand, a self-reinventor so over the top she makes Hillary Clinton look like she has an actual core.


That said, the fascination with celebrity is nothing new, and goes back before the modern entertainment world.

For such a peace-loving nation, the country has elected multiple war hero presidents.
1. George Washington
2. Andrew Jackson
3. Zachary Taylor
4. Ulysses S. Grant
5. Dwight D. Eisenhower.
This ignores the raft of post-Civil War presidents who had lesser roles (Garfield was elected to Congress in media res!), Poppy Bush's World War II experience, and one special case which I'll treat below.

It's hard to grade Washington as the first president, but let's call him and Ike both "above average," while noting Washington's slave-ownership and Eisenhower's racist ideas and go-slow stance on civil rights.

Jackson was organized and efficient, but below average for ethics issues such as Indian removal and racism.

Taylor, despite occasional rehab attempts, was one of the worst presidents in history. Despite Ron Chernow's attempt to rehab him, I'll keep Grant as one of the worst presidents in history, too.

Theodore Roosevelt is a quasi-war hero. He certainly let himself be marketed as one. And, he got there by being an action-adventure hero, at least to his social class back east. And, while he did a lot for the environment, his racism, his personalization of trust-busting, and his cluelessness on banking rank him a notch or more below the top.

We've elected a couple of other quasi-celebrity presidents, though, too.

I'm speaking of Jack Kennedy and Barack Obama, both of whom did little in the Senate other than being photogenic.

So, by that count, we've got eight quasi-celebrity presidents. Nine if you want to slip Reagan in. Ten if you're counting the current occupant of the White House.

Ten out of 45? That's 22 percent. Not totally un-American now is it?

I mean, look at the fetish of British royal-watching in America. Same thing. Helps if the royal, like Diana, is photogenic.

Of the military prezzies? Well, Ike looked like your dad or granddad. But give Washington modern teeth and a modern hairstyle and he'd buff up. Jackson would have "tubercular chic" or something reasonably attractive, plus the "mystery" angle of carrying a bullet inside. Other than being a bit on the short side, Grant would be OK. Taylor would be the only real camera-breaker. TR?

Gad ... can you imagine Teddy Roosevelt with a Twitter account?