WACCON 2014:

by Larry Peery

Note: This was written the week prior to WACcon. You can see for yourself how right or how wrong I was!



I have been interested in power, especially the measurement of power in collegiate bodies (e.g. commonly called “pecking orders”), for a long time. Back in 1965 I decided to study the power structure of the U.S. Congress which seemed like an interesting place to start. I was a senior in high school taking my first college class (Political Science 1, ironically) and about to begin my college studies with a double major in Political Science and History). I mention this because the methods I used in that study are basically the same methods I am using nearly fifty years later to study the measurement of power in a very different sort of collegiate body, WACcon. I approached my class instructor with my idea and he looked at me like I was crazy. He told me flat out that that was the kind of project a Ph.D. student might attempt at a major university, not something a high school senior would be tackling; and then gave me his blessing. I assumed (and it was a big assumption although I didn’t realize it at the time) that the basis of power in Congress was its committee system so I focused my research there. After that it was all a numbers game. I knew Congress had two chambers, a Senate with 100 members and a House with 435 under optimal circumstances. I also knew that each chamber had a series of committees dealing with various areas of legislative or administrative responsibility. I knew that committee assignments were a big deal and every member of Congress wanted to be on a particular committee (in the House if you were lucky you got a choice committee assignment, if you weren’t you ended up a committee or two that nobody else wanted; in the Senate you would probably be on at least two and sometimes three or four committees, because of the smaller size of the chamber, and most senators got at least one choice committee assignments, sometimes two). So far, so good.

But I also had to consider the fact that some committees had high turn-overs in their membership: others did not. In some committees the chairman and ranking minority member of the committee had great powers. In others they were mere figureheads pretty much controlled by their staffs. And then there was the matter of the size of the committee. Important committees tended to be bigger. Not so important committees tended to be smaller. All in all there were at any given time approximately 35 committees in the Congress. Then, to make things even more interesting beneath the committee structure there was the sub-committee structure. The big committees had lots of sub-committees, usually dealing with a specific area of responsibility. Some of these sub-committees were very important and committee members begged to get on them; and once they did they tended to stay on them for the duration of their congressional career. A sub-committee chairman often had more power in his area of responsibility than the committee chairman of the whole did. He had his own staff and, more importantly, he had the time to deal with one particular area of responsibility. On the other hand, some committees, usually the less important ones, simply numbered their sub-committees and legislative items were assigned to them at the discretion of the committee chair. That made him a very powerful figure. Keep in mind that there were literally hundreds of these sub-committees. As I recall the total approached the number of members of the Congress. Arranging committee and sub-committee meeting schedules. Assigning committee meeting rooms. Determining staff sizes and budgets were all matters of great importance; at least to the members of Congress. I haven’t even mentioned the fact that each committee and sub-committee was divided into a majority and minority side depending on who controlled the make-up of any given Congress. The majority party determined the committee’s chair, traditionally by seniority but not always. The size of the majority usually determined the party split on the committee. If the chamber was nearly equally divided the make-up of the committees reflected that. If the chamber was split 60-40 then the committees would be about the same. And so it went.

The question then was: how do you quantify and measure power in a highly qualitative and subjective organization such as this? I decided the first thing I needed to do was determine which committees were most important, which were least important, and which were somewhere in the middle. By then I was well into reading what literature there was on the subject and I had found a few, probably less than ten, congressional scholars, a handful of members of Congress, and some newspaper reporters from major papers who followed the ins and outs of Congress. Without telling my instructor I carefully crafted a letter to what I hoped was a balanced assortment of these congressional authorities and asked them to assign each committee in their chamber, if they were a member of one, to a position in its power pecking order (I didn’t use that term). To avoid the issue of having to decide whether Committee Y was 18th and Committee Z was 19th, I simply asked them to place them in one of five groups of approximately equal size (e.g. top 1/5th, 2nd/5th, 3rd/5th, 4th/5th, 5th/5th). Amazingly, almost everyone responded, many with comments on why they placed such and such a committee in such and such a position (e.g. I remember one Senator saying he had placed a particular committee at the bottom of his list because its chairman was incompetent!) Many of my respondents offered further help if needed, and several of them even asked to see the results when I was done.

With their replies in hand I make up a matrix chart, the first of many, showing where each committee stood in the pecking order. Based on that I came up with a final list for each chamber.

The next question was how to determine the power of each member of the committees? Note that I had already decided not to attempt to deal with the sub-committees. I would focus on just the committees. Keep in mind that in the mid-1960s I was doing this with a simple adding machine or by hand and using 3 inch by 5 inch cards to store my data. Each committee and each member had his own card, at least in the beginning. I decided to use the committee membership size as the basis for the next level of calculations. Fortunately, many committees had the same number of members, although some were bigger and some smaller as I noted. I knew that any system I devised would be filled with exceptions and loop-holes. Some senators had more power than their committee assignments would suggest. Others less. But I began to feel comfortable as I saw patterns and trends developing as I shuffled my cards. As an example, the Senate’s Committee Y was an important one with 15 majority and 10 minority members and a committee power pecking order ranking of #1. I made the assumption, another big one that the higher one stood in seniority on the committee the more powerful one was, and that was true almost always. Thinking about this the solution became obvious. I would make the power pecking order number (e.g. 1 in this case) the basis for all other calculations. Assuming the Senate had 20 committees in that Congress, the power pecking order numbers would be reversed, e.g. so that the top Senate committee ranked #1 in power least powerful seat, e.g. lowest in seniority, would have a point value of 20, and as you went up the seniority ladder the power points increased accordingly, e.g. 20 at the bottom, 40 at the next to the bottom, 60 third from the bottom, all the way up to the senior member (Remember, the committee had 15 majority members) who would have 300 power points. On the minority side of the aisle or table you would again begin with 20 points for the lowest senior member of the committee, but the ranking minority member (Remember, the committee had 10 minority members) would only be worth 200 points. That was the formula that I used throughout the project. From then on it became a numbers crunching game.

Doing the House calculations was fairly easy because most members only had one committee assignment and the ones with two usually weren’t very important. So, it was clear that the importance of the committee assignment and the seniority on that committee would determine. History bears this out. When I look back to the members of the House at the time I did my original research the powerful figures in the House were usually Democrats, white, males from rural southern states; and the least powerful figures in the House were usually Democrats, black, males from urban central or eastern states. Fifty years later the reverse was true.

The Senate was more challenging because senators either tended to be re-elected until they died or moved on to higher office. It’s interesting to note that although every senator claims there “is no higher honor than to be a member of the US Senate” almost every one of them thinks they’d make a better president than the incumbent, especially if he’s a member of the opposition. In the House you don’t see that. When you get in the House leadership you tend to stay and stay and stay. In studying the Senate I noticed a phenomenon I came to call “The Stennis Phenomenon” (after the late US Senator from Mississippi John C. Stennis who served 60 years in elected office without ever being defeated, and whose name lives on in the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis). Stennis got himself assigned to the Armed Services Committee early on and stayed on it. Then he added the Appropriations Committee to his list of committees and stayed on it. In time thanks to the way the system worked he climbed in seniority on both committees until he was at the same time chairman of the Armed Services Committee’s sub-committee on Appropriations and chairman of the Appropriations Committee’s sub-committee on the Armed Services. For a period of some eleven years Stennis was known as “The Senator from the Navy” or “The Father of the Modern Navy,” depending on how you looked at him. Those of you from Washington State will remember Senator Scoop Jackson who was known as “The Senator of Boeing,” and campaigned for years for a strong USAF, especially its Strategic Air Command. Jackson is remembered by the military and a US Navy ballistic submarine was named for him in 1984. As you can see, individual members of Congress would gain tremendous power, but what of the States?

More number crunching yielded some interesting results. Back then California had the largest House delegation because of its population, but when I totaled up the numbers for House members by state California ranked 45th out of 50 states. Why? Two reasons were obvious: lack of important committee assignments and low seniority among its House members. On the other hand, eight of the ten most powerful states in Congress were from the South and the top three states in the power pecking order had more power than the bottom twelve states combined. States like Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana were tremendously powerful because they dominated by seniority the leadership of almost all the major committees (Appropriations, Armed Services, Foreign Affairs and Foreign Relations, Judiciary, etc.) and where nowhere to be found in the ranks of the minor committee memberships.

When I was done shifting the data to and fro I put it all together and presented it to my instructor four days before the end of the term. I’ll never forget the look on his face when I walked up to him and dropped a thin file folder and two huge three-ring binders on his desk. What’s that, he said, knowing full well what it was? The twenty pages is my paper. The binders have the calculations to back it up. “And what’s in the big envelope?” I smiled and said, “Just a little supportive evidence.” Without even looking at the folder he opened up the envelope and started going through it. “You got Henry Jackson, Thomas Clark and Margaret Chase Smith (all US Senators at the time) to help you? And David Abshire (then dean of the school of government at Harvard, and one of the nation’s top experts on Congress)? And Martin Diamond? “How did you do that?” What could I say? “I asked.” He picked up the file folder and started reading, saying nothing. He put it down and picked up one of the binders. “I’m not even going to look at these,” and tossed it on the table. “He looked at me and finally asked, “Did you make a copy of this, and have you shown this to anyone?” I told him I had all my research material and a copy for myself, and that I had sent the results to everyone who had helped me.” His eyes got wider. “Any reactions?” Well, I didn’t want to influence your thinking so I didn’t say anything.” I pulled another stack of envelopes out of my briefcase and handed them over. He started going through them one by one. “Well, what can I say? They’re the experts. Abshire said this would be Ph.D. work at Harvard. Diamond, who never likes anything anybody else wrote, praised it. And Clark, a bleeding heart liberal, wants to talk to you about it. He even wants to see the numbers!” He looked at me again and said, “So what are you going to do now?” I grinned and said, “Well, I’ve got a driver’s ed class in 15 minutes. I guess that’s priority one. “And headed out the door.

Twenty years later I got a call out of the blue from my instructor. He told me was now chairman of the Political Science Department at Mesa College in San Diego and working on a book on the plane known as the F-111 or TFX; which he remembered I had been interested in back in the 1960s. He wondered if I had done anything on that subject like the one I did on Congress. I grinned to myself. “Yeah, I said, I’ve got a box of stuff and seven binders in the garage.” “Can I borrow it,” he asked? A year later he sent me a copy of his book with a very nice dedication. “Oh, by the way, what are you doing now?” “I publish a magazine called Diplomacy World” was all I said.

I told this story for three reasons:

  1. Because I still can (e.g. meaning I can actually remember it in that amount of detail, which amazes me);

  2. Because it shows where what I’m about to write about comes from;

  3. It suggests how sometimes a simple approach is the best one in dealing with a question of considerable complexity.

Take for instance this question, “Who will win the WACcon title this year? Yes, all this as a lead in to that. So take a break, grab a glass of your favorite beverage, and let’s, to use Eric and Nathan’s favorite term, segue to a discussion of power in a different kind of collegiate environment.


Have you ever noticed that when you ask a straight forward question before a DipCon event starts like, “Well, so who do you think is going to win?” you always either get an evasive answer (e.g. “Well, they’re all good, and anybody might win.”) or a downright lie (“e.g. Well, anybody can win.”) The only thing worse is listening to a bunch of cardinals and media reps discuss the papabili before and during a papal conclave. Now, here at WACcon we have WACconbili and DipConbili to deal with.

Top Diplomacy players in the DipCon hobby, especially at a major DipCon event, tend to be very reticent about predicting who will win. Why is that? I suspect there are various factors among which I’ve thought of: 1) The only thing worse than being right in making a prediction is being wrong; 2) They think they’re going to win, but don’t want to say so; 3) They don’t think they’re going to win, but don’t want to admit that; 4) They don’t want to antagonize others; 5) They don’t want to self-proclaim themselves as a contender; even if they are one; etc. etc.

I have noticed that the only person hated more than the person who tops anybody’s prediction list of con winners is the guy who designed the system that put “him” on top. Gamblers talk in terms of favorites, dark horses, long shots, the pack, the field, etc. all. Odds-makers, on the other hand, look at the numbers; and that is what the Peery System (about to be revealed herein) does. The System uses the stats, so if you don’t like the results don’t blame me. We all know that numbers don’t lie. On the other hand, in my pocket is a list of personal favorites in which I predict who is going to win regardless of stats, a plan for making that happen. If you doubt that just ask Nate Cockerill, Edi Birsan, Chris Martin or David Hood. Oh, if you’d like a look at my list just cross my hand with a glass of good Washington State Merlot.

In my historical example I dealt with the Congress, its chambers, its committee and sub-committees, its seniority system, its party system, and much more. Here, in dealing with WAC we are primarily focused on one body, its rounds, boards (e.g. games), and its best countries. And a modified seniority system based on the number of events held over the years. It’s a much simpler system and was conceived and completed in a single afternoon. Only when we see the results of this year’s event will we be able to say how accurate it was, or whether it was just a momentary diversion.


I began this project with a simple question, “Could I, by using the history of past WACcon events determine a method for predicting the winner(s) of this year’s event?” My first step was to print out the Diplomacy Database information on WAC. I had a page of overall results for the ten previous events, and several pages listing the specific results for each individual event. That was the raw database I used.


I quickly decided the best system would be a simple one and the way to deal with exceptions and variables (e.g. differing numbers of players, rounds, and boards, scoring systems, and Mini-WAC events, etc.) was to disregard them. I decided to focus on three areas: 1) The top five finishers in each event; 2) The seven best country players (as long as they were in the top five finishers); 3) The number of events each of those players participated in, so if a player has participated in five previous WACcons his numbers will probably be higher than someone who has only played in one. I would use only WACcon results, so if a player had won multiple titles in other DipCon or World DipCon events but bombed out in his previous WACcon events it didn’t help him. The sliding scale concept reappeared in that the top player out of the five in each event got the most points, and the fifth ranked player got the least. In addition, older events got fewer points. What that meant is that if you were the lowest ranked of the five at the 2008 WACcon event you got no points at all, and by the 2003 WACcon event none of the players got any points. However, points given for Best Country were scored all the way back to the first event. Just to make sure you understand let me illustrate with these examples: In 2013 Andy Hull got the full 10 points for coming in first, in 2012 Adam Sigal got 8 points for coming in first, in 2011 Matt Shields got 7 points, and by 2003 Kevin Kacmarynski got 0 points, even though he came in first. In 2012, Andy Bartalone got 7 points for coming in second and an additional 3 points for his three Best Country performances. The reason first place got 10 points in 2013 but only 8 points in 2012 was what I call “The Most Recent Event Bonus.” Players in only one WACcon event received no special consideration, but players in two events got an extra point for each event played after the first, e.g. Chris Brand has played in 3 events and got 2 points for that. Eric Mead has played in five events and got four points for that.

Although I did not use it as a factor in my calculations I should note the following: WACcon has produced only one two time winner, Andrew Neumann; and he’s here again this year. Interestingly he’s not at the top of the pecking order list. There are four past WDC champions here this year: Chris Martin, ’98; Yann Clouet, ’04; and Andrew Goff, ’09 and ’11. Past DipCon champions here include: Edi Birsan, ’89, Chris Martin, ’98, ’08, ’11; Andrew Goff, ’09; and Eric Mead, ’10. Past North American Grand Prix winners include: Chris Martin (twice), Matt Shields, Andy Bartalone, Jim O’Kelley, and Adam Sigal. So, even though their standing in the power pecking order may not reflect it these are some of the hobby’s best players.

Finally, I should mention what I call the X Factors. Only you can determine whether you should gain or lose points (and how many) for each of them but they can and no doubt will play a role in determining who wins the WACcon title this year. Here are some. Apply them to yourself and apply them to others sitting around over the next three days. You might be surprised at what you see, or what you don’t: Alcohol Consumption Factor, Obesity Factor, Age Factor, Baldness Factor, Deniability Factor, Sexual Abstinence Factor (aka Fred Davis Rule of 82), Neatness Factor, Frequency of DipCon Play Factor, and Sleep Factor. Who knows, one of those might be the silver bullet that brings the WACcon title to you.

Among other things I observed:

  1. Being a good player at other events is no guarantee of doing well at a WACcon;
  2. Playing in more events (e.g. rounds) will help your results;
  3. Brand took 10% of the possible 50 position points;
  4. Neumann was the only repeat winner;
  5. Williams was the only female in the list;
  6. Foreigners took 8 of the top 50 positions available.


First: 22 points, Brand;
Second: 18 points, Mead;
Third: 16 points, Sigal;
Fourth: 11 points, Hull;
Fifth: 10 points, Bartalone;
Sixth (tie): 9 points, Weingarten and Berney;
Eighth (tie): 8 points, Neumann and Saul;
Tenth (tie): 7 points, Cockerill and Shields;
    Twelfth (tie):6 points, Moore, O’Connor, Silverman, and Woodring;
Sixteenth (tie): 5 point, Lester, Maletsky, Meissner, and O’Kelley;
Twentieth (tie): 4 points, Schlaud and Souieden;
Twenty-second (tie): 3 points, Broner, Clouet, and Shelden;
Twenty-fifth (tie): 2 points, Guinn, Mannix, and Marshall;
Twenty-eighth (tie): 1 point, Birsan, Kacmarynski, Lemere, and Williams;
Thirty-second (tie): 0 points: Fest, Hood, Martin and Virani.


Does this mean that Brand, Mead, Sigal, Hull or Bartalone will win this year’s WACcon title? No, not necessarily, but it does suggest that the chances of one of them winning based on their past records are better than those of Fest, Hood, Martin and Virani. However, don’t let The Big Names intimidate you whether you’re a prior WACcon vet or this is your first event. Brand, Mead, Sigal, Hull, Clouet, Martin, Birsan and especially Cockerill are just names. Remember, each of them has a weakness. Your job is to find it and exploit it before they find yours. Second, remember each of them has a strength. Your job is to find it and avoid it before they find yours! Third, remember little things do mean a lot and attention to detail is the tie-breaker that will determine who wins this year.

Earlier I spoke of Favorites, Dark Horses, Long Shots, the Pack, and the Field. Here we are talking about the Greats, the Near Greats, the Wannabe Greats, and the Not So Greats.

This year I ‘thought I’d do something a bit different. Instead of telling a lot of lies about people who are here (which I’m sure will happen), I thought I’d tell a true story about some people who (regrettably) aren’t here.


It was DIPCON XXI,, the summer of 1988, a quarter of a century ago, in San Antonio, Texas. It was hot. It was humid. It was going to rain and worse. But we didn’t care. We were Dippers. We were Invincible! And the most invincible of all were the CADS (Carolina Amateur Diplomats) who had come out of nowhere a few years before and had taken DipCon event titles all over the country. The question on everyone’s mind was which one of them would win this year (It turned out to be Dan Sellers, in case you don’t remember.)

It is said that good things happen in threes. In Diplomacy great things happen in threes. So it was with the CADs, and I’ve been watching this group for over thirty years. At that time the core of the group was a trio consisting of David Hood, Dan Sellers and Morgan Gurley (all eventual DIXIECON and DIPCON and WORLD DIPCON winners). On this particular day the three of them were out on the golf course which was adjacent to the resort pool that I happened to be flopping around in.

A storm front blew in quickly with big, black clouds piled on top of each other. The locals quickly abandoned the golf course and the pool. The Dip Trio stayed on the golf course and I stayed in the pool. After all, we were invincible.

Then the thunder and lightning began. The winds picked up. The rainfall got heavier. The Dip Trio headed for a tree next to the pool to take shelter from the rain, figuring that it would soon blow over the way it would in Carolina. I, not having ever seen anything like it, remained in the pool, floating on my back, and watching the awesome storm clouds pass by overhead. I figured I was already wet, so why get out?

ZAP! The first bolt of lightning hit an upper branch of the tree under which our three heroes were standing Dan and Morgan looked a bit nervous but David, unflappable as always, calmly said, “Not to worry. Lightning never strikes twice in the same place. Remember?”

And then lightning hit the same tree again, only this time a lower branch just above where Dan was cowering (And Dan’s barely over five feet.). This time there was no hesitation. It was quite amusing to me, as I watched from the pool, to see Morgan, a big football player, and Dan, a runty little guy, take off at full speed for the club house. I continued to paddle around the pool as I watched them run.

David looked at them and began walking toward the pool, not the club house. He paused just long enough to say, “Larry, I think you might want to consider getting out of the pool,” and headed for the club house at a slightly faster than normal pace. I noticed he’d dropped his club by that point.

Whether I was being brave, too stupid to know better, or was just too scared to move, I don’t recall, but I remained in the pool as I wondered how long it would take me to boil if lightning did hit. The lesson learned: Lightning can hit twice in the same place which is why we do occasionally get a multiple time winner at DipCon or even a triple time winner at WDC as happened last year. Rare, yes, but it can happen. Just ask Mr. Neumann.

You’ve seen the list of WACconibili. Now consider the partial and preliminary list of Roast participants: Berey, Silverman, Bartalone, Martin, Lester, Maletsky, Mead, Woodring, Mannix, Causey, O’Kelley (Father), O’Kelley (Son), Tennant, Hand, Zoffel, Shields, Hall, McNamara, Cooks, Nolen, Weingarten, Clouet, Barnes, Mastbaum, Gramila and Goff. By now some of those names should be old friends. If they survive the Roast and make it to the first round then they are definitely title contenders this year.

As you look at this list and the faces of those who are here ask yourself: “Is he or she here because he’s hungry for another win, or because he’s thirsty for revenge or just because she thinks Nate’s cute in a hat?” On a higher plane you might ask yourself, “Will wisdom and experience triumph over enthusiasm and energy every time, or can deceit and treachery overcome both; and if so, will it happen this year?” Or, as Milton and Churchill wondered, “Is awho ‘watching and waiting’ strategy better than ‘grab and run’, tactics, or will “whispering sweet words in his ear” do it every time, as Chris Martin believes?

However, I can guarantee you two things:

  1. Steve Wilcox will not be a contender because he unfortunately won’t be here, and
  2. Larry Peery will not be a contender because he is here.

Oceanside, California 19 January 2014

Larry Peery

If you wish to e-mail feedback on this article to the author, and clicking on the envelope above does not work for you, feel free to use the "Dear DP..." mail interface.