Thursday, January 31, 2008

I am Jason Bourne

No really- I've got this calculus class at Brighton HS in Sandy that I always sub for, and I am now officially known as Jason Bourne. The students thought that it was funny that not only is my last name Webb (Jason Bourne's real last name), but that my dad's first name is David (Jason Bourne's real first name), and somehow between that and being the only sub they've had that can teach them calculus (how that relates to CIA clandestine activity is beyond me), they've decided to call me Jason Bourne. Today, a student drew a picture of me on the board kicking the crap out of bad guys and labeled it "Jason Bourne fights foes!" This same student also lent me his iPhone for an hour, and I am now hooked. That will be purchase number 5 when I get a permanent job.

So I've been subbing for about 4 months now, and the most fun I've had has been with this class (actually, 4 classes). Everyday after subbing for them, I always think "Yeah, I could do this for a living". Today after each class, at least 5 or 6 students would come up to me, some grabbing my arm and some patting me on the back, saying "Thanks Mr. Webb!", "Thanks Jason Bourne!", or "See you next time, Dr. Nick!". I didn't exactly get into subbing as a self esteem boost, but this class is definitely doing the trick.


Monday, January 28, 2008

Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose

Recently I just finished reading Anything for a Vote: Dirty Tricks, Cheap Shots, and October Surprises. The book goes through each presidential election in US history and focuses on how dirty each was. Each election gets 2-6 pages or so. Here are some of the highlights:

In 1800 Jefferson’s people called Adams “a hideous hermaphroditical character which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.” Adam’s supporters responded with “Jefferson is a mean-spirited low-lived fellow, the son of a half-breed Indian squaw, sired by a Virginia mulatto father.” They also spread rumors that Jefferson was dead.

In 1828 John Quincy Adam’s supports taunted Andrew Jackson in the hopes that he would challenge someone to a duel. Jackson supporters spread rumors that Adams had offered his wife’s maid to the czar as a concubine.

Davy Crockett in 1836 said that “Martin Van Buren is laced up in corsets, such as women in a town wear, and if possible tighter than the best of them. It would be difficult to say from his personal appearance, whether he was a man or a woman, but for his large red and gray whiskers.”

One of the worst elections ever was 1876. Tilden’s supports said that Hays shot and wounded his mother “in a fit of insanity.” Hays people claimed Tilden got syphilis from an Irish whore which made him susceptible to blackmail.

For the 1896 election the New York Times published an article called “Is Mr. Bryan Crazy?” It stated that if Bryan was elected “there would be a madman in the White House.” Two days later another article appeared that said Bryan suffered from megalomania, paranoia querulent (complaining too much), and querulent logorrhea (talking about complaining too much).

It was an enjoyable read, and I learned a lot not only about dirty political tactics but American history as well. I recommend this book, especially if you think that politics has never been worse than it is today.


Thursday, January 24, 2008

Not Political, and Not Depressing

As per Nick's request:


Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Tardy Announcement

So, I was thinking about the most depressing day of the year and I realized that Lily was crying a lot that day--no wonder. Then I realized that I never introduced Lily to Salsa Night...

Please find the original announcement made back on Oct 25:


Tuesday, January 22, 2008

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

I hate to distract from the primary discussions (I really do), but here is a guy in England that has calculated what day is the most depressing day of the year. It happened to be yesterday, January 21st. According to the article:

Arnall bases his yearly prediction on a formula he developed, which factors in the weather, consumer debt from holiday spending and failed New Year's resolutions and arrives at that conclusion that we'll hit rock bottom on Monday the 21st.

Shows what he knows- I haven't even made any new years resolutions, and we didn't go into debt for holiday spending because we didn't buy anyone presents! It did snow over a foot yesterday though. But... I had my first job interview in over 4 months, and it actually looks really promising. I'll update in a week or so if I get the job.


Sunday, January 20, 2008

Bedridden Primary Thoughts

I've been in bed sick all day Saturday with nothing to do but sift through the nauseating effluence that passes for political punditry these days. I've created a short list of things that the pundits have gotten wrong:

(Warning: lots of partisan political comments ahead. Stop now if you are sick of politics)

1. McCain has the most broad support and is the "consensus" Republican candidate.
Actually, more people have voted for Romney than any other republican- something like 350,000 for Romney and 300,000 for McCain.

2. McCain is now the frontrunner, and has the most "momentum" going into Florida and the primaries.
Actually, Romney has won 3 contests and two "silvers" compared to McCain's 2 wins and 1 silver. He has over double McCain's delegates, and for all the media and McCain sycophant whining about delegates being largely symbolic, that still doesn't change the fact that the winner will be the guy with the most delegates.

3. Huckabee has solid Evangelical support
Actually, he started off in Iowa as the guy who won with huge evangelical support, but that has been tapering off as the contests go on. His support among evangelicals in South Carolina was less than half, and looks to be dropping further. More troubling for him, his support among non-evangelicals is minuscule. At this point he really is running to be McCain's VP, and to siphon votes from Romney.

4. Romney only won Nevada because of Mormons- after all, they constituted 25% of the voters and voted for him 94% of the time.
Actually, if you subtract out every last Mormon voter, Romney still won with about 34%, compared to Paul and McCain in the low twenties.

5. Romney only won Nevada and Michigan because they were uncontested.
To which I say, whose fault is that? Winning primaries because your opponents cede them to you is not a sign of weakness, but one of strength. It says a lot to a voter about your competence and drive to win when a candidate says he will compete in every state, and actually does. And Michigan was hardly uncontested. McCain camped out there after New Hampshire and claimed he would win even a few days beforehand.

6. McCain is now the establishment Republican and is building on support from 2000.
Oops, wrong again. In 2000 he easily swept New Hampshire, but this time he only barely squeeked by Romney, getting far fewer votes this time around. In 2000 he lost South Carolina, but won this time. Interestingly, he had far more votes in 2000 than he did this time- he actually lost support between then and now. The only difference is that this time mainstream conservatives split between Thompson, Romney and HuckaVP (who is not exactly a conservative, but who cares, as long as his religion is right).

Other thoughts:

Romney is now the only leading candidate who has not lost to Ron Paul.

McCain has either tied or lost, often badly, among self-described conservative republicans in every primary so far.

If Mormons keep up this voting trend of going over 90% for Romney, that will be very important in Feb. 5th states in the west. California has large numbers of mormons, as does Arizona, and even though both are polling favorably for McCain (Arizona being his homestate), I can easily see how Romney can win them given his automatic Mormon support and his very high support among conservative republican. And it seems that Mormons are getting out to vote in disproportionately large numbers- last time I checked, Nevada is not 25% Mormon. So when a poll says McCain is ahead in a state with lots of Mormons I have to think that they must be undersampling mormons. In fact, one poll in Nevada a few days before the caucus had McCain up by about 8 points, and as I recall Romney won by 39 points with McCain coming in... 3rd.

I know that not every republican is a Rush Limbaugh fan, but he has pretty substantial influence with several million daily listeners, and several million more who care about his opinions. I check his website every few days to see what he has been saying about the race, and hardly a day goes by when he does not bash both McCain and HuckaVP. Hard. He says he is not endorsing a candidate, but he only ever has nice things to say about Thompson and Romney. Now that Thompson is out, that leaves Romney as the only guy that hardcore conservatives will be hearing positive things about from Limbaugh.

So what does all this mean? Even though I think Romney is the real front runner by any measure of actual voting you look at, the media is in love with McCain, and that has an effect. I stick to my prediction of this not being decided before the convention. Romney will win most of the western states and a scattering of other states. McCain will win several back east such as New Jersey and Connecticut and Vermont. HuckaVP will carry the south. (Giuliani is out- unless he eeks out a win in florida- then he will win new york, and little else). That will put Romney in the lead with delegates, but not enough to win outright. McCain might still win at that point if Huckabee is able to convince all of his delegates to switch to McCain in exchange for the vice-presidency. But no one really knows how that process works since it hasn't happened in 60 years- before the TV era.


Thursday, January 17, 2008

RIP Richard Knerr

I never heard of this guy until I read this article, but he has been impacted many of our lives on this blog.

Knerr, who started Wham-O in 1948 with his childhood friend Arthur "Spud" Melin, died Monday at Methodist Hospital after suffering a stroke earlier in the day at his Arcadia home... they bought the rights to a plastic flying disc invented by Walter "Fred" Morrison, who called it the Pluto Platter. Wham-O bought the rights and renamed it the Frisbee.


Friday, January 11, 2008

On Discrimination in Politics and the Presidential Primaries

I apologize if I have ranted on some of these points before.

On Tuesday afternoon, Katie was listening to NPR. They were interviewing people who had voted in the primaries and asked them for which candidate they voted for and why. I realize that the answers to such a question are often going to make me mad because people often have stupid reasons and, even if they do have good reasons, they won’t be able to explain them in the 5 seconds they have to give their answer. According to Katie, though, several if the interviewed women who had voted for Clinton said that the reason why was something like, “It’s about time we had a woman for president.”
This bothers me more than usual. Do you know why? Because it reflects just as much sexism as the statement, “I won’t vote for Hillary because we shouldn’t have a woman for president.” We should all be deciding for whom to vote based on how we think they will perform as President relative to how we want them to perform. A vote for Hillary isn’t “a vote for womankind”. (This is the particular fallacy I have assumed upon the women described above.) Hillary doesn’t represent all women, nor can we count her as a typical or stereotypical (if we are honest enough to recognize our stereotypes) woman. Likewise, voting for Obama because “we need a black man in the white house” or for Romney because “he’s a Mormon, so I don’t need to know more” is just as unfairly discriminatory as refusing to vote for them for the opposite reason.
Going back to Hillary, I’m pretty disappointed with the media coverage of her. It seems to be endless analysis of whether she’s too cold and unemotional, or whether she’s too feminine and emotional. Sometimes a showing of emotion by her precipitates condemnation that she’s playing the gender card and speculation about whether her emotion makes her seem weak to voters. Other times a similar showing of emotion precipitates support from journalists and columnists who say there is no harm in admitting that she’s human and that voters probably are drawn to her because of it. Oh, and also all those men were really ganging up on her anyway.
Following the coverage of the race so far has been a learning experience for me. This is the first time that I have really paid attention. In 2004 I paid attention to the presidential race, but not the primaries. In general, I think the coverage is overdone and without substance – like blackened marshmallows at a campfire. There’s not enough time where the media or the candidates are talking about platforms. The reporters spend their time talking about strategy, quoting poll numbers, and interviewing uninformed voters who don’t have anything better to do in the middle of the day. The candidates tend to spend a lot of time revving up friendly crowds, misrepresenting each other’s platforms and voting records (this includes during debates), and managing expectations of results. (“I’m really confident I will win this state, but if I don’t, then that’s good too.”) I have also noticed all the stringing along by the newspapers and news reporters. I mean, they tried to emphasize how important Iowa was, but then when it was over, they admitted that Iowa has never really been as good an indicator as New Hampshire, so stay tuned. And so it continues. I have not been following the reports very closely. In many cases, all I know about a candidate is a few sound bytes and an impression. I realize this is not ideal, but I am struggling with the patience to sit through a news cast or article having to filter out the bias and come away with more than just additional sound bytes and vague impressions.
Anyway, my personal opinion of the candidates in brief:

Rudy Guiliani – He was unpopular with New Yorkers up to 9/10/01. He has a history of family issues which betray a troubling lack of self control. I get bad vibes from him which I can’t completely describe. I actually am closer to his position on gun control than I am to the NRA’s position.
Fred Thompson – He declared late, after the other candidates had well established platforms. Despite this, when he declared he sidestepped all questions asking how he was different than the other candidates, claiming he wasn’t familiar with their platforms. He seems to have little substance behind his star power.
John McCain – I disagree with parts of McCain-Feingold. And his personal life has been spotty, though he has been with his 2nd wife for several decades now. He is prone to hyperbole, temper problems, and insensitive humor. I am with him on torture, and more with him on the War on Terror than I am with President Bush. On immigration I am undecided. I see McCain’s point of view as well as the view of those opposed to his sponsored legislation.
Mitt Romney – Impeccable personal life and business career. He has impressive experience getting elected in and governing Massachusetts and “saving” the Olympics. He is also prone to hyperbole as well as combativeness in defending his idealism. I don’t like his stance on the War on Terror (“double the size Gauntanamo if we have to”) and I fear his stance on immigration is too much idealism and not enough practicality. He seems to be trying too hard to be the “conservative’s conservative”.
Ron Paul – He’s a libertarian running as a republican. He has many crazy ideas including that he thinks the civil war could have been avoided by the federal government buying up all the slaves and then releasing them – never mind that that would be a public program which the government would have had to raise revenue for, which is the sort of thing he is against. I do disagree those that have accused him as racist because of his limited government view that much civil rights legislation is inappropriate.
Mike Huckabee – He seems to have done an adequate job as governor, but I can’t stand him. The Chuck Norris business doesn’t do him credit. He gains points for creativity but loses twice as many in my mind for lowering the level of political discourse below its already low level. Others have described him as advocating “economic populism”, of which I also see some elements in his platform. He also seems to be the stereotypical anti-gay, anti-evolution, Bible thumper.

My vote: Romney or McCain
My pick to win: McCain
Likely VP Candidate: Not any of the other presidential hopefuls. Probably a sitting member of the House or Senate from the opposite side of the country as the nominee.

Barack Obama: Not much national political experience. Sometimes you wonder if the campaign is driving him of if he is driving the campaign. The main plank in his platform seems to be “change”. I presume change in the way Washington does business, but it is unclear what that means. He is genuinely charismatic and when he does propose solutions to problems (e.g. those without health insurance) they seem to be reasonable. He has almost never done anything I perceived as playing the race card.
Hillary Clinton: Too contradictory for me. Too much complaining about the war without any leadership towards alternatives to Bush’s strategy. Too much playing the gender card. Too many irregularities in her campaign funding. Inability to keep her cool under pressure. Too much doubt about her platform.
John Edwards: At least his platform is more clear. I can sum it up as “Rob from the rich to feed the poor.” “Abolish the influence of special interests (except for unions and trial lawyers) in Washington.” And, “I’m spending more for this haircut than you make in a week.”
Bill Richardson: He didn’t have much of a clear platform that I knew about. It’s a shame because he had the most impressive resume of any candidate. He dropped out recently.

My vote (if I were to vote): Richardson
My pick to win: Obama
Likely VP Candidate: Richardson seems likely for any nominee. Otherwise, same as my Republican prediction.