Thursday, January 24, 2008

Updated Political Predictions

I really haven't weighed in on the '08 race since my guy (Fred) dropped out. Here's where I stand on the GOP side at this point: I see a race between McCain and Romney. Everybody says McCain is the front-runner, but he has yet to win more than a third of primary voters, or successfully demonstrate that he can get most of the actual Republicans out there to vote for him. And that's a big"if." This guy has spent most of the past 7 years sticking a finger into the eye of the GOP base--on immigration, campaign finance "reform," judicial filibusters, embryonic stem-cell research, and the federal marriage amendment, just to name a few issues. He definitely is good (as I define "good") on the war and abortion, which are major issues for me. But I have to admit, my tentative support for McCain is based far more on his personal courage in Vietnam and grudging respect for the "straight talk" that shows the courage of his convictions than on any real agreement on the issues. I fear that folks like me would be on the receiving end of lots of unwelcome "straight talk" from McCain were he to become president.

The other option is Romney. I agree with his (current) position on almost all the issues, and of all the candidates out there, he is the one that I most see as having the potential to be a great chief executive. I like his intelligence (valedictorian at BYU, combined JD/MBA from Harvard), his business sense. I like his family values (I even kinda view the Mormon thing as a plus--somehow a devout Mormon feels more squeaky-clean than a lukewarm Methodist). But there is something about him that worries me. Maybe it's his hair (admit it, he's a Ken doll). Maybe it's his millions of dollars (even though I believe he earned every dime) Maybe it's that he's TOO perfect. And part of it is the fact that he doesn't seem to have the same straight-talk attitude as McCain. I haven't yet seen him take any unpopular stand and stick with it on principle. If enough people have a similar uneasy feeling about him, at the end of the day I'll wind up nodding in agreement at every line of his concession speech in November.

Supposedly McCain does better in the general election polls. He does have the advantage of having not ticked off the Huckabee voters nearly as badly as Romney has. He also occupies the same "space" in the electorate as Giuliani (tough on terror, not truly orthodox conservative). So he could be the nominee. I wonder if when push comes to shove, the country will really vote for a 72-year-old man. I also worry that he would under-perform in debates. I still think there is a better chance for Romney to emerge as the nominee. But either way, there are two things I can be thankful for: (1) My state's primary is over, so it's out of my hands now; amd (2) I believe now that the Democrat nominee will be Hillary Clinton, who I think is a far weaker general election opponent than Obama.

That brings me to my Democratic prediction. I still wish Obama would beat Hillary. But she's a savvy politician, and she (and her hubby) know all about fighting dirty. She has mostly pulled out of SC, conceding the state to Obama. That should be good for him, right? Wrong. She's done a great job in the past couple of both keeping him on defense against the vaunted Clinton attack machine, and also of taking him out of his "race-transcendent" role of earlier this year. He'll win SC with her gone, and it will be credited to a monolithic African-American "bloc" vote. This will serve to drive even more white Democrat voters to Hillary (a category she already leads in by a huge margin). In the end, Clinton will use race to beat Obama. Then, she'll turn around and still win 85-90% of the African-American vote in the general election anyway. I hate it for poor Obama. But watching him complain (with little effect) about how Bill Clinton is being dishonest about him brings back memories of Newt Gingrich. Welcome to the big leagues, Barack. I should be happy, as she is probably the single greatest chance of uniting the GOP base this November. I don't think either of the leading Republicans could beat Obama, but if the other choice is sending Hillary (and don't forget Bill) back to the White House, I think things could get interesting.

As always, I reserve the right to change my mind as the whole thing evolves.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

I'm Famous! (In Arizona)

As I mentioned earlier, John McCain was at my polling place this past Saturday, and I got a chance to shake his hand. While there, I was interviewed along with several others in the crowd by a reporter for the Arizona Republic newspaper of Phoenix, AZ. Despite admitting my vote for Fred, I did successfully call SC for McCain. So when my prediction came true, I got a little ink. Here's the link to the story. I'm all the way at the bottom.

I Must Be Slipping...

When my wife beats me to a political post. Check out Ann's blog for a cool quiz that tells you who your candidate is based on their public positions. Turns out I'm a McCaniac. Which looks like a good thing, since Fred dropped out today. This keeps my streak alive at 20 years of voting in the primaries for someone who does NOT become the nominee (while the SC Republican Primary winner has won the nomination every year since 1980). We'll see if that streak holds. I did support McCain over GWB in 2000, so it's not exactly foreign territory for me to be in. Let me ask you this--picture a grizzled, battle-scarred group of Navy SEALs disembarking from a transport plane after a tour of combat duty in February of 2009. At the ramp is the new commander-in-chief. He or she returns the salute of these brave men. What do you think? If it's Hillary, I weep. If it's McCain, I shed a tear of pride. Of course, if it's Obama, it'll never happen because he's going to wave his magic wand and make all warfare and bad people disappear on January 20th, right after handling racism and just before dispatching poverty. Then John Edwards will likely sue for patent infringement, as ending poverty is HIS schtick. And he'll win, because he's that good a lawyer. OK, just kidding. But in dangerous times, there's no doubt that John McCain is a serious guy, and a grown-up. We'll see how far that can take him.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Another Sal-Mobile Adventure

Last night, while driving home from church (which for us is 20 miles from home), the driver's side window of the Sal-Mobile shattered into a million pieces. I'm not sure if this was some weird temperature thing, or if I was the target of an attack on my -mobile by some super-villain. Either way, we are fortunate to live less than a mile from an auto glass place that had the right plate in stock, and we had the day off for the MLK holiday, so the only harm done was to my wallet. Add yet another $167 to the running total of what I've put into my "free" car. Still, it's "cheaper to keep her."

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Proud Dad

Allow me to brag on my oldest son. Since October, he's been practicing for the role of Daddy Warbucks in our school's production of Annie. Then, at the first of November, he went to tryouts for the bantam basketball team, and won the job of starting point guard. Since then, he's worked pretty much 12-hour days to do both, while also serving as Student Council president for our middle school and also kept his grades up. This past week he had two dress rehearsals, two shows, and three ball games. The play was awesome, and he also averaged about 6 points and 4 assists in his "spare time." I'm very, very proud of him. The picture is him with "Annie" on his knee right after they sang the duet "I Don't Need Anything But You."

One More Thing....

As I was leaving the polling place, news cameras began to show up. McCain was paying a visit. Since I live right around the corner from the school where the polls were, I gave it a while and then came back, and got to shake the Senator's hand as he worked the rope line. I felt a little bad for being a faux-McCaniac, seeing as how I had already voted for Fred. But it was still cool to see him. And if he becomes President, he'll be the third one I've "met." (Both Bushes were the previous two; Poppa spoke at my college graduation, W did the same rope-line handshake at a speech I attended back in 2002.)

Decisions, Decisions (The SC Primary)

I voted about 10 minutes ago. For Fred Thompson, as I had said I would. But John McCain is having a great day, at least among the folks I have talked to. I even wrestled with the idea of a vote for McCain myself, but decided against it. If Fred's campaign ends here in SC, OK. And then I reserve the right to jump ship to one of the more legit contenders, one of whom may very well be McCain. but if I don't vote for who I perceive to be the best guy, I'm not helping.

The folks I have talked to who are voting for McCain are a mixed bunch, and they all have something in common--they are not "political people." They don't care that McCain is an apostate on a whole host of Republican issues, or have any inkling what a vote for him does in the overall game theory of the nomination and general election. They just see him as the fundamentally most serious candidate in a very serious time, particularly on the issue of the war. As I have written before, I don't personally attach much weight to GOP orthodoxy, either, so the apostasy in general doesn't bother me. Specific issues do (like the fact that he has been vocally pro-amnesty for illegal aliens in the past, or that he opposed the Bush tax cuts), but I will give McCain credit for one major thing--"straight talk." He calls it like he sees it. He may "see it" all wrong, in my opinion, but I've never felt like I was being pandered to by John McCain.

I think that's a key point in his favor. I still foresee Mitt Romney as the likeliest eventual nominee for the GOP. But Romney has a "slick" feeling about him. (Maybe it's the hair.) Maybe it's entirely beyond his control. But he comes across as less of a straight shooter than McCain (or Thompson, for that matter). Huckabee projects a similar (but folksier) sort of slickness. In the end, if the eventual Republican nominee faces Hillary Clinton, I think being seen as more genuine and less programmed is an intangible advantage. Of course, if the Democrats (as I think and hope they will) nominate Obama, that advantage is nullified. But then "gravitas," the whole feel of being mature and grown-up, will work in the Republican's favor (where being a fresh face and a voice for "change" will motivate the Obama forces).

Most polls I have seen show that in a potential November match-up, the Republican with the best chance to actually win over Hillary or Obama is McCain. I know there are those who say that he's a lousy Republican, and that his nomination would be bad for the party overall. But I don't think that in the end a President Hillary Clinton is better, no matter what the GOP loser says in his concession speech.

Anyway, I've voted my conscience, and I feel pretty confident now that the eventual nominee will be either Romney or McCain (unless I get lucky and Thompson pulls it off... I'll bet he's a contender for veep for either guy). I can live with either of those outcomes.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Sunday Naps

If you want me between about 1 and 4 PM on Sundays, don't call. Or really, call all you want, but you're going to voice mail--because I'm taking my weekly nap. And I don't care if it's important. Dead relative? Still gonna be dead in a couple of hours. Roof caving in? If it's bad enough, it'll wake me up. Sunday naps are more than tradition in my house--they border on the sacramental. My grandparents took naps. My parents took naps. Someday (although they deny it to the rooftops now) my children will all nap, and will insist their children "nap" (or at least stay quiet for the first hour), as well. When I was a kid, I swore I would never, never waste a whole beautiful weekend afternoon sleeping. But now, I wish I could have back all the naps I didn't take then! And even better is a Sunday when it clouds over and rains just a little... pure sleepy bliss!

Monday, January 14, 2008

The Sal-Mobile

My car is a 1993 Chevy Lumina with 135,000+ miles on it, which I got free--FREE!!--from my favorite aunt when she traded up several years ago. I take great pride in the fact that not only is the Sal-mobile a semi-reliable means of transportation, it's also a statement. What it is stating is that I choose to have other priorities more important than a cool car. Of course, that's a bit of a stretch--after all, what could possibly not be cool about a "Euro" model with a spoiler? (Except, of course, that it's a spoiler tacked on the back of a 4-door Chevrolet sedan. It does, however, keep down the rear end when I'm powering through turns at 30 or 35 mph).

This hurts a bit. In high school and college, I drove a beautiful 1978 Mustang II Ghia with a 302 cubic inch V8 and a smoked glass sunroof. I was a car guy. Do you know how hard it is to be a car guy when your nicest vehicle is a 13-year-old minivan, and that's not the one you drive?

This past week, I thought it was finally over for the Sal-Mobile. The temp needle spiked and steam began coming from the engine. Not the radiator, or the top of bottom hose, but sort of a generic, engine-like area. Now obviously, when your car has zero resale value, there's a top-most limit to how much you'll spend on repairs. I was pretty sure this would be the job that forced me to buy another $500-1000 beater and drive IT into the ground. Well, my mechanic (a great guy named Phillip, who's been doing my repairs in his driveway since long before he opened his own shop) found a broken hose hidden where I didn't know one went. Thirty bucks, including the house call. I guess it's hard to keep a good clunker down.

Really, I can't complain. I've got power steering, power locks, power doors, cruise control, cold air, occasional heat, comfy seating for 5, cramped seating for 6, and, of course, the statement.

By the way, Becky says if I call it the Sal-Mobile, I have to have a super power. Well, first of all, Batman had a Batmobile, and he's got no powers. And secondly, I think making it for all these years without a payment is pretty super, all by itself.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Another Roger Cut

Well, it happened again. I didn't get a haircut the whole time I was on crutches. I couldn't go Monday or Tuesday, because Bubba doesn't work those days, and I was busy Wednesday and Thursday. I'll be out of town Saturday. That left tonight. I get there, and... Bubba is gone for the evening. Leaving a fate worse than death: the Roger cut. In all honesty, Roger's a good barber. And he gives a good haircut (athough he gives it very slowly). But he's not MY barber and let's just say his best work is not MY haircut. It could be worse. My flattop wasn't exactly the round Q-tip look that I usually get if I wind up in Roger's chair. But it's just not quite right--a little less sharp, and a little less straight than usual. In the grand scheme of things, this isn't the biggest deal. But for the next three weeks, I won't look quite right. Oh, well.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Fight Fair... Please!

A little politics-meets-history-meets-pet-peeve blogging. A couple of days ago, I was engaging in a little political banter with some co-workers. I mentioned that I'm a budding Fred-head. A friend of mine said, "but he's an ACTOR." I answered back, just a little throwaway line to be cute, not the opening of an argument or anything, "well, the last time we tried that, it turned out alright." She quickly fired back, "Well, I don't know about that...."

PLEASE! First of all, this very nice Democrat lady doesn't know hardly any history, and would admit it. Secondly, she would have been about 4 when Reagan took office, and 12 when he left. So all she's doing is parroting some line some bad teacher must have fed her back in college. I'm not particularly mad at her personally for swallowing it down, and I didn't feel at the time like going into debate mode. But come on. What part of the 1970s would you like to go back to? The double-digit inflation? The interest rates? Stagflation? The Iran hostage crisis? Or maybe you liked those thousands of Soviet Nukes pointing our direction? Hogwash, poppycock, and nonsense on stilts. Reagan has been dead for years, and history now looks at 19 million new jobs, the beginning of the low-tax policy that has powered almost 30 years of economic growth, the end of the cold war, two landslide elections, and the re-making of one of our two major parties in his image, and says, "You know what? This guy was pretty good." Sure, there were fears that he would end social security (which he didn't). There were people of very good intent who supported the nuclear freeze movement (now long-discredited). But IT'S OVER. There's not some rule out there that no Republican can ever be right about anything!

Oh, and the reverse is also true. I've got a cousin who's an adjunct history professor who's very conservative. No matter how hard I try, I can't get him to admit, even grudgingly, that Franklin Roosevelt was a great president. His view is, "FDR birthed modern liberalism, which is the enemy, therefore he must be bad, and any good he accomplished must be overrated." Again, nonsense on stilts! I'll type slowly for any of my readers who don't read so fast... HE WON WORLD WAR TWO. Again, come on! Was he perfect? Of course not! But he is (like Reagan) one of the most significant presidents of this century. If anything, his 4 landslides trump Reagan's two, winning WWII trumps winning the cold war, and the Great Depression was worse than the 70's malaise!

Put it another way. I'm a Larry Bird and Boston Celtics fan. Have been forever. So I spent a long, long time disliking the Lakers and Magic Johnson. But never, ever, have I implied that Magic Johnson was "really not so great." He's one of the greatest players to ever live. He played for my team's rival. I could pull against him (and did, with glee) without sacrificing my integrity as a student (and genuine fan) of basketball.

Partisanship like that is one reason why this country is such a mess right now. How about we agree to fight fair, to admit that the other guy might just have a point? We can disagree on principle and still respect the other side's opinions. Of course I think my opinion is correct. If I didn't, it wouldn't be my opinion anymore. But we don't have to fudge objective truths, be disingenuous, and always attribute ill intentions to the other guy. Case in point--one can be firmly against Obama becoming president without being a racist. or very anti-Romney without being a religious bigot. Or anti-John Edwards without being bigoted toward phony, preening, metrosexuals with great hair (sorry... just kidding).

I propose a return to the status quo ante, the way things used to be, circa 1983. The story goes that a staffer of Democrat House Speaker Tip O'Neill met Reagan for the first time, in the evening, in the speaker's office. Trying clumsily to break the ice, he said "Well, Mr. President, this is the place we plot against you." And Reagan answered, "Not after 6 PM. We're all friends at quitting time."

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

New Hampshire Results

Well, I did better than some of the pros. I successfully picked McCain over Romney. It would have helped a bit if I had paid attention to the fact that Thompson didn't campaign at all in NH before I picked him over Huckabee, but that far down nobody cares. And I was just as wrong as every other pundit in picking Obama over Clinton. Man, nobody saw that coming!

To anlayze the GOP side a bit, all the pros are going to tell you that Romney is now toast, that Michigan is must-win for him, and that McCain is resurgent after his bad summer. Wrong! Romney still has the most delegates of anyone, and will have the most going into Super Tuesday. He, along with Giuliani, are the only two who can really compete after that. And Giuliani shares the stage with McCain in the category of "tough on terror, but not really conservative." The only reason McCain has done so well is because Rudy has not been there to cut into his territory. Trust me: after Super Tuesday, it'll be painfully obvious that the mainstream GOP is not going to give their nomination to either Rudy or Huck. And when it comes down to the end, Romney will be the last guy standing. I'll still be pulling for Fred, but that's a long shot at best.

The Democrat side is more interesting now. Here's the thing: Obama has to give the impression that he really can beat Hillary before SC, or he's done. As the first state with a racially diverse population to hold a primary, SC is really key for Dems. You might think that would be right up Obama's alley, but the Clintons are especially beloved of the SC African-American "establishment." If she beats him in that demographic, he's done. I still think she's the worse of the two as a general-election candidate (I mean that both ways--worse in electability and worse for the country), but if Obama wants to win, he has to take the nomination from her--it's hers if she can just hold on. I don't think Edwards has much chance--if it's Hillary vs. the other guy, Obama is the other guy, not Edwards.

If Hillary and Romney go on to the finals, it's a dice roll. I think her high negatives make her the weakest of the potential Democrat contenders, but I'm not going to go so far as to write her off. I've made the mistake of thinking the American people wouldn't be seduced by a Clinton before.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Who would you have voted for?

Here's a little game my students like to play--they ask as we go through the various elections in class, "who would you have voted for if you had been 18 (or 21) at the time?" While it's tempting to just cheat and pick all the winners, or all the Republicans, or to say "I never would have voted for tricky Dick Nixon," or similar stuff, It's a lot more fun to try to place yourself in the position of the voter at the time, knowing only what they would have known, and try to be honest with it.

I've already admitted to the following actual votes cast:
  • 2004 and 2000: Bush 43 (actually votes against Kerry & Gore, which even in spite of Bush's numerous failings, I have never regretted thanks to the two excellent Supreme Court judges I got in the bargain)

  • 1996: Dole (I knew it was a lost cause, and I supported Lamar! in the primary, but I couldn't in good conscience vote for Clinton. And the impeachment in 1998 only solidified my belief in that.

  • 1992: Bush 41 (again, something about Clinton I didn't trust. Wisely.)

  • 1988: Bush (this time was after supporting a younger Dole in the primaries, but was more a vote against Dukakis, but again, that was easy for a conservative.)

Following are my most honest answers, going back to before the Great Depression:

  • 1980 and 1984: Reagan. That one's the easiest pick of all.

  • 1976: Carter. Despite the fact that my parents were for Ford in '76, I think if I were an adult then, Carter's faith and integrity, combined with the bad taste of Watergate and the fact that Ford was far more a country-club Republican than a cultural conservative (after all, the Reagan Revolution hadn't happened yet), would have led me to vote for the man from Plains. There was no way of knowing at the time how incompetent he would be. But he's the reason I'm not falling for Huckabee now.

  • 1972: Nixon. This one is hard to admit. But on election day of '72, less than half of Americans had even heard of Watergate. And Nixon carried 49 states. And there's zero chance I would have voted for McGovern.

  • 1968: Probably Nixon. Let's not forget that Hubert Humphrey was the last hawk to run as a Democrat, so he wouldn't have carried the same stigma in my mind as later liberals did. But I think the events of the Chicago '68 Democrat convention would have convinced me that Nixon was a better chance to restore the social order so badly fractured in that year. And also, this is pre-Watergate Nixon, so I wouldn't have had that to hold against him.

  • 1964: I want to say Goldwater, as he's the early philosophical incarnation of Reagan. But again, he wasn't running following the 1970s malaise like Reagan, either. I'll bet I would have been part of the 61% who pulled the lever for LBJ, partly out of loyalty to JFK, who had only been dead for a year. Once again, this is back when Democrats actually favored National Security, and Roe v. Wade was 9 years in the future.

  • 1960: JFK. Pretty easy one, I think. Despite the closeness of the overall election, I think JFK was definitely the better candidate that year.

  • 1956 and 1952: Ike. Easy. Everybody liked Ike.

  • 1948: Truman. My favorite Democrat of all time.

  • 1944: Dewey. Yes, FDR was awesome. And yes, he had pretty much won WWII by this time. But it was a run for a FOURTH term, and he was on death's door (as evidenced by the fact that he didn't make it past April of '45).

  • 1940: This one's hard. I think if I had been around, I wouldn't have wanted to break Washington's 2-term tradition, and I would have been a little down on FDR for the 1937-38 recession and the court-packing plan. But Willkie was a real lightweight, and the war was on the horizon. I'm really not sure.

  • 1936 & 1932: FDR. I may be conservative today, but I doubt very seriously I would have been on the other side of these two landslides.

That's far enough back. Probably nobody besides Matthew even cares who was running back in the 20's or before. But I should point out that there was a time when the social liberals were Republicans and all the evangelicals in the south were Democrats. Either way, the issues get funky as you get further back--it's harder and harder to put yourself in the shoes of someone back then and try to decide if I would have been "wet" or "dry" on prohibition, for example.

Anyway, some winners, some losers, some Democrats, some Republicans, a few I'd have been proud of and a few I would have likely regretted. Anybody else want to play?

College Football Post-Mortem

Well, it's official. We once again have a college football national champion, and once again, the winner is the SEC champion after a romp over OSU (sorry Ben and Danny, but it's true). This should prove, yet again, that the SEC is the toughest conference in football (along with the fact that 9 of the 12 SEC teams played in bowls, and 7 of them won). It should also help bolster my contention (which I've held since the pre-season) that my USC Gamecocks played the toughest schedule in the country this year. We were actually the 10th bowl-eligible SEC squad, but all the league tie-in games were taken up by the other 9. And, for the record, we actually played LSU tighter (12 pts) than Ohio State did. Notice I'm not saying, at least not out loud, that a 6-6 SEC team is better than the Big 10 champion. We can't use the transitive property of college football that way (or else App. State could beat Florida, etc.) But when your team finishes the season at .500, you start looking for moral victories. Too bad that Georgia and Florida both look to be top 10 teams again next year, and Tennessee and Kentucky won't exactly be bad, either. So it's not like our road gets any easier. Unless of course, we jump to an easier conference... which could be ANY of them. Are there any ACC teams out there that would like to trade their cupcake schedule with us? Please?

Monday, January 7, 2008

More Thoughts on Obama-mania

I had a spirited discussion with a couple of friends from work today when I shared with them my prediction (for today, at least) that Barack Obama will be the next president of the United States (over my dissenting vote). One of them, a conservative, was hung up on the fact that he seems, to her at least, an inexperienced "empty suit," getting by on personal charisma. The other, one of my favorite libs, called her a racist for saying so.

Here's my take on Obama--if a Democrat has to win (and this looks like their year), he's better than the other two. To say I have concerns about Hillary Clinton's integrity is understatement of the year. And in my mind, John Edwards, the "two Americas" guy who gets $400 haircuts and lives in the 28,000 square-foot mansion, is not much, if any, better in the integrity department. And it's not fair to hold Obama's less than one term in the senate against him, when Edwards has barely one, and Hillary has one and change (and both have spent some portion of that limited time running for president). Suffice it to say that we are definitely going to have a Democratic nominee with little experience this year.

The main thing in Obama's favor is that half the country won't automatically hate his guts as they would Hillary. And that, if nothing else, counts for something after 16 years of impeached Clinton and vilified Bush 43. Indeed, were there not this little war thing going on (and possibly up to 4 supreme court seats coming open in the next 4-8 years), that, in itself, might be enough.

There's also the race thing. He's perfect there--a black politician who owes no homage to the Jesse Jackson-Al Sharpton axis. He gives us all the benefit of getting over that historical hump with hardly any of the bite.

However, let's not kid ourselves about how much he would "unite" America. He gives a good speech, but he's not going to find some new middle ground on the war on terror, or abortion, or other hot-button issues. He wants us to "unite" around traditional liberal positions. NOT. GONNA. HAPPEN.

Either way, he is, if not an empty suit, at least a clean slate. Lots of folks have written their hopes and dreams on that slate. And he may fulfill them, beautifully, or he may fall flat on his face. But that has little to do with what we see on the campaign trail. A vote for Obama is a dice roll. But the Democrats had their chances--they could have chosen a Biden, or a Richardson. If he (as I think/hope) emerges from what's left of the field as the last man standing, that's the choice before us as a nation. But if my principles have to come in second, I'd rather it be to what appears to be a good, honest guy than a crook or a fraud.

New Hampshire Predictions

Like I said earlier, predictions only count if you make them BEFORE the events take place (which is one reason why the book of Isaiah is so very cool, but I digress). So here's my 2 cents on New Hampshire: Obama beats Hillary again and sails out to a big lead on the Democrat side (I think many, many Dems really are looking for an excuse to favor him over her, and Iowa should be just what the doctor ordered). And McCain edges Romney by a bit on the Republican side, with Fred Thompson beating Huckabee, who falls back to also-ran status in the more secular Granite State.

I'm still hoping for Fred to catch fire, but at this writing (and I reserve the right to revise my opinions as any pundit should), I'm seeing Romney vs. Obama, with Obama (and running mate Joe Biden) winning in a close one. And then for the next 40 years I'll get to explain to my students how I managed to miss my opportunity to vote for the first black president, not because of race, but because of the war and judges.

One more thing, and I shudder to think of it. If Obama does win the nomination, prepare for a media love-fest the likes of which has never been seen before. Many people, especially on the left, will have tons of hopes and dreams riding on this candidate of change who represents everything young, new, and of course, transcendent of race. But if he somehow goes on to lose, for whatever reason--war, judges, abortion, taxes, lack of experience, or just plain bad electoral math--we'll be subject to a wailing and gnashing of teeth of Biblical proportions. Expect the folks at Daily Kos, Huffington Post, and every other lefty blog site to tell us all how evil a racist country we are if we fail to fall to our knees and crown this 1-term senator as messiah.

Of course, I could be wrong. About all of the above. That's the fun thing about blogging. Especially when nobody reads it!

I'm Footloose and Fancy Free!

As of about 12:30 today, I'm bipedal again. Stitches out, crutches gone. The actual surgery-spot feels pretty good (a little tight and tender), but the whole foot/leg feels weird, weak, and tingly after bearing no weight for 10 days. So I have a little limp, but it's great to be able to walk. The bad news is that I can't run for 3 more weeks. The good news is that three weeks is still in late January, so I won't have to log a zero for the month.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Happy Meal

We went to the movies yesterday (for FREE--one of my students gave us free passes to the theater for Christmas), and on the way home, we succumbed to temptation and stopped for a snack at McDonalds. It was all dollar-menu stuff, but man, was it bad... and good, at the same time. The double-cheeseburgers were just the right combo of greasy and melty-cheesy, and the fries were hot and had just the right amount of salt. It was kid-food--comfortable, quick, and completely lacking in nutritional value. I went to the Mickey-D's website and found that what I had for this SNACK logged in at 1040 calories, 43 total grams of fat, 15 grams of saturated fat, 7 grams of trans fats, 80 mg of cholesterol, and 1380 mg of sodium. Ouch! I'm not sure if I'm bragging or complaining about this--it really hit the spot, taste-wise. But I know in my heart of hearts it was just an awful health choice. We don't do this often, but when we do, I always feel these same mixed emotions. And worse, it'll be another 3 weeks or so before I get a chance to do penance by running some of it off!

On another note, school starts back for all the Sal family tomorrow morning, so it's back to the grind. Posting will likely get a little lighter once I have a real job wanting 9-10 hours of each day again. But the good news is that tomorrow afternoon I see the doc and supposedly will be released from my boot!

Friday, January 4, 2008

New Year, New Tax Season!

Well, I got my copy of TurboTax 07 yesterday. I've got to do a quick turnaround on taxes each year because we have to get our completed forms in to our private school early to get in line for financial aid. So even though I haven't got any forms back from the government yet, I began playing around with the numbers (I'll revise when the real forms arrive). This is our first tax return since Mrs. Sal went back to work full-time. We need a new acronym: once we were DINKs (double-income, no kids), then we were SITCOMs (single-income, three children, oppressive mortgage). I don't know what we are now, but whatever it is, we pay more taxes. At the beginning of the new school year, I had to make a WAG (wild-a** guess) as to what our withholdings should be under this new regime. Looks like I guessed OK; this year we'll get a small refund from the feds and the state. So I guess I won't change the math until after we see how next year (the first full calendar year with two incomes) comes out.

Tax withholding floors me. It was implemented as an emergency measure during WWII so the federal government would get a steady flow of dollars. Now, of course, it's become as American as baseball and apple pie. The trick is, now that we get a paycheck with two lines (gross and "take home" pay) NOBODY has a clue how much they pay in taxes. If they still had to write a check every April, Americans might care more about the money wasted on corporate welfare, farm subsidies paid to folks living in Manhattan, and bridges to nowhere. But since our pain is doled out so gradually, we never have the wake-up call that demands fiscal responsibility from Washington.

Also, people are just plain math-dumb when it comes to withholding. Every year I hear somebody exclaim with glee, "I'm getting a $3600 tax refund check! Whoopee!!" I have to fight back the urge to kill this moron before he or she can reproduce. Hey, buddy--news flash: if you're getting BACK $3600, that means you gave the US government an interest-free loan of $300 a month out of your paycheck... a loan which they'll only pay back if you fill out their stupid forms, and on their time-table. All because you didn't have the intestinal fortitude to SAVE the $300 a month yourself. AAARGH! If you adjust your deductions, you can keep the money every month and either spend it, save it, or give it away. And if you choose to save it, you can give yourself a $3600 refund check, PLUS INTEREST, at the new year. In my perfect world, I'd owe the government $1 a year. They'd get none of my money rent-free, and it wouldn't hurt a bit to write them the check for the difference. Of course, the world isn't perfect, so I'll settle for a couple of hundred bucks in refund, just to be safe.

All that said, our current tax system isn't all bad. I know, as a conservative, I'm always supposed to favor tax cuts and hate the IRS. But in general, our current system of graduated taxes topping out at about 35%, even with all the arcane deductions, etc., is pretty good. (If it were up to me, I'd cap the top rate at 33%, on the principle that nobody should pay more than a third of their income in taxes in a nominally free country... but you have to admit we're a lot better off than when the tax rate was 70% in 1980.) If anything, I'd say our taxes are a bit too low on the bottom end. The top half of wage-earners pay something like 95% of the taxes collected. Last year, my family had (after deductions, exemptions, and 3 child tax credits) ZERO federal tax liability (not so, this year). I think everybody ought to pay at least a nominal amount of their income for the benefits of US citizenship. And certainly, a middle-class family with a brick house, 2 cars, and 3 kids in private school (albeit getting some help) should not be completely tax free. That only lends itself to the fiction that the government can give me everything I want and I can trust somebody else (the "rich") to pay for it.

All that said, I absolutely LOVE TurboTax. Several years ago I had a friend who was a CPA who did my taxes for free. His office basically used a pro version of TurboTax to knock them out in about an hour. Of course, I had to wait until after the paying customers were done. Once I had to do the hurry-up thing for school, I found I could do the same thing in an hour or so with TurboTax. This year's version cost $36 (including the state forms) at Costco. For an additional $18, I can file online and get my refund before March 1. I'll never sit down with a 1040 form, a pocket calculator, and a ballppoint pen again!

Iowa Recap

Well, the results are in. My predictions were a little off, but no worse than most of the pros. What's fun at this point is to handicap the rest of the horse-race.

On the Democrat side, the big news is that Clinton was THIRD. Obama was first, and Edwards just nipped Hillary by a point. Momentum-wise, this is a huge blow for Hillary. Expect to see a lot of movement from the Clinton camp toward the other two. But I think there's also something really, really cool about the Obama win, too. Iowa is one of the whitest states in the union. My dad used to make business trips to Cedar Rapids back in the 70's, and I remember him commenting once how odd lily-white Iowa felt compared to more racially-mixed SC. Yet here we have the black candidate out front... and it's NO BIG DEAL. This is nothing like Jesse Jackson's campaigns of the 80's. Obama has basically transcended the race issue. Part of that is, of course, due to his own charisma and his unique heritage. But I think-hope-pray that another big part is that we, as a nation, have grown up a little. I'm fond of telling my students that my parents graduated from the last two segregated classes at their high school, and watching them look at me like I'm discussing the stone age. It is encouraging to think that more than a generation has passed since those dark days, and that many adults have basically no memory of Jim Crow. Obama's front-runner status is just further evidence that we're on the right track.

On the GOP side, the big news is that Huckabee beat Romney by a wider-than-expected margin. Then Fred Thompson came in basically in a dead heat with McCain for third. All the experts say that now McCain (who is beloved in New Hampshire) beats Romney next week, while Huck gets taken seriously and has a chance to win SC. To quote Lee Corso, "not so fast, my friend!" For McCain, the Obama win hurts in NH. Many of the undecided and independent voters he needs there will likely find the Democrat race with Obama more interesting, which makes the New Hampshire GOP contest both more mainstream Republican and also more secular than Iowa. Not to say that Romney is guaranteed anything there, but he'll survive. I think the biggest winner is Fred Thompson. Mainstream Republicans want a candidate who will hold together the old Reagan coalition. That coalition has three parts: security hawks, tax-cutters, and social/religious conservatives. Most of Romney's support has come from those who begrudgingly admit that he might have the best chance of doing that. Huckabee just can't--he's weak on two of the three (and is the most beatable in the general election, as well). If the shine comes off of Romney, then it's a Fred vs. McCain contest to pick up the support he loses, and McCain gets no love from the mainstream GOP. Also, don't count out Rudy. His strategy doesn't really kick off until Florida.

So, the verdict is this: Obama has staked himself to a really good position on the Democrat side, but the Republican race is, if anything, even more up in the air than it was last week. Sadly, these first two traditional state (Iowa and New Hampshire) don't look anything like the rest of the nation in real life, and their disproportionate impact on coverage and momentum is a bit overblown. But hey, it's fun to watch!

Thursday, January 3, 2008

What I'm Reading (or not)

Mrs. Sal is getting frustrated, and rightly so, at my being an invalid. The worst part about crutches is not the loss of a leg, it's the loss of both hands. I feel like Larry the Cucumber from Veggie Tales ("Sorry, Bob, but I don't have any hands!"). As I recall, Long John Silver used ONE crutch to get around, which left his right hand free for swordplay. Well, old Long John must have been more coordinated than me (which probably 90% of the US population is).

Anyway, she's running errands, and I decided I'll clean up a bit, which is a no-handed adventure. One of my mini-projects is to clean off my bedside table. That's where the books I'm reading tend to pile up. Once the stack of books gets about a foot tall (or, like now, morphs into two or more stacks), it's time to re-shelve. Today's project involved multiple trips with a canvas bag full of books hung over my shoulder. And here, in no particular order, is what came off of the bedside table:

  • The Track & Field Coach's Survival Guide. The season is coming, and this resource never gets old. Dropping off to sleep at night while reading sample workouts for the 400 hurdles---ah, that's the life!
  • Rick Warren's The Purpose Driven Church. A friend and I were discussing this book, so I checked it out from our church library. I skimmed the parts that pertained to our conversation. It's better that Purpose Driven Life.
  • Another Christian book called Maximized Manhood, from back in the 60's. The same friend told me he had re-read the book and it had convicted him to get his spiritual act together. Needing a similar kick in the pants, I borrowed the book.
  • Pat Conroy's My Losing Season. This one was due back in the local library yesterday, so I owe somebody a quarter. I really wanted to read this one over the break, but got too busy. I'll check it out again later.
  • The Richest Man in Babylon, a short financial book by George Clason. Disguised as Babylonian fables, some of the best personal-finance advice ever written. The short version: live on less than you make, pay yourself first, have a budget, and don't be afraid of hard work. Everybody should read this.
  • Richard Hooker's MASH. This is the novel on which the movie was based, from which my favorite TV show spun off. This was a great Christmas gift from Tommy and Becky. Zipped through it in just a couple of days.
  • Steven Covey's First Things First. That's the 3rd habit of the "7 Habits of Highly Effective People." I usually review my time-management library around new year's as I get excited about my new DayTimer. Besides that, Pete was asking on this blog a couple of weeks ago about good TM books, so my interest was piqued. I grazed through the parts I wanted to refresh.
  • Hyrum Smith's The 10 Natural Laws of Successful Time and Life Management. Smith is the inventor of the Franklin Quest Day Planner (now merged with Covey's company into Franklin Covey). The first half of this book is the 2nd-best time-management resource I've read (the first is out of print).
  • Another book from the people at Franklin Quest called To Do, Doing, Done. It's a smiliar time-management book, but with a focus on project management.
  • Joe Biden's political bio, Promises to Keep. That one is a loaner from Matthew. I started it with the best of intentions, but couldn't muddle through. I already know that I like and respect Biden personally, and disagree with pretty much every political position he holds. Having that confirmed for 300 pages wasn't my idea of fun. (I do think, however, that he would make a great running mate for Obama if Obama wins the nomination).

All those either went back on the shelf or in various piles to return to their real homes. There are only two books still there, both of which I hope to get through in the near future:

  • Hardball, by Chris Matthews. Hard to believe I've never read this book in all my years of being a politics junkie. I really don't care much for Matthews on TV, but the book is one of the fundamental works of modern poli-sci, so I'm going to read it.
  • Letters to Malcolm (Chiefly on Prayer), by C.S. Lewis. I'm thinking a lot about prayer and Chrsitian disciplines right now, and Lewis is my favorite author.
  • And we can't forget The One Year Bible, which is actually not on my bedside table, but on the table by my cushy chair in the living room. I'm 3-for-3 on getting my reading done so far this year, which will mark the 8th time I've read through (if you forgive me skipping the major prophets last year).

So that's it. Notice some never got read, some got skimmed, some I read parts of, and some were used for reference. Don't think for a minute that I had a dozen books going at the same time all at a high comprehension level. But this is how I roll. I'll bet my Mom's bedside table looks pretty much the same.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

More Nerd-Blogging

My favorite Aunt points out (correctly) that I must have a lot of time on my hands to be blogging so much lately. With the foot in a cast and school still out, that's an understatement. My sister complains that my blog is basically unreadable--too much politics, and too nerdy. Again, guilty as charged. But that's what I'm thinking about right now, and I DO have all this time on my hands. So here's the first politics blog of 2008.

With the Iowa caucuses tomorrow, every pundit is making their predictions. It's probably safer to be non-commital and lay low for 24 more hours, and then pretend that I saw it all coming. But predictions are no fun that way. Here's my take on Iowa, which is no more or less guesswork than the pros. On the Democrat side, Obama edges Hillary by a little, turning what once looked like a coronation into a horse-race. John Edwards places third, but a close enough third to stick around a while. Regardless of the order, there are three tickets out of Iowa. And no matter how well he does there, Edwards is in third overall. I keep hoping for Obama in the long run--I might disagree with all his policies if he goes on to be President, but I wouldn't spend the next four years thinking he's as dishonest as Clinton or as transparently fake as Edwards. On the Republican side, I think Romney nips Huckabee (or at the very least finishes a close enough second to position himself well for the next several primaries, and deflates the Huckaboom). The big question is whether the third ticket to get punched is Fred Thompson or the resurgent John McCain. I'm thinking McCain, but hoping Thompson. Either way, both of them could do better than Huckabee in New Hampshire, setting the stage for a Thompson vs. McCain race to be the anti-Romney. I could definitely live with that scenario, no matter the outcome.

Now that a vote for anybody other than Romney does not seem to play as much into the hands of Giuliani (the social conservative's worst-case scenario), I think that I'm going to vote for Fred Thompson in the SC primary. Neither Rudy nor Huckabee is a "real" conservative (Rudy on the social issues, and Huck on just about everything else, plus he's probably the weakest general-election candidate). Any of the other three would be an acceptable nominee in the general election. The math says Romney has the best chance to emerge out of the pack, but I just plain like Fred best. His positions seem the most policy-specific and he's the most consistent conservative out there. The knock on him is that he doesn't seem to covet the job as much as the others... but for me, that's a plus, not a minus. He also just radiates common sense.

There's also my "streak" to worry about. If I vote for Romney as the "safe bet" and he goes on to win the nomination, that ends a 20-year streak of my voting for someone who eventually goes on to lose the nomination. I supported Bob Dole (YOUNG Bob Dole) over George Bush the elder in '88. I supported Lamar Alexander (anybody remember him?) over old Bob Dole in '96. And I supported a younger John McCain over George W. Bush in 2000. In every case, my guy lost, which preserved my right to complain and second-guess.

So there you have it. Let's see how my "expert" analysis holds up.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Economies of Scale

I'm not frugal. I'm cheap. And I married another cheapo. Today my wife got 5 pairs of pants at the local thrift store. But sometimes, comparing what things cost makes me crazy. Like tonight--at dinner out with my sister and her husband, we got into a conversation about whether to have a $1.99 or $4.99 dessert. Somehow having the $12 steak seemed extravagant compared to the $8 burger, but the dessert seemed no big deal. I rationalized that the 3 bucks was less than a happy meal (or about the same as a large Starbucks coffee), and I definitely figured I'd enjoy the bigger dessert that much more. In the end, cheap won out, though--Mrs. Sal and I split the $4.99 one, so it was only 50 cents more apiece.

On a similar topic--Applebees overcharges obscenely for iced tea. $2.19--for a GLASS of TEA! I didn't want a beer--but if I had, it would have been cheaper. Now, how is that possible? A six-pack of domestic beer costs $5-6. So each 12-oz bottle is maybe a buck, and they mark it up 100% to $2. You can buy enough tea bags to flood Boston Harbor for 3 bucks, and cold water comes out of the tap! How the heck do they get away with that? There's more profit margin in the tea than the entree!

I guess since I shelled out extra for dessert, I shouldn't let the tea bother me. But when you're a cheapo, things like that really rankle. At least we got "free" refills!

Family Resemblance (or, "Dude, That's Sick!")

Tonight Mrs. Sal and I had dinner with my sister and her husband. (In a previous post I called him my current brother-in-law. What I meant to say was he is currently my brother-in-law, but long before that, we were friends). Once again, I was struck by the oddity of our gene pool. I found out tonight that my sister likes a good reuben sandwich. I've somehow gone 39 years and not known that--but I, too, dig the reuben. I've already commented here about our shared silly grin (a gift from our grandfather) and the fact that we're both DayTimer nerds. Once again, it's difficult for us to deny the family connection--in spite of the fact that for years we thought we had nothing in common.

Somehow we got to talking about the book The Five Love Languages. We're studying that in my Sunday-school class right now. if you haven't read it, it's quite good. The general gist is that people tend to be "fluent" in one or more ways of saying "I love you." Sadly, we often marry people who speak a different language. So the trick is to figure out what language(s) our spouse "speaks," so we can respond in the same language. It's spookily true--and irritating. My wife says "I love you" through simple acts of service, like doing the dishes. And she hears in the same language. So if I want to send her the message that romance is in the air, I should probably do dishes. To say that's a foreign tongue to me is an understatement--and I find doing dishes pretty darned un-romantic. Well, to make a long story short, in talking about the book, we discovered that my wife and sister speak the exact same languages: acts of service, and quality time. And her husband and I also speak the same languages: words of encouragement, followed by physical touch. So on the one hand, I'm just like my sister. And on the other, I married her twin.

Years ago, I showed a friend my girlfriend's senior picture from high school. Right next to it was my sister's (same school, same class, same black drape and red rose, very similar brown eyes and hair). The friend said, "Dude, that's sick." Until then I had never noticed the similarity. As they have gotten older, they look less alike. But at 17, they were often mistaken for sisters. Ditto the reverse--my sister married a skinny, athletic, bespectacled guy that wears a flattop. Until recently, we even used the same barber. We've been mistaken for brothers.

Let's get one thing clear--the similarities are pretty superficial. In real life, if my sister and I had to live together, we'd be at each other's throats inside of ten minutes. Indeed we were, for most of the 80s when we shared an address as teenagers. But it's pretty cool that now that we are older, we can appreciate some of the other's qualities. And it does make things easier when we get together as couples that we all overlap in so many ways