Friday, December 30, 2011

Predictions for 2012

I've seen several sites here at year-end that give various predictions about the coming year.  Here's a few from me, just so I can look back and check on them later:

  • In politics, Mitt Romney will win the GOP nomination.  He will pick Marco Rubio of Florida as his running mate.  The GOP will hold the house and get a 50-50 split in the senate, with VP Rubio breaking ties (yep, that means Romney will win.  I'll say 52-48% in the popular vote, and closer in the electoral college).  However, the senate being so close will result in numerous filibusters and threats of filibusters, so we'll still have gridlock.
  • Economically, things will continue in our current stagflationary pattern.  "Recovery" on the jobs front will continue, albeit slowly, but prices will rise.  Hopefully wages will, too.  (The old line about the depression was that it really wasn't so bad... IF you had a job.)
  • In the 2012 Olympics, an American will make the finals in at least one distance event, but will not medal.  The USA 4x100 team will finally get the baton around the track, but it won't matter, as Jamaica will have a team with all three open 100 medalists on it.  The USA basketball team will have less star power than 4 years ago, but will perform better, for that very reason.
  • In football, the USC Gamecocks will be good, but fall short of this year's 11-win season (yes, that means I'm picking a bowl win on Jan 2).  I'm thinking 9 regular-season wins, with losses to LSU, Arkansas, and Florida.  We beat Georgia again, but they still win the East due to their easier schedule.  In traditional USC fashion, idiot fans will complain about 9-10 wins, not recognizing the amazing leap that has been made.  Marcus Lattimore will be a Heisman contender, but will not win.
  • Clemson will win the ACC again, and lose to USC again.  They will beat Boise State in the Orange Bowl.  Sammy Watkins will also be a Heisman contender, but will not win. 
  • The SEC will not win the national championship game, as their champion will not be IN the game.  Southern Cal will beat Ohio State, both of whom will be undefeated at the time.  The SEC champ (Alabama) will have two losses.
  • In the NBA, the Heat will not win a championship.  Neither will the Lakers.  Which is good enough for me.
  • With the Romney victory in 2012, the news media will rediscover that 8% unemployment is really not that good, and even when it drops, the slow pace of the drop and the amount that can be attributed to discouraged workers leaving the workforce will be noted.
  • The Republican party will be stupid.
  • In high school sports, my PG teams will have a rough year in football (but will be really good after a year), will be even better in basketball, will repeat as XC and volleyball champions, and will contend for a repeat title in track.  I won't call the win, but I will predict that the top two teams will be us and Orangeburg Prep.
  • Israel will bomb Iran's nuclear sites.  We will pretend that was a naughty thing.
  • Gas will cost over $4 per gallon during the summer.
  • As inflation rises, so will interest rates.  Stocks will be sluggish, but the bond market will improve.
  • An offer of statehood and peace will be made to the Palestinians.  They'll find a way to screw it up.
These are not entirely wild guesses--there is at least some element of reading the tea leaves involved.  But I'm not betting any money on them!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Resolution Time!

I took the time to look back at my resolutions for 2011, and I actually feel better about this past year than I have in a long time.  Among the things I set out to do was to read the entire New Testament in the first 75 days of the year (done, never missed a day) and to run more consistently, but without a set mileage goal (but with the understanding that 500 was the baseline).  The running is a point of great pride--As of today, with 5 days still to go, I not only have run 729 miles in 165 runs, I am on pace to break my previous all-time log record of 744 miles and 169 runs, set in the year 2000.  This has been the most consistent I have ever been, and has paid off with good racing; I ran an-age-adjusted personal best for 5k this October.  Imagine that!  Run more, longer, and more often, and race better.  Who would have guessed?  I also put on paper (pixels) the audacious goal of trying to win a state championship in track.  We did it, and in dramatic fashion.  As a matter of fact, in just a little over a year we've won back-to-back-to-back titles (cross-country in fall of 2010, track in spring of 2011, cross-country in fall of 2011).  Obviously, a great deal of that has to be credited to the athletes--I'd never even set such a goal without a terrific roster.  And even more credit goes to my friend and co-coach Hugh, who is XC/distance coach.  It's his kids who have done the heavy lifting in terms of scoring.  But my satisfaction level is quite high.  I don't know if I've ever worked harder on a track season, and the payoff was amazing.  As a bonus, one of the results of all this success was a complete renovation of our track facility which I've been wanting for nearly a decade.

However, not everything was smooth sailing.  I intended to blog more (and didn't).  I intended to spend less time online and more reading "real" books.  That was a non-starter.  I wanted to be more thoughtful about my use of time while I was home, but instead spent too much time online or holding down a sofa.  All of those were related--the things I did best were functions of discipline and consistency.  The things I did worst were those in which I showed the least discipline and most auto-pilot.  I'll also add that after my initial 75-day Bible reading success, I had spotty results in my daily devotions, and my prayer life has been just a mess.  I've been getting up at 5:30 daily with the intention of having my quiet time, but have managed to spend up to an hour and a half reading "news," most of which is the same opinions rehashed over and over.

So, here's the plan for 2012:

  • I'm going back to my old Day-Timer (actually a Franklin Covey planner), and having a daily period of planning, prayer, and study.  I also want to journal.
  • I'm cutting back on the web-surfing.  I've already deleted a bunch of bookmarks that were on my "daily" list.
  • I'm going to "discuss" less on facebook and message boards.  If I want to write out my thoughts, I'll do it here.
  • I think having my Nook is going to help me read more that's not online.
  • I want to keep up the momentum I've gained running.  With only two years of 700+ miles in the past 13, it seems a stretch to plan on a third, but I'm putting it out there. 
  • I want to spend more time and effort managing our family budget.  (We do really well on this, but often "wing it."  With my oldest starting college, I'd like to be more hands-on.)
  • I want to have more frequent and more intentional "date nights."  Ann and I started doing some of this recently, and it's been great.
  • We're also going to try to defend that state championship in track.  It'll be even harder this season, and after this year's graduation may become impossible.  But the bar has been raised.
That should be about enough.  Anybody else have big plans?

Monday, December 26, 2011

What I'm Reading

I put together a few gift cards and got a Nook for Christmas.  Very cool.  This means I can have the usual dozen books on my bedside table but not have the stack so high.  The best part is that most of the books I have downloaded are free or very cheap.  Here's what's on tap to start the year.  First, the hardcopies:

Modern Times, by Paul Johnson.  (moving slowly through this one.)
My Utmost for His Highest, by Oswald Chambers (trying to do a 1-page devo before bed nightly.)
The Tangible Kingdom, by Hugh Halter (a book on rethinking church that Ann passed my way.)

Then come the ones on Nook that I'm actually currently reading:

The Bible
EntreLeadership, by Dave Ramsey (I actually paid for this one!)
Game Plan for Life, by Joe Gibbs (an old Promise Keepers book that was free.)
Matthew Henry's Method for Prayer (also free!)
Orthodoxy,  by G.K. Chesterton.

Finally, the ones I have downloaded and not looked at yet:

The Everlasting Man, by G.K. Chesterton
St. Francis of Assisi, by G.K. Chesterton (see a theme?  Lots of free Chesterton!)
The Art of War, by Sun Tzu

Between the Nook and a booklight that came from my daughter, I'm set in the evenings for the near future.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Ranking Obama

One of the things I do in my modern US history class is talk about relative rankings of US presidents.  You may have seen some of the buzz lately over President Obama's statement in his recent CBS interview (it got edited out of what was on TV, but the transcript and unedited tape is now going around) that his domestic and foreign policy accomplishments put him in the top 4 presidents (after Lincoln, FDR, and LBJ).  Obviously, plenty of right-wing bloggers have engaged in some snark over that, and rightly so.  It's the sort of thing that, even if true, one should never say about himself.  But let's step back, take off any bias, and think about the claim as objectively as possible.  Where will Obama rank?

Let's begin with a metric. "Great" presidents are seen as successful in three areas: foreign policy, domestic policy, and political success. Note than none of these things evaluates whether I personally agree with their goals, only that they achieve (and are recognized for) success in them.

In foreign policy, Obama won the Nobel prize, but has the asterisk for the fact that he won it mostly for not being Bush (as the nominations were due literally 2 weeks after his inauguration). He also has wound down the Iraq war, albeit on the timetable arranged by Bush before his term ended, and has seen the death of Osama on his watch. You might argue that some of his "successes" involve keeping Bush-era policies he once vilified (Gitmo, rendition, predator strikes, even the Libya excursion), or that some of what he has done will backfire later. But for now, he gets credit there, if only for a "Nixon to China" scenario.

Domestically, the health care bill is a signature achievement, but faces either legislative repeal or judicial review still, and has yet to go into full effect. If it survives, it'll be big. On the economic front, the story has been pretty terrible. We can argue that it will improve and he'll get the credit, or that it would have been worse without him. But neither of those gets him any credit currently.

Politically is tougher. There are bonus points for being the first black president. Also for winning the highest percentage of the popular vote of any Democrat since LBJ. But he hasn't won reelection yet. If he does, he gets some serious points. If not, he is almost certainly relegated to the bottom half of the presidential pile. You also have to ask, "at what cost?" Bush 43 won reelection, but damaged his party's brand so badly that he put them in the doghouse going forward. That's very different than someone like Reagan, who set the table for his successor.

Once all the scores are in, here's the math of it. Only 16 men have won two elections. One of those is Nixon, so he drops below the one-termers. You probably can drop William Henry Harrison and James Garfield from the rankings due to their very short terms, and maybe Ford, as well. That leaves only 40 men to rank (since Grover Cleveland served twice). That means top 10 is also top 25%.

Top 5 are completely untouchable. That's the 4 guys on Rushmore and FDR. Next 5 or so has to include Reagan, Truman, Ike, Andy Jackson, James K. Polk, Woodrow Wilson, Madison, and Monroe, in any order you like. That gets you to 12, and you haven't even hit JFK yet. Some of these guys we may disagree on (I personally dislike Wilson, since he was a serious racist and since his win in WWI was combined with a "loss" of the postwar process that set the stage for WWII). I know others have issues with Jackson, Polk, and even Reagan. But you can't slice this list in such a way not to fill out the top quarter of all presidents with serious heavy-hitters who won wars, won landslides, and transformed their parties for generations (whether you like the party or not).

Barring some event that gives Obama a chance to shine on a huge stage that none of us would like to see (like a big war), I think that even if he maxes out his potential, he can't get much better than 15th. (Behind all of the above, JFK, Cleveland, maybe LBJ.) And that's not bad--it's a pretty deep field. If he doesn't get reelected, or worse, if some of the worst-case scenarios for him play out (loses reelection, Iraq goes south, health care gets repealed, economy stays crummy), he could easily get ranked in the high 20's.

I don't think there's much he could do to get worse than that, barring some scandal. There's a pretty firm floor down in the mid-30s with Carter, Hoover, Nixon, Andrew Johnson, Harding, Pierce, and Buchanan. The media and academia loves him--he can have a Carter-like tenure and still get better press clippings.

Please note--none of this reflects my personal politics.  There's no judgment based on whether I like or dislike any of these men's policies.  I hate the Lakers, and detest Kobe Bryant.  But I also recognize that he is one of the best players in the game.  I'd love to hear from both conservative and liberal friends about whether they think I'm being fair here.

Perhaps after a couple of comments from the usual suspects I'll add some more personal editorializing in the comments.  I've got plenty of opinion on this topic, but don't want to take away from what I hope is a pretty academic blog post.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Hard Work

I don't know why this article amuses me so, but it does.  It's a young journalist's account of working 3 weeks at Starbucks in NY.  She makes it sound like the gulag.  I don't want to be one of those old people who one-ups every story of hardship (that's my dad's job).  But when I turned 16 and was eligible to get a job, there was never a time from then on that I didn't work.  And until I finished grad school and began teaching and coaching (which is terrific, but is certainly not a 9-to-5), I worked some of the "worst" jobs imaginable.  I started off washing dishes and peeling hundreds of pounds of shrimp in a local restaurant at $3.35 an hour (minimum wage back then).  Then I got a job driving a school bus for $5 per hour.  For a short time I doubled up and did both, then traded the shrimp-peeling for bagging groceries and stocking shelves at Winn-Dixie (back to minimum wage, but more hours).  I eventually got up to almost 4 bucks there.  Then I worked at a lumber yard building wood trusses.  (That's where I lost the end of my thumb in a multi-bladed component saw.)  In college I interned in the USC legal department, which was a great job, but helped convince me that I really didn't want to go to law school, after all.  The summer before I got married, I went to a temp agency and asked for whatever they could give me that paid the most so I could actually afford a honeymoon.  There were some pretty ugly day-labor gigs (the one that stands out was working on a loading dock unloading 55-gallon drums that had previously contained something really nasty... in a driving rain).  But the big payday came when a local plastics factory realized that they had been low-bidder on a government contract to build fiberglass buoys for the navy, and that the job was so terrible they didn't want their own people to do it.  Almost $8 per hour, but I lost about 8 pounds per day in water weight, and every t-shirt I owned was eventually discarded due to the fiberglass particles they picked up.  That's in addition to the chemical fumes and burns (we wore goggles and masks while working).  After the wedding, in grad school I never worked less than 2 jobs (the legal gig and a graduate assistantship in the admissions office), and sometimes as many as 4 (those two, a night job in the student health center, and a brief research assistantship).  Sometimes I still have nightmares that I have showed up at the wrong workplace, and it's usually one of those (and sometimes the lumber yard for some odd reason).  Of course, all of that was in addition to a full courseload in grad school, and the first semester also involved resolving an incomplete on my undergrad honors thesis.

But here's the thing--at the time I never thought it was bad.  Perhaps I didn't know any better.  Maybe it was because gas in my '78 Mustang was worth it.  I never thought, "this builds character" or anything like that.  Looking back at my old Day-Timers I am amazed at the schedule I kept, but only because middle-aged me couldn't keep up with it.  I do know that now it provides some perspective.  Even after 18 years of teaching, I still feel blessed to get paid to do something I really enjoy.  And even in those weeks when a couple of away trips on the bus stretch the work-week out to 70 hours, I'm glad that my idea of "overtime" is coaching high school sports and not delivering pizzas.

The world has changed.  My oldest son is 17 and has never held a "real job."  He earns some money working at school for the athletic department (running the scoreboard for JV games and such), but it's hard to walk into a grocery store and ask for a job when you have to say, "but I have basketball practice and play practice and every other kind of commitment under the sun 24-7."  As soon as the spring musical is over, he'll be working (working for pay, I mean--he has worked very hard at lots of unpaid stuff).  I'm afraid this young lady who wrote the article just grew up in a time when busting your butt at Starbucks represents an unusual level of hardship.  Maybe it's not her fault.  But it's another example of the ongoing wussification of America.  If you read the article, check out some of the comments, too.  They are alternately amusing and maddening.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Political Update

My buddy Mike asked not long ago, "have you picked a candidate yet?"  I answered, "Yes, but I hate to spoil a blog post by telling you."  So, just to keep anyone from dying of curiosity, here's my pre-primary voting plan.

First of all, I'm off the Cain Train.  Not because of the allegations of infidelity--I still have zero clue as to whether any or all of those are true.  But his inability to ever get a clue on foreign policy finally convinced me that he's like the dog that accidentally caught the car and had no idea what to do with it.

Secondly, although I still believe deep down that Perry must be better in real life than he is on TV, at the end of the day, you can't do a job if you can't get the job.  It's like those poor guys who still think Oklahoma State should be in the national championship.  They maybe should--but they blew it against IOWA freaking STATE.  Likewise, Perry can't tank in three consecutive debates and expect to somehow make it to the big game.

So, like everybody else, I'm stuck with Romney vs. Gingrich.  Neither is exactly my cup of tea.  Either one could eventually make me regret my decision.  But I'm going to stick with Romney.  Here's the tortured logic--both of them suffer from a similar political affliction.  They think they are the smartest guys in the room (and with some justification), and that they can operate the levers of government to make things work better than anybody else.  As such, they are going to make small-government conservatives wince.  I don't know which one will disappoint me the most politically, but I feel safe saying that neither one is in any way safer than the other.  I actually lean toward thinking that Romney's political opportunism may work to my advantage in the current environment, as he is going to need to pander to the conservatives (and he's an expert when it comes to pandering).  To quote Milton Friedman: "The trick is not to elect the right people; it is to create an environment where even the wrong people find it in their interest to do the right thing." 

But the deal-breaker for me is personal integrity.  At the end of the day, when either or both lets me down in a political sense, I don't want to have to look back and admit I compromised and voted for the guy with two ex-wives.  Yes, Newt has asked for forgiveness.  And converted to Catholicism.  And a bunch of other stuff which should mitigate the situation.  That's fine--and if he were a much, much better candidate than Romney, I might even be tempted to accept that.  But he's not better--or at least not enough better to make me willing to sell out on such a significant matter.

That said, whichever gets the nomination will earn my vote in the general election.  My conscience will not ache at all over voting for even a flawed pro-life conservative over an apparently happily-married pro-choice liberal.  If the liberal in question also has his own admitted past moral failings (like cocaine use), that only makes it easier.  But for now I'm sticking with the guy who has had the same wife for 40+ years, who hasn't recently changed religions (nor apparently embraced any particular flavor of theology for political advantage), and whose idea of a stiff drink is chocolate milk.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Cain, In Context

So, now we've got this woman who claims to have been sexually assaulted by Cain.  Not harassed, but assaulted--unwanted physical touching of an intimate nature, and with a level of crudity that surpasses any simple flirtation.  And, to be clear, even if there WERE "only" simple flirtation,  that would still be the kiss of death for me when dealing with a fellow who was (and is) not just married, but a minister.


Yeah, there's a but.  If it's true, it's damning.  And I may have to eat crow down the road on this.  But I still don't think it's true.  We have a case of he-said, she-said.  No witnesses, no evidence.  We have affadavits that she told two people long ago that she felt uncomfortable, but provided no details (I cannot imagine my wife or girlfriend saying something like that and me just blowing it off).  We have this story which is so darned weird--it seems like the whole scene could have been cut from some low-budget caricature of a documentary on sexual harassment.  If you told me he had tried to steal a kiss, or whisper in her ear, or something like that, maybe.  But straight for the crotch?  Dude, I don't know any 17-year-olds whose game is that bad.  And we've got the woman's personal history of terminations, lawsuits, bankruptcy, even dishonesty over paternity... and the presence of Gloria Allred.  Any one or two of these would draw a presumption of his innocence from me.  The preponderance of all of them is enough to send up a host of red flags.

But, they say, this is woman #4 (or is it 5?).  But it's not.  We have non-specific allegations of unspecified complaints, resulting in teeny-tiny settlements by a third party (settlements of a sort that indicates nothing, in most cases).  Even what little we have heard, "gestures of a non-sexual nature," doesn't make any darned sense.  I just can't string this guy up on such flimsy evidence.  And some of the "gotcha" stuff doesn't do anything for me.  When I read, "he said her story was 100% false, but they really DID meet!"  I don't see that as bad at all.  I think anyone with a middle school command of the English language can understand that he is denying the allegations of misconduct, and not claiming that the woman's every word is false, right down to "and" and "the."

However, here's what I'm NOT going to do.  Despite the completely blatant double-standard involved, I'm not going to defend him on the grounds that it wasn't "really" harassment based on some legalistic parsing of the word.  I'm not going to claim that it's OK because he complied with the Clinton "one free grope" rule, and quit after she said to stop.  I'm not going to say that he was only flirting, or that perhaps somehow the woman involved led him on and then pulled a bait and switch.  If Herman Cain, a married Christian man, made a pass, crude or otherwise, at this woman, then he is done, in my book.

Sadly, I don't think that's the case, at least not yet.  But it won't matter.  Without the help of a compliant media like Clinton had, this charge, even if proven 100% untrue, is fatal to Cain's campaign.  I'm reminded of Casey Stengel's famous quote about baseball: "Can't anybody around here play this game anymore?"  I think he would be a good vice-president.  But it's not going to happen.

Maybe I'll take another look at Gingrich.  For years I've always said he was unelectable because of demanding a divorce from his dying-of-cancer wife while she was in the hospital.  Now it turns out that the story on that was completely false (once again, the lie can circle the globe before the truth laces up its boots).  Otherwise, we're looking at Romney.  Ugh.

Friday, November 4, 2011

The Cain Train

I've got a few thoughts on Herman Cain and the GOP race that are not really suitable for Facebook.  And since my buddy Kim says I need to blog more, here's an attempt.

First of all, this "sexual harassment" charge against Cain is terribly frustrating.  For starters, I do not buy the argument that there is any racial component to it.  There is, however an obvious party/ideological component.  While it may be arguable that Cain (like Rubio) represents a unique threat on account of his race, and therefore is even more in need of a good Borking, I do not believe for a second that a white Republican would get treated any differently.  If similar rumors swirled around Perry, Romney, or whoever, I am sure they would get the same treatment.  However, a Democrat (regardless of race) would not.  The evidence for this should be obvious: witness the wagon-circling and covering for not only Bill Clinton, but also John Edwards, and even Anthony Weiner (who, by the way, would possibly have gotten away with it if his name had been Anthony Smith).

The most frustrating thing is that the charges so far are without a single detail.  There was an unspecified charge, and a realtively small settlement.  Apparently there may have been "gestures of a not overtly sexual nature that caused discomfort."  I don't have a clue what that means.  I just cannot imagine any legitimate media source giving airtime or column space to a similar story about Barack Obama.  The double-standard never fails to rile me up.

That said, if there really is any fire to go with the smoke, I don't want him, double standard or not.  Yes, I know that Bill Clinton paid $800k to settle with Paula Jones over a genuine sexual harrassment lawsuit that had specific charges of behaviors that could not possibly be any kind of misunderstanding.  And yes, I know that he not only survived his impeachment trial, but left office with a 60% approval rating and now enjoys elder statesman status, even though there were even credible allegations of rape against him.  I also know that JFK and FDR were notoriously unfaithful to their wives, and wound up with their profiles on coins.  But that does not mean that I therefore want that to be the standard.  Even if Cain's problems came out through dirty pool, if he really is a lecherous old man, he won't get my vote.  But I also won't throw him under the bus just yet.  The law of sexual harassment is pretty crazy--as a teacher, I sit through annual updates on exactly where the lines are.  Intent doesn't matter, and the standard of a "reasonable person" doesn't matter.  If a "reasonable woman" can be made uncomfortable, even by an innocent compliment, you can be in trouble.  So I'm withholding judgment on this issue for now.

But this issue is not what bugs me about Cain.  What bugs me is that he's Ross Perot.  He is a good businessman, and folksy, and likeable.  And in a time when the professional politicians have so obviously screwed the pooch, that makes him very attractive.  But he is a rank amateur.  He apparently has not given 5 minutes thought to some of the key issues that would be key components of his job description were he to actually win--things like... all of foreign policy.  I'm sorry, I think the current occupant of the White House should be fair warning to us that the presidency ought not to be an entry-level job.

And if it's not Cain, it's probably Romney.  I really don't care much for Romney.  Maybe it's the perfect hair, or the fact that he comes across as a guy (like George Bush 41) who was born to the job.  Maybe it's the fact that he seems like Bill Clinton--a guy who will do or say anything the focus groups tell him if it will help him become president.  And mostly it's because I feel like he's just another "progressive" with a different ideology--that he'll still be willing to use the heavy hand of government to manage every facet of our lives.  It's still tyranny, but he's just a tyrant from the party I like better.  Bah!  I'd like to quote St. Ron: "In the current crisis, government is not the solution to our problems.  Government IS the problem."

Yet Romney does seem to be squeaky clean.  And perhaps if he is going to govern by opinion poll, maybe the polls of the current population will lead him to do the right things.  Maybe we can get Romney with Cain as Veep (assuming no bombshells).  I could imagine Cain's instincts being a good check on Romney's pragmatism, and Romney's wonkery more than making up for Cain's inexperience.  It's like Rocky and Adrian: "She got gaps, and I got gaps.  But together, we ain't got gaps."  And I feel certain that Cain is not too week for the second spot.  After all.... JOE BIDEN.  Nuff said.

Monday, July 4, 2011

The NY Gay Marriage Business

So long as I'm rolling, here's a few brain-droppings in reference to the recent decision by New York to allow "Gay Marriage."  On the one hand, this time I'm more-or-less OK with the outcome, at least in terms of the process.  The new rule was made by the duly elected legislature (even in bipartisan fashion), rather than by judicial fiat.  In that sense, I can accept the new status as simply another law with which I disagree, much like the 16th, 17th, and 26th amendments.  The people have spoken, and if they (we) have chosen poorly, well, they (we) get what we deserve.

That said, I still am not very happy with the process on a macro level.  Much ink (pixels) has been spilled remarking on the fact that this particular decision was embraced by Republicans, and that recently, for the first time, polls indicate that upwards of half of Americans now approve of gay marriage.  I feel like this evolution has been the result of some rather dishonest tactics.  Way back when the Supreme Court decided the famous Lawrence v. Texas decision that overturned Texas' anti-sodomy law, Justice Scalia said in his dissent that this would lead directly to redefining marriage.  "Relax," traditionalists were told.  It's not going to happen.  Don't be paranoid.  Later, when traditionalists were interested in a Constitutional Amendment to define marriage (at a time when they might have had the votes... or at least were a lot closer than we are now), we got the same story.  Don't worry--the Defense of Marriage Act makes that unnecessary.  Not long after there were court challenges to DOMA.  And the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (itself a pro-gay law when Clinton signed it, as it removed the threat of dishonorable discharge from discreet gays).  When traditionalists opposed Civil Unions as a back-door to eventual gay marriage, same story.  Until, of course, the tide turned, and Civil Unions could be held up as the modern-day "separate but equal."

And why DID the tide of opinion turn?  Every incremental step was hailed as a victory for tolerance and equality and modernity.  Hollywood, of course, did their part.  If you were to extrapolate from popular TV and movies, you would think that gays make up 20-30% of the population instead of a tenth of that.  And when there were setbacks, the pro-gay side simply regrouped and charged the same hills again and again.  The California Proposition 8 story is illustrative here.  Every time the traditionalists won, the goal posts were moved.  But this NY outcome is seen simply as the voice of the people, which should be final.  I don't mind losing fair and square (well, I do mind, but I have learned to be polite about it), but I don't know of anybody who can smile when they lose a rigged game.  Furthermore, the way we've gotten to this point does not do much for my confidence about any assurances given now.  This NY law has a "religious freedom" clause.  I'm sure that helped it pass.  And considering the sum total of what has gone before, I don't doubt that it will be jettisoned as soon as the deed can be plausibly done.

Having said all of that, I think it's important to note that I don't oppose gay marriage only, or even primarily, on religious grounds.  (With the one exception to that statement being that I foresee an eventual 14th vs. 1st Amendment face-off, and worry that there will eventually be limits placed on religious freedom when the young, hip, and cool gay-rights group wins out against old, boring, and square Christendom.)  My big problem with re-defining marriage is that I think it is bad in the long run for society.  I think the undermining of the traditional marriage relationship accelerates the decline of families and therefore society.  We've already done plenty of damage with no-fault divorce and the complete loss of shame over illegitimacy.  Gay "marriages" are many times more likely to not be exclusively monogamous.  And once the door is thrown open to same-sex marriage, what prevents consensual adult incest, polygamy, or even straight roommates declaring themselves "married" for the purposes of tax or probate law?  Please don't insult my intelligence by acting like there's no chance of that--that's what was said so long ago about gay marriage, and look where we are.

But who cares, after all?  Isn't this simply about people's rights to love whoever they want?  Doesn't equality trump all?  I guess nowadays it does.  But for most of the last 5000 years, marriage was not a license to have state-approved whoopie.  It was about creating families and raising children.  Marriage was what civilized men--making sure that they would protect and provide for their offspring rather than moving on to do what nature and biology wired them to do, which is impregnate as many fertile females as possible.  We've already come close to destroying that model of civilization; why would we want to drive a stake through its heart?

I don't dislike gay people.  Indeed, I don't like OR dislike any particular demographic group.  I like a great many gay individuals, and dislike some, as well.  I don't see this particular sin as being any worse than any other one (funny that we all too often are just fine with our hetero friends having sex outside of marriage, yet want to point fingers at gays as if their sin were more heinous).  I'll even go so far as to say that sins of the flesh are probably a lot less corrosive than my own pride, snobbery, and hypocrisy.  And when (and it's when, not if) this issue finally comes into my own circle of friends, I'll be nice about it.  But I'll still think it's a bad idea.  Lots of bad ideas have become law.  (The lottery pops to mind!)  Please don't assume I'm some sort of bigot for thinking this is one of them.

One More Stray Thought on Economics

Wouldn't it be nice if we could truly run an economic experiment on the various philosophies out there without paying huge consequences for being wrong?  With children, it's good to let them fail sometimes in order to learn the right lessons.  (One of my favorite coaching quotes is, "Pain is God's way of saying, 'not like that, dummy!'")  But I am unwilling to sit by and let my kids learn potentially fatal lessons the hard way.

Same thing with econ.  I believe in my principles--if I didn't, I'd change them.  But I'm willing to accept the possibility that I could be wrong.  How to test and find out, though?  Part of me would love to say, "Fine.  Let's try it your way."  And then when what I think are the inevitable results of bad math happen, my position would be vindicated.  (Or the reverse!)  Provided that we didn't wreck the whole Republic in the process, it might even be worth the pain.

However, the catch is that we pseudo-smart folks keep gaming the results.  "Yes, the economy was good under Clinton, but only because of the GOP congress."  "Bush caused the bottom to fall out of the economy.  NO!  It was Pelosi and Reid!"  "Yeah, the stimulus didn't stimulate anything, but it would have been even worse if we hadn't done it."  It's like dealing with conspiracy freaks (and I mean both sides).  Every single piece of evidence supports our own positions, including the ones that don't!

I guess the other big problem is that the true consequences of bad math take lots of time to play out.  Look at the whole housing bubble thing... it looked SO good from about 1995-2006, while the whole time the fuse was burning down.  


Debt and Taxes

I keep thinking I should say (write) something about the whole debt ceiling business.  I've got a few semi-connected thoughts on the topic, most of them more about the process than the philosophical side.  First of all, I think that the political gamesmanship just stinks.  Even if we were to hit the ceiling, the secretary of the treasury can prioritize payments so that the most important stuff gets done first.  All of the scare tactics about a national default are just that.  However, the political calculus is that if it comes to that, Tim Geithner would be politically smarter to hold up soldiers' pay or social security checks rather than cutting a penny of mohair subsidies, corporate welfare, or any other non-essential services.  I understand how it works, but it's a great deal like a hostage situation.

Secondly, the whole notion that we can't make any spending cuts without tax increases irks me, as well.  I seem to recall very recently we had a chance to revert back to the Clinton-era tax rates.  Indeed, doing nothing would have caused that to automatically happen.  But congress passed, and the president signed, an extension of the Bush cuts.  It was the politically smart thing to do at the time.  Now, it's expedient to repudiate that particular cynical move.  Leaving aside whether or not taxes ought to go up, the process side hacks me off.

As for whether we really SHOULD raise taxes, that's a bit of a loaded question.  I think the underlying premise ought to be that we should be willing to pay for the govenment we have.  Since currently we are running trillion-dollar deficits, either spending should come down, taxes should go up, or a combination.  That much is simple.  And it seems so perfectly reasonable that since one side hates spending cuts and the other hates tax hikes, then splitting the difference and sharing the pain would constitute compromise.

BUT--there is one little detail muddying the waters.  If raising rates resulted in direct increases in revenue, that would make pretty good sense.  But plenty of data exists that tax revenue is far more dynamic than that.  There is a concept called Hauser's Law which suggests that, regardless of rates, the post-WWII USA has never managed to generate more than 19.5% of GDP in taxes.  So it seems like what we ought to do is find the best way to get that optimum revenue (and additionally maximize GDP), while bringing spending to the same level.  That might still mean we can, even should, change our rate structure.  But the notion that we can just confiscate enough cash through taxation to cover spending at current levels doesn't hold much water.  There's also the issue of timing--whether any tax hike, no matter how necessary, would further cripple our fragile economic recovery.  If we lower GDP far enough, even taking 25% (or 30%, or 50%) of it won't make a difference. (And as a matter of math, that's part of our problem right now--we're underperforming Hauser's Law due to the recession we've been in, with spending at about 24% of GDP and revenue in the 15% range.)

I do happen to think we need tax reform.  Perhaps the debt-ceiling debate could include a provision to undertake that in a big way after immediate cuts and an increase in the ceiling happen now.  The current rates WILL revert back to the Clinton levels in 2 years if left alone, after all.  But there's zero chance of getting the kind of reform we need in the next month.  And the reform we need isn't going to be pretty.  The only real way to raise the kind of revenue we really need is to hike taxes on everybody, including the middle class.  Currently nearly half of all taxpayers have zero income tax liability, and the vast majority of total revenue is derived from the very top earners.  Most have heard that the top 1% pay 40% of taxes.  But the top 10% of earners pay about 70% of total taxes, and the top half pay over 95%.  For all the talk of millionaires and billionaires and people who make $250k, we could honestly confiscate every penny those folks earned and still not balance the budget. 

I'm not one of those supply-siders who thinks that every tax cut pays for itself.  I believe that the Laffer Curve is correct--that a zero percent tax yields zero revenue, and that a 100% tax also yields zero revenue (by killing the economic activity being taxed).  And therefore, that if tax rates are "too low," they can be raised to increase revenue--and also that if they are "too high," the reverse should be true.  I don't really think our current top rate of 35% is "too high" if we're talking about maximizing revenue.  (This leaves aside the moral question of whether tax rates should have a moral upper limit.)  But I do not think we can ever solve our fiscal problems without broadening the tax base.

Finally, I'm skeptical of any deal that doesn't cut spending first.  If memory serves, Reagan's big tax cut back in '81 was supposed to be at least partially offset by spending cuts, but the cuts didn't exactly materialize as planned.  Ditto Bush 41 when he broke his "read my lips" pledge in '88.  Even during the Clinton surplus years, the surplus was a combination of increased revenue from the dot-com boom and the "peace dividend" at the end of the Cold War.  But the overall size and cost of government never came down.  (Indeed, the debt never came down, either--but that's another interesting accounting story.)  We all know that taxes can be raised with the stroke of a pen, or even by inertia thanks to current sunset provisions.  What we haven't proven yet is that we are willing or able to cut spending.  So let's do that--eat the veggies first, and then dessert for a change.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Handicapping the 2012 GOP Field

The silly season is upon us--time to pick a candidate to run for president against Barack Obama.  It's amusing to watch all the pundits bloviating about who does and does not have a chance.  I might as well do my own bloviating.  At least by putting these predictions out here early, I earn the right to say "told you so" in the off-chance that I am right.  In the far more likely case that I am dead wrong, at least I'll be in good company.

For starters, Huckabee, Trump, and Daniels are out.  Trump was a clown from the beginning.  I'm happy to see Huck go; his personal charisma and evangelical bona fides would have made him too much of a spoiler, and almost certainly would have resulted in what I would consider one of the worst scenarios coming to pass.  I wasn't a huge Daniels fan, but I have to admit that a guy who chooses not to run because he's unwilling to put his wife through the hassle is probably more qualified, character wise, than some of these folks who have wanted to be president since middle school.

Technically, Mitt Romney and Michelle Bachman are not in yet, but most folks expect them to be.  The Jury is still out on Sarah Palin.  If I'm Palin, I don't run.  I've blogged previously on my feelings about Palin, but from a pure math perspective, she occupies the same electoral space as Bachman and Herman Cain.  Even if she comes out on top in that semi-final bracket, it cripples her chances against the more "mainstream" or "establishment" side.  If I were her, I'd get behind Cain and try to play kingmaker.  (More on him later.)

Bachman is basically the "poor man's Palin," but I don't give her much chance.  She's already been pilloried as stupid in the media (despite her multiple law degrees), and doesn't have a big enough megaphone (like a Palin or a Cain) to fight back against that.  She's also widely known as a "tea party candidate," but most tea partiers like Cain a lot better.

So what about Cain?  I like him.  A lot.  The knock on him is that he is the novelty candidate who cannot win, largely due to his lack of prior elected office.  This disregards the fact that he has MUCH more genuine executive experience than either of the nominees last time, and also that just one cycle ago we elected a novelty candidate who had been a senator for about 14 minutes, 8 of which were spent campaigning for president.  All the "smart" people saying he has no chance also act like Huntsman is a serious candidate, which says more about their own so-called smarts than it does about Cain's qualifications.  If he can get the "tea party" populist side of the ticket to unite behind him, especially if he gets a Palin endorsement, he becomes a really interesting factor.  At the very least, he could wind up VP.

That leaves the more mainstream folks.  Romney, Pawlenty, Gingrich, and Huntsman.  Let's start with Gingrich: not a chance.  Done. Toast.  Even before his most recent gaffe-fest, the whole embrassing soap opera personal life made him toxic.  He will be interesting in the debates, though.

Huntsman keeps popping up as the flavor of the month for "sophisticated" folks.  I don't get it.  If you want a RINO with good hair, there's Romney.  I think the only reason anybody is talking about Huntsman is that nobody knows enough about him yet.  Once we know him as well as the others, we'll dislike him, too.

Romney is the heir-apparent in the sense that he lost the last time.  He's also got good looks, crossover appeal, business sense, a history of good management, and a ton of money to spend.  Unfortunately, he's also got Romneycare as an albatross around his neck.  If not for that, he could overcome the "Ken doll" vibe and the overall sense of RINO squishiness.  And perhaps if that were his only weakness, he could finesse it somehow.  But the combination is fatal.  I think all those who have annointed him the front-runner completely fail to understand the tea party phenomenon.  Indeed, if he emerges as the nominee, unless he somehow manages to get a Cain or a Palin as a running mate (darned unlikely), he may be the last Republican nominee--the populist wing would likely split.

That leaves Pawlenty.  He's boring.  But boring can be good!  We've had a celebrity/demigod president, and how's that working out?  We have our own drama queen (Palin), and I think most folks can do without that.  Indeed, if you go back all the way to the Clinton years, we're coming up on 20 straight years of the president being flatly hated by near half of the US population.  I think a boring, wonky, "Minnesota Nice" candidate could be a welcome change from that.  He's got solid executive experience, has demonstrated that he can do budget math, and has a solid conservative record without being a firebrand.  He's evangelical without giving off the Huckabee televangelist vibe (and yet also hasn't run away from social issues like Daniels did with the "truce" idea).  I think on the "establishment" side of the bracket, he probably emerges as the un-Romney, and unlike Romney, can plausibly reach out to the tea party side.

At the end, I'll bet we get Pawlenty, preferably with Cain at the bottom of the ticket.  But the other direction would suit me fine, too.


I love oxymorons.  Jumbo shrimp.  Icy hot.  ACC football.  All good fun!  But I was thinking last week about how we Americans often want things that simply cannot go together.  The push that got this ball rolling was serving as a driver for some nice folks from our local homeless shelter to a free activity at a children's museum.  (Lest you think that my own stony heart came up with this idea, no, my lovely bride was the one who volunteered, but I was happy to be involved.)  Just conversing with a couple of moms and their kids on the ten-minute ride was perplexing.  If you've read this intermittent blog all the way back to the beginning, you know that I struggle trying to balance the requirements of my faith with the realities of this fallen world.  As a Christian, I want to help the poor, but as a teacher of history and economics, I often wonder if our "help" does any good, or even harm.  Well, as I listened to these very-nice folks, what struck me is that they seem completely incapable of making economic and lifestyle decisions in their own best interest.  If only I could help them--not just with a ride, or a handout, or a job, or a place to stay--but with guidance, with the ability to learn from others' mistakes, with boundaries.  I support my children, but I also get a say (the deciding say) in their decision-making.  If I pay the rent, and I buy the groceries, then I also get to make the rules.  But we don't want that for our poor.  We want to help them economically, but not take away any of their autonomy or dignity.  But it doesn't work.

I teach my students in US History that our country values both liberty and security, but that the balance between them is ever-shifting.  Perfect freedom isn't safe at all--imagine highways with no lanes, no speed limits, no rules, and no signals.  But perfect security is not free at all--imagine that same highway with zero percent chance of a traffic fatality, with cars traveling 3 mph and made of bubble-wrap.  Often when we get scared, we trade liberties for safety (whether economic freedoms, or others, like the ability to board a plane without being groped).  Sometimes we go too far and, to our credit, try to go back and make it right (like with Japanese intenment in WWII).  Sometimes we differ over where the balance belongs (how strong a social safety net?  is the Patriot Act a good or bad idea?).  But at least we seem to understand that we cannot have either liberty or security perectly.

Why then, can we not get this logic through our head on other stuff?  We want $1.50 gas, but also don't want to drill where the oil is.  We want high spending and also low taxes.  My school wants to field 58 sports teams and yet also wants them all to be championship contenders.  Pick one!  But stop demanding the impossible!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Osama, Obama, and Politics

Watching various friends' facebook statuses last night when the news broke that Osama Bin Laden is now at room temp and perforated, it took about an hour before anybody dared to say anything political.  Even then, most of the semi-political musings were from friends who support President Obama, and were along the lines of, "wonder how they can criticize this?"  Nothing rude or anything like that.  A little later, some of the braver pundits were wondering aloud whether this has any impact on the election in 2012.

First of all, there's nothing to criticize.  Indeed, I like Obama best when he dares to "be like Bush."  Whether it was pushing an Afghan surge, supporting Petreaus, keeping Gitmo open, or increasing drone attacks in theater, I have supported him and been pleasantly surprised when he did what I consider to be "the right thing."  In this case, sending SEALs in, without prior notification to Paksitan, and double-tapping OBL is something I wholeheartedly applaud.

There's also a "Nixon to China" element here.  With just a couple of exceptions, there has been hardly a peep from the usual antiwar voices.  What we have here is the use of intel gained from Gitmo detainees, possibly while being waterboarded, used by a special ops "kill squad" who have zero intent to capture, so a targeted assassination, and also a violation of the borders of our putative "ally," Pakistan.  And it was without a doubt a great thing to do.  You won't hear the vast majority of the folks who would have flayed a Bush or even a McCain for doing the same thing talk about "war crimes."  And that's a good thing.

As for long-term political repercussions, I don't think it necessarily changes the picture in 2012 at all.  Think about it.  First of all, it's no "October surprise."  Any bounce Obama gains from this will be long-gone by election day.  It was about this time in 1991 that Bush 41's approval ratings were over 90% as a result of the Gulf War, and we know how that turned out.  There was little chance of this election turning on foreign policy, especially with Obama essentially validating the entire Bush program (even if he has done so while holding his nose).  Those who planned on voting for him anyway will have their resolve strengthened by this.  Those who didn't are likely not going to change their minds over it.  I'll bet that the tiny number of hawks who embrace Obama due to this success will be offset by a similarly tiny number of super-doves who abandon him for the same reason.  At the end of the day, if gas is five bucks a gallon and bacon 6 bucks a pound next year, he's toast.  If the economy is back on track, he's fine.  Pretty much everything else is window dressing.

Regardless, today I don't care anyway.  The idea that the last thing Osama ever saw was a SEAL with a cew cut and an MP5 warms my heart.  Well done, Mr. President.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Trump, Obama, and Grades

So... Donald Trump has now claimed that he has "heard that Obama was a terrible student," and wants to see his grades and test scores.  Oh, where to begin?  Let's start with disclaimers.  First, now that Trump has identified himself repeatedly and vociferously with the whole "birther" business*, it cuts the legs out from under the far-more-reasonable suggestion that the grades be released.  Secondly, my visceral dislike for The Donald makes it difficult for me to accept anything he says, including "2+2=4."  And third, there is a steaming pile of "so what" at work here.  As I recall, Nixon, Clinton, Carter, and Hoover were all stunningly brilliant.  Lincoln and Truman didn't have a day of college, Reagan graduated from Eureka College, and FDR was famously described as "a second rate intellect, but a first rate temperament."  And recently the JFK library released Kennedy's Harvard admissions application, on which the only noteworthy item was "Father's Name: Joseph P. Kennedy."  So whether Obama is the most brilliant supra-genius after Will Ferrell in Megamind or a barely above-average fellow makes little difference.

OK.  Fine.  But there is the other side, too.  For my entire adult life I've had to listen to almost every Republican politician called a mouth-breathing moron.  Bush 43, or course.  Sarah Palin.  Dan Quayle.  Reagan.  Eisenhower, for pity's sake.  Gerald Ford (I think it was Tip O'Neill who said he had played too much football without a helmet.)  Those who were not stupid were crazy (Nixon, Goldwater, Cheney) or out of touch (Bush 41).  I guess Reagan must have been all three.  The fact that Bush 43 got his undergrad from Yale and an MBA from Harvard, and also managed to fly a jet fighter, counts for nothing.  So pot, meet kettle--it is not entirely unreasonable to ask for some semblance of proof that a fellow touted as indescribably brilliant really is.

If you do any reading on this topic, you get caught in a giant loop.  You have the absence of any hard evidence on the one side (with the notion that if proof of brilliance was really out there, it would have already have been trumpeted from  the rooftops).  On the other, you get the facts that Obama graduated Magna Cum Laude from Harvard Law, and was President of the Harvard Law Review.  Here's the thing: before 1981, making the Law Review was done 100% on grades, and the very top student was the President.  Should be a slam-dunk.  But after that, and before Obama's admission, they gamed the process to fix the fact that hardly any Law Review editors were women or minorities.  They also made the Presidency an elected office.  Does that mean that Obama was an affirmative-action Editor?  Not necessarily.  But if it is fair to assume that any academic credentials held by George W. Bush must have been corrupted by nepotism, why is it off-limits to wonder whether a multi-racial, multi-national son of a Harvard grad might have gotten a bump somewhere?  And there is no doubt that the man is an excellent campaigner.

That still leaves off the deal with "Magna Cum Laude."  That's the middle level of honors--Cum Laude is lowest, Summa Cum Laude highest.  If Obama had gone to the University of SC, I could tell you for sure that he had to have a 3.75 GPA to qualify.  But I don't know about Harvard.  On paper, everybody who gets into Harvard is brilliant.  That doesn't mean that the middle ones get a 2.0.  I know that today, there is much ink spilled over grade inflation at the Ivies.  I have no idea what it was like back in the late 80s.  It may very well be that Obama's "Magna" means he was top 10% of his class.  It might also be the case that 3/4 of the class was "Cum Laude," the top half "Magna," and the top quarter "Summa."  I don't know--but to assume either one is a leap of faith, likely rooted in wishful thinking.  And even if his grades were good, were they good in all classes?  What I mean is, did he bust the curve on Torts 1 or Contracts, which everybody takes?  Or was he mid-pack  in those, but aced the sorts of electives where being smooth, and glib, and right-thinking (liberal, of course) are an advantage? 

I suppose the very best answer to the question, "how smart is he" would be found by looking at standardized test scores, if only because they are taken by everybody.  SATs and LSATs would be the obvious ones.  And since President Obama is older than me (but not by much), I know that the SAT he would have taken would be the pre-1996 version which correlates almost perfectly with IQ.  (The modern version does not--but the "old" SAT was acceptable as an entrance test for Mensa, among other things.)  Now, if Obama took the PSAT (which I don't know), and if he really did have the kind of IQ that usually results in being top of your class at Harvard, you could reasonably expect him to have been a National Merit Scholar.  That ranking is done entirely from the test--double your verbal score plus your math.  But there are lists of National Merit winners, and Obama's not on them.  Again, maybe he didn't take the PSAT.  Nobody's saying he's dumb.  But the hard evidence of his purported brilliance is not all that solid.

What?  Don't like the sound of that?  Well, here's a solution.  Consistency.  How about we say, "He couldn't have gotten where he is now without being pretty darned bright."  And say the same thing about, say, George W. Bush and Sarah Palin.  Or say, "Raw, testable intelligence is no predictor of leadership."  And give the same benefit of the doubt to Reagan.  But it seems to me that to define "intelligence" as "a quality found only among those whom I like and agree with" is not clear thinking.

*Note: If you have doubts that Obama was born in Hawaii (and I saw on a muted TV at dinner tonight that CNN now has supposedly proven that he was), just ask yourself this: if there were ANY chance that Obama were not eligible to be president, do you doubt for a second that we'd have President Hillary Clinton right now?  I might could believe that men didn't land on the moon, that Oswald was a clone, and that Dick Cheney caused hurricane Katrina with his magic weather machine.  But to believe that Bill and Hillary Clinton somehow decided to play nice and take one for the team is a bridge too far.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Rob Bell = Sarah Palin

I finally gave in and read Love Wins, Rob Bell's controversial new book on heaven and hell.  For those who don't follow intramural fights among evangelicals, Bell has come under fire for suggesting that God might not send anybody to hell.  Or rather, that the opportunity to repent continues to exist even after death, and that given the time involved (eternity) and the persuasiveness of God's love, that like the million immortal monkeys with typewriters who eventually pound out Hamlet, it's possible that eventually everybody will be saved.  (BTW--this is a terrible oversimplification of what he says, or rather implies, and is more-or-less from the perspective of the critics.)

I am of two minds about this whole tempest in a teapot.  I'm not a huge Bell fan.  I find his style grating--everything from his haircut to his glasses to the font he uses in his books screams out "Look at me!  I'm edgy and cool!"  The selective leaking of some of the more provocative passages from the book generated a bunch of buzz, which of course translates to more attention for Bell.  And he is very careful to never actually SAY anything that can be nailed down.  That gives him the cover of being able to say, "I was just asking the question" without ever owning up to an answer.  What's more, the topic itself isn't even particularly original.  I much prefer C.S. Lewis' The Great Divorce.

That said, I find my reaction to Bell almost perfectly mirrors my reaction to Sarah Palin.  As I have written elsewhere, I am not a Palinista, and would prefer she not run for president.  If she does, I will almost certainly not vote for her in the primaries.  I think she is a genius at self-promotion, but that her very skill at that distracts from a message that less-controversial messengers might deliver better.  BUT... the people who mindlessly hate her force me into her camp.  I find myself supporting (or at least defending) Palin, if only because I really can't stand the likes of Andrew Sullivan, Bill Maher, David Letterman, and so forth.  I find myself half-smiling at the idea of her running (even winning), just because it would possibly cause Maher's head to explode on live TV.

And so it is with Bell.  The sorts of "evangelical leaders" who have pretty much written him out of Christendom are of a sort that I would say have magnetic personalities--they repel me.  Attacking a book one hasn't read, ripping quotes out of context, jousting at a veritable army of straw men--those things offend me even more than Bell's suspect theology.  (If it even IS Bell's theology.)

Perhaps later I'll weigh in with my own views on heaven, hell, and salvation.  The very short version is that I have many of the same questions Bell does, and am even willing to entertain the possibility that God can and will choose to act in a way that conflicts with what I perceive as orthodoxy.  After all, He is God, and I most definitely am not.  But I am also satisfied that whatever He does, it will be both merciful AND just,  in a way that I am not able to do.  And I also keep coming back to Romans 6:1 (Should we sin more, that grace may abound?  By no means.").  So I do not presume upon God's goodness or mercy, for myself or others.

Dead Blog Walking

Well, it finally happened.  I've still got sitemeter set up on this alleged blog, and I still get a weekly report.  This week, I registered a Bluto.  (Mr. Blutarsky.... ZERO. POINT. ZERO.)  Can't blame anybody for not reading when I don't write.  It's so much easier to post a facebook status or to join in an online argument elsewhere.  Still, it's a good place to put longer stuff, and maybe I'll link it to FB if I write anything. 

Monday, January 3, 2011

Step One - Clean off the Desk

Most of us find our desks under a pile of stuff to do.  My big tool for cleaning my desk off is a simple yellow legal pad, which becomes my "master list."  Just make a pile of everything on the desk and go through it a piece at a time.  Every item on the desk can either be trashed, filed, or needs something done to or with it.  Obviously, the trash stuff gets thrown out.  If something needs to be filed, it goes straight into a file.  If no file exists, I make a new one--just a manila folder, with the title written in ink on the tab. 

That leaves items requiring action.  These get written on the master list.  Once the task is on the list, if there are still materials on the desk required to do the task, those can get their own file folder, or can go into a single "pending" or "unfinished business" folder.  Nowadays, both the list and the folder can have an electronic twin.  But neither my physical nor computer desktop gets strewn with junk anymore.

To be 100% honest, neither my computer, my desk at home, nor my desk at work is completely bare.  I have a couple of key desktop folders on the computer, some cubbyholes built-in on my home desk, and a stacking file tray on the corner of my desk at work.  But all of these just serve to subdivide the "pending" work within easy reach. 

The bigger question comes when I look at the list--what to do with this uncategorized mess?  What do I do first?  What do I do today?  That's tomorrow's blog.

The Plan of Attack

As 2011 gets underway, I am focused on getting all of my ducks properly rowed up.  One of my big areas of interest over the years has been organization and time management.  My plan for the next few blogs is to share a few tools and tactics that have been helpful to me in terms of staying in control.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Wrap-Up and Resolutions

Looking back at 2010, I'm reasonably pleased. A year ago, I had failed to successfully read through the Bible in a year (died a horrible death in the major prophets) and had to squeeze in an extra mile before midnight on New Year's eve to get 460.5 total miles--just barely enough to maintain my 500 mile per year average going back to 1998. I was a little frightened to commit to any "SMART" goals (you know, Specific, Measurable, Action-oriented, Realistic, and Timely) because I wasn't sure I'd follow through. But I managed to accomplish both of my big ones--I finished the One Year Bible and ran my 500th mile on December 30th, earning New Year's Eve "off."

On the Bible side, I wish I could say that I read 365 straight days. I didn't; I had to double-up many times (in some cases, up to 4 or 5 days of reading) as momentum waxed and waned. I'm also not exactly sure how many full Bible readings I've done now. I think it's 10, but there are so many "partials" in there (New Testament only, everything but the major prophets, etc.) that I can't be 100% certain. Probably nobody else cares if it's 9 or 10. But my particular form of OCD wants it right. And as a track guy, I hate it when people exaggerate their times or distances. Regardless, that was a success.

On the running front, I'm very pleased. I ran exactly 500 miles in 126 runs. This is the most miles since 2005 (when I did 522) and the most runs since 2004 (when I did 128). I also averaged right at 4 miles per run for the first time since 2005. None of these numbers are any good--they reflect how poorly I ran between 2006 and 2009 more than any excellence this year. But it's a comeback, of a sort. Sadly, the one time I raced this year wasn't very good (40 seconds worse than the previous year's Turkey Day Run). I can blame the weather a bit (it was 20+ degrees warmer), but I really did race poorly. You'd think after 28 years of running, I'd learn how to keep my pace from falling apart. I also came mentally unglued in the last half-mile, a failure of mental toughness that I would find inexcusable in the athletes I coach. I don't mind getting older and slower, but I don't want to get less competitive on the inside.

So that leaves what to do this year. I don't really feel like doing the Old Testament again. Instead, my current plan is to use the Daily Bible, which is arranged chronologically, and to start with the October 18th reading where the New Testament begins. That will take 75 days, after which I'll set a new goal. In theory, I could do the NT four times this year, but more likely I'll pick a more focused study topic in mid-March.

For the running, I'm not sure I want to set a mileage goal (although 500 needs to be the floor for the sake of the average). But I would like to run more consistently. My 126 runs this year included very few from January through April (which, not coincidentally, is the meaty part of track season, when my own workout opportunities suffer). There were also 20 runs of less than three miles (some due to location--like the workout I did on a cruise ship at 11 laps to the mile, others because I simply warmed up with my athletes before coaching their workouts, but also plenty due to being out of shape and lazy). What I'd like to do this year is run at least 10 times every month, even the "bad" ones. I'd also like to have my average run distance come up--not necessarily by going much longer on "normal" runs (I like 4-5 for those, with once a week of 6-10 as a "long run"), but by limiting the number of tiny ones. If I did both of those things, I think I'd see my mileage get to near 600. I also intend to do some upper-body work in my school's outstanding new fitness center (and I've already started, 3 weeks ago).

As far as other resolutions, I want to spend less time online (or at least less time aimlessly online) and do more reading of real books. I also want to be more intentional with my use of my waking hours at home for the rest of the school year (which is related). I also want to encourage the Mrs. in her goals this year.

Finally, I have one big professional goal coming up: this should be the best track team I've coached in almost 10 years. It's hard to set a goal to win a championship, especially in a sport where you can't play defense. Sometimes the other guys are just faster. But I want to be 100% committed to doing what it takes for the next 5 months to put my kids in a position to win.

So... what are YOUR goals?

Fresh Starts

Well, I didn't blog much in 2010. Looking back, I didn't realize the effect that Facebook would have on blogging. Being able to post a short status update and share with hundreds of people (and being able to "argue" online) was a very attractive nuisance. Blogging takes more thought and more work, and reaches a much smaller, and self-selected audience. However, FB has its limitations. I have several FB friends who post political or otherwise controversial links and statuses. Sometimes I engage them (whether in agreement or in friendly jousting). But with 400+ friends of varying backgrounds and beliefs, I have tried (I hope more-or-less successfully) to avoid posting anything that could be taken the wrong way. I feel like a FB post is sorta like hitting "reply all" on an email--do I really want everybody at work to read this?

At least with the blog, I figure if you're here, you came because you really wanted to know what I think about stuff. And anybody who is a real friend knows that I'm a conservative, and a Christian, and a history nerd, a neat freak, etc. So hopefully if you come across anything here that bugs you, well, caveat emptor.

I do love the new year (and the new semester, and the new sports season). Nothing is as encouraging as a fresh, clean calendar page (whether we're talking about a DayTimer, a gradebook, a running log, or even an Outlook page online). Doubtless something will come along to foul it up eventually (so long as there's Gamecock football). But today, hope springs eternal.

So, I'm going to start blogging again. Some personal, some political, some observations on stuff I'm reading--whatever. If you decide to read it (whether you're one of my few surviving "original" blog-readers, or a new one based on my Facebook post), perhaps you can drop me a quick comment and let me know. It'll be a month before sitemeter tells me if I'm just talking to myself.

Happy new year!