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.