Watching the defectives (or, what the Republican Party’s candidates can tell us about politics today).

January 5, 2012

I’ve been watching the Republicans as they lurch their way towards selecting a nominee to run against Obama. Neither party has what could termed a clear process for selecting the person to hold down their top spot, but this year’s Republican race seems bent on setting a record for confusion.

The most glaring example was, of course, the Cain candidacy.  With it’s silly “9-9-9” tax plan and the huckster-like way the campaign was run, it made you wonder why anyone took Cain seriously. The fact that he was on top of the field for some time appalled me to no end, but in the end, he rather publicly ‘crashed-and-burned’.

Michelle Bachmann was another candidate that, when you paid even a little attention to her and what she stood for (or claimed to stand for), you had to wonder who would support her. Again, people did and she too was at or near the top of the field. Iowa seems to have put paid to her brand of silliness, and for that, America owes Iowa a debt of gratitude.

And now, as the saying goes, for the rest of the story.

What’s left ‘in the running’ is a field that has to have anyone with any reasoning ability scratching their heads. Perry is still in, even though he finished well down the standings. That he, a man who has a record in government that is far from  stellar, is even in the race should have people wondering. Gingrich has been complaining about attacks on his record, but his record IS crap, so why should he be allowed to ignore it? Santorum is a candidate who holds himself up as some sort of paragon of virtue, yet he too has a legislative record more spotted than spotless. Huntsman seem to be an honest, if uninspired, candidate who can’t get his own party to pay attention to him.

Then you get to the last two.

Romney has a record, and he seems to be very happy to run away from it just as Gingrich is trying to. His business record shows him to be a person willing to do whatever it takes to make a profit, with no concern what his actions do to the people in those companies he “turned around”. In politics, he has been a moderate……right up to the point where he started his presidential run. Now, he’s running as a conservative, painting himself with the same brush the rest of his party seems to favor. So far, many in his own party seem to be of the opinion that they need someone, anyone, to vote for instead of Romney. His change in political philosophy and, more important, his religion, have set large portions of the Republican base against him, making it hard to see him winning the ‘hearts and minds’ of his own party, let alone the broader electorate.

Last, but far from least, there’s Paul. He made a strong showing in Iowa, coming in close behind Santorum and Romney, which should worry anyone who cares about America. Paul is the standard bearer of the far Right of his own party, espousing things like a return to the gold standard and the abolishment of multiple “wasteful” government agencies. In his world, the government is the enemy, no matter how illogical it might be for someone to run to be the head of what they claim to hate. His foreign policy might best be described as ‘pull up the draw bridges and man the walls’. He draws large crowds, crowds that are eager to express their opinions….and who seem to almost worship their candidate. Many have compared the Paul campaign to a cult, and from everything this writer has seen, the comparison seems too close to the mark.

So, what does it all mean? If I had to make one observation, it would be that the Republicans have a serious, central problem: they bill themselves as “American’s party”, yet their core constituency is far more conservative than the bulk of Americans. This leads them to make a mad dash to the Right in the primaries……followed by an equally mad dash back towards the center in an effort to win the national election. Some have carried it off with panache. Others have ignored the need to appeal to the center and failed. Many have tried to make the run, only to run into their own positions on the way back, and fail. Until the center can be embraced, by either party, the candidates will be doing this same stupid dance, and the losers will be the American people. Because no politician who is willing to shift where they stand for the sake of votes can truly be trusted, and no politician who puts their ideology ahead of the good of the nation should be allowed to hold office.

Why do we tolerate this?

December 21, 2011

Companies these days will do a lot of things to make a sales. Some of them are actually fairly honest, like cutting their profit margin in order to bring more customers in and get them to buy. Others, however, have nothing to do with honesty. Take the piece of advertising I got in the mail today……

Picture a fairly plain manila envelope, adorned with a printed legend stating that it was notification of a state program, and featuring an outline of the state. Nowhere on the front does it say anything about this being a sales advertisement. No, instead, it makes every effort to appear to be an official document mailed by the state I reside in. It’s only when you flip it over that you see the logo for the company printed quite small, that you begin to wonder “WTF???”.

Things do not get better when you open the envelope. The first things you see is a “voucher” for a “credit” to take part in the “program”. Most of the rest of the envelope’s contents are of a similar nature, and only the flier actually advertising the item being sold clues you in to the fact that this is, in fact, an effort to sell you something.

One of the documents in the envelope had an 800 number on it, and I decided to call to complain about the way this sales advertisement was formatted and worded. After a very short wait, I was put through to a real human, who tried quickly to sell me on the product. When I told him what I was really calling about, that this advertisement was very close to false advertisement, he quickly went over to the defensive, stating that it “clearly” was an advertisement.

Where I come from, we have a word for that:




The salesman is correct, his company does not cross the line into outright lying. The problem is, they avoid it not by miles, but by millimeters, and not too many of them either. I don’t doubt they’ll make some sales, nor do I doubt that the salesman I spoke to will make his sales quota for the day. What I DO wonder about is a system that allows such behavior. How far does someone go to ‘make the sale’? What does constitute ‘crossing the line’? How willing are companies to put profit ahead of all else? More important, what does it say about us, as a people, that we’re willing to tolerate this sort of thing?

Maybe it’s time we Americans did something about it. Maybe we should make a point of not doing business, at all, with companies that engage in these sorts of despicable practices. Could we, the consumers, cause companies to take notice of our concerns? The cynic in me says no, that this sort of behavior is part of human nature. The part of me that’s fuming right now says yes, we can, and even if we can’t, it’s better to try to change than to set on our asses and bitch about it.

Anyone with me?

Finals is finished! (for now…….)

December 16, 2011

So yesterday saw the last finals for this semester. One hands-on went well, one…..not quite so good. One test went well, the other…..I’m still waiting to find out. Hopefully I didn’t make a total mess of it all. So, for the next few weeks, all there is to occupy me is my part-time job. A very large part of me wants to “veg” and do as little as possible, but I don’t think that’s going to happen. What does happen, well, I guess I’ll find out. For now, though, no more cramming, no more studying to late nigh……YAHOO!!!


December 14, 2011

Well, it’s finals week, and I’m none too sure how well things are going to go. There are four finals to take for two classes: one “hands-on” and one actual test. One of the hands-on is done….mostly. The other hands-on will be done tomorrow morning, shortly before I take the written test in the same class. I have that mostly done, though there were some ‘hiccups’ when I tried some of the stuff out. Hopefully I can get in early enough to get the problems fixed and everything squared away. The other test will be tomorrow night, and while I’m not happy with how the practice versions have graded out, at least I didn’t fail utterly. Guess it’s going to be a case of “We’ll see.”, won’t it?

A note for the moment

November 24, 2011

I haven’t been writing in this blog for some time now. Between work and classes that have increased my reading/lab workload by several order of magnitude, the time just hasn’t been there, Today being Thanksgiving, things have slowed down somewhat. Today, I’ve only had to begin collating the documentation for one of the final projects I’m facing this semester and put together a spreadsheet proposal for it’s cost. Who knows, later this afternoon, I might find the time to finish it and do something else… relax.
So a happy Thanksgiving to anyone who reads this.

Odd observations.

September 16, 2011

Well, after a week’s worth of work, I’m still employed, but wondering if I’ll be able to bring enough of my “A game” to really feel like I’m doing all I can. My co-workers are great, but there are times I wonder if I’m helping or just along for the ride. Not too strangely, I hate that latter idea. Guess it’s time to start paying attention and focusing on getting my mind into my new job.

Something odd happened to me today: I met someone I once knew. This is someone who I was in school with from grade school all the way through high school, and I didn’t know who the hell they were. This individual walked up to me in a store and addressed me by name, asking if I remembered them. I was at least honest enough to admit I was drawing a complete blank, and they told me who they were. Even with that, my mind couldn’t match the person standing in front of me with the person I remembered from all those years ago. The time may have dimmed my memories, or perhaps it has changed them, I don’t honestly know. We didn’t speak too long, but this person said something that disturbed me deeply: they said I looked just like I did when we were in school together. Time hasn’t been terrible to me, but to think I look like that child who knew next-to-nothing of the world worries me more than I can say.

A sad news story came my way just a short time ago: during the annual Reno Air Races, a P-51 crashed into the spectators. No details about a possible cause are available, and the initial report only spoke of 75 people injured. Outside of the pilot, there were no reports of fatalities, but given what happened, it is hard to believe that no one on the ground was killed. Reno is the last bastion of a long tradition of air racing, and it draws some of the most extreme piston-powered prop planes in the world. That accidents will happen in such a situation, where pilots are pushing their machines to the absolute limit at an extremely low altitude (around 50′ above ground level), is to be expected. Hopefully, this incident will not spell the end for Reno, and equally hopefully, those who were injured will recover fully.

Hi ho! Hi ho! I’ts off to work I go!

September 12, 2011

Yes, that’s right! In about an hour, I’ll be working again. How well (or poorly) I’ll do, I haven’t a clue, but I’ll find out shortly.


August 31, 2011

This year has been a tough one for the US. We’ve seen tornadoes plow through population centers with devastating results. Snow falls that set records both for their totals and for the cost of cleaning up after them gave rise to floods that cause a great deal of damage. Large swathes of the Southwest, already hit hard by drought, saw huge and uncontrolled fires scorch tens of thousands of acres. Now, large areas of the East Coast have been hammered by Hurricane Irene. These disasters effect not just the areas that were immediately hit, but also the nation at large. So the federal government, largely in the form of FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, has stepped in to help those who have, in many cases, lost everything. The task of helping out has been huge, as has the cost, and therein lies the problem. With so many major event to respond to, FEMA has seen it’s emergency funds drain away quickly, and those funds are not infinite. The most recent figures give FEMA somewhere around $800 million left in its budget. That’s not pocket change, but when you look at the damage Irene has left in it’s wake, it’s an almost pitiful amount, because even current rough estimates run into the $3-4 billion range. Given the fact that many of these estimates are based only on what has been directly observed, and the fact that in many spots, officials haven’t even been able to get in and find out just how bad things really are, it is unlikely that those figures are going to go down.

There has been an effort to get FEMA supplemental funds, and that story is what I write about. The funding itself is nearly insignificant given the damage we already know of, roughly $1 billion. If the small size of the increase in funding weren’t enough (and given that this year still has four months yet to go, part of which is the peak for the hurricane season) that small amount finds itself tied up in Washington’s current fixation of “balanced” budgets. You see, the current increase comes from the House, where the “Tea Party” has written language into the bill demanding that, in order to fund this increase in emergency funding, offsetting cuts must be made in other federal programs first. Which programs, they are unwilling to commit themselves to for fear (I think) of facing a backlash from the victims of these natural disasters.

That their feet should be held firmly to the fire for even suggesting such an insane act goes without saying. Conservatives love to liken the federal budget to a family budget, but I doubt they’ll use that particular simile in this case. After all, how many families would worry about where to find the money to pay for a sick child before deciding to seek treatment? There are some things you pay for, then figure out how to find the money, that’s why we call them “emergencies”.

Holding help to people who have suffered through a natural disaster hostage to ideological ideals is just plain wrong, and the “Tea Party”, plus it’s allies in Congress, should be ashamed of themselves for doing so. This is a nation that looks out for it’s own, or it should be. By demanding cuts before any funds go out to help people who are often without even the basics of life, these people show themselves to be not only heartless, but blind to anything but their own agenda. Hopefully people will remember these shameful actions come 2012.

(addendum: as of tonight, estimates are that Hurricane Irene has caused over $12 billion in damages, lifting it into the ranks of the most destructive storms in history. Thanks for watching our backs on the economic front, Eric Cantor, nice to know money and ideology come before people.)

Living in the Land of Unreason

August 26, 2011

Last year, a small college in Indiana made a decision to change it’s traditions. You see, through it’s history, Goshen College, a small college founded by the Mennonites, had never played the national anthem at it’s sporting events. So when they decided to start playing an instrumental version of “The Star-Spangled Banner”, it was something of a shift for them, a shift that, it turned out, did not go down well. After a year’s worth of playing, the school had heard from many sources. The student body spoke up and gave it’s opinion. The alumni of the school also voiced their opinion. The input wasn’t unanimous, but the voices saying that the school should not have changed it’s traditions were much louder than those who thought the playing of the national anthem was something the school should be doing. The objections to “The Star-Spangled Banner” was simple and specific: it describes a battle, and the Mennonite faith is one based on pacifism. By playing a song that glorified a battle, it was felt the school was going against it’s deepest religious traditions. The school did feel that a song that spoke of pride in our nation was not out of place before sports events, so the decision was made to replace “The Star-Spangled Banner” with “America the Beautiful”.

All of this would amount to pretty much next-to-nothing in a world where reason prevailed. Unfortunately, we live in modern America, and as soon as the decision was announced, the conservative wing of American politics cranked up it’s venom machinery. I first read of this whole story in a story (which I didn’t bookmark and can no long find) on Yahoo. Like most online outlets, the story had an attached comments section, and the pure hatred and malice that was expressed by people on the Right was a shock even to myself, who’d seen it many times. All the traditional insults, “traitors” “anti-American”, “PC ‘liberals’”, you name it, it was there, along with much far worse. In their minds, this was an assault on “American values” and another sign of “what’s wrong with this country”.

But how is that so?

A group listened to it’s members, and the majority’s opinion was heard. That opinion was that the group’s religious beliefs should not be shunted aside to please others. So democracy, the will of the majority, standing up for one’s principles and beliefs, all these things are now “un-American”?

When a group can condemn another group for upholding the ideals it professes to hold dear, what does that say of us? Have we, as a nation, become so polarized, so set in our ideas of “Right” and “Wrong” that we can’t see when opinion leads people to stray into the absurd? If it has, then democracy, that most basic of our tenets, is dead, and it will have been killed by those who claim to hold it most dear.

Does anyone else see the irony in all this?

How things are growing.

August 24, 2011

A while back, I wrote about my latest experiment in gardening, using bags of compost as containers. As of yesterday, the pepper plant had one fair-sized pepper on it and was going through another burst of flowering. The tomato, after a very long period of time during which I was sure it would never do more than flower, now proudly boasts two small (as in smaller than a quarter across) tomatoes. It too is flowering, but not nearly as intensely as the pepper plant.
As for the garlic I planted, it’s done already, having produced no new bulbs and having shown no signs of flowering either.
So, how much will I get off of my plants? Guess you’ll know when I do!