Monday, October 27, 2008

Did You Hear The One About The Two Polls?

Like a lot of people I'm watching the polls these days, trying to get a sneak-peak at who destiny will give the unenviable task of trying to straighten out the current mess. Not surprisingly, the numbers vary from poll to poll, sometimes widely. Surprisingly, practically all of the polls address the election in terms of the popular vote, failing to take into account the only thing that really matters, the Electoral College.

For international readers not familiar with the difference, the popular vote is what most people outside of South America and Cuba think of when they think of an election. Taking the country as a whole, x% of the votes were for candidate A, y% were for candidate B, and 0.000001% were for the green party candidate. Whoever's percentage is bigger is declared the winner. One person, one vote. (Contrary to popular belief, this is true even in New Jersey. We just happen to extend our definition of "person" to include Disney characters and dead people, that's all. You got a problem with that?)

This simple majority-rules model is how every election in America is decided except, of course, for the big one, for which was created the Electoral College. In technical terms, the Electoral College system is what statistical analysts categorize as a useless, outdated system that was created when America consisted of disjointed agricultural communities and that defies all logic in the modern world where we have things like mass communication. Under this system, once 51% of the voters in a state have voted for a particular candidate, all other votes - for either candidate - don't count for anything. It's rare, but possible, for the majority of votes to be for one candidate (let's call him, say, "Al") and for the mathematical quirkiness of the Electoral College system to put another candidate (say, "George"), into office like some twisted real-life version of The Twilight Zone. This would happen even if "George" were the only candidate on the planet even less qualified than "Al." All this is hypothetical, of course, but you get the idea.

The presidential election has something in common with High School Musical 3, and it is this: I wish they would both be over with already and just go away. With 8 days left and trailing in the polls, McCain is sounding more like Palin, rather than the other way around, and that's not a good thing for anyone not on Saturday Night Live. Hail Mary's are exciting if you're playing football. In leadership, they're just sad. None of this is to suggest the election has been decided. At the same time, the McCain campaign has entered the polls-don't-vote-people-do phase, with increasingly frequent severe episodes of my-opponent's-not-patriotic and blame-the-media. That's usually the next-to-last stage of the political dying process, right after denial, anger, bargaining and just before acceptance. Let's just hope McCain, or more likely his substance-challenged (but impeccably dressed) running mate, don't start talking about Wildcats.

Unrelated Item: Recession? What Recession?

I heard a news report yesterday that said 65% of people surveyed are planning to spend less for the holidays this year than in previous years. The survey must not have included anyone from Paramus, NJ.

Paramus, in northern New Jersey, for decades has been the center of the retail universe, with no less than four mega-malls punctuated by several bizillion strip malls. On Saturday I stopped into one of the mega-malls, expecting that the wind, chilly rain and the even chillier economy would have made the place at least a little sane. Instead, it took about fifteen minutes of driving around to find a distant parking space in a lot so big there are shuttle buses going from one section to another. At first I thought someone moved Christmas to October and didn't tell me. Bergen County, where Paramus is located, is a Republican enclave in a state that is otherwise solidly Democratic, but I would have thought someone there would understand economics.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Keeping It Real and Other Guilty Pleasures

Debate III has come and gone, and it was not pretty. One hopes nothing in this campaign - however it is run and whatever its outcome - will prevent John McCain from being rightfully remembered as a great American and a genuine hero. But this past Wednesday, he could have saved himself a lot of effort by simply showing up at Hofstra with a big sign that said, "I am desperate." Choosing Bill Ayers and Joe the Plumber reflected on McCain about as well choosing Sarah Palin.

Still, I can't help but to think how lucky we are this election season, even as I walk through the ruins of our economy, stepping over bodies. Previous presidential campaigns have generally been what I sometimes call "death-by-fire-or-death-by-water" elections. (Bush or Kerry? Gore or Bush? Puh-leeze!) This time around, that' s not the case. The heat of the battle (and the occasional horrifying running-mate selection) notwithstanding, this year we've had the best choices we've seen in a long time. Yes, like everyone I end up preferring one candidate over another, but when you come right down to it, I'd have at least some comfort level with either Obama, McCain or, for that matter, Hillary winning. That's a pretty good position to be in.

The Democrat who can't list Obama's electoral shortcomings isn't being honest with himself and misunderstands the realities of the election process. Ditto the Republicans and McCain's electoral shortcomings. I'll even include Biden in this. (Palen supporters, with the exception of comedy professionals with a vested interest, are a breed unto themselves and aren't included in this.) It's a search for the lesser of two, or three, or however many evils, and perfection is not an option.

Unrelated Item 1: The Times They Are A-Changin'

Do you remember that very funny "This Land Is Your Land" clip made for the Bush-Kerry election in 2004? It turns out that the folks at JibJab, who created it, have come up with one for Obama-McCain. It is with great pleasure (and great thanks to the friend who sent it to me) that I include the link here. Just so you know what everyone is talking about at the water cooler tomorrow.

Unrelated Item 2: Aye, Lad, Just Do It

This past Thursday, the news reported that Waterford Crystal would be laying off almost all the workers at its famous plant in Ireland and moving its operations "overseas." We're not sure yet where that is exactly, but the thought of the world's finest crystal being churned out by underpaid young children in sweatshops, one table over from the kids making Nike sneakers, is more than a little disturbing. Oh wait, they're not young children. They're 16. Sorry, I forgot.

Monday, October 13, 2008

You Gotta Believe

One of the headlines on the AOL Welcome screen today read, "Father of Bristol Palin's Baby Shoots Down Rumors." I can't possibly be the only person who read that and wondered if he did it from a helicopter.

Ok, with that off my chest, now for the real topic. Regular readers may remember I love movie quotes, and though it's not among my favorites, this one has got me thinking:

"I believe in the soul ... the small of a woman's back, the hanging curveball, high fiber, good scotch, that the novels of Susan Sontag are self-indulgent, overrated crap. I believe Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. I believe there ought to be a constitutional amendment outlawing Astroturf and the designated hitter. I believe in the sweet spot, soft-core pornography, opening your presents Christmas morning rather than Christmas Eve, and I believe in long, slow, deep, soft, wet kisses that last three days." (Crash Davis [Kevin Costner], "Bull Durham," 1988)

Ok, so I'm not Kevin Costner. There are still a few things I believe in and, for whatever it may be worth, this seemed no worse a time than any other to compile them. In no particular order:

1. Small pieces of birthday cake are a waste of everyone's time.

2. The vast majority of mankind's problems eventually trace back to some form of trying to get something for nothing.

3. I want what's mine, and I don't want what's not mine.

4. I don't accept pieces of paper that someone in the street tries to hand me, regardless of how they're dressed. Similarly, I don't speak to people with clipboards who try to stop me in the street.

5. Love is like any other form of comedy: it's all in the timing.

6. Love, friendship and other forms of familiarity are not an excuse for discourteous behavior.

7. ALWAYS buy a handmade poppy when you see a veteran selling them for donations.

8. The secret to a successful long-term relationship is this: do whatever you have to do never to find out what your spouse talks about with his/her best friend.

9. I believe in charitable giving. Just not at traffic lights.

10. When we find ourselves trying to decide how far we're willing to go in treating a segment of society like human beings, it's time to stop and take a deep breath.

11. The people who make the biggest show of saying they don't take crap from people are usually the ones who make it a point to give other people the most crap.

12. There's a special place in heaven waiting for seeing-eye dogs and other animals whose entire existence is devoted to service.

13. There's a very hot place in hell waiting for the guy who invented the four-way traffic stop. (Someone I mentioned this to suggested traffic circles too, but in Jersey we're just used to those.)

14. Someday they're going to give a Nobel Prize for baking, and it's going to go to the guy who invented parchment.

So what do you believe?

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Changing All Those Changes

The pieces begin coming together as transition gradually becomes improvement. A few items to note, done in the hope of making it easier to post comments:

  • Posting comments will no longer require that irritating word verification. (That's the 60's-acid-flashback lettering you have to input to prove you're not a computer sending out spam.) Thanks to Cathy for a great suggestion on that.
  • I've opened up the ability to comment to anyone, anywhere, who has a computer. Since hardly anyone has a computer and the widespread use of the Internet is still years away, I'm figuring it's safe to do that.
  • Since, in the time it took to type the previous bullet-item another 600,000 sociopaths, miscreants, and other people with IQ's that would embarrass a slug have made their way onto the Internet anonymously, comments will be subject to review by the moderator before appearing on the site. Not to worry - the moderator's a reasonable guy, and he's looking only to filter out the spam that the first two bullet-items subject the site and its valued readers to. It is not intended to filter out dissenting opinions, though I can't imagine there could be any anyway.
  • The above notwithstanding, the moderator's tolerance for anonymous letters (which are permitted by the system when it's opened up to everyone) is very low, so you won't be suffering through a lot of those either.
And there you have it for now!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Willkommen, bienvenue, welcome!

This will be but a brief test to make sure I can post to the new site.

I'm looking forward to posting new content soon and, since (if I've got this right) folks from any ISP will be able to view the site and post comments, expanding to heretofore unexplored corners of the globe.

So what do you all think?

Wednesday, October 8, 2008


As I enter the beginning hours of the Yom Kippur fast (only 20 hours and 48 minutes of air diet to go!), thoughts of trying to atone for past sins lead naturally to the current campaign for president. It's the magical season when Americans of all viewpoints come together in a common celebration of what joins us as one nation; specifically, the willingness to forget for a few weeks that they're all liars and crooks.

Presidential debate II has come and gone, and the most striking thing to come out of it was that for the second time in a row, the two men who think they can lead the free world got beaten in the ratings by their vice-presidents. (Maybe people thought Biden was debating Tina Fey.) Although the debate did put Obama and McCain one step closer to coming to blows, which you have to admit would be kind of exciting, I thought they stayed pretty even throughout. The pundits tell us this is not good news for McCain, though it seems to me it's still far too early for anyone to think Obama has this won. Republicans have repeatedly shown themselves to be effective campaigners who can take full advantage of the first mistake the Democrats might make in the remaining weeks. Look who they got elected the last two times around.

It's still not clear if Palin was a profitable choice for McCain. She's enormously popular among many hard-core Republicans, but so is Bush, so how much is that really saying? For the rest of us, the jury on her may still be out, but they're keeping themselves amused heating up the tar and plucking the chickens. I'm starting to think McCain's numbers might have gotten a bigger boost had he picked Cloris Leachman as his running mate.

I saw a poll question the other day: aside from McCain and Obama, who would you like to see running for president? I haven't come up with anyone yet, but it did get me thinking I'd like to see Dan Quayle running for vice-president. Think about it - how wickedly delicious would it be watching him and Sarah Palin debating one another? People would think they were watching a Saturday Night Live sketch. My other thought was that the guy who's judgement I'm seriously questioning at this point isn't even John McCain; it's Palin's husband, Todd. Seriously - after hearing her interviews and the debate, can you imaging living with this woman?

On more important topics, I've received tonight an e-mail from AOL regarding the transferring of journal content to another system. After I go over it, I'll post the information about where things that are better left unsaid will soon be found. Your visits to this site, wherever it resides, are appreciated.


Wednesday, October 1, 2008

I'll Give Up My Journal When They Pry It From My Cold Dead Fingers...

...and maybe not then either. I'll see how I feel.

The late-night e-mail from AOL said that as of October 31, they will be shutting down all journals. They don't give a reason, but they didn't need to: it's a transparent attempt by the Bush administration to silence me. An effort by a failing president to still the voice of change and create the illusion of relevance so desperate that they've forced AOL to shut down everyone else's journal just to eliminate this one.

Well, it's not going to work.

According to the letter, AOL is putting together some kind of journal bail-out package that will transfer journal content to another provider. We'll see. Just to be safe, I'm going to contact my congressmen and tell them to stop wasting time with small things like rampant bank failures and people's life savings, and focus on important matters like my journal.

More to come, dear readers. I'll keep you informed.