Presidential Debate #1 – before picture

September 30, 2004 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Current Affairs 

First, a little background.

I’m a basically liberal/libertarian kind of guy. I believe in gay marriage, unlimited access to abortion (coupled with morality standards that keep most people from wanting them), some governmental support of lower income/disabled people and gun control. On the other hand, I believe in some standard conservative ideals: small government, a focus on law and order (and obeying the law), the death penalty and general hawkishness on defense. Admittedly, the intersection of these beliefs causes some contradictions and on individual issues I have to make individual decisions.

Since I’ve been able to vote, I have usually voted for the Democrat in races. The few exceptions involve cases and races where the Democrats chose to run someone more conservative than the Republican. In any race where I can’t really decide, I choose the Democrat by default because they general agree with me on more issues than not.

However, in this year’s Presidential contest, I’m pretty much undecided. I don’t really like Bush. After his election in 2000, I remember asking my wife “How long do you think it will be before he invades Iraq?” That was before 9/11. I will give him credit for handling 9/11 well initially (well, except for the part where he kept reading to the kids while the Towers burned) – probably better than Gore would have. However, I have serious problems with Bush’s conservative policies and the erosion of civil rights after 9/11. On the other hand, the Democrats put up a pretty sorry candidate this year. I would have preferred Edwards to be the Presidential candidate.

So, what do Bush and Kerry have to do to get my vote tonight? Don’t forget that this is a foreign-policy focussed debate – no commentary on domestic issues here.

George W. Bush

Mr. Bush has to answer for the lies told before the Iraq invasion. We were told that there were Weapons of Mass Destruction – none have been found in over a year. It was implied that Iraq was involved in 9/11 (mention both in the same paragraph in the State of the Union speech and you make that implication) – it looks like Al Qaeda was rebuffed by Saddam Hussein prior to his downfall. I haven’t heard any plausible answer to why those inaccuracies existed. I am forced to agree with the left wing – this war was not about WMD, and not about terrorist threats to the US. I saw this war coming at the 2000 election – it’s all about getting the guy his Daddy didn’t get, and who threatened his Daddy.

Secondly, Mr. Bush has to come up with a plan for cleaning up and exiting Iraq. The situation now is worse than it was when “major hostilties … ended”. There is no security in many cities, and the US military has essentially retreated from parts of the battlefield. It’s clear to me that there was no plan for winning the peace – just for destroying Saddam. I want to see a plan. Note that I didn’t say see a timeline – I understand that these things take time. I do want to see a plan.

What did we gain from the war in Iraq? We supposedly liberated a nation from a dictator, but it looks to me like they were better off before. If we are going to claim the liberator prize, we need to finish the job. But beyond that, what were the tangible gains to the US? Oil? (nope, oil is up to $50/barrel) Fewer terrorists? (nope, they are blowing our Army up daily) Stronger allies? (nope, most of our allies bolted over the war and few have joined us to replace them) Foreign policy is supposed to be about protecting the interests of the United States of America – so what interests were helped here?

On terrorism, I want to get an honest assessment of the threats still pending against us. I’m not so naive as to think that the terrorists have given up. However, each new announcement from the government seems to come when Bush’s poll numbers take a dive. We either need enough information to be able to form the opinion that some threat was actually in existence and stopped, or we need fewer warnings. The pattern really does look like the warnings are designed to provoke fear in the US voting public for political gain. And how about giving me something to do about terrorism? I’d be happy to take on the work of past wars – plant a victory garden, recycle metal, sacrifice a little food or join Civil Defense. Now, I’m just being asked to sit home and worry.

I don’t really have an issue with pissing off most of the world. We are Americans – we are who we are and the world will just have to learn to work with us. However, Mr. Bush must have a plan for dealing with the effects of that decision. I heard a lot about reducing dependence on foreign oil in one of the post-9/11 State of the Union speeches – but no action.

And for Pete’s sake – pronounce words correctly. You went to my father’s Alma Mater at Yale – I know that they taught you better than saying “nu-cu-lar”. And don’t make up words – you often misunderestimate how it looks when you do that. I have only a Bachelor’s degree from a state school (well, Rutgers is a particularly good one) – I expect the President to be at least as literate and well-spoken as I am.

John F. Kerry

Mr. Kerry has a tougher job. He needs to show me that he’s not just an anti-Bush candidate. He needs to show some momentum of his own.

Don’t just complain about the Administration’s efforts in Iraq – provide an alternate plan. What would you do to reconstruct Iraq and bring the troops home?

Don’t just complain about alienating the world – tell me how you would gain the world’s cooperation in working towards US goals.

Don’t just complain about the terrorist threat and the erosion of civil rights in the US – give me a plan for securing the US against terrorists. What would you do differently?

Also, Mr. Kerry has clearly flipped back and forth on the issues – in some cases on consecutive days. He’s gonna have to take a stand and stick to it. I’d rather have him annoy a group of Democratic voters than be a waffler. I appreciate Bush’s stand on gay marriage here – he chose not to pander to the gay Republicans by sticking with something that he believes in. I totally disagree, but I don’t expect to agree with the President on everything.

My prediction: Bush will “win” this debate unless he makes a colossal error after getting nervous or mispronouncing too many words. The debates on domestic issues will be another story.

Joe Gandelman has a lot of good pre-debate links.

A quick life update

September 23, 2004 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Flying, Life 

I haven’t blogged for a while, so here’s a quick life update.

Flying – I am still at it. I am probably within a month of getting my pilot license – maybe less if the weather cooperates. I have to do another lesson or two to prepare for the test. After that I have to take a “mock” checkride with another instructor from the club. After that – the big day. I already know who the examiner will be – he’s a pilot for Continental so I’ll probably need to take a vacation day for that as his schedule can be wacky.

Solar Panels – still cooking. With the cooler temparatures and sunny days this week, we are pumping (selling) lots of power back into the grid. Be sure to go to Smith Electric Company for pictures and stories of the installation. I’ll update that blog as soon as I have news.

Hockey – Hockey is almost here again. The NHL is on strike, but my Trenton Titans (ECHL) are still playing. I’ll be attending a game on October 11 between the Titans and their AHL affiliates the Philadelphia Phantoms. Since I’m such a good husband, I give my wife an opera or two every year to offset the 30 or so hockey games that she goes to. Unfortunately for me, the local company is performing their fall presentation on October 22, the same night as the Titans’ opening game. I’ll have another two weeks to wait for the next home game!

My Wife’s Job – She’s settling in. She still has to finish out her old Black Belt work, and she has one new person frustrating her on two projects. However, she’s coming home a little less frazzled every day. I think that’s a good sign. She’s been on vacation without me all week – tomorrow I’ll be home too.

Cats – they’re fine. They’ve enjoyed having my wife home all day this week. They are starting to get snuggly again now that the temparatures are beginning to drop. Still shedding a lot, though.

That’s the roundup!

An Open Letter to Charities Regarding Over-Soliciting and Telephone Solicitation

September 16, 2004 by · 4 Comments
Filed under: Life, Shoot Yourself in the Foot 

Dear Charity Fundraising Personnel,

My wife and I make a good living. We have also made the decision not to have children, so our expenses are comparatively lower than people with children. That means that we have a little extra money. We believe in donating to charities that help people. We also believe in spreading our money widely rather than concentrating on one or two causes.

Unfortunately, it seems that you regard a donor as another name to be sold to other charities. This causes LOTS of mail at my house. Additionally, some of you feel that if I gave once, I’ll give again – right away. That ADDS to the pile of mail. The end result of this is that we now receive 3 or 4 letters per day from charities wanting our money.

What effect does that have on you? There are a few:
1. Most solicitations from charities that we have never donated to are recycled unopened.
2. All solicitations from charities who mail to us too often (once a week in some cases) are recycled unopened.
3. Many solicitations from charities that we do donate to are caught up in the above, and recycled unopened.

There’s just too much mail coming in wanting my money. This Presidential Election year has made it worse. My wife and I are registered in opposite parties, and BOTH parties seem to feel that we’ll donate to them – even to Senate candidates from other states! It’s gotten to the point where I want to consider stopping donations just to cut down on the amount of mail.

When it comes to telephone solicitations, things are even worse. Our telephone numbers are on the national and state Do Not Call lists. Now I know that charities are exempt from those rules, but what makes you think that I want to have my dinner interrupted by a rude person demanding my charity money anymore than I want the interruption from someone selling a timeshare? We are sufficiently upset by this that we have made a rule – we will NOT donate to someone who solicits money via telephone AT ALL. No phone pledges, and no mailed donations either. You call us, you’re cut off!

There are a few simple rules to getting our money:
1. Be a cause or charity that we believe in. It’s a very good sign if we’ve given you money in the past – you’re likely to get more. It also helps if you have a good reputation for putting most of your donations to work, rather than using them to raise more.
2. Send us a letter requesting funds once or twice a YEAR. I make my donations based on the amount that I want you to get for the whole year. Asking me more often isn’t going to make me give more – it’s going to annoy me and you’ll get less.
3. For Pete’s Sake – don’t send me a letter with suggested donation amounts where the lowest amount is MORE than I gave last year. That’s just pushy. Maybe I can give you more that last year, and maybe I will. Maybe I have reasons that I don’t want to give as much as last year – because I’ve chosen to allocate my charity money differently or because my finances are tighter. When I give you $100 one year, and your letter lists options of $150, $300, and $500 you’re telling me that you see me like a big piggy bank. Try $100, $150, and $200. Or better yet, $75, $100, and $150. I use Quicken and keep track – when I put your name into the electronic checkbook it tells me exactly what I gave you last time.
4. Don’t EVER, EVER CALL ME. That will get you a polite request to put me on your Do Not Call list, and a complete stoppage of donations. Repeated calls will get you an FTC or state complaint. It’s perfectly fine to call me to ask if I’ll participate in your activity (work on houses, serve at the soup kitchen, walk in a fundraiser, donate blood), but DON’T CALL ASKING FOR MONEY.
5. Sometimes, I only want to donate once. Maybe my deceased aunt or her family requested a donation to the “whatever disease she had” fund. I want to honor her memory in a more permanent way than flowers, so I donate to your charity. That doesn’t mean that I’m now a convert to the cause and want to donate again.

Follow those rules, and you’ll stop wasting money on mailed solicitations and phone calls, and start putting my money where it should be – to serve the end goals of the organization.

Sincerely,

Mark Smith

(I’ve submitted this to the Outside the Beltway Traffic Jam)

Stupid People #2 – Soprano’s Italian and American Grill Lake George NY

September 15, 2004 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Can't Make This Up, Food and Drink, Life 

In Lake George, NY, charges have been dropped against Humberto Taveras after he was alleged to have left a less-than-desired tip for dinner. (Newsday story)

Mr. Taveras ate at the restaurant on September 9 with a party of 8 people. He wasn’t happy with the service provided by the restaurant, so he left a tip of about 12%. The menu listed a mandatory gratuity of 18% for parties of 6 or more. When he left a smaller tip, the restaurant owner (Joe Soprano) had him arrested for theft of services.

The Warren County District Attorney dropped the charges yesterday, stating that customers cannot be required to pay a gratuity.

What’s most worrisome to me is the attitude of the restaurant owner that a gratuity is required. A gratuity is just that – something given in thanks for good service. It is never required, though you shouldn’t be too surprised if you have to wait forever for food that has been spit upon if you come back to a the same place after leaving a lousy tip.

I generally tip 15%. Twenty years ago, I can remember the expected tip being 10%. Now, it seems like 20% is not only expected but demanded for average service. I generally use 15% because it’s fairly easy to calcluate in my head. I do tend to round up, especially if I get good service, but I’m also not afraid to reduce the tip for poor service.

A mandatory gratuity is an oxymoron. The folks at Soprano’s qualify as morons as well.

Stupid People #1 – Texas Rangers

September 15, 2004 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Current Affairs, Life, Sports 

(Plenty of people being stupid – it’s time to write a few up.)

Texas Rangers rookie reliever Frank Francisco was arrested Tuesday after an altercation at Monday night’s Oakland A’s game vs. the Rangers in Oakland. (AP Story at SI.com)

It seems that the game was very close in the bottom of the ninth, and the Rangers had just tied the score with a home run. Some trash talk (note, that *talk*, nothing physical) started between the A’s fans and the Texas bullpen. This apparently enraged Francisco, who threw a metal folding chair into the stands. It bounced off one man’s head and hit a woman in the face, breaking her nose.

He’s been arrested and charged with aggravated assault. The game was suspended for about a half-hour and the fans were cleared from the area. The teams and umpires decided to resume the game rather than declare a forfeit (for which side is unclear).

This guy is an idiot. He’s playing in the majors – he’s gotta be making a few hundred thousand dollars in salary. Anybody making that much can afford to hear a little trash talk without overreacting.

Even stupider is the Texas coach, Buck Showalter. He claimed that it was the fans’ fault that one of his overpaid players just had to throw a heavy object at fans.

I hope the league comes to its senses and suspends Francisco and fines Showalter.

Remembering September 11

September 11, 2004 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Current Affairs 

Today is September 11, 2004. The day that we remember the tragedy of 3 years ago.

I woke up a little early this morning for two reasons: 1. my wife got up early to head to her parents’ in North Jersey and 2. I wanted to see the coverage of the Ground Zero ceremony.

I watched from the beginning until just after the 2nd moment of silence. I had to go outside and cut the lawn and generally continue life. I tuned back in later and saw the after-ceremony coverage.

They had a reflecting pool set up for the family members, police and fire to go to for prayer and such. I saw the pool before the ceremony – empty and serene. As family members went they left pictures, mementos, and wrote message on the simple wood frame of the pool. Flowers were left floating in the pool. I was surprised and heartened later to see it at 11am – the pool was a riot of color from all of the flowers that were floating in it. The reflecting pool was completely filled with flowers.

I think that sums up my feelings on the stage of grief that we’ve reached. We’re still sad, but life is beginning to continue for most of us. We remember, but our memories are becoming more positive about the lives of the people who were lost. We are healing.

This is very powerful: Exhibit 13

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My September 11 Story

September 10, 2004 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Current Affairs, Life 

Tomorrow marks three years after September 11, 2001. I think perhaps it’s time to write down my personal story. (Thanks to Michele who prompted me with her article on the subject.) It’s not exciting – I didn’t know anyone hurt or killed – but it was traumatizing to me just the same.

Read more

Saudi Arabia wants to be your friend

September 3, 2004 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Current Affairs 

This morning on the way to work, I heard this radio ad on WMGK-FM. (Commercial MP3 from KFI-AM – it’s identical).

Clearly, the negative publicity is getting to Saudi Arabia somehow. Maybe they’re losing some money. Maybe they’re afraid that Bush will lose (Pennsylvania is a swing state – I heard this on a Philly station) and Kerry will change the US policy towards Saudi Arabia. Maybe they’re worried that we’ll stop buying their oil once we switch our cars to hybrids or fuel cells.

At any rate, I’m not buying it. This parody from KFI’s John Ziegler pretty much explains it. The Saudis are not our friends – they are still being two-faced. Teaching hatred of Americans at home and then trying to look friendly to us. Shoot, these are the same people who 3 months ago were giving amnesty to terrorists who “gave themselves up”.

UPDATE: I sent a note to WMGK about this advertisement, stating that it was full of lies and that they should pull the ad.

Here’s their response:

MARK:

Truth in advertising is one of many important issues to the people of WMGK. We work hard to ensure that listeners hear valid messages from our entire spectrum of advertising clients. Notice that these spots air with an opening disclaimer. We also work hard to adhere to the guidelines given us by the Federal Communications Commission in executing our reponsiblities concerning the public airwaves. All points of view are given equal consideration as per federal law. The message to which you object is airing on many radio stations and quotes from public documents. I apologize that it appears to have offended you and hope your loyalty to WMGK will not be affected in the long run.

(Roy Perry for) Jim Brown, General Sales Manager WMGK

Now, I know that they COULD pull the ad if they wanted to. I guess this is a fair cover-your-butt answer to my response. I just hope that they heard the message that I was sending them.