All posts by BklynGuy

Democrats’ Disaster

Today, the Democratic rules committee meets to decide what to do about Florida and Michigan, which were disqualified by the party because they held their primary elections too early.  In 2004, John Kerry was the clear winner after only a few weeks of campaigning, and many people across the country felt disenfranchised because they were voting only after the winner had been determined.So this year, many states fell over themselves trying to hold early primaries. New York moved its primary to early March, and Florida and Michigan moved theirs to January, in violation of Party rules. The decision had been made in 2007, and the consequences of that decision were clear: their delegates would be barred from the convention.

In response, the candidates refrained from campaigning in the two states, and Obama took his name off the Michigan ballot. Clinton won both states, through name recognition and the fact that she had yet to endure the slings and arrows of the campaign season.

And now that Clinton is behind, she’s yelling ‘disenfranchisement’ and demanding that the delegates from these states be seated with their full voting rights. (This is why, despite the fact that I voted for Clinton in March, I’m against her now: she has no integrity.) The voters of Florida and Michigan were disenfranchised by their state Party leaders, who thought they could break the rules and then get absolution through moaning and wailing.

As far as the rules committee’s decision, sadly, I don’t think it really matters. It won’t matter how the issue of Florida and Michigan are resolved, and it won’t matter who wins the Democratic Party’s nomination for President: the party will lose anyway. Maybe their candidate will be elected, but I doubt it.

The two candidates are perceived as members of a ‘disadvantaged’ groups: Hillary Clinton is a woman, and Barack Obama is black. If you favor Clinton over Obama, you’re a racist, and if you favor Obama over Clinton, you’re a sexist. Whoever wins will alienate the other half of the party’s base, and no party can expect to win that way without broad appeal beyond the base, which neither candidate has.

On the metrics, it’s hard to assess who would be the better candidate. Obama got more votes in primaries and caucuses, but in polls matching them against John McCain, the Republican candidate, Clinton does a few points better.

It’s been suggested that Clinton and Obama could both be on the ticket if the winner picked the loser to be the Vice President. Alas, I don’t think that will work either. Clinton as Vice President will be the Democrats’ Dick Cheney: the dark force that is the real power. Obama-Clinton mirrors Bush-Cheney too strongly. And if Clinton, through some degree of political legerdemain, became the Presidential candidate, many people would believe that she stole the nomination from Obama. In either case, the ticket would get lukewarm support, at best, across the Democratic spectrum, and that will not suffice to win.

Bingeing…

The Memorial Day weekend was somewhat of a lost weekend for me. No, I didn’t get drunk: instead I indulged in my secret vice, reality television.

I have been bitterly disappointed by the state of televised entertainment. I would love to watch the tube and get a good laugh, but situation comedies are populated by clueless buffoons who prattle on about pointless idiocies. The last network TV program that I made time in my schedule for was The Apprentice. At first, it was an object lesson in how to succeed in business: the characters were driven to do their best because they wanted–really wanted–to work for Donald Trump. But then it came to be about the personalities, then the alleged deprivations of sleeping in a tent. In its final incarnation before they pulled the plug, the original strivers were replaced by indifferent celebrities who were playing for charity.

So I spent the last weekend watching The Deadliest Catch, the saga of Alaskan crab fishermen. No buffoons; no idiocies; just the drama, humor, and, yes, glory of good hard work. When I was a kid, the airwaves were full of stories of adventures and characters who were not dysfunctional.

Today, such characters are the province of science-fiction series, as well as Deadliest Catch and its kin: Ax Men, Ice Road Truckers, The Alaska Experiment, and America’s Port. Besides the drama of accomplishing something worthwhile, the reality shows include animations illustrating the details of fishing or logging or whatever.

Today is Wednesday, the night of my newest vice, ABC’s Wife Swap. Sometimes I go out on an evening walk with my wife and miss it, but I’ll watch it if I’m home. I want to rail at it as child abuse, but it’s strangely compelling. Perhaps it’s that the producers select two couples that are polar opposites: super slackers vs. anal-retentive achievers. With such extreme parents–of either stripe–exposing the children to something different can only be an improvement. OK, it’s formulaic, but it works.

But then, so is Deadliest Catch: launch the pots into the water, wait a bit, throw the hook, and then pause just before the contents of the pot come into view….

Back to politics and whatever tomorrow!

Saving Money? What’s That?

In Dr. Laura Schlessinger’s blog a few days ago, she wondered what happened to the habit of saving money. For a student of the world, and how it has become a more difficult place, it’s a more than fair question. The statistics are chilling: while we were able about 8% of our income in the 1980s, the figure today is less than 1%, and has even gone negative.

“Waste not, want not: my mother always said that.” Well, when I was growing up, my mother always said it. She started a savings account for me shortly after I was born; when I was older, she would tell me about growing up in the Depression. My parents saved and invested: they weren’t rich but they had a comfortable retirement. And my mother’s problem, when the end was near, was not that she was poor, but that there was nothing that she could spend her money on that would give her peace. (From time to time, when she really couldn’t take care of herself, she went to a nursing home, and hated every millisecond of it.)

For my part, when I was first making my way out in the world in 1983, saving money was not a problem for me. I deposited my paycheck in the bank, paid the rent and my bills, took $40 from the ATM at a clip, and watched my bank balance gently float skyward, even though I was barely earning $8/hour.

And then I got married (the first time) and faced the emergency of parenthood, and the wheels fell off. I’ll skip the really icky part, when I got divorced: you’re supposed to be broke when you split up.

Since then, I’ll be able to drop $50 or $100 in my savings account, but only occasionally. And then something will happen, and the money will come back out. For now, I have an excuse: I’m building my business, and my personal income is not up to where it was when I was in my last job.

But before I went into business for myself, saving was difficult, if not impossible. I think I know why, even though these sound like weak pretexts rather than good reasons:

  • Futility: Let’s say that you want to buy an apartment. Here in Brooklyn, they’re not cheap: let’s say $400,000, not to load the case. If you have to put 10% down, that’s $40,000, and if you can save $100/month, you’ll need about 30 years to accumulate it. If you can scrounge $400/month, it will still take a good few years. (Perhaps I was foolish not to take advantage of all the deals that were available a few years ago. But if I had, now I’d be bankrupt on top of everything else.)
  • Wanting to do something nice: When my wife wants something nice, I have a choice: I can be the Blue Meanie and say we can’t afford it, or I can whip out the plastic. And when it’s the end of the week, and I can relax for a bit, it’s nice to go out for dinner. OK: when you do the math, it’s a few thousand dollars a year. But would it really be worth it to be a tightwad?

But beyond that, saving isn’t cool in the popular culture. The news guy every night tells us that the economy depends on consumer spending: while I don’t take it too literally (no: it’s not my partiotic duty to spend!), it’s unfortunately true as a practical matter. And the Robert Kiyosaki ‘Rich Dad, Poor Dad’ books suggest that the way to wealth is not through doing and saving: it’s through owning. (But how you you get the werewithal to buy something so that you can own it? I guess that’s beside the point.)

I could save money. I could brown bag it for lunch, and ditch some of the restaurant meals.

Why is that so hard?

Pleasant surprises

Last night, while playing with my new PDA, I listened to some of the music files came with the device. Some were inane, but one was compelling: ‘Perfect Weapon’ by Communique, from about early 2004. I’ve given up on listening to the radio and so rarely will popular music seep into my consciousness, so this was a pleasant surprise.

The lyrics are a little silly: “Our bodies keep sweating/We’ve found the perfect weapon.” (You mean that you shower that infrequently?) But it’s propulsive and cool, and that seems very rare these days.

* * *

125 years ago this coming Saturday, the Brooklyn Bridge was opened to traffic. The Brooklyn Borough President (an amiable guy who appears to have no actual political function) noted on the news tonight that the celebration would kick off early with fireworks tonight. My wife and I often walk from our house to the Brooklyn Heights promenade, a short distance from the bridge, so we decided to watch the show.

There weren’t that many people on the promenade when we arrived, but the fireworks show was nice. It was a little chilly in the evening, so my wife and I snuggled together as we watched. I tried to take some pictures to capture the moment, although I still haven’t caught the knack of capturing fireworks with a digital camera.

Brooklyn Bridge Fireworks 2008

The last major anniversary of the Brooklyn Bridge was the 100th anniversary, in 1983. I remember the time: I had just finished engineering school, and I was working on the evening of the fireworks. I watched the show back then on a black-and-white TV at my workplace, an exercise in futility if there ever was one, and followed it up with black-and-white pictures in the newspaper the next day.

Twenty-five years hence, when the bridge is 150, I’d like to believe that I’ll still be around, with my wife. We’ll be, well, old, but such is life.

It’s a vaguely pleasant thought.

New Toy

After all my hemming and hawing, I went out today and bought a new AT&T Tilt, realizing that it’s essentially the only game in town.

Now that I have it, I love it and I hate it.

The keyboard is small, but it’s functional, and it’s backlit, so that I can type in the dark.  And my first operational test of the PDF reader–one of my Giant Spec Books from work–passed with flying colors.  I’m typing this entry on the subway home from work, so I can now officially consider myself among the ranks of honest-to-God bloggers.

But there are annoyances, too:

  • It runs Windows Mobile, which includes a pocketable version of Windows Media Player.  Wonderful, I thought: I can load up some music on an SD card, and listen to it on the way home.  But even though it has Bluetooth and works with my headset, it only plays music over its speaker.  (Perhaps I’ll have to read–gasp–the instruction manual.)
  • I had a picture that I used as wallpaper on my old phone, and I thought it would work well on the Tilt, because it’s dark and the text that the system displays is white.  But for reasons that escape me, the picture appears washed-out as Tilt wallpaper, so it’s useless.  I’m stuck with the default colors of Flaming Red, Boring Blue, and Bilious Green.

But it does one good thing that none of the other PDAs in my life ever did: it synchronizes through the cell phone network, so it always displays the correct time.

I think I’ll keep it.

*          *          *

The afternoon’s e-mail brought me a missive from Personnel Concepts, purveyors of fine workplace posters.

By law, employers are required to post things like the minimum wage and one’s right to Worker’s Compensation for their employees. And it makes sense to post notices about how to work safely.

But a look at Personnel Concepts’ ‘Break Room Posters’ is instructive.  There are posters for:

  • Avian flu
  • Earthquake preparedness
  • Foodborne illness
  • Homeland security
  • Hurricane preparedness
  • Pandemic flu
  • Tornado preparedness

I have to wonder about a company where they would put all of these posters in their break room.  I would have to believe that the employer’s real motive is to discourage people from taking breaks.

Or encouraging them to be very, very afraid.

Tilting at Windmills

A couple of days ago, I got a mailing from Con Ed, the local electric company, asking if I’d like to sign up to get wind power for my home.

One of the more inane things that have been inflicted on us in recent years is the idea of ‘choice in electric power.’  Once upon a time, electric utilities owned both the power plants for generating power, and the distribution network for delivering it.  Power companies tied their networks together with the goal of keeping the lights on for everyone, as far as possible,  It may have been a little boring, but it worked.

But more recently, the electric utilities divested themselves of their generating plants: power would be generated by ‘electric supply companies,’ and we, the consumers, have a choice of which company whould supply our power.  If you’re a big industrial customer, it probably makes sense: the cost of distribution is a small fraction of the cost of the power itself.

But for one’s home, most of the cost of electricity is the cost of distributing it.  If the power appeared on the grid through elfin magic, at no cost to anyone, my electric bills would not disappear.  And if I say that I want my power from this source or that, what actually happens? As far as I can tell, nothing: the electrons are still the same color when they come out of the socket.

I rail against the American oil habit: I haven’t written about it much here, as I just started last week, but I will.  Is this my chance to strike a blow for energy independence?

Well, wind power costs an extra 2.5 cents per kilowatthour: it’s about a 10% net increase in my electric bill.  (So much for elfin magic.)  And most of the electricity used in the New York area does not come from oil: it’s mostly hydroelectric, nuclear, and natural gas.  So if I pay more, what will it accomplish?

I’m skeptical….

Meanwhile, my fruitless PDA quest continues.  From my research, there’s one manufacturer (HTC) that makes something like what I want.  An HTC machine is sold by AT&T as the Tilt, so that’s my logical choice.  But when I finally found one at an AT&T store, I was bitterly disappointed.  The device has been shoehorned into someone’s arbitrary concept of ‘small,’ and the keyboard is so tiny and contorted as to be useless.

Still, I really need a PDA.  Maybe I should get an Asus EEE: with a 7″ screen, it’s not shirt-pocketable, but it’s small, and maybe it can replace my laptop for some tasks.  But it won’t really fit in my briefcase together with my laptop.  So what should I do?  Get a shoulder bag for it?

Maybe I can take apart my Revo and replace the batteries….

Pot calling the kettle…

On Thursday, President Bush addressed the Knesset in Jerusalem, and made the following remarks…

****

Some seem to believe that we should negotiate with the terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along. We have heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: “Lord, if I could only have talked to Hitler, all this might have been avoided.” We have an obligation to call this what it is — the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history.

****

Well, maybe.

The remarks were taken in the US as an ‘outrage,’ and a slap in the face to Barack Obama, who has indicated that he would be willing to talk with our adversaries.  But to talk to our enemies–to at least initiate a conversation–is not appeasement.  That’s when you give your enemy something that he wants so that, hopefully, he’ll go away and not bother you again.

Years ago, we considered communism as radical, if not necessarily terrorist.  Yet we talked with the Russians and the Chinese, and despite their far greater power to destroy us than the current threat, we were able to keep the world in one piece.

It doesn’t hurt, other than from the standpoint of national pride, of which we have more than enough, to try to talk to our enemies, recognizing, however, that they may not want to talk to us.  One of the essential reasons that our enemies are our enemies is that they believe that their cause is right, and Bush is correct in noting that it’s really unlikely that “some ingenious argument will persuade them that they have been wrong all along.”

On the other hand, if Bush is looking to lecture someone about the futility of negotiating with terrorists, he needed only to look around him in the Knesset, or in a mirror.

For decades, Israel has been engaged in one ‘peace process’ or another in which it concedes something of value  to its enemies (who are sworn to Israel’s destruction) in exchange for peace, but the peace never materializes.  (Can someone explain to me how this differs from appeasement?)

The Palestinians, with at least the tacit consent of their government, launch rockets into Israel, and Israel, for its part, keeps a stiff upper lip about the destruction they cause.  On the other hand, if Israel exercises its right of retaliation, they are quickly brought to heel by world opinion for having created a ‘humanitarian crisis.’

For his part, after his trip to Israel, Our Fearless Leader went to Riyadh, where he tried to persuade the Saudis  to open the spigots and produce more oil.  The Saudis said no.  Bush made a similar trip earlier this year, complaining about how the high price of oil was affecting the American economy, with the same result.

On the one hand, the Saudis probably see themselves as businessmen, facing one of the basic problems of any business: establishing the most satisfactory price for their product.  But then why are we trying to bend over backwards to be their friends?  (Oh, that’s right: we do that anyway: at all levels of government, we’re more than happy to help big businesses because they will purportedly help the economy.)

On the other hand, the Saudi government does things to its people that would result in armed revolution if anyone tried them here.  And Saudi Arabia is the homeland of most of the 11 September hijackers.

So are they really our friends?

I don’t know, but I guess we have to keep up the illusion that they are, because otherwise they won’t sell us oil, and then we’ll all starve.

And then there’s Barack Obama…

Before I move on to ‘the other guy,’ a final thought on Hillary Clinton: I think I understand why she refuses to admit defeat.  She knows that she’s ticked so many people off that to run again in 2012 is already a lost cause: it’s now or never.

Meanwhile, Barack Obama is preparing to accept the Democratic nomination for President.  Unless he gets hit by a truck or something (why do we worry about this now: we didn’t in the past!), he will probably be the candidate to run against the presumptive Republican nominee, John McCain.  (Why don’t we worry about McCain getting hit by a truck?)

Barack Obama burst onto the scene in 2004, with a speech at the Democratic convention.   When he first campaigned for President, I thought he was a good orator, but underneath it, a political lightweight.  (Or is it that I resent that he’s the first candidate for President who is younger than I am?)

What fools we all were this year!  The states were all falling over each other, trying to have their primaries earlier.  We all thought it would be like 2004, when the winner seemed apparent after a couple of states.  But it didn’t happen that way this time.

Obama inspired his supporters in a way that no recent politician has, and did especially well in caucuses.  But a victory in the big states eluded him (except for his home state of Illinois).

And then there was the matter of his now ex-pastor, the Reverend Wright, who has gone on record to denigrate this country.  He suggested that we brought the events of 11 September on ourselves: curiously, my mother would have agreed with that.  And when the issue came before the public, Obama delivered a thoughtful speech about how he could no more disown his pastor than his grandmother.  I respected him for that: I want a President who recognizes that not everyone believes that our country is always right.

I was dismayed when, in response to further comments from the Reverend Wright, Obama threw him under the bus.  But I understand why he did it.

And then there was the episode where Obama remarked that he believed that small-town Americans were ’embittered’ by the economy, which led them to vote Republican.  The chorous of disapproval was astonishing: one columnist remarked that Obama was ‘finished’ as a result of that remark.

I find this troubling.  I believe that there was a lot of truth to Obama’s observation.  It’s happened often enough that a political group has achieved success by telling its citizens that all their problems were due to something that, in reality, was quite irrelevant.

But worse than that, Obama has been recently referred to as an ‘elitist’ for these and other remarks.  No, he’s not an elitist.  He’s educated, he’s got a brain, and he knows how to use it.   But somehow we’re supposed to shun that in favor of the guy who knows how to bowl.

Anyway, I respect Obama, and I hope that he makes it to be the Democratic candidate.  But will I vote for him?

Tune in tomorrow….

Hillary Clinton Wins WV

Hillary Clinton won yesterday’s West Virginia primary election. That, plus a $2 MetroCard, will get her a ride on the subway….

Years ago, the resident wit where I used to work told this joke:

Bill and Hillary Clinton were riding through Arkansas in the Presidential limousine when they saw an old childhood friend, who worked as a gas station attendant. Bill asked to stop the car, and they talked briefly with their old friend.

After they were on the road again, Bill asked Hillary, “Aren’t you glad you married me instead of him?”

And Hillary replied, “How do you think you became President?”

We always knew that Hillary was, to a non-trivial degree, the power behind the throne of the Clinton administration. And when she started her run for President, her nomination seemed inevitable, even though a sizable part of the population hated her guts.

I voted for Clinton in the New York primary in March: I thought Barack Obama, her Democratic opponent, was a really good orator, but Clinton had the benefit of experience, and would be better able to hit the ground running.

But then the Democratic campaign devolved into a series of hissy fits, and Clinton was the lead hisser. In a spectacular blunder, she spun the tale of her arrival under sniper fire in Bosnia. And now it seems that she stands for nothing, except for getting herself elected.

If I could take back my vote from March, I’d vote for Obama today.

Still—in spite of all this—she won West Virginia. Is it that Obama, who will almost certainly become the Democratic nominee, is saving his resources for the general election? Or is there something else going on?

The PDA Quest

Some time ago, I kept a Web journal (we didn’t call them ‘blogs’ yet) about my experiences as an engineering manager in a really large organization, and a single parent.  It was interesting, but time went on: I got a new job where I had to sign a real non-disclosure agreement (meaning that the ongoing soap opera of my working life was off-limits), and I found true love and got married.  My original motives for blogging faded away, and I stopped keeping it up.

But more recently, things have changed.  The world has become a more difficult place in the last few years.  When I wrote my old blog years ago, weekends were still weekends: I could put most of my thoughts of work aside on Friday afternoon and relax for a few days.  But now, Sunday, which is a workday for my wife (a choirmistress), has become just as much of a workday for me.  I was sick two weeks ago, and am still trying to make up for lost time.

Since I wrote my pages years ago, I’ve gone into business for myself.  I’m earning a living, but it isn’t easy.  Someday, I’ll tell the story of how that happened.  Someday, I’ll also discuss my disgust with the politics of this year’s Presidential elections.

But my annoyance for today has been a search for a PDA.  Ten years ago, I had a Psion Series 5, which was a wonderful machine: it had a nice keyboard, a comfortable screen for composing text, and capable software.  If there were a machine like that today, with a few incremental enhancements (a PDF viewer, wireless networking, and a little more speed), I’d buy it.

But when it fell apart after a few years, the closest thing that I could find was a Psion Revo.  It was a cheap plastic imitation of the Series 5, but it still had a decent keyboard.  Alas, since then, Psion has moved on to bigger and better things.

When the batteries for the Revo gave out, in 2003, my next machine was a Sharp Zaurus.  It was cool being able to carry an entire Linux box in my pocket, and even though the PDF viewer wasn’t the greatest, it was a decent machine.  With a gigabyte SD card, it could easily haul around that subset of my stuff that I carry for ready reference.  But I put it in checked baggage for a business trip, and the bag was never seen again.

So now, I want a machine that includes:

  • a keyboard that I can actually type on;
  • a screen big enough to hold a complete thought;
  • word processor and spreadsheet that can at least take a whack at opening Microsoft Office documents;
  • a PDF viewer;
  • a datebook and personal phone book;
  • wireless networking;
  • a Web browser and e-mail client;
  • and it fits in my shirt pocket..

Is that so hard?

I don’t want a BlackBerry: I’ve encountered too many BlackBerry assholes, who pride themselves on the ability to instantly answer an e-mail, but don’t bother to actually read the message before answering it. 

And it’s not really that important that the device also be a cell phone.  I have a cell phone: I talk to people on it.  If someone really wants to send me a text message, that’s OK, but it doesn’t happen often.

So what’s out there?

There are lots of machines that do entertainment: playing music or video, with wireless Web browsing and texting.  But they don’t do word processing or spreadsheets.  Am I the only person who likes to sit and compose my thoughts?

For better or worse, the only machines that seem to do what I want run Windows Mobile.  But only one manufacturer makes Windows Moble machines with keyboards.  There’s also the OQO, which is a full-bore Windows machine, but it’s expensive, heavy, and doesn’t fit in my pocket.

Stay tuned….