Some Cool Election Links

Hey, I ran across a post entitled “My wife made me canvass for Obama; here’s what I learned” a few minutes ago and thought it was great. If you get time, check it out.

Also, this weekend, I was pointed to a video that Ron Howard has put together about the election. If you loved the Andy Griffith Show and Happy Days, then you might want to take a look at it. You’ll get to see what Opie and Andy think about this election… You can find it at FunnyOrDie.com.

Have You Decided? (only 5 days left…)

Well, we’re rapidly nearing the end of this long campaign, and by this time next week, we’ll know who our next President will be. I haven’t posted regularly on this blog for a long time, and even when I did I didn’t often talk about anything of much significance. But I feel like I should say a little something for the one or two people who might actually see this post.

If you haven’t yet decided on who you want to vote for, then please consider voting for Obama. I have a lot of respect for both candidates, but there are several reasons why I think Obama is better suited to be our President.

Foreign Policy
John McCain certainly has a lot of good foreign policy experience, and he is widely considered to be the stronger candidate when it comes to this area. But Obama’s foreign policy ideals actually had me leaning in his direction early on. For a long time, I’ve felt like we have needed a softer tone and more direct diplomacy when it comes to dealing with other nations. I was extremely disappointed when Bush referred to Iran, Iraq, and North Korea as the “Axis of Evil.” I know that when I have disagreements with someone, I don’t tend to get very far with them when I call them names. To me, it seemed like very poor judgment for Bush to assign such an inflamatory label on anyone, especially if we ever had hopes of resolving our differences.

And since that time, we’ve seemed to handle certain situations with too much swagger and bravado, which has hurt our international influence. We need someone who can be more measured and can look at all sides of a situation before passing judgment. Things in life (especially politics) are rarely simple, and it’s a bit naive to act as though there’s only one right way and one wrong way. I think Obama shows the willingness and judgment to find those compromises.

The Economy
If you’ve followed the news much at all lately, you’ve heard a lot about the economy. Both sides have plans for trying to solve the financial crisis. I won’t waste time delving into the specifics of each one and trying to pick a favorite. You can go to any news website and find plenty of information there. But I will point out that both sides have experts that back them. And the reason for that is that economics is not an exact science. There are lots of ways to run an economy, and they all have good and bad points. You have to go with the plan that makes the most sense to you.

I will say, however, that Barack Obama’s plan does include tax breaks for everyone who makes less than $200,000 a year, and the only people who will see an increase are those who make over $250,000 a year. And the increase they see will put them roughly back in line with what they were paying under Clinton. It has been estimated that the typical taxpayer will see a larger tax cut from Obama’s plan than they would under McCain’s. Obama has a comparitive tax calculator you can check out if you like. There are others out there, I’m sure.

McCain has criticized Obama for planning to raise anyone’s taxes during a recession. He has said that it will stifle job growth, etc. I can see some of the logic in that. However, it seems to me that if tax cuts are given to the middle and lower classes — people who tend to spend everything they make — then the money from the tax cuts will go right back into the economy, which will spur job growth and the overall economy.

But beyond all that, Obama has apparently always had an interest in economics. And while he was at the University of Chicago, he spent a great deal of time learning about different economic theories. He identifies with Robert Rubin, Robert Reich, and Ronald Reagan all at the same time. If you’re interested in more information, the NY Times did an excellent (though long) article about it here. Essentially, he’s interested in what works and how it works, and I think that’s very appealing in a Presidential candidate.

Healthcare
There’s been a lot of talk about this issue, and the word “socialist” has definitely been thrown around concerning it. But I think the reality of Obama’s plan is actually pretty logical. First of all, when his mother was dying, he was really affected by her concern over medical bills during a time that she should have been allowed to think about her and her family. And since then, he’s run into others who want health insurance but haven’t been able to get it due to preconditions, etc. That’s who he’s trying to help.

His plan would only make health insurance mandatory for children. Adults don’t have to participate. And most importantly, his plan does not hand healthcare over to the government. Currently, most people can get insurance through their work because all the employees form a buying group that allows them to get lower rates — almost like buying toilet paper in bulk. Obama wants to set up a similar system for the uninsured. In fact, his website probably explains it the best:

The Obama-Biden plan provides affordable, accessible health care for all Americans, builds on the existing health care system, and uses existing providers, doctors and plans to implement the plan. Under the Obama-Biden plan, patients will be able to make health care decisions with their doctors, instead of being blocked by insurance company bureaucrats.

Under the plan, if you like your current health insurance, nothing changes, except your costs will go down by as much as $2,500 per year.

If you don’t have health insurance, you will have a choice of new, affordable health insurance options.

Education
I don’t have much to say here other than pointing out that I’m a big supporter of public education. If nothing else, I think it’s a great investment in our future. The medical care I’ll need when I get old will come from people who may not even be born yet. The next miracle drug may come from a brilliant kid that currently lives in a poverty-stricken part of the country. Ensuring that they have a good education will pay off big for me in the future.

Obama believes in funding education and attracting quality teachers. He wants to provide more access for early childhood education and make it easier for people to go to college. If you’d like to check out his full plan, you can do so here.

Social Issues
If you know me well, you would classify me as a social-conservative. In fact, if you know me well, you’re probably surprised that I’m voting for Obama. So let me explain my thinking here.

I believe that marriage is defined as a union between one man and one woman. I don’t want that definition changed to anything else. Luckily, Obama also believes that. He has publicly stated (and Joe Biden has as well) that he does not support gay marriage. However, he does believe that if someone’s gay, he should be able to visit his partner in the hospital, etc. I actually agree with that. There’s no reason why people should be denied things like that just because of their lifestyle.

Secondly, I believe that human life starts at the point of conception, and it should be treated as something precious. Obama also believes that it is something precious. He is not “pro”-abortion; no one is. However, he does believe that there are circumstances (rape, incest, the health of the mother, etc) that can make a decision over whether or not to have an abortion a lot more complicated. He believes, therefore, that that decision should be left up to the individuals involved and not mandated by the government. Personally, I am very much against the idea of abortion. But at the same time, I can see the value of Obama’s position. And as he has said, regardless of what side of this issue we might be on, we should all be able to agree that reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies is in everyone’s best interest.

Wrap Up
Anyway, this is just my opinion. And living here in Alabama, there are many who disagree with me. But if you’re someone who is still undecided, then I urge you to strongly consider Barack Obama. I really think he’s the candidate with the best policies and qualities to lead our nation forward. No matter who is elected, we’ll all need to give them our support. But until then, it’s great to know that we have an opportunity to affect the outcome.

Hello Again

Well, it’s been quite a while since I’ve done any real posting on here. Been pretty busy with work and school; although, the cool thing is that I’m in my last semester now, and I’m only taking 1 class. I’ll be done in early December.

It’s cool to be so close to graduation. I never thought I’d go back to school, but it really hasn’t been that bad. I’ve learned some cool stuff. It was in March of last year that I really started thinking about going back. I posted about it at the time, but it was still sort of just a “what if” then. In some ways, I’m still kind of surprised that I actually did it.

But anyway, things have been going well. The kids are getting older, my hair’s getting grayer (and yes, those things are directly linked), and Star Wars is kicking off a long TV series this Friday! Things just keep rolling along…

The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.

And whither then? I cannot say.

— JRR Tolkien

Okay… Cure for Hiccups Unveiled…

Wow, it’s been so long since I’ve done anything here…  WordPress has even updated their dashboard.  Kind of threw me off for a minute.

Right now, I’m sitting in the computer lab for UAB‘s School of Business working on a take home final for my last programming class in C#. I’m working on a little project that combines web development (ASP.NET) with database manipulation (ADO.NET), and I’m feeling a little frustrated. Maybe later I’ll post the link for anyone who might like to see it (though it’s not much to look at).

Anyway, this frustration reminded me to write about two things that seem to irritate most people, but that I think I’ve found a solution for.

The first is hand dryers in public bathrooms. Usually, when people use these, they hold their hands under them for a few minutes, and then resignedly wipe their hands on their pants. I was the same way. But a few years ago, I happened to read (and follow) the directions printed on the dryer and discovered the crucial hand-drying step I had been overlooking all these years.

Rub hands vigorously.

You see, the warm air is not supposed to dry your hands completely on its own. Instead, you’ll find that if you rub your hands together while you’re holding them under the air vent, they dry quite nicely. It’s the combination of the warm air from the dryer and the friction of rubbing your hands together that does the trick. Try it next time…

Of course, if you’re using one of these newer hand dryers that has harnessed the power of a typhoon, then there’s no need to rub your hands. Just keep an eye on them and make sure your skin doesn’t fly away.

The other thing that has always been the bane of man’s existence is the hiccup. Well, I have found the cure.

Seriously, give up all that drinking water, holding your breath, having people scare you, standing on your head nonsense. I figured out how to cure these things several years ago. It takes some self-control, but it’s really not too hard to accomplish.

First of all, hiccupping is caused by involuntary muscle movements in your abdomen. Being involuntary, you can’t control them — at least not directly… I theorized that if you could calm your body down, starting with the muscles you can control, then the rest of your body should be able to catch up.

The best way to get rid of these things is to lie down and close your eyes. Then, you want to concentrate on your breathing. Take slow, even breaths and try to relax every muscle in your head, face, and neck. Then relax your shoulders, your arms, your chest, your stomach, etc, all the way down your body. Simply relax completely and even out your breathing. Try not to think about the hiccups. In just a couple of minutes, you’ll realize that you don’t have them anymore.

This takes a little practice, depending on how good you are at relaxing. Since I excel at laziness, this isn’t too hard for me. But for you over-acheivers and Type A people out there, this might take a little practice. Don’t get frustrated, just relax and enjoy it.

And let me know if it works for you… I never have trouble getting rid of them anymore, and it even works for my 4 year old daughter.

Take it easy, and I hope to post again soon!

Sparring Masters

A while back, I posted a picture that I had doctored to give my daughter and nephew lightsabers. Around that same time, I had pulled a bunch of pictures off the interweb to goof around with in the same way. Some of them actually turned out pretty good, so I thought I’d start sharing some of them with you. Hope you enjoy!
training-masters.jpg

Music

I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I’ve posted about lots of different things on here, but for some reason, I’ve left out music. I honestly don’t know why — music makes up a pretty big portion of my life and always has. As a kid, I would sit for long stretches of time and listen to my parents’ records. Jackson Browne, Elton John, Steppenwolf, Emmy Lou Harris, and others formed the soundtrack of my early life. When I was about 7 years old, I got a boombox, and two tapes for Christmas. They were Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA and Phil Collins’s No Jacket Required. I loved them.

I still remember that Christmas pretty well; it was the first one where I felt like I had gotten something grown-up. It’s hard to describe, but I had finally reached some new plateau of freedom. I no longer had to rely on my parents to put an album on for me… and I no longer had to succumb to someone else’s musical whims. I was free to play any tape at my disposal, or even just listen to the radio. For a seven year old, that’s power…

At night, I used to go to sleep to music. I kept my stereo on the headboard of my bed, and my tape case was next to it. I had all of their locations memorized. When a tape finished, if I wanted to listen to a different one, I could reach behind me, eject the tape, put it in its case, find another one, and slide it into the tape deck without ever having to turn on the lights. If I had memorized my multiplication tables as well, imagine where I’d be now…

And my tastes have always been pretty eclectic too. In 3rd grade, I saved up and bought Bon Jovi’s Slippery When Wet album. I also had stuff by Billy Joel, the Beach Boys, the Beatles, Def Lepard, and though I’m somewhat ashamed, New Kids on the Block. I was lucky enough to start high school at a great time for music… the summer of ’92. I had just discovered Eric Clapton and was really digging his guitar licks, when I also started getting into Pearl Jam, Metallica (the Black album is what first got me interested in them), Soundgarden, Stone Temple Pilots, Alice in Chains, Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, etc. And so while I was becoming indoctrinated with the grunge bands of the 90’s, my love of Clapton was also leading me back toward the 60’s and 70’s. I ended up becoming one of Hendrix’s biggest fans. And from there I got into the Doors, Grand Funk Railroad, and Pink Floyd.

At this point, it’s hard to find genres that I don’t like; although, it’s gotten much harder for me to listen to anything with offensive lyrics. But beyond that, I can usually find something I like in any style.

There are all kinds of things that can make music great. I love the delicate intricacies that can sometimes be found in melodies and progressions. There’s a live version of Hendrix’s “Hear My Train a’Comin'” that contains a riff that is just heavenly to me. And David Gilmore’s solo in Pink Floyd’s “Don’t Leave Me Now” is simple, but so incredibly powerful! Gilmore and B.B. King always knew that the notes you don’t play are just as important as the ones you do. Like King said, “notes are expensive… spend them wisely.”

Sometimes it’s the lyrics that really make a song. That’s why I love Jackson Browne and Dashboard Confessional. It’s that line or story that comes out in a song, and when you hear it, you might not even be able to put your finger on what it is, but something just seems to speak to you. Something that shouts a resounding YES! in your head because what they’ve said is somehow just right.

That’s why I love music. Whether it’s simple or it’s complicated, it doesn’t really matter. It just has to be something that fits you. The reason why is irrelevant.

And so I think I’ll leave you with the lyrics to one of my favorite songs. Maybe it won’t be anything special for you. And to be honest, I think I love it as much for the musical phrasing as for the words themselves. So if you ever get the chance to hear the song, do it. By the way, one of the things I love about this song is how some of the imagery is carried farther than just a line or two.

Farther On – Jackson Browne
In my early years I hid my tears
And passed my days alone
Adrift on an ocean of loneliness
My dreams like nets were thrown
To catch the love that I’d heard of
In books and films and songs
Now there’s a world of illusion and fantasy
In the place where the real world belongs

Still I look for the beauty in songs
To fill my head and lead me on
Though my dreams have come up torn and empty
As many times as love has come and gone

To those gentle ones my memory runs
To the laughter we shared at the meals
I filled their kitchens and living rooms
With my schemes and my broken wheels
It was never clear how far or near
The gates to my citadel lay
They were cutting from stone some dreams of their own
But they listened to mine anyway

I’m not sure what I’m trying to say
It could be I’ve lost my way
Though I keep a watch over the distance
Heaven’s no closer than it was yesterday

And the angels are older
They know not to wait up for the sun
They look over my shoulder
At the maps and the drawings of the journey I’ve begun

Now the distance leads me farther on
Though the reasons I once had are gone
I keep thinking I’ll find what I’m looking for
In the sand beneath the dawn

But the angels are older
They can see that the sun’s setting fast
They look over my shoulder
At the vision of paradise contained in the light of the past
And they lay down behind me
To sleep beside the road till the morning has come
Where they know they will find me
With my maps and my faith in the distance
Moving farther on