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.

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

Election 2008 – Who You Pulling For?

Has anybody been keeping up with the candidates so far? I’m pretty undecided at this point. I mean, I’m not the most politically savvy person out there (actually, I’m probably one of the least), but I’ve been trying to follow some of the coverage for the upcoming primaries, and I still can’t pick a favorite.

Republicans
Ok, for the Republicans, Mike Huckabee has been my favorite. I like his core values; I like the fact that he’s not so staunchly “Republican” that he won’t work with others; and I’ve really liked a lot of his answers in the debates. I think he makes a lot of sense, and everytime I’ve seen him, he’s stayed calm and cool. I like those things.

But I do have a strike against him: as I’ve learned more about his tax position (and you can read more about it here), I’ve become more leary. He’s a big supporter of the “fair tax.” Sounds great with a name like that, doesn’t it? The fair tax works like this: instead of taxing people on their income — that’s right, no income tax! — you simply charge a higher sales tax. That way, people are only paying tax for the things they buy. If they don’t buy much, their taxes drop substantially.

Now on the surface, that sounds really good. But here’s the problem: lower and middle income people spend almost 100% of what they make, while upper income people spend a lower percentage of their income. Therefore, the gap between rich and poor becomes much wider, and people with lower incomes will carry a much bigger tax burden than those with more money.

Huckabee says this “fair tax” would be about 23%. Considering you might pay 8-10% already, that doesn’t necessarily sound outrageous. But remember, only 4% of that is federal. And that 4% would be replaced with 23%, which is substantial. And you should also know that 23% isn’t exactly accurate. It’s actually closer to 30%. Most people, when they talk about sales tax, talk about it as a separate thing from the cost of the item. In other words, if I buy something that costs $100, and it has a sales tax of 23%, I’d expect to pay $123. But Huckabee isn’t talking about tax in the same way. He’s talking about the tax as a percentage of the total price. In other words, that $100 item would actually sell for $130, because the $30 of tax only accounts for 23% of the total figure. Basically, we’d be looking at a national sales tax of 30% on everything we buy. Once you add back in your state and local sales taxes, you could easily be facing a sales tax of 34-36%, maybe higher.

To be honest, that scares me to death. When you contrast it with the current system where low and middle tax brackets are able to take advantage of many different deductions, the “fair tax” would take us in the opposite direction.

But to be fair, you have to remember that the future President can’t just do whatever he wants. Congress would still have to approve an idea like that, and I doubt it would fly. Aside from that issue, I do really like him. And if he’d change his stance on the tax issue, I would easily pull for him to get the Republican nomination.

Romney is a guy that I still need to do some research on. The fact that he’s Mormon doesn’t bother me, especially after the speech he gave. But in the debates, he sometimes seems to have trouble deciding how he wants to answer questions. That could be for many different reasons, but it still makes me feel a little less certain of him. Is he just unsure of how he wants to answer, or is he just trying to tell people what they want to hear?

Ron Paul is the other Republican candidate that I’m really interested in. Personally, I completely buy in to his ideas on foreign policy. I think many of our problems stem from us rubbing our nose in everyone else’s business for so many years, and I highly favor less military action and more diplomacy. We’ve got enough issues in our own country that should be dealt with. I’d prefer we leave everyone else alone. I’m not as familiar with his position on some other issues, and he’s another candidate that I’ll have to do more research on. The only thing that has concerned me a little with him is that he sometimes seems anxious in the debates. I want a President who can stay calm and rational, and I have less confidence with Ron Paul in that area than I do with Mike Huckabee. But at the least, I’m still intrigued by him, and very interested in what he has to say.

Honestly, the other Republican candidates don’t do a lot for me. Fred Thompson seems to almost be an extension of what we have right now, and I certainly don’t want that. I have a lot of respect for McCain, but I think his position on the situation in Iraq seems just a little too one-sided. I don’t pull for Giuliani because he doesn’t really mirror my own moral and social concerns, and those are the only real reasons I ever vote Republican. Honestly, if he wins the Republican nomination, I’ll definitely vote Democrat. I like him, but I wouldn’t vote for him. Now, I’ve liked some of what Tancredo has had to say, but I don’t think he really has a shot at it. And Hunter just makes me nervous. It seems like everything he says is for effect, and I just don’t want a car salesman in the White House. It looks like he’s trying to wink and grin everytime he says something.

Democrats
I’m still researching the Democratic nominees right now. If I had to choose one out of the bunch it would probably be Joe Biden. I like the things I’ve heard from him on health care, Iraq, Iran, and education. I also like the fact that he’s been in Washington politics for a very long time. He seems consistent and seems to be the real deal. I’ve even heard that he takes public transportation to work every day. I think that’s impressive. I think it’s really unfortunate for him and the American people that he hasn’t had as much attention as the other guys.

I’m also interested in Barack Obama, but I’m woefully uninformed about him right now. And the same thing applies to most of the other candidates. I’ve listened to some debates, but that doesn’t always give you the deeper issues in a campaign. The only one I really don’t like right now is John Edwards. I’ve really gotten tired of hearing about his father’s factory, or whatever it is. Edwards seems to blame every problem America has on “BIG BUSINESS.” I’m not an economist. But I do know enough about economics to know that there are many factors that go into why jobs come and go. But it seems like he wants to blame everything on trade deals and Corporate America. Someone who continues to oversimplify a problem like that seems to have an agenda in my opinion, and for that reason he tends to scare me.

The Bottom Line
Anyway, I really wrote this stuff out just to get my thoughts on paper. But feel free to comment on it. Like I said, I’ve tried to stay informed and keep up with what’s going on, but there’s a lot of information I’m still not aware of at this point. So I’d love to hear some other ideas on the different candidates. Who do you like and why? If I’ve misunderstood something about any of these guys, let me know. The Alabama primaries aren’t until Feb 5, and I intend to do some hardcore research between now and then. I’d absolutely welcome direction from anyone.

Good luck to us all, and God bless America!

Chronicles of the Sears Warehouse Vol 1: Rise of the Pigeonslayer

The following story is based on actual events. The names of people and places have been left the same, mostly due to laziness. Some poetic license has been taken, but the overall gist remains true to life.

Come, sit down by the fire. Wrap yourself in its comfort and warmth. For I have a tale to share with you — a tale of blood and adventure, a tale of heroism and tyranny. It’s the tale of a man who was more than a man; indeed, he was a terrible being of light and fury, and his name was Clint.

As for myself, I was but a simple warehouse supervisor back in those days, young and inexperienced in the ways of the world. Though my hands remain relatively clean of the brutality that transpired, I must admit that it was I who set the events in motion. And as a horror-stricken bystander, I saw first-hand the things I am about to tell you. So come closer, my friend, enjoy the protection of the fire and lend your ear to my story. For you are about to learn of the Pigeonslayer.

As a young man of 20, I was given the task of running an off-site warehouse for the magnificent company Sears. Behold, you have probably seen its name in lights in many cities across the world. Truly, it is a great empire of capitalism, though its splendor seems somewhat diminished in this current age. But at that time, its power was unrivaled, and I was but one of many who sought gainful employment with such an icon of supremacy.

In my new profession, I had three charges under my care: the stoic Jeff, the noble Donnie, and the quick-witted Clint. Lo, they were worthy men who handled forklifts and handtrucks with an awesome dexterity. Their comely behavior toward our customers was quite admirable, and our modest little warehouse was soon known far and wide as a fair and productive establishment.

But one of our number harbored a dark secret. Indeed, beneath his smiling facade there resided a far more brutal and sinister nature.

Clint was one of my closest companions, and had been since our school days. One of my first actions in my new post at the warehouse had been to hire him.  And if I had known of the horrible things that were to transpire, perhaps I never would have brought him into the employ of our magnificent warehouse.  But how could I have known?  Indeed, things began wonderfully! Oh, they were joyous days filled with jovial frivolity!  When we weren’t encumbered by our normal responsibilities, we would often find time to converse about important matters such as Final Fantasy VIII and the young maidens we were each enamored with. But a shadow began to loom over these happy days. A winged shadow that struck terror into the hearts of lesser men. Woe unto us, our beloved warehouse had been infested with pigeons!

For a time, we strove to ignore our unwelcome guests, though they abused us with their insolent coos and littered us with their obtrusive poop. But their rebellious attitude was soon more than we could bear, and we began plotting some way to be rid of them. Jeff, Donnie, and myself often wondered aloud if nothing could be done to block their entry into our dear sanctuary. But Clint thought on a more primitive scale.

One ill-fated morning, as Clint strode toward the lavoratory, he happened upon a pair of especially seditious pigeons who refused to yield to him. They simply strutted back and forth, casting him sidelong glances, and insulting his manhood with their brazen diatribes. It was to be a disastrous miscalculation on their part.

Behold, in Clint’s hand was a roll of packing tape. And upon the provocation issued by the pigeons, he launched forth his sticky missile with an amazing velocity and deadly accuracy. The first pigeon exploded into a cloud of feathers, and his companion immediately took flight, screeching its curses and fixing Clint with an evil eye.

Donnie was kind enough to clean up the mess and give our fallen enemy a soldier’s burial in our trash compactor. And though I hoped the incident would pass peacefully, I somehow knew that we hand’t seen the last of our foe.

The next morning dawned bright and cold. Upon arriving at the warehouse, we were met with a dark, ominous mass of feathered warriors, perched upon the roof of our beloved building. At their head was the savage pigeon that had fled Clint’s wrath on the previous day. Never have I seen a fowl offer so foul a scowl.

But Clint was undeterred.

Verily, he had prepared in earnest for this battle, as though his life depended upon it. And in truth, it did. He alone understood the savage cruely of pigeons and the depths to which they would sink in their avaricious quest to annoy mankind. You see, though none of us knew it, they were his sworn enemy. Pigeons had murdered his parents.

Clint strode up to the throng with a baseball bat slung across his back, and 6 tubes of tennis balls attached to his belt. With a loud, ringing voice, he addressed his foes: “Hark, ye rebels! Forsooth, I have sworn to strike ye down with great fury, should ye encroach further into the sanctity of our establishment. Ye abhorrent pigeons have dealt me more woe than any man should bear, yet I have borne it with great integrity to this point. But mark my words, if I see one false motion of a wing, I shall see you stuffed and mounted on this building for all eternity!”

As one, the pigeons sounded forth a great tumult, and though I do not speak Pigeon, I am inclined to believe they said something like, “ARRRRR!!!” For no sooner had he stopped speaking than they arose with one accord and bore down on us like ravenous hawks.

Clint launched forth a dozen tennis balls in but a moment, which somehow managed to fell 41 pigeons. Donnie, Jeff, and I ran in abject terror while feathers and tennis balls whirled around us. At one point in the battle, as I lay huddled under a nearby car, I glimpsed Clint wielding his baseball bat with wreckless abandon. Like a whirlwind, he moved with a speed I could not follow, and not a single pigeon was able to penetrate the destruction wrought by his flailing arms.

Finally, as the dust and feathers cleared, I saw Clint locked in a life-or-death struggle with the commanding pigeon. They rolled upon the ground slashing and gouging at one another in frantic combat. Clint tried a move he had once seen a famous pugilist use and tried to bite off the pigeon’s ear. But his attack was thwarted when he realized pigeons had no ears.

Nonetheless, the fight was soon over, and Clint stood above his vanquished enemy in triumph. The pigeon offered a few whispered coos as its final words, but none of us had any inkling as to what they meant. And since customers had long since been lining up outside our establishment, we all decided to get back to work.

But never again did we face trouble from pigeons. Faithful Clint kept his promise and stuffed many of the pigeons that fell there that day. Even now, they remain perched atop the Sears warehouse as a warning to any belligerent pigeons who might choose to roost there, even though all of us have moved on from the magnificent service of Sears. Clint was awarded a Sears Medal of Valor and a 15%-off coupon good on any purchase (except cosmetics and fragrances).

Never again has he been forced to raise a tennis ball in anger.

Howdy, Stranger…

Well, it’s been quite a while since I’ve posted.  I’ve had a severe case of “blogger’s block” lately, and I still haven’t kicked it. I’ve been wanting to post some killer stuff, but have no idea what to write about. I mean, my life has been pretty normal lately (which makes it abnormal for me), and thus, relatively uninteresting. I’ve gone to work, gone to school, gone home to the wife and kids, played video games, read comics, and slept. That’s about it.

But I hope to make some other posts very soon. Maybe I’ll get some massive dose of inspiration and compose some heartfelt diatribe on some drastically important topic. Of course, that would require learning about something drastically important. And let’s face it, it’s doubtful I’ll put that much effort into anything.

Oh, I do have some really good news though…

I just saved a ton of money by switching to Geico. No, really… I’m serious. You should check them out.

The Final Trilogy – Episodes 7, 8, 9?

Year ago, I took my first excursion into the Star Wars Expanded Universe with Timothy Zahn’s novels, commonly referred to as the Thrawn Trilogy. They take place about 5 years after Return of the Jedi and deal with the New Republic’s battle against the remnant of the Empire. The series was very good and is highly praised by most Star Wars fans. It also introduced some of the most popular Expanded Universe characters, including Mara Jade.

Apparently, there’s a movement going on to turn these books into movie form. The intention is to rally together enough fan support to make 3 feature length films (all digitally animated — like Shrek or Toy Story) for everyone to enjoy. It’s a non-profit project; it’s simply being done for the love of the series.

If you’re interested in checking it out (including a trailer) or trying to help in some way, go to www.CreateStarWars.org.

May the Force be with you…
createstarwars_banner_3.gif