The Thoughts and Musings of Tom Allain

If this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn't help the poor, either we have to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we've got to acknowledge that He commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition and then admit that we just don't want to do it

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Archive for November, 2012

So Does This Make Me a Man?

Wednesday, November 21st, 2012

Over last weekend I was surfing the internet looking for the recipe for the perfect martini. I found that there are several opinions on this (and don’t get me started on the whole gin vs. vodka thing) but I found a good recipe on the website The Art of Manliness.

I used that recipe, and started exploring the page. They had a page on the 100 books every man should read. While I’ve never worried about my status as a man, I’m a sucker for booklists. I even have booklist of my own. So how did I do?

Well, of the 100 books they list, I’ve read (or at least started) 25 of them. Here are the books they recommend that I’ve read:

  1. The Great Gatsby by F.Scott Fitzgerald. I read this a few years ago.
  2. Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut. I read this in 1977 at the end of my junior year in High School.
  3. 1984 by George Orwell. I read this in high school, and was frankly more impressed with his novel Keep the Aspidistra Flying.
  4. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. I read this in 9th grade. The book is excellent but you should also watch the movie.
  5. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. I read this in High School after reading 1984. It didn’t scare me as much as it was supposed to.
  6. The Odyssey by Homer. I can only claim half credit because the web page lists both the Odyssey and the The Illiad, also by Homer. I read only the Odyssey in my 2nd year of college.
  7. Walden by Henry David Thoreau. I ready this in my junior year in High School
  8. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. This has become a political football. I can only claim half credit as I stopped 2/3 of the way through the book as I found Ayn annoying. I still believe I am my brother’s keeper.
  9. Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer. I didn’t like this book, but most of those who read it liked it. I’m happy for them.
  10. The Divine Comedy by Dante Aligheri. I read this in college.
  11. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. It was my gateway to the rest of his stuff, and also to C.S. Lewis.
  12. The Boy Scout Handbook by the Boy Scouts of America. For a very brief time I was a Cub Scout in the late 1960s. They lured me in on the pretense of camping but I soon found out it was all about medals (that I couldn’t have cared less about). On the other hand, this is where I learned to tie a tie.
  13. Animal Farm by George Orwell. I read this in high school before 1984.
  14. The Federalist Papers by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay. I can only claim half credit as I haven’t read all of them, but I’ve enjoyed what I have read.
  15. Moby Dick, or The Whale by Herman Melville. I’ve seen both versions of the movie, and started the book. Someday I’ll finish it. Give me half credit.
  16. Hamlet by William Shakespeare. I took a course in 12th grade on Shakespeare’s tragedies. I’m actually happy about a book I was assigned to read in high school
  17. The Boys of Summer by Roger Kahn. Nancy is a big Dodger’s fan so it was inevitable we’d read this. It was a few years ago.
  18. The Stranger by Albert Camus. I read this as a senior in high school in 5th year French. Do I get extra credit for reading it in the original French?
  19. On the Road by Jack Kerouac. I “read” this as an audiobook a few years ago. I agree with Truman Capote: “That’s not writing, it’s typing.”
  20. Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer. If this doesn’t dissuade you from climbing Mt. Everest, you shouldn’t have children
  21. All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque. I read this in English class in high school; the course was called “War Literature.” It may have started my fascination with World War I.
  22. The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane. I also read this in the “War Literature” course; I was already fascinated by the Civil War. Thanks Mr. Brady.
  23. The Bible. This is really a collection of books, but in the course of several years of seminary, I’m sure I’ve read all of it.
  24. Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry. I read this a few years after the mini-series came out. Still not a fan of westerns.
  25. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. I read this in 9th grade English in a course called “Family Literature.” Thanks Mrs. Peterson. It’s a rare event where the book and the movie are equally brilliant. I still refer to a house in my neighborhood as the “Boo Radley House.”

If you want to see the other 75 you’ll have to go on the web page. I don’t want to publish it here as I’m not eager to have people email me with your shock that I haven’t read your favorite book.

The Justice Chronicles Volume 10: There He Goes Again (Hopefully for the Last time)

Sunday, November 18th, 2012

It’s been five days since the election and binders have been written about what happened and why. The day after the election Governor Romney held a conference call with major donors (that CNN and other news organizations joined) about what happened. This was his chance to be magnanimous, thank his supporters, and move on. That’s what he did in his concession speech.

Instead, he stated that President Obama won the election by pandering to the voters. He said (and this comes from multiple sources on a few different phone calls):

  • What the president, president’s campaign did was focus on certain members of his base coalition, give them extraordinary financial gifts from the government, and then work very aggressively to turn them out to vote
  • With regards to the young people, for instance, a forgiveness of college loan interest, was a big gift
  • Free contraceptives were very big with young college-aged women
  • And then, finally, Obamacare also made a difference for them, because as you know, anybody now 26 years of age and younger was now going to be part of their parents’ plan, and that was a big gift to young people. They turned out in large numbers, a larger share in this election even than in 2008

The best part of this? I don’t even need to react because other Republicans already have.

Newt Gingrich said this: I just think it’s nuts. I mean, first of all, it’s insulting. The job of a political leader in part is to understand the people. If we can’t offer a better future that is believable to more people, we’re not going to win.

Piyush (Bobby) Jindal: [A winning strategy] does not involve insulting [voters] and saying their votes were bought. I’m proud to have campaigned for him across the country, but I absolutely reject what he said. Look, we as the Republican Party have to campaign for every single vote. If we want people to like us, we have to like them first. And you don’t start to like people by insulting them and saying their votes were bought.

Lindsay Graham: Rhetoric like this keeps digging a hole for the Republican party. We’re in a big hole. We’re not getting out of it by comments like [Romney's]. When you’re in a hole, stop digging. He keeps digging.

To this I add only this: Justice is not a gift. Providing people what they need is the role of government. I’m grateful Romney lost.

PS: You can still order Romney campaign stuff on his webpage.

Finally Settled: It’s a Good Thing

Friday, November 16th, 2012

The congressional race I’ve been following has finally been settled. Today Brian Billbray conceded to Scott Peters. As of today Scott has built a lead of 5,132 votes. It’s still not a big number, but it’s worth noting that every day Scott’s lead grows. As for Brian, I’m sure he’ll find a home back in the lobbyist world. I’m just glad I won’t be paying his salary anymore.

It’s Still Not Settled But Going In the Right Direction

Wednesday, November 14th, 2012

Yesterday I blogged that Scott Peters is pulling ahead of Brian Bilbray. It’s still too close to call, but every day Scott’s advantage gets bigger. Last Thursday Scott was ahead by only 565 votes. By Monday Scott was ahead by 1899 votes; Tuesday Scott was ahead by 2660 votes, and today he’s ahead by 2948 votes. Every day his lead increases. I have to confess a little satisfaction here. When I moved to San Diego in 1997 Brian Bilbray was my congressman in the 49th district and was reelected in 1998. In 2000 Susan Davis defeated Brian. He then moved to the 50th district and ran for the seat vacated by Randy “Duke” Cunningham who was in prison. It seemed like a safe Republican seat. It was until Randy and Brian ran. To be fair, the district changed after the 2010 census (including my home) and included more Democrats. In any case I’m celebrating the fact that I’ve been able to turn Brian out twice

The One Election Race That Still Isn’t Settled

Tuesday, November 13th, 2012

The election was a week ago, and by Wednesday morning we knew the results of almost all the races. In my Congressional district we still didn’t know the winner of our race. The incumbent is Brian Billbray, whose district was changed in the 2010 census. Scott Peters challenged him. It’s always an uphill battle to challenge an incumbent for Congress, but Brian’s new district was more Democratic than his old district. The San Diego Registrar of Voters has posted partial results every day and Scott’s lead has increased every day: from 565 votes to 1334, then to 1899, and now to 2660.

I hope this trends continues and Scott is our representative.

Ballot Propositions: Sometimes Democracy is Hard to Love

Monday, November 12th, 2012

I’ve lived in several states in the last few decades and each one brings its own learning curve. When I moved to California in 1988 there were several ballot propositions dedicated to auto insurance reform (as an aside, most of them were drawn up by auto insurance companies to confuse the voters; it didn’t work). I have to admit I was a little taken aback that my ballot contained what looked like ordinary legislation that the state government should have taken care of. I wrongly assumed these propositions were legislation that the legislature didn’t want to act on, and they punted it to us.

I was wrong. I got this information from the state web page. In a special election in 1911 voters approved a way to create legislation (or amend the state constitution) by popular vote, bypassing the governor and state legislature. I’ve boiled down the process:

  1. Write up the legislation you want and submit it to the Attorney General
  2. Determine if it will affect the state budget
  3. Write up the petition and get signatures. You need to obtain signatures equal to 5% of the number who voted for governor in the last election. All signatures must be registered voters.
  4. After the signatures are checked and verified, your initiative is on the ballot. If it gets 50% of the vote (55% in some cases), it becomes law.

We’ve learned over the last 101 years just how easy it is to pass legislation. You need a smart person to write the initiative, and lots of money. Any Californian will tell you that we know it’s election season because everytime we leave a grocery store there is someone there with multiple petitions and a sign that says something like: “Help people get what they need.” The person is being paid, often $1.00 per signature, and usually has no idea what the initiatives actually mean. Once it’s on the ballot you need to spend millions (or least more than your opponent) convincing voters that your initiative is the only thing keeping us from doom and that your opponent wants to destroy all you hold dear.

This process has been taken over by deep pocket special interests. I’ve completely made this up as an illustration, but imagine this:

It’s 1900 and you make buggy whips for carriages. You’ve made a good fortune for yourself and you are touch with others who are equally successful. You hear that there is a guy in your state who is working on an invention called a “horseless carriage.” It sounds crazy, but he’s working on an internal combustion engine that will propel the carriage by burning gasoline instead of being pulled by horses. You recognize that if you remove horses from the equation you also remove buggy whips and your way of life is going to end. You want to ban these horseless carriages but you know you can’t write a ballot initiative that bans them because it’s bad for your business; that won’t pass. In a moment of inspiration you decide that since gasoline is flammable, it must be unsafe. You write an initiative that proposes to ban large containers of gasoline (5 gallons or more) on wheeled vehicles because they are “explosions waiting to happen.” Together with other buggy whip manufacturers you start a campaign called “Citizens for Public Safety” that warns of the dangers of exploding gasoline containers. Ordinary voters, who may not know who you are, vote for your initiative out of fear of firestorms in the street.

Sound crazy? Maybe, but I’m glad I’m not driving a horse powered carriage.

Republican Hand Wringing: Here’s My Theory

Saturday, November 10th, 2012

It’s been a few days since the election and it appears the Republican Party is still trying to figure out how it happened. There is a report from CBS News that Governor Romney and his advisers had no idea he was going to lose. According to the article it wasn’t until the polls closed and the states began to report that the Romney camp finally understood that they might lose. This article came as a surprise to me because I had spent the previous week reading Nat Silver’s Five Thirty Eight blog on the New York Times website. Nate dug down into the numbers and by election eve he predicted President Obama had a 90% chance of winning the election. Turns out Nate’s electoral map was 100% correct.

So how did it happen? I have a few theories:

  • The Chaotic Republican Primary: When any party challenges an incumbent, all sorts of people think themselves the Messiah. Combine this with the visceral hate they all have for President Obama, everyone running for the Republican nomination was convinced of his (or her) inevitable coronation. Some (Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, and Chris Christie) knew better than to run, others (Michelle Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, Herman Cain, Rick Santorum) threw their hat into the ring, had a brief skyrocketing showing in the polls, followed by a freefall. At the end of the day Mitt Romney got the nomination, but lots of Republicans couldn’t hold their nose and vote for him.
  • The search for his own beliefs: Mitt spent the primary season convincing the Tea Party that he was a true believer. He wasn’t; he just wanted to be President. After getting the nomination he spent the rest of the race convincing us that he wasn’t an opportunist. He didn’t. Much to his despair we were listening all along.
  • The disconnect between money and votes: this is probably the heart of the reason for the Republican defeat. The source of their money and the source of their votes were mutually exclusive. We saw staggering amounts raised by the campaign and Super Pacs like American Crossroads, Restore Our Future, Winning Our Future and others. These Super Pacs were funded almost exclusively by angry white men, and Mitt was successful in winning their votes. But angry white men is a shrinking demographic. Latinos are now 16% of the population and 10% of the voting population. Only 27% voted for Mitt (according to CNN).
  • The economy: they kept hammering that President Obama had four years to give us a healthy economy and didn’t. But there were two problems here: in the last few months of the election the economy was showing signs of real growth, and the Republicans had positioned themselves as obstructionists. In 2010 Mitch McConnell said this: “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” Note that he said nothing about improving the economy.

So where do they go from here? On one level I’m loathe to give advice to the Republican party, but I also believe they aren’t listening to anyone, and my contribution will be ignored with everyone else’s.

The first thing they need to do is broaden their appeal. Doing outreach to the Latino population needs to be more than claiming to care about them. They (along with all of us) need to start talking about immigration reform that provides a path not only for the engineer from India, but also the agricultural worker from Mexico.

They also need to move beyond the politics of fear. They were able to raise so much money because they were able to tell their base that “those people” (Latinos, the 47%, etc.) are after what you’ve earned. Now they need to articulate a message that includes everyone.

Finally, they need to move away from the Tea Party belief that taxes are somehow a malignant cancer on the country. Nobody argues the need to be vigilant against waste and corruption, but we can be the great country we all want only when everyone pays his fair share. Telling people that we can balance the budget by cutting income doesn’t work on a family budget or a national budget.

The Morning After: More Relieved Than Anything Else

Wednesday, November 7th, 2012

7:00 PM Pacific Time
This is the most daunting part of this blog, but I’m going to attempt to create a table to show how successful my vote is. I have to confess that peer pressure has never made much sense to me, and I actually enjoy being in the minority, but when it comes to voting I like being in the majority. Yesterday was a good day for me.

Candidate My Vote Winner
President President Obama President Obama
US Senator Diane Feinstein Diane Feinstein
US Representative Scott Peters Scott Peters
State Senator Marty Block Marty Block
State Assembly Toni Atkins Toni Atkins
San Diego Mayor Bob Fillner Bob Fillner
San Diego City Council Sherri Lightner Sherri Lightner
Prop 30 (funding schools) Yes Yes
Prop 31 (state budget) No No
Prop 32 (ban on corporate donations from labor unions) No No
Prop 33 (car insurance reform) No No
Prop 34 (repeals the death penalty) Yes No
Prop 35 (increases penalties for human trafficking) Yes Yes
Prop 36 (amends the 3 strikes rule) Yes Yes
Prop 37 (requires labeling for genetically engineered food) Yes No
Prop 38 (school funding: this was really a smokescreen to confuse supporters of prop 30) No No
Prop 39 (requires multistate corporations who are here to pay taxes based on sales) Yes Yes
Prop 40 (keeps the current redistricting plan) Yes Yes
Prop Z (school funding bonds) Yes Yes

5:30 PM Pacific Time
As I look over my ballot, there is one race still too close to call. With redistricting after the 2010 census we became part of the 52nd Congressional district and our representative changed from Susan Davis (D) to Brian Bilbray (R). Brian was challenged for his seat by Scott Peters. As of right now, 20 1/2 hours after the polls closed, the race is too close to call. Scott has 103,878 votes to Brian’s 103,193: that’s a difference of 685 votes. This may be a while.

As long as I’ve lived in San Diego I’ve started the day reading the San Diego Union Tribune. San Diego is a Republican town and I’ve accepted that the newspaper is going to slant right. Last year Doug Manchester, a local developer, purchased the paper and turned it into his own Twitter feed. Earlier in the year he started endorsing his candidates on the front page. In an op-ed piece in August he predicted Governor Romney would win “in a landslide.” Wonder how he’s feeling about that now. Our subscription expired on September 16th and I didn’t renew, but we kept getting the paper. As I was writing this I got a call from someone from the paper asking about renewing. When I explained that I had no intention of renewing until Doug sold the paper or started having respect for print journalism, the caller told me: “OK, that’s fine. Your balance due is $42.81.” I’m assuming she meant the cost of the paper between September 16th and today. Of course, since I never consented to getting the paper, I don’t owe them anything. We’ll see what happens with this.

5:00 PM Pacific Time
Just home from work. The events of the last 24 hours continue to swim through my head, but hey I still have to make a living.

In addition to the Senate races I spoke about this morning, I am also rejoicing that Maine, Maryland and Washington passed ballot measures allowing for same sex marriage. These three states now join the District of Columbia, Vermont, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and New York. A similar measure failed in Minnesota, and 30 states (including my state of California) have constitutional bans on same sex marriage (I’m getting this information from the LA Times). Eleven other states have laws banning same sex marriage. We’re not done battling homophobia, but last night was a good night.

6:00 AM Pacific Time (9:00 AM on the East Coast, 1400 GMT)
I’m writing this on about 4 hours sleep so be advised. It’s Wednesday morning and there’s reason to be hopeful in America. Not only did President Obama win reelection, several other races went well.

  • In Virginia Tim Kaine (D) beat George Allen (R). Allen had been a US Senator from 2000 to 2006 but lost his reelection to Jim Webb in part because he referred to a man of Indian descent as a “macaca.” I talked about this on my blog on September 4, 2006. Allen ran again and lost again.
  • In Massachusetts Elizabeth Warren (D) unseated Scott Brown (R). Brown was elected in 2010 to finish Ted Kennedy’s term. It’s nice to have it back in Democratic hands
  • In Missouri Claire McCaskill (D) defeated Scott Akin (R). Scott was supposed to win, until he announced that women cannot become pregnant from a “legitimate” rape. Time to head back to your cave Scott
  • In Indiana Joe Donnelly (D) defeated Richard Mourdock. Last month Mourdock stated that if a women becomes pregnant from rape, she should see the child as a gift from God. To be fair, he described rape as a “horrible situation” and never claimed God intended it. But I still can’t wrap my mind around him telling a rape survivor that she’s just looking at the pregnancy in the wrong way.

More later, no doubt.

And So the Counting Begins

Tuesday, November 6th, 2012

This has become a tradition on my part, but I’m going to be here blogging until the election is set, or until I fall asleep in my seat. My primary concern is the Presidential election, but I’ll also be looking at other important local races, as well as returns in San Diego, where I live.

9:55 Pacific Time (1:55AM on the East Coast, 0555 GMT):
My thanks to Governor Romney for his gracious concession speech. It’s been a long night and I’m ready for bed and I’m grateful for his call to reach across the aisles and work for our future. And I’m grateful for his prayers.

9:30 Pacific Time (1:30AM on the East Coast, 0530 GMT):
Still waiting to hear from Governor Romney. I can’t go to bed until I hear his concession, but I have to work tomorrow.

9:00 Pacific Time (1:00AM on the East Coast, 0500 GMT):
We’re still waiting for the concession speech from Governor Romney. I’m not wishing for a repeat of the 2000 election.

8:25 Pacific Time (12:25 on the East Coast, 0425 GMT):
Even Faux News is projecting President Obama the winner. How cool is that?

8:15 Pacific Time (12:15 on the East Coast, 0415 GMT)
CNN is now projecting that President Obama the winner in Ohio. If it’s true, it puts the President over the 270 mark. I’m not going to stop watching (and blogging) until the concession speech, so stay tuned.

8:00PM Pacific Time (Midnight on the East Coast, 0400 GMT)
The polls just closed here in California. It’s no surprise, but it looks like President Obama carried it and our 55 electoral votes are a boost. PBS now projects that the President can claim 225 electoral votes. I’m pleased to see that in my home state of Virginia has elected Tim Kane (D) over George Allen (R).

7:00PM Pacific Time (10:00 East Coast, 0300 GMT)
The polls continue to close going west. The PBS web page is loading slowly and it’s making it harder to get fast results. The best news for me is the race for Senator in Missouri: Claire McCaskill has apparently beaten Todd Akin: he was the person who claimed that women can’t get pregnant from a “legitimate” rape. My complaint with him wasn’t just that he was wrong, it’s that he was stupid. If someone tells me something that unbelievably stupid, I’m not going to listen, and I’m certainly not going to repeat it. The fact that he was so willing to believe something that stupid because it was politically convenient tells me all I need to know about him. Congratulations Claire!

PBS is saying now that the President is leading the electoral college map 173 to 163.

6:30PM Pacific Time (9:30PM East Coast, 0230 GMT)
Governor Romney is still ahead in the projections, 153 to 123. It appears that President Obama should carry Pennsylvania with its 20 electoral votes, and Wisconsin with its 10 electoral votes. I appreciate PBS’s caution, but I’m also elated at the idea that Governor Romney and Congressman Ryan with both loose their states.

6:00PM Pacific Time (9PM East Coast, 2AM GMT)
As a Democrat, I’m getting a little concerned. At this point 4 years ago, Senator Obama was leading Senator McCain 175 electoral votes to 76. Right now Governor Romney leads President Obama 138 to 109. Here’s the optimistic part: Polls have closed in the Midwest, which is the Governor’s stronghold. It may be that he’s already gotten most of the electoral votes he’s going to get; Texas has already gone for him and at 38 electoral votes, it’s likely the largest state he’s going to get. California polls don’t close for another few hours and it will bring 55 votes for the President. As I look at the numbers there’s reason to be hopeful about Ohio. As I write this, 33% of the votes have been counted and President Obama leads 54% to 45%.

5:00PM Pacific Time (8PM East Coast, 1AM GMT)
I’m actually writing this at 5:10PM. Polls have already closed in several states and the votes are being counted. As I write this the projections on PBS are coming in. Right now President Obama leads the electoral vote race 64 to 40. The states line up like this: President Obama should win in Maine, Vermont, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Maryland, Delaware, and Illinois. Governor Romney is projected to win South Carolina, West Virginia, Kentucky, Indiana, and Oklahoma. Other networks have made bolder predictions, but I’d rather be right than fast, and PBS clearly agrees.

The Election is Tomorrow: Do You Know Where Your Vote Is?

Monday, November 5th, 2012

Everyone knows this, but tomorrow we go to the polls and cast our votes. I have strong political leanings but tonight is not the night to share them.

Let me just say this: If you are able to vote in this election and don’t, please don’t tell me. I won’t take it well.

A large percentage of people in our world don’t have this opportunity. It’s easy (though not pleasant or respectful) to live in a totalitarian regime: all you have to do is keep your mouth shut and hope things go well for you. Maybe they will, maybe they won’t.

It’s harder to live in a democracy because our leadership works for us, not the other way around. It means we have to listen, evaluate, judge, and ultimately vote. It means we have to take the time to read through platforms, have difficult and perhaps painful discussions with people we like and love, and show up on election day.

My parents gave me innumerable gifts, and voting was one of them. When they went to vote they took me with them. I watched them go into the voting booth, and they made the connection between what they were doing, field trips to Mount Vernon and Monticello, and my role. When I turned 18 I couldn’t wait to register to vote and I’ve never taken it for granted.

In the past 236 years countless men and women have sacrificed convenience, liberty, and their lives for your right to vote. Make them proud.