For a few weeks before my 30th birthday, I often recited a classic quotation that’s attributed to humorist Dave Barry:
“There comes a time when you should stop expecting other people to make a big deal about your birthday. That time is age 11.”
It’s safe to say that my friends and coworkers didn’t get that memo. On Friday afternoon, my colleagues at work completely surprised me with a birthday cake, card, and a gag registration form for one of our company’s co-sponsored products: “Take the Levitra Challenge!”
Then, at our friend Marty’s housewarming party the following night, my shore house friends presented me and another partygoer with a birthday cake and champagne. And as if that wasn’t enough, many of the same friends came out to Kildare’s in King of Prussia for a surprisingly large gathering for brunch on the big day itself.
Turning 30 doesn’t seem that bad after all. Who could ask for better friends?
[ No. 127 ]
With just over a week to go before the 2004 presidential election, it’s time to announce the official endorsement of monorailmike.com.
My political leanings are fairly moderate — I’m registered as an independent, and my general philosophy is to vote for the best candidate regardless of his or her party. So, for most of this highly polarized election year, I’ve been one of those elusive undecided voters. Many political analysts have derided people like me, saying, “If you don’t know who you’re voting for by now, you’re just not paying attention.”
That’s not necessarily true — I watch the news, read the paper, and generally try to stay informed. But this is the fourth election that I’m eligible to participate in, and it’s the fourth time that I’m left to wonder: these are our choices? If the election were an episode of Let’s Make a Deal, I’d be tempted to ask Monty Hall if I could choose door number three (and Nader wouldn’t count).
Basically, I’ve struggled with choosing between an incumbent who makes a lot of poor decisions and a challenger whose Senate record implies that he can’t seem to make a decision at all. So, let’s start by reviewing some of the major issues that have surfaced during the Bush presidency:
- The war in Iraq. Let’s make this very clear: the U.S. invaded Iraq because our intelligence (now an ironic term) supposedly contained evidence that Iraq possessed, or was trying to possess, weapons of mass destruction. And back in March 2003, that sounded fairly plausible to me.
- But since then, we haven’t found weapon one in Iraq, and Bush has responded by simply changing his story — the U.S. needed to overthrow Saddam Hussein, liberate the oppressed Iraqi people, and/or “spread democracy” in the Middle East. Noble motivations all, but none of them are true. The American invasion of Iraq was a preemptive strike against a perceived threat of WMDs, period.
Does that make Bush a liar? No. I don’t think he’s intentionally trying to deceive the American people. But I wish that he would just level with us — something along the lines of:
“My fellow Americans, we had to make an incredibly difficult decision last year based on intelligence that presented a threat of WMDs. Since then, that information proved to be inaccurate. But our military forces can’t just leave Iraq in chaos, so we have to finish the job. We’ll do everything we can in order to withdraw from Iraq as soon as possible, and make every effort to prevent such intelligence failures in the future.”
- But in an election year, Bush can’t concede anything. Rather, he’s chosen to rationalize the war in Iraq under the banner of “fighting terrorism” — even though a bipartisan panel found no link between Iraq and the Sept. 11 attacks.
- Tax cuts. First of all, I’m a little tired of hearing about how the rich will benefit the most from lower taxes. The top 20% of the earners in this country already shoulder 63.5% of the tax burden — is that really fair?
- But on a personal level, the $300 refund that I received really didn’t make much of a difference in my life. And more importantly, implementing federal tax cuts during wartime doesn’t make much sense. The war in Iraq carries a price tag of hundreds of billions of dollars, and the government is asking for less revenue? That’s like buying a million-dollar house and voluntarily taking a pay cut at your job — not a smart financial move.
- Higher expenses and lower revenue leads us to…
- The federal deficit. A traditional strength of Republicans used to be fiscal conservatism — keeping government to a minimum and its costs under control. But Bush has been spending like a thief with a stolen credit card — just four years following a surplus, the federal deficit has skyrocketed to $413 billion.
- That’s 413,000 million dollars, folks. Adjusted for inflation, it’s the highest deficit since World War II, and a clear sign that the Bush administration has no interest in fiscal responsibility.
* * * * *
The presidential debates helped me to form an impression of Kerry, and although the debate format is too rigid for any truly meaningful discourse, I was surprised to find myself nodding at most of what he had to say. Unlike the president, Kerry has actually mentioned the concept of an exit plan in Iraq, although he rightly acknowledges that it will take years to complete. He has argued against tax cuts during such a volatile time, and has stressed the importance of bringing government spending under control.
But back to Bush for a moment — the most telling moment of this election season was a question posed to the president by an audience member near the end of the second debate:
“President Bush, during the last four years, you have made thousands of decisions that have affected millions of lives. Please give three instances in which you came to realize you had made a wrong decision, and what you did to correct it. Thank you.”
Read the transcript — Bush didn’t name one specific mistake. He weakly suggested that he may have erred in appointing a few unnamed people “to boards you never heard of,” but spent most of his allotted time defending his decisions about Iraq and tax cuts.
To me, Bush’s response really spoke volumes. Even in the shadow of military and economic peril, President Bush stubbornly refuses to admit any of his mistakes. He seems to be impervious to criticism from others and incapable of self-criticism. When new information becomes available, changing one’s mind is not necessarily “flip-flopping” — sometimes, it’s referred to as “thoughtful analysis.”
I voted for Bush in 2000, mainly as the lesser of two evils. But he has failed to give me one good reason to reelect him in 2004, and Kerry appears to be a much more sensible candidate by comparison. Although I’ve never voted for a Democratic presidential candidate before, there’s a first time for everything.
The verdict: Kerry/Edwards.*
* Update: My friend Steve made a valid point about this analysis:
You actually didn’t really say much about the person you chose. …Maybe the verdict should have been “not Bush” (didn’t really say why you liked Kerry).
Steve is right — my argument is a bit uneven, since I have much less knowledge of Kerry’s record in the Senate than I do about Bush’s record as commander-in-chief. So my decision is probably more of a vote against Bush than for Kerry (the lesser of two evils once again).
It’s hard to predict how Kerry would govern; campaign promises don’t always translate into results. But it’s clear that the president is obsessed with consistency and neither learns from nor acknowledges his mistakes. So a second Bush term would likely be more of the same — an even more belligerent foreign policy and an even higher federal deficit by 2008.
If that’s the forecast under Bush for the next four years, then I have to side with Kerry.
[ No. 126 ]
Congratulations to the Boston Red Sox for achieving the unthinkable. With their 10–3 victory over the New York Yankees earlier tonight, they completed the biggest comeback in baseball playoff history — in over a century, no team had ever rallied from a 3–0 deficit to force a seventh game, let alone win the postseason series.
After losing the first three games in the best-of-seven 2004 ALCS to the Yankees (including an ominous 19–8 rout in Game 3), the Sox won four straight to capture their first pennant since 1986. The amazing comeback was comprised of exhausting 12- and 14-inning wins in Games 4 and 5 at Fenway, and improbable victories in Games 6 and 7 at hostile Yankee Stadium.
To every Yankees fan who has delighted in mercilessly taunting the Red Sox with childish “1918” T-shirts and “Who’s your daddy?” chants — your beloved, overpaid Bronx Bombers will be remembered for one of the most embarrassing collapses in any sport, ever. And for just the third time in the last nine seasons, a team other than the Yankees will represent the American League in the World Series. (This is what it’s like to lose for once, guys — enjoy the winter.)
Best of luck to the Red Sox in the Fall Classic. Hope they can “reverse the curse” after 86 long years of futility.*
* Update: On Oct. 27, the Red Sox shut out the St. Louis Cardinals, 3–0, to capture their first World Series title since 1918. After being left for dead in Game 4 of the ALCS, trailing by one run and three outs away from elimination by the Yankees, the Red Sox won eight postseason games in a row and swept the Cardinals — who had posted the best regular-season record (105–57) of any major league team this year.
As a Philadelphia fan who’s quite accustomed to frustration and failure, I’m very happy for the Red Sox and their fans. Boston’s inspiring triumph is a truly landmark moment in sports history, and victory couldn’t have happened to a more deserving team.
[ No. 125 ]
Well, I finally got around to throwing a housewarming party. For me and a lot of my friends, the majority of Saturday nights during the summer are spent at the Jersey shore, so a mid-fall gathering seemed to be a better choice for a respectable turnout. That plan worked out pretty well — about 40 people came over to check out the new place and enjoy some beverages and snacks.
Lessons learned from the inaugural bash:
- Evite, the online invitation service, rocks — it’s easy to use, free, and has plenty of useful features. In fact, I still like Evite even though it’s owned by those greedy pigs at Ticketmaster, and for me, that’s really saying something.
- If you’re planning to stock a refrigerator with beer, make sure to crank the temperature down to the coldest setting, and do it well in advance. I didn’t think of doing that, and the beer never really got cold enough in the fridge — thank God for the ice-filled cooler out on the balcony.
- One of my traditional appetizers, smoked gouda cheese, was a huge hit once again. It’s inexpensive, requires zero preparation, and people love the stuff.
- I knew this already, but I have some truly great friends — some that save the day by bringing extra bags of ice, and others that ignore your stated no-gifts policy and bring thoughtful presents anyway, just because.
The party also gave me an opportunity to dabble in some graphic design, too — the Evite, directions, and sign on my storm door sported the following official party logo (the typeface may look vaguely familiar):
Now the question is: when’s the next party?
[ No. 124 ]
Random sights and sounds:
- Two bizarre political posters, as seen among the crowd behind the anchors on CNN after the final presidential debate last night: KERRY EATS BABIES (now there’s a debate topic) and U.S. OUT OF IOWA! (when did we invade Des Moines?).
- The introduction to “Vertigo,” the new single from U2: “Uno, dos, tres, catorce!” I hate to break this to you, Bono, but you need to brush up on your Spanish — you’re actually counting off, “1, 2, 3, 14.” (A quick Google search led me to a U2 message board, where someone posted a flimsy explanation that the lyric refers to the band’s 14th album, but I don’t buy it.)
- Joe Paterno, as quoted after Penn State’s 20–13 loss to Purdue: “We’re better today than we were a week ago. But we’re not good enough. And I’m tired of not being good enough. It’s as simple as that.” Here’s a news flash from the PSU faithful, Joe: we’re all tired of it. How about a winning season for a change?
[ No. 123 ]
When I bought my townhouse in June, I had assumed that I was joining a group of mature adults. But after attending my first homeowner’s association meeting, I’m not so sure.
The meeting was rather uneventful at first. But at one point, a number of residents began to complain about various landscaping problems near their properties, and demanded to know why the association has lacked a landscaping committee for the last six years. The answer from the board was predictable, even to a new guy like me: not enough people had expressed interest in volunteering to participate on such a committee.
The following circular exchange continued for the next 30 minutes:
Board: We’ll be happy to have a landscaping committee, as long as there are volunteers to serve on it.”
Residents: “Do the by-laws provide for a landscaping committee?”
Board: “The board can form any committee it wants, and we’ve already said that we’d be happy to, but people need to sign up for it.”
Residents: “But that means that you have the final say over any decisions, right? That isn’t fair!”
And so on and so forth. The board members seemed to be perfectly reasonable, but the residents acted like a bunch of petulant children. Maybe I’ll skip next year’s meeting.
[ No. 122 ]
Two Flash movies you simply must see:*
- “Laid Off: Hollywood Bound” by Odd Todd — the true story of our unemployed, bathrobe-wearing hero pitching ideas for his own show to TV executives in Los Angeles. The re-enactment of the Odd Todd Show pilot is hysterical. (Make sure to check out his new game, Mep Ball, too.)
- “Good to Be in D.C.” by JibJab — a new animation from the same guys who produced the wildly popular “This Land” in July. This second installment features timely cameos by Jim McGreevey, John Ashcroft, and Dan Rather — no one is safe. Required viewing before the election!
* Update: While channel surfing over the weekend, I happened to see the “Fun Site of the Week” segment on PSU’s In the Money. The program’s site directed me to Angry Alien Productions — a site that takes a few blockbuster films, condenses them into 30-second clips, and re-enacts the key scenes with cartoon bunnies. I know, it sounds like a strange idea, but check ’em out — these animated movies are extremely clever.
[ No. 121 ]
Last night’s vice presidential debate was much more interesting than I’d expected — Cheney and Edwards seemed to speak more candidly than their higher-ranking running mates, actually. I wouldn’t really give the edge to either one, but the following remarks from Cheney, directed at Edwards, floored me:
“You’ve missed a lot of key votes: on tax policy, on energy, on Medicare reform.
“Your hometown newspaper has taken to calling you ‘Senator Gone.’ You’ve got one of the worst attendance records in the United States Senate.
“Now, in my capacity as vice president, I am the president of Senate, the presiding officer. I’m up in the Senate most Tuesdays when they’re in session.
“The first time I ever met you was when you walked on the stage tonight.”*
Source: Commission on Presidential Debates, Cheney–Edwards transcript
Damn. Is it just me, or does Cheney sound like a college professor scolding one of his students for cutting class?
On a related note, my friend Larry also watched the debates on TV and noticed that one of the placards in the “spin room” was labeled DEVINE for Kerry senior adviser Tad Devine (no relation to yours truly). Given my interest in fonts, Larry e-mailed me to say: “I thought maybe you were giving your comments as spokesman for the New Times Sans Roman Serif Party.”
(Wish I had thought of that — a political party devoted to the defeat of the typographical scourge known as Arial.)
And on an unrelated note, I really got a kick out of this — at work this afternoon, I found the following anonymous message written on a Post-It Note and attached to the vending machine down the hall:
I WANT MY PRETZELS
Hey, don’t we all!
* Update: It turns out that Cheney actually did meet Edwards prior to the VP debate. But I doubt that many voters heard about that fact — most will probably only remember the original sound bite.
[ No. 120 ]
Last week’s trip to the doctor’s office, prompted by a nagging cough that would simply not go away, taught me two valuable lessons:
- I had been battling bronchitis, and would need to get reacquainted with my old antibiotic friend, Zithromax.
- The scale confirmed what I already knew: a summer that was long on beer and late-night food, and admittedly short on exercise, had taken its toll.
It’s a shame, too. For the first four months of this year, even during cold weather, I had been very disciplined when it came to workouts — I’d lost some weight and felt much healthier than I had in a while. But buying a new house and going to the Jersey shore almost every weekend became a convenient distraction, and now I’m right back to where I started.
So, after a five-month absence, I returned to the gym after work today. My arms and legs were a little sore and wobbly right after finishing the weight circuit, but that’s a good feeling that has been long overdue. And I’m already looking forward to trying out one of the many running trails in Chesterbrook tomorrow night.
But I’m reminded of one of the greatest mysteries of our time: why is it so easy to fall out of shape, but so hard to get back into it?
[ No. 119 ]