Friday, December 10, 2010

Washington DC Triathlon

(post from June 2010 previously lost in the ether)

I had a blast this past weekend celebrating my 40th birthday and racing in the Washington DC triathlon.

I'm pretty happy with my race performance - I beat all of my goal times, though my performance was hampered by knee sprain bad enough to make me walk gingerly for more than a week.


Swim (800m/half-mile): 16:06 - top quartile overall - 277th of out 1141 competitors (27 of 78 in my age group.)

Bike (20k/12.4 miles): 40:37 - top half - 504 out of 1141 competitors (47 of 78 in my age group.)

Run (6.7k/4.2 miles): 49:00 - Bad. How bad? Ummm, I beat only 6 guys in my age group.

Thru two-thirds of the race (swim + bike), I was 47th of 78 in my age group, and in the top half of all competitors (502 of 1141).

Here's a collection of pictures of the D. C. triathlon.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Tim Gallagher pardoned by Obama!

More here.

OK, so it's really not me - I'm not 58, don't live in Texas, and don't have a cocaine conviction, but it was fun to write the headline.

This came up when I was doing a routine check of how traffic arrives at my blog. I saw that someone in Holland came to my site after a search on "Timmy Gallagher Obama." My first thought was the my insightful political commentary must carry alot of weight in Europe (ha!), but a quick search revealed the news of Obama's pardon.

This story also reminded me of the time the DMV mixed my records up with another Tim Gallagher. It was quite a shock to learn that I had warrants out for me in states that I've never been to!

(while the DMV episode wasn't fun, it beats the heck out of identity theft.)

more proof that Ben Franklin was spot on...

Just saw this quote from Franklin and thought it worth repeating:

“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” —Benjamin Franklin

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

2010 Election observations from a non-politician

I enjoy watching the results pour in on election night, and always imagine myself as one of the political commentators on CNN, seated between Paul Begala and David Gergen. The reporting teams at CNN and the other networks do a good job of setting the headlines ("Republican wave sweeps Congress"), but tend to lack deeper analysis, so here's my deeper observations on the 2010 elections.

1. The most important man in Congress is now.....Joe Lieberman. As of this writing, which party will control the Senate is unclear, but the outcome will certainly be close, meaning that a 1-Senator swing will be enough to deliver or sink important legislation. There are already rumors that Lieberman might caucus with the R's, and he has the credibility and gravitas to work across party lines even if he stays with the D's. Legislation coming from the D's will need to be within Lieberman's comfort zone ideologically in order to move forward, and likewise, bills coming from the R's will be seeking to pick off Lieberman's support. In short, Lieberman will likely be the deciding vote.

2. Republican candidate diversity augers well for the future. Completely underreported is how the R-party has introduced more attractive candidates who aren't white males. Think of the most prominent R-candidates nationally (not all will win, but they're the people you recognize): Angle, Fiorina, Haley, McMahon, O'Donnell, Rubio, Whitman - all diverse. What you might not know are the regionally recognizable diverse R-candidates who won or are in a tight race: Ayotte (NH sen), Allen West (FL-22), Tim Scott (SC-1), Susana Martinez (NM-gov), Jan Brewer (AZ-gov). Even before all results are in, the Republicans can boast the first Latina governor (Martinez), the first woman Indian-American governor (Haley), (joining Bobby Jindal as Republican Indian-American govs), and at least 2 new African-American representatives.

3. The most significant thing to happen tonight was Marco Rubio's senate win in Florida. Not only is Rubio the Tea Party ideology personified, Rubio represents a fresh face for Republicans, a future national candidate, a foundation for the R's in Florida for perhaps the next 36 years and a clear connection with the Hispanic voters. In short, Marco Rubio = Barack Obama, circa 2006, as this WSJ article suggests. Confirming this notion is the attention that Bill Clinton paid to the Florida senate race last week, trying to get the Democrat to drop out of the race to block Rubio. Say what you want about Clinton the President, but he is a tremendous politician, and he realizes the long term implications for his party with Rubio's success.

4. The trajectory of the Tea Party movement was boosted by the results. Critics say that the Tea Party is a novelty of this election cycle, and expect it to fade away, much like Ross Perot after 1992, but I believe that their accomplishments in only two years of existence suggests long term success. For all of the effort by mainstream politicians and media to marginalize the Tea Party (and let's be honest, O'Donnell and Angle beg to be marginalized), I'd say that the Tea Party has been wildly successful in their first try. I expect that the Tea Party will better vet their candidates in the next election cycle, and there will be less embarrassments (O'Donnell) and more candidates with broad appeal (Rubio, Rand Paul.) The only thing that can curb the rise of the Tea Party is if the D's or R's can deliver a balanced budget amendment or other legislation to institutionalize the Tea Party's core issue, fiscal restraint.

Plus, two predictions:

1. Neither the R's or D's will really "get" the implications of the 2010 elections. Despite their statements on election night, the R's will continue to believe that voters chose R's, rather than voting against D's. The R's in Congress will poll the Tea Party's platform points, co-opt the 3 or 4 that sound best, then hope the Tea Party goes away. Meanwhile the D's will believe in the delusional excuses that they're trotting out. Both parties are congenitally disposed to believe that the party elites are leading the nation, but in reality, they're following the unwashed masses.

2. Obama will not meaningfully move to the right and will face a challenge in the 2012 D primary from Hillary Clinton. These is nothing in Obama's political history to suggest that he seeks, learns from, and integrates feedback, and, if his first two years are indicative, he views legislative compromise as something to be avoided. Obama is a practitioner of hardball politics - play hard, and deal when necessary to get the votes. (Case in point: it was more expedient to offer Ben Nelson the "Cornhusker Kickback" (and similar offers to others) then to change the HC legislation to gain compromise.) Also, when under political stress, Obama's default mode is to demonize the opposition (think about how he has wailed on insurance companies, oil companies, banks, and special interests, when advantageous to the legislation at hand), rather than seek a mutually satisfactory outcome. This instinct -while common in politics - is unproductive in a split Congress.

I think Obama will seek non-economic left/progressive issues that have better than average appeal in the general populace, and use these issues as a wedge against R's. (For example, I think Obama will try to make immigration a prominent issue.) The R's will retreat to "Just say no mode," and the country will suffer. The combination of Obama's hard left policies, and not much political progress due to the stalemate in Congress will enable Hillary Clinton to run to the right of Obama (but still left of center).

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Obama in Charlottesville: thoughts and observations

Background: Obama was in Charlottesville to support incumbent Representative Democrat Tom Perriello in his re-election campaign against Robert Hurt in Virginia’s 5th District (VA-5). Perriello came to office in 2008, riding Obama’s coattails to beat a long time Republican incumbent by~ 700 votes. Since the 2008 election pundits on both sides have recognized that the VA-5 race 2010 is a key battleground, testing both the approval of Obama’s policies, and seeing if a normally Republican district had undergone a long-term change. Polls suggest that Perriello trails Hurt by 6-10%, with Obama’s visit testing his ability to impact the race.

(Author’s background: I’m an independent voter, leaning Libertarian (i.e. towards economic conservatism and mildly liberal social policies, though abhorring progressivism.) I voted for Perriello in 2008, but will be voting for Hurt in 2010. See the bottom of this post for my voting rationale.)

-Obama gave a very good, positive speech, heavy on the change theme, definitely exciting his base and the crowd. Discussion of the Obama administration’s accomplishments/achievements/initiatives were surprisingly light. I didn’t feel like he was trying to sell any new or old programs, but rather to appeal to people with his vision. My guess is that this is Obama’s comfort zone, and what the crowd really wanted to hear, rather than a pitch for expanded infrastructure investment (for example).
Quick observations:

-He spoke for a solid half-hour off of a telepromptr.

-1 mention of Iraq, no mention of Afghanistan, no mention of terrorism (odd, given the news of the day (Yemen)).

-There was zero name calling and almost no jabs aimed at “the other party.” No Republicans were named in the speech (though he did make a reference to the Minority Leader). A couple of references were made to ‘special interests.’

-Obama listed several reasons why the US is in the dumps economically, but I do not believe he named any of the actual, substantive causes. (Fannie Mae…….) Several times he made reference how the economic crisis was due to Republican policies. Almost as many times Obama pointedly stated that there would have been a second Great Depression if he hadn’t taken the necessary steps. (Like TARP, though that word was definitely not used.)

-Side note: Obama used first-person personal pronouns exclusively – “I avoided another Great Depression,” and “I put into effect a $2,500 tuition tax credit.” I can’t recall when he referred to “We,” or “our efforts.” Some would like the fact that he's taking ownership of the issues and outcomes, while some would say that this is another example of the cult of the presidency.

-No mention of the payback and financial return of the bank bailout. I guess that issue is nuclear.

-Obama definitely did NOT directly tie the 2010 election to his. As in “a vote for Tom is a vote for me.” This message was present, though unstated.

-There was a bit of demagoguery aimed at insurance companies, banks, and big business. Whatever makes you feel better, buddy………

-There was repeated of mention of the need to vote for Perriello to continue the change started in 2008, but the change was largely abstract, and there was never really any allusion to a tangible outcome or benefit for voters or America. (As an counterexample, it could have been “In 2011, we want to change _______, and we need Tom’s vote to make the change happen.”) To me, this is equivalent to a salesman making a pitch, but never asking for the business. It might also be an either an indication that the Obama administration doesn’t really have any idea of where to go to next, or an admission that the agenda is likely to change with the new Congress, and it might not be Obama’s agenda to write.

-On the other hand, Perriello, who preceded the President, sounded like Santa Claus handing out gifts from a goody bag, the repeated theme being “I helped bring 1,800 green jobs to Charlottesville…. I got a $2,500 tuition tax credit approved, which is now being used by X# of people in our district……” His argument was basically vote for me and you’ll all get more goodies worth more in value than what you’re giving up in taxes. (Not hard when the Federal government spends ~35% more than tax revenue taken in.)

-Estimated attendance at the event by the Cville Fire Marshal: 9,000 in the pavilion, 3,000 outside (where I was). I don’t think Fire Marshals are selected for their math skills, as these are pretty badly inflated –various websites and press releases list the capacity of the Pavilion at (alternatively) 900, 1,100, or 3,500 people. I’d say of those figures, 3,500 is most reasonable, though a bit high. If you get rid of aisles, and pack people in, I could see it getting to ~5,000 people inside.  I was in the first 20 feet of the area outside the Pavilion, and had the sense that there were a lot of people behind me, but because of the dark and the narrowness of the Downtown Mall, I couldn’t estimate what that total was, though based on  how easy my post-rally walk from Downtown Mall was, I can’t believe there were 3,000 people outside the Pavilion, nor 12,000 people alongside or behind me overall.

-My spot for the rally was just a few feet away from the Free Speech Wall on the Downtown Mall – pretty close in. Nonetheless, I never actually saw the President as I was still ~800 feet away from the stage. Luckily, the sound system was turned up for Obama’s speech, so the event was still electrifying.

-Security was nowhere near as prominent as I expected. Sure, there were Uniformed Secret Service to go along with city and county police, as well as plain clothes Secret Service traveling with the President, but security personnel and procedures did not seem out of line with the event. After the speech I waited around to see the Presidential motorcade which was very exciting, but not as overwhelming as I guessed. The whole entourage returning to the Charlottesville airport was ~7 cars, including State Police. I always had assumed that Presidents traveled with a long tail (everything from a physician to guys carrying briefcases with nuclear launch codes), but it looked more like a family outing – albeit one with armored Chevy Suburbans and a police escort.

A few other surprises to me:

-I stood in a pack of several hundred people and at the peak of pre-speech anticipation, I heard a few feet away from me a tiny dog yapping his brains out. Who brings a dog to a political rally, and who puts that dog on the ground in the forest of  attendees?

-The Uniformed Secret Service agents looked only slightly more alert and physically imposing than shopping mall rent-a-cops.

-I never saw a protester of any variety, and never even saw campaign signs of any flavor. A few people wore Perriello stickers, but that’s it.

-Having Air Force One fly overhead is undeniably cool. We didn't get the real 747 AF One but rather a twin-engine 757 or 767. Glad I didn't go to the airport (my other choice) expecting to see the big bird, and miss this event.

The crowd was enthusiastic and impressive in its’ commitment. Some started queuing in the morning (Obama went on around 8pm).  I talked with some folks who as of 7pm had been in line for 1.5 hours and they not only didn’t have a prayer of getting in, I wouldn’t be surprised if they never even got within sight of the Pavilion (if they stayed in line.) My guess is that is if you weren’t in line 3.5 hours before the event, you weren’t getting in.

The biggest roar was in support of the healthcare bill.

I noticed from conversations around me that a good percentage of the attendees were from out of the area - maybe 20-30% of the crowd around me based on questions about where the good restaurants were, or overheard cellphone conversations. With such a high out-of-area presence, one might wonder how effective the rally was for Perriello in VA-5. I guess we’ll find out this Tuesday.

My voting rationale: IMHO, Perriello has done a good job servicing the district, and has certainly put his all towards the job. He’s the rare Democrat in 2010 running on the Obama record, which his voting supported, instead of trying to run from it, to Tom’s credit.

But this means that the VA-5 election is a referendum on Obama’s Presidency, which I am frankly very, very disappointed in, in just about every dimension. (I’ll save my analysis & opinion of the Obama administration for another post.)

Perriello is also an underwhelming character. As a progressive he has all of the solutions for everything but too na├»ve and ineffective to realize that most of the solutions are either impractical and uneconomic, driven by special interests, or ideas selected for their appearance rather than their effectiveness. He voted in step with his party on all of the major issues, and there’s every indication that when he didn’t, it was with the blessing of the Speaker & Majority Whip.

Perriello’s peer in shortcomings is his opponent, Robert Hurt. I’d like to provide a strong list of Hurt’s positives, but instead I’d say that he is generally underwhelming, and too blindly partisan. His main attribute: that he isn’t Tom Perriello.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Thought of the day:

“It’s nice to elect the right people, but that isn’t the way you solve things. The way you solve things is by making it politically profitable for the wrong people to do the right things.” - Milton Friedman.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

What's wrong with this picture?

I picked up today's WSJ and noticed front page stories about:

-a large state-owned financial institution and the actions of it's government overseers.

-a President promising openness and fair treatment for foreign investors

-a plan to rejuvenate a nation's economy by eliminating 500,000 government jobs and instead relying on the private sector to drive economic growth.

One of these stories was about the free-market United States, while the other two were about Communist countries (China and Cuba). Can you guys which was which?

(Yeah, China's President is promising openness and Cuba is cutting 500,000 government jobs. All the while the US government's slice of the economy continues to grow, and our economy posts anemic growth.)

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

So you think you had a bad day.....

An F-18 stalled and crashed while making a low pass over an airfield in Canada. The pilot ejected just in time, and whole experience was caught on film and video (more pics and full video available here.)

The pilot was hospitalized but survived. (I remember reading that the rocket ejection seats are so powerful that pilots who eject have their spines compressed by a few inches, an effect which lasts a few days.)

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Doesn't this look like fun?

I finished my first triathlon of the year, a sprint triathlon at the YMCA in Richmond's Shady Grove area, and, as luck would have it, about two miles from my sister's house.

The tri was a 300M indoor swim, a 20K bike ride, and a 5K run. All in all, I'm pretty happy with my effort. I beat my goal time by about 3 minutes (total time of 1 hour 23 minutes 56 seconds), with my swim time exactly as targeted, a minute quicker in transition#1, and two minutes better than targeted on the bike. The run wasn't fun, and I can definitely improve, but I pretty much hit my goal time for that portion of the event.

Relative to the rest of the competition, I was in the top 30-40% of all competitors on the swim and the top 20-30% on the bike, meaning I was definitely in the top third going into the run, where I either laid an egg or performed as expected, depending on your point of view. End result: I finished 19th of 28 in the Clydesdale category (>200lbs, all ages), and 297th of 493 finishers.

I've continued my training, as I have two more triathlons in June. I expect to perform at least as well in the swim and bike, and to pick up significant time in the run. My two races this month include:

a very cool (but long) race in Washington that finishes at the steps of the US Capital, and includes a swim in the Potomac, and a bike leg in front of the White House.

-the Charlottesville Sprint Tri, a repeat of the event that was my first triathlon ever.

Doesn't this look like fun?

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

A couple off interesting things.....

First, check out this chart of true government debt levels ad consider its' implications. It's become accepted based on the work of Reinhart and Rogoff that real problems occur once government debt exceeds 90% of GDP, based on a measure of government debt outstanding.

However, the US government has made a variety of long-term promises (mostly mortgage guarantees (Fannie & Freddie) and health care for retirees and federal employees) that dwarf the amount of outstanding debt. As you can see in the chart, the US is basically "next in line" after Greece, prompting one of my favorite authors, Niall Ferguson to predict a Greece-type crisis for America, while another writer that I admire, Martin Wolf, argues otherwise. The Ferguson-Wolf debate is summarized here.

(I think Wolf is more in the right, meaning that government will just print whatever money is necessary to cover the debt. Unfortunately, this means certain inflation.)

Other interesting things that I've read recently:

The earthquake in Chile moved the city of Concepcion 10 feet! I find this absolutely incredible. Imagine the force required to an entire city 10 feet to the west!

The phenomenon was observed all across the continent. Even Buenos Aires - 800 miles from the Quake's epicenter - moved an inch.

Last interesting fact of the day (I can't find the story online): Google (and it's businesses, like YouTube) currently accounts for 10% of all internet traffic. I'm both stunned and gratified by this number. Stunned that any companyhas so much market share in such a large space, and gratified, because this figure proves the distributed nature of the internet and that even at 10%, Google is not in any position to dominate.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Post-storm view of Mr. Jefferson's Rotunda

With temps reaching the 50's this weekend, conditions were ideal for a long, long walk around Charlottesville. Here's a quick view of the Rotunda and The Lawn at UVA taken during my walk and 16 days post-snowstorm.....

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Why we kiss.....

I really enjoy it when pop culture and biology intersect. Just in time for Valentine's Day, a technical but understandable explanation of the biological roots of kissing.

No one knows for sure, but one guess is that we kiss because that's how some of our ape ancestors fed each other!

Another guess is that it is how women biologically screen their potential mates. The theory is that at a subconscious level, women are looking for mates with different immune responses than their own, making their offspring sturdier, and that this information (MHC complex) is detectable via kiss.

Any and all of these explanations might be scientists reaching too far, but they're all technically plausible.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Another timely Jefferson quote.....

"I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies." TJ.

The guy was well ahead of his time.....

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Timely Thomas Jefferson quote....

"We have more machinery of government than is necessary, too many parasites living on the labor of the industrious."-- Thomas Jefferson

Monday, January 18, 2010

MLK's "I have a dream" @ Lincoln Memorial in 2010

To get you in the mood for today's holiday: something I lucked into
this weekend when visiting the Lincoln Memorial in DC:

Coming back from SF via DC, I spent part of Saturday roaming the National Mall and lucked into a Park Sevice program honoring MLK. After an informative lecture about MLK and the rally where he delivered the "I have a dream" speech, the Park Service ranger - speaking to the group of us assembled on the Lincoln Memorial steps, stepped back, asked us to imagine what it was like that day, then played the most powerful part of the speech.

With my new friends on the Great Wall of China

With my new friends on the Great Wall of China
Click to go to my online photography

World sun clock

Uncommon Man's Creed

"I do not choose to be a common man. It is my right to be uncommon -- if I can. I seek opportunity -- not security. I do not wish to be a kept citizen, humbled and dulled by having the state look after me. I wish to take the calculated risk; to dream and to build, to fail and to succeed. I refuse to barter incentive for a dole, I prefer the challenges of life to the guaranteed existence; the thrill of fulfillment to the stale calm of utopia. I will not trade freedom for beneficence, nor my dignity for a handout. I will never cower before any master, nor bend to any threat. It is my heritage to stand erect, proud, and unafraid, to think and act for myself, to enjoy the benefit of my creations, and to face the world boldly and say, "this I have done." All this is what it means to be an American." -- Anonymous