Monday, February 16, 2009

Clydesdale on the March

In runner slang, a Clydesdale is a big guy (or girl) that runs, usually over 200 pounds for men.

Like their namesake, Clydesdales are known neither for their speed nor their stamina. Accelerating a 200 lb. mass is much more difficult than a 130 lb. body, and the constant lifting and dropping of so much weight is notoriously bad for joints. This puts most Clydesdales, including yours truly, in the mid-range category, neither sprinters nor long-distance runners. You find us most often doing 10k (6.2 mile) runs or half marathons (13.1 miles), I'm rather addicted to the latter.

Nonetheless, I've gone off and signed up for a full marathon. Seattle, in June. It's just so painful looking at the map of a full marathon and then signing up for just half of it, this time I failed. There is still a great chance that I'll wimp out and just run the half, but for now, I'm scheduled to run the full.

A bit of positive news, I ran the Austin half yesterday and, for the second year in a row, got a new PR (personal record) there. This year I finished in 1:46:08, cutting a full 2 minutes off of last year's time. That I keep getting PRs there doesn't make much sense since Austin is all hills and that usually makes a race quite a bit slower. I do love hills, that could be part of it, or maybe I'm just stronger than usual this time of year.

I have 3 more halfs scheduled for this season as well as the full marathon in June, so time should tell.

Remaining schedule:
  • College Station Half- March 1
  • Big D (Dallas) Half - April 5
  • Nashville Half - April 25
  • Seattle Marathon - June 27

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Thoughts on a strike

Most people can point to a time when they were very young and say "that's where everything changed". Not that it really did, we just didn't understand hard times back then, a little bit of growing up changed all that. Rose-colored glasses are handed out for free your first few years of life.

My glasses were taken away when I was 6 years old. My dad went on strike with PATCO and was summarily fired two days later along with over 11,000 other air traffic controllers. Add in the worst recession since WWII and the natural progression of things quickly led to repossession of our house, lots of fighting, some binge-drinking (not on my part), and divorce of my parents. My first introduction to conservative policies (in this case strike-breaking) was not a pleasant one.

After that strike, all of those 11k workers were permanently banned from government employment. A good old fashioned blacklisting, but this one was legal because the president did it.

All of this because they wanted to work less hours. Something that most would consider reasonable for a person in a high-stress job that had many lives depending on them staying focused. At the time it was not uncommon for an air traffic controller to work a 60-hour week.

For real.

These are the people responsible for the safety of several thousand people an hour (at a slow period), and they worked more hours than a Chinese launderer. I remember my dad leaving for days on end when they had staff shortages, he would sleep at the tower as he'd only have a few hours between shifts.

And this isn't a job that affords itself to lots of bullshitting around the water cooler. These are traffic cops staring at a screen or out a window, talking to people miles away from them, that are moving at 290 miles an hour, and trying to keep them from touching each other.

An article on the strike I ran into recently summed up the ridiculousness of the FAA in just a few words
In June [1981], the FAA made its final offer of a $2500 pay increase, a 15% increase in pay for night work, and a guaranteed thirty-minute lunch period.
They were even going to let the controllers eat lunch, that FAA is quite the generous bunch. I can't see why the union turned them down...

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Arguing just to argue

The current stimulus bill is chock full of wasteful spending according to the GOP. Which is actually wasteful?

According to CNN some of these include:
  • $600 million to buy hybrid vehicles for federal employees.
The car companies are doing fine, why would we want to give them any business?
  • A $246 million tax break for Hollywood movie producers to buy motion picture film.
The film industry (as in camera film) has been dying slowly over the past decade, turns out everyone is going to digital cameras. Nonetheless, a lot of people are still employed in the field, and this is not a particularly good time for it to go under.
  • $400 million for the Centers for Disease Control to screen and prevent STD's.
WTF? Preventing STD's is wasteful?
  • $100 million for reducing the hazard of lead-based paint.
  • $88 million for renovating the headquarters of the Public Health Service.
  • $412 million for CDC buildings and property.
  • $500 million for building and repairing National Institutes of Health facilities in Bethesda, Maryland.
  • $75 million for "smoking cessation activities."
  • $25 million for tribal alcohol and substance abuse reduction.
I'm seeing a general trend of the attitude "public health spending is wasteful."
  • $1.4 billion for rural waste disposal programs.
  • $125 million for the Washington sewer system.
Why don't we just dump our trash in the yard like they do it in Kentucky?
  • $200 million for public computer centers at community colleges.
  • $150 million for Smithsonian museum facilities.
This would be education, which we all know Republicans oppose, but the vast majority of Americans do not, nor do they consider it wasteful.
  • $1 billion for the 2010 Census, which has a projected cost overrun of $3 billion.
How is it wasteful if it's money that would have to be spent anyway? Maybe because the 2010 Census is expected to shift power away from Republicans due to demographic changes over the last decade (e.g., what happened to Virginia and North Carolina in the last election).
  • $75 million for salaries of employees at the FBI.
Because laying off FBI agents is the best choice to handle the rising tide of corporate scandals (due primarily to the reassignment of financial investigators to Dubya's "war on terror").
  • $850 million for Amtrak.
Rail transport is, dollar for dollar, the cheapest method of land transportation available. By definition Amtrak is efficient.
  • $2 billion earmark to re-start FutureGen, a near-zero emissions coal power plant in Illinois that the Department of Energy defunded last year because it said the project was inefficient.
Near zero-emission coal, and the prototype is inefficient? Duh. This is why it needs research funding. This sort of project is a quick way to a) begin breaking our dependence on foreign oil, b) reduce our own greenhouse emissions, c) give the coal industry a fighting chance to survive another 50 years.
  • $5.5 million for "energy efficiency initiatives" at the Department of Veterans Affairs National Cemetery Administration.
  • $6 billion to turn federal buildings into "green" buildings.
  • $200 million in funding for the lease of alternative energy vehicles for use on military installations.
If it helps the environment, I guess it must be wasteful.
  • $650 million for the digital television converter box coupon program.
Congress requiring all-digital was wasteful in the first place (thanks again outgoing Republicans), there have been several delays including just last month. Looks like they're killing two birds with one stone on this one.
  • $500 million for flood reduction projects on the Mississippi River.
  • $10 million to inspect canals in urban areas.
They didn't much care when Katrina hit, why start now.

Is it me, or does it seem like they are arguing just to argue. It's like they are still12 years old and the Democrats are telling them to brush their teeth before going to bed. They know they'll have to do it anyway, and it's for their own good, but they would rather fight about it first.

Monday, February 2, 2009

There's a new sheriff in town

Irrelevant as the GOP seems right now, they'll be back looking for blood in two years, and after Obama's job in four. If history is any indicator, their relevance at either of those points is likely to be higher than it is now. The party in power has a tendency to be held responsible for hard economic times whether or not the responsibility lies with them.

And of course opposing everything the majority puts out is the quickest way to lay the groundwork for this sort of comeback. You can almost hear the arguments now, "that stimulus bill was nothing but pork, of course it didn't work, we told you so." And with every Republican member of the House voting against it they'll be able to make their case.

What I didn't see coming was Michael Steele winning the chairman of the RNC. One of the few African-Americans in the Republican party to have success running for office (though in a blue state), he's pro-choice (he describes himself as pro-life, but believes Rove vs. Wade should stand), supports affirmative action, and is a proponent of renewable energy.

He's not for gay marriage but previous comments seem to imply that he'd rather avoid the issue altogether, and scenes such as those found at Palin rallies of late October are much less likely with a black man at the helm (though revolt from the Southern Strategy branch of the GOP could be a problem). Thus, though he's not going to start stealing Democratic voters away, he will make the Republican party quite a bit less "scary" to voters in the middle.

Since the bulk of the job will consist of refuting President Obama on TV, and there were only two African-Americans running for the position, there were not many sensible options for the party best known most recently for it's old, angry, white men. Still, it seems like the smartest move the Republicans have made in years. Maybe it's just a fluke, or maybe the party is serious about remaking itself.

There is a new man in charge of running their Grand Ole Party, if he is able to moderate the party's base I would expect it to expand and win some seats back in 2010. If not, well, he can't do any more harm.