Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Who I'm voting for and why

Election Day is coming, and I've been trying to sort out my votes. I present my choices and reasons here mostly for entertainment value. I don't consider myself a model voter, but my shortcomings are probably normal. I don't pay nearly enough attention to the specifics of what's going on in government. The election rolls around, and I don't even know whether I like the job most of the incumbents are doing or not (and those on whom I have an opinion, it's probably not for very good reasons), let alone what their challengers have to offer. I do what I can to inform myself--I watch the forums sponsored by the League of Women Voters, look at the candidates' Web sites, and try to pay attention if I see anything relevant in the local news. But in the end I'm probably just as bad a judge as anyone else of who should be elected. It's part of the reason that I lean monarchist, but when the day arrives, I still feel like I ought to vote. I may not have much idea why, but I want it to be something better than randomly punching the screen, or voting a party line.

Here, then, are my choices as they stand right now. I might still change my mind before the day arrives:

Governor: Eric Delano Knowles (C). Last time around, I voted for O'Malley. It seemed to me that Ehrlich couldn't speak for five minutes without promoting the legalization of slot machines in MD. He was (and probably still is) the rare Republican candidate who could win in MD--fine. But if he's going to make state-run moral corruption his thing, I'd rather have a bleeding-heart liberal. O'Malley wasn't any better, so I'm going with a third party. I can't really get on board with the Libertarian candidate's scheme to sell the Bay, and if I'm voting conservative I'd rather have someone who's pro-life. Knowles just seems like a better fit to my ideals. Not that I think any third-party candidate has a serious chance of winning, but I live by the assumption that I'm throwing away my vote one way or another. May as well do it with a clean conscience.

U. S. Senator: Eric Wargotz (R). I've never been a fan of the Mik. I'm not voting for him--I'm voting against her. Besides, Wargotz is just a cool name.

Congressional Representative: Jerry McKinley (L). I don't care much for Sarbanes either. He's Greek Orthodox, but sorry--that doesn't seem to make him a good representative of my views. He voted for TARP, which got him on my bad side, and I haven't seen anything to change my opinion since then. I was going to vote for the Republican candidate (who probably can't beat him anyway), but in the LWV forum he came across as angry and hypocritical. He kept attacking Sarbanes for being a lawyer, a career politician, and the son of a career politician. But his idea of bringing in someone from the private sector is a guy who went from the military to defense contracting. Nice try. McKinley had similar views on the issues but sounded a lot more comfortable and level-headed.

State Senator: Edward J. Kasemeyer (D). I've had a few opportunities to hear Kasemeyer answer questions, and he seems to have his head screwed on right. I don't follow state politics all that closely, so I don't have much to go by, but I haven't had occasion to object to any stance he's taken. The Republican candidate, as with the guy running for Congress, is just way too emotional. I dunno--maybe it's the Tea Party thing. Do Republicans think they have to seem perpetually outraged to show they're hip with the times?

State Delegates: James E. Malone Jr. (D) and Joe Hooe (R). This one was a tough call. For those who don't know, we elect two delegates in our sub-district, and my inclination is to go with both parties for the sake of balance. I didn't find much about Hooe's views that I disliked, and he doesn't try to paint himself (at least, not on his Web site) as a big Ehrlich supporter. Plus, he has a cool name and a slogan to go with it. It was kind of a toss-up for me between the incumbents, but I do like Malone's constituent service. If both my picks got elected, at least they'd have in common their love for rhymes.

County Executive: Ken Ulman (D). As far as I can tell, Ulman has done a decent job. In any case, I'm not convinced of the Republicans' argument, that the current budget situation is mostly due to the poor management of the Democrats. We've obviously had a bad economy to deal with over the past few years, and we're doing a lot better than many local governments.

County Council: Courtney Watson (D). Possibly the only candidate I have a serious opinion about is Councilwoman Watson. I've tried to follow the actions of the council, and in general, I've been impressed both with her competence as Council Chair and with her thinking on issues. She's been responsive when I've contacted her about concerns, she seems to have a good understanding of what's important to her constituents, and her politics are generally balanced between left and right. I can only laugh when the Republican candidate accuses her of being a tax-and-spend liberal and part of the entrenched Democratic control of the county.

Circuit Court Clerk: Jason Reddish (D). I read an article the other day about the races for Court Clerk and Register of Wills. Both offices are currently held by Republican women well beyond retirement age; both are being challenged by Democratic men in their 20s. The main reason I even have an opinion is that jobs are hard enough to find these days. I didn't get the impression that either of the incumbents really needs the income, so I favor giving the jobs to the younger challengers, who are of an age when they should be employed. Beyond that, the article mentioned that the Court Clerk's office is badly in need of automation, and if this guy has ideas for making that happen, I say, let him give it a shot.

Register of Wills: Byron Macfarlane (D). See above.

Board of Education: Robert D. Ballinger II, Leslie Kornreich, Brian Meshkin, and David E. Proudfoot. This is a difficult category for me. None of the candidates really stands out, and I'm supposed to vote for four of them. I don't care much for the two incumbents. Aquino seems too arrogant, and French is a Communist who wants to take children away from their parents and brainwash them 24/7. (I'm kidding--but I definitely disagree with her view that we need longer school days and fewer breaks. There are plenty of activities for students who want to (or whose parents want them to) spend all their time away from home, but for parents who still want time to educate their own children in skills and values that they won't get from public school, there needs to be a limit to institutionalization. Ballinger seems to care very genuinely, not only about doing a good job with our kids' education, but also about listening to the voters for their input. Kornreich's platform is far too narrow, but I'm not convinced she'd be worse than any of the others, and she is from Elkridge. Meshkin seems to have some decent ideas and experience on advisory committees for the school board in the past. Proudfoot works in education and seems to have a good handle on the issues. Plus, it's hard to resist the name.

Constitutional Convention: No. This seems to be a formality. The state constitution requires that they ask every 20 years whether we want a convention. Since I'm not at all convinced that we could craft a better constitution today, I say "no."

Jury Trial Amendment: No. The current limit on a civil trial to request a jury is $10k. The amendment would raise the limit to $15k. I don't have much to go on here, but since jury trials are a basic right in our society, I'd rather not see the minimum increase unless someone really convinces me it's necessary.

Baltimore Orphan's Court Amendment: No. Currently there is no requirement in the City of Baltimore that Orphan's Court judges be qualified lawyers. I would guess that in most cases people will probably vote for qualified lawyers anyway (assuming they know or care), but I like the idea of leaving it open to the will of the people.

There are several other offices on the ballot, most of them unopposed, which I'm not going to bother voting on if I know nothing about the candidate. Going forward, I want to pay more consistent attention to county government and school board issues. We have the cable channels--may as well make use of them. Maybe in another two-to-four years I'll be in a better position to make some of these choices. It wouldn't hurt to keep myself better informed about state politics either, though I'm not sure of the best way to do that. National politics really don't concern me much. By the time you get to that level, I have absolutely no hope that my opinion makes any difference anyway.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

slowly getting the hang of this bike repair thing

For some reason, I've never done much in the way of working on stuff. I can change the oil in the car if I have to (since we don't have ramps, I usually don't), but I have to take it to a guy for pretty much everything else. We rented our entire adult life until two years ago, and then we bought a new house under warranty, so that hasn't generated much work either. One thing that riding a bike has done is get me fixing something.

I guess I looked at it as a fresh start. I'd never been a serious cyclist, so there was no reason I ought to have known how to work on one. Plus, part of my agenda in riding a bike is that it's a friendlier mode of transportation. It's cheap to operate, cheap to fix even if you do pay someone else to do the work, and relatively easy to learn to do it yourself. So, I'm learning--slowly, but surely.

I learned basic maintenance like greasing the chain and tightening the brakes early on. I think the first real repairs it needed were a bald back tire and a busted shifter cable. More recently, I've had several flat tires and botched almost as many patch jobs. (Maybe it's just not worth it, but the last one was on a brand new tube that I might have punctured while putting it in. I had to try.) One thing I'm getting really comfortable with is taking off the back wheel, which used to worry me. I was always concerned that I wouldn't know how to put it back on, but after so many times taking it on and off, I feel confident that I could change a back tire on the side of the road if I had to.

This time, in addition to the flat tire (which went flat again after the first three attempts), my chain broke the same day. I didn't have a chain tool, and I wasn't sure I'd know how to get the chain back on the rear derailer properly, so I figured this time I'd let the bike shop install it. It was only $10, and I had enough other stuff to deal with (on a weekend when I'm alone with the kids, no less), so I think it was worth it. It wouldn't shift properly afterward, so I had to figure out the adjustment on that (at least, I think I figured it out). Also, for some reason the rear brake was dragging, which wasn't hard to deal with.

I continue to discover advantages to owning a bike that's probably older than I am. ("Old school," I've heard it called more than once.) I went into the shop expecting to get a $35 10-speed chain. The guy looked at it and said, "Oh, you mean a 5-speed." He went and found a chain that cost half as much, which I guess more than covered the installation charge. Also, after reading online about the various adjustments that might or might not need to be made to address my shifting problem, I discovered that my derailer apparently only has one adjustment mechanism--a single screw that moves it closer to the wheel when you tighten it and further away when you loosen it. The shifting is by no means perfect (it never was), but it will hit all the gears now, so I guess it was a success. Maybe it would be possible to get a better fit with a newer, more complicated derailer. But at least I didn't have to figure one out at this point.

I suppose the drawback is that I'm learning how to fix an obsolete bike. If I ever do get a new one, will I have to learn bicycle repair all over again? It can also be tricky finding the parts that I need for it, and something as simple as mounting a water bottle rack becomes more complicated. At least no one seems interested in stealing it, which may be the best feature of all.

Friday, October 1, 2010

the terrifying world of E. B. White

"You children be quiet till we get the pig unloaded," said Mrs. Arable.
"Let's let the children go off by themselves," suggested Mr. Arable. "The Fair only comes once a year." Mr. Arable gave Fern two quarters and two dimes. He gave Avery five dimes and four nickels. "Now run along!" he said. "And remember, the money has to last all day. Don't spend it all the first few minutes. And be back here at the truck at noontime so we can all have lunch together. And don't eat a lot of stuff that's going to make you sick to your stomachs."
"And if you go in those swings," said Mrs. Arable, "you hang on tight! You hang on very tight. Hear me?"
"And don't get lost!" said Mrs. Zuckerman.
"And don't get dirty!"
"Don't get overheated!" said their mother.
"Watch out for pickpockets!" cautioned their father.
"And don't cross the race track when the horses are coming!" cried Mrs. Zuckerman.
The children grabbed each other by the hand and danced off in the direction of the merry-go-round, toward the wonderful music and the wonderful adventure and the wonderful excitement, into the wonderful midway where there would be no parents to guard them and guide them, and where they could be happy and free and do as they pleased. Mrs. Arable stood quietly and watched them go. Then she sighed. Then she blew her nose.
"Do you really think it's all right?" she asked.
"Well, they've got to grow up some time," said Mr. Arable. "And a fair is a good place to start, I guess."
And that was the last time they ever saw those dear, sweet children . . . oh, wait. Here it is:
At noon the Zuckermans and the Arables returned to the pigpen. Then, a few minutes later, Fern and Avery showed up. Fern had a monkey doll in her arms and was eating Crackerjack. Avery had a balloon tied to his ear and was chewing a candied apple. The children were hot and dirty.