A locus for eccentrics (hopefully)

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Presidential Power Rankings, Mach III

We're just about at April here, and its just as good a time as any to take stock of the remaining Presidential candidates and evaluate their chances. As always, these are subject to change and I hope you can comment on anything I am leaving out or glossing over. Here we go:

1. John McCain - Has risen, phoenix-like, from the ashes of last year. I suppose he got the nomination by default...at the end of the day, there were just too many questions surrounding all the other potentially viable GOP candidates and McCain was the only one left. However, even as he was clearing a path to the nomination last month, winning primary after primary, the wins were ugly - he hardly got a majority in any of the states he ended up winning. The base is just flat out not excited about him. I can't decide if its a good thing or a bad thing that he gets to be unopposed now while Obama and Clinton bash each others' brains in until the convention. On the one hand, it makes him seem above the fray while they sling mud at each other. He can go around the country shoring up his fund raising and making nice with the Evangelicals while the Dems argue. On the other hand, the Democrats are sucking up virtually all the oxygen in terms of news coverage and he is in danger of being forgotten. Plus, it can't be good that even when Obama and Clinton are fighting in states, the turnout and fundraising for the Democrats in their primaries are smashing records, while GOP turnout and fund raising is pathetic in comparison. Still, I put him at top, because all the latest polls have him up on each Democrat by at least 5 percentage points in a hypothetical matchup. Plus, polls show that Clinton supporters will flock to him if Obama is the nominee and vice-vursa. McCain's propensity to appeal to conservative Democrats and independents will help him especially against Clinton; given Obama's ability to attract Republicans and people who otherwise would not be inclined to vote would offset this. Still, a Republican who can win in California would wipe us out in the Electoral college, and a candidate like McCain seems well suited for something like this.

2. Barack Obama - Except for a couple minor hiccups and the firestorm surrounding the Wright affair (which he handled adroitly), he has run a masterful campaign against an Establishment candidate. His ability to win in lilly-white Iowa and then racially diverse South Carolina is fucking impressive, as was his battling Clinton to a draw on Super Tuesday and then routing her the rest of February. As we all know, he leads her in number of states won, share of the popular vote, and number of pledged delegates. Unless the Democratic Party elders decide to fuck him over (and potentially alienating scores of African American and young voters, many of whom are tentatively dipping their toes in the political arena), he can't lose...right? So why do I have such an uneasy feeling? He is so close to the finish line, but until she is dead and buried, I won't believe it. Honestly, he has run a great campaign, and is (largely) avoiding rookie mistakes and stupid gaffes. As previously mentioned, his ability to attract independent and first time voters would potentially offset McCain's advantages. Plus, his fund raising numbers are huge. The major downside seems to be that the race between him and Clinton has gotten so bitter that a lot of the blue collar middle aged white voters that are Hillary's bread and butter (and keyed her victories in states like Ohio) may defect to McCain in the general election if Obama is the Democratic nominee. Plus, would Obama have the edge in Red States like Missouri, Texas, South Carolina and Florida in a general election? Its unclear. McCain is leading him in national polls, but it is still early.

3. Hillary Clinton. Someone needs to tell me the rationale behind her staying in the race. Is it because she realizes that even though she cannot win the nomination, she might be able to cripple Obama in the general, and thus set herself up to go against McCain in four years? Seriously, someone needs to explain this to me. Is it because she somehow thinks that she can convince the Superdelegates to override the will of the people? Do you know how many people would defect from the party? It would be a bloodbath. But that's the Clintons, I guess. They would risk destroying the party to further their own ambitions. Its like my Dad says about them: "Strip away their Yale degrees, and they really are just a couple of low level thugs."

Someone with a real live advanced degree in Poly Sci, please let me know what I am missing in this analysis.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

From My TiVo to God's Ears

This might be the greatest entry on the ESPN ticker of all time:

MLB] Astros 2B Kaz Matsui (surgery to repair anal fissure) expected to miss at least first 2 weeks of season

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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Music from the '08 era

I haven't been too crazy about '08 yet, but at least two releases have been getting some repeated listens in my corner of the world. Both are fairly low-key, subdued affairs though, so consider yourselves warned.

The first is Bon Iver's For Emma, Forever Ago. I guess it was released in '07 by some dude who holed up in a shack in Northern Wisconsin and wrote these songs about some chick who broke up with him or something. Anyway, it's pretty freaking amazing...really ephemeral stuff. I do like sad bastard music, like I already said, but there's something really...awesome about this one. Check it.

The other one from this year that I've been spinning a bit lately is Beach House's Devotion. They are from Baltimore and it's just a male-female duo, with the woman doing most of the vocals. (Yes, if I were better at this I'd insert her name, but I'm consistently doing it wrong.) Anyway, it's sort of a dream pop affair, full of atmospheric ghostliness, but not too wispy, if you know what I mean. I recommend checking it out.

On other fronts, and for the guitar driven riff-meisters in our midst, check out Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks' new one (2008) called Real Emotional Trash. A lot of jamminess throughout the thing. I like it so far. I'm not going nuts over it, but it's a good change of pace.

The only other one I can recommend highly is from 2007 (which I just got) by Grinderman, called, aptly enough, Grinderman. It's actually a group featuring Nick Cave on the vocals. C'mon...Nick Cave...need I say more? Dude's a freaking genius. I especially love "No Pu**y Blues..." Apparently Snoop even digs it, so there's that.

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Monday, March 17, 2008

That's it, I'm buying a hat

I'll admit it: I've been away from the NBA for a long while now. I'm not sure exactly why...part of it may have been a lingering hangover from an MJ-less league, part of it may have been the ennui in the faces of NBA superstars (to my eyes, anyway), part of it may have been my own sheer laziness. But all I can say is--wow. These Rockets are fun to watch. No matter that pretty much every play (excepting the Sunday Lakers-Rockets game--a total anomaly) McGrady is handed the ball at the top of the key; you know the guy is going to take 30 shots a game. I just like this scrappy team, even without Yao. Scola is a stud, Mutombo is still a gigantor, Shane Battier, Bobby Jackson...even the guy who hit eight 3-pointers on Sunday.

All I can say is that they have renewed my interest in the sport, even if it will pretty much only revolve around watching them the rest of the season. So, in sum, this infatuation can only mean one thing: I'm buying a damn Rockets hat.

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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

I Do, Adieu

This morning, I resigned from my law firm. I'm still in kind of a daze about it, but on balance I am certain I did the right thing. I quit for a variety of reasons, many of which parallel those of other attorneys who leave firms; overwork, burn out, stress, ect. For the eight months I worked there, I could never get past the feeling of cold, naked fear that would grip me almost every morning when I got to the office, or when something threatened to spring out of control in court, or when I knew my bosses were about to scream at me, or call me stupid, or when I was impossibly behind on a major project with a deadline looming. The first thing my Doctor told me this past January after I told her my symptoms was "You need to get another job."

I guess I took it for granted that I would be phenomenally successful right out of the gate, and ignored the anecdotes and statistics about the high turnover rate at some of these firms. After only a few weeks, I could see why (and I worked at a relatively small firm set in the suburbs - I can't imagine how some of the bigwigs do it in Wall Street). The work managed to be both mind-numbingly tedious and unreasonably stressful. And I don't think I was really that good at it. And the partners at our firm were perfectionists who belittled you for sport. After a few months, it stops being a healthy environment to be in. I don't have regrets about anything--it was good to see what the private sector is like, and absorb the corporate culture, and get some solid work experience, and I learned a lot. But since December I feel like I've been walking around with my stomach in knots, and I've had difficulty carrying on conversations with my friends about normal stuff. I had a shitty Thanksgiving and Christmas because even though I was surrounded by people I love, I couldn't stop thinking about any one of the hundreds of different things that were back at the office, waiting to blow up in my face (and many of them did). The worst part about it is that many of your mistakes don't come back to haunt you until months afterward. Why, just this week I was called into the Senior Partner's office and ripped into about a file that I hadn't touched since, like, October.

So today I just said fuck it. We left things on a civil note, and I assured them it wasn't personal, it was just time to move on. I'm a little anxious because its a tight job market and I take nothing for granted, but other than that, I feel an enormous sense of relief. The one thing I take from this is no job is worth being miserable day in and day out. I plan on looking for other law firm jobs in the next few weeks and months, because I want to really feel like I experienced the culture of a law firm before I decide that its not for me. I owe it to myself to try it out one more time before I give up on it for good and explore some alternate legal job (public interest? administrative legal work? legal education?) or another career path altogether. I know that in the meantime, I will be okay. Its a tough market out there, no job is guaranteed for me to grab, and my savings are finite. But at least I can relax a little bit today, learn from this experience and move on from there. My continued thanks for your support.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Cold death

Someone died right in front of me once. It was February 16th, 1991.

I was walking home from work in downtown Minneapolis and the man was postured on the sidwalk. Night had just come. No one else was around.

The man had black hair and wore a camel wool coat, now soaked over a pool of blood. It was cutting a little stream in the snow. His black knit cap had fallen off and his steady blue eyes looked at me. His chest rose and fell like he was catching his breath after climbing too many stairs.

Now, in the movies, dying people in their final moments always say something profound, like Tell so-and-so I love her, or Don't leave me or I don't want to die. He didn't say anything like that. Not even Help me.

I called for an ambulance from the little market two blocks down and returned to the man. Still no one had noticed him. I was alone with the man. I noticed he was about my age.

We watched each other as I sat in the snow beside him. And then he seemed to go to sleep. The ambulance was coming, it was maybe four blocks away.

It started to snow and I stood and walked away.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

American Gladiators

Wherein, as an official Traveling Businessman, I drive an assortment of compact and intermediate-size American cars so you don't have to.

Week One: 2005 Chevrolet Impala SS

This is the worst car I have ever driven.

Luckily for the Impala, I happened to be at the Chicago Auto Show last month, so it can't lay claim to being the worst car I've ever experienced -- even stationary, that honor is still split between a number of Chrysler entrants, including the Caliber and Magnum.

When it comes to motion, though -- sitting down, starting the engine, and then transporting yourself to your destination, the Impala is an utter disaster.

The SS comes with a supercharged V6 that produces 240 hp... with 3.8 liters of displacement, if Wikipedia is correct. I didn't even know that a V6 could be that large until I read the article. Putting aside the abysmal power-to-displacement ratio, you would think that'd make for a pretty responsive ride... until you remember that the Impala weighs, roughly, 7500 lbs. What this means in practical terms is that you spend about 3 seconds wondering why the hell you aren't moving anywhere when you hit the gas, and then the supercharger kicks in and you lurch forward, hurtling your 27-ft long car down the road and praying that there's not anything fragile or vulnerable in any of the series of blind spots and thick, oversized roof pillars that will obstruct your view.

The interior makes no sense at all. Despite its 53' by 17' footprint, the cavernous interior somehow manages to feel small, with a cramped backseat and unintuitive controls. The finish of the materials is not quite bottom of the barrel, but seemingly out of place given that the private consumer would have bought the SS because it's the "better" version. Road noise was cacophonous, which I didn't understand both because this would seem to be a certified Highway Cruiser, and because it's louder than my own car, which is both six inches taller and equipped with a roof rack. Grade: D

Week One, Part Two: 2007 Chevrolet Silverado

To my utter dismay, the people I was working with were headed off-site a day before I was, meaning that we were to return the Impala to the airport and that I needed to get my own ride for the rest of the way.

It turned out that Tuesday, February 26th was a hopping day for the Knoxville scene -- every single rental car agency at the airport was fresh out, except for Enterprise, which had... two brand new pickups available. I arrived at their desk at the same time as one other guy, and I happened to get the Silverado rather than the Dodge Ram. I hope that he was on business too, because I can't imagine actually having to pay the $120 retail price for one day with a rental pick-up out of pocket.

As it turned out, the Silverado is superior to the Impala in almost every regard. Smoother ride, more nimble, better visibility, quieter, better acceleration. I suppose that the ride had something to do with driving it without any load and a full 9 inches to spare on the shocks (see wheel wells in picture above). The fit and finish of the interior wasn't spectacular by any means, but it seemed more appropriate in a work vehicle than in a family sedan like the Impala.

It also got a serious reviewer's tilt by virtue of getting to drive around in a Confederate state in a pickup truck, which gave me the same kick as what I'm told "eco-tourism" is for really rich lefties -- immersing yourself in this quaint, ridiculous social fabric, if only for a moment. Grade: B

Week Two: 2007 Pontiac G5

I returned to Knoxville last week completely on my own; I thought I was being responsible by reserving a "compact" car with National, but apparently that "compact" is American for "spoiler" these days.

In all honesty my curiosity was piqued when I got this one, because I had just assumed that it was the 2-door version of the G6 which, as I vaguely understand it, had gotten relatively reasonable reviews as one in a small but growing stable of GM vehicles that aren't a complete embarrassment.

It turns out that the G5 isn't related to the G6 (which is a rebadged Australian car from Holden, if memory serves) at all. It's a rebadged Chevy Cobalt, which little else to distinguish itself from that line beside the Pontiac grill and some red lettering on the dashboard. Oh, goodie.

The car sits extremely low, and having not spent a lot of time in 2-door coo-pays I didn't realize just how enormously impractical they can actually be until I tried to mount this one while wearing a suit. I ended up settling on a sort of barrel roll for most of the trip, where I planted my left hand on the running board and one foot on the floor, and then sort of launched myself into place.

The biggest shortfall, I thought, is the driving position. No amount of experimentation (and there was experimentation -- although the adjustments weren't electric, I was able to go up and down, forward and backward, and adjust the lumbar support in the seat itself) yielded a position that felt reasonable and provided a good view of the road. Overall, it seemed to exhibit this disasterous pattern of American cars that are somehow derived from a reversed Harry Potter's magic tent in the last novel -- gigantic on the outside, tiny on the inside. With proper direction, I'm sure that a dedicated group of designers could use that expertise to deliver cold fusion.

In the G5's defense, the act of driving itself was surprisingly rewarding. The output from its 2.2L, 145hp is reliable and effective; I'm obviously not an expert driver, but I could definitely tell the difference between the G5 being propelled by the entire powerband as compared to the Impala only lurching into action halfway through its gearing. Road noise was minimal, and it felt pretty well glued to the road. I dare say that it was actually fun to drive through the rolling hills outside of Knoxville, though I have to admit that part of it was probably due to seeing sunshine for the first time in several days after arriving there. Grade: B-

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Tuesday, March 04, 2008

G. Tarkington, fashion model

If Guy Tarkington wasn't overweight, unemployed, living in his mother's basement and able to afford a $75 polo shirt:

Senator from New York, Idaho