I was sorry to hear that Dede Scozzafava of New York’s 23rd district dropped out of the race for the House of Representatives today. This race has received much national attention and was deemed as the race which might determine whether or not the Republican party of the future will be a more inclusive party or whether it will continue its current move to the right.

Scozzafava was chosen by the Republican chairs of the eleven counties in the district because she knew the district, understood the issues at hand and they felt she could best represent the district in Congress. Hoffman on the other hand does not even live in the district.

The problem with Scozzafava as a candidate was that she did not represent the national Republican party values. She was pro-choice, she supported gay marriage and she was for the Employee Free Choice Act which assists employees in forming or setting up a union if they wish. Yet she still held some Republican points of view in a recent debate where she disagreed with president Obama’s point of view on Afghanistan and Healthcare.

The party heavyweights who will most likely be running for president on the Republican side in 2012 such as Palin, Pawlenty and Thompson threw their support behind Hoffman and with that support came a ton of money. Scoozafava was not able to weather the storm.   

A local newspaper endorsement put it best when they said Scozzafava’s answers to questions about the district she was going to be respresenting to have “both breadth and depth unmatched by her opponents” and that Hoffman the national party candidate “drew blanks”.

So I will be watching Tuesday night election returns to see who the voters of the 23rd district decide to elect, but it’s too bad that whoever they choose it’s not going to be the most qualified candidate for the job !

Dissecting The Statistics

Here’s an interesting analysis on the most recent Gross Domestic Product numbers, the job creation data released by the White House, and what it all may mean for the economy as it tries to work slowly out of the current recession.  The key question is whether we are seeing any real economic growth, or just the impact of one-time, here-and-gone programs like Cash for Clunkers and first-time homeowner tax credits that may simply be shifting purchases from later period to earlier periods in response to government incentives.  The article concludes that the current answer to that question is uncertain, to say the least.

Hitler And The Holocaust

It is hard to imagine that, nearly 65 years after the end of World War II, there are many new secrets to learn about Nazi Germany and Adolf Hitler.  Nevertheless, historians think they might learn something new from the memoirs of Fritz Darges, who died recently at age 96.  Darges was Hitler’s last SS adjutant, serving from 1940 to 1944, and was present for all major conferences on the war during that time.

What I found surprising about this article is that some revisionist historians apparently have argued that Hitler knew nothing of the Holocaust.  Therefore, there is interest in whether Darges’ memoirs will confirm that Hitler in fact was aware of the Holocaust.

It is hard to believe that a compelling case can be made that a rabid anti-Semite who was the absolute leader of a totalitarian regime could be completely clueless about an operation on the magnitude of the Holocaust, with its specific purpose of addressing the “Jewish problem” that Hitler himself had repeatedly discussed.  How could Hitler be unaware of a program that involved the construction of multiple work camps and death camps, the organized round-up of millions of Jews throughout occupied Europe, the use of dedicated trains to transport Jews to Auschwitz and other hellish locations, and countless other indications of organized murder on an unprecedented scale?  Does anyone really believe that the Nazi officials directly involved in planning and executing the Holocaust did not boast of their activities to the Fuehrer whose crazed writings and speeches on the subject demonstrated that he would be a receptive and enthusiastic supporter of what they were doing?


Internet and Apollo

Today is being celebrated as the 40th birthday of the internet.  Forty years ago today an intrepid team of researchers at UCLA succeeded in getting one of their computers to “talk” to a distant computer — which promptly crashed after the first two letters of a three-letter word were transmitted.  Obviously, the internet has come a long way in 40 years, to the point where pointless blather like the Webnerhouse blog can be easily prepared and made available to any bored internet traveller, anywhere in the world, who might be inclined to visit and see what we have to say.

Coincidentally, this year also is the 40th year of the first Apollo program lunar landing.  Although the internet has progressed tremendously during that 40-year period — going from a clumsy method that crashed before even a single word was transmitted to a communications medium that is found in millions of households and allows for instantaneous access to undreamed off amounts of information — the same cannot be said for the space program.  Indeed, one could argue that manned space exploration has regressed as far and as quickly as the internet has progressed during that same 40-year span.

Since the Apollo program has ended, there has been no serious manned space exploration, and none is on the horizon for the foreseeable future.  Imagine for a moment, however, what might be the reality if manned space exploration had progressed to the same extent as the internet has progressed in the 40 years since 1969.  Where would humans find themselves?  Living in Martian colonies?  Conducting mining operations on Titan?  Aboard spacecraft visiting Alpha Centauri, or the nearest solar system with planets deemed capable of supporting life?

The mind reels at our missed opportunity.

When The Universe Was Very Young

Scientists have detected gamma rays that they attribute to a massive stellar explosion 13.1 billion years ago — “only” about 660 million years after the “Big Bang.”  Their theory is that a huge star collapsed into a black hole and emitted gamma rays as a result.

This news is fascinating on two levels.  First, it is amazing that our technology has developed to the point where we can detect actions that occurred so extraordinarily long ago, when the universe was in its infancy.  Second, it is surprising that, only 660 million years after the Big Bang, a star could have coalesced out of the exploded remnants of the Big Bang, ignited into fiery life, and then collapsed into a black hole.  660 million years seems like a long time, but Wikipedia, for example, estimates that the age of our Sun is almost 4.6 billion years.  Obviously, it could blow at any minute!  I don’t want to think that tomorrow afternoon I might see a bright flash and then observe the sun’s photosphere hurtling my way at close to the speed of light.

An Even Smaller Mouse

I’ve previously posted on the tiny amount of job creation that has been attributed to the massive “stimulus bill.”   Now it turns out that even the 34,000 jobs that the government claimed were “saved or created” by stimulus spending is itself an inflated figure.  An AP report states that the reported number of jobs “created or saved” is overstated by thousands of jobs, with some jobs double- and even triple-counted and others just invented.

Taxpayers legitimately should ask whether the stimulus package, which was supposed to have an immediate impact on the economy, is worth its near trillion-dollar price tag as we view the employment results some 8 months later.  It is hard to avoid the conclusion that our elected representatives viewed the stimulus package as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reward political supporters and cronies with government contracts, to no apparent purpose.  Having sown the wind with their crass and purely political uses of our tax dollars, I hope those wretched politicians who wrote and voted for the stimulus package someday reap the whirlwind.

“Bad Candy” And Guilty Feelings

I admit it — I loved Halloween and trick or treating when I was a kid.  When I was little, we lived in a great neighborhood for maximum candy collection — lots of small houses cheek by jowl in orderly, rectangular blocks.  We then moved out to the suburbs in a neighborhood that was a bit removed; we trick or treated at the 15 or so houses in the neighborhood and that was about it.  By the time we moved to Columbus, I was a teenager and thought I was too cool to trick or treat. 

During the heady Orlando Avenue days in Akron in the early ’60s, the trick or treating rituals were clear and inviolable.  You went out and ran from house to house as quickly as your parents would let you, carrying a pillowcase and looking to accumulate as much candy as possible.  Houses where people left a bowl of candy because they weren’t home were quickly identified and all candy confiscated.  The word spread like wildfire about houses that had “good candy,” like Butterfingers, or Snickers, or Peanut M&Ms, or houses that were passing out “bad candy” — like caramel apples, Chunky, suckers, “hard candy” or, God forbid, toothbrushes. (One of our neighbors was a dentist.)  Trick or treating routes were adjusted accordingly.  Then, when we were sweaty and exhausted and our costumes had begun to fall apart, we would go home, dump the contents of our pillowcases on the floor, and sift through the booty, separating the good from the bad and maybe giving a piece or two to a sister who was too young to go out with us.

I recall there was one house on Orlando where an elderly couple lived.  They always passed out homemade popcorn balls, wrapped in colorful cellophane and tied with ribbons.  We had to go there because they were neighbors and Mom made us.  We would take the popcorn balls, say thank you, toss them in our sacks, and then put them in the “bad candy” pile when we got home.  I didn’t like popcorn balls at all.  They were dry and dusty tasting, and nowhere near as succulent as, say, an Almond Joy.

Now, I kind of feel guilty about not eating those popcorn balls.  I imagine the kindly old lady slaving in the kitchen to make the popcorn balls, beaming with pleasure at the thought that neighborhood tots would savor every bite.  And her courtly husband carefully cut the cellophane and wrapped the popcorn balls, ignoring all the while the pain it caused his no doubt arthritic fingers.  How could I be such an ingrate?

Of course, no parent worth his salt these days would allow his child to eat homemade treats like popcorn balls, anyway.  But when Halloween rolls around I nevertheless think of those folks and carve a pumpkin in their memory.  Now Kish and I are the neighborhood couple with no kids in the house — and we make sure we have “good candy,” just to be sure.

A Tricky Indicator

The most recent consumer confidence survey was discouraging, but if spending for Halloween is any kind of indicator, people may be becoming more bullish.  Tonight is Trick or Treat night in New Albany, and our neighborhood is festooned with fake spider webbing, scarecrows, styrofoam tombstones, hanging bats, skeletons emerging from the ground, and screaming skulls.  If the weather cooperates — and it is supposed to — it should be a fun night for the kids.

Last night we had some neighborhood kids over and carved pumpkins for the Webner house jack ‘o lantern walk.  We’ve got about 12 carved pumpkins and we will position them on the walk to the front door, for a lighted path for our trick or treaters.  I’m hoping to get and post some photos of our pumpkin artwork.

Tribal Trivia

Here’s a trivia question that may be a stumper in years to come:  What team had back-to-back Cy Young Award winners that both started the first game of the World Series the next year?  Answer:  The Cleveland Indians, with 2007 Cy Young winner C.C. Sabathia starting game 1 for the New York Yankees and 2008 Cy Young winner Cliff Lee starting for the Philadelphia Phillies.

The sad thing for the Tribe, of course, is that neither of thes two pitchers ever started a World Series game for the Tribe.

Hard To Believe

Hard to believe that Antoine Walker who played for the Celtics for 12 years and made $110 million has virtually blown through all of his money at the age of 33. That’s about $10 million a year ! Sounds like he was a generous guy to his family and friends, but they will all probably desert him now that he’s broke. I think we all dream about making his kind of money, but why don’t these people learn to save some money for a rainy day ?

Sausage Making

Right now we are getting a glimpse into the reasons why the legislative process has been compared to watching sausage being made.  In the Senate, five committees deliberated and produced bills, and then Senate leaders went behind closed doors and produced a proposed bill that includes an “opt-out” government plan that, so far as I can determine, wasn’t in any of the five bills.  The obvious reason for the “compromise” was to try to come up with an approach that placates liberals who are demanding that the legislation include a government plan but also has the chance to attract the votes of moderates who are leery of a “public option.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is now trying to make sure that Senate Democrats have the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster and pass a health care reform bill — and it seems that, at this point, Democratic leaders would be happy to pass just about any bill that could be called a health care reform bill.  So, he is making further modifications to the bill that are specifically designed to get the votes of hesitant Senators, one by one.  According to the linked article, Reid has agreed to cut a tax that would have had a special impact on a company in Indiana, apparently in an effort to get the vote of Senator Evan Bayh.  We can expect to see more of this kind of unseemly, individualized wheedling and horse trading.

In the House, where passage of a bill with some kind of non-opt-in public option seems assured, the debate is over how the public option will set the rates to be paid to doctors and hospitals for care.  Should it be done by government fiat, or by “negotiation”?

There is one significant difference between legislative politicking and sausage-making.  Although the process and ingredients used to make a sausage may upset the tender sensibilities of some people, the end result usually tastes pretty darn good.  The legislative process, on the other hand, can produce a monstrosity filled with unfunded mandates, poorly conceived and ill-considered requirements, objectively nonsensical exceptions, and phony budget impact estimates — to the point where purported “reform” legislation is more appalling and Frankensteinian than the existing reality.

Hoopin’ It Up

My office faces out onto Gay Street, which I think is one of the most interesting streets in downtown Columbus.  It might be called a “mixed use” street and is home to our law firm, office buildings, two hotels, condos, and some older buildings across the street that have restaurants and bars on the ground floors and what appear to be apartments above.

This past week was particularly noteworthy on our block of Gay Street.  The word spread through the grapevine at work that someone in one of the apartments across the street was trying to break a hula hoop endurance record.  Sure enough, I looked out the window of my office and there, clearly visible in through the window, was a guy in a ball cap and shorts doing his hula-hoopin’ thing.  He was doing it Friday morning when I got in, and Friday afternoon when I got back from lunch, and on Saturday I got reports that he was still at it.

I learned today that he broke the record.  His name is Aaron Hibbs, and details about him and his record-breaking effort can be found here.  (The website also provides some reassuring information that answers some of our questions, like whether he was permitted to take time out to address bodily function needs.)  And even though his endurance feat has ended he continues to add to the interesting atmosphere on Gay Street.  This morning the local Fox News outlet was there to videotape a story, with its logo truck parked out front and its antenna fully extended.

So I say:  Congratulations, Aaron!  You made working on Gay Street a lot more interesting last week and just affirmed, again, why it is more enjoyable to work on an active downtown rather than in some drab, cookie cutter suburban office building surrounded by an ocean of parking spaces.

Nowhere To Go But Up

The Indians have hired Manny Acta to be their new manager.  Acta, the former manager of the Washington Nationals, is young (40) and one of his strengths is supposed to be relating to and developing young players.

New Tribe skipper Manny Acta

In his 2 1/2 years in Washington, Acta also compiled one of the worst managerial won-lost records in major league history.  In that sense, he and the Tribe are well-suited for each other.  Both want to erase the wretched recent past and show that they are winners.  We will find out soon enough whether Acta will be able to motivate and develop younger players, because the Tribe’s roster is filled with young players and “prospects.”  In fairness to Acta, however, you have to wonder how much talent there is to develop.  Last year the Tribe’s Triple-A franchise, the Columbus Clippers, were awful.

Shooting Stars

Today was crisp and exceptionally clear for my 5 a.m. walk.  On mornings like today, with the sun still well below the eastern horizon, the constellations stand out, cold and sparkling and distant, and you can almost count the individual stars. New Albany is located at the far northeast corner of Franklin County, and the night skies don’t suffer from too much light pollution from Columbus.

On some days you may glimpse a shooting star.  Today was one of those days.  Your eye catches a quick movement and you turn your head just in time to see a point of light flashing by, impossibly fast against the unmoving backdrop of stars, only to flare into nothingness.

It is a stroke of good fortune to see a shooting star first thing in the morning.  The day has only just begun, and already it is a special day.

Rich And Running

New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg is on track to set a new record for spending his own money in pursuit of political office.  He is projected to spend between $110 million and $140 million by election day.  It is a lot of money to us working stiffs, but just a drop in the bucket to Bloomberg, who is estimated to be worth about $16 billion.  His challenger, in contrast, has raised about $6 million.

So what?  Why should we care about this kind of spending disparity?  Bloomberg has been a pretty good mayor by most accounts.  Some other wealthy candidates, like Steve Forbes, spent millions of their personal fortunes without winning an election, which suggests that voters are savvy enough to independently determine who will get their vote without being swayed by an endless parade of the candidate’s self-financed TV commercials.  There may be advantages to wealthy candidates, too.  Presumably the independently wealthy are less likely to be tempted by bribery and can concentrate on governing, rather than constantly engaging in  fund-raising, with its attendant, inherent corruption.  And maybe successful entrepreneurs who have made millions in the business world are better suited to managing the governmental bureaucracies in large cities and states or have a more sophisticated understanding of the capitalistic system that will help them to develop economic policy.

Nevertheless, there is something galling about wealthy people buying their way into political office.  It just seems unfair, particularly when the personal wealth being spent is inherited wealth.  Under our current system, however, it also seems almost inevitable.  Election campaigns start too early and run on too long, and any candidate with a hope of success in any significant race has to have millions in the bank to pay for the commercials, and polls, and advisors, and campaign organizations.  Moreover, right now there aren’t many alternatives.  As the last presidential election indicated, the public financing system is a bit of a joke.  Both candidates promised to use it, but when President Obama took off to a huge fundraising advantage he declined public funds and used his considerable war chest to help ensure victory.  The only way to avoid that kind of scenario is to mandate public financing or strictly limit all spending — two scenarios that have free speech implications — or to make campaigns so brief that less money is needed to run them.

No plausible solutions to this predicament are on the horizon, and with all of the other issues our country is facing financing elections is not a top priority.  For now, we’ll just have to endure the reality of millionaire politicians and hope that voters continue to judge them on their merits and not on their pocketbooks.