Monday, December 31, 2007

Three days away

In less than 72 hours, we’ll know the results of the Iowa caucus. Iowans will have made their choice, and they will set in motion a series of events that will result in the Democrats picking our nominee. I’ve been unabashed in my support of Barack Obama from day one: indeed, I wrote on this blog more than three years ago that I hoped we’d have an opportunity to vote for him for President soon. I never imagined it would be this soon, yet I’m increasingly convinced that if we pass up this moment, we’ll be doing ourselves and our country a grave disservice.

It’s hard to survey the state of our union today and surmise that it’s anything but at risk. Our country was founded on a Constitution that established limits on our government and inalienable rights for man. Yet t(ioday, our President is far more concerned with expanding the government’s powers while simultaneously limiting our rights. That’s an imbalance of power that goes beyond one office, or one party.

More important than blaming President Bush (who, it should be clear, deserves much of the blame for the current state of affairs) is determining how we got here. We are a divided country today. Red states and blue states, the coasts and the heartland, north and south, white and black… you name it, we’re polarized. This is not a new phenomenon – but it seems we’ve lost our ability to think of ourselves as one country. It’s not enough to be an American – I fear that too many people today would define themselves as a Christian, an Evangelical, a Democrat, or some other trait that talks about what divides us before (if ever) talking about what defines us as a nation.

Three years ago, Barack Obama gave a breathtaking speech at the Democratic convention. In his now famous refrain, he spoke movingly of us not having one Red America and one Blue America, but a United States of America.

I can’t help but think of the upcoming primaries and caucuses in those terms. In Hillary Clinton we have a woman who once complained of a “vast, right-wing conspiracy” on national television. In John Edwards we have a candidate who castigates corporations and their gains – as if capitalism itself is to blame for the excesses of a few.

Don’t get me wrong: I’ll take an imperfect candidate who believes in evolution and ending the war in Iraq (to name two popular topics) over any of the current crop of Republicans. But the only candidate I see on either side of the aisle who actually stands a chance of bridging the bitter partisan divide is Barack Obama. I don’t want a 50% + 1 vote President. I want a landslide. Rather than defining our party in terms of what we’re not (we’re not Republicans, we’re not Bush…), we have what I see as a rare opportunity to nominate a candidate who has a significant shot at attracting a substantial amount of support from across the political spectrum. In Barack Obama, independents and even Republicans see a man who could single-handedly redefine how we present the US abroad, how we define our principles, and how we judge ourselves. This is a chance we should not miss.

Iowa: vote wisely. I’m hopeful that tonight’s poll is a harbinger of things to come.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Thursday, December 20, 2007

I need your help!

We moved to California in July. We moved into a new house, and of all the things that have been a challenge with this move, one was particularly unexpected: getting our mail. We’ve entered a wormhole, one in which mail never predictably gets to us. It’s not our old post office in Naperville – they’re clearly forwarding mail as it arrives, without any issue at all. No, the problem is squarely on the shoulders of the San Ramon post office.

At first I figured it was just a hiccup – we were new, the post office needed to get our address in the system. Or something. But no, it’s far more interesting (read: infuriating) than that.

It turns out, our post office refuses to deliver to new developments. I can’t begin to fathom the rationale behind this – but it’s beyond my ability to convince them to actually, you know, deliver my mail to me. Because that would be too easy.

So I have to go to our post office to pick up the mail. Couldn’t Robin go? Well, sure. But there was that one day that she went with 2 of the 3 kids, and the supervisor on staff actually yelled at Robin for suggesting that they hadn’t given her all the mail. So Robin isn’t exactly interested in going through that again, and I can’t blame her.

On at least a half dozen occasions, after a week or more has gone by between pick-ups, I’ve been shocked to see a mail count in the single digits. As in, 8 pieces of mail. After a week. A normal day for us in Naperville was in the neighborhood of 15-20 pieces of mail – between bills, personal cards, catalogs, etc. And we’re averaging around 10% of that here in San Ramon.

In several cases, the original postmark has preceded the mail’s arrival in my hands by more than two months. The pony express had a better track record than this!

And in many other cases, the mail simply doesn’t arrive. Bills don’t show up – for months – then we get phone calls asking why we haven’t paid. It’s so bad, that I tell anyone who needs to get something to me must use FedEx or UPS: both deliver to my door, and both are accountable (and seem interested in making their customer happy, a terrific bonus).

The staff at the post office is beyond unhelpful – they actually resent the suggestion that there might be more mail waiting, despite the fact that we’ve been right more often than not. (Me: “Surely there’s more mail.” Them: “No, I’m sure this is it.” Me: “Could you check?” Wait ten minutes. Them: “Here you go, I found some more.” Me: Head explodes.)

Today, it happened again. Hilariously, there was 12 pieces of mail. After 11 days between pickups. One of those was a Christmas card. In years past, we’ve received on average 100 or so Christmas cards. This year? Four so far.

I have spoken with the US Postal Service Customer Service Department. I have spoken with the Oakland Postmaster. I have spoken with the San Ramon postmaster. Yet mail still goes undelivered. My head continues to explode. And the San Ramon Post Office staff continue to act as if this is my fault. For moving into a new house, I guess.

I’m no longer requesting that the San Ramon Post Office own the resolution of this. I’ve called my Congressman, and hope that his staff can apply some pressure to them to get their house in order. (I figure four months of my efforts dealing with this is more than enough time for them to figure out what’s wrong and fix it.) In the meantime, I’d like to try an experiment. This is where you come in.

I would like you to send me a postcard, a letter, whatever. I’d like to have a record of exactly what pieces of mail are on their way to me, when they were sent, what zip code they were sent from, and then when it arrived (oh, to dream!).

So, dear readers, can you help me out? Send me a postcard (removed address, experiment over --Rick). Once you do, send me an e-mail (rick at and give me all the relevant info.

I should have done this months ago when it first occurred to me. Oh well, at least I’m doing it now. To those who can help, thanks in advance!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Predictions for the '08 primaries

No real time to write a long post about this, but here are my predictions for Iowa and beyond:

  • Barack wins Iowa, with 30%+ of the vote. Edwards comes in second, with 20-25%. Hillary comes in third.

  • Barack wins NH, Hillary comes in second.

  • Barack wins SC, Edwards comes in second.

  • Going into Super Tuesday, Barack has the momentum and the money.

  • In the final weeks ahead of the caucus, I see Bill as a liability for Hillary’s campaign. As her campaign struggles to find its footing against Obama, Bill is clearly inserting himself into the process more and more. That will cause friction inside her campaign – and it will call into question how in control of this campaign Hillary is. We’re already seeing reports of rifts within her campaign – and Bill taking a more public (and uncontrolled) role will only bring those rifts to the fore. Look for more media coverage of disagreement within Hillary’s inner circle about whether they should continue to listen to Mark Penn (her pollster) or not, and if not, how much free reign they give to Bill. And if by a minor miracle she wins in Iowa, does she really want the narrative out of Iowa to be that Bill saved her campaign? I’d argue that that would be almost as fatal as a big loss in Iowa – she needs to be her own person, and appear to be in complete control. But is there any controlling Bill, especially when he points out to all of her staff that he’s the only one to have run a successful Democratic run for the presidency in the last 30 years?

  • A third place finish in Iowa, particularly if she’s more than 10 points behind Barack, will be a terrible blow to Hillary. Her entire campaign has been run as if she was an incumbent – and if she can’t win in Iowa (and in fact gets beaten soundly) it’ll shatter the whole “electability” argument she’s worked hard to build.

  • Trend-wise, a win in Iowa gives Barack enough of a boost that he could take NH comfortably as well. Back-to-back losses for Hillary would be disastrous (see point above).

  • I think it’s going to be hard for Hillary to move the needle in these last few weeks. Everyone knows her, they have a pretty firm idea of who she is, and going negative at this point (see this week’s attack on Obama’s drug use as exhibit #1) runs a huge risk of backfiring on her.

  • Only wild card in Iowa, as far as I can tell: Michael Whouley. Who? This guy.. The guy who single-handedly handed Iowa to Kerry in 2004. So don’t count Hillary out… no doubt her ground game will be impressive: it’s just that all the ground game in the world won’t help if your candidate can’t actually deliver the momentum. And right now that all seems to be going Barack’s way.

On the Republican side, I honestly have no idea. Given the Wayne Dumond situation (Huckabee personally intervened in the case of a convicted rapist and murderer, encouraging the Arkansas parole board to parole him early; less than a year later, he raped and murdered another woman), I can’t imagine that Huckabee survives to the nomination. But I also can’t see any of the others surviving either. At this point, I’m standing by my prediction from more than 3 years ago: Hillary Clinton will not be our party’s nominee (check out this comment!). That nominee will be Barack Obama. And I don’t see a Republican who can beat him right now.

Update: I drafted this this morning, and today’s news makes my predictions seem ever-so-slightly less bold: three polls have Barack leading with over 30% of the vote in Iowa, Hillary’s starting to lower expectations for Iowa, and the Clinton camp is trying unsuccessfully to figure out how to plant seeds of doubt in Obama. We’re definitely in the end game now, and Christmas break is going to be all kinds of exciting. (Yeah, I’m a junkie. I admit it openly.)

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Randy Pausch got a role in upcoming Star Trek movie

A few months ago, I (along with most of the rest of the blogosphere) was moved by Randy Pausch’s last lecture at Carneige Mellon. Pausch, you may recall, has a terminal diagnosis from an aggressive cancer, and has just a few months left.

Not surprisingly, many people were moved by his lecture. Here’s the transcript, it’s been translated repeatedly (Chinese, German, Italian), and a book is in the works.

But coolest of all is news that JJ Abrams, director of the upcoming Star Trek movie, sent Randy an e-mail and offered him a role in the film. (Details are here, no permalink though.)

The film will come out a year from now. I think the odds of Randy being around for its premiere are slim… but what a wonderful tribute to an incredible man.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Your Republican nominee

My immediate reaction to seeing Huckabee’s answer to the “Do you believe every word in the Bible?” question at the YouTube debate last week? He’s your Republican nominee:

A home run answer if ever there was one. He’s someone who, though I disagree pretty fundamentally with many of his positions, I could easily see supporting as a genuine leader who would have the country’s best interests at heart.

(Where have I been, you ask? Uh, busy. Who knew Google would be such a busy place to work?!)