Godspeed, Dr. Bower

Dr. Mark V. Bower, PE The sad news spreading through the UAH community today is the untimely passing of Dr. Mark V. Bower, PE, associate professor of mechanical engineering and the MAE department chair. Dr. Bower wasn’t the chair when I was a student, but I did have him for a class, and I knew of his character far longer than that. Dr. Bower was one of that cadre of educators that really cared for the students at his university. Even before I had him for class, he always had a cheerful word for folks he met in the hallway.

I’ll definitely miss him, as will the larger UAH community at large.

Placing 2006’s Warmness in Context

So, 2006 was the warmest year on record. What does that mean? Well, it means that the Earth is warming up. Mankind’s activities may or may not be contributing to that warming—many say yes, some say no.

The important things to remember here are:

  1. The records don’t go back very far. We have a century or so of strongly calibrated data worldwide, and a few centuries more with a more limited scope.
  2. The geological record indicates that the Earth has had very warm and very cool points in its long history. [Those who dispute this are generally Young Earth Creationists, and … for the purpose of this discussion, they really don’t matter. Most YECs argue that God’s omnipotent control extends to climate, and those that don’t fall into the group that see Man as Earth’s steward, and so they’re environmentally conscious.]

So, don’t flip out or anything. I mean, we need to be environmentally conscious, we need to cut fossil fuel use, and we need to conserve energy whenever possible—all for positive economic reasons—but this is not concrete evidence that Man-induced global warming is happening.

57% of Statistics Are False … Or Are They?

So, 95% of Americans have had premarital sex, and that result hasn’t changed for decades? Can I be in line with all the people saying, B.S.?

  1. What’s with the strong skewing towards women? 33,000 of the 38,000 people sampled were women. That’s … not a good demographic balance.
  2. The data comes from the surveys taken “in 1982, 1988, 1995 and 2002 for the federal National Survey of Family Growth”. “What’s the nature of this study?” is the question most asked by the people I’ve sent this to via email. [Especially by all my librarian friends.] We all wonder: is this study demographically skewed? Anytime you see federal studies of this sort, you wonder if they’re aimed at a demographic: we were all left wondering if it was perhaps something done with individuals who use Federal insurance safetynets [Medicare, Medicaid, etc.], stuff that skews towards low-income families and single parent households. I guess that I’m being prejudicial in assuming that low-income families are going to be more promiscuous, and if you want to skewer me for that, go ahead. But single mothers are often unwed mothers, so … that’s just the very definition of what we’re getting at here. But in any regard, I think that the larger point is that there’s concern on my end for the demography of the sample as to how it relates to the public as a whole. The AP story doesn’t give us much data on this.
  3. Lastly, if you believe demographers that argue that, on the whole, people who identify as homosexual are 10% of our population, you’re accepting that there are twice as many self-identified homosexuals as there are self-identified premarital virgins. Now, I admit that, as a religiously-inclined engineer living in the American South that I’m surrounded by a population that one would presume to be more likely to count among its number the 5% minority, much less knowing folks who openly admit their homosexual identity, I … think I know a whole lot more people who claim to have stayed virgins until marriage than who identify as homosexuals.

I wouldn’t have blinked if this study had said 75%. I might not have spent much time thinking about it if it was 80-85%. But 95%? Doesn’t that just seem a little high to you?

[I’m aware that I’m allowing my own individual anecdotes affect my perceptions of this research. I guess I’m wanting to see the actual paper and the methodology to cure my skepticism.]

Bus Crash in Huntsville

All of the metro Huntsville area has a heavy heart tonight as our thoughts and prayers are with the victims of a school bus crash here in town. There are just no words for this tragedy, really. My heart grieves for the students involved, their families, and for Lee High as a whole. This will undoubtedly take some time for healing.

I hope that the good that comes of this tragedy is another opportunity to re-visit passenger restraints in school buses. I’m aware of the liability concerns that school districts and school bus manufacturers alike have for them, but I’m quite certain that a reasonable set of laws requiring their use and oversight can be made. Liability concerns pale in the face of the lost lives we’ve seen today.

May God grant peace upon all involved.

Bad Infographic by CNN

Right now, CNN.com’s main page has an infographic running on the Senate results that just plain sucks:

Sucky infographic from CNN

Let’s just list the problems here:

  1. The GOP doesn’t have a majority with 50 Senators; it has control because Dick Cheney is VP. There is no majority in a 50-50 Senate; control is run through the VP to break ties, but that only provides vote-by-vote majorities.
  2. There aren’t 49 Senators and Senators-elect who are announced Democrats; there are 47.
  3. The worst of all: there are two Independent Senators: Bernie Sanders from Vermont and Joe Lieberman from Connecticut. Listing them as Democrats is wrong, because they aren’t. [Despite Joe’s proclamations.] They’re both officially Independents, even though they’ll both caucus with the Democrats.

How should this be fixed?

  1. 47 Democrats.
  2. 2 Independents.
  3. “Needed for Control: 49 Dem, 50 GOP” replaces the “Needed for Majority” text. If you want to add more info, you note that both Independents will side with the Democrats.

It’s just plain horrible work by CNN [and I’m picking on them while there are undoubtedly many other news outlets doing the same thing]; your audience is smart enough to know about Sanders and Lieberman and Cheney, so write the graphics correctly and let the folks do some thinking. The folks that won’t get it probably don’t care about this stuff anyway, so … report the facts and don’t do the analysis in the graphic when it distorts the facts even as it represents some level of truth.

Okay, gripe over.

Some Things Never Change

15 years after my family moved from the area, Beavercreek, Ohio is still struggling to keep city schools funded with emergency property-tax levies. [I’m posting this mostly for my family’s sake, admittedly.] It never ceases to fail me how many reasons people will come up with to not pay taxes when the tax revenue is demonstrably going toward something that clearly adds value to the community. Certainly, not all taxation is equal, and some taxes are regressive and/or wholly unnecessary, but … having grown up in that school district, I can say that those folks really need it.

When we moved there more than 20 years ago, Beavercreek was an odd duck—a town mostly home to older folks whose kids had moved away, mixed in with military folks who wouldn’t be around more than four or eight years at the most. The oldtimers didn’t really want to pay taxes to educate kids who weren’t going to stay in the community, and … at some level, I guess that I can understand that. But the thing that never failed to amaze me was understanding how short-sighted this was: the military families often chose Beavercreek for its good schools. [I’m fairly sure that’s why my folks moved there over, say, Fairborn, which would have been closer to where Dad worked on base for sure.] If you have good schools in a town, you typically have a good quality of life … and those military kids typically were of good stock: studious, responsible, and hard-working. Having us around reinforced the locals’ value systems, which were often the same as our own.

Now, I don’t know what the demographics of the area are anymore—I’ve really only been back once, and that was for a very quick trip. I can tell that the area has exploded in terms of growth, but if you want to be a bedroom community to Dayton [and maybe Cincinnati if you like the commuting thing], you’ve gotta have good schools. But … doesn’t seem like the voters there get that.

Mayor at 26

You’d think that it would take a lot for a 26-year-old to become a mayor of a household-nameable American city, and you’re right. But yet Luke Ravenstahl finds himself mayor of Pittsburgh after the death of Bob O’Connor, who had worked most of his life to become mayor before finding out that he had a rare, aggressive brain cancer shortly after taking office. Ravenstahl was sworn in as mayor last night, having become president of the city council prior when political differences made the young guy a compromise candidate.

And to think that I was stressing yesterday about my new job responsibilities…

My best to Ravenstahl and my sympathies to the O’Connor family.

Siegelman Convicted for Corruption

MONTGOMERY, Alabama (AP) — Former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman and former Health South CEO Richard Scrushy were convicted Thursday in a bribery scheme that derailed Siegelman’s campaign to retake his former office.

Siegelman, 60, was accused of trading government favors for campaign donations when he was governor from 1999 to 2003 and lieutenant governor from 1995 to 1999.


Enjoy jail, asshole.

[Please note: I rarely, if ever, use epithets such as “asshole” for public officials, because I rarely, if ever, have personal experience with them. But I’ve had more than my fair share of experience with Siegelman, so I feel like I’m qualified to label him an asshole.]

Some Free Advice for Obama and the Democratic National Party

The Washington Post has a long piece in Sunday’s paper about how many inside the DNP are pushing for Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) to make a run for President in 2008. Some selected quotes and my thoughts:

At age 44, the former Harvard Law School standout has little baggage. But Obama also has a scant legislative record in the Senate, where some members privately say they view him as drawn to news conferences and speeches more than to the hard details of lawmaking.

He has yet to carve out a distinctive profile on the policy and ideological debates that are central to how Democrats will position themselves in a post-Bush era.

In his stump speech, he offers a standard Democratic criticism of President Bush’s tax cuts as favoring the rich, and promotes energy independence with only modest detail about how to achieve it. Nor does he dwell on the Iraq war, assailing the administration’s handling of the conflict but not addressing such questions as a timetable for troop withdrawal.

Instead, it is almost entirely Obama’s biography, along with his gift for engaging people in large audiences and one-on-one encounters, that is driving interest.

George W. Bush’s Democratic detractors before the 2000 election often remarked that Bush didn’t have much of a political record, considering his lack of service to be a liability. Instead, it ended up proving to be an asset: Bush didn’t have much of a record to assail. We’ve seen this again and again in recent American politics: Al Gore and John Kerry both crashed and burned because their long political careers made their records easy to cherry-pick; John McCain has struggled similarly because of apparent inconsistencies in his record as well. John Roberts breezed through his SCOTUS process because he didn’t have a long judicial career to assail; Sam Alito took longer because he did have such a record [and, yes, because he was seen by most pundits as more conservative than the Justice he was replacing].

Of course, being a cipher isn’t always a salve, as the Harriet Miers debacle certainly showed. In fact, the Miers lesson may be that you have to have something of a record for people on your side to take you serious and to think that you have that ever-elusive gravitas; too much of a record gives the other side a wide array of targets of opportunity.

With that in mind, let’s also just review the facts. Below is a list of Presidents of the United States since the turn of the 20th Century. Following the name is the office held by the President at the time of his ascendancy. After that are the name and office of the major opposition candidate(s) that opposed the President in each election he won. All links are to Wikipedia so that my data can be verified.

  1. Theodore Roosevelt; Vice-President of the United States [VPOTUS], succeeded William McKinley upon his assassination. In 1904, Roosevelt won a second term, defeating Alton B. Parker (chief judge of New York Court of Appeals).
  2. William Howard Taft (Secretary of War). Defeated William Jennings Bryan (perennial Presidential election loser) in 1908.
  3. Woodrow Wilson (Governor, New Jersey) defeated the two previous POTUSes in 1912, a quite interesting electoral cycle. In 1916, Wilson won re-election, defeating Charles Evans Hughes (Associate Justice, SCOTUS).
  4. Warren G. Harding (Senator, Ohio) defeated James M. Cox (newspaper publisher) in 1920.
  5. Calvin Coolidge (VPOTUS) succeeded Harding after his death. In 1924, Coolidge was re-elected, defeating John W. Davis, who had served in the House (W.Va.) and as Ambassador to the UK in the years leading up to his nomination.
  6. Herbert Hoover (Commerce Secretary) defeated Alfred E. Smith (Governor, New York) in 1928.
  7. Franklin D. Roosevelt (Governor, New York; he succeeded Smith as both Governor and Democratic party candidate) defeated the incumbent Hoover in 1932. Roosevelt defeated Alf Landon (Governor, Kansas) in 1936, Wendell Willkie (never held political office) in 1940, and defeated Thomas E. Dewey (Governor, New York) in 1944.
  8. Harry S. Truman (VPOTUS) became President after FDR died in office, then famously defeated Dewey (still Governor) in 1948, thanks to the second-most famous rush-to-print in Presidential election history (supplanted by the Bush-Gore Florida debacle) courtesy of the Chicago Tribune.
  9. 1952 saw Dwight D. Eisenhower (President, Columbia University; okay, so he was best known as a war hero) defeated Adlai Stevenson (Governor of Illinois). The pair squared off again in 1956, with Eisenhower winning again.
  10. John F. Kennedy (Senator, Massachusetts) defeated Richard M. Nixon (VPOTUS) in 1960.
  11. Lyndon B. Johnson (VPOTUS) succeeded JFK after his assassination [if you’ve read this far, you know that! ;)]. In 1964, LBJ famously defeated Barry Goldwater (Senator, Arizona).
  12. Nixon (then a lawyer in NYC after losing both to JFK in 1960 and a gubernatorial race in 1962) defeated Hubert H. Humphrey (VPOTUS) and George C. Wallace (husband of puppet Governor Lurleen Wallace; gotta love Alabama politics!) in 1968. 1972 saw Nixon win re-election over George McGovern (Senator, South Dakota).
  13. Gerald R. Ford (VPOTUS) succeeded Nixon after his resignation.
  14. Ford lost re-election in 1976 to Jimmy Carter (Governor, Georgia).
  15. Carter lost to Ronald Reagan (famous for being Governor of California, although his term had ended five years previous; I can’t find what his active job was at time of election) in 1980. In 1984, Reagan demolished Walter Mondale (practicing lawyer at time of election; previously a Senator from Minnesota and Carter’s VPOTUS).
  16. George H.W. Bush (VPOTUS) defeated Michael Dukakis (Governor, Massachusetts) in 1988.
  17. In 1992, Bill Clinton (Governor, Arkansas) defeated the incumbent Bush and H. Ross Perot (businessman, unintentional comedian, and all around crazy ma’afala). In 1996, Clinton won re-election over Bob Dole (Senator, Kansas).
  18. 2000 saw Gore (VPOTUS) lose to W (Governor). And yes, we all know that Bush defeated Kerry (Senator) in 2004.

The point of all that exercise is to hammer this point home: Senators fare extremely poorly in Presidential elections since the turn of the 20th Century. Harding and JFK are the only winners; both were Senators only briefly. Far more often in the list above do you see Senators losing a bid for POTUS.

Obama said he wishes reporters and others would pay more attention to his work that helped Illinois veterans receive larger disability benefits, and his legislation encouraging alternative fuels. But he said he understands that “there’s a certain story line that attaches to each celebrity. . . . My story line is: ‘Rising star comes to D.C. and how quickly will D.C. corrupt him?’ ”

He praised Clinton’s approach to Congress and prominence. “One of the things that both Hillary and I recognize is that we are conferred a huge advantage by virtue of our notoriety,” he said. “We don’t really have to chase the cameras.”

Both Obama and Clinton seem to have taken a tack of chasing targets of political opportunity, addressing pressing political concerns in a fairly mainstream manner.

What (Sen. Edward) Kennedy (D-Mass.) viewed as a coup, however, was seen as showy overreaching by some Republicans. They complained that in private negotiations Obama seemed more interested in his pet amendments than in the need for an overarching, filibuster-proof compromise.

Such reproaches are bound to increase with Obama’s visibility, and the potential danger of moving too far, too fast “is certainly something that I think he thinks about,” Kennedy said. “On the other hand, there is enormous thirst within the Democratic Party, within the country, to have new directions, new solutions, new ideas.” Kennedy said he doesn’t know Obama well enough to counsel him on whether to run in 2008.

But some grass-roots Democrats are ready. “I think he’s spectacular,” said ophthalmologist David Victor after hearing Obama speak at a Boston rally. “Barack Obama represents the heart and soul of the party, the real future of the party.”

And here’s the free advice: Obama has sizzle. He has charisma, name recognition, and star power. He’s still young (just 44). If the Democrats want Obama to become POTUS, they need to have him swap jobs with Rod Blagojevich. Obviously, Blagojevich is seeking re-election; even if he wins, it would make sense for him to become Senator in 2010, when Obama’s first term will be up. The pair can swap jobs, campaign together, etc. The rising tide would seem to life both boats: Blagojevich seems to be the activist type of Governor who can make the successful jump to being a Senator, and Obama is the kind of politician with the appeal to successfully campaign for Governor without any executive experience.

Now, why have I spent over an hour writing all this down? Am I not the same person who’s voted for Bush both times? Yes. In both cases, I never felt like I knew what the Democrat stood for: Gore seemed to want to be Clinton when he wasn’t, and Kerry was only running as the anti-Bush. I learned after 1996 that voting for an anti-candidate wasn’t something I’d want to do. [Because it’s now Monday as I finish typing this, I can safely say that I’d re-do that vote if I could and would vote for another four years of Clinton. I’d never write that on Father’s Day, though. ;)] But just as I want two good candidates for Governor here in Alabama, I want two good candidates for President. I think time as Governor would be good for Obama: he’d learn to govern from the middle and would experience first-hand the pain of being a legislative leader with no vote. Obama in 2012 or 2016 is something I’d really be interested in seeing.

Similarly, my advice to the DNP is to have a Governor run in 2008 [Tim Kaine would be a good choice to appeal to your base; I don’t really like the guy, but I might vote for him] rather than the quite obvious Sen. Clinton. Again, Senators make great Vice-Presidents-who-become-President and lousy Presidential candidates. Hillary has an amazing amount of political baggage, stuff that would make George C. Wallace look like a blank sheet of paper. [At least Hillary isn’t a racist sonofabitch like Wallace was before he found God.] Candidate Clinton seems like an idea doomed to fail from the start: tons of baggage, a long-enough political record to assail [yes, she would have served the same amount of time in the Senate as JFK had, but … come on, folks], and … well, she’s a woman, and there’s just a lot of folks who presumably aren’t real sure about a woman as President.

Anyhow, some political thoughts from me. I’ve probably pissed off most everyone who reads IJSM with this, so … time to don the asbestos flamesuit!