Tuesday, December 02, 2008

What Is An Electronic Cigarette???

I'm not a smoker, so maybe that's why I'm missing the charms of this product. Apparently it's a metal shell of a cigarette that makes water vapor instead of smoke, and looks like a cigarette. I saw this advertising on a computer game site, of all places!

From their website: "Smoking Everywhere E-Cigarette has no tobacco, no tar, no real smoke and no other chemicals like traditional cigarette that can cause lung cancer. However, It looks like a real cigarette, feels like a real cigarette and tastes like a real cigarette, yet it isn’t a real cigarette... It is also cheaper and healthier than real cigarettes!!!"

Wow, *electronic* smoking looks really glamorous!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Who Is This "Other" Erik Grow And Who Is Looking For Me?

My name is very rare. First off, there aren't very many people with my last name around. Coincidentally, there was one in my same class in elementary and middle school, but we were not related. There was also one in college, Lisa Grow, who I knew of, and finally met a couple days before graduating. Combine that with my Scandinavian spelling of the name "Erik", and I wouldn't expect that there are very many of me around with the exact same name. Several years ago, in the dawn of the Google Age, I checked around for other Erik Grows, and I found another! He was in California, around the same age as me, and apparently a photographer. I emailed him and he seemed like a nice guy. He seemed surprised as well that there was another with the same name around. I notice that quite a few people find my blog by looking for "Erik Grow" in a Google search, but almost nobody posts here that finds me that way. (Nine of the first ten search results as of right now are me, I believe.) Maybe it's people that haven't bookmarked my blog. Who knows? Anyway, the other Erik Grow is here.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Travel Enriches My Life

My wife and I love to travel. Since we've been together, we've been to many cities in North America, including San Francisco, Savannah, Las Vegas, Toronto, Charlotte, and Orlando. We've been to Europe three times, visiting Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Austria, Germany, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Estonia. Next year, we hope to take a trip to eastern Europe, as finances allow. As long as our jobs are still safe, which so far they seem to be, then we should be on our way!

I love to travel overseas because it's just so fascinating to see how other people around the world live. I listen to the languages, even if I don't understand them. I observe the people and culture. I take in the sights, and take lots of pictures. Two of our three trips have been escorted tours, but with plenty of free time to explore on our own. Both times we have taken such trips, we have been the youngest on the tour, but traveling with retirees is fun too. It's kind of like having lots of grandparents with us! It's fun when we are on our own walking around a foreign city and a local asks us a question in their native language. That happened to us twice in Stockholm, my maternal grandfather's city of origin! (No, we had not idea where the nearest gas station was, as it turned out.) Apparently we blended in so much that they couldn't tell the difference, which to me is a compliment. You won't catch us walking around in Hawaiian shirts and fanny packs!

It's great to have that international perspective. It doesn't diminish my appreciation for the good old US of A, but traveling reminds me that there are some really amazing countries out there that if I had been born there instead, I am sure I would have been just as happy. I am actually off to visit my sister and her boyfriend on the east coast of Florida tomorrow morning and won't be back until Monday. I may blog a little between then and now, but may not. Here are some of my favorite pics from my travels to enjoy until then.

Tallin, the capital of Estonia.

Helsinki, the capital of Finland.

A mountain goat in the Swiss Alps.

Lucerne, Switzerland, from the top of the Medieval wall around part of the city.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Beginner's Guides To Evolution

My slightly crazy friend from Mississippi mentioned evolution in his comments. I'm not sure if this is something that he really wants to go toe to toe with me on, but hey, I'm game and it's been years since I have talked about the topic here. Also, while it is contentious to some people that refuse to believe science, it is not really political, so it's a nice diversion.

First off, understand a couple things about evolution.

1. There is no "controversy" about evolution in the worldwide scientific community. This question was largely settled over a hundred ago, and with the addition of modern scientific tools, the complete fossil record, and genetic sequencing, all of which have validated it, it is now considered to be scientific fact by those that study it. Serious research scientists realize that there will always be people that don't believe it on some kind of ideological grounds. They realize that it is a waste of time to try to convince people that simply oppose it for ideological reasons. Those that believe that evolution and religion are an either/or thing will always pick religion and find something to justify it. I am entertaining the subject as if there is some doubt.

2. Evolution is difficult to explain to someone that does not have a very solid grasp of basic biology. Without basic knowledge of biology, it will be very easy to dismiss it as making no sense. There are many, many helpful videos on youtube on the subject though, some of which I will introduce to you here. In return, if there is a video you want me to view that shows the opposing side, post it here and I'd be happy to take a look. I have found that most people that do not believe evolution to be true also do not have a good understanding of what it is, and the mechanisms behind it.

This first video is a very small portion of this complete video that is nearly two hours long. The short clip deals specifically with the genetic differences between humans and chimps. This is brand new research that was just confirmed in the last few years through genetic sequencing. It was one of the final "objections" brought up by the anti-evolution people, and now even that does not exist for them. The speaker is Ken Miller, a practicing Catholic, and one of the scientists that testified at the Dover Trial in Pennsylvania in 2005. I highly recommend "Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial" if you have Netflix.

This is a debunking of some creationist myths by someone else on youtube. He is quite good, and there are a couple others on youtube that are equally thorough. He is a biology graduate student in NC, and again is a practicing Christian, one of many who do not believe that evolution and religion are in conflict.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Artificially Flavored Apples?

So, my wife Chris and I were at the store last night, doing our usual Friday night grocery shopping at Wegmans. In the produce section, I saw these apples called "Grapples". On the box it says to pronounce it "GRAPE-L". I had seen these before, and they are always in plastic containers, instead of just loose like the other apples. They claim that these apples taste like grapes, so I decided to give them a try. I smelled them through the packaging to see if they smelled different, and they smelled impossibly sweet, like candy! They smelled like grape-flavored "Jolly Rancher" candy. Chris didn't think they smelled good at all, too sweet, but I thought they would probably be tasty because I have a world-renowned sweet tooth. Ridiculously sweet apples, one of the many wonders of modern genetics! Then, when we were standing in line at the checkout, I took a closer look at the package. "Artificial grape flavoring added." WHAT??? They injected the apples with flavoring and probably lots of corn syrup and other stuff??? I am pretty sure I get my USRDA of corn syrup from other foods already, so I put them back instead of buying them. Apparently according to their website, there is no sugar added, just flavoring and a little water, but the fact that they are injecting stuff into the apples was surprising enough for me to put them back! Maybe I'll try them next time when I'm feeling a little more adventurous, or have gotten a little more used to the idea. Meanwhile, I'm going to try to figure out how I can make cucumbers taste like oranges. Wish me luck.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

What Are Right-Wingers Made Of?

Sugar and spice and everything nice? Well, I haven't exactly found that to be true. Let's just say that some are much spicier than others! Certainly though some are very decent people, and as interested as I am in getting to the bottom of this country's policy challenges. I've mentioned recently my "travels" at Rightwingsparkle, a conservative blog run by a self-described "theocon", a middle-aged wife and mother of five near Houston, Texas. First, a little background about how I arrived there. I wandered over there at the same time I started this blog, at a time in early 2005 when Republicans in general and much more alarming to me, religious conservatives specifically, were suddenly flexing their political muscle. The rest of us hadn't quite gotten "good and tired" enough to do something about it, namely vote against it. Certainly they seemed to think they knew how we should all conduct our lives, so I decided to try and understand them better. Little did I know that the seeds of their decline had already been sown, with the Schiavo case happening at that time, to be followed by more unpopular over-reaching. Disasters, scandals, and more policy blunders led to the 2006 election, effectively ending Bush's political clout. Then Barack Obama was elected President of the United States two days ago.

In a way I'm kind of glad that I didn't know that it would all unravel so quickly when I started blogging in 2005, because if I had, I wouldn't have been so concerned, wouldn't have felt compelled to make my voice heard through blogging, and wouldn't have reached out to communicate and debate with conservatives. I'm better off for having had the experience, and I will continue to do so in a more limited capacity. I am however quite disappointed at some aspects of my experience there, especially during the last couple months. I learned that there are some people in the world that are so ruled by politics that they literally cannot look past it to see a fellow human being. There are actually commenters there that refused to even associate with me outside of that blog when politely offered. There were others that cursed at me, called me part of the "culture of death", and all kinds of other bizarre and creative names, along with unfounded character attacks on my personality and lifestyle just because I disagreed with them politically. The venom itself never bothered me, and I did my best to never sink to their level, but I must admit that the very fact that this sort of behavior is acceptable to so many people that are supposed to have excellent morals made my jaw drop at times. I find it truly sad that so many of these people exist.

In short, I went there for respectful debate, and there has been not much of that for some time now. They are upset about what has happened, and I'm just another target at this point. Even the hostess used to be more positive from time to time, even uplifting every now and then. I still very much respect her as a person, but more and more her posts seem to be about tearing someone else down, and the outrage is very palpable. Even on the night of the historic election, she put up a post calling for "resistance" to a man that has not yet even taken office, with a picture equating him with a mindless machine from the Terminator movies. I truly hope politics is not unwittingly turning her into that same machine, because she is really not that person. Post-election she seems to have softened a bit, and is posting about right to life issues and religion. No matter how careful I am to be respectful though, abortion debates on that site just get uglier and uglier, so I won't say a lot on the subject. I am not afraid of going toe to toe with people on this issue, and I have numerous times in the past, but I no longer feel the need to subject myself to the anger and outrage. I can take it, but it just isn't worth it to me any more.

So, I will be pulling back a great deal from her site, at least for now, and maybe for longer. I have many, many interests outside of politics, and now that the election is over, it's time I turned my attention to them. I will check in and say hello every now and then I'm sure, but it is unlikely that I will ever participate there to that level again. Perhaps I will stop into Mark Goluskin's "Right View from the Left Coast" from time to time once political season comes back around. He's a theocon too, and his blog is less traveled, but he seems to be interested in discussing the whole range of issues that face us in a more analytical way, and that's important to me. Meanwhile, I'll continue blogging and I'll be mixing a lot of my other interests into my blog as this historic election fades into, well... history.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Alaska Itself Is The Political "Bridge To Nowhere"

First Sarah Palin almost single-handedly destroys the small chances that Republicans have of winning the presidency this year. Then, Republican Senator Ted Stevens is convicted of corruption charges a couple weeks before his re-election bid, (but he WINS his seat anyway). Don Young, the state's Republican at-large house member also has huge ethics challenges (but also wins anyway). Is it something in the water? Maybe in the snow? Thanks a lot Alaska! You provided some much needed comic relief for this campaign and you helped Obama win the election.

*wink* *wink*

You played your part. Now please, please fade away back into obscurity again. The sooner the better.

"You betcha!"

It's not that we don't love you. We do, really we do. We love you SO much in fact that we gave you your governor back. It's the least we could do.

"Say it ain't so, Joe!"

No, I'm afraid it very much is so. Oh, that reminds me... I know he's not from Alaska, but feel free to take Joe the Plumber with you.

Joe the quarter million dollar a year plumber. (I'm in the wrong profession.)

I'm looking forward to no more moose jokes...EVER...

The bridge to nowhere would have been here.

The Exclamation Point On The End Of The Bush Years

I'm exhausted, but extremely happy, and I'm going to bed! More tomorrow. Virginia is blue, Obama wins, Democrats make gains in the House, Senate, and governorships. We did it!!!

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Volunteering In Virginia For Obama

I arrived at my polling place this morning to vote at 8:54 AM. I had voted and was driving to the local Obama Headquarters at 9:04 AM. The lines were about an hour before work when my wife voted, but by the time I had gotten there, the lines had cleared out. I found it interesting that this time there were electronic voting machines AND paper ballots, and they asked every voter what they preferred. I just went with the touch screen.

Minutes later I was at Obama HQ. I was handed a cell phone and a list of names to call. These lists were confirmed Obama supporters, so they were easy. Some people were happy to hear from me, a sign that we really are that strong to have a solid ground game in VA this year. Most people were not home at all, but later in the day we got clearance to start leaving messages for them. The office was very busy, and as the morning and then the afternoon wore on, it went from a dozen to a couple dozen, to more like thirty people, some of them going to do "line duty", making sure that people had refreshments or umbrellas if they had to wait in the rain. It did start to rain in the middle of the afternoon, but not a lot.

It was great to see all of the volunteers. They were from all walks of life, and every age and race. One guy's wife works for Senator Biden. Another one works for Senator Boxer in CA and has been to several swing states.

Virginia's polls close at 7PM. That is very early, one of the earliest in the country. It's a disadvantage for Democrats because traffic is very bad in our northern VA stronghold. It would be nice to have them close at 8PM instead. I also don't like that some polling places can't have much of the line indoors and out of the weather. Despite the rain, it's not too cold today, so I suppose that's something to be thankful for.

I'll be watching the counties in VA that vote this time and the margins compared to those same counties in 2004. If Obama inches closer in ones that Kerry lost in 2004 and turnout is as high as expected in northern VA, it will not take long to be able to read those tea leaves. My nightmare? Obama wins the popular vote and loses the electoral vote. My best possible outcome dream? A comfortable victory.

Off I Go

OK, I'm going to go vote and volunteer now. I'm taking little video clips every now and then. I have heard there is going to be rain in some battleground states. Here in northern VA it's just overcast. Normally that is thought to favor Republicans, but with many more Democrats actually EXCITED about the candidate this time, I'm not sure if that doesn't work in our favor. By the way, I love how Republicans knock Obama for being so popular among Democrats. Republicans WISH McCain were that popular. Half are voting for McCain, and half are just scared to death of Obama by some of the right-wing character assassins.

Anyway, enough of that. It's time for the rubber to meet the road. Let's do this, America. Vote Obama.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Thoughts On The Final Hours Before Election 2008

I feel like I've been holding my breath for the last couple weeks. Now, just to be clear, I have always been confident for the past several weeks that Obama was ahead of McCain, and that "if the election were to be held today" that Obama would win. What I have always been nervous about though was some last-second "October Surprise" (or November Surprise), that somehow turned the tables. At this point, we are at around noon on the day before election day and the time for a big surprise, planned or otherwise, is rapidly running out. It may be too late even if there was one, therefore I am increasingly confident.

I am really looking forward to volunteering for the Obama campaign tomorrow! I have never done that before, and it should be an experience to remember. This is a year of firsts for me for politics. I also gave $100 to the campaign several weeks ago, which is a first for me as well.

My final prediction is Obama wins 311 electoral votes, including all Kerry and/or Gore states, plus VA, CO, OH, and NV. I think the rest of the red states will all go barely to McCain. If there is one of the remaining states that I think we have a decent shot at, it's Florida. If there's one we may lose from the list, it's OH. I don't understand the Republican plans to take PA. That's a play by necessity due to scarce resources. PA won't take long to call for Obama. I also think Obama will win 51.2 percent of the popular vote, which would put him at about 3.5% more than McCain at 47.7 percent, about a point more margin than Bush's margin in 2004.

I want to hear your predictions. What are your predictions for the popular vote and the electoral vote? More importantly, WHY do you think it will be the result?

Friday, October 31, 2008

Why McCain Should Have Trusted His Instincts

From electoral-vote.com is a very insightful piece about how McCain was convinced to turn to the right during the general election. He still may win, but it looks like this move will cost him every blue state and perhaps more. McCain should have trusted his instincts about how to run as not just another Republican in a cycle where the brand was badly damaged. Most of the base was going to come home to roost with him one way or another. If you were looking at the electoral map on that site prior to the Palin pick, you would have seem that McCain's support was weak in some red states, but he was still leading in nearly all of them. In several blue states he was also leading, tied, or at least very competitive! For this cycle, he really did have a very good chance if he had navigated his message and direction prudently. He still has a chance now, but if he manages to win, it will be by the slimmest of margins and with the most Democratic Congress in decades.

From the site: "A new NY Times/CBS poll shows that 59% of the voters feel that Sarah Palin is not qualified to be Vice President, let alone President. These people question McCain's ability to pick qualified people for his administration. The ironic thing is that the choice of Palin was probably forced on him by Steve Schmidt. McCain barely knew her (he met her once for 15 minutes), whereas he has traveled extensively with his long-time good friend Joe Lieberman. The choice of Lieberman would have enhanced McCain's maverick status, shown that he was willing to buck his own party ("Country first") and given the ticket an experienced politician who most people feel could be President (as demonstrated by polling in 2000). Schmidt undoubtedly told McCain that the base wouldn't accept him due to his pro-choice stance on abortion. The old McCain would have said: "Screw the base" to Schmidt, but McCain V2.0 did what he was told. If McCain loses, the conversation between McCain and Schmidt probably won't be real friendly."

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Best... Kool-Aid... EVER!!!

I expound a bit more on the last couple weeks of right-wing screeching on my favorite blog where I am among the small but vocal resident opposition. This, combined with some cultural references, make up my newest video blog entry! Enjoy.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

John Stewart Needs No Introduction

This is an object lesson on why Republicans shouldn't be given any power again until they get their heads back on straight. I laughed SO hard, despite the fright factor.

Oh, and don't forget Libby Dole's new ad against Kay Hagan in the NC Senate race. This is BRAND new. I didn't really care that much about this race before. Sure, I would have liked to see Kagan win anyway, but hell, now I REALLY want to see it! Nobody should be able to get away with this nonsense. Nobody.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Why Right-Wing Character Attacks Are Now Irrelevant

I posted this as comments on another blog, but realized it was so wordy that I should probably post it here. It is basically an explanation of why I DO understand all of these attacks on Obama's associations and why I still think they are largely irrelevant. I do believe associations taken as a WHOLE can give some insight into character, yes. I also know that Republicans will try and find the handful of people, no matter how tangentially related to Obama's universe of people, that are tainted in some way. They're not going to find a list of the several hundred or so people that are closest to him and do a really balanced assessment of who has had the most impact on his life because they are not going to help them make the case they are trying to make. So, we know their task is to disqualify him on the basis of being a radical and to do that they need to cherry-pick his associations, no matter how misleading the technique used. If you believe what the right-wingers say, then Rezko, Ayers, and a few other people were his best buddies and closest confidants. Aside from Wright who probably knew Obama better than the others, this just doesn't hold water and it's clear that people are not buying it. They want people to look at 1% of the story and think it's 100%. It isn't working and it shouldn't work.

I believe the stuff that Reverend Wright said is of course way way off base. Unfortunately there is a segment of the population that believes in that AIDS conspiracy nonsense, or even that HIV isn't really what causes AIDS. It's ridiculous of course, but Wright used it to play to some portion of who he thought his target audience was. Some people enjoy being victims. On a side note, I actually believe that a great side effect of a President Obama could be that nobody will have an excuse to not achieve any more. No more excuses. What higher barrier is left than leader of the free world? I am very big on pulling yourself up out of defeatism and self-inflicted malaise. I want a tax code that is geared toward encouraging people to get to the middle class, but not punishing the rich. If 3% more on the top 5% of earners is considered socialist, well, we've had dozens of socialist presidents already then.

I also don't think Obama was a particularly frequent attender of Wright's church. Certainly he was a friend, and people can forgive a lot of faults in a friend. I have friends that I think are half-crazy, and if I ran for office, people might dredge them up, but I know they are good people underneath it all. This spotty church attendance may undercut his "Christian credentials" a bit, but of course most Dems, while around 3/4 of us or so are Christian, don't really care about that in a candidate. I wouldn't even care if he was Muslim or if he was atheist, or agnostic, but I believe he is Christian as he says. Do I honestly think Obama knew the stuff Wright was saying? I don't think he was there to hear the "God Damn America" thing or the AIDS rant. I *certainly* don't think Obama would ever say or even believe to any extent what Wright said about America or about AIDS. I'm not even sure that Wright believes it, but he might. Wright may well have been playing to what he thought the crowd wanted to hear. The bottom line is, if I thought that Obama had heard that speech and was OK with it, or believed these things himself, then I would have a serious problem with Obama. If I thought he had directed Acorn to commit registration fraud, or if I thought he agreed with Ayers' use of violence to achieve a political goal, then ALL of those things would cause me to reconsider. Short of that, and we are far short of that, I believe the country will be better off with Obama leading it, and I will be voting and volunteering in Virginia for his campaign on November 4th.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Completely Meaningless Quote Of The Day Is...

...this doozy from Leslie Sanchez, a Republican strategist on CNN.

"SANCHEZ: Look at the Reuters/C-Span/Zogby poll came out last night or basically early this morning, shows within five points, that John McCain is closing that gap with incomes of $35,000 and higher.If he can continue to maintain that, and even if you look at the fact you take out California and New York out of that, you look at the other 48 states, it is really probably closer to dead even. This is still a competitive race. And before people are writing the eulogies, I think you need to focus on the positives."

Emphasis mine obviously. I know it's just silly campaign-speak, but I just had to laugh at that. What in the world does that even mean??? Sure, if we toss out around 17% or so of the entire country's population whose electoral votes will certainly go for Obama, we just might win! While we're playing the "what-if" game, heck, can we just toss out Texas and Georgia? I guess if we gave Texas back to Mexico, immediately making W the President of Mexico, and then Georgia suddenly sunk into the ocean, then McCain might not even get 100 electoral votes! I think some of these commentators are going to be squirming for the next 9 days to try to make things interesting.

One Word: Brilliant

The guys from the Budweiser commercials from 8 years ago reprise their roles in a new ad. This is some weird combination of heartbreakingly on target with the satire, and brutally hilarious. Thanks Dave Bones for bringing this one to my attention.

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Many Phases Of A Conservative Blog This Election

The tone on my "favorite" conservative blog that is lately a borderline asylum where I like to go to argue with right-wingers, has gone through several phases over the last several months. This is similar to a comment I posted there today, and thought it was interesting enough to be posted and expanded on a little here. The phases have been as follows:

1. In the primaries, Rightwingsparkle is all for McCain. Most other commenters are against McCain and want a more jowly, disagreeable arch-conservative type like Fred Thompson, or a slick fiscal conservative like Romney, or a religious rightie like Huckabee. Rightwingsparkle is *correct* that McCain was the only Republican with much of a chance this cycle, but many commenters don't want to hear it.

2. After McCain wins the primary, Rightwingsparkle tries to convince everyone to vote for him even though he wasn't far right enough for many people here. Some of her commenters make her look like a centrist, and that's very, very difficult.

3. Palin is picked, and everyone goes wild. McCain jumps in the polls at first and everyone loves her. Rightwingsparkle goes through the roof with McCain/Palin love and donates up to the max of $2,300 to his campaign that day. (Hopefully that paid for some of Palin's $150,000 "populist" wardrobe.)

4. Palin gets a little exposure. Whoops, put her back on the talking points quick! The dreaded mainstream media is blamed for her inability to put two coherent sentences together. How dare they ask what newspapers she reads!

5. Economic crisis hits, McCain parachutes into DC, says he won't debate, but then does anyway. Obama gains traction and wins debates according to debate viewers. Rightwingsparkle and her commenters blame the media, SNL, moderators, Democrats, Hollywood, and sunspots, but never McCain himself or his performance for any of this. What ever happened to the "party of personal responsibility"?

6. McCain campaign announces they're going negative on character issues in the middle of a financial crisis. Her blog follows suit the same day. All we hear about is Ayers, Acorn, and Wright for weeks. Everyone forgets what McCain's platform actually is. People eventually get tired of the attacks. This is reflected in the polls. Rightwingsparkle and her commenters blame the media. Again. Who else's fault could it be that people think the attacks are way over the top, right?

7. Today we have 11 days to go. Now it's all about generalized fear. Today Obama is supposedly a power-hungry egomaniac that will let everyone get nukes. Yesterday his supporters were tearing up the country, attacking McCain supporters and shooting up people's houses. (Well well, that was a hoax by a McCain supporter, as I had suspected!) Tomorrow she'll probably say that Obama will be collecting your guns. Once you call a guy a socialist and friend to terrorists, almost everything seems like fair game, doesn't it? The Republicans have finally and completely lost their compass. Help them go through their period of introspection that they so desperately need to find it again. Vote Obama.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

"Pro-America" And "Real Virginia"

Those wacky McCain surrogates are at it again. These are just from the last couple days. Yes, silly season continues in earnest!

Here's Nancy and her "Real Virginia" comment. I live about ten miles from where she lives. The McCain campaign had better tell me where I'm supposed to vote since if I don't live in real Virginia, I need to know where to go vote for Obama! She also has no clue where the northern VA population explosion has come from. It's mostly transplanted northerners like me, and first generation Americans that are here working in the tech sector (I am also in the tech sector), not DC residents moving outward. Nancy, for someone that lives here, you're utterly clueless.

Here's Palin and her "Pro-America" comment. I will at least give her credit for apologizing for this gaffe a day or two later.

This moron, Robin Hayes of North Carolina, in electoral trouble himself to keep his House seat, is in big trouble over this one. Liberals apparently hate people that work, achieve, and believe in God, according to him. He denied saying it at first, and then the audio came out. Whoops!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

John McCain And Mike Nolan Both "Running Out Of Real Estate"

I think I've heard almost every possible football reference in this campaign. John McCain is throwing hail marys. It's fourth and long for McCain. Obama is at the goal line. McCain kicked a field goal. There is only one footballism that seems to apply now. Sometimes when a running back runs to the left or right, and they are trying to get around the defense to get going straight ahead, they "run out of real estate" when they get to the sidelines before they can turn the corner. This is McCain's problem right now. In past elections, when the Republican brand wasn't so toxic, they could go right at the Democrats, right up the middle, and have as good a chance of making the yards that they need as not making them. This time, McCain is being forced to do an end around. All Democrats have to do is keep containment so he has to stick as close to the regular Republican message as possible, or just string him along toward the sidelines and out of bounds after he goes negative. Either way, he looks more and more like Bush and the conservative movement that has brought us the last eight years, and without an October surprise, it's going to be nearly impossible for him. It's too bad for McCain that his campaign has been so horrible, because I used to think McCain had some honor before the right wing of his own party boxed him into a nearly unwinnable position.

The election is now 14 days away. All of the debates are over. Obama and Biden are four for four on winning the debates according to all polls, and they are up about four to eight points in the polls, depending on which poll you like. Obama is winning comfortably in all of the states Kerry won, plus Iowa and New Mexico which Gore won, and Virginia and Colorado that Bush won both times. If those other states don't change, McCain can't lose either VA or CO, or he loses. Oh, did I mention that Obama is also ahead in Bush states FL, OH, NV, and MO, and probably tied now in IN, and McCain can't afford to lose a single one of those either? It's not over. 14 days is a long time in politics, but I am no longer going to use the word "eternity". Better dig deeper in your barrel of slime, Johnny.

Oh, and in completely unrelated news, the coach of my favorite team, the San Francisco 49ers, just fired their head coach, Mike Nolan. I guess it was to be expected. When you go 18-37, not even winning a third of your games, it's hard to justify. He was hampered by poor talent for some of that time, but right now aside from the major exception of the quarterback and possibly wide receiver positions, I don't think they have any huge problems with talent. I guess we'll see what happens.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Colin Powell Endorses Obama

In the greater context of the election, I don't think this is going to make a big difference, but on the margins it has the effect of being a positive news story for Obama. Now, it isn't any secret that Colin Powell was always uncomfortable with the social conservatives that are increasingly THE base of power in the Republican party. Powell was a Republican mostly on the basis of economic and foreign policy issues, and on the latter, the W administration burned him badly, costing him a great deal of his personal reputation. If you listen to the reasons for his backing Obama, they had as much to do with the direction the Republicans and now John McCain himself are veering off to as they did about Obama's traits, although he had plenty to say about both. Powell isn't switching parties, he is just calling the recent insanity from the far right what it is, and switching to someone that has it more together right now. You don't even need to consider race to find many, many other more plausible reasons for his decision.

It is sadly predictable how right-wing bloggers are spinning this as being a race thing, like Powell isn't strong enough to make up his own mind and it's somehow about brotherhood and nothing to do with issues. That is an extremely insulting thing to say about someone as accomplished as Powell. They did the same with Christopher Buckley, trying to find other external reasons for supporting Obama. They would never admit that maybe they know everything about the candidates and their positions, and feel that Obama would make a better President. The other narrative that some Republicans are pushing is that this is somehow not counting for much because Democrats revile him for his role in the run-up to the Iraq War. I can't speak for everyone, but I was never one of those Democrats. I always respected him and thought that he was the voice of reason in the W Administration.

Separated At Birth?

Edited later to add: I KNOW this is totally silly and has nothing to do with issues or whatever, but when I first saw this picture, just before laughing really REALLY hard, I thought of Mister Burns from the Simpsons! It's OK Dave Bones, I haven't gone crazy yet. It's all in good fun. I should have framed it more good-naturedly to begin with. I'm smiling, really I am. You just can't see it from across the pond! (Do Brits call it "the pond" too?) Yes, they really are going ballistic at Sparkle's. I really think there are no lines any more. Whether they admit it or not, McCain's campaign has crossed lines of mud-slinging that have not been crossed before in presidential politics. Anyway, I am pulling back a bit from there. They are scared and there is too much free-floating anger. I'm already anxious enough about this election. I'm just waiting for something insane to happen to somehow save them as it is. I don't need more stress.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

If Ann Coulter And Sarah Palin Could Have A Kid Together...

...the result would be Michelle Bachmann. She has a little bit of the same type of look and the right-wing credentials certainly, and even has a bit of the Palin accent. I hadn't heard of Bachmann until a few months ago. She is a House member from Minnesota, and has been making the rounds as a surrogate for McCain for at least a few months. She is apparently also in some electoral doubt in her own race to keep her job, but it seems her district is Republican enough that she will hold on. This video may change things though.

The attacks from the McCain campaign and his surrogates are getting more brazen, more insane, and more furious. Fortunately, it's not working. I could hardly believe it when I heard about Bachmann's appearance on Hardball. She openly and publicly suspects Obama of being un-American. Well, isn't that nice. We're not talking about supposition here. She actually comes right out and says it! It's fascinating how the line has moved in terms of what is politically acceptable from the anti-Obama crowd. First it was openly accusing a US Senator of "palling around with terrorists", then it was openly accusing Obama of being a socialist, and now a US congresswoman openly suspects Obama of being "anti-American". What was that sound? Did you hear that? It was faint, delicate, and barely audible. You know what it was? It was McCain's last shred of dignity fluttering away, along with the last bit of respect that he has lost with me in the past few months. Seventeen more days and this ugliness should all be over with an Obama victory if there is any justice.

Friday, October 17, 2008

My First(ish) Video Blog

I've done videos before, even video blogs, sort of, but this is the first one that I've actually embedded right into my blog. In this one, I talk a bit about my experiences arguing with right-wingers recently. I get a couple digs in on Spark and Jill, but it's all in good fun!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Joe The Plumber And Bob Schieffer Win The Debate!

I thought the debate last night was the best one so far. Bob Schieffer did a fine job as moderator, and actually kept the candidates somewhat focused on the questions that were asked. Joe the Plumber had a big debate. There are lots of interesting tidbits that are now known about him. He voted McCain in the Ohio primaries. I am not shocked. You know what's even more interesting? It appears that even Joe the Plumber himself knows that Obama would not raise his taxes in his situation! Not that it will stop McCain from trying to use him as a bogus example. Here are the choice parts from that article.

In an interview afterward with WTOL, Wurzelbacher acknowledged that he'd still like to eventually buy the plumbing company he works for but that he wouldn't yet be hit by higher taxes.

"I want to set the record straight: Currently I would not fall into Barack Obama's $250,000-plus," he said. "But if I'm lucky in business and taxes don't go up then maybe I can grow the business and be in that tax bracket - well, let me rephrase it. Hopefully, that tax won't be there."

Hm, that wasn't the tune you were singing while you were on camera, Joe. So, maybe if you're really, really successful, and if you make more than $250,000 a year, you might have to pay 3% more on that amount over the 250K. Oh, what most people would do to have such problems, Joe! Go ahead and vote for McCain on silly hypotheticals if you want, but clearly you are smart enough to understand that Obama's plan won't hurt you at all, and will probably help you.

Here is the brand new Obama commercial. All of the funny faces that McCain made last night in the debate are on full display! They mean nothing in terms of their plans for the country of course, but personally, I think they cost McCain the perception of victory in the debate, because he had his best debate so far on the issues.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Taxes and "Wealth Redistribution"

The whole thing with "wealth redistribution" or "fair taxes" is that no matter what, everyone knows that taxes need to be paid to keep the system we enjoy running smoothly. The question then becomes how much is "fair". Most people think fair should be for them to pay less. If everyone paid what they thought was fair, we would have horrible roads, the elderly would be out in the snow, and our military would be pathetic. Some favor a flat sales tax to replace the income tax as a panacea, but there are significant problems with this as well, not the least of which is that this is also a regressive tax structure. Nearly all first world countries have a "progressive" tax structure by which the more you make, the higher the rate of the tax. The idea behind this is that it takes a certain amount to live, a certain amount to live comfortably, and another amount to live REALLY comfortably. Economists assign value to these dollars in the form of what is called "marginal utility". The concept is that one hundred dollars is much more important to someone making 20K a year than to someone making 200K a year. Therefore, even though the percentage is higher in terms of the income tax, the goal for many is to have roughly the same contribution when adjusted for the marginal utility of that money. You don't want to "punish" success, but you also need to make sure that you are giving the most opportunity to stay in the middle class and not slip under the poverty line for anyone that is employed.

Yes, there are some people that are not elderly or disabled that are on welfare. About 1% of the total federal budget is spent on this, which is a large amount in sheer dollars, but compared to many other line items, it's tiny, and the percentage has been trending lower since welfare reform 14 years ago. There is also Social Security, Medicaid, and other programs that exist to help various people that are elderly or sick. Many of these programs work in a way that the people that get the benefits paid into them during their working years. However, these programs are getting stretched due to longer life expectancies. Eventually I think the retirement age will have to be moved up. It won't be popular, but demographics will demand it.

Now, back to "wealth redistribution". This has become in the last couple decades a Republican code phrase for "the wealthy should pay lower taxes". Then once they are proposed to be cut for the wealthy, it is argued who then should pay more to make up for the shortfall, since even if the economy is stimulated by the cuts, which may or may not happen, it is unlikely to make up for the whole difference, especially in today's conditions. Conservatives will often say that the budget should be cut. There is always "waste" somewhere that can be targeted, but when you are in as big a hole as we are now, there isn't enough waste that exists to make up that kind of deficit. We generally don't want to cut the military of course, since that's vital, and not infrastructure, which we need for commerce to run smoothly, but then most of what you are left with are programs for the young, the elderly, or the sick, and remember only about one percent is really "welfare" as you and I would think of it (able to work but out of work, and/or looking for work). So, one way or another, "wealth redistribution" is a request to re-balance taxes and spending so that those that are already well off will take home more, and those that are retired, sick, or less well off will pay more and/or receive fewer services. This policy then hopes and assumes the rich will use this money to expand businesses instead of taking an extra trip to the Carribbean or buy a yacht. This is what people call "trickle down economics".

So, who should pay what in your opinion, why is it fair, and if you would pay less, who should pay more or receive less government help?

Monday, October 13, 2008

Polls Are Only Accurate When You Agree With Them

This sounds silly, right? Yes, of course it is, yet this is a frequently held belief, especially in conservative Republican circles. Now, I understand that with conservatives that there is an undercurrent of mistrust of science. These are often the same people that support teaching "intelligent design" in schools (ruled to be warmed-over creationism by a Bush-appointed judge). These are often the same people that also believe that homosexuality can be "cured". Any time I point out that Obama is currently ahead in the polls, they say, "Yes, Kerry was ahead too, but he lost." No, for the tenth time, he was not ahead. Some exit polls had him ahead the day of the election, but those were instant exit polls that were poorly sampled, and they were wrong. The regular polls taken before the election showed Bush with a slight lead. Below are two polls, both from electoral-vote.com. One is Kerry on this day in 2004, and the other is Obama today. The two are not even close. Anyone can cherry-pick a poll that shows the result that they like, but when you take a poll of polls, the end result of polling is that it is very accurate. Dark blue is 10% or more margin for the Democrat, lighter blue is 5% or more for the Dem, white with a blue border is less than 5% for the Dem, and all white is a tie. The red states work the same for Republicans.

Kerry on 10/13/04 - 228 electoral votes, 291 for Bush, 19 tied:

Obama on 10/13/08 - 346 electoral votes, 181 for McCain, 11 tied:

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Some McCain Supporters "Going Nuclear"?

Over the past week, the McCain campaign has been really ratcheting up the rhetoric on the campaign trail and on their TV ads. It's non-stop negative campaigning now, and even one of their own campaign strategists said that they need to change the focus off of the economy. So, their answer was to try and tar Obama's character with suspicious "associations" with people. I have plenty of friends and acquaintances that I enjoy interacting with. Some of them have what seem to me to be some pretty crazy ideas. This doesn't mean that I am going to end an association with them over the issue. Maybe I won't be best buddies with them, but by all accounts Obama was never on that level with Bill Ayers, and there is absolutely zero indication that Obama ever espoused the kind of violence that Ayers espoused. The reason that this is dishonest is that they know Obama does not think this way, but since they are backed into a corner and lagging behind in the polls, they need to change the subject. Thankfully, the cynical tactics are not working. McCain is falling further behind by most accounts, with only 24 days left to go.

This rhetoric, Palin accusing Obama of palling around with terrorists, the constant negative ads, hard-right conspiracy theorists openly discussing Obama being anti-American, or a Communist, or a socialist, or a terrorist, is not helping them in the campaign, but it is getting some of their own supporters very alarmed and riled up. Normally energy at rallies is a good thing for a campaign, but in the last few days we have heard different supporters at his rallies call Obama a socialist, a terrorist, and an Arab, as well as "kill him", and "off with his head"! It has gotten so bad that the anger is *becoming* the story, and now McCain is trying to tamp down the rhetoric a little.

In this first clip, he is even booed *twice* by his own crowd when he tells them to be respectful. Independents are watching this, shaking their heads, and heading to the Obama camp in this election. These are just some of the highlights from the last few days of anger. This one has the nutty old lady that says he's an Arab.

Watch the look on McCain's face 15 seconds into it when someone yells, "Terrorist!", after asked the crowd, "Who is the REAL Barack Obama?" I feel bad for him, but he has to understand that this is the genie that he and Palin helped let out of the bottle when they decided to pound into Obama with the ugly character attacks. Now he has some of the die-hards believing that Obama will destroy the country in a much more literal way than they had intended to convey.

Here is the "Obama is a socialist" guy. He is practically spitting venom at his own candidate!

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Pictures Of Crestfallen Stock Traders

Doesn't anyone else find these funny at all? I mean, yes, this is a very serious financial crisis, and it may well have a terrible effect on you, me, and millions of others. I completely understand that, and I realize that the results are not going to be funny for many people. Maybe it's wrong, but hey, I can't help what amuses me! Aren't all of the pictures of traders gnashing their teeth or holding their heads in their hands kind of funny on some level? It is sort of like the ubiquitous videos of overweight people that they show from only the neck down when there is a story about obesity on the news, except with this issue, they can show the faces! I think we've inadvertently created a new art form: "Crisis Photography"! Here is a sampling.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

The "Get Off My Lawn" Moment!

Wow, those t-shirt makers are QUICK with the comebacks, aren't they? Less than 24 hours after McCain peevishly referred to Obama as "that one", in a debate, we have this t-shirt. Do they make one for guys, and preferably not in pink? The clip from the debate is below. McCain is NOT very good at hiding his obvious disdain for his opponents. He was like that with Romney in the primary and Obama now. McCain, Vietnam is over. You probably could kill them with your bare hands once, but you're going to have to actually out-think your opponents now!

Monday, October 06, 2008

Tackling The Old Republican "Perot The Spoiler" Story

In 1992. Bill Clinton had just won his first term, defeating the incumbent, George H.W. Bush. Eight years later, After George W. Bush beat Gore in Florida by just a few hundred votes which gave him the presidency after some Supreme Court assistance, Ralph Nader was widely seen as the cause of Gore's defeat. It didn't take a degree in math or statistics to figure out that if even a fraction of Nader's voters voted for someone other than Nader and voted even slightly more for Gore, then Gore would have won. The point of this post is not to re-hash all of that though. It is to challenge the now common assumption among Republicans that the same thing happened to H.W. Bush in 1992 because of Ross Perot being in the race.

This picture is a lot more complex, because Clinton won by a much greater margin in the electoral college than Bush, but Perot also had a lot more support than Nader. First let's start with the states where Clinton won, but his margin was smaller than Perot's support. These states are: CA, CO, CT, DE, GA, HI, IL, IA, KY, LA, ME, MA, MI, MN, MO, MT, NV, NH, NJ, NM, OH, OR, PA, RI, TN, VT, WA, WV, and WI. These are all of the states Clinton won except AR, DC, MD, and NY. Sounds like this could be a big difference-maker when you look at those lists, right? Maybe, maybe not. Consider also that the only state where the Perot votes were smaller than the margin for Bush was in MS. Let's see how close those margins were and what the Perot voters would have had to do to tip the states and the electoral college to Bush.

I created a spreadsheet that could take into account both the percentage of Perot voters that would vote at all, and the percentage that would vote for either candidate out of that pool. It turns out that if every single Perot candidate voted, and voted for Bush or Clinton instead of a third party candidate, Bush would have needed over 66% of those votes. When switching the percentage from 66% to 67%, Iowa flips to Bush, giving him a 274-264 electoral vote victory. Perot voters were clearly a pretty broad coalition, as evidenced by his fairly even support across the country. Other analyses show that Perot was drawing as many or more votes from Clinton than from Bush, and I have yet to see a poll that says otherwise, much less a two to one advantage for Bush among his voters.

Consider also that Perot's voters, as with all third party voters, have a fair probability of voting third party or not voting at all in the absence of their candidate. Personally, I think 80% is a generous figure to determine how many would have voted for Bush or Clinton, and that participation percentage would have required Bush to get more than a whopping 71% of those remaining Perot votes. So, it is very clear that the Perot Factor in 1992 was not nearly the determining factor that the Nader Factor was in 2000. I don't even know why Republicans would even wish for this to be true other than making it seem like it's "even" because they had bad luck too. For anyone that would like to check my work, I would be happy to send you the spreadsheet. Just email me at egrow and then at the domain cox.net (to confuse the spammer bots).

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Obama - Finally!!!

Well, it looks like it's finally going to be over tonight. I've been an Obama supporter from the beginning, and Obama is just four delegates away from victory in the Democratic primary. The polls in South Dakota primary will be closing in about twenty minutes. I think that unfortunately he is practically forced to make Hillary his running mate because of how long and ugly this primary has ended up being. The problem is, I don't know whether taking her as the VP pick is going to help get enough of the people that voted for her to vote for him in the general election or if she will turn people off to voting for him. I think Hillary did a lot of really stupid things in the campaign, such as the ridiculous claims of a popular vote victory. "Tortured math" is what it was called, the idea that they could really come up with a tally that made an assumption that Obama had exactly zero support in Michigan.

Now McCain is speaking. Here come the attacks. "The wrong change", "he'll turn back the clock", "our security will be in jeopardy" and on, and on, and on. I'll be waiting for Obama's speech and listen to that as well.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Why I Can't Be A Republican

I made a very long-winded post on the prospers.org forums on the subject, and it seemed to encapsulate my feelings on it so well that I decided to post it here too. Original post follows:

I'm a moderate Democrat, and while I'm not happy with everyone in the party and every single platform, I'm absolutely never going to be a Republican, for many reasons. I have something of a Libertarian bent, but not enough to claim it. As much as many of us want to be rugged individualists, there are some things that we have to be in the same boat rowing together on economically.

Reasons I can't be a Republican:

1. Too high a proportion of religious/social nuttery

A. Abortion isn't going to be outlawed on any sort of a sweeping basis. It just won't happen. Pro-choice is the quiet majority. It doesn't mean we love abortion. Many of us wouldn't do it. We just don't like the idea of deciding for someone else what a fetus is considered, and what spiritual repercussions may be suffered. Want to overturn Roe? Great, then *every* state can have a knock-down drag out over it and further divide the country. Careful what you wish for.

B. Intelligent Design is quickly going the way of the Dodo bird after even the most conservative judges in the country have decided it's creationism repackaged. However, a large majority of Republicans are still in favor of teaching kids that we were not evolved, but that it was "magic" of some sort. These scientific illiterates can't even explain how evolution actually works, yet they want to replace it with pixie dust because they see evolution as a threat to religion, which it is not. There's nothing inherently wrong with religion generally, but let's keep science reality-based, please. Evolution is backed by a couple centuries of peer-reviewed scientific research on testable claims, and is "only a theory" like gravity is "only a theory", which is why it is in textbooks. Generate some research that increases our understanding of the natural world, and then you can be in a textbook like everyone else.

C. Stop obsessing about gays. Somewhere around 2% of the population is gay, but to hear the evangelicals tell it, Tim Gunn, the guys from "Queer Eye", and Boy George are threats to the very existence of our society. Let's start agreeing that these consenting adults can do whatever they would like to do and whatever any other adults can do. I know you think it's disgusting. So do I. The difference is that I don't see why I need to care because it is not a moral issue to me. Also, your slippery slope arguments are old and tired. Sheep and children will never be involved in this argument because they are not consenting adults, so stop trying to drag them in. You're insulting the intelligence of the sheep.

2. Economic Issues

A. Regulation is a necessary evil. It's great to talk about how de-regulation would save a lot of money. There are many situations where it surely would. Sure, we could inspect less food, but then you risk huge recalls like last year that ultimately end up costing money from the lost confidence in the product. You could have lots fewer consumer protections, but then what happens when consumer confidence drops? How willing would most people be to buy a car if they had no recourse if the dealer screwed them? I'm a capitalist to the core, but I also know that where there's a buck to be made, there will be a person or company that's willing to cut corners and risk the very lives of others to make said buck. If there is no fear of repercussions for such behavior, it will occur more frequently. There is a balance here, and we definitely have yet to find it in some areas.

B. I don't like paying taxes any more than anyone else, but stop pretending that you're Santa Claus and just giving away money hand over fist while increasing the debt. I know that the national debt feels like no big deal to you on a daily basis, but these chickens will come home to roost eventually. I have a lot more respect for someone that tells me the truth in this regard and tells me that hey, we're in rough shape and we'll need to sacrifice a bit over the short term. To be fair, neither party is doing that right now, however Republicans have been the ones pushing to keep the pain points decades into the future. To their credit, some of their ranks have recently been realizing that this is a poor long-term solution.

C. Stop giving us tax cuts until the budget is balanced. No, I don't even mean everyone necessarily. I mean my wife and I, personally. Dubyah, you're a moron. We didn't get the full "stimulus rebate" anyway because our income is too high, but still, those couple hundred bucks could have been much better spent on someone that is working and barely making ends meet. If you give me free money, sure I'll take it, but I shouldn't have received it. Many Prosper lenders know a thing or two about fiscal responsibility. Well, some anyway. Regardless W, it's time you learned.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Facebook... Fun Or Not?

I've been on Facebook for a couple days now. I've found several people that I know, but there are probably a few hundred others that I would "friend" if I saw them, so the hit rate seems a bit low. I think I have better luck on linkedin.com, but this is more of a personal site kind of thing, so it takes more maintenance, and not everyone likes to be so "out there" on the internet. I still have some trepidation about whether the site is really a good place to expand the social network. I thought it would be fun to make some virtual friends, but my first conversation with someone that I had not met before, a friend of a friend no less, went like this:

Erik Grow
Today at 8:41pm
Subject: Your religious views...awesome!
I'm 100% going to steal that line for my profile! Nice Palahniuk quote. My wife loves his books.
-Erik (found you through Scott ******, old college buddy) *;-)

Elizabeth ********
Today at 8:58pm
Ha, um, oh... Right.
I wasn't aware that my page was viewable to those outside of the SUNY Potsdam network.

Erik Grow
Today at 9:10pm
Hope I'm not the cause of others not getting a chuckle out of it too now.

Erik Grow
Today at 9:12pm
Oh, and it probably let me see it because you're a friend of a friend of mine!

Elizabeth ********
Today at 9:15pm
That mistake has been duly mended.
& I didn't put it in my profile for a "chuckle". I am a brilliant, intellectual young woman who just happens to be a devout atheist.
Congratulations on your petty theft of intellectual property from college students decades your junior.

Then I couldn't respond because she changed her profile so people that aren't friends couldn't talk to her. Talk about taking yourself too seriously! I really can't stand people like that. I don't doubt she's everything that she claimed, but she forgot to include the part about being a self-important snob. Oh well. I'm not going to use her line anyway. Perhaps there are friendly people to meet on Facebook too. We'll see.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Prospering Or Not?

So recently I started taking a closer look at peer-to-peer lending, specifically Prosper. I decided to become a lender as an investment, and also a borrower one time as a learning experience. I've been studying the dynamics of the site for about ten days now, poring over statistics, the ebb and flow of bids, and being conscious of what I myself looked for in a potential borrower. I have learned a lot already I think. First, I have found that there is a great deal of power in falling into categories that are a favorite of "portfolio investors". If your risk is low enough, lenders with sizeable chunks of money in Prosper will automatically bid on your listing as a borrower. My listing was funded within a couple minutes, just as much time as it took for all of the portfolio algorithms to hit, and my interest rate was immediately down to 8.50% from an 11.46% starting bid. Then, some lenders put follow-on capital into it because they saw that the loan will be funded and they won't be wasting their bid money on something that will not be funded. People who have canned searches looking for loans that are already funded will then hit, and even more bids will come in. It all cascades from there. I also noticed that the loan amount will make a huge difference in funding. The lender to borrower ratio is about 3 to 1 according to a site dedicated to stats on Prosper loans. With an average bid being probably less than $100 and the average loan amount being many thousands of dollars, you really have to stand out in order to get enough bids for your loan to be funded. High loan amounts are also seen as a risk factor, so the higher the loan, the more automatic investors you lose, and the harder it is to scrape up the total you need for the loan to fund. If you want a large amount, I would say that if you broke it up into smaller loan amounts, one following the next by as little time as the site will allow, that will be your best bet because then you'll get some of the same investors putting bids on both of your loans!

It is also clear by looking at the lending stats site that there are risks to being a lender, especially those who are not very smart about what they are bidding on. Also, there are tax implications. The interest you earn from the site as a lender is counted as regular income, unlike earnings from long-term stock investment. In my bracket, I would need a few percent more return on interest to get the same real earnings as I would for stocks. Anyway, it has been very interesting so far, and I'll post more on the subject once I get the first payments on loans I fund, or start making payments on my own loan!

Monday, March 24, 2008

XM And Sirius Finally Allowed To Merge by the DoJ!

This is probably not on the radar screens of many people, but it's an interesting story on a few different levels. The Department of Justice has approved the merger after over a year of doing apparently not much of anything (the Exxon-Mobil merger was approved much quicker).

I've been a Sirius subscriber since August 2006, and I love the programming. I chose it over XM for two reasons: Howard Stern and the NFL! I've come to sometimes enjoy Bubba the Love Sponge as well, though the guy is a total hillbilly. It would be nice if you could get the programming for both of them in one package for those that are into baseball (XM only), and football (Sirius only). They both also have different specialty music channels. Sirius for instance has a Sinatra channel and a Springsteen channel.

There are a couple interesting side stories to this. First, the National Association of Broadcasters, the NAB, is dead-set against the merger. This is the group that represents traditional radio. They say the merger would be anti-competitive. They of course have a vested interest in this deal because since both Sirius and XM are losing money, and if they are not allowed to merge, they might both go under. This would be great for free radio of course, since they would again own the radio airwaves. They recently had a big banner on their headquarters in DC against the merger that I believe said "XM + Sirius = Monopoly". Of course, it's OK with them that a few companies, including ClearChannel, own most of the radio stations in the US. They even hired good old John Ashcroft to help make their case after XM turned him down (remember him, the one who put a drape over a naked statue?). I guess Ashcroft doesn't particularly have any convictions on this subject.

Speaking of the religious right, the other undercurrent to this story is that despite the DoJ ruling, the deal now has to be approved by the FCC. Yes, they probably would approve the merger, but they could approve it with conditions, and it has been suggested in some circles that that the FCC may try to put restrictions on content. Then Howard Stern and many of the other channels could be thrown right back into the "what is OK and not OK" hell that any "edgy" show on free radio is in these days. Let's hope that doesn't happen, since most adults like our entertainment uncensored, and we like to have choices.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Eliot Spitzer And My "Alternate Win Condition" Theory

I was thinking about the Spitzer incident, and what drives people to do what they do (right after I was admiring how hot the escort was). Before I get into all of that, I first want to say that I think that his personal life has nothing to do with his fitness for office, but that I feel bad for his family. As a public figure, he needed to understand beforehand that the chances of this coming back to burn him and his family were high, and it was a bad move. Also, as a crusader against this sort of thing, it puts him into a situation where he immediately looks like a huge hypocrite. Anyway, that has already all been said by others.

My own theory about this has some parallels with gaming. In life, people have all kinds of goals and interests. In the case of many people, varied sexual experiences with attractive members of the opposite sex are of course high on the list of goals. (Let's leave the marriage part out for this explanation. It's important to the story, but irrelevant for my theory.) There are many ways to accomplish that goal, and combinations within those methods. You can be very mentally adept and charming. That scores lots of points. You can be famous. This opens a lot of options, because people are naturally attracted to fame. You can be physically attractive. This one is a no-brainer. Pure physical attraction can make people overlook a lot of flaws. Some of these things feed into each other, and one can lead to having another, but sometimes you will fall short, no matter what. So what if you don't have the right combination of those things to attract the kind of woman that you want to have sex with? You need an "alternate win condition"! For Spitzer, it was money. For the price that these escorts were charging, you need to have a LOT of it, and most of these women, certainly his most famous one, were beautiful and could more or less name their price. This is the one way that he did not have to go through the normal "courtship" sort of system to get a girl of the quality that he wanted.

For an analogy, imagine a first-person shooter video game where it's all about killing these monsters to win the game. There are lots of them, and they're really tough to beat. If you're good at the game, you kill the monsters, you win, and you get something really great in the end. For some reason though, in this game, if you can just avoid being killed by the monsters for many hours, you can also win! It's considered sort of a "cheap" victory by the purists of the game, but if the goal is to win, and if to you the fun is simply to get the reward at the end, then that is when you go for the alternate win condition. That is what Spitzer did. Was it worth the embarrassment? Only he knows.