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?