Friday, October 31, 2008

Dole's ineffective campaign continues

The latest kerfuffle in the U.S. Senate race between incumbent Republican Elizabeth Dole and Democrat Kay Hagan revolves around Dole's commercial attacking Hagan for attending a fund-raiser at the Boston home of a man who leads something called the Godless Americans PAC. The commercial implies that Hagan is part of an atheistic conspiracy, and Hagan is suing Dole for defamation.
The commercial has been widely criticized, even by Republican strategists, as going too far. Hagan probably has little chance of winning a libel lawsuit against Dole, but her quick reaction puts voters on notice that she's pretty ticked off. Dole's commercial does have the look of a desperate maneuver. Hagan is leading in most polls, and Dole's campaign has been pitifully ineffective in countering Hagan's smoothly running campaign.
Although a number of high-profile Democrats (including Gov. Mike Easley) declined to take on Dole, who, despite partisan ties to an abysmally unpopular president, seemed headed toward a comfortable re-election, Dole has run one of the most ineffective campaigns in recent memory. First of all, she nearly disappeared from the state over the past five years, apparently feeling comfy with her Washington apartment and her decades of social connections in the capital. Unlike Sen. Richard Burr, who has spent every congressional recess making the rounds in North Carolina's cities and small towns, Dole was rarely seen in North Carolina. Some news media have questioned how many times she actually spent the night in this state since being elected.
Making matters worse, Dole didn't seem to take Hagan seriously and did not gear up her campaign until she belatedly discovered how vulnerable she is. Dole's campaign ads have not been effective in changing the impression that she has been aloof and absent, that she has followed the lead of an unpopular president and that she was more concerned with Washington, D.C., than with Washington, N.C.
Hagan has been less than an ideal candidate. She has said and done things that should cost her support among generally conservative Tar Heel voters. But the Dole campaign, such as it is, has failed to exploit those openings. Hagan has come out in support of ending secret-ballot union elections (a curtsy to the labor unions who have contributed to her campaign) and of the right of N.C. teachers and other state employees to go on strike. She also was unwilling to take a stand on Congress' recent financial bailout package until Dole had already cast her vote against it. Against a more aggressive candidate — or a more effective campaign manager — gaffes like those would be blared to the masses.
So why is Dole ignoring these legitimate differences and harping on the Godless Americans PAC? Hagan was less than astute in attending this fundraiser, which was ripe for exploitation, but it is less of an issue and less of a distinction than Hagan's indecisiveness about big issues and her kowtowing to union directives.
If Dole loses this election, which it looks like she will, she has no one to blame but herself.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

30-minute political ad entertaining, perhaps effective

Last night, my wife and I sat down and watched a 30-minute political campaign commercial. We did it voluntarily, and we found it interesting and entertaining.
Democrat Barack Obama, his campaign flush with money, bought the half hour of air time on broadcast and cable networks to present his case to voters. Regardless of how you feel about Obama and his policies, you have to admit that the video production was professional, well-written and -edited, persuasive and positive. As informercials go, it could hardly have been more effective. There were no attacks on opponents — not even a mention or veiled allusion to John McCain and Sarah Palin — just point-by-point explanations of Obama's key issues and his responses to those issues. The prerecorded video segued perfectly to the closing remarks at a live Obama campaign rally in Florida. That took some impressive timing.
As I watched the video, I kept thinking that this is how presidential candidates should present themselves to voters. Instead of all those snarly 30-second campaign commercials attacking their opponents, presidential candidates should take blocks of time to make their cases to American voters. No personal attacks, not even references to opponents, just simple, straightforward explanations of their views of the issues and their proposals to address them.
The Obama video, well written and entertainingly edited, was far more interesting (and perhaps more revealing) than the highly touted but disappointing presidential debates. Thirty minutes and some professional videography gave Obama a chance to make his case without the repetitions, smarmy moderators and carefully rehearsed catch phrases of the debates. Whether the Obama informercial moved voters or convinced doubtful independents, I don't know, and political analysts might never know for sure. But in a campaign that has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on all manner of promotions, this $5 million or so looks like a good investment.
Don't expect 30-minute videos to replace debates or 30-second commercials, but the public and the candidates would be better off if they did.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Attention Fred Smith: Republicans are being outspent

Back in the spring, as he was running for the Republican nomination for governor, Johnston County lawyer-turned-developer Fred Smith made a vow: The Republican nominee for governor would not be outspent by the Democrat, as had happened in all recent elections.
Hey, Fred! Guess what? The Republican nominee for governor is being outspent — by a country mile. According to today's News & Observer, Democrat Bev Perdue is outspending Republican Pat McCrory by a three-to-one margin. The newspaper reports today that Perdue has raised and spent about $15 million compared to McCrory's $5 million.
Fred Smith, where are you when your party needs you?
In fairness, Smith probably meant, when he made that remark in a pre-primary interview with The Wilson Daily Times, that he would not be outspent by a Democratic opponent. Smith, a self-made multi-millionaire who was a more formidable and impressive candidate than I had expected, had the wherewithal to make that vow. He could pour his own money into a gubernatorial race to even things up. Only problem was that he didn't win the Republican nomination. In a crowded field of strong candidates, Smith finished behind McCrory, the Charlotte mayor who was a late addition to the primary contest. Both Smith and Salisbury lawyer Bill Graham had the personal wealth to match the Democrats' campaign war chest.
Where are they now? Perdue, who dodged one-on-one debates with McCrory, and seemed over-programmed and plastic on the stump, has been pounding voters with endorsements and folksy campaign commercials. McCrory risks disappearing from voters' minds as Perdue pops up everywhere.
Smith was right about one thing: It's next to impossible to win a modern statewide political campaign without a lot of money. He vowed his party would not be outspent in 2008. Pat McCrory could use $10 million. Fast.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Park highlights visitors center that should have been

The dedication Monday of the Paul V. Berry Hickory Grove Park drew a substantial crowd, as was appropriate. The park, which was more than five years in the making, is an amazingly peaceful and appealing setting on the site of the old Coon School annex. The former Coon School, a magnificent 1920s-style high school edifice, is now the Golden Leaf Apartments.
Standing on the park grounds, where four Vollis Simpson whirligigs were spinning in the breeze, my eyes were drawn to the brick bungalow on Broad Street, just a short stroll away. The building had been considered once as a visitors center, but that idea was unceremoniously abandoned. The new visitors center is in a sterile, unappealing strip mall storefront set back off U.S. 264 at the Interstate 95 interchange.
It was obvious during the dedication ceremony Monday that the Broad Street bungalow would have been the perfect site for a visitors center. Visitors arriving there could stroll down to the new Hickory Grove Park, where the city of Wilson had its humble beginnings. They could admire the Golden Leaf Apartments. They could walk across the street to the beautifully renovated Wilson County Public Library and its front lawn, which is a public park. The Edna Boykin Cultural Center, BB&T's twin towers, Imagination Station, downtown restaurants and other attractions are within walkable distances. I could easily imagine visitors to Wilson standing on the porches of the bungalow and looking down toward the park framed by the Golden Leaf Apartments and turning to look at the library's whirligig across the street and at the soaring BB&T towers. It would make quite an impression.
Meanwhile, out by the interstate, visitors to the new visitors center can stand out front and admire convenience stores, national chain fast-food joints, nondescript motels and passing cars. Oh, and a sign that says "Wilson, 8 miles." What a calling card Wilson has!

Coming soon: A very close election in N.C.

One week before the election, the candidates and the parties are in the home stretch, making their closing arguments and keeping their fingers crossed. And the conviction in Washington Monday of Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens could have an impact on races nationwide. Stevens, the longest-serving Republican in the Senate, was convicted on seven counts relating to upgrades done on his vacation home in Alaska. If his reliable seat is lost, which now seems likely, Democrats will be that much closer to a filibuster-proof 60-seat majority in the Senate.
It is that prospect, of having one party in charge of the White House and the same party with enough votes to ram any legislation it sees fit through Congress, that has animated John McCain's recent campaign speeches. No party has controlled the White House and a filibuster-proof Senate since 1977-79. That scenario also has provided the most effective campaign advertising for Elizabeth Dole, who is trying to hang onto her Senate seat in North Carolina. Democrats need to pick up nine votes to gain unstoppable control of the Senate. Normally, that big a sweep is not possible, but 2008 is a unusual year; Republican candidates everywhere are dragged down by the unpopularity of George W. Bush. Dole has abandoned her ineffective and silly "Fibber Kay" ads in favor of a more realistic and, perhaps, scarier prospect of a filibuster-proof Senate. Hagan, whose campaign is being bolstered by millions in Democratic Senate Campaign Committee money, seems to retain the upper hand with her reminder that her husband, unlike her opponent's, can vote for her.
Not being a betting man, I've generally avoided making predictions about political races. But since I'm no longer working for a newspaper, let me offer some predictions, or at least unscientific intuitions about Nov. 4. In the presidential race, Barack Obama will come close, but John McCain will eke out a win in North Carolina, even as he loses the presidency by a fairly wide electoral vote margin. In the Senate race, Hagan looks like she'll send Dole back home to Kansas (or is it Florida?), although Dole still could pull out a win if she works hard and hammers on the filibuster-proof Senate scenario. In the governor's race, Republican Pat McCrory has won the endorsement of most of the state's major newspapers, including the reliably Democratic Old Reliable News & Observer, the Greensboro News & Record, the Charlotte Observer and others. Democrat Bev Perdue, who comes across as so plastic on the campaign trail that she might be better off not campaigning, will be relying on Democratic loyalty and Obama's expected turnout of new Democratic voters to put her over the top. She might pull it off, but it will be very close. McCrory will need every vote he can muster in the Charlotte, Asheville and Triad areas to compensate for Perdue's eastern N.C. votes. This might be the tightest race in the state; I'll give a slight, very slight, edge to McCrory.
That's my seat-of-the-pants prediction seven days before the election, subject to change as events unfold in this final week.

Monday, October 27, 2008

National Popular Vote forgotten in 2008 campaign

As the presidential election approaches, just eight days away, we haven't heard much about the National Popular Vote, a proposal to have the states sidestep the Electoral College system called for in our Constitution. It is essentially a conspiracy among the states in which the states agree to cast their electoral votes for whichever candidate wins the popular vote. Only three times in history, the most recent being 2000, has the winner of the popular vote not won the electoral vote.
The North Carolina Senate passed the National Popular Vote bill in May 2007. The argument made at the time was that poor North Carolina gets no respect in national elections. The state has voted Republican in every presidential election since 1976; it was reliable, so both presidential candidates pretty much ignored North Carolina.
Not so this year. Presidential and vice presidential candidates have scheduled appearances in North Carolina in the final two weeks of the campaign. Barack Obama and John McCain have visited the state several times this fall. So have Sarah Palin and Joe Biden. North Carolina is getting the attention the supporters of the National Popular Vote bill had promised would come our way if we abandoned the Electoral College system. The difference is that this year North Carolina is "in play." Obama thinks he might win here.
There are two things wrong with the National Popular Vote. First, it is an end run around the Constitution, which calls for electors to select the president based on the voting in each state. If we are to abandon the Electoral College, we should do so honestly, by a constitutional amendment, which would require ratification by three-fourths of the states.
Second, the National Popular Vote would not benefit often-ignored states in the way many advocates contend. A popular vote system would change political strategies, but not in the way you might think. Some populous but often ignored states, such as North Carolina and California, might get more attention from presidential candidates, but political strategy would shift from winning states to winning mass numbers of voters. The most populous states — California, New York, Pennsylvania, Florida, for example — would command most of the candidates' attention. Less-populous states that are now in play, such as Colorado, Iowa or West Virginia, would almost certainly be ignored. Candidates would fish where the largest number of fish are.
The changing political environment this year has shown that electoral strategy is not static. States that have not been contested can suddenly become "battleground states." It all depends on the country's political mood.
Good arguments can be made for a national popular vote strategy, and good arguments can also be made for keeping the Electoral College system, which emphasizes state sovereignty as the Founding Fathers intended. But these arguments should be made on their merits in a debate over a constitutional amendment, not over a back-door conspiracy to void the constitutional mandate to elect presidents via the Electoral College.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Electric rate payers have few options

The already high and rising cost of electricity is getting a lot of attention in Wilson, but city residents have few or no options in this dilemma. Wilson residents pay some of the highest electric rates in the state, but not the highest. Residents of other member cities of the North Carolina Eastern Municipal Power Agency have that honor. What Wilson and 31 other eastern N.C. cities have in common is debt. The cities formed the power agency and purchased shares of the under-construction nuclear power plants being built by Carolina Power & Light nearly 30 years ago. These power plants came on the drawing boards at a time when state officials feared power shortages, and the nuclear power was supposed to be "too cheap to meter."
Unfortunately, a reactor accident at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania multiplied the costs of nuclear plant construction and the costs of producing electricity from nuclear power. NCEMPA, which had hoped for cheaper electricity from its portion of the new plants, ended up with more expensive electricity once the bond debt was added onto the generation costs. Bonds were sold in the early 1980s, when interest rates were at historic highs. Although NCEMPA has refinanced to get cheaper rates, the debt is still staggering. The city of Wilson's share is $400 million — about double the city's annual budget.
Electric rates are going up for everyone, thanks to the increased worldwide demand for energy resources, including coal, natural gas and uranium. The higher costs are especially acute in cities like Wilson, where residents are already paying above-market rates.
But here's the problem: Wilson and the other 31 NCEMPA cities are contractually obligated to NCEMPA for another couple of decades. And there's the debt. Theoretically, Wilson could buy its way out of the NCEMPA, but that would only leave it with additional debt, which would have to be applied to electric rates. Some have suggested selling off Wilson Energy, which provides the retail electricity. This scenario was discussed in the late 1990s, when electric deregulation was touted in many states. But California's experience with deregulation of electricity quickly scared everyone else away. No one wanted to be responsible for the rolling blackouts and exorbitant power rates California experienced. Analysts at the time estimated that Wilson and other cities could not get enough from the sale of their electric systems to pay off their share of the NCEMPA debt. Some deregulation scenarios would have forced cities to sell of their electric systems and left them saddled with a debt they could only repay by raising property taxes. For this reason, NCEMPA and its member cities fought deregulation.
Wilson cannot abandon its legal obligations to NCEMPA and it cannot renege on its debt. The only course the city can take is to try to whittle away at expenses, such as the administrative costs of NCEMPA and ElectriCities. But zeroing out those expenses would amount to only a few pennies per month on the average residential electric bill. Aggressive cost-trimming should be attempted, and any proposal to assume more debt (to buy into proposed new power plants) or extend the current debt should be shot down instantly.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Out-of-touch Dole or union-obligated Hagan?

I've read two newspaper endorsements of Democrat Kay Hagan for U.S. Senate, and I'm still unconvinced. It's not that incumbent Republican Elizabeth Dole has left me in a swoon, far from it. Dole, who seemed so overconfident that she made herself as rare as the dodo bird in North Carolina, was vulnerable from the start, especially in an election year that was already running against the GOP. She had incumbency and a big campaign treasury, but in 2008, that might not be enough.
Hagan, a state senator who was an insider with the secretive Democratic power structure in Raleigh, has not impressed me. She was picked for the campaign by New York Sen. Charles Schumer after the only Democrat willing to take on Dole turned out to be Jim Neal, an openly gay Chapel Hill resident with no electoral experience. The Democratic Senate Campaign Committee has poured millions into Hagan's campaign, and she has toed the party line. Beholden to the party's commitment to labor unions, Hagan has openly said she favors elimination of the secret ballot in union elections (a top union priority) and the right to strike by North Carolina's public employees, including teachers. As a state senator, Hagan was a member of the cabal that tried to disqualify White's Tire of Wilson from bidding on retread contracts. Oddly, Dole has done little to point out Hagan's kowtowing to union preferences.
Dole has run an ineffective campaign and has done little to counter Hagan's portrayal of the senator as too old and out of touch. Dole might be getting what she deserves, but North Carolina voters might get buyer's remorse when they discover their new senator is under the control of a New York senator and national labor unions.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

A long drive, a short visit, and fate

It's not supposed to happen like this. When I met Punky Morton in the fall of 1963, we were high school freshmen thrown together in a series of classes ranging from physical education to physical science. President Kennedy would be assassinated a couple of months later, but we were teenagers, and we thought we would live forever.
We lost a classmate to a traffic accident a year or two later; another classmate, facing the vicissitudes of his middle-30s, committed suicide; another's heart failed 20 years later. But at high school reunions, we were still teenagers at heart, still invulnerable, like Superman.
I spent the day Wednesday on a 370-mile round trip to see Punky, no longer the 14-year-old geeky, smart kid I met 45 years ago. Until Friday the 13th of June, he had been all he wanted to be —successful, an "N-Vent-R" (according to his license plate), a world traveler, a problem solver, a business owner, a husband, stepfather and step-grandfather. That morning, he awoke to an odd feeling of numbness in his left leg. The numbness spread to his left arm. Tests revealed a tumor atop the brain stem. Further tests confirmed it was aggressively growing and inoperable.
When I first called him after receiving the news, he was determined and optimistic. He was doing his own research on brain tumors and treatments. He was confident that he'd find a way, just as he had found a way to solve engineering and electronic problems. When I saw him Wednesday, he was propped up in bed, no longer optimistic but resigned to the fact that he had at last encountered a problem even he couldn't untangle. We smiled at memories, laughed at youthful shenanigans and teared up over the cruelty of fate and the wonder of blessings never earned. He has reached that level of acceptance that allows him to look back on all that he has done, all that he has achieved, the 59 countries he has visited, the 20,000 products he has developed, the patents he holds, the company he has founded, the people he has met, and he concludes: "I've had a wonderful life."
He lists his one regret: Another 30 years' worth of ideas are in his head, and he might not be able to turn them into reality. It's a life too short.
In the Frank Capra classic, it took a crisis and an angel to show George Bailey that he had lived "A Wonderful Life." Punky already knew his life had been wonderful, but, like George Bailey, he had not known just how many friends he had or how much he was loved. Few of us are granted that knowledge in this life. Now he knows.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Old transcripts can be embarrassing

One of the adventures entailed in searching for a new job at my age is the reality of what you did, didn't do and should have done 40 years earlier. One job application asked for my college transcript. I once had a college transcript. I know I had seen it at some time in the previous 37 years. But I didn't have a copy. I had to order one.
Meanwhile, in filling out the job application, I had to guess at my grade point average. I came within five-hundredths of getting it right. I remembered it being at least five hundredths better than it actually was. Once I received the transcript, I read down the list of grades, repeatedly thinking, I got a C in that! Or I should have had an A in that! But I didn't. I did, however, enjoy my four years of college between the ages of 18 and 22.
Twelve years later, when I took eight courses toward a never-completed degree as I used up my GI Bill benefits, I did considerably better. My GPA was more than a full grade higher than it had been my first time through college classes. There were several reasons for this. First, the tuition, books and fees were coming out of my own pocket (although Uncle Sam kicked in enough that I actually came out ahead — but I needed that money to support my family). Second, I was married (with three children). I didn't spend half my class time wondering whether the co-ed in the next aisle would go out with me or who would be my date for Saturday's football game. When I was 20 years old, there were just too many distractions. Third, I had actually matured in the intervening dozen years. I took tasks more seriously. I gave studies a higher priority, and I considered doing well more important than I had the first time around. As only the second of my family to attend college, I thought a college degree, regardless of GPA, was a guaranteed ticket to success. I gave no thought to graduate school, and with a low draft number hanging over my future, I didn't think about better grades' potential impact on future job opportunities. I had also come under the influence of  students whose philosophy was "you get the same diploma whether you have a 2.0 (the minimum for graduation) or a 4.0. So why work yourself to death getting a 4.0?"
And there's also grade inflation. When I was an undergrad in the late 1960s, the student newspaper did a story about a graduating senior who had made only one B all four years; all other grades were A's. He had the highest GPA at the university. These days, scores of graduates walk across the podium with 4.0 GPAs. In those days, a 2.5 was a respectable GPA. A 3.0 was very good, and a 3.5 was stratospheric. These days, many colleges' average grade is above 3.0.
All of this comes under the heading of "if I had known then, what I know now ...". If I had, I would have studied harder, taken advantage of more of the academic opportunities the university offered and partied less.
Except ... I met my wife at a party, and no boost to my GPA would have been worth missing out on that serendipitous fortune.

Of journals, newspaper columns and blogs

Unlike a lot of writers, I've never kept a journal, except for a couple of times in English classes when a journal was a required class assignment. I never "got into" journal writing, never disciplined myself into the habit of sitting down daily and reflecting on the day. Now, I find that regrettable, if for no other reason than my memory is faltering. A journal would help me remember what I was doing and what I was feeling in my high school and college years, in the first years of our marriage, in the time I adjusted to fatherhood, as new babies joined our family and as my children struggled through the anxious adolescent years, matured and moved into their independent lives. A journal is a therapy and a meditation; it is also a memory jog.
There are other memory jogs. Occasionally, a photo, a scrap of paper or a whiff of the autumn air will revive a forgotten memory. Sometimes, someone else's recollection will resurrect my own.
Although I never got into the journal habit, I have scattered my memories into words strung together over most of my adult life. Notes, letters, verse and newspaper columns have given me avenues for expression and means for preserving memories. When I cleaned out my office earlier this month, I brought home several manila file folders of newspaper clippings. These are now boxed and bound for the attic, where other clippings lie boxed, turning yellow and brittle with age. These clippings span more than 30 years.
Unfortunately, for much of my newspaper career, I gave little attention to preserving what I had written. I recognized from the beginning that newspaper writing is ephemeral, here today and trash (or recycling) tomorrow, so I had no systematic method of preserving what I had written. That can sometimes be beneficial, as I have sometimes cringed at the excesses of my prose or the grammatical and syntactical errors that went unnoticed years ago. But these embarrassments also reassure me that I have learned, and I have improved as a writer.
Now that my newspaper career is over, I have only this blog to fill my need for expression and to holster my memories. A blog is, if anything, more ephemeral than newspaper columns. Few people read blogs daily. Millions of blogs are scattered across cyberspace like fine seed from a broadcast spreader, few ever taking root. But a blog does have the advantage of a degree of permanence. Earlier posts are available and, presumably, will be as long as personal computers and the Internet survive. But will that be as long as Samuel Pepys' diary has survived? I doubt it.

Monday, October 20, 2008

An endorsement that might matter

Colin Powell's endorsement of Barack Obama over the weekend isn't entirely unexpected, but it could be one of the more significant developments of this last month of the presidential campaign. Powell, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, former national security advisor, former secretary of state, was one of the most broadly respected men in America. His autobiography was a bestseller.
Had he run for president in 2000, he might have won. His support was that broad, and the public's respect for him was that strong. But Powell did not have the "fire in the belly" — the willingness to trudge tirelessly for two years or more, begging for money and pleading for votes. So instead, he signed on as George W. Bush's secretary of state. The most famous moment of his tenure came when the Bush administration sent him to the United Nations to argue that Saddam Hussein was developing weapons of mass destruction. Powell made the argument powerfully, and his credibility helped tip public opinion and world opinion on the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
Only later did Powell discover that he had been hung out to dry by the war hawks in the White House. When troops found no weapons of mass destruction and later when secret intelligence was revealed that showed that Iraq had long ago abandoned its WMD program, Powell looked like an unethical sycophant and felt like an ignorant fool. The Bushies had stolen from Powell his most precious possessions — his good name, his integrity, his honor.
If Powell has been oddly quiet since 2003, it's likely because he feels embarrassed that he let himself be used by the White House to justify its invasion of Iraq. Unlike dozens of other retired generals, Powell has not spoken up about Iraq strategies or tactics. He has not written another book. He has not been a talking head on all the cable news shows. He has kept his own counsel and has avoided the spotlight.
That reticence makes his endorsement all the more powerful. By endorsing Obama, Powell is making amends for allowing himself and his good name to be used by the neo-conservatives in the Bush administration. Obama is the anti-Bush and, thereby, the anti-McCain.
Endorsements, as I said repeatedly during my three decades of endorsing candidates in newspaper editorials, rarely persuade anyone. But Powell's endorsement might be worth more than most. Although his integrity took a beating five years ago, many Americans still have great respect for Powell. The independent voters who urged his presidential candidacy a decade ago might still be willing to listen to what the general has to say.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

We can do without Joe the Plumber

Thanks to television and political strategists, American political campaigns are increasingly driven by pseudo-issues. Joe the Plumber is the latest false issue that is dominating campaign rhetoric, despite the fact that Joe Wurzelbacher's situation is more urban legend than fact.
John McCain brought up Wurzelbacher in the final presidential debate as he went after Barack Obama's tax plan. Wurzelbacher was caught on camera telling Obama at a campaign stop that he wanted to buy the plumbing company he worked for, but Obama's tax plan would punish him by raising his taxes if he did so. Obama brushed off the accusation, offering a generality about tax fairness and "spreading" the money and tax burden.
McCain's take is that Obama would raise the taxes of "wealthy" Americans, which includes many working-class business owners like Joe the Plumber, and he has hammered this theme in campaign commercials and speeches.
There are a few problems with this scenario. First, Joe the Plumber, it turns out, isn't a licensed plumber, so he can't buy the company and can't even legally work as a plumber without a license. Second, it turns out Joe isn't keen on paying his current taxes. The state has a tax lien on his house because of unpaid back taxes. Third, his complaint that Obama would raise his taxes would apply only if he earns more than $250,000 a year as a business owner. It is true that many small businesses pay taxes as individual income, and some small businesses would be affected by the Obama tax plan, but most small business owners don't net $250,000 in a year. They wish they could.
So Joe the Plumber, which has become the buzz of the campaign this week, is a false issue.
Political candidates, like writers, have discovered that arguments come alive when they can be exemplified by one person's plight. So candidates like to cite this unemployed steelworker or that single mother or some bakeshop owner to illustrate their political arguments. Al Gore was so adept at this, he drove me to distraction.
But these individualized illustrations run the risk of skewing the truth and misleading listeners. After the past week, more Americans probably know the details of Joe the Plumber's life than know the difference between the McCain and Obama tax proposals.
Americans should have a long enough attention span for the candidates to debate their tax differences. McCain wants to keep the Bush-era income tax rate reductions and lower some other tax rates that mostly benefit wealthier Americans. Obama wants to raise taxes on higher-income Americans (over $250,000) while keeping tax cuts for less-affluent taxpayers. Arguments can be made for either plan — without confusing the issue with talk about a scofflaw's dream of buying out his boss.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Being laid off leads to awkward encounters

My wife and I recently had dinner with a laid-off colleague and her husband. We had been let go the same day a couple of weeks ago. The mutual support dinner gave us a chance to compare notes on what our unemployment routine has been like. Each of us has been busy, but neither has found a reliable new source of income.
One common aspect of our new existences is the awkwardness we encounter from people who've heard we're no longer working but don't know any details. The awkwardness centers on the assumption that the suddenly employed must have done something wrong. How do you fight that notion? We were laid off so that our employer could save money. Each of us had done everything asked of us. Former co-workers wondered how they would get along without us, how they would do the work we had done for so long. Who would take up the slack? How would they take up the slack? Our unemployment, I think all would admit, was through no fault of our own. And because there was no union contract or written policy, more senior and experienced workers like us were laid off while recent hires remained. The fact that the newspaper didn't explain the layoffs or even mention them except in the most tangential way has contributed to the uncertainty and awkwardness.
But people we encounter who have not heard the full story find themselves in awkward positions. Should they express concern? Sympathy? Should they mention work at all? We eastern North Carolinians are too polite to bring up painful matters or to pry into private lives, so many people simply ignore "the elephant in the room," and I don't mention it either. My situation is not anything for other people to worry about; it's something I'll have to handle on my own.
Those who do know the whole story have been wonderfully supportive of all of us. I've received so many notes and e-mails that I've begun collecting them in a folder. The telephone calls and personal conversations I can't save, but there have been many of those, too.
The sympathy, concern and support have been reassuring and encouraging, but what my colleague and I really need are jobs. And this is not a good time to be searching for a new career.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Early voters miss out on a lot

Early voting began in North Carolina Thursday, and some polling stations were reporting long lines. So much for avoiding the Election Day crowd.
I was not among the early voters and won't be. It's not because I'm undecided just 17 days before the election. I'm pretty certain how I'll vote. But with more than two weeks to go, a lot can change. A candidate you voted for could drop dead before Nov. 4. An "October Surprise" could change the whole dynamic of the election.
And perhaps most important, early voters miss out on the national day of unity, the day when civic-minded citizens across the country share in performing the fundamental exercise of democracy. When I go to vote Nov. 4, I expect to share the experience with my neighbors, some of whom will vote as I do and some who will not. Regardless of how we vote, we will be affirming our citizenship, our responsibility for this government we will elect on every level from the White House to the school house (in this county, we have no courthouse contests, just a school board election).
That feeling of shared responsibility is something worth preserving. Although modern elections are far different from what the Founding Fathers envisioned and experienced, the fundamental principles remain. We do not have to wait months for the election results, as our forebears did in 1792, but we will eagerly await results. For the past 32 years I have spent nearly every election night at the local Board of Elections, wherever I was living at the time. There, I could follow the incoming vote results and share the excitement with the reporters, politicians and hangers-on who crowded into the election office. This year, with no news or editorial responsibilities, I might sit at home and watch the national results on television.
The first election I reported on, in 1976, was not settled until well after midnight. The 2000 presidential election was not settled for weeks, thanks to legal challenges that had to be settled by the Supreme Court. This year's election might be settled earlier — or it might drag on into Nov. 5. Either way, I'll share the experience of watchful waiting with 300 million fellow Americans. All of us have a stake in this election.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The final debate offers sharper exchanges and grins

Last night brought us the closest things voters have seen this presidential campaign season to a real debate. The exchanges were sometimes sharp and often pointed. John McCain took the offensive, accusing Barack Obama of wanting to raise taxes, of having clandestine relationships with aging radicals and of being dishonest. Most of these accusations don't seem to be resonating with voters; they sound contrived, trite and hackneyed. Perhaps McCain's most effective jab had to do with Obama's reversal of his commitment to use public financing for his general election campaign. Able to raise millions more in private donations, Obama decided to renege on his earlier vow to use public financing — a procedure he has championed — and overwhelm the less-well-funded McCain campaign. Obama had no real rebuttal for the charges.
But Obama remained cool and unflustered throughout the debate. He looked confident and presidential. In contrast, McCain often looked agitated, even angry, as he lashed out at Obama, who was sitting just an arm's length away. Obama, who responded with a bemused grin several times during McCain's verbal attacks, risked committing Al Gore's exasperated and audible sighs from the 2000 presidential debates. Those sighs, meant to repudiate George W. Bush's comments, cast Gore as sophistic and arrogant. Obama's bemused grin was not as negative as Gore's sighs, but it could come across as arrogance.
McCain might have come out ahead in this final debate, but not by much, if any.
But let's go back to a little-commented-upon moment in the vice presidential debate. In discussing judicial appointments, Joe Biden bragged that he initiated a new era in judicial appointments when he opposed Judge Robert Bork's nomination in 1987, not because Bork was not qualified, not because he was inexperienced or unprepared but because Biden disagreed with the nominee's judicial philosophy.
In citing Bork, Biden opened a Pandora's Box that Sarah "You Betcha" Palin failed to exploit. The Bork reference seemed to go right over her head. Did she not know who Bork is? Was she too young to remember the "Borking" of President Reagan's Supreme Court nominee? Whatever, the reason, Palin let Biden get away with his boast about what he had done to alter judicial nominations forever.
A sharper debater would have challenged Biden's boast. "Bork" has become a verb (included in the Oxford English Dictionary) that describes the unfair and unreasonable destruction of an appointee for partisan reasons. Had Palin been more aware, she might have pointed out the many references to Biden's hypocrisy as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which held hearings on Bork and others. Justice Clarence Thomas, in his autobiography, describes Biden's charm in promising the nominee that he would be nice to him and wouldn't allow any attacks on his character, but when the hearings began and the cameras started rolling, Biden led the personal attacks. Then after the hearings recessed, Biden would be all charm again, excusing his behavior as just what he has to do as chairman, no offense intended, you know.
Biden left himself vulnerable by bragging that he had invented Borking. Maybe he knew that was before Palin's time and she wouldn't know what he was talking about.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Presidential debate, one last time

Tonight's presidential debate will be voters' last look at the two candidates on one stage, but I doubt that it will have a profound impact on voter opinions. The first two debates were fundamentally a draw — neither candidate struck a decisive blow or swallowed his entire foot. Each represented himself well and did little to turn away supporters or attract new fans.
Chances are, tonight's debate will have the same results. Before the second debate, I feared that the event at Belmont University could turn nasty. John McCain had been urged to "take the gloves off." But he remained civil while still getting in a few digs at his opponent. That angered some of his supporters who thought he was too easy on Barack Obama. This attitude was exemplified twice in the past week, when McCain corrected a supporter at a town-hall-style meeting when she called Obama "an Arab" and again when a supporter condemned Obama. To his credit, McCain told his supporters that Obama is a good person with whom he disagrees on policy matters. The supporters didn't care for that level of maturity and perspective, and boos were heard in the arena.
The polls have Obama surging ahead, largely as a result of the sour economy. No matter what the cause of an economic downturn, the party in the White House gets the blame. McCain is suffering from his connection to the Grand Old Party and President Bush while Obama benefits by representing the other side. With three weeks to go before election day, things can change dramatically. A whole new issue, as unexpected as the economic meltdown of the past month, could steal the headlines and alter the electoral dynamics. But without such a dramatic change, Obama has the advantage, through circumstances not of his own making.
Ironically, if this election were being decided on the issue both candidates thought a year ago would be paramount, McCain might be surging ahead. Obama built his campaign and his early victories on his opposition to the Iraq War. He backed Hillary Clinton into a corner over her initial support of a war resolution. He said we never should have started the war. He promised to pull U.S. troops out of Iraq. He opposed last year's troop surge.
But something unexpected happened: U.S. fortunes in Iraq turned around. Death tolls declined. Whole neighborhoods and whole cities in Iraq became safe again. U.S. troops and the Iraqi government gained popularity. A new counter-insurgency strategy and the insertion of 30,000 new troops turned the corner in Iraq. War news fell out of the headlines.
Recent polls show the Iraq War is having little impact on voters' decisions. If the war were paramount, McCain could be saying "I told you so" and riding a wave of military success. Obama would be forced to justify his intentions to pull out of Iraq without achieving the success that has now been found.
But the Iraq War, the overriding issue of the early primaries, is an afterthought today, three weeks before the election. All voters really care about now is the economy.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Working, we miss the rhythms of life

Confined every day in an office, sitting at a desk, you miss the rhythms of the day. For the past week and a half, I've been out of the office, watching the day cycle through its phases. I've watched the sunbeams filter through the windows and cast each room in an ever-changing light like a prism or theatrical lighting. The solar spotlight highlights first one wall, then another, one piece of furniture, one rectangle of the floor, one picture on the wall or one book on the shelf. The light makes each room an ever-changing place as the sun rises higher and arcs toward the west.
Outside, the shadows cast by trees and buildings lengthen and shorten, the respiration of the day. The yard takes on new shapes as the shadows create a camouflage, ever changing as the day progresses.
These subtle transformations are what we miss in our workaday world, where we seldom get the opportunity to "stop and smell the roses." There are more than roses out there. The gardenias and mums and hydrangea and hibiscus put on a show that one must pause to appreciate, and the changing light makes each hour new and different. These sensual experiences are what always appealed to me about a day off from work or a "staycation" at home. It was not the opportunity to do chores or to relax that made those days off so pleasurable. It was the chance to see the small piece of the world we occupied but never fully appreciated — the way the setting sun cast a pattern on the eastern wall, the way the dew sparkled in the morning light, the aroma of a dew-sprinkled fresh new day.
At six this morning, I looked up and saw Orion high in the clear black sky, no hint yet of dawn in the east, the Pleiades leading him westward as his hunting dogs with brilliant Sirius followed. Orion's appearance in the early morning announces the approach of winter and the continuation of the rhythm of the day, the month, the year.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Mourning the loss of a job

A former colleague who had heard about my layoff dropped by last week with a loaf of fresh-from-the-oven cinnamon bread. "I know it's not like a death in the family," she said, "but it is a kind of a death." I thanked her for the cinnamon bread and ate it for breakfast the next two mornings. It was delicious!
And I also reflected on her comparison of a job loss to a family death. I began to see some similarities. A job loss can hurt more than a loved one's death. A death can be a natural transition, the final step of a long life and a relief to someone who has suffered and deteriorated almost beyond recognition. Death might have a long-term impact on family finances, or it might not. A job loss almost certainly will affect family finances, sometimes tragically.
It is said that mourning has several stages: shock, denial, anger, resignation, acceptance. Losing a job can spark those same emotions. I experienced shock as a loss of sensation. I stopped breathing. My mind reeled. I couldn't stand. The shock was similar to what I had experienced when I learned of the death of family members.
I skipped denial when I was laid off and went straight to anger, as did a number of friends and family members to whom I broke the news. But just as with a death, anger is wasted in a job loss. Although anger might be justified, it is unlikely to bring your job back. In almost every case, anger is more self-destructive than tactically effective. A seething anger will ultimately spoil your entire viewpoint, and won't get you a new job.
For me, resignation, acceptance and peace came quickly. I found myself glad not to be in the turmoil that my vocation had become. And although I don't yet know what my new career might be, I've received enough encouragement from loyal friends to think that God has a plan for what remains of my working life. I'm eager to see what that might be. 

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Beach renourishment never stops

Eleven floors above the sand of North Myrtle Beach, I had an expansive view of the resort town's beach renourishment efforts the past couple of days. A family reunion brought me to what used to be called The Grand Strand, but this weekend, the thing that was grand was the engineering effort. Bulldozers, an other-worldly looking motorized tripod with a cockpit on top, a dredge ship and hundreds of yards of pipes worked almost around the clock to refill the beach with sand.
The bulldozers, which were loud even 100 feet above the work, continued all afternoon Friday and well into the night. Bright lights lit the effort. Dozers pushed sand out toward the waves, creating a porous barricade against the pounding surf, then the dredged sand poured through the pipe to fill the gap between the sea oats-covered dunes and the sand the dozers had just pushed toward the surf. As the dredged sand filled in, the dozers would go back and forth smoothing the new beach into something resembling a natural beach. It continued all day Saturday and late into the night. Workers were back at it Sunday morning.
All up and down the beach once marked by modest little vacation cottages, high-rise condominium complexes have turned the shoreline into a mega-metropolis. In the off-season, the condos can be had for reasonable prices, but during vacation season, millions of northern and midwestern tourists come and ride the elevators and the waves and think how great the beach is. But the beach is disappearing.
The effort my family watched and heard is a desperate attempt to keep sand beneath those soaring high rises and keep some semblance of a beach for the tourists. Farther inland, entertainment complexes feature music and dancing and other spectacles for those for whom the beach is not enough. Without the beach to attract the tourists to fill the high rises and eat at the restaurants and see the shows, all will be lost. So the construction project went on late into the night and all through the weekend. Time is of the essence when the sands of time and the times of sand are ebbing away.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Where is the bottom?

Is there a bottom to this? The television news shows told the gruesome news: The Dow dropped nearly 700 points again today. The market is down 20 percent in about a month. The Dow is on its way to half its peak over 14,000 just a year ago. No matter what Congress, the administration and the Federal Reserve do, investors run away in panic.
It only gets worse. The president is going to make an announcement Friday morning. That ought to get everyone's weekend off to a good start.
Being in the middle of a hotly contested presidential election doesn't seem to help things any. The two nominees are trying to ride the crest of voter anger over this issue and blame the other party for all the problems. There seems to be plenty of blame to go around. Both Democrats and Republicans took money from Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the Wall Street brokerages and, in turn, ignored their risky, dangerous and greedy business practices. Republicans wanted to deregulate the markets, but Democrats wanted  everyone to own a house, whether they could afford it or not.
The election isn't likely to fix the problem, at least not right away. This will be a long and painful recession. It might even rival the Great Depression. People's futures have been wiped away as IRAs and 401(k)s have been chopped in half. No investment seems safe now. I've heard that home safes are being sold as fast as mortgage securities were six months ago.
Remember the last 1970s and early 1980s, when financial insecurity spawned a "survivalist" culture. People stocked up on gold coins, canned goods and firearms, preparing for the dark days when money would be no good, and everyone would have to fend for himself. A return to those dark days don't seem so far away.

The ceiling is falling!

The Edna Boykin Cultural Center in downtown Wilson is closed indefinitely because the ceiling is drooping. The renovated 1919 theater has been a busy place since its reopening, playing host to the Arts Council of Wilson's concert series, Wilson Playhouse productions, concerts and, perhaps most famously, as home of Theater of the American South. It's a national historic landmark and an essential foundation of downtown Wilson.
The city of Wilson, which owns the building and allows the Arts Council to operate it, is working to fix the damage from a broken and falling ceiling joist. The city bought the theater in the early 1980s, when it was being used as an X-rated theater. City Council members saw the porn haven just a block from City Hall and the County Courthouse as an embarrassment to the city. The city paid what seemed at the time to be an exorbitant amount (I believe it was $100,000) but did nothing with the theater for years. Had they just waited, competition from home video would have put the old Wilson Theatre and similar porn houses out of business. Porn fans could get their jollies at home instead of in some dirty old theater. As one comedian said at the time, VCRs got pornography off the street and into the home where it belongs.
Soon after the city purchased the theater, the roof over the theater's fly space (a raised area over the stage that allowed sets to be lifted out of sight) collapsed. Rather than repair the fly space, the city just extended the roof over where the fly space had been.
There have been no reports on this, but I suspect the ceiling/roof damage occurred about the same time the fly space was damaged. I recall there were numerous leaks in the roof and other damage at the time the city took possession of the theater.
Sometime in the 1980s, I took a tour of the theater as renovation work began. Ceiling tiles created a lowered ceiling and covered the ornate plaster work on the ceilings and walls. A projection booth took up space in the closed balcony. The place was filthy and badly neglected. Seats were broken. Its restoration was close to miraculous. It took many generous private donations plus a courageous and politically hazardous commitment by Wilson City Council to bring the restoration about. But the steady use of the theater and its acceptance by the public both near and far have validated the true believers' confidence.
A few years ago, I took a representative of a military band to tour the Boykin Center, where The Wilson Daily Times was sponsoring a concert by the band. As we walked in and the lights came on, he looked at the plaster work, the stage and the proscenium and exclaimed, "Wow!" Other first-time visitors have had a similar reaction.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Requiems for a dying industry

A friend and former colleague sent me a link to an article on the Knight Digital Media Web site about whether principled journalists should "fight the good fight" for old-style journalism or throw in the towel and find another career.
Having been laid off instead of resigning, as the editors cited there were, I'm not in exactly the same place as those editors, but the article gave me a chance to muse about the state of my chosen profession. It's not a happy place. He asked for my thoughts. Here's what I replied to my friend:

Interesting article, but I'm not convinced that digital competition is the whole reason for newspapers' decline, especially at the small-town, small-daily level. Other factors are the loss of community involvement resulting from so much corporate ownership, the well-documented decline in the reading habit, especially among younger generations, and newspapers' failure to focus on real news.
Yes, local is the bottom line. You've got to cover the local news. But local news isn't all chicken dinners and Man of the Year Awards and Little League sports. It's also local government and local events of importance and impact and magnitude. What does the global economic meltdown mean to Wilson businesses and individuals? ... Coverage of government and political news is an obligation. It's a requirement of democracy; you can't have a true democracy without a well-informed electorate. And people who used to be able to get an overview of the world from their daily newspapers don't like the omission of so many stories from outside the local area.
The problem has been building for years. Newspapers noticed a loss of audience to television, so they tried to become television, ignoring the important but hard-to-report and hard-to-explain news and opting in favor of fluff and visuals instead. Standards were lowered. And a lot of newspapers were arrogant, having driven out the competition and won a monopoly in their markets. They thought they were invincible.
All the bloggers' gripes about the Mainstream Media are based on the condescension, arrogance, bias and incompetence of way too many people at larger papers and the TV networks.
Digital competition has to be dealt with, but it's not the whole problem. Larger papers were dependent upon their classified revenue,which has largely disappeared to Craigslist and similar sites. Retail advertising has also shifted to TV and Web pages. Newspapers have to adjust to this new reality, but such drastic reductions in newsroom staffing shouldn't be necessary and will ultimately be self-defeating. But corporate owners don't care that the people of Podunk won't be well-informed about the school board election; they only care that the earnings statement and stock price are down.
What would I do if I were in the situation of these former editors? (I do wish I'd had their six-figure incomes.) Maybe the same thing they did. A very good journalist I had hired right out of college, who is now ... [an] editor ... , told me he was looking for a non-newspaper job. He said the ... newsroom was about half staffed, and everyone who was left was young and had no institutional memory. He said he lived in fear that some huge error would make it into the paper because the people there just don't know the history.
It's a bad feeling to be in a dying industry.

A civil but uninspiring debate

Last night's presidential debate was more civil than I had expected, more civil than we had been led to believe it might be. McCain, who had hinted the "gloves" would "come off," didn't throw any roundhouse punches, just a few jabs at "that one," the opponent whose name he couldn't bear to say.
For voters, there was little new. Some of the statements were nearly verbatim repetitions of what they had said in the first debate. McCain offered a new proposal to have the Treasury buy up troubled mortgages and then renegotiate the mortgages at the new, reduced value of the property. But the Obama camp is saying today that the McCain proposal is not really new; it's a part of the $700 billion bailout ... er, rescue ... that Congress has already passed.
What has to be disappointing for voters is that neither candidate seems capable or willing to acknowledge just how much the economy has changed since they developed their official economic platforms months ago. The Dow was down 508 points Tuesday and is down nearly a third this year. But when asked in this debate and in the previous one what they would be willing to give up in their ambitious spending plans, both candidates seemed flummoxed. Oh, they'll cut earmarks and pork barrel spending, but they won't postpone health care or tax cuts or entitlement reform.
When asked what they would ask Americans to sacrifice, McCain didn't seem to understand the question and went off on his riff about earmarks. Obama had one of his better moments, criticizing George W. Bush for failing to ask for sacrifices after 9/11, telling Americans instead to "go shopping." But he gave no real specifics about what sacrifices he would expect now.
Overall, Obama seemed to come out ahead in this debate, partly because of the so-called "town hall" format that had the candidates leaning on stools and strolling around the stage. This is the format that was supposed to favor McCain's more casual, "my friends" style. McCain rarely sat during the debate, standing stiffly or walking around as Obama spoke. He seemed to be trying to prove he was just as young and fit as Obama. But he's not. He's 72 and has numerous infirmities owing to his war injuries and torture in a Vietnamese prison. He walks with a slight limp, and he can't raise his arms above his shoulders. That combination makes him look old and stiff, especially in a debate format that has him limping about the stage and waving his arms in shortened arcs.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The likely big loser in tonight's debate

I'll watch tonight's presidential debate with some reluctance. I'm afraid it's going to get nasty. Followers of my previous blog know that I had written months ago that if McCain and Obama won their parties' nominations, we might witness something rarely seen in presidential politics in my lifetime — a civil campaign.
Looks like I was wrong. Both candidates have abandoned civility in favor of the tried-and-true attacks on opponents' veracity, integrity, philosophy, morality, judgment, political records and private lives. The rhetoric on the campaign trail has grown more harsh in the past week, and this promises to carry over into tonight's debate.
Neither candidate can come out ahead. If Obama turns into an attack dog, he repudiates the clean, respectful image he has touted since his campaign began. If McCain turns into a snarling Doberman, he risks playing into critics' contention that he is impulsive, self-righteous and a little bit mean. Both candidates need to avoid these pitfalls, but both are probably being advised that they can't afford to play Mr. Nice Guy.
The biggest loser will be the American voter. The first presidential debate and the vice presidential debate drew huge audiences. Americans will likely tune in tonight to help make up their minds for their task four weeks from today. If the debate turns out to be little more than "you're a jerk" and "you're another one," the American people lose. And our best opportunity for a clean, insightful, principled presidential campaign will be lost.

"You don't have a blog on this account"

How quickly things change! Having created this new blog, I was going to go back to my old blog and redirect potential readers to my new blog with just a simple notice: Hal Tarleton has a new blog called Erstwhile Editor.
But when I signed in to my old account, I received a notice that I didn't have a blog any more. Looks like the Powers That Be have taken me off the air for sure. That's OK. I'm here. I created a new account with a new password, and I'll be blogging from here. Pass it on.

New blog, new address, same blogger

Warning: Blogging can be addictive, especially for someone who has an opinion about just about every little thing there is. So here I am at a new location, still blogging, although my former employer has cut loose the connection to my old blog.
If you have an interest, the old blog can still be found here, at least for the time being.
That blog started at the direction of my former employer, who wanted his then-editor to write a blog, so I did. Recognizing that consistency was important for a blog to gain an audience, I began blogging every working day. Whether I gained any audience or not, I don't know. I know that very few people ever commented on my blog, but a handful of acquaintances would mention that they had read one of my blogs. I never got any statistics about "hits" or "unique visitors" from the Web czars where I worked.
My former employer no longer wants my blog connected to his Web site (you may have noticed a blank spot where my face and links to my blog used to be), so I've decided to continue my blogging elsewhere, under a new name. If this were a breakfast cereal or a laundry detergent, it might be labeled "new and improved." Honestly, it's a repackaging of what I had been doing the past three years or so (sorry the blog archives in that other place don't go back that far).
I'll comment on politics (the election is four weeks from today), life, aging, ethics, culture, literature, society, and anything else that interests me. My old blog was thrown together in spare moments between all the other duties that were heaped on my now-vacant desk. This new blog will, I hope, be more thoughtful, literate, considerate, readable, interesting ... but, what the heck, it's a blog, not literature! It will be my random thoughts of the moment.
I hope to attract a larger audience and more comments than I'd had before. That might be a small and limited goal. At any rate, I've got the blogging habit, and I'm not going to stop now.
Now that you know where to find me, come back again.